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8 posts categorized "Travel"

02/05/2011

Three Weeks Already!

Espanol Intensiva is now over! Three weeks has pass and I am completely overloaded with Spanish vocab/grammar. At this point even when I’m speaking English I find myself throwing Spanish words in-between. Just a little background on me I’m originally from “Chi-Town” Chicago. I’m a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the last time I took Spanish was in high school. I took two years, and of course, I remember nothing. I always wanted to learn Spanish mainly because many of my friends spoke it and also that I’m fascinated with Spanish speaking women but that’s another story. So when I got here all I had was a few common phrases like “Tengo hambre” and a small vocab that included “comida” y “carne asada”. “Carne asada”  because I love steak burritos, can’t get enough of them. Pero ahora, I know so much vocabulary right now its crazy. It’s funny also because I don’t even know how to use half of them in a sentence. The intensive course was very useful and it does take effort. Even though I claim to know at least basic Spanish, determining whether or not a “palabra” (palabra=word) is feminine or masculine was definitely the last thing I remembered. None the less, I made it through. I’ve gotten a little better at understanding people also because now I no longer have a blank stare on my face when someone talks to me. I still sit there for like 30 seconds, google translating in my brain, figuring out what they just said. But at least its not 5 minutes with a dumb look on my face saying si si knowing I have no clue what they’re talking about. Though, for some reason I still don’t really understand males when they talk. I don’t know why but talking to a female it’s easier for me to follow than a guy. Maybe its because I listen to my profesora (female professor) talk for 4hrs a day and the fact that I only live with a host madre. Whatever it is I need to fix it because only comprehending about half the population doesn’t look too good then again I’m not really complaining. Going out with Spaniards to parties and bars is hilarious. It’s just always funny to point out the differences between Americans and Spaniards. Especially the way they dance and the type of music the listen to. I’m really excited for our weekend trips to start. Our next one is in two weeks and we’re going to Barcelona. That will probably be the next time I blog so until then.

Adios!

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Small Group Pic on the Guadalest y Villajoyosa Excursion

01/31/2011

Culture Shock!

It’s been three weeks already and my experience so far has been quite interesting to say the least. The flight here was no joke - I literally traveled for 24 hours. Though, I’m sure my stay here will be well worth it. Alicante, the city itself, has been pretty good so far. Minus the overcrowded buses and cold, rainy weather I can’t really complain. Alicante has great scenery with many large hills and miniature mountains that have great views of the city.

During our orientation they go over many things concerning our stay here in Alicante, one of which is culture shock. Now I have been outside the country many times before so I was sure that wouldn’t apply to me. Boy was I wrong! For those of you staying with a host family this may apply to you. Electricity usage here is expensive so they advise us not to leave lights on when we are not using them. I completely understand this but being a so-called “typical American” for me it takes a little getting use to. Making sure my light is off every time I leave my room or not using light in the daytime because I have a window isn’t really at the top of my priorities. Though, this of course will vary from person to person. Another thing is although it’s not required to have any prior knowledge of Spanish it’s definitely beneficial. Living with a host family will prove this. Even for those living in a dorm because they may know English but their friends probably don’t. So it may seem a little awkward if you’re in a group and the only person you can converse with is the Spanish helper. As far as the host families go, they mention this in orientation but I’m going to reiterate it. When your host Madre, or anyone for that matter, tells you something in Spanish DO NOT just nod and shake your head ok. Even if u think you understand but didn’t catch that last part. Make sure you clarify with them what they’re saying. I made the mistake of guessing that my host mother was going out to lunch with a friend alone only to be proven otherwise after she started yelling, in Spanish of course, why aren’t you ready we are leaving in five minutes. A simple misunderstanding but completely thrown out of proportion. So communication is key; but it is difficult to communicate in Spanish, right off the back, when your main reason in coming here is to do just that. I have yet to find a solution to this little problem but I will be sure to find an answer and share it as time progress.

