First Grade Woes (otherwise known as Camino de Santiago training)

I’ve completed my first fortnight of first grade. It’s been great – shorter days, longer patio breaks, no big surprises from kids I’ve already taught for a year. But, dios santo, am I tired!

Last Friday, while walking home as the Iberian sun was high in the sky, I was carrying two bags full of books, my computer, my purse and a very angry face. September in Sevilla is no stranger to 35º heat in the middle of the afternoon, and at that time, shade is nowhere to be found. Trying not to sweat, my normal 17-minute walk from train to casa stretched to 40 minutes, and I arrived home to my dear Nov laying on the couch in front of the air with a beer in hand.

La madre!” I exclaimed, cursing the heat, my bag and the terribly poor choice of shoes I had slipped on that morning. “I’m practically ready for the Camino with this load!”

My dear guirita Hayley, another one of us Bitten-by-Spain-and-oops-we’re-still-here friends, and I have resolved to do a quick hike around the Spanish block by way of a well-worn trail in a few summers (so get your Masters finished already, woman!). This “hike,” however, is not really just a simple stroll through the woods: it’s a nearly 1000km pilgrimage across Northern Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela, a mere stone’s throw from the camp I work at during summer months. Hayley and I have already braved the elements in raining Galicia this summer, so we should be pros. I do have a leg up on her, though: I teach small humans, and that, amigos, is training enough (famous last words).

Carrying kids = carrying a backpack

My boss, the all-great Doña María, gave me my first wrist-slapping by way of a semi-compliment. “You must have been a great secondary teacher – you’re ignoring all the whining!” Yes, I took no crap from my teenaged olivareños, but a child under the age of six needs to feel loved and secure at school. This was her way of saying I needed to be more affectionate with the kiddos, it seems, so I do the un-American thing of hugging, kissing and complimenting my young students.

My back may never be the same after teaching young learners (that, and all of those years of gymnastics and falls off beams and bars), but I look forward to the outpour of hugs. Sure, this means I have a constant cold, but when you’re ready to tear your hair out, nothing beats it. And when your boyfriend is in Somalia, is keeps your emotions afloat, too! I have kids hanging off of me like monkeys from a tree, and I enjoy (nearly) every second. And carrying all of my belongings across the Pyrenees and wind-swept plains of Spain? Pan comido. I give piggyback rides like it’s my job. Oh, yeah, it is!

All day on my feet = all day walking

Every time Kike complains of my shoe pile, I shoot him a “must be nice to fly a plane and sit down all day” looks. As a teacher, I am up stairs, crouched down to kid-level, running after them and standing tall, exuding confidence. My feet suffer as much as my back. My feet are currently home to a broken pedicure and five blisters, something that will become commonplace on my long walk.

Former pilgrims tell me the right kind of footwear and plenty of thick socks is the best thing you can do while preparing for the Camino. Tell me, the seño, something I don’t know.

It’s not the destination, but the journey

Call me contrite (or someone who is severely and almost detrimentally optimistic), but that age-old mantra that what leads up to the final stretch is really what matters is the daily affirmation a teacher gives herself. I have had moments where I wonder if my family really has a teaching gene, but those are far outnumbered by the times where I would like nothing more than to walk out of the classroom, through the patio and across the street for a beer. The day-to-day in elementary school can be trying. It can be mundane. It can make my head spin. But, at the end of a course, I am floored by what my kids have learned, and what they’ve taught me in return. Humility, patience and that there’s a special, secret world inside of each child.

Whatever happens, Hayley and I have pledged to be prepared pilgrims (I already downloaded a few stories about the journey onto my Kindle), to encourage each other, and to make it through an often grueling hike. I expect the camino to be nothing short of life-changing, though tough, but I have been reassured that the relief of seeing the twin spires of the St. James Cathedral, a site that has left me speechless on four separate occasions, makes the whole trip there really worthwhile. And really, what’s better than a low-cost, month-long trip with a friend (even if it may include blisters, sunburn, bedbugs, camping outdoors, getting lost…)? After all, it’s the journey that counts.

Have you done the Camino? Which Route? What was your reason for doing it, and how was your experience?

Tapeo por León: Eating in León, Spain

In life, we all find ourselves at crossroads. I’ll be honest: mine wasn’t life-changing or even that important, but it had to be made: Spend a day in the cheese and blood sausage capital of Spain, or one in a town with a big cathedral. Those of you who know me know I would have probably chosen the first, but bus communication really decided my route.

I said goodbye to Julie and José and boarded a bus to León. The valleys of Galicia flattened out to the stark plains of Castilla y León, the ancient old kingdom of the Spanish Empire. It was here that The Catholic Kings married and began their reconquest of the peninsula, here that Saint Teresa the mystic had her illusions and here that I fell in love with the country I now call home.

León was a city I never visited in that summer abroad. I had just hours in the city, but it was enough to make me swoon for Castilla all over again.
There’s a famous cathedral, the last upon the Camino de Santiago before reaching the end itself, with gorgeous naves and stained glass. There’s a Gaudí-designed house that remains the only Modernist monument in all of Old Castille. Then there’s the Barrio Húmedo, literally the Wet Neighborhood, for its abundance of bars and cafes.
I saved up my appetite until dinnertime, when the sun struck Santa María Cathedral into dripping golden hues. I never even think about eating before 11pm, but a friend’s suggestions were looming in my brain. The email was something to the effect of: “You can see the cathedral, walk, blah, blah, blah…and here are a bunch of suggestions for eating. So I followed my belly towards the bar.
What surprised me the most was that most tapas came for free with a drink. I ate like a king for less than I’d pay for a normal meal in Sevilla.

Bar Bambara, C/Matasiete
Consumed: One Mahou bottelín, one tapa of patatas al cabrales (fries with pungent cheese from Asturias)
Total Cost: 1,60

This place was completely unassuming, and I came because I had seen the poster advertising free tapas earlier in the day. I wouldn’t say the bar was anything special, but who can argue with free food?
TOTAL: 1,60
Bar Rebote

Consumed: Two large beers, three croquetas (morcilla, pizza and cheese)

Total Cost: 4,40
I am a croqueta aficionado. If it’s on the menu, I almost always order it, because fried potato and cheese delicacies are nothing short of typical Spanish and really delicious. But the croquetas at Rebote, a small tavern on Plaza San Martín that serves nothing else, are really special. Even at 9pm, the place was packed and the service speedy and friendly. And the croquetas. I tried cheese, pizza and morcilla, a blood sausage typical in Northern Castilla, and coul have easily stayed all night.
TOTAL: 6,00

Bar In Situ. C/Matasiete
Consumed: Two cortos con limón, sopa de ajo (garlic soup), bollo preñao (literally, impregnated bun, but really just chorizo in a bun).
Total Cost: 2,00
I don’t know what I was expecting from this crowded locale. The crowd was young and lively, especially for a Wednesday, and the food was great. While the lemon soda in my drink didn’t mix well with the sopa de ajo, a typical broth served with chunks of bread, I left feeling fuller than usual at dinner and needed a walk around the vivacious neighborhood before going to bed early.

TOTAL: 8,00
Castilla isn’t known for its cuisine necessarily, aside from roast suckling pig and morcilla, in the same way that other regions are. But, madre mía, I’m happy as long as my belly is full of good food!
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