“Hi Mario and Gema! Guess what, we are coming to Spain!”
We meet new people every week. Some we will never see again. Some we will see again. Some we don’t know if we will or will not see again.
Almost two years ago, we hosted in our Kunming home a cyclist couple, Mario & Gema, from Spain who cycled for 18 months from Indonesia to Spain through China. We had fun cooking food for each other. They introduced us to Spanish croquette, potato tortilla, and fruity sangria drink. We introduced them to the Chinese hotpot. When they left, they left a handmade thank you card with a sketch of the town of Torla and an invitation to take our family of five to three outdoor activities at the Torla-Odesa National Park in the Pyrenees of Spain, as they are both mountain guides working at the national park.
Two years later, in reverse, we were hosted by Mario and Gema in Spain! If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would not have traveled to Spain first to wait for Africa to open up. It’s amazing how God worked everything out in His perfect timing.
It was a good feeling to see old friends, Mario & Gema, in a country that we have never been to. The drive from Zaragoza to the Pyrenees Mountains was spectacular as the scenery changed from arid landscape to snowcapped mountains. Arriving at the national park, we were awed by the majestic sandstone cliffs that rise straight up from the autumn leave valley below.
What Mario & Gema brought us to do in the Pyrenees for the next six days was beyond our imagination.
The Las Flores Hike was the best day hike I had ever experienced. There are majestic rock cliffs in the Yosemite but here one can hike horizontally on the side of the rock cliff at 2200 meters! The 7-hour Las Flores Hike includes adrenaline-pumping rock climbing, cliff walking, rock scrambling, and via ferrata. It also has breathtaking sceneries of the autumn leaves, cascading waterfalls, sheer cliffs, summit views, and snow capped mountains that marks the boundary between Spain and France. (see video below)
The canyoning the next day was no less spectacular. We got to experience a top 5 canyoning in Europe for free, thanks to Mario & Gema. There were narrow crevices, underground waterfalls, natural rock waterslides, and jumps up to 10 meters. We got to see “super” Mario and Gema repel down waterfalls like superheroes! (see video below)
Just when you think you had seen the best, Mario & Gema brought us to a famous via ferrata route (a climbing route that employs steel cables, rungs or ladders, fixed to the rock). We got to climb up on top of a tall waterfall through a tunnel in the cliff and then walk on tight wire over the fall! (see video below)
Mario & Gema are such a fun couple to be with. We had many fun nights eating and laughing together. They taught us many fun puzzle games using common everyday items, such as ropes, cork, or just your own body. Mario has amazing guitar skills which I used as the background music for the three videos above. Olivia’s friend Cameron also joined us for this leg of the trip, which added a new element to our time here in a positive way.
…and New Friends
It was also exciting to stay in the big metropolis of Barcelona with our new friend, Irrne, whom we met while walking the pilgrim’s walk in Santiago. The community spirit of the Camino lived on when Irrne was quick and excited to invite us to stay at her apartment when she heard that we planned to go there.
The first day when we arrived, she prepared for us the most famous Spanish national dish paella. It was amazing! Then she took us on a walk to a viewpoint overseeing the entire city of Barcelona. The sunset that day was one of the most beautiful ones when the setting sun ray splashed red paints onto the dramatic thundering clouds.
What a historical journey we had with Patrick, our free walking guide, who really made history come alive with his passionate stories telling and love for Barcelona and its past. He would give us clues to keep our interest and then find the answer to the clues later. He made the past, present, and future come alive in front of our eyes. One new thing we learned was that Barcelona has the tradition of making human pyrimids that can reach a height of 30 meters!
My father also introduced to his student in Barcelona who has his own Chinese restaurant. We were treated to wonderful Chinese food, which we missed very much, right before Barcelona was locked down due to Covid-19. Not only did we have multi-courses of Chinese food, but the restaurant owner also gave us take-out for our meals for the next day at home! We thank God for his provision and my father’s faithful service to Christians around the world.
Tapas & Castles of Granada
Whenever we asked Spanish persons their favorite place in Spain, they unanimous would say, “Granada!” So we knew this is one place we don’t want to miss. Our vision of Spain before coming was bull-fighting, Flamenco, and tapas; and all these are from Granada.