Oh and another thing about learning Spanish. While I was applying all I could think of is how fluent I was going to be when I returned. Though, every time I ask is it possible? Has anyone done it? I always get the same answer “ you get what you put into it. ” Sorry to say but I hated that answer. To me, I could put my all into to it and still not be able to communicate or at least not as well as the next person. So here’s my answer to that question. I have no doubt everyone in the program will pick up a mass amount vocabulary and common phrases. However, it’s all about being able to have casual conversations in Spanish. Consistently practicing speaking is necessary and here is when the “it’s what you put into it” comes into play. Limiting your time speaking English and working with a Spanish student so you can practice will make a big difference. I believe it will help if everyday you pick a subject and talk about it. Taking note of the vocabulary you need in order to express your feelings. I guarantee by the end of the month you’ll be amazed on how much you pick up on outside of class. I’m looking forward to amazing myself.

 

Well I think that’s enough for one day so until next time.  Luego!

12/21/2010

Closing Time. Tears Ensue.

Well. The time has come. The fastest four years of my life are coming to a close. And I am at a loss for words--a paradoxical situation to be in for trying to compose a blog right now. I don't know where to begin. I've done so much, I've seen some amazing things, I've been knee deep in confusing cultural situations (my jokes still don't quite translate in Spanish), and I've met incredible people. And THAT is my excuse for not writing in this blog more. I was busy doing all those things. Seriously.

Man. What to say? When I first got here I was scared out of my mind. I was so nervous, so confused. I was tan and I weighed a bit more, also.  All of these things, including the weight, faded over the course of the semester as I grew into a more mature individual, as I learned about myself by being forced into uncomfortable and challenging situations. Trying real hard to avoid cliches here. But really, when you've just had the best time of your life it's pretty hard to not say things like this was the best time of my life. Because it was. The best time. Of my life. And everything I've seen and done in these 4 months will be things I will carry with me forever. I am a compilation of everything that's happened this semester, and I know my life will never be the same because of it. More cliches. When in Rome.

I've been on a lot of buses, a lot of planes, a lot of trains, I've seen a lot of cathedrals and street performers, I've consumed way too much cafe con leche, I've confused way too many Spaniards in my attempts to communicate, I've gotten lost in lots of places, I've made a lot of friends and I've set foot in 5 countries in 4 months. This is one of the rarest opportunities anyone will ever have in their life. If you have the opportunity, take it. Make yourself uncomfortable. Try new things. Eat octopus. You'll thank yourself later. It's all worth it. As they say in spain, it values the pain.

And here's the biggest pain of all: leaving. The friendships I've made here are some that I will never forget (even if I try). The experiences I've had are like none other. And man, it pulls on my heart. I can't even organize my thoughts. I guess the only thing I can do is thank everyone for what they've done. The staff was amazing, the teachers were amazing (and patient! Real important with 27 American goofballs), the program was amazing. And I am thankful to every single individual for contributing to the wordlessness I am now experiencing.

Everyone that has studied abroad knows what I'm talking about. Everyone who's considering it: do it without hesitation. And then you'll know, too. And you'll wonder how to reduce such an overwhelmingly emotional thing into a blog. Man. My heart is gonna burst. I'm home.

Adam, signing out.

12/20/2010

Traveling in Spain

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This is a view of the Pyrenees from Andorra this past October.  Top notch day.

September 27
Mallorca

For getting all of an hour and half’s worth of sleep last night, today has been stellar. The dearth of sleep was due to the fact that I slept in the Palma de Mallorca Airport and the stellarness is due to a variety of things. I finished my book, a map of the Sierra Nevada Mountains arrived after three weeks of waiting, and most of all I just finished up an awesome weekend; Miguelito, Pato and I accomplished a lot…a Thursday evening departure and a Monday morning return (with a taxi to class) helped make this three day weekend to Mallorca just top notch.

Saturday evening found us checking the bus schedule in the minuscule village of Lluc in northwestern Mallorca…and what do you know the last bus out just left and tomorrow happens to be Sunday…always a slow day in Spain, only two buses will be coming to Lluc and not really in the direction we hope to go or by the time we hope to leave this one horse village. But we are relatively wiped out after a mondo day in the Serra de Tramuntanas, a mountain range that seems to rise right off the coast, reaching elevations as high as 4,300 ft. We’d trekked from the mountain village of Sóller with the plan of either staying at a mountain ‘refugio’ or making the full 25-30km trek via the GR-221 trail to Lluc. The first refugio we saw was a ‘bring your own food to cook’ type location, and all we’d brought to eat was lunch + snacks…a scrumptious array of Mallorca produced cheese, ham, fresh baguettes, apples, peaches, and bananas. OK, so the bananas and maybe the melocotones (peaches) could have been imported to be sold at the local ‘mercado’ where we purchased breakfast and lunch Saturday morning in Sóller.

