Category Archives: Expat Life

first week in ciudad real

Saturday – Touchdown
After a flight from Atlanta to Miami, a 2-hour layover, another flight to Madrid, then a 1-hour high speed train, I finally arrive in Ciudad Real around 11am. I check in to my hotel near the train station, then settle in to relax a bit from all the travelling. My plan is to take a nap for a couple of hours, then head out to explore, but jet lag and all the furious activity of the past week has me feeling beyond exhausted, and I don’t end up leaving the room until almost sunset. Even then, my only motivation for going outside is to pick up some in-room snacks from the nearby grocery store. Fortunately, the store is just on the other side of a really nice park – Parque del Pilar – so I stop for a spell to take in the scenery.
Once back at the room, I spend the rest of the evening scouring the Internets for apartments, and contacting potential landlords and agents for showings.
Sunday – Parks and Recreation
Up early to take a stroll and have a look around town. Since almost all of Spain takes Sundays off, there aren’t many