Just watching the videos makes me weak in the knees. First the strongest men form a base and begin constructing the human tower. Then lithe, sinewy women clamber over them to build the higher levels. And finally, when everyone is in place and you can see their muscles trembling with effort, a little girl begins to ascend. She is the enxaneta, the crowning glory of the human tower, a child of seven to ten years who climbs over the adults to reach the top some forty feet in the air. Her only safety net: the bodies of her teammates below.
“OK,” I said to Rich, “mark that down as another activity I am never taking up, right along with bungee jumping, bull fighting, and investing in cryptocurrency.”
“You’d have to be nuts,” he agreed.
I nodded happily and added Tarragona, home of the human tower since 1712, to my ever-expanding list of possibilities for our forthcoming Nutters Tour.
What is a nutter? The term started out as a surname for someone who worked as a scribe (notare, in Latin), a profession not generally known for its screwball antics. Yet somehow, as it evolved into Middle English, the word became associated with eccentrics, risk-takers, and odd ducks. It embraces a broad spectrum of unconventional behavior, from the ancestor who first said, “Hey, maybe the animals we catch would taste better cooked” to folks who think forming a human tower sounds like fun. The history of the human race is rich with colorful, outside-the-box characters. Some — such as Leonardo da Vinci, Madam Curie, Steve Jobs, and Greta Thunberg — are household names, while others have gone unsung, their works long ago forgotten or continuing in quiet, Instagram-free obscurity today.
The Nutters Tour is my chance to bring some of those zany nonconformists and their hometowns into the limelight. Spain is particularly blessed with eccentrics of all stripes, and I have been researching them for months — knowing that Rich and I will probably veer off frequently from our already loose itinerary. Possibly right out of the starting gate. We are beginning in the city of Jaén (pronounced Hi-YEN), and a Spanish friend, hearing about this Saturday at lunch, recommended a side trip from Jaén to the nearby historic town of Úbeda. Apparently there’s a common Spanish phrase “andar por los cerros de Úbeda” (literally 'to walk around the hills of Úbeda'), meaning “to go off at a tangent.” Could this be a sign from the Universe?
Right now, all I really know for sure is that the Nutters Tour of Spain officially launches on Wednesday, and I’d be counting down the hours if only I had a few spare seconds or brain cells to devote to the task. Time is passing in a blur of laundry, last-minute purchases (why do I never have enough decent socks?), and farewell lunches, dinners, drinks, tapas, and coffees with friends.
My apartment's back room is festooned with drying clothes, stacks of stuff I’m planning to bring on the trip, and scattered birdseed. The local songbirds, having ignored Rich’s birdfeeder for five and a half months, chose this week to realize those lumpy objects inside it were actually yummy avian comfort food. They are expressing their joy by flying in through the open window and holding parties all over the room. I’ll be shaking birdseed out of the creases of my clothes from here to Madrid.
And speaking of my clothes, I know some of you are curious about what I’m packing, so here’s my list. Experience suggests that I can jam this much into my carry-on suitcase, and I’m pretty sure the layers will keep me comfortable during the variable spring weather and our eventual flight to California for the summer.
On Wednesday Rich and I will make the short rail journey to Jaén, world capital of olive oil, home to the (late unlamented) man-eating lizard and to the cathedral that houses the holy relic of Veronica’s Veil (likely a copy). As is so often the case with official Spanish websites, Jaén’s is a bit scanty, but the town's tourist office is no doubt standing by to help. I checked their website to see when they were open; this is what I found, word for word.
- From 9:00 AM to 7:30 PM
- From 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM From 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
- From 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Sundays before public holidays: 10:00-15:00 and 17:00-19:00
Clear as mud. But of course, that’s the whole fun of exploring Spain. I’m from California, where every roadside attraction offers the fullest possible information online, bending over backward to avoid bad Yelp reviews. Spain doesn’t pay much attention to Yelp, or the needs of tourists. In fact, they make you work for every small nugget of information, adding a sense of triumph to each discovery.