In any case, we were going to walk all the way to Lluc because we had not purchased dinner materials and were making good time on a gorgeous day through some freaking cool mountains.The climb up from Sóller was steep; a stone walkway with hundreds of other seemingly hand created stone walls and walkways covered the valley as we ascended. You don’t get the same atmosphere hiking the Whites. We consistently saw sheep throughout the day roaming the mountainsides along with cattle. I’ll mention this again, there were heaps of rocks!

Being stuck in Lluc, we choose to do the only thing anyone seems to be doing and reserve a three bedroom room for $46 euro at the local tourist hub; a monastery! Don’t see any monks. We wake up to $6 euro breakfast buffet and decide to get a quick dayhike in before the first bus comes at 1. Not much to do in Lluc as it turns out. However after about 30 minutes of walking we see the GR-221 sign posted with ‘4 hours 45 minutes’ to Pollensa, the next pueblo (town) on the northward track of the ‘Camina per Mallorca.’ Miguelito and I jump on the idea and convince Pato it’s the only thing to do. This day is close to as long mileage-wise, but it’s almost all downhill valley and flat country road walking. My feet are certainly feeling it as we amble into the small village around 3 and find the bus stop and a convenient bus to Palma at 3:30!

First night we spent in Arenal, a German and Dutch tourist dominated Hampton Beach type suburb of Palma, and stayed at the quality ‘Hostal Tierramar’ where we were provided with a bar and some solid information about the island. Friday we explored the city around the Catedral de Palma and even walked out of the main city a bit and climbed up to the Castillo de Bellver to catch some views and check out a castle. Yesterday evening was spent along the coast of the city.Over dinner Pato regaled us with stories of geology and the good life in Kansas. So awesome.

-Nick

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2010

Fall Break 2010- Spain Edition- First 3 days

The break started off a bit rocky with last minute Thursday night organization of hostels for Granada and a plane ticket to Barcelona from Granada on Thurs. morning in order to get to that Parc Nacional with the tricky name (an interesting purchase to make, as it turned out, when the rest of the logistics were yet to be figured out). A bit stressful with schoolwork to complete for me and I was happy to go out and have a few drinks with my buddies in the program in the few hours I had before the 8am bus to Granada. Friday was spent exploring the city and getting psyched on being on a vacation…highlites include the $1.50euro drink + Tapa (a traditional Spanish side dish that comes with the purchase of a drink). The tapas I experienced in Granada were both bigger and cheaper than what I’ve gotten in Alicante or Mallorca (you have to order a pint of beer to get even olives or some chips in my experience in those places), yet with a small beer we were getting things like full hot dogs in hamburger buns in Granada. I enjoyed a full dinner that happened to coincide with my beer purchases. Miguelito is a little tougher to please in the food dept/is allergic to huevos (eggs) so he wasn’t as psyched on the dinner/night of drinking combination...he also didn't polish his night off with a kebab and complimentary crepe.
Can't get tickets to the Alhambra for Friday and have to book them for the following Wednesday night when we plan to return to Granada.

Saturday
Day began with not the best night’s rest at ‘El Clandestino,’ a hostal in the city, and a bus to the Alpujarras, a series of ‘pueblos blancos’ (white towns) set in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Southeast of Granada. Plan was to walk from town to town until we reached Treveléz, the most northern and isolated of the Alpujarras, from where we would make every effort to summit Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on continental Spain/the Iberian peninsula at 3,478.6 meters (10,000+ feet people). If we succeed it will be a 6,000 ft elevation gain to reach the top from Treveléz. Walking began in a little pueblo called Bubión and continued on for about 10kms when it started to really pour rain. It was dumping cats (see above) and dogs. Luckily we happened upon a large tent and bar with the entire village of Portugós celebrating an arbitrary Virgin while keeping out of the rain... (jokes jokes; I'm sure she was very carefully picked out). They gave us egg sandwich tapas with our $1.50 beers. Unfortunately the local hostal was full due to the celebration...a bit of confusion involved as I am inquiring with the locals as to where places of lodging are and whether rooms are available, but thankfully rain lets up and it's on to Busquistar! Not too many English speakers in these mountain towns as it turns out...kinda fun that way.

