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5 posts from November 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!


Who's your favorite person in the world – and what do you love about them?

“Que Será, Será / Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Pictures are worth 1000 words, right?

This is Alicante, in 2000 words mas o menos. (More or Less)

image from

image from

Today when skyping with a friend from home, she began discussing her incredibly busy schedule, in which almost every moment of her day was devoted to work or school, and without even realizing it I began nervously tapping my foot, and wringing my hands. I have only been here in Spain for 2 and a half months, have I really forgotten how to be a busy, driven, and productive American student? What has Spain done to my motivation?!

Spain is clearly a very different country from America, however; one of the greatest dissimilarities I have found is actually beyond clearly cut cultural norms, it lies in the attitude and expectations that Spanish society places on their youth. Here, the youth, (los jóvenes) are, at first glance, given a lot of power in Spanish society. Since the economy is bad, and especially horrible in Spain, the youth are not necessarily expected to have jobs. They go to school, and eventually the University, at times until they are almost 30 years old. During this period of time, unless they finish their degrees, get offered a job, or get married, they are still living at home with their parents, who in turn, feed them, clothe them, and basically ensure their well being.

Now in America, anyone living with his or her parents, without a job, between the ripe ages of 27-35 years of age would probably be classified in Webster’s Dictionary under the term “Loser”, however, in Spain, it’s a completely different ball game. Just the fact alone that individuals reaching and exceeding the age of 35 are still considered “youth” is quite an interesting differentiation from the continually driven concepts enforced in American society. Yet, when pondering the fact itself, living at home does have its benefits. The Spanish youth are allowed to basically free-load and enjoy life without having to stress about how to make next weeks rent. They are still intellectually challenged at the University, but, they don’t have to continually have a map of the future in their back pocket, which they need to pull out daily just to make sure they are ‘on track’. So where’s the negative? Why have American’s not caught onto this Spanish trend?

Well, first off, the American dream just wouldn’t stand for it. Can you imagine “In the future I want a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a significant other, approximately 2.4 children, and a dog named max…” turning into, “In the future I want to live in my parents basement for as long as possible becoming extremely familiar with European films and roaming the streets at night with my friends…” Nope. Definitely not happening.

Although, I’m not entirely sure that the Spanish youth actually enjoy the financial freedom that they have. This past weekend my padres left to visit their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Madrid, leaving me alone with my 27-year-old sister. I have grown quite fond of my hermana española, however, in the past 2 and a half months, I haven’t really gotten to know her entirely that well. Besides our shared fascination with The Beatles and the movie Across The Universe, my hermana doesn’t really make it to many family meals, and spends the majority of her time out of the house with her friends.

This past weekend when I returned home to eat dinner on Friday night, I saw what I thought were the makings of a Spanish house party taking place in my living room. Upon closer inspection I realized, my hermana had just invited about 13 of her closest friends over, and instead of the rowdy party that I had expected to find, they were all gathered around the dinning room table, eating dinner, and playing cards. I was a little shocked until I realized how unordinary this was for them. To have a place of their own to just hang out, no questions asked. In Spanish society homes are mainly made to occupy family, and it is not very common to have friends over in large quantities. Not to mention, living with your parents puts some boundaries around who, where, and when you can have guests. Automatically, I was so thankful for my tiny little apartment back at school where my friends and I like to hang out watching old Friends episodes or the newest episode of Glee. I guess I never realized how extraordinary that sort of experience was until I saw it being unordinary for someone else.

After that experience I have come to see positive and negative aspects on both sides of this cultural divide. I despise the way that even thinking about next semester’s courses makes me begin to bite my nails, and I still believe that the stress and expectations of American students gets to be a bit much, however; along with all of the stress there is undoubtedly some form of success, and the great feeling of being somewhat independent, of being just on the brink of adulthood. Yet, is the final outcome worth all of the stress that just becomes a daily and accepted occurrence in the life of an American student?

