A weekend in Cabo de Gata ›

Rugged landscapes, hidden beaches and free tapas: Cabo de Gata Natural Park in a nutshell.

The Cabo de Gata area, located at the south easternmost tip of Spain, is vast and sparsely populated. Apart from greenhouses and the odd hamlet, the area is mountainous and desert-like as far as the eye can see. All of the coastal towns, however, are charming and bustling and offer some of the best beaches in Spain.

Base camp for the weekend was Níjar – a beautiful little Andalusian town famous for its pottery andjarapa rugs. Its central location means that nearly all of Cabo de Gata’s beaches can be reached in about a half hours drive.

A cove that kept being mentioned on our quest for The Perfect Beach was Cala de Enmedio. Enmedio? It is literally in the middle ofnowhere and is only reachable on foot, up a sketchy mountain “path” surrounded by desert-like landscape and scrub for miles on miles. 40 minutes and various scratched shins later, we were dipping our toes into the clear, turquoise waters.

One thing we’d heard about the area was that is had a definite hippy vibe. This came all too obvious when, while looking for things to do over the weekend, we came across a meditation festival:

[Las actividades] Fueron creadas con la intención de hacer accesible la meditación al hombre contemporáneo. En muchas de ellas, se han incorporado técnicas ancestrales de otras corrientes espirituales como el sufísmo, el tantra o el zen.”

Needless to say, the promise of hippies practising tantra in the Mediterranean moonlight was quickly overruled in favour of beachside drinks with free tapas.

Highlights of the area: 
Agua Amarga: A charming little town with a bustling square and extensive beaches.
Alcazaba de Almería: Despite not having a great reputation, the city itself does boast a 10th century Muslim walled city. Kind of like the Alhambra’s less flashy, younger sister, if you will.
La Fabriquilla: A tiny coastal town close to the Arrecife de la Sirenas and the lighthouse. Drive the precarious, cliff-side lanes to reach the stunning viewpoint at the end of the road. Stop off at nearby Las Salinas for flamingo spotting, and check out the old town on the coastal road which featured in the film Vivir es facíl con los ojos cerrados.
Fresh fish: Seafood dominates Andalusian menus. For a tasty local tapa try the boquerones or sardinas.
The Andalu accent: ”Tre’ servesa’? Qué tapa’ queréi’? De donde soi’? Vai’ a La’ Negra’?” etc. Very breathy. Very airy. Very reluctant to use the letter S.

One thing you need if you’re thinking of visiting Cabo de Gata is a car. There is virtually no public transport between the towns, and be wary of walking from beach to beach up the barren hills – unless you don’t mind being confronted by a nudist twisted into some obscure yoga position, that is.

See the photo gallery here: http://www.sepiavlc.com/cabo-de-gata/

Girlz-N-The-Hood: the ghetto gospel truth about Guatemala City ›

“Big, dirty and dangerous” are the only words that Lonely Planet can find to describe Guatemala City.

My friends and family had no trouble finding alternative adjectives when I told them I was moving here for 2 and a half months to write my dissertation: “one of the highest rates of violent death in Latin America”, “I’d feel better if you got a gun”, and “Have you died yet?” were personal highlights on my ‘How Not to Reassure Someone’ list.

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The week before I left, The Guardian printed an article entitled “Murder in Guatemala: ‘I won’t allow my daughter to become another statistic’. It was clear that this was not going to be an 18-30s holiday to Zante. Briefly, I flirted with the idea that maybe everyone around me was right; that maybe this was one trip too far. Fortunately, though, I had already spent all my savings on the flight, so I had no choice but to dye my hair ‘Hispanic brown’ and hope for the best.

Divine intervention seemed to be on my side as I boarded the plane from Madrid to Guatemala City with two nuns and a priest. Perhaps if they’d prayed a bit harder we might have had a film or at least some decent food on the 11-hour flight.

