As a young girl, I was a gigantic fan of dress up. I had an antique trunk bursting with an array of clothes 5 times my size. I found myself usually favoring the princess route. If you know me at all, you shouldn’t find yourself surprised. However, my usual go-to Disney character was someone who was not adorned with a diamond-encrusted tiara.
The gypsy Esmeralda, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame was — in my childhood mind — one of a kind. She fearlessly tumbled through the streets of Paris, owning the town square, all the while dancing barefoot in her bright purple skirt adorned with tinkling golden coins. I swear she was the source of my obsession with bangles and head wraps all through middle school. Flash forward a decade, and there I was doing research before my journey to Spain.
I began to read up on travel tips for young women and what type of pickpockets to look out for. I would advise checking out Spain 2016 by Rick Steves and DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Spain. Low and behold, gypsy women are at the top of the list in the first city I was to explore, Granada.
Above the beautiful hills of Granada is a town named Sacromonte, where the upper parts of the town are home to the cave gypsies. The once-abandoned caves are currently home to nomads, gypsies, and hippies of the world. Now, what exactly is a gypsy? Some claim that the word “gypsy” derives from the word “Egyptian,” where it was falsely assumed they were from due to their darker skin tones. Google dictionary describes a “gypsy” as “a member of a traveling people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and traditionally live by seasonal work, itinerant trade, and fortune-telling.”
Either way, before jetting off to Spain, I had never met a so-called gypsy or fortune teller. Guiltily, I have always been curious about those shady stores in strip malls with pink neon lights flashing “Fortune Teller” weekend specials. So, instead of handing over my palm to someone who pays rent next to a chicken shack, I decided to hold out and see if I could find a real life Esmeralda gypsy of the world.
Surprisingly, that encounter came on the second day of exploring the city of Granada’s main attraction, The Alhambra Palace. (Describing the history behind the Alhambra is another blog post all on its own!) The Palace is a stone’s throw away from the country’s rumored hidden gypsy community. Thus, making this royal worldwide attraction a pickpocket and fortune teller’s paradise.
When my travel buddy and I were trudging up the sharp hill to the castle, we had our first encounter. A dishevelled older woman (seriously, just picture Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter) abruptly stopped us in the middle of the tree-lined walkway, approached us, and started speaking in rapid Spanish. Snappishly, she grabbed our palms and started intently telling us some seemingly secret prophecy (there were many moments on this trip when I regretted cheating during my Spanish class, and this was definitely one of them). She traced the lines on our shaking palms, all the while forcing us to use our other hands to grasp a bundle of rosemary. It all happened so rapidly that we had no idea if what she was chanting was impending good luck or a spell on our love lives.
When it seemed she was done, she naturally beckoned to us for money. Being the amateur travelers that we were, at the time we only carried credit cards. Using pathetically broken Spanish, we attempted to break past the language barrier and explain it to her apologetically.
It didn’t take her too long to make the “no dinero” connection, and her scowling demeanor didn’t need a translation. As we tried to scurry past her to the palace, her wizardly eyes shot arrows deep into our souls. During the rest of our climb, we ran into three more conjuring women who all played the same game, except this time we learned our lesson and refused to hold their rosemary and play along. It didn’t take long to notice their seemingly charming gypsy smiles turn from mystic to murderous.
Sidenote: We spent the rest of the day researching and discussing theories on how to break Spanish curses. Also, as the trip went on, we jokingly blamed every bit of bad luck that stumbled our way on that first gypsy and the curse we were sure was cast upon us.
Sure, Disney movies and fairytales might paint gypsies in a certain glittering light of dancing and being merry. I’m also holding out faith that somewhere in the world they might actually exist, but for now I can add two more lessons to my journal of traveling expertise. One, always carry some loose coins on you. And two, maybe the place next to the chicken shack with plastic crystal balls isn’t a naive first step into the world of fortune telling.
— Katelyn Bittke, Traveling Editor