Sunday
Busquistar →Treveléz = 14km…manage to locate a fine hostal sans heat after asking the owner of a different establishment if hers was the cheapest in town and getting a 'no, no sé' (I don't know) in reply...a mere $30 a night in exchange for room, two beds, and bathroom. Miguelito is also a little tougher to please in the heat dept; luckily there is an extra blanket in the closet. My preparation for the Mulhacén summit attempt includes the pasted picture below.

The next few days were spent in Trevelez. Mike and I summitted Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on the Iberian Peninsula along with some other smaller peaks. One of the most spectacular places I´ve ever been.

 

The second half of break was spent in Andorra do to a burst of spontaneity...

Andorra la Vella.The city of 22,000 people and 1,000 stores. Super random; apparently a tax haven of sorts? Not fully clear how that all works but the Wikipedia page tells us that 80% of GDP is derived from tourism. For Mike and I, logistics worked beautifully up in Andorra…maybe that's typical in countries whose total area amounts to 468 km2.
Friday morning: a $2.75euro bus ride from the city took us straight to Arinsal, a small mountain town at the foot of the ski resort, 'Pal Arinsal' owned by Vallnord, and the Coma Pedrosa natural park beyond the resort. A bit cold to start off, but a real bluebird day! Maps weren’t great but, again, this is not a huge country, and thus the park wasn't too vast. Found the access to the park after a small walk up a ski trail. We followed the GR 11, a trail that runs through much of the park, and it treated us just fine. Met a Spanish guy thru-hiking it, from the Basque country west to east through the Pyrenees all the way to Cadaqués (a town north of Barcelona on the Mediterranean), who was on his 29th day (out of 42 or so he figured)! Peaked a mountain called Port de Baiau (2,756meters) on the Spanish border. Gettin’ steep up there boss! A solid day hike and we were back on the bus heading for Andorra la Vella by 5pm.
I managed to leave my water bottle on that bus, and was waiting for the ‘L5 line’ to roll back through town in hopes of recollecting it at about 6:30, that’s when I saw Micaela walking down the street. Kind of nice to run into old friends on the streets of Andorra. Who would’ve guessed? Originally, Mike and I had pictured Saturday being relaxed because of Micaela being there and it being my birthday night (kind of) on Friday (maybe we’d want a recovery day?). However, that didn’t really happen, Micaela insisted on wanting to ‘do something epic tomorrow,’ and who were we to decline such a gung-ho mentality? I was awake at midnight, but not much longer!
Saturday (my 21st Birthday) we went back to the same Natural Park via the bus to Arinsal and intended to do a lesser version of what we’d completed the day before. After all, this was Micaela’s first ‘real hike’ in her own words…but when the opportunity to head up into the middle valley rather than the western valley of the park arrived, it was a little too appealing… at shortly after that point we realized this was another perfect bluebird day in the Pyrenees and a summit attempt was a real possibility! Hell yeah! Passed some cows, stopped, hydrated and ate when Micaela became mildly dizzy, and then made the final push to reach the summit of Pic del Pla de I’Estany (2,859m) on the French border! Solid first hike right there for Meeks. I was feeling good and made the semi-perilous trek across a 200 yard ridge of cols to the true summit. Descent was also a success, Saturday night too. Andorra la Vella isn’t the most exciting city and instead of the standard American 21st birthday experience of drinking very excessively, we found a Fresca, a franchise restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. After a week of walking my taste buds forgot about that little thing called ‘decreasing marginal-utility;’ I think I consumed something like 3,000(+)? calories. There was heaps of laughter that slowly became more painful than enjoyable as plates of food were polished off. Great finale to a great week!
Below is a link to a decent map of the Coma Pedrosa Natural Park
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This is me on top of Mulhacén! Hollah
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11/29/2010

Better Late Than Bitten by a Monkey - Morocco

I know. I know. I'm how many weeks late. But that's okay. To save some time and effort I've used what I wrote for myself and copied it and then appropriately adjusted it here. Ta da! Here it is. Begin!

Of course, the excitement leading up to finally departing Alicante exceeded my desire to make physical contact with Natalie Portman. Margaret was also apparently so cripplingly excited that she forgot to pack underwear. I forgot to pack a tooth brush. Good start.