As we came in to land, Guate (as it’s known to locals) sprawled as far as the eye could see, saturated by run-down barrios with the odd palm tree reminding you that you were in the tropics. Stepping out of the plane, the smell hit me like a tonne of bricks: humidity mixed with street food that tastes delicious but will probably give you The Shits for days, and an added dash of the unfamiliar. It gave me that ebb of contentment that you get when you’re travelling somewhere exciting; a contentment that continued when my luggage arrived in one piece.

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No sooner had I arrived, I was whisked away for my first taste of Guatemalan cuisine and a thorough safety brief. Over enchiladas that weren’t really enchiladas (vegetables on a toasted tortilla?), I learned that I shouldn’t do any of the following: take taxis from the street, carry anything of value, look lost, look like I’m carrying anything of value even if I’m not, walk anywhere after 8pm, take public transport, panic when inevitably robbed at gun or machete-point, and definitely don’t trust the police with anything. N.W.A was right…

I had found my accommodation through Couchsurfing, so there was a niggling worry in the back of my head that I might have signed myself up for living in the Headquarters of a narco-trafficking exercise. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, unless you consider talking through the world’s injustices over copious joints to be a criminal activity (which some of my more cynical friends might). It was clear that my only concern in this flat would be pulling a muscle doing Downward-facing Dog (not a euphemism) or developing a taste for molasses as sugar was strictly banned on account of the unacceptable production practices in Central America.

Guate is a funny place. It contradicts and confuses itself constantly. No one seems to question the fact that staunch Catholicism is spliced with references to Indigenous witchcraft, or that sellers on the buses threaten to turn to delinquency if you don’t buy their sweets. The biggest contradiction of all comes in the form of the people: the majority of whom will bend over backwards to help you out and make you feel welcome, while a small undercurrent of the population would probably shoot you for 100 Quetzales. But it would serve you right for not buying their sweets.

On my first night in Guatemala City, I found myself in a bar-cum-art gallery for a Joy Division/New Order tribute night. Surrounded by Guatemalan hipsters, we drank bottles of Gallo in buckets and talked about bands that had transcended borders and made it onto our respective iPods. A projector screen showed footage of a New Order concert in Glasgow, the city that I had just left. As we watched footage of the Botanic Gardens and the river, all shot with a backdrop of grey clouds, a Guatemalan turned to me and asked: “is it dangerous there?”

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Read more sepiavlc.com

Spotlight on: Juan Llorens and Extramurs ›

Extramuros might not be first on your agenda when planning a night out in Valencia city. Appearing somewhat off the radar in comparison to other nightlife hotspots such as Ruzafa or El Carmen, Extramuros, or Extramurs in Valencian, lies just to the west of the old town, within walking distance from El Carmen. Here’s why you’d be wrong to overlook it…

The area is often simply referred to as “Juan Llorens” after the main road running through the neighbourhood, a nod to the one of the men behind the Germanías rebellion in the 16th century. Think wide, tree-lined streets with bustling terraces and you’ve got an accurate depiction of the Extramuros barrio.

Where to eat?

Alhambra
Famously scrumptious tortillas. This small cafe is closed most afternoons and on weekends, which can only mean one thing – their tortillas make them so much money that they only really need to open for almuerzo. Get there early, and get there quick. “Son enormes!”
Calle Calixto III 8

Funky Food
A small but bustling restaurant that serves typical Spanish cuisine; tapas and bocadillos. In their own words… “COPAS Y BUEN ROLLO GIRAN ENTORNO A MÚSICA DE LA MEJOR CALIDAD…IT’S FUNKY FOOD!”
Calle Calixto III 17

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La Venganza de Malinche

La Venganza de Malinche 
An awesome Mexican restaurant catering  to all your burrito, fajita and chipotle needs. Tequila, anyone?
Calle Perez Escrich 11

La Greta
An eccentrically decorated bar-restaurant offering “different” tapas. For those of you that way inclined, there’s also a vegetarian menu. Las Gretas is found over the big Fernando El Católico avenue, but still belongs to the 46008 postcode.
Calle de Pere Bonfill 7

Dukala
Also over the big avenue lies Morrocan joint Dukala, which comes highly recommended. Typical Morrocan food in a charming atmosphere.
Calle Sanchis Bergón 27

Where to drink and get your groove on?

