Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jazz music and undead drunkards.

I went out to listen to jazz music Friday night. I ended up carrying a drunken, undead man home.

The live music was in an upscale bar that catered to a much wealthier and older audience than myself. I believe I was the only person there under 30. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the music. The band looked like an older, Italian version of the Jonas Brothers with Dave Grohl on drums and a woman on cello for whom I can't think of a doppleganger. They did a lot of improvisation, especially the drummer, and even incorporated "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" into one of their songs.

I went with Louis and Ana. Louis and I enjoyed the jazz music thoroughly while Ana complained about the lack of dancing. We told her to dance if she wanted but I don't think anyone was going to join her. I had a conversation in Spanish with Louis about most music being stolen by white guys and eventually being turned into a spectacle for old white people to enjoy. It's a good thing I have patient and helpful Spanish friends to listen when I'm trying to explain more difficult concepts. Usually they get the gist of what I'm saying despite some grammar errors.

After listening to jazz for a while, we headed over to the other popular concert of the night in Teruel in a modern-looking bar called "The Place" (yes, in English). It was 15 euros to even enter, so we decided to go somewhere else. And from the sound of the place, the music would not have appealed to me anyway. We ended up going to Louis' favorite bar. It was obvious upon entering it why he liked it so much - the walls were decorated by a hardcore heavy metal fan. There were flaming skulls and long-haired demon people painted everywhere. I'll admit it was equal parts impressive and creepy. There's nothing like listening to Metallica and Slayer playlists in a basement bar that could have been designed by a Dungeon Master.

After having my face sufficiently melted, we went to another bar. This one was picked by Ana. The music was folky and the bartenders could have easily been Starbucks baristas by day. I tried to explain the term "hipster" to Ana and Louis but they kept thinking I was referring to hippies. It's not necessarily difficult to explain it in Spanish so much as it is difficult to define a hipster. Our tranquil tea time in hipsterland was interrupted by Ana's alcoholic cousin, George, who stumbled in, drunk as a skunk, in what I'm sure was the best Halloween costume in Teruel that night. In fact, it may have been the only Halloween costume in Teruel because Halloween is a fairly new, imported holiday here.

I wish I had brought my camera because his outfit truly was impressive and his inebriated state made his undead look all the more convincing. His face was painted pale white and he had a thin beard that traced his jawline and connected to a mustache, leaving the chin cleanly shaved. It was similar to a mutton chop style but very clean-looking. He had a nice bowler hat and a white a black striped suit with a red bow tie. Talk about classy. At first, his drunkenness was a bit entertaining but it soon became apparent that he was not feeling well. Ana tried to give him water and coffee but he opted to vomit on the floor instead. One of the bartenders mopped it up with what I thought was an entirely too satisfied look on his face. Either he really liked mopping up vomit or he had no idea where he was either.

Ana went for her car and Louis and I carried George out of the bar and laid him down on a bench outside. He immediately went to sleep. If it weren't for his snoring, I would have thought he was dead. The police pulled up eventually and made sure he was okay. They offered to take him home but Louis told them we had a car on the way. George would have been arrested if he had been in the States. Here, the police offer to give him a ride home. Spain is different.

Ana didn't know where George lived exactly, so we drove around for quite some time looking for his house. George made himself comfortable by laying his head on my shoulder. I was terrified that he was going to expel zombie puke on me at any moment. Thankfully, we found his house before he had the opportunity. His mom seemed thankful that we brought him home but irritated that we had showed up at three in the morning and rang the doorbell. Ana offered to go back to the city center after this fiasco but I declined. Spaniards are crazy.

Last night I went to the movies with my roommate and his lady friend. We watched The Adventures of Tintin, based on the Belgian comic series and the cartoons. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson and has all kinds of popular actors in it (including Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Andy Serkis). The bad part was that none of the voices were from these actors because I watched it with Spanish voice actors. However, the voices weren't just sloppily dubbed as they usually are for movies here. They actually sounded quite natural for the characters. It was surprisingly enjoyable and the visuals (especially during action sequences) were well done. I think it's one of the few 3-D movies I've seen that actually benefits from being in 3-D.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Zaragoza with one of the teachers at the foreign language school. Her parents are going to let me stay at their house and feed me free food. I'm excited.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Meeting some personal goals and working a bit much

I spoke too soon when I claimed it wasn't fall yet. It has been cold and rainy all week.