The flight was uneventful until we finally touched down on African soil, an occurrence which prompted Margaret to make some sort of guttural screech and my hands to start sweating like fat kids in a sauna thinking about homemade fudge. Similar to that one time I was in a Spanish brothel, I could only think of how freaking cool it was that I was here (that is, in Morocco). I got let into the country despite some language confusion and my giddy winking at Margaret while my passport was okayed. Sick. We caught a bus from the airport to the Medina (the old part of the city where we were staying), decided eff it man, how hard could it be to find our hostel and embarked on what wound up being quite the journey. Through all the contradicting directions we were given, we made it. After several hours. Yus.

The hostel was fantastic, if not a little hard to find. The middle of the building is kinda like an indoor courtyard and it was so cute that birds flitted around it serenading us in French. Upon checking in, they gave us complementary Moroccan tea (which is soooooo good) and confused looks in response to my Spanish. I left Margaret to the communication duties mostly. For the record, for pretty much the whole trip, Margaret navigated everything beautifully with her magnificent French skills. I would’ve been way lost without her, despite the fact that a decent number of people spoke English.

The hostel bathroom was pretty good and clean, although the stalls were incredibly small which made it quite the journey to take pants on and off. Also, I think the toilet paper was serrated, but it apologized by also being pink. I forgave it.

Our first excursion into the city took us into a place called the Souks, which is the world’s largest open air market. It’s nuts, so much going on, so much weird stuff being sold, and it can be pretty overwhelming at times. Everyone here vies for your love and affection and business with super friendly greetings but we learned quickly that responding to these solicitations excites them beyond anything they’ve ever experienced before and to prevent anxiety attacks it was best to ignore their advances. Regardless, we still had a grand time going around the Souks and teasing venders across the city. At one point we could’ve bought turtles and a squirrel. Excitement ignited. But would ryanair let that fly on the return flight? And then, hey, a joke about an herb to get Margaret to stop snoring was interpreted as “I’d like 5 kilos of that powdery stuff, please.” Excitement through the roof. No thanks. Oh! Hopes crushed forever. :( Sorry vendors.

I caught on that bargaining is the thing to do here rather early when Margaret and I decided that we were in fact married and that I therefore needed a ring. So our buddy Abdul (who, oddly enough and like most people in Morocco, for whatever reason, thought we were Spanish at first. This tickles me.) takes us into his shop of goodies and pulls out a whopping crate of assorted rings. The process begins. Found a winner, asked how much and Abdul responded: 500 DH. DH is the currency in Morocco. Wasn’t entirely sure what DH stood for at first, but decided that it’s most likely duckheads and that people of Morocco pay for things with the heads of ducks. 100 duckheads, more or less, is about 10 euros. So I respond to Abdul’s response, hey buddy I only have 100 duckheads and he’s like “Alright fine, 400 duckheads.” Dude, only got 100. “300.” 100. “250.” 100. “200.” Still 100. Long story short I got it for about 106 duckheads. Score. Talked down from 500 to 106 in less than a minute. He claims I got a great deal because it’s real silver, but it’s staining my finger as I write this. Either way, I’m effing married now. Not sure how to feel about that. This wound up being, of course, the source of endless jokes and a few awkward situations when we told varying accounts of our marital status to fellow hostel-stayers.

Adventuring around the market was quite interesting. When we entered a main plaza at one point we saw a man with a monkey. Margaret, being the uncontrollable person that she is, immediately shouted “MONKEY!” Now keep in mind, if eye contact makes the street venders smile and start pitching you on everything from pointy shoes to alligator skin, one can imagine what enthusiastically shouting 'monkey' might do. Bam, like a crowd of frat boys to the only woman in the room, this guy zipped over. He started off in broken Spanish, following the pattern of everyone thinking I’m a Spaniard, introduced himself and it was here where I made my first mistake. I shook hands with him. He does not let go. Gripping my hand, he tells me in poor Spanish to “guard my monkey. Here, take it.” I know these gypsy tricks. They want money for everything here and holding a monkey is as good as signing a contract that I am now obliged to give this man a metric truckload of duckheads. I think not. I protested immediately with a no, hey, no, let go of my hand and he’s like “Oh come on. Guard my monkey,” and tries to hand it off to me, causing the monkey to get totally stoked and nearly bite me. Context: I felt teeth on my hand. I got my first chance to say some real rude stuff in Spanish and pulled my hand from his grasp, monkey-free. Needless to say, while I’m shaken up and adrenalined-out, Margaret thinks this is the funniest thing in the world. Realistically, the whole scene probably lasted under 30 seconds, but when a man is not letting go of your hand and trying to hand you a monkey that just tried to bite you, that’s 30 seconds too long.

