Greetings from Spain! I hope all is well! I am sorry to be slow in sending out an update! Here is an update on the Camino de Santiago and my life now that I am back in my beloved Sevilla!

Camino de Santiago…in less than 1,000 words.

I can actually sum it in up in one word actually. Amazing.  I walked for 6 days, starting from a small town 4 km outside of O Cebreiro.  The first day was also my 37th birthday!! WOW, what a way to celebrate.  I met fabulous people along the Camino. Quickly learning, in fact, that you are never alone! There were other life allegories I learned along the way, such as: everyone does the Camino their own way! Some people walk really slowly, others run down hills (I only saw one guy doing this, but still!); some people walk with friends, some walk alone.  But everyone does it his or her own way and you get to choose how you want to do it! Even if you speak different languages or are from different countries…we are all in the Camino together! I had two German women ask me how I was when I stopped along the road to take care of some blisters (grand total of 6!).  However, we didn’t have a language in common! But I knew they were concerned and wanted to make sure I was okay. Or, at least I thought that was what was happening… And last but not least, you may be sore, have blisters and muscles that are singing to you by the end of the day, but so does everyone else. Complaining about them, however, tempting, won’t get you too much sympathy from the limping pilgrims around you.

So, those were some of the lessons I learned along the way. But what about the Camino itself? Gorgeous.  The section I did was mostly rolling hills and small hamlets.  There were tons of farms with beautiful cows. We had unusual weather—with only one morning with a little bit of rain. This is very unusual in Galicia.   Walking into the main plaza in Santiago de Compostela, La Praza do Obradoiro, was surreal. I had walked 97 miles in 6 days!  I had stayed in wonderful hostels in small hamlets and in big cities. I had met people from all over the world. I had accomplished my mission.  For my mother and me.  It was an emotional moment, to say the least.   I dedicated my certificate to her, which made me feel very happy.  And to cap off the adventure, my friend Gloria and I took the bus to what was once considered to be the end of the world. The beach town is called Finisterre, and it was such a relaxing way to end the Camino!

Life in Sevilla-Part II!

It is so good to be back in Sevilla. But, this time I am living across the river (the Guadalquivir) in Triana. A quintessential Andalucian town.  I am still getting to know my new neighborhood and to understand what makes it so special. I will report back.  But, I am happy to report that I found a room in an apartment thanks to a friend here. I am living with an American woman from Minnesota and her small dog, Pouffa.

Teaching in Triana

The reason that I am living in Triana and not in the center of Sevilla is that the school where I am a teaching assistant is located here.  A four-minute walk from my apartment, to be exact! I love my commute! J My school is a public, elementary bi-lingual school. All of the students, from 3rd olds to 6th grade learn English, and students in 1st-6th also learn science in English.  I have discovered that teaching 3 year olds is very hard! I like teaching all levels and the teachers that I am helping are all very nice. I am excited about this year!

So, besides teaching, I have already signed up for an Argentinean Tango class! What’s up next? Well, Salsa and Flamenco, of course. So excited to be back in Sevilla. Olé!

G in front of cathedral

Welcome to Jaén: The City Surrounded by Olive Trees

Greetings from Jaén! I have been here for about two weeks and there is already much to report.  But maybe I should start with how I got here…

 North American Cultural Ambassador Program

I am here in Jaén helping teach English to students in a public elementary school. I applied last Fall. The program is considered a continuing education grant and really provides a lot. For example, I have already received my free private health care card and a student visa to live here for one year.  The program has days off in place (we only work four days a week) so that we can explore other parts of Spain and Europe.  We work with the schools to establish a work schedule of 12 hours a week. We receive a stipend for our work that will cover most basic expenses. So, yes, I am super excited to be a part of this program.  When I applied I chose Andalucía, an urban center and primary/elementary-aged children. When I was notified that I was accepted I did not know where I would be living. I found out when I received a letter telling me to report to said school on October 1st in Torredelcampo a small town outside of Jaén.

First Days in my New City

I arrived in a torrent of rain about two weeks ago. The rain was unusual but very much appreciated. Jaén is one of the # 1 producers of olive oil in the world. This year it was too dry so the rain was seen as a blessing for those who depend on the olive oil crop for there livelihood. I decided to stay in a hostel for the first week since I was arriving the weekend before starting work in Torredelcampo. The first day I did what I love to do, which is throw my map in my back pocket (with the hostel clearly marked, of course) and head out to explore, choosing streets that look interesting.  I saw the famous and enormous cathedral and much of the Casco Antiguo or old part of the city.  I also stopped for a café con leche and immediately felt at home as the men around me started to discuss the latest news in soccer! I will write about teaching in Torredelcampo in my next entry, but here are some of my first impressions of Jaén:

1)   Jaén is nestled in the mountains. At night you can see a large cross and remnants of the Castillo de Santa Ana (Saint Ana’s Castle). It is gorgeous.

2)   Every time you get a glimpse of the outskirts of Jaén all you see are rows and rows of olive trees. They call it the “mar de olivas” or ocean of olive trees.

3)   Although this city is really small it seems to have everything that I need…stores, restaurants, cafes, etc.

4)   At night the city is a little bit sleepy. I have only been here for a little while, so maybe when I experience more weekends, I will know more about the nightlife. :-)

5)   The people here seem extremely friendly and helpful.

6)   Outside of the city is a paved path that extends all the way to Cordoba. My roommate, who is a personal trainer, took me there for a free session. Five minutes by car and you are running under the hot sun, surrounded by olive trees. Not bad I say.

All I can say is that I am starting to like it here!