One element of Spanish society which I have absolutely fallen in love with is the stress-free attitude that Spaniards have. The idea of always being “tranquilo”(calm) and “no te preocupes”(Don’t worry) is like an anthem that courses through the culture. I have actually begun to enjoy the way my Spanish professors don’t have exact dates for assignments, and may not start class exactly on time. How buses may be a little (up to 30 minutes) late, and you may be late to class but tranquilo, tranquilo, no te preocupes. Que será, sera (whatever will be, will be). At first, coming from a very calculated schedule, I hated this concept, but the idea began to grow on me. Besides, most things that happen, can’t be altered, so why stress out about them, right? With this newfound ideal, I may be able to handle the stress of next semester’s class…maybe.

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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…


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.



First Few Weeks of the Experience

September 2

OK,  I also take a siesta every day to supplement my evenings slight lack of sleep time...similar to my summer schedule, but dissimilar in that the lack of sleep time has not been from an excess of fun, but rather because I have been placed in the most intensive Spanish group out of the three that make up our program! Mucha tarea. This intensive course lasts one more week before regular classes start, and my espanol has been improving rapidly. Another reason for this is that I live with a sixty five year old widow and her thirty seven year old daughter. Both are great; include me and provide me with lots of food. We eat dinner late! 10pm is normal.

I brought one of those surchargers (I forget what they’re called but it’s so you can plug in multiple devices from a single outlet and is the one I use in Colorado)…and when I plugged it in, it nearly blew my hand off. Well ok, it was just a huge boom with a slight shock that turned off all of the lights and appliances in the near vicinity of the house.

Entonces…the first time I tried to go shopping (con Miguelito on Monday with a list of about 6 things to get which reminds me that I didn’t pack quite correctly for spending the semester at the Hampton Beach of Europe; I didn’t bring sandals or sunglasses and my best swim trunks are covered in pine tar…) included us struggling to communicate, realizing my debit card was frozen, getting slightly flustered, and proceeding to buy slippers (zapatillas to wear around my casa) for $42 euro when I thought they were $27 (what was I thinking with either of those prices?). Shopping ayer (yesterday) was great and I now own an international phone with $25 euros on it. In total it cost less than my slippers.

OK, I’m off to study up hard for the examen manana. Pictures to come!


September 4

I’ve been living in Spain for more than a week now. Poco a poco he aprendido la idioma (edit* el idioma).

Yesterday after the exam, a 20 minute tram ride north brought us to a part of the endless beach around San Juan. Blue sky, soft white sand, volleyball, not crowded, waves, ability to walk 50+yards into the ocean.

Below are a couple of photos from today’s group trip to Guadalest, a mountain estate from hundreds (didn’t pay enough attention) of years ago, in the countryside outside of the city. The landscape reminds me of southern Colorado/New Mexico. We also visited the small provincial village of Altea (where the church was) and went to a new beach. Things are going swimmingly!





September 5

This evening at 6:30, a multitude of study abroad students chose to attend una corrida de toros (bull fight). By 8:30, around half of them were in some other part of the city as the sixth and final bull collapsed (over/under was 6 departures, and the under never had a chance). It was a decently shocking experience. They really kill the bulls. They don’t die quickly.

On the micro outlook: we were watching the final ‘exam’ of ‘La Escuela Taurina,’ bullfighting school, and there were three circa 18 year old matadors competing for the title of top matador at the school. They were matched up against tenacious (maybe not quite full sized?) bulls. These young matadors have BALLS. After matador #1 finished a near flawless round, matador #2 came out and immediately went for the ‘behind the back cape hold.’ He got absolutely NAILED. #2 then proceeded to grind out the rest of the fight with what looked to be a broken hand and a mauled femur. All three had some sort of wildly dangerous contact with a bull at some point during the corrida.

On the macro outlook: I don’t think I’m particularly against corridas. For me, it might not even be as bad as supporting the United States’ large-scale CAFO-based meat industry (though it’s certainly a much more personal experience of support than eating a double cheeseburger at McDonalds).


 September 9

The inside of my head is fuzzy from all of the Spanish I have been studying this past week. Four hours a day! + Heaps of studying…and more to come this evening for the final exam manana. I digress. I’m actually mildly psyched on the amount of learning I’m trying to fill my brain with. Also psyched on chasin' that tan; not really too elusive in Alicante, Spain as it turns out.