Another highlight of the market was purchasing a gift for a friend (dead chameleon) and then having the vendor try to talk Margaret and I into purchasing some aphrodisiac, the effects of which he proceeded to describe in a mix of French, English, whistles, and crude gestures. He’s looking totally stoked at the idea of Margaret and I having a bedbreaking tossfest with this herb and we’re like “Ho ho, you’re too kind. But no thanks.” We begin to walk away after a ridiculous talk and he calls us back over. Slightly confused, we head back over and he gives me two things of aphrodisiac for free and seems really really happy. I thanked him graciously but I’m yet to consume the herb. With my luck I’ll just get soul-shattering diarrhea from it. Also, what does this say about how the dead chameleon is supposed to be used if it comes with an aphrodisiac? Huh.

And this was all just the first night.

The rest of the trip was odd, spent in a trance-like state that comes with going somewhere so drastically different. We spent a good deal of time being lost but it was never that big of a deal, it seemed like it was just part of the experience. We saw some mosques, some palaces, some out-of-commission schools, a museum, and just weird stuff. It was quite the adventure. One day we opted to get away from the bustling of the Souks by going on a hike with some French people. This was probably some of the prettiest (and rockiest…and most, uh, trailblazingest) hike I’ve been on. We really just made our own trail through these gorgeous mountainous areas. The reward was a waterfall. Pretty sweet. Although the French seem like sissies they have badass habits like taking cigarette breaks during their hikes while I’m huffing and puffing without the smoking. Huh. However, in a massive symbolic victory for the states, Margaret and I beat the Frenchies on our way down the mountain. America: 1 France: 0. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that we booked it down the mountain primarily because I misread the time on my phone and thought we had like 20 minutes to catch our ride back to Marrakesh. Heh.

The trip was awesome. It was really like nothing I’ve done before and I am so glad I did it. Woo! I think I’d probably go into more detail about everything, but I’m already behind by hella days on all this journaling and I think I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Also, the captions will help. Read as: Next post, coming soon, pictures!

11/10/2010

Tareas and Traveling

We’re waist-deep in the semester; that means two things: cramming for mid-terms and cramming essentials into a backpack that will hopefully pass RyanAir’s carry-on measuring test.

For most people in the program, this month has been busy, to say the least. Midterms, and presentations are behind us or coming up soon, while final papers loom overhead. It’s easy to forget that we’re at school when every weekend is a new adventure, but reality came crashing down on me when I had to outline a 12 page essay on scraps of paper on the plane home from the Canary Islands…

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One thing that has been great about traveling is coming back and exchanging stories with everyone else who has been away from Alicante, as well as those who stick around and hold down the fort. As excited as I am about all the places I’m going, lately I’ve been missing the relaxation of weekends in Alicante, the familiarity of the city at night, the Sundays at el campo with my host family… there’s a balance to be maintained between adventure and building relationships.

Needless to say, I’m a bit concerned about getting everything done, but I’m willing to endure a little stress if it means taking advantage of every opportunity during my time in Europe. To give you an idea of what’s ahead:

Places left to go:
Paris | London | Valencia | Amsterdam

Work left to complete:
Camino class- Term Paper | Final Exam
Literature class- Term paper | class project | Final Exam
Spanish class- Oral presentation | Reading comprehension | smallish exam(s) | Final Exam

… you do the math.

 

10/28/2010

Oh yeah, almost forgot. Morocco tomorrow.

My apologies for not properly introducing you to the type of person I am. If I am a pool of ice water, here you go, jump in. Forgive my excitement.

