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.

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