I'm starting to reap some of the benefits of being a teacher now, especially with the number of students I have (several hundred). I often see my students out and about in Teruel and they are always friendly. Many of them have invited me to go out to eat with them or have a coffee (and usually when I accept, they pay!). I think I could get used to this. But outside of getting free food, I have noticed that my presence in the classroom, both in the primary school and the foreign language school, has made some impact on the students' learning. While I don't consider myself all that qualified to be a teacher, I think I'm at least doing something right. The kids in the primary school go from being outright hostile to the idea of learning English to exclaiming "hello, how are you?" (or as Spaniards pronounce it, "how are jew?") every chance they get. It's a transformation that happens in just a couple of days because the kids are only there for one week and then a new set of them arrives. Perhaps it's merely the novelty of having a strange American around, though hopefully it's more than that.

At the foreign language school in Teruel (where I teach in the evenings), I have been giving a similar lecture to every class for two weeks now. There are three different levels of English classes, two classes per level, and several groups of classes in each one. So I will be in each class roughly once every two weeks or so. Thus far, I have been introducing some general information about Kentucky and about myself and then allowing the students to ask me questions in order to practice their English and to get them used to hearing a native speaker. Depending on the level, this is much more difficult than I had anticipated. My accent is somewhat neutral compared to what it could be, so the students usually have an easy time understanding me, assuming they know the vocabulary. However, I often find myself using turns of phrase and slang that they are not familiar with and speaking too quickly for them to follow me. I have also realized that they learn British English from their Spanish teachers, so some of my pronunciation (especially the T in words like Italy or twenty being pronounced as Idully or twinny) is hard for them to understand. Overall, however, the students at this school have expressed great interest in not only improving their English but exchanging cultural ideas as well. This is great for me because I often learn just as much as they do.

I have also noticed an improvement in my Spanish. I have picked up a lot more vocabulary, through independent study, association with all of the words I see on buildings and signs, and in everyday conversations with people. I especially enjoy learning the colloquial words and phrases. I believe my speech is becoming more coherent and I can do more than convey simple ideas now. But perhaps the most considerable change has occurred in my comprehension. I attribute this in part to having settled down and gotten used to the language and the people speaking it, though I have also managed to increase the amount of things I can understand and the range of people I can understand as well. At first, it was primarily slow-talking women that I could understand because their voices and pronunciation are typically better in my experience so far. However, I can now understand the low, muffled voices of some of the old men as well.

This week I have been ridiculously busy in the two schools but I have managed to accomplish several of my goals for the week. First of all, I set out to learn how to use my fancy camera in full manual mode. I've owned the camera for quite some time now and made pitiful efforts towards using it manually on entirely too many occasions. I decided it was high time that I learned. I found an online "class" by Alexandre Buisse and read almost every lesson in two days, all the while practicing with my camera. The result is that I now know what every part of my camera is for and how it works and I have way more control over the shots I take. To test out my progress, I decided to take pictures in the one situation I've never been able to get a decent shot in - at night. Despite a few flaws, I think some of the pictures turned out quite well (and none of them have been doctored up):

This last picture is of a hotel that sits atop a Medieval passageway. They also have some excellent tea that you can drink underground in a cozy room with walls made of stone. It may be one of my new favorite places in Teruel, as it combines two amazing things: history and tea.

My second goal for the week was to open a bank account so that I could get paid for this month's work. I managed to do so by myself. This is the first difficult thing I've done on my own. Usually one of my mentors is there to make sure I don't screw something up. I even had a nice conversation with the banker about Kentucky and about the popularity of his surname in this region. The fact that I managed to do that on top of the technical stuff makes me proud.

In addition to the things I had planned to do this week, I also spontaneously decided to go to a volleyball game and go out to have tapas with some of the teachers at the foreign language school. Apparently Teruel has the best volleyball team in Spain. Unfortunately, they weren't playing a Spanish team when I went. They lost (though it was a close match) to a Polish team. One of the teachers at the foreign language school took me along and I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. The fans were exactly like any other sports event in any other country I've been in - they are loud and they always make what they believe to be better calls than the referee. My favorite part of the whole event was that the best player on Teruel's team was an American. I wanted to go talk to him after the game but we couldn't get to him. Perhaps next time we can have a chat. It would be interesting to know how he ended up in Teruel and how he's getting along here.