I'm leaving tomorrow after my last midterm to go to Morocco con mi amiga, Margaret, aka Calabazita. This is quite the impromptu trip in the sense that we both are two really awful planners paired together to plan something. I mean, I knew I wanted to go to Morocco, but it was looking more and more like it wouldn’t happen and I didn’t have anything to do for Halloween weekend (which would be a bummer since we have All Saints Day off…which would mean an extra day of travel missed), but all of a sudden Calabazita pulled through and was like “Hey man, let’s go to Africa.” Algeria was too complicated to get to. South Africa was a little too far. Kenya was busy. So we found a flight to Marrakesh, Morocco and the rest is history. But we still need to book hostels. And Margaret thinks its a good idea to only bring 20 euros in anticipation of finding a bank. No pasa nada. Maybe we’ll wind up sleeping on the streets for a few nights, that might be neat. Adventurous even. Yeah adventure!

Now, I’ve heard mixed things about traveling here. Like be careful with your women sort of stuff.

The plan was to pretend to be a married couple so that it’s more kosher that one guy and one girl are traveling together, but I failed to find a ring that would fit my fat finger. So, what this means is sure, we might get harassed, BUT on the brightside I’ll be able to trade Margaret for two camels or something as a practical joke. Tee hee. I’ll have two camels and she’ll be hauled off somewhere to wash some floors and she’ll be like “Oh man, Adam sure got me good.” It’ll probably be rough to convince Ryanair that two camels don’t count as checked baggage though. Hmm.

Anyway I’m really excited. If I die, hey, I want you to know I’m happy. If I don’t die, but I come back without Margaret and perhaps I’ve been followed by some camels, tell Margaret’s parents that I have no clue what happened. Wink.

God this is so exciting.

AFRICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COOLER THAN  SANTA CLAUS SURFING! NEAT OH!!!!!!!!

This will also provide me with a better excuse than “I hate needles” to not donate blood now! Yay!

Lesson for future study abroad students to take away from this: Alicante is sweet because you can do cool stuff like this. How often can you go to Africa?

10/18/2010

Camino? More like Cami-YES

So here in españa, I am taking a course all about the Camino de Santiago, which is a Catholic pilgrimage route that ends in Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest corner of Spain. For the class, we got to actually complete the camino ourselves, walking more than 110 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela (that’s 70 miles for you Yankees) with just our backpacks.

The Atheist in me cringed at the idea of making this great trek to a gaudy Cathedral honoring a saint who was supposedly resurrected to slaughter Arabs by the thousands in the historic battle of Clavijo. That is, by the way, what he is most celebrated for– winning Spain back for the Spanish. There are depictions of St. James Matamoros (Moor-Killer, literally) in churches across the country, and for this figure almost a quarter of a million people wear down their feet each year, hoping to get the chance to hug his holy likeness and have their sins erased.

St. James Matamoros

However, the huge cultural significance of the pilgrimage and the lure of exploring northern Spain’s countryside and architecture won me over and I transferred out of an almost equally tempting class on Politics and Identity in Spain (incidentally, it turns out that I didn’t have to do that… details are irrelevant). So I packed my bags, broke in my new hiking boots, and prepared to make the camino.

As with most things in life, my experience matched almost none of my expectations. I had no idea how much I had missed the lush greenery of my home in the U.S. until I was walking through tunnels of trees covered in ivy, the morning mist just beginning to clear. I expected to get a lot of good, productive thinking done– about my academic plans, about my relationships, about my family– but what I was able to do was clear my mind completely, to walk and to not think at all. Much of the peacefulness of the journey came not from the more social aspect of the walk itself, but in the hours after we had reached our destination for the day, wandering the small towns as the sun set and just being quiet.

 Socks

One expectation that unfortunately (or not) was met was that getting to Santiago and beholding the great Cathedral of St. James was my least favorite part of the trip. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it by any means, it just didn’t compare to the days of walking with purpose through fields and forests and tiny villages. The sudden bustling town, combined with the knowledge that the journey was over cast a bit of a shadow over my arrival… not to mention my now almost non-functional right knee. The cathedral was very beautiful, and we met interesting people of all flavors along the way.

Churchiepoo

Ultimately, I said farewell to Santiago fondly; the journey was long but exactly the fall vacation I needed- a time for friends, the beauty of nature, and learning to appreciate a decent meal. It was a unique experience, and while many of my friends went to other exotic places in europe in planes, trains, and taxicabs, I wouldn’t have traded this trip for any other.

Sillhouette