Bodas, beach and the boy!

When I came to Spain just over 8 months ago, I came wanting to learn Spanish (debateable), travel a lot (accomplished) and find a man who would take me to football (soccer for you americans, jaja) games. Instead, I found one from the rival team who refuses to take me to games because he thinks I’ll cheer on whoever is playing Betis, but he did offer to take me to a wedding.Last Friday morning, we jetted off to the tropical island of Gran Canaria. I say jetted because the whole Scandinavian and German world hangs out in the Canary Islands, a chain of islands that constitutes one of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. Located just off the coast of Morrocco, it’s constantly 25ºC degrees and sunny, making it popular for pale-skinned giuiris like me. Arriving at the capital (which happens to be right next to the AFB where Kike works all summer), we rented a car, drop our things at the hotel and went straight to the beach. The island is really tiny and mostly full of mountains, so it only took about 40 minutes to drive from the northern part of the island where we were staying to Maspalomas, where he stays in the summer, at the southern end. The beach is called, in English, English Beach for the swarms of foreigners who flock their every year. You can tell by the international menu just how popular the beach is, both with young people and old guarros. The beach is also famous for its sand dunes, which cover the whole 4km stretch of land. Actually, Gran Canaria is called the mini continent for its various land structures, from gorges and cliffs to mountains and beaches. In fact, much of the western coast is uninhabitable. Anyway, our beach time didn’t last long and someone (not me, Mom!) didn’t use sunscreen.We drove to the southern tip of the island to a town called Mogán. Although the town itself is located a bit further inland, the port is really famous and beautiful. Kike took me to a restaurant right next to the boats and we had typical Canario food and tons of fresh seafood. It was a bit romantic, I will say. From there, being sunburnt little puppies, we went back to the hotel for a nap and shower and some recovery! Exhausted from the sun and the early hour wake-up, we made it to the nearest restaurant and went to bed super early.The next morning, since we didn’t go to the beach, we walked around the promenade and I bee-lined for the city center while Kike studied for his Arabic exam. The city is mostly biult on a penninsula and a sand bar, so I walked for what seemed like two kilometers. I saw very little of the gritty town, which I might liken to Miami. It’s full of tourists, brightly painted houses and several languages. It didn’t feel like Spain, similar to the Costa del Sol or Barcelona. After a few hours of seeing very little and not even making it to the old town, I was bored and hot and hungry, so I enjoyed a nice meal at Burger King (barf) with Kike before we got ready for the wedding. In the past two years, nearly all of his buddy from his class in the air force have gotten married or engaged. All of the couples at our table at dinner were engaged! This, of course, kept the focus on my own future with Kike, and although I’m not a private person in any sense, I was not willing to take a decision on that just yet. (sidenote: apparently there is a rumor circulating at my former place of employment that has spread to all of my sorority sisters that I’m engaged! NOT TRUE!!!!).

The wedding was held in a gothic church in the mountain town of Arehucas, where the rum factory on the island is located. It was a bit funny having a massive stone cathedral amidst palm trees overlooking the ocean. The ceremony was short but I understood most of it and there was no mass, as is customary in Catholic weddings. Jose, the groom, later told me all he heard was his name, his wife’s name and the word ring and it was over. His bride, Patricia, looked gorgeous and I want my wedding gown to look like the one she wore – halter top, simple and perfect for her shape. The wedding was really small, but everyone took a big interest in me because I’m foreign and because Montero doesn’t keep girlfriend around for very long. For the reception, we piled into Gonzalo’s car and had to drive back down the mountains, into the city, up some more mountains only to find the highway the restaurant is on is closed all summer. Without a clear map and even less clear directions, we found ourselves in the middle of the countryside, between two valleys amidst sheep farms on narrow roads. It was like something out of the crossbreed of European Vacation and Life is Beautiful. We finally arrived at a gorgeous rural restaurant as the sun was setting, enjoying San Franciscos and tapas. Spanish weddings are more or less the same as American ones, with a few small modifications of cultural things (for instance, in the US, guests clink their glasses with a utensil to get the couple to kiss. In Spain, they sing a kooky song about being in love and kissing). I found I could converse to Kike’s friends and their fiancées better than I expected to, and I didn’t feel as left out as I thought I would. The dinner was delicious and the cake was AMAZING. I wish I hoarded some more. We were ushered into a small, glass room where the DJ played mostly all Spanish music, including a lot of song that were popular three years ago when I studied. I felt cool being able to sing, “Devuelveme la Vida” and dance the Chiki Chiki, Spain’s Eurovision Contest entry (sadly, it didn’t win).