Sala El Loco
El Loco is a seasoned gig venue often attracting international as well as local groups, particularly of the rock genre. When the gigs have ended, head here for pop, soul, garage and indie tunes. Click here for the review of the last gig we saw there: Wau y Los Arrrghs!!! demolish El Loco
Calle Erudito Orellana 12

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Magazine
Rock bar and club Magazine offers drinks promotions on the terrace for early birds and opens til 3:30am. Generally spinning a variety of rock music, Magazine also hosts gigs – recent highlights of which include the Festunizer and No More Lies, Carmonas and Cigüeña.
If you’re really going hard, you might want to try their eponymously-named cocktail Magaziner – that’s lemon slush with absinthe. 2×1 if you get there early. You’re welcome.
Don’t forget to try smaller venue La Llimera next door to experience a more intimate gig venue, workshops and cultural activities.
Calle Perez Escrich 19 -13

Many of the above restaurants and bars have recently taken part in the Distrito 008 initiative, promoting art, culture and gastronomy in the 46008 district of Valencia. Last 20th-22nd June saw a successful 4th edition of Distrito 008 which showcased, among other things, an art market, wine tasting, kids activities, tapas routes, graffiti exhibitions and gigs, including a 12 hour run of music and art for World Music Day last Saturday at La Llimera.

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The above information shows that Extramuros thoroughly deserves a place on your Valencia radar.

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Primavera Sound: a memoir ›

I’ve always been vaguely aware of Primavera Sound’s pretentious reputation, a bit -dare I say it- hipster?

Come on. Stereotype with me. You’ve got Download: metal heads in a field, FIB Benicàssim: guiris camping on the surface of the sun, T in the Park: Scots on mandy jibbing at other Scots on coke, Primavera Sound: a big ball of bohemian yah.
So I can’t really complain… I knew what I getting myself into. But when a group of Glaswegians invited me on a lairy weekend in, possibly, one of my favourite cities on the planet, how could I refuse?

I hastily packed all the denim I could muster together with other essential items (read: wayfarers and SLR camera) and boarded the 13:09 train to Barcelona.

After drying off from a very unseasonal downpour, we and our freshly rebranded wrists mosied over to the Apolo to catch The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Despite Wednesday the 28th being the eve of the actual festival, many extra gigs took place in 3 city centre venues: Barts, Apolo and Apolo [2]. And all of them were a tope. There was no discussion – getting into Barts to see Shellac was impossible. The Brits, queuing round the corner of the building; the Spaniards, trying to barge their way to the front. Luckily, however, there were a fair few bands who played twice – once in the clubs and once in the festival ground.

Parc del Forum is huge. Located on the northern-most edge of Barcelona city, the sprawling, multi-level arena is home to 9 different stages, with half of them overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Quite idyllic, don’t you think? Well, yes, especially when the sun was often just setting behind the city highrises as you entered the arena.

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First on the agenda were Warpaint. And we nearly missed them. Remember when I said that the festival ground was huge? You had to factor in an extra 15 minutes if you wanted to make it to the Heineken stage.
But, hey, at least the gigantesque festival ground made it easier to play the new game that all the cool kids are playing: New Balance Punch. Plays to the tune of Mini Punch, or Mini Nip, if you’re from Rotherham. Apparently New Balance are the new Vans in themoderno stakes. But I digress… From what we saw, California girls Warpaint put on a great set full of lovely, dreamy vocals.

