Tuesday, February 14, 2012

To the trenches

I went with one of my students from the language school Saturday to Sarrión, a small town about half an hour from Teruel. His name's Ricardo, an older guy that smells strangely similar to my grandpa despite being significantly younger and sporting much less hair. I'm not exactly sure what he does for a living, but he knows quite a bit about bird watching and botany. He also has a really difficult time walking and talking at the same time. It may have been a sort of pause for effect, but every time he needed to explain why something was historically relevant or why a plant was interesting, we had to come to a dead stop and ponder it for a moment before we could move on. We had to do the same when he stopped to pee.

Unfortunately, we never made it to our intended destination. We had planned to hike around a civil war site a few miles away from the town. We only made it a mile or two down the country road before we found a hill covered in a blanket of ice a few inches thick. We decided not to test our luck in his 2-wheel drive hatchback. Thankfully, Ricardo had a backup plan in mind. He took me to a fish hatchery.

The fish hatchery turned out to be quite small and unimpressive, but the trails that followed along the riverbank and through the hills behind it were enjoyable. Ricardo taught me quite a bit about the fauna of Aragón and some of its feudal and modern history. Apparently a great deal of the pine trees in this region were planted by Franco because no one would trade him any lumber. There are other plants that have stuck around since the Mediterranean was significantly more tropical due to their ability to resist extreme heat and cold, dry spells. And the little run-down buildings we kept running into while we were hiking around in the countryside were remnants of old farmer's houses that were vacated when Franco was paranoid about rebel soldiers living in the mountains (see: Maquis). I also got to see what he claimed to be an eagle, using his bird-watching binoculars. He probably could have claimed it was any larger, predatory bird and I'd have believed him.

We hiked two or three miles through the hills until we came upon a main road. We decided to look around on the other side of the road and found a big steep hill to climb. We stumbled across some smaller trenches in what was probably a good lookout spot during the civil war. I was excited. I cut myself up on wild brush more than I intended, but I got to see some trenches, so I was okay with it. We ended up having to walk back to the car in the dark because we budgeted our time poorly. The sun sets entirely too early in February.

After walking around in the cold for a few hours, Ricardo and I returned to Teruel and grabbed some coffee in a little bar near the hotel I stayed in my first few nights here. We got there just in time to watch the drunk patrons yell at the soccer game on television. The window of opportunity for that sort of spectacle is quite wide in Spain. I met one of Ricardo's friends, a gruff old man that reminded me of one of my college history professors. It may have just been the beard, the swearing, and the forwardness because he lacked any insightful rants about American history theories. I'm fairly certain this guy started smoking as a fetus. He came close to coughing up a lung on occasion and it was nigh impossible to understand him. It turns out he is a police officer. He had an ID card and everything. And just when I thought there was no way I could like him any more than that, he paid for our coffees.

Ricardo and I made plans to meet up at a bar called Casa Andalucia to listen to live flamenco. Someone screwed up when they made the advertisements or the band is going through some kind of identity crisis because it was certainly not flamenco. It turned out to be some kind of modern, South American-influenced music. There was an electric guitar that played a similar mellow solo 17 times too many every song. We decided to go to another bar for a rock concert instead. The rock band played the same upbeat guitar solo just as frequently and unnecessarily but at least it was exciting. I may never be able to hear some of those frequencies of sound ever again, though.

This week I don't have to work on Friday because Teruel is celebrating it's Medieval heritage this weekend with a giant festival that transforms the town into a Middle Age fantasy land. From what I've heard, it's like the Renaissance Fair I used to go to, except everyone thinks it's cool. I'm going to try to find a costume to wear. I'm sure it will be just as great as the last one I tried on.

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