After Jaén and/or Úbeda, we'll likely head north by train to Valdepeñas, famous for its oddball wine combining white and red grapes, and for its strong women, including Juana Galán who rallied the town and held off Napoleon’s troops, allegedly smiting them with her cast-iron skillet. After that we’ll keep heading north by easy stages, stopping wherever we discover offbeat points of interest.
One thing that may affect our route is the crowds. As you may have heard, post-pandemic pent-up demand has the tourist industry booming, and cash-strapped nations throughout Europe are going all out with creative ways to entice visitors. Seville is mobbed right now. And Rich and I won't have an easy time securing lodging in many of the cities on our tentative route. We're prepared to “andar por los cerros de Úbeda” and take whatever detours make sense and seem likely keep us — and our readers — entertained. I intend to post every week, but of course, that’s subject to the whims of wifi, Spanish train schedules, and the Universe’s quirky sense of humor.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this delightfully goofy ad in which the Mona Lisa — and other familiar masterpieces — suddenly gain the capacity for speech. It's all created by Artificial Intellgence (robots) in service to Denmark’s visitor’s bureau. Enjoy!
I thought you should know:
No AI or ChatBots were used in creating this post.
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DENISE SANANTONIO ZEMAN
3/13/2023 01:10:55 pm
Can't wait to see where this adventure leads you! I'm planning to walk the last 100 km of Camino Frances in May with a couple of days in Madrid on both ends.
Karen K McCann
3/13/2023 05:04:29 pm
May is the perfect time for walking the Camino Frances, Denise; the weather should be at its best. Will you be starting from Sarria? I've heard its ancient churches there are really fabulous, and their local gastronomy is big on wild game, just the kind of thing to fortify you for walking 100 km. Good luck and let me know how you get on!
3/13/2023 02:35:35 pm
Can't wait to see what you two encounter. Gonna be interesting and fun for sure.
Karen K McCann
3/13/2023 05:05:47 pm
Thanks for the encouraging words, Phil! We're getting so excited; this is our first big trip since the pandemic. It will be fun to get out in the world again!
3/13/2023 03:19:04 pm
We visited Jaén last year. It’s only about an hour and a half from where we live. Thankfully it was only a day trip as we didn’t find much to interest us there. Much better is Úbeda and the neighbouring town of Baeza, both UNESCO World Heritage sites and absolutely beautiful. I might just be a little biased as that’s where my family is from. Good luck with your tour. I’m sure you’ll find some quirky people and places.
Karen K McCann
3/13/2023 05:09:39 pm
Sounds like we may end up in Úbeda and possibly Baeza; they do look gorgeous. I think we'll roll into Jaén first and then maybe do one or both of them as day trips. Luckily the three towns are quite close to each other, so we have plenty of options. Thanks for the tip, Sue!
Karen K McCann
3/14/2023 10:35:49 am
Thanks for your good wishes, Joan, and if my travels take me through Málaga, it's great to know you're there. It would be fun to meet up. In the meantime, I'll keep you posted on all the Nuttiness I encounter on the road. This being Spain, I'm sure there will be plenty.
3/15/2023 03:56:44 am
Have a fun and safe journey, Karen. Can’t wait to hear all about this nutty trip. So love your and Rich’s openness to new adventure!
3/16/2023 11:38:06 am
I went through your Post and found it very interesting ,
3/16/2023 06:07:48 pm
We'll be watching for further posts from you, it's always great to follow along. Our travel to France is quickly approaching, Paris to Tours, so excited to return to travel abroad. We have friends in Denmark who we'll see during our time in Loire Valley. I'll share your post.
3/17/2023 02:53:39 am
I was pleasantly surprised by Málaga and I loved Mijas. Forty years ago it was just a small town and you could ride the donkeys. I am sure it is completely overgrown by now.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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