Last night I went to a bar called Torico Gourmet, home of the number one tapa in some contest from 2009. It lived up to its reputation. The tapa had ingredients that were all grown or raised in villages around Teruel. It was absolutely delicious. Then again, I don't think I've tried much food in Spain that I haven't enjoyed. The teacher that invited me out paid for all of the tapas as well. Then we had to go to another bar for coffee (or in my case, tea). What I thought was going to be a short dinner ended up turning into several hours of learning about different foods, slang, and Spanish television. I enjoyed it but I paid for it today, as I had to get up early for work.

That's what siestas are for, I suppose. It's almost 10:30 and I'm about to go out to a bar to listen to jazz music. Hopefully I can get home at a decent hour, though that's never the case with the Spaniards.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

And then suddenly...hiking

They tell me it's fall here in Teruel but I'm highly suspect. It's true there are a few trees shedding their yellowing leaves, yet that is the only resemblance to any fall I've ever seen. It should not be possible for me to be hiking through the countryside in a t-shirt, sweating profusely and getting dehydrated, in what is supposed to be fall. Fall means I should be wearing a light jacket and enjoying the cool breeze, perhaps even getting rained upon. I don't mean to complain about the weather here, but they should call it what it is - summer.

I had planned on going to the park today. I accidentally hiked nine miles instead. David (my roommate) told me about a nice park about a thirty minute walk from our apartment. It sounded easy enough to find. He told me to head in a certain direction and look for a dirt road to follow. I found a gravel one that seemed to match his description roughly, so I followed it. I met a few cyclists along the road, so I figured I was heading in the right direction. People with bikes like to ride in the park, right? It was a mile or two later when I realized that I was most certainly not heading to the park. I was passing through the countryside looking at some beautiful scenery though, so I decided to keep going. I found several farms and even saw a tractor stirring up dirt in a field near the road.

Teruel has some gorgeous countryside. I was constantly stopping to take pictures of the scenery. I had no idea where I was going but I wanted to document it well. And that I did.

After hiking up quite a few steep hills and through rows of trees, I found a giant clearing where there were several farms and hunting zones. I wasn't aware of the hunting zone part until I looked up what the sign said later. I might not have trespassed onto this farmland to get a picture of the ruined building had I known that...

Don't worry though, most Spaniards don't have guns. I escaped unscathed and snagged a few pictures of the building. I couldn't tell what it might have been. I might ask David later to see if he knows.

Once I had advanced well into dehydration, I spotted a city in the distance, less than a mile or so off. I decided to head that way since I knew I was at the point of no return in regards to Teruel. I crossed a bridge that went over a highway and headed up into town. It was incredibly small and quiet, aside from the annoying rooster that someone must have been kicking in their backyard. I followed the sound of laughter to a small bar in the middle of town and went in for some water and food. I had to settle for chips because they were only serving those and green olives. I despise olives. It's a shame really, the Spaniards are absolutely nuts for them. I had a bit of trouble getting the young, mohawk-sporting bartender to understand "agua". I'm not sure if my accent is that bad or he just couldn't understand the difference between agua and cerveza. 

After a rest in the little town I bought another water and headed back towards Teruel. I managed to take a self portrait using my backpack as a tripod and the 10 second delay on my camera. It's a bit lopsided, but not too bad.

I made it back the same way I came. I looked up my path on Google Maps once I made it to the apartment. It turns out I had traveled around nine miles if I include my detour onto the random farm. Perhaps tomorrow I can have another go at getting to the park. That is if I'm not too sunburned from my stroll through the countryside in the "fall". 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another job and Spanish barbecue

(Albarracin - I work in this town)

The downside to meeting so many new people in such a short period of time is that I can't hardly remember any of their names or form very deep relationships with any of them. The upside is that they are all eager to take the American boy to all of their favorite places and treat him to free food.