The next morning, sufficiently hungover and exhausted from staying out all night, we left the hotel in our rental car and drove to the mountains, which start just outside the city. Driving past little villages perched over cliffs and flowers I’d never seen before reminded me a lot of Provence, where I traveled six years ago (geez, that makes me feel old!). But the going up and down and around sharp curves in a manual car made me really sick, and we had to stop a few times for me to get some air. The first time I also stepped in what I’m sure was donkey poop (and the Spaniards think that’s lucky! I should have found the ONCE man and bought a lottery ticket or something!) Our first real stop was Roque Nublo, one of the highest points on the island. Normally you can see Tenerife from that point, but the day was cloudy. I braved strange hissing noises to climb close to the rock, but didn’t bring shoes with enough sturdiness to make it past the end of the paved road. From there, it was back down the mountain and up yet another to Cruz de Tejada. Here, we stopped for a quick tapa and Kike tried to convince me to take a spin on a donkey named Margarita. I’m guessing she left me the poop to step in. By now, I felt like I’d seen most of the island, but instead we went to another town on the nearly barren western coast. Agaete is a really teeny town on the coast. Until three years ago, when tropical storm Delta rolled through, a strange rock formation called the Dedo de Dios (Finger of God) stood guarding a stone beach. Now, the city has literally nothing in it, save some seafood restaurants and vacation villas. It was beautiful and busy on a Sunday, with all of the blue and white colored streets full of people in bathsuits (most of them sunburnt foreigners like me!). We stopped to pause on a bench in the shade, where I fell asleep and Kike probably smoked a whole pack of cigarettes. Typical.

When I came home, Melissa asked me where I get all of this money to travel. While Kike paid the majority of everything, I told her that all of the money-making decisions I had to make last summer (aside from health insurance, car insurance, etc.) was put up against the question of, “Will this $3 be better spent in Spain?” and the answer was almost always yes. I didn’t move thousands of miles away to teach English because it sounded fun. In fact, it didn’t sound fun at all. I moved abroad to take advantage of cheap travel and see new parts of the world. Hell, I’ve lived in Spain collectively for more than 10 months and still have so much to see of one country! But I’ve taken advantage of every puente, every holiday and all the cheap flights I’ve found to explore. On my list for next year? First Amsterdam to visit Martin, back to the east side of Germany, perhaps Copenhagen to see Anette, London to visit my cousins and I’d love to still see Croatia, Prague, Vienna, Switzerland and France again (after all, it isn’t a trip to Europe if I haven’t been to France!). But, now I stash my passport away and relieve my wallet a bit until I’m back in the USA in two weeks.

Un fuerte abrazo to all of you who have kept up with me the last 8.5 months.

End of the school year at IES Heliche

Things are starting to wind down at school. I can tell by the attitudes of my students and coworkers, as well as my own motivations in planning lessons. In a swirl of final exams, excursions and kids getting really tired and lazy, the last month has passed so quickly. I can’t believe how fast eight months at I.E.S. Heliche have gone by! I remember my first day, standing in front of 30 or so high schoolers, not having a clue about teaching or even a good handle on English grammar and not having a clue what to expect. I may not have gotten these kids to speak English like pros or even really like the class, but I’ve established a lot of really good relationships. I’m constantly being asked for my messenger form students, meaning I had to sign up for yet another email address! They take pictures with me on their mobile phones and remind me not to smile. Teachers know a little bit too much about my personal life. I’ve learned that I can’t get them to study or sometimes even pay attention in class, but what’s more important is the exposure they’re getting to English and to an American. And, being the youngest of the three assistants, I think I’ve been able to bond with them and make them feel more comfortable. As irritating as they sometimes are, I’m going to miss them, and I can hardly believe that I’ve only got four more days left of teaching till next year. (due to a strike tomorrow and a puente weekend for Corpus Christi).

