Tuesday, May 18

GLOBAL ROAD WARRIORS (People Say We Monkey Around)

*This is insanely overdue (aka I wrote it weeks ago), but hey, I guess it's all news to you!

The decision to stay behind in Jaen as all of my friends planned wonderfully fun spring break trips to exciting places like Italy and the Canary Islands wasn't as difficult as it sounds. (On second thought, I'm in Spain, so it probably doesn't sound difficult at all... I may have lost my sense of reality.)

Aaaaaanyhow, my rationale was as follows: I've already spent a few wonderful trips all over Italy and deep in my heart, I know I will set foot on its luscious terrain again at some point in my life. Two, as usual, had to make the best financial decision. Only this time it wasn't just that I didn't have any money (my late nights teaching private classes are thankfully paying off, literally). Rather, it had been allocated elsewhere. I had plans to frolic on the rolling green hills of Ireland, but that's a different blog... let's just say I am not a big fan of volcanoes.

On one hand, I was looking forward to a quiet week in Jaen by my lonesome. I happen to be some of my favorite company :) I had much travel writing to catch up on, deep cleaning I was excited to attack and even several classes to teach, figuring it best not to lose out on available work.

On the other hand, I was delighted to find a solidly motley crew of hooligans roughing it locally like myself. With Jenny from Newcastle, England and Amy from Chicago as my wingwomen, we set out and had ourselves the most fun of all.

With equal parts of work and play, I took a vacay in Jaen, filling my itinerary with all the things I'd been meaning to do. I finally hiked up to the castle for a picnic with other extranjeros, as you already know if you humor me by reading this. I made good on an invitation to the countryside with my local friends for a BBQ at David's country house. We had only just a little fun ;) 

Jenny, half Thai as she is, shared not only some of her smuggled-in authentic green curry, but some of her Thai cooking secrets as well. Let's just say I'm excited to share my new knowledge on a plate with y'all when I get back - you know who you are! We shared our creation with some other friends and again, had ourselves a grand time.

After an enjoyable botellon at Amy's (we taught the locs how to play Flip Cup), it was off to the processions with us. The biggest one of Semana Santa, or Holy Week/Easter, is called El Abuelo. Massive crowds come out in the middle if the night to see this. I greatly enjoyed the 
comraderie of being on the streets of Jaen witnessing a centuries-old tradition with my people. If you care to read more on this, check out my NileGuide blog! It's pretty interesting stuff. 

I didn't realize just how much I would be crossing things off my list, so we figured now was as good a time as any to hit up the Spanish beaches, as well as the Rock of Gibraltar. We rounded up a rowdy group of five, adding Dustincito and Kendel, the new conversation at my school to the mix. These two hail from the south (Alabama and South Carolina, respectively) and their uncanny (and often shocking) Southern humor was a hootin' hollerin' good time on the road! 

For 20 a head, we rented ourselves a little silver hatchback and set out for adventure. Driving down the Costa del Sol was breathtaking. I may have set out to cross some places off my list, but I undoubtedly added twice as many in the process. We spent a few hours basking in the sun in the Mediterranean, had ourselves some Kebabs on the water (pretty much my version of heaven) and headed out for the Rock of Gibraltar.

Being on "The Rock" (must be Alcatraz's cousin hee hee) was SUCH an experience. First of all, we could see Africa, which was awesome. Secondly, hearing the Gibraltarians speak is NUTS. You know that word "gibberish?" Yeah, that comes from the Gibraltarians. Gibraltar has belonged to the U.K. for more than 300 years, yet it is located on the southern coast of Spain. This makes for an interesting dialect of British English with some Spanish slang thrown-in. It literally sounds like they are speaking gibberish. 

In essence, we went to play with the monkeys and play we did. These little buggers roam free on The Rock and only have brief phases when they enjoy sharing it with you (there seems to be a unmistakable coincidence to this and whether or not you bring them food). From Kendel being slapped by one to another trying to hop in the car with Dustin, the monkeys were well worth the visit!

Dinner in Gibraltar town was a very British fish 'n' chips, washed down with a ton of laughs and for dessert, a few hours on the road with sweet music and electrifying conversation.

This awesomeness is worth a peek at my album. These monkeys are too much for words :)

Never underestimate the power of a few things: time alone, saying yes to everything and finally, the wonder and marvel you can experience day trippin'.

Monday, March 29

On the Road Again

There's something about being on a bus that makes me feel SO country music. Perhaps it's the extreme lack of shock absorbers on these bus monstrosities that make me feel like a ruffian out on the open roads. Or maybe my true vagabondness is amplified as I'm left to fend for myself with a very interesting roster of fellow travelers which has included everyone from a tipsy and questionably homeless man off to find a better life (or just more booze) to fellow Americans wandering around uncharted territory, navigating through foreign lands and languages. There's something about being on the road that brings people together when all you may actually have in common is your destination.

The European Connection 
Instantaneous bonds are created with some of these characters from your story from the road.  Never in a million years would I find myself at a German dinner party cooked by a Spaniard with a guest list of people in which my closest present companion I'd met less than 24 hours prior. This likely strikes immediate panic into the hearts of Mama and Nicky who undoubtedly raised me to "know better." But situations like these don't come about with clouded judgment. Quite the contrary, in fact. It's caution and intuition at it's highest, knowing off-hand that what is uniting you is anything but malicious motives, rather a sincere yearning for worldly knowledge and a sense of comfort and belonging when you're thousands of miles from home. Things are just different. It's exhilarating being in someone's home with people from all over the world with three different languages flying about and cultural dissimilarities as the topic at hand. I've said this before but you just don't learn this stuff from a textbook.

I'm not quite sure what it is about the language thing that fascinates me so much. I guess I have always been a lover of words since I had my nose buried in a book practically before I could even walk. The notion that verbal communication can transcend cultures, ages, backgrounds and everything in between is pretty remarkable. 