I've started teaching at yet another school in Teruel at night. This will effectively increase my income by 1.5x, so I'm happy about it. There are almost a thousand students at the school, most of which are older than me (some twice my age). They are all there of their own volition, which makes teaching them all the more easy and enjoyable. And a lot of them are surprisingly good at English. I've had some of my deepest conversations in Spain in the classrooms there. Language isn't just for simple utility when both parties have a decent grasp of it.

Last weekend I was invited to join David (my roommate) at Pilar's (his lady friend) lake house near Teruel. It's one of the "artificial" lakes that Franco created, from what I understood. This didn't detract from its beauty a bit. The water was a deep jade color and it was surrounded by some of the nicest scenery I've seen in Spain thus far. It was nice to just sit around and enjoy the breeze and relax for a while, until it was interrupted by people tossing rocks at their friend in the water. I'm not sure Pilar's friends are very bright. They are entertaining, if that counts for anything. After narrowly avoiding any casualties, we had the Spanish equivalent of a barbecue for lunch. It was a giant pan full of seafood that was sauteed in a sauce of some kind and then combined with rice. It was delicious. 

Afterwards, a bunch of us played Uno. They were confused that the game wasn't called "One" in the States. I was confused because their rules were much different than any I had ever played. It made the game much quicker and quite mean. I think I learned some swear words I had never heard before. 

This week I applied for the last of my residency papers. I think everything went okay. If nothing else, they got fifteen euros out of me. Now I have to wait thirty days to get my ID card. Hopefully I can still get a bank account in the meantime. I'd like to get paid eventually.

Unfortunately I've been sick the past couple of days and haven't done much outside of teaching and reading. I'm convinced children have a sixth sense about when you aren't feeling well. Some psychological switch is triggered which tells them that this is the most opportune time to be loud and annoying while you're trying to teach. Thankfully I'm not the official teacher, so I can just let her handle the discipline. Maybe teachers should all have their own personal therapist.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Traditional Spanish garb is kind of awesome.

Last weekend I agreed to attend a banquet for my mentor's dance group in Teruel. I showed up after the dinner (as it was 30 euros per plate) and had some dessert. Most of the dancers were sufficiently inebriated at this point, which was entertaining for me. They repeatedly sang a song that would call out a person in the room to dance like a jellyfish. I'm not sure why this was done, but eventually even I was called out to wiggle my arms around. The dessert was some kind of delicious mousse with raspberries. After that we headed downstairs for a picture slideshow of the dance group and to watch some dances and hear the Spanish folk songs being played by their band. They dance/play the jota, which is a traditional Spanish style. The singing isn't all that appealing to me, but it is fun to experience the cultural aspect of it.

I mistakenly thought that this was the extent of the night. Afterwards, the dancers went to a pub nearby and continued to dance and increase their level of drunkenness. At least they were entertaining. The worst part of it all was having to listen to a talkative, cocky Argentinean bartender with a microphone. I wasn't a fan of the music being played, but I couldn't really hear it over his incessant boasts that he could get any girl in the bar. More power to him.

After the bar, my mentor's brother led us to a "disco movil" (I believe that's how it is spelled). It was essentially a discoteca or dance club set up temporarily in a big warehouse. It was not the least bit enjoyable. The music was horrible and loud and the people were all high on something besides alcohol. One guy was throwing small amounts of change at a pizza vendor and demanding food, despite the vendor telling him it wasn't enough money. Needless to say, we didn't stay there long.

The next day I watched two of Almodovar's films, "La Mala Educacion" and his new one, "La piel que habito". The first was lent to me by a new friend who works at the Foreign Language School in Teruel. The second I watched with my roommate David and his lady friend Pilar. Both films were very intense and provocative, as is Almodovar's style. I really liked the concept of the new film, though. And I believe I understood most of the story despite it being entirely in Spanish with no subtitles. I watched the movie in the cinema in Teruel. It is over one hundred years old and was converted from a stage to a movie screen. It still has the balcony seating on the sides.

This week I started at the secondary school in Albarracin. Though the kids behaved entirely different than the 10-12 year-olds, most of them didn't know much more English. I have been somewhat impressed by the upper-level students, though. They managed to ask me some fairly coherent questions and I taught them vocabulary for facial expressions, clothing, pattern styles, etc. They managed to successfully apply the new vocabulary when describing pictures of my friends that I dug up from my external hard drive. Jac was especially popular for his many different hairstyles/colors and his variety of dress. One of the other classes prepared questions to ask me in English, which I thought was a decent exercise because it allowed them to form questions and ask them orally without the pressure involved with creating ideas on the fly. Given their level of English, it was probably a good thing. However, they came up with some of the weirdest questions, such as "when did you first kiss a girl?" and "if you had kids, what would you name them?"