Last week, I worked an extra day to help Martin, the 41-year old Dutch assistant, conduct his final exams. Rather than taking a written test, students worked on dialogues with Martin every week in preparation for a real-life test. I have to say, I was really impressed with his work and all of the preparation. He created backdrops of a hotel, tourism office, store and restaurant and loaded them with props and plants (my school has gardening classes. strange, i know). He also painted a British telephone cabin, made from two large boxes! When the kids arrived to “customs” they were no longer allowed to speak Spanish to answer questions about their name, age, birthday and nationality for their passports. Each passport stamp was given at each station, so long as they finished tasks. There were about 90 students involved. The ESO kids were really nervous – one little boy just pointed at things and I tried to elicit information from him. It was really hard for him. Others, like my most favorite student Vasco, could carry on a conversation. He invited me to be his date for lunch at the restaurant, then told me he didn’t have his wallet and had invited his two other girlfriends! It was a really long day, especially after working all week, but the kids were really excited to see English used in a real context. Kids in the Communications class videotaped for the website, Nieves’ friends traveled from other schools in the area to see the village, and all of my students were jealous. Martin treated us to a fantastic lunch, cooked by the woman who makes us coffee and snacks in the cantina. I ate a lot and met other assistants who came to help. I was originally supposed to sit by the headmistress, but Nieves switched spots with me, knowing how much Carmen scares me!! I arrived home exhausted and in a food coma, but the village was so much fun and a big success. A huge congratulations to Martin, who will make a wonderful English teacher back in Holland.

So what about next year? Ive already told my students they have to stay another year so they can see me, and given my email address to a lot of the older kids. Next year, my school will begin as a bilingual school. From what I can tell, this means one class will be taking music, art and geography classes once a week in English for more exposure. Since I already have a relationship with these teachers (Emilio, Felisabel and Carmen Moreno, who is like my therapist here!), I’ll be assisting in those classes, plus planning. This means I’ll be in just a few English classes, but I think I’ll enjoy my new role a lot. Many of the teachers who have a fixed position in the school have told me they’re happy to have me back, except for maybe Emilio from Consejería, who I try to run away from because we’ve just got that kind of relationship. Next year, I’ll be more prepared and know what to expect. I won’t get off the bus at the other side of town and have to rely on a stranger for a ride, either!

So, now, I’ve got a long weekend in the Canary Islands with Kike to enjoy, then one more week of teaching. 12 classes, one field trip and a whole lot of pictures. Below are a few of my kiddies and coworkers:

above: 1E and Isidoro, the adorable little guy in the glasses who chases me down the hall

Vasco, my absolute favorite kid in the whole wide world. I told him to stay in school.

4A, a class full of really silly kids who always ask me about my dog and about my boyfriend.

above and below: 2E and 2G. Lazy kids. I made one of the girls in the picture below cry.

iBachD. My absolute favorites. The girls above are all dolls, and I love teaching with Valle (in the blue shirt below). I get sad when I can’t go to class.

IIBachA, the smarties who have really imaginative minds.
Below is 2C, a noisy group that does a lot of speaking in English.


Celtic dancers in the cathedral square

The spires of St. James the Apostle Church

PULPO!! The most Gallego dish

I have the belief that I should go to every country once before I go to another place again. The same goes for Spain. I’ve been all over this amazing and varied place, but I finally got the chance to travel to Celtic Spain – the place where green valleys meet the ragged sea and bagpipes are more common than flamenco guitars. I’m always puzzled how an hour-long plane ride to somewhere else in Spain can transport me so far away from Sevilla and everything quintessentially Spanish.

Kate, Christene and I hopped on a plane during the long weekend here in Andalucía (and most of Spain) to Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain, just above Portugal. To people like the two of them, who have lived all of their Spanish lives in Sevilla, it was like going to another country. The airport is up high in the hills overlooking the Atlantic, so we could see for miles. Normally the country is wet and damp (If you’ve seen Mar Adentro/the Sea Within, you’ll be familiar with the weather in this part), but we lucked out and got just a three-minute drizzle on our way into town. As we wound our way down the hills, it became apparent why A Coruna, the largest city in the region, is called “The Crystal City” – the rows of tightly packed windows reflect the afternoon sunshine, nearly blinding you. The city is located on a peninsula towards the northernmost point. Kate met a guy named Javi on couch surfing, and he took us to a place for lunch. The bar, called La Bombilla (lightbulb for you gringos) is a local favorite, with cheap and tasty tapas. I fell in love with chorizo, a spicy blood sausage, alllll over again. And the beer here is a bit tastier than the Sevillian favorite, Cruzcampo, too. After walking a bit through the city, we took a train to nearby Santiago de Compostela. The train ride though the Rias Altas was incredible – fertile green grass-covered hills and valleys, and small homes peeked out from them. We saw livestock of all kinds before taking a short nap (I went to bed at 5 am the night before, taking full advantage of the puente weekend!).