A recent hike up to Jaen's gorgeous castle with a colorful crew solidified how much I love being around a world (literally) of different perspectives. No subject is uninteresting when you have dozens of different characters contributing to a moment in time set against a historic background, an acoustic guitar, a little vino and a lot of sunshine!  

Don't get me wrong, I am just as happy with a group of people from all over Fresno, the great state of California or our kaleidoscopic mix of a country, nestled up in the mountains near the lake with the crisp breeze blowing about or at a bonfire on the beach with worn-in quilts and hooded sweatshirts. EVERYONE has a story to contribute, I am just grateful to have the time and opportunity to enjoy them as much as I do here!!!

I leave you with one of my favorite passages ever written, by the notoriously controversial yet undeniably brilliant Jack Kerouac:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

Thursday, March 11

SpRain in my... (well, you know)

(For those who receive this by email, please click through to Free as a Songbird!!  It's so much cuter and won't seem as long!)

This winter is/was the wettest and coldest Spain has seen in 50 years.  Having always been an avid lover of the cold and an eternal finder of the good in everything, I couldn't forecast the detriment this would cause to myself and everyone around me (what I now fully realize to be what psychologists call "Seasonal Depression").  

A little cold and rain never hurt anyone, but try walking 12 miles a day in freezing temperatures, torrential downpours that come in sideways and galing winds so strong you practically don't have to wonder what it's like to fly!  Umbrellas are no match for Jaen's version of a mean joke and can be spotted strewn in gutters and trash cans all about town.  This very well could have been more bearable had I been able to come home to a heated flat and a dryer for my clothes, but well, those are luxuries beyond the realm of la vida Española.

Well, my friends, today is the first time the sun has shone in three months.  Even though it's not here to stay for long, it was just enough Vitamin D energy to get me out of my bed, out of my 7,500 layers and into the spring cleaning mood.  After a few hours of sweeping, mopping, dusting and laundry,  I decided it was time to spring clean my mind, too.  After months of laying off the blog, my mental dust-bunnies are screaming to be swept out of the corners of my mind!

First things first, I love Spain y ya esta (pretty much my favorite Spanish expression, though if you want to be Andalus, it's ya'sta).  The culture here is SO laid back.  My lifestyle fits right in, in most ways, but has also helped me to make some welcomed adjustments in others.  No detail necessary, but I am happy about my growth over the past six months.  My goal here was to acquire nothing (read closely NO THINGS), rather a collection of memories and self-awareness.  The only upside to this rainy weather is that it has washed away remanences of my old-self and birthed a better version of the one-and-only me.

Let it be known, I really despise that whole "travel abroad and find yourself" bit.  You are always with yourself no matter how lost you may feel.  The glorious thing about traveling is more about understanding the inner-workings of your own mind.  Enter another of my favorite quotes: "not all who wander are lost." I'm pretty excited to see what else this journey has in store for me!

As for the day-to day details, I have been working my culo off.  Apparently (and thankfully!), I come highly recommended as an English teacher, so I spend my days at the school and the evenings in people's homes.  My flourishing student roster includes an animated four-year-old, a humble lawyer and every language level and age you can imagine in between.  

Teaching, coupled with travel writing by (late) nights and weekends, keep me incredibly busy, but I have managed to find steal a few moments away to enjoy myself, too!

We relished in an incredible weekend in Jerez de la Frontera, birthplace of sherry, as well as a wild night in Cadiz at the third biggest Carnaval party in the world.  You can't blame me for doing research on the history of Spanish culture, now can you?!

Been enjoying free reign with my students... for Valentine's Day, I taught them about 20 positive personality traits, then had each of them describe each of their classmates and deliver the "Valentines" into little mailboxes.  At the end of the activity, each student left with a box full of compliments written in English by each of their classmates.  I saw them scramble into the halls and delve into them right away!  They even made me a box of my own and I will cherish each of my written treasures forever.  As I will the rose from Guillermo, the happiest little boy I know, despite the fact that will be confined to his wheelchair for all of his life.

We recently received a second conversation assistant at my school from South Carolina.  Giving her the lowdown on the Az-Zait, Jaen and having my students stick closer to my side than ever before as they looked at this newcomer with wide eyes was quite a reality check.  I LIVE IN SPAIN.  I have a home here.  I have a fulfilling job.  I have family and friends who welcome us into their homes, bars, restaurants and taverns with the most gracious hospitality.  I have long-since stopped craving sashimi and have replaced it with a yearning for jamon serrano.  I guzzle the freshest extra virgin olive oil you can find like it's the main ingredient.  I haven't used Lawry's Salt but twice in six months when I was home.  I walk down the street and run into dozens of familiar faces.  I enjoyed a beautiful church sermon with my Spanish family entirely in Spanish and I understood it.  I am invited over for birthday parties with Grandma's cooking and regaled with tales of vintage Spain from Grandpa.  I can walk everywhere I go about nine different ways and not get lost (though I still try, as I LOVE finding the roads not taken!).  I actually respond to the name "Gwendolyn," my loving nickname from my barrio boys.  The list truly goes on... some feats are minor, but I live my life in a different language.  There are truly no words to describe that, in English OR Spanish!

My experience thus far has been an incredible journey of all things imaginable and indescribable.  I feel worlds away in every sense of the expression.  I am happy, healthy and hopeful for all of the inspiring odysseys that lie ahead... wherever and whenever they may be.

I love and miss each of you dearly!  Your constant love, support and encouragement enliven me every day.

P.S.  Here is a link to some long overdue photos (for those not on Facebook, namely the fam).  They are a hodge-podge of highlights since the last time I posted, plus a few old favorites to rev up your memories.  ENJOY!!