Argentina Part 2-Iguazu Falls

The second highlight of Argentina was seeing the waterfalls in Iguazú. For a few nights I escaped Buenos Aires and headed North, by bus, to Iguazú Falls.  Of course the trip itself was an adventure. What was supposed to be a 13-hour overnight bus ride, turned into a 20-hour excursion.  What happened was that about hour 11.5/12, we reached a town where mate workers were on strike. They had blocked off all of the roads. There were buses and trucks lined up on the road before us and into the distance behind us. And it was hot. The drivers (there were 3) came back to explain the situation to me. They were even worried that we wouldn’t make it to Iguazú that night, at all. I told them that there wasn’t much we could do about the situation and that I was okay.  The only thing that made me nervous was that they kept the bus engine running to keep the A/C and non-stop movie marathon going. At one point the engine died. That stressed me out!

After about 5 hours of sitting on the road, we started moving again and pulled into Iguazú Falls at about 9 p.m.  The town of Iguazú was interesting. Like most tourist places, it caters to foreigners but Iguazú was neither oppressive nor overwhelming.  I found the people to be very friendly, in fact. My hotel was small, chill, and beautiful. There was a swimming pool and air conditioning (a treat!). The staff was very friendly.  I had a feeling that the women, in particular, reached out to me because I was a woman traveling and staying alone.  I also happened to be there for International Women’s Day (May 8th).

Las Cataratas
The waterfalls themselves are situated within a big national park. To get there you take the local town bus. It stops at various points along the way. When the guards turn off onto the road towards the park, however, they inevitably switch into “I am on the autobahn” mode and drive that bus like it was a Benz. A little bit hair-raising to say the least (my advice: don’t sit near a window where you can see the road in front).  The day that I went to visit the Falls it was very hot. The paths are marked well and there is a little train that you can take up the mountain to the top of the path to the falls if you don’t want to walk. The waterfalls were amazing. The “garganta del diablo” or Devil’s throat is a wide, beautiful, crashing waterfall complete with rainbows.  There are other, smaller, yet gorgeous waterfalls throughout the park.  There is also a boat ride (that I didn’t take, unfortunately) that takes you under one of the larger waterfalls! I was very excited when I arrived in Iguazú because I had noticed in Buenos Aires that the moon was almost full.  It turned out that I was in Iguazú for the 5 days that there is a full moon (or the days that surround the actual full moon). I snagged a spot on a trip that includes dinner and a tour of the falls at night!!  Besides having the luck to see such an amazing site, I also met a fellow American. An oncology nurse from Seattle, we actually had quite a bit in common.  We shared stories, advice, opinions on Buenos Aires and on life. It was nice to meet someone on a similar path. Although my camera couldn’t capture the beauty of the falls that night, I will forever remember that evening.

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

My love affair with South America has started.  First stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina. At first I totally didn’t buy into the “paris of south america” hype at all. The streets around my hotel were dirty and there was graffiti on the walls. Yet there was atmosphere and the restaurants were adorable. I could eat late in a parrillada and walk home without too many worries. But, the paris of South America? No way. Luckily, this impression was wrong but more on that later.  Here are my favorite memories of Buenos Aires…

Dinner and Dancing
My second night in Buenos Aires, I decided to take a tango class. I am not sure about most people, but it takes me a while to adjust to the 24-hour clock…so I got confused and showed up 2 hours early for my class. No problem. I reserved my table for 1 a.m. (!) and realized that a salsa class was about to begin.  It was as the class began that I realized that I would be taking a Cuban salsa class (or Son), not NY or LA style. It was going to be an adventure. The class was great and at the end we formed a circle and danced La Rueda. It was super fun.

After the salsa class there was a short tango show or demonstration by the teachers of the different levels of classes. Tango is a fun and sensual dance.  You dance close to your partner, so that, as a woman, you can feel the man guiding you with his chest or arm. The beginner class was good. We learned the basic steps and practiced with different partners for about 30-40 minutes.  Dinner at 1 a.m. was quite the experience, too. I sat at a table above the dance floor with a great view of the dancers swaying to the music.  The only problem was that jet lag hit me and hit me hard.  It did not help that the waitress seemed to disappear. It took forever for my food to come. It took so long that although I ordered the pre fix meal, I told the waitress to enjoy my dessert or give it to someone else. At this point it was 2:30 and I was ready to walk back to my hostel.

Walking Tour and Date
During my time in Argentina, I decided to go up to Iguazu Falls (see next blog!). Upon my arrival back in Buenos Aires, I had a few more days to enjoy the city. On my last day, I decided to go on a free walking tour.  It was in English and lasted 2 hours. The guide was great! She was a hoot. What I appreciated about the tour was that it was as much about culture as history and architecture. On the tour we walked through the ritzy neighborhood, La Recoleta, and saw the buildings that were actually built with French stone during the Belle Epoch. It was gorgeous. This was the Paris of the South people talk about! The final stop was outside the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. On the tour I met a couple of people including a guy from Amsterdam. We chatted a little bit because my friend is going to be traveling there so I asked him some questions about Holland.  At the end of the tour, he asked me if I wanted to grab dinner at a parrillada with him.  I said yes and we started our long journey to the restaurant. This journey involved stopping at his hostel so that he could change, my hostel so that I could change, and randomly drinking beer with three strangers on the street. We almost missed dinner! We got there right before the kitchen closed and they were kind enough to seat us. We had a fabulous waiter who recommended a delicious bottle of wine. He took good care of us.  At the end of the night, I even got a kiss goodnight. Paris, indeed.