Arriving to Santiago was fulfilling a dream. I’ve wanted to come to the city ever since I’d heard about the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage across northern Spain. People from all over the world walk or bike to the place where St. James’ remains reportedly lie, stopping to sleep in monasteries or small villages. From Roncesvalles, the furthermost western point in the Spain-leg of the journey, takes just over a month. Evidence of pilgrims was everywhere – from seashells (a symbol of the pilgrim) to walking sticks to people dressed like they were going to scale Patagonia. Everyone we met, with the exception of some like 18 year olds at a disco, were just completing the trek. Our first stop was the giant cathedral of St. James, said to have been built over the spot where a farmer once saw a cluster of stars in a field (the Campo de Estrellas = campostela in Gallego, the dialect in the area).

The town surrounding it is considered one of the UNESCO world heritage cities, as Spain has one of the highest numbers of sites in the world. It’s stunning. All the buildings are stone, arcaded and built along narrow streets. Every now and then, a plaza pops up and it was full of people mingling or having a drink or tapeando. The weather is normally cold and rainy, but we lucked out and had warm (22-23 degrees celsius) and sunny days. Upon walking to the cathedral, we ran into a small parade of people dressed in costumes that looked like victorian skirts paired with farmers clothes. Many carried drums and bagpipes. Spain’s first invaders were the Celts, and much of northwest Spain retains its celtic heritage. We watched some dancing, where the men danced around women as if to court them on the steps of the monstrous and intricate cathedral, the focal point of the camino and of the city. Inside are a stunning nave constructed out of gold, a huge incense burner used during special pilgrim masses and a life-sized bust of St. James. Some woman told us we had to hug it and it would bring us good fortune, so we pulled a Blarney Stone-esque move and each wrapped our arms around the saint for good luck’s sake.
The sun was beginning to set, so we walked around the city as the sun lit up all of the buildings, including the spires of the cathedral. It was breathtaking. Our tummies were hungry, so we looked for a bar along a street full of them, advertising food, mostly seafood. Strange looking sea animals, mostly overturned octupi, were staring back at us. Three different people suggested a bar called O’Gato Negro, so we waited nearly 30 minutes for a table there. The bar looked like a cave with a few green tables and stools against the walls. Most people just ate at the bar, dropping napkins and toothpicks on the floor as they did so. We ordered typical chorizo al vino (a blood sausage in a thick, red sauce), pan rústico, Galician cheese and clams. For drinks, we got a half litre of white wine from the area, which we drank out of saucers! We paid as much for the ambience of being surrounded by pilgrims and quick talking Galicians as we did for the food, but that’s the way it goes.

I really didnt have the coño para fiesta, but we went out anyway. After all, it was a fiesta day, perfect for partying! We walked along the road where we ate lunch, stopping in the only bar that had people in it. We ordered another bottle of wine for 2E and sat playing drinking games with the group of 18 year olds next to us. They all looked like my students!! They took us to a discoteca, where I nearly died of exhaustion. I made myself go home early, back to our crappy hostel with bugs on the wall and the creepy, strange British caretaker.

The next morning, we slept in a bit and bid farewell to Creepman, then walked through the other historic parts of the city. There isn’t much to see aside from the cathedral, but we ate a lot of free samples of Tarta de Santiago and enjoyed the unusual sun. From there, we took the train back to A Coruna. We got ahold of Javi, who invited us to his football game. We walked practically through the whole city to find the soccer pitches, which were right next to A Coruna’s most famous sight, La Torre de Hercules, he oldest working Roman Lighthouse. I don’t really know if the boys won or not, but we didn’t care. Afterwards, he invited us out with his friends. The nightlife in A Corñna is SO different from Seville – the clubs and bars are much more laid back, and good thing, too. I didn’t bother bringing a pair of heels. At first, the guys Javi was with were kind of strange, but after a few beers, they got normal?? I confided in this tío, Gabi, who ended up being a HUGE creep when he was drunk. All of the sudden, Javi sketched out on all of us and got super weird. Whatever, we had fun regardless. At least I know Christine did!!

The next day, after getting up late AGAIN, we went to see some of the museums. A Coruna is the capital of the province of Galicia, so there are museums of science, men and a huge aquarium. The city is known as the Crystal City due to the tightly packed windows that light up with the sun. It’s out on a peninsula and gets sun from all sides. Mainly, we just walked around getting to know the city.

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