Festival highlights

Queens of The Stone Age – Clash alert! The rock giants unfortunately played at the same time as Glaswegian newcomers Chvrches– who also put on an fantastic performance, I hear. A firm festival favourite, QoTSA roared through a powerful set combining hits with newer tunes from …Like Clockwork [2011]. Excellent.
Pixies – Despite playing without Kim Deal, Pixies powered through a long set peppered with classics. It was all made infinitely more enjoyable thanks to the red wine we managed to smuggle in. Cheers, Mercadona.
Caetano Veloso – A very enjoyable set by the long-time Brasilian artist who got the whole Ray-Ban stage dancing. All in all a very hipshaking affair.
Disclosure– This is really not my thing – but isn’t that the beauty of music festivals? I soon turned my frown upside down and was dancing alongside pill popping twenty-somethings and a Louis Theroux lookalike. He really should have entered the competition they’ve been running on Louis’s Facebook page.
Superchunk– Now this is more up my street: happy guitars and singy choruses. North Carolina indie rock band Superchunk got people on the ATP stage dancing, singing and crowdsurfing. The highlight? Detroit Has a Skyline, of course!

Mogwai– The Scottish post-rock lads took to the ATP stage at 1am on Saturday, round about the same time as Nine Inch Nailsplayed on the Sony stage. Like good Scottish sports, not only did they play with the Catalan independence flag hanging behind them but they also stopped to say “merci” after every song. Something about showing support and an upcoming #indyref? New single Remurdered from Rave Tapes [2014] went down especially well with the heaving crowd. A good band to go straight on afterGodspeed You! Black Emperor.

BCore Showcase – It seems somewhat silly to admit that, after paying nearly €200 for my weekend ticket, my most anticipated band to watch at Primavera Sound were up and coming Valencian rock trio, Cuello. Incidentally, they’d played in Valencian alt-rock gig hotspot Magazine just a few weeks ago for only €7. This time, though, they were joined on stage by Catalan hardcore legends No More Lies and Barcelona garage rock band Fuckin’ Bollocks. And I won’t lie, the BCore Showcase was my favourite performance of the weekend. Storming through tunes from Mi Brazo Que Te Sobre [2011] and Modo Eterno [2014], Cuello really made the festival for me. We’d stepped away from the big ball of bohemian yah. And No More Lies? It was great to finally here songs from new album In The Shade of Expectation [2014] played live. And I’m sure others would have said so too if they weren’t stuck in the queue for the Apolo instead of being shown to the queue for Apolo [2]. Apparently there were some issues with the queuing system due to the sheer amount of people who were trying to get into the Apolo for Cloud Nothings at around the same time. Again, not the best organized festival.

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Lowlight- Body/Head. Yeah, yeah, I get it! Sonic Youth…iconic…talent… However the hell you want to spin it, when you’re listening to guitar distortion for a whole ten minutes while someone stomps and writhes around the stage, it really does take the magic out of it. Nice auditorium, though.

Vague conclusion!

The bad:
Beer prices. They were asking €3.50 for a small beer. Come on.

Entrance cards. Am I missing something? Why did we need a wristband and a plastic card to get in? They explicitly said that if you lost one or the other you would not be allowed into the festival. But isn’t having a little card defeating the whole point of the wristband? It’s hard to lose a wristband, and having your expensive ticket strapped around your wrist eliminates a lot of the worry. I feel for the people who lost their card and therefore could not access Parc del Forum. If anyone wants to explain this one to me I’m all ears.

The Apolo organization. Obviously they greatly underestimated how many people would try to get into the venues. This goes hand in hand with the fact that only VIP and Primavera Pack ticket holders were allowed to reserve their place to enter in the clubs, leaving the rest of us mere mortals (€160+ weekend ticket holders) scrabbling over each other to get in.

The good:
As soon as you exchange your wristband (and card…) you get given a free programme, something that puts you back €7 in the FIB and a fair few quid in many other festivals. Nice job.

Despite initial issues of getting lost and missing parts of sets, the seaside festival ground is excellent. The Boiler Room was particularly interesting.

All in all, though, a good festival and a great weekend. Primavera – I’ll be back.

primz3Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – Ray-Ban stage 31/5/14

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