Friday, May 31, 2013

May Monthly Update: Last Month Edition

Well y’all, my last month as a language assistant in Spain has come and gone; the end is here. It’s been a fun yet challenging year, and I’m ready to do it all over again in Galicia this October. Here’s what I’ve been up to since my last update four weeks ago:

La Malagueta neighborhood, Málaga, Spain
La Malagueta neighborhood, Málaga

Traveling to Málaga

On Wednesday, May 1, we had the day off for Día de los Trabajadores—“Day of the Workers” or Labor Day—but my school decided to put two of its free placement holidays on the following Thursday and Friday to give us a crazy-long weekend. I didn’t go traveling for the whole five days, but I did spend a few days going down to south-central Andalucía. First stop was Málaga, one of the oldest cities in Spain, where I was a beach bum despite the chilly weather and did usual touristy things like explore the cathedral, appreciate Picasso paintings, and hike up castles. Spit-roasted sardines, popular along the coast, were some of the best food I’ve had anywhere!

Peña de los Enamorados, Antequera, Spain
Enamorados Rock, Antequera
Taking an hour-long bus ride north, I spent a day in Antequera on my way to Granada. In Antequera I explored this mid-sized city that, in fact, reminded me a lot of Úbeda. Weaving my way in and out of German tourist groups, I went up to the local Moorish castle (castles will never get old!) and simply took in the views of a typical Spanish city from above. On the outskirts of town were two dolmens, or massive stone-and-earth caves built by neolithic peoples about 5,000 years ago—an eerie link to the very distant past.

Wisteria at the Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Wisteria at the Alhambra, Granada
My last stop was Granada. I first visited this city in November, but back then it was cold, rainy, and dreary, and I had seen pictures of the Alhambra—the city’s stunning Moorish palatial complex—festooned in wisteria and roses. I knew I had to go back sometime in the spring, and this was my opportunity! When I arrived in Granada, I actually didn't like the city at all, despite my good memories from a few months ago; everything was super touristy, it was raining again (surprise, surprise, Spain…), and every Spaniard was out on the streets partying and yelling having conversations for the Cruces de Mayo (“May Crosses”) festival. But in the morning I trekked up the hill that looms to the northeast of town and took in the Alhambra one last time. Having been to Morocco recently, and going in a more-flowery season, it was like seeing the place for the first time—a totally different experience from November.

Renewing for Year 2 in Galicia

I had heard back from the Ministry of Education in April that I was accepted to work for another year up north in Galicia, but I found out my specific school placement in early May. It sounds like the government is a lot more on top of things this year; most renewals didn’t get their regional placements until at least late May in 2012. Anyway, I’ll be teaching at an elementary school in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast called Abanqueiro, part of the town of Boiro—which are about 50km outside of the Galician capital Santiago de Compostela. I’m not necessarily looking forward to a long commute to school from Santiago, but at the same time I can’t wait to experience a different part of the country. Nothing against my current school and the region of Andalucía—this has been one of the best years of my life!—it’s just that being in Galicia (just north of Portugal) will make it much easier to travel to all the places in the north. Andalucía will always be my favorite region, though!

Training for the Camino

Sabiote, Spain
Hiking in the olive groves to Sabiote
One of my goals between finishing school on May 31 and flying back home in late June is to hike at least 100km of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route that runs across northern Spain and ends in Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). Obviously, walking 25km a day is no easy task, so I’ve been preparing my body for the rigors of the Camino this month. Without realizing it, I ended up walking around 10km each day in Málaga, Antequera, and Granada, but later I specifically set out with the intent to train.

With my friend Ashley, a fellow American in town, I walked 20km round-trip to the neighboring village of Sabiote for the last day of their medieval festival. We watched horse races, crawled around the castle, enjoyed the festive atmosphere in the main plazas—and even ran into a teacher I work with! It was fairly warm, but we really loved passing through the endless olive groves on the way there.

Later we would take the bus to Villanueva del Arzobispo where I work and hike up the hill to Iznatoraf, a beautiful village of just 1,000 people, right on top of a mountain. Then we hiked back down and just barely made it to the bus station in time. Phew!

Cazorla, Spain
Cazorla
I was going to spend a weekend in Cazorla, a tiny town at the foothills of the mountain range of the same name, but since I wasn’t feeling like mountain trekking with the possibility of either scorching heat or freezing temperatures, I just took a fun daytrip to the village and enjoyed exploring this lively, charming place.

Touring Córdoba’s Patios

Patios de Córdoba, Spain
A patio in Córdoba
The second weekend in May I took a 24-hour trip to Córdoba, home to the famous Mosque-Cathedral on the banks of the Guadalquivir River. In May, Córdoba becomes the most beautiful city in Spain because of its Patios de Córdoba (“Courtyards of Córdoba”) competition. Homeowners in the old parts of town decorate their homes’ central patios with hundreds of pots and planters, and flowers spill across walls and stairwells. Those walls are literally covered with dozens of individually-planted and -watered flower pots. It was a real killer for my allergies (especially when combined with the million olive groves releasing pollen all at once…) but it was so worth it.

Saying goodbye

Last day of school notes
Goodbye notes from the first graders
There were lots of goodbyes in May: to all the students and teachers at school, to my private English class students, to my flatmates, to my American friends in town, to Úbeda. The last week of school I just gave presentations about Texas, and the parents of one of my private students invited me over for Sunday dinner. I cooked some sloppy joes, coleslaw, and strawberry jello for my apartment, and made an onion-bacon-cheese pie for an American friend’s “house-cooling” potluck party. On the last Friday of the school year, us language assistants in town got all dressed up for one last dinner together in Úbeda. I’m really gonna miss this place!

Plans for June

June 1st, I say adiós to Úbeda and catch a series of trains going northwest to Mérida, the capital of the Extremadura region to the east of Portugal. There I’ll get to explore some of the best Roman ruins outside of Italy and pick up some tins of pimentón de la vera, or spicy Spanish paprika. From Mérida, I’ll catch the train to Madrid and then an overnight train to Lugo, where I’ll meet up with my friend Annie, who I met on the plane ride here, before I hike the Camino de Santiago. Assuming all goes well, I will continue hiking to the Atlantic Ocean to the town called Fisterra (“Land’s End” in Galician). I’ll come back and hang out with Annie in Roman-walled Lugo for a few days before heading down to Madrid for a proper visit. And then back home to TEXAS!!!
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