Last night I followed the dance group through the streets of Teruel while they danced and sang. It was quite enjoyable. Afterwards, Ana and Louis took me to their apartment for dinner. I got to play Louis' bass for a while and listen to some of their music. They bought me a Spanish Civil War book about the Battle of Teruel in a bookstore and gave it to me last night as a gift. They are so helpful and friendly. Louis prepared pizza, omelets, mushrooms, some kind of sardines, and of course bread. I skipped out on the sardines.

As usual, Ana and Louis led me to a bar after dinner. They have a tendency to say something in Spanish that I don't quite understand and then they get up and expect me to be ready to follow them. We went to a really old pub that is apparently notorious for attracting strange people. It was entertaining. Louis had to explain a lot of the conversations because they were full of slang and cursing that I wasn't familiar with, but watching a drunk man force another drunk man to dance with him is enjoyable without understanding a word of what they are saying. Louis shared a tea with me, which is uncommon for Spaniards. They are strict coffee drinkers and they denounce American coffee as too watered-down.

Today I woke up early and headed across town to meet up with Ana's family to participate in the Catholic fiesta honoring St. Pilar. I didn't get much about what the festival was supposed to be about other than putting flowers on a pyramid-shaped wire structure. I don't think there are many religious people in Spain, at least not among the younger generation, but they all go along with the traditions. So no one clearly explained what was going on, only that it was some sort of mass. The dancers danced for the mass and the band played as well. I got to dance with a baby too. They abandoned her in the back room while they went to perform, so I babysat. And by abandoned I mean they all just walked off without securing a babysitter or anything. Anyway, the baby enjoyed the sounds of the dancers and the music and started bouncing about. It was adorable.

The best part of the day, however, was that I got to dress up in traditional Spanish garb. I had lacy socks, velvet shorts, a corduroy vest, and a pirate-like headpiece. I think a picture will describe this better than I can in words:

After a dance in the nearby park, I was invited to lunch by Ana's parents. We met up with their family at a fancy restaurant. It was 20 euros per plate. Her family paid for everything. The helpfulness must run in the family. Ana's father has a great sense of humor when I actually understand what he is saying, which made dinner fun for me. I ordered what I understood to be pork steak, though I didn't receive it until much later. We had I think five or six rounds of appetizers prior to the main course (salad, rice, mussels, bread, a couple different kinds of pork with bread, etc.). By the time I got the pork steak, which was a huge hunk of meat, I was about to burst. Then I had ice cream in the shape of the star of Teruel with hot chocolate poured over it. Absolutely delicious, though my stomach hated me later.

I seem to be comprehending more Spanish conversations and picking up on quite a few colloquial phrases. I'm not sure how fluent I will be after all is said and done, but I think this is an excellent way to learn a language after you have the basics. And I'm not just learning a language, I'm absorbing so much culture. I have so many opportunities to learn here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Moving to Teruel

I seem to have been really lucky to have ended up in Teruel. I didn't know it before I arrived, but this area was apparently the site of some of the most gruesome battles of La Guerra Civil. At some point, not long ago, you could still find helmets and bullet casings and the like while hiking in the mountains not far from here. I'm sure there are more to be found as well.

Yesterday I tried to get my residency card. Of course, there would be as much bureaucratic nonsense involved here as in the States. No one at the immigration office knew how to process my visa, so now I have to wait a week while they figure that out. Because of this, I can't open a Spanish bank account, which means I can't get paid for my job until all of this is sorted out. I did manage to buy a phone without any problems (that I'm aware of).

Yolanda, one of my mentors here, helped translate all of the bureaucracy and drive me around Teruel. Afterward, she invited me to her house for lunch. It's not common for people around here to live in a house and hers is absolutely beautiful. I met her husband and two kids and we had eggs over sausage and rice with bread on the side. My options for dessert were yogurt, bananas, or apples. It seems that health consciousness is not limited to the CRIET here. I should be much healthier by the time I return to the States.