Things should immediately chill out for me after tomorrow. I will be taking two business classes (need them as credits to graduate Spring 2012) at the international business school at the Universidad de Alicante along with regular CIEE Spanish class… and as it turns out the UA classes don’t start for another week and end in late November!


September 11

Yesterday, to celebrate the culmination of two weeks of intensive Spanish, the group took an afternoon trip to the Bodega de Santa Margarita, a winery about an hour’s drive out of the city. As it turned out, there wasn’t the slightest pressure to spit out our wine after tasting…and the good people at Santa Margarita happily brought out more bottles.L  ooking back, it was really a shrewd business move on their part; I’m judging that they sold 50+ bottles as we were leaving.

Additionally, with the wine, they served salchichon(sausage) that was from pigs raised right there at the winery. There was also cheese with our wine! And heaps of other delicious snacks! And excess quantities! I had a slight headache by the time we got on the bus.

Upon my return, the family wasn’t in sight so I immediately took a siesta for two hours. Waking up to some banging sounds and some loud talking. Walking into the living room, my second person plural greeting of ‘como estais’ was responded to by a ‘third person plural pointing to’ of the cast on my madre’s right leg and her informing me that she broke it ‘en la calle’ (on the street). She had broken a couple ‘fingers’ as my sister called them in her broken English (dedo means both finger and toe over here). Ileana (65 years old) was practicing walking around on arm-extension crutches and was giving reasons to believe she might break more bones before she went to sleep that night. Thankfully a far more stable walker was procured from her storage locker at a warehouse.

Elena (sister) was pretty stressed out, periodically hitting the back porch to have a cigarette…contrastingly, Ileana was the opposite of stressed and was practically making a point of trying to help me improve my Spanish. We had an enthusiastic conversation before I went out about the subtle differences between ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’. Fairly outrageous scenario.

On a different note: I returned from the beach today at about 6 and went straight to a café/bar with my friend Derek...we watched the Hercules CF vs. Barcelona game with lots of locals. We won! 2-0, a real miracle, with a couple of goals by Valdez.   Home game next weekend vs. Valencia. I hope to be there.


Some Ramblings-September 17

The refrigerator in my apartment is impressively unorganized. Containers of olives/olive oil all over the place and random food everywhere. My dad’s influence in me came out last night as I was trying to put away the salad bowl. There is now one small section of the fridge that is well put together.

This morning I made instant coffee with regular coffee grinds and micro-waved water. A small miscommunication with mi madre.

It rained hard (it's only drizzled once or twice before) for the first time today while a few of us were at the beach. Which brings up the point that I’m abandoning my goal of not talking to people about the weather (arbitrarily that is). My Spanish skills will need to become more creative before I can avoid ‘hace mucho calor’ in any normal conversation about my day.

I am debating the merits of having the next book I read be a Spanish one. As in, written in Español. Rate of chapters finished and nuances comprehended may decrease, but on the macro scale it should increase those rates (my life in figurative terms).(edit* this never happened)

Two of my buddies here are taking a class entirely on the ‘Camino de Santiago,’ a sacred Catholic Pilgrimage on which to take part you only need to step out of your front door and walk to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. I really enjoy the idea of such a trek and all of the history behind it.Thus, I’m getting daily secondhand lessons on the subject.  The class is actually going to be doing a mini-Camino de Santiago during fall break and it doesn’t sound too tame (120km in 5 days =24kms a day).

OK, hasta pronto amigos, Nick

September 21

I attended my first Hercules CF football game this Sunday con Miguelito.  The stadium is a short 15 minute walk from my apartment.  It was a derby game against Valencia (our close neighbor to the north), plenty of fun. I even learned a bit of colloquial soccer vocabulary which is kind of useful. ‘puta madre' in various contexts is used regularly for yelling at Valencia's team and fans, and also for any sort of unfortunate play, and also for complimenting our players...a bit confusing.   Hercules lost 2-1, but the crowd and players didn’t give up in any way. Not even when Valencia scored two early goals that were a class above what Hercules had to offer. El Estadio Jose Rico Perez was at 80%+ capacity(which is 30,000 or so). I live a 15-20 minute westerly walk to the stadium and Miguelito is even closer.