Right after we arrived, the first thing we did was a free walking tour of Granada. Daniel our guide was very knowledgeable and planned the routes and times very intentionally to give us the best experience. We learned about the Moorish history of this place and how the beautiful Alhambra castle and palace came about. He has many “surprises” for us, including a free local dessert, best places for sunsets, a visit to a gypsy cave, and recommendations on best places for tapas.
After being oriented by the walking tour, we started our real adventure of experiencing the tapas culture. The way tapas work is that you can a small dish of food for every drink you ordered. Each drink is around 2 to 2.5 Euro for either beer or wine, which is inexpensive for European standard, especially if you get a tapas with it. The more people order drinks together, the bigger portion is the tapas. However, if five of us each order a drink, we don’t get five different types of tapas, only one common type. One has to order a second round of drinks then it will come with different tapas and so on. Basically, opposite to common practice, you choose your drink, they choose your food!
We love food and we want to try as many different tapas as possible. So we begin to think of ways to “hack” the tapas system. We decided to have designated “drinkers” to keep order new rounds of drink while others refraining from finishing our drink, a designated “prayer” who will pray for the meal, and designated “eaters” who will clean up the plates so that we can ask for more tapas. It ended up that Nathan became both our designated “drinker” and “sleeper” after so many rounds of drinks. Unfortunately, after trying many times, the “highest level” (like video games) we were able to reach was three, but we had a lot of fun throughout the process, especially when we reached the “snail” tapas!
The biggest attraction of Granada is the castles and palaces in Alhambra (meaning Red). We were not disappointed. The intricate details of the mosaic marbles tiles, the myriad of shapes of the honeycomb stalactite-like roof (represents the cavern where the Prophet heard from God), and the constant bubbling flowing water channels the runs throughout the rooms and gardens were quite a sight to see, especially in contrast to the plain but grand outside walls. Due to Covid, we got to see the Alhambra without the usually crowded tourist and were able to image how it looked like more than 600 years ago.
We also did a day trip out to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the highest in Spain at around 3500 meters at the highest. It was an easy hike along to river with suspension bridges, narrow gorges, and beautiful panoramas. The tapas at the end were one of the best that we had.
One day, we saw beautiful rainbows for both the sunrise and the sunset over the old city of Granada. So far, this is the third time we saw such a complete rainbow, one in Hallbankgate, England, one in Santiago, Spain, and now twice in Granada. It was as if God was reminding us of his faithful promise to us as we travel together as one family.
Crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Morocco
While in Spain, we prayed about which country we should go to next. We were thinking if we should continue to stay in Europe or enter Africa. We know that once we leave the EU region, it will be difficult to come back due to restrictions. We also would need to have a covid test to enter Africa, which is stressful to arrange due to the language barrier and that we had to have the test within 72 hours of arriving in Africa while not knowing if the flight might be canceled thus wasting our covid-test (test costs USD500 for the whole family).
However, we saw God opening doors for us to go to Morocco. First, Morocco starting in Oct allows all nationalities to enter the country, after six long months of no international flights. Second, we found a workaway opportunity to teach English conversations to local Moroccan students, which would allow us to make friends and know the culture and people — doing ministry together as a family was one of our goals of traveling. Third, Annie and all three children agreed and at peace to move on to Africa.
After much prayer, we decided to go to Morocco, despite the possibility of being stuck in Morocco due to the rising cases of covid and lockdown of most cities there. For many days, I was very busy and stressed checking whether ferries will resume, which flights might be canceled and having difficulty to find a covid testing center. Due to language barrier, I had to use google translate to communicate, which means that I had to go to the testing center personally for 3 days in a row while in Granada. Finally, I booked flights from Malaga to Casablanca and made appointment for the covid-test 3 days before flying.
We had a fun two days resting before our flight and playing spike ball in the sands along the Mediterranean sea of southern Spain. We also watch sermons by former Muslims to better understand their culture and how we can better pray for the people there. We literally made a circle of entire Spain, from northwest Santiago to Northeast Barcelona to Southern Spain, similar to what we did in Portugal as well. I drove close to 1800 kilometers in Spain without any car accident or scratches despite some crazy narrow roads in every town and city.
Africa! Here we come!