I met Yolanda's husband, Javier, who has been one of the most enjoyable people I have met in Spain. He is excellent at English, so I was able to carry on deeper conversations with him about philosophy and politics and so forth. Most of the time I struggle to express a simple idea in Spanish, but talking with Javier was a nice break from that. He lost his right hand in a fireworks accident when he was very young, but he is an extremely capable man. He does all sorts of heavy duty house projects, rides bikes, drives his car, cooks, you name it. He is especially fond of darts.

Javier and I took their golden retriever for a walk to the river near Teruel. The dog's name is Sopas, which is "soups" in Spanish. I asked Javier if it was typical to name their dogs after food. Apparently Sopas is a very regional word for messy or disheveled. It turned out to be an excellent name for her. She took a bath in the stream and then promptly rolled around in the dirt afterward. The hike around Teruel was delightful. The scenery here is astounding and the weather has been sunny and clear almost every day.

Javier let me borrow a Spanish film and a British comedy series to watch in my spare time. He has also invited me to come over for dinner any time I like. He is such a kind man.

Today I helped see the kids at the CRIET off. Though a great number of them had misbehaved all week, it was still a bit sad to see them go. I think at least a few of them learned some English and were pronouncing words much better than when we started.

I moved into my apartment today with a guy named David. He is the youngest forty-two year old I have ever met. He is a bit of a hippie I think. Most importantly however, he owns five bikes. He has offered to let me ride one when it has been repaired. I'm excited.

My room is nice, save the Tweety Bird wallpaper border. Most of the apartments here are pre-furnished. David seemed to be using this room for storage, so I don't think he minded the childish decor. Now that I live in Teruel, I may get a library card and start doing some research on Teruel and the Civil War here. David finds history boring, which I must admit is a bit disappointing.

David and his friend, Pilar, took me out to a Chinese restaurant tonight. I think I have adjusted to eating at 9 or 10 at night at this point. I'm not sure how this will affect me when I come back to the States. The food was absolutely delicious - we had rice, some kind of mystery fried substance, and duck with sliced orange and peppers. They paid for all of the food with the understanding that I must buy them dinner before I leave Spain.

Tonight I will sleep well knowing that I don't have to be up early for the first time in a while.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My adventures so far...

I have been keeping a daily journal by hand of my travels thus far in Spain and, believe it or not, I've written quite a few pages in the short while I've been gone. I haven't had as much time to update this blog as well, but now is better than later, I suppose.

I arrived in Madrid last Wednesday morning, having slept hardly at all, and sluggishly struggled through the airport. It wasn't my first time in a foreign airport where I couldn't understand anyone, but it was my first time doing it alone, which made things a bit more difficult. I picked up my luggage and managed to get it to the front lobby of the airport before I decided to have a seat. My big suitcase has a broken wheel, which at this point is now more like a shredded and absolutely destroyed wheel, having wheeled it through Madrid, Teruel, and now Albarracin.

I found a bus that was supposed to take me to Calle O'Donnell, which should stand out given its Irish name. However, I missed my bus stop and ended up going to the end of the route. I thought it made sense to stay on the bus and try to catch my stop on the next round, but apparently Spanish buses don't go in circles. An official-looking woman came and yelled at me for a bit until I understood that I needed to get off the bus and take the metro. She at least gave me some directions. The metro was just like any other subway transport, but the lack of escalators meant I had to carry all of my luggage up and down stairs half the time. I know I'm emphasizing the pain of carrying this luggage around to an almost pathetic degree, but it was the only thing on my mind as I poured sweat and strained muscles trying to get to my hotel.

Long story short, I did manage to make it to the hotel. In all, it took around four hours to get from the airport to the comfort of my room in the Hotel Convencion. I paid a premium price for a day's worth of Internet and contacted some people via email before promptly dying in my bed for a couple hours. The rest of the day was spent enjoying Spanish television, including The Simpsons and Bones. Voice-overs are so terrible.