My other classes have been starting up this week. Human Resources Management, while it won’t teach me everything I might find interesting about Spain…is taught by a Spanish professor and it has an international feel to it that standard CIEE classes don’t have.There are fellow students from Norway, Finland (four blonde babybabes), Australia, Germany, England, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, Gibraltar, Ghana, Netherlands, and Switzerland in addition to a handful of fellow Americanos. Quick trivia question; which one of the above mentioned is not a country? Why? Prize is the opportunity to spend 3 months with me working here,, in late summer/fall of 2012. I'm mildly serious.

I believe that the website was brought to my attention early this year by my buddy Liam who was studying in Florence, Italy, but for whatever reason I never gave it a good look-over until yesterday. Such an awesome deal…you agree to volunteer 25 hours+ of your time each week and in return receive free room and board from ‘workaway’ hosts that are all over the world. Achieving my dream of working on a ranch in Mongolia never seemed so near. Who doesn't want to learn to drink vodka the traditional Mongolian way?




Hi, I'm Dana Morano

Hi I'm Dana Morano, born and raised in Chicago and I attend the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). This is my first time in Europe and writing a blog. So let's get to it.

Needless to say I was very excited when I arrived in Alicante about 2 months ago. The weather was amazing (we were at the beach everyday) and the city was an adventure about to be unravelled. We stayed the first weekend in a sweet hotel and awkwardly mingled amongst the people who are now my cloest friends. We toured the city and were given advice about living in Alicante for the next four months and soon enough it was Sunday and we were shipped off to our living situations.

To my surprise most people chose to live with a homestay family while only five of us moved into the dorms. I chose the dorms because I have never went away to school and I figured that living in the dorms was the smarter decision. (Since most students do their first time away from home.) As all things do, it had it's pros and cons, and about a month and a half later I chose to move into a homestay family.

I pictured the dorms here as similar to the ones I had visited in the States. One room crammed with two beds, and two desks with barely enough room to breathe. The dorms are nice, speacious, and very private. You have your own room and bathroom (which was spacious as well), and a maid comes to clean your room once a week. The common area you share with your roommate is small, there is a sink, a small refridgerator (although my room never had one for some reason!) and a microwave. I never used them though. A pro was that my roommate was absolutely awesome! She was from France and spoke spanish fluently and was always more than willing to help me with my homework and everyday conversation skills. A con was that our schedules conflicted and I usually only saw her at mealtime when I was with mostly American students speaking english. Meals- huge con. The food, to put it gently, was unedible, and not to mention the rude workers responses when I would attempt to speak to them in spanish. (Although we did make friends with two of them!) As more time passed, I realized the other students in my class were understanding and speaking more english than me. During the first weekend here, we were told if we were staying in the villa (what they call the dorms) that we should reach out to the other students and try to speak spanish with them. At the time, it sounded easy, I'm a pretty outgoing person and don't have that much trouble talking with strangers so I didn't think much of it. How wrong I was. I grew much too nervous to attempt to speak my broken spanish to a bunch of college students who had been friends for quite some time. So I avoided it, and did not really put much effort into meeting the spanish students in the villa. The did hold a week's worth of "hazing" activities to get to know new students, but I'm not in a sorority and those really aren't my type of things to do. After debating for a week or two I decided to move into a homestay. Side note: The dorms are an unconvient 25 minute bus ride (not mention waiting for it) from Alicante.

I now live in the city. The apartment I moved into is in Plaza de Toros and I live with mi madre (an older woman who is AMAZING!). The firstbig difference for me was the food. For the first time in six weeks I finished a meal. The second was that my english became useless. If I needed something or just wanted to chat I was forced to use my spanish. Then there were the pros living at home per se, mi madre does my laundry and makes my bed and makes me bocadillos (a delicious sandwich) for lunch at school. I lucked out and have a balcony off my room from which I can see the el castillo de Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara castle).

In either living situation, it is what YOU make of it. The dorms were not a right fit for me. I was lonely and felt disconnected, but I went into it with a positive attitude and it didn't work out. I went into living in a homestay with a positive attitude and it did. Part of the reason living in the home was better choice for me because I my spanish was not up to par and I felt more comfortable learning in a less intimidating environment since it is only mi madre y yo.

Luego <3