The next day was the start of the orientation, which brought along with it a roommate for me. This turned out to be a great thing because he was British. He was also good company, I suppose. He has been studying Spanish for far longer than I have, as was the case with the majority of the other Auxiliares that I met in Madrid. He proved to be super helpful in getting a Spanish SIM card and we went out for lunch too. The orientation as a whole was fairly useless in preparing me for my job, as most of the information was common sense, but it gave me a place to stay and good food for a couple of days. Having Samuel, my new British friend, help me out was a good transition into living in Spain, though, so I'm glad I went. I also met a Scottish lady and a half-Basque, half-Irish lad from Britain who both shared tea with me at a little cafe.

I had to leave Madrid early Saturday morning to catch a bus to Teruel. I was too tired to really enjoy the five hour trek to Teruel, but what I did see of the landscape was really beautiful. There was a lot of brown in the scenery, similar to the Italian countryside that I saw last year, but it has its own appeal. I'm not sure it beats Appalachia's abundantly green countryside, but it is a sight to see. As we went further into the Aragon region, I saw more and more old-style buildings. Many of them were in disrepair, with their roofs falling in and the walls collapsing.

Thankfully, Teruel has been fairly well preserved, both as an historical landmark and as far as renovations to the older buildings. I found the office of tourism in Teruel after wandering around town for a while with my luggage (yes, it was still heavy and the wheel was getting progressively worse). A woman there was very patient with my poor Spanish and she provided me with a directory of hotels in Teruel and their prices. I had tried to Couchsurf, but I couldn't do so on such short notice, so I was forced to find a hotel. I ended up at the Hotel Oriente, whose name I cannot understand given the decor and the location of the hotel. It seemed a bit overpriced for the size of the room, but it worked out fairly well.

I wandered around town some more and got some food at a little cafe/bar. I met a Peruvian bartender who took pity on me for traveling alone so far from the States and decided to give me a free bottle of water with my meal. That's fairly gracious, considering the price of a bottle of water averages around $2 here, from what I can tell. I'm going to have to go back and pay him a visit when I get settled in Teruel.

On Sunday, I called Ana, one of my English mentors at the schools I am teaching at. She met me later that day and showed me around Teruel with her boyfriend, Louis. They are both really enjoyable people and are really excited about what they do. Ana teaches English at a school called the CRIET, which as far as I can understand is a primary school for rural children that takes a bit of an alternative approach to learning. The kids come and stay at the CRIET for a week at a time and take classes and go on field trips and so forth. Since I have to teach at a primary school for half the time I'm in Spain, I'm glad I got to be in one of the weird ones.

Louis turned out to be a history buff, especially when it comes to la guerra civil espanola (The Spanish Civil War). I was constantly prodding him for more stories as we walked around Teruel. He has apparently found quite a few artifacts from the war while hiking through the countryside, including a lot of bullet shells and helmets and things. But his appeal doesn't end there - he is also a geologist and a bassist in an American rock cover band. He is essentially a Spanish Indiana Jones that can rock out.

I got to meet Louis' band at dinner outside a little cafe in Teruel. They were a varied bunch, both in age and personality. I didn't understand most of the conversations that took place that night because of the rapidity of their speech and their propensity for yelling over each other at the same time. Thankfully, Ana was able to interpret some of the funnier things for me and explain my duties at the school for Monday.

The last two days, I have been at the CRIET. I am allowed to live here during the weeks that I'm teaching here, which includes an individual room, Internet, and three meals a day. I'm currently looking for cheap apartment housing as well, because I can't stay at the CRIET all the time. So far I have struggled quite a bit with understanding Spanish, but I have met all of the teachers, the director, and the cooks, and have gotten along with all of them. A few of them have helped me out quite a bit with my Spanish and in return I have helped them with their English.

The kids at the CRIET are just like kids at any other primary school I've been to. There are a few really intelligent ones who know a bit of English and geography and there those who refuse to even attempt to learn any of it. Overall, it has been enjoyable and I think I have helped a few of them improve their pronunciation a bit. They have trouble with some of the "S" and "SH" sounds. Tomorrow we are going on a field trip of sorts to the Parque Europa, where I believe there are a bunch of replicas of famous European monuments. It should be interesting.

I will try to update this more frequently in the future, but this is an idea of what I have done so far. Of course, there is much more to say and I have a lot of personal reflections on my struggles with the Spanish language and my reflections on the culture here that I will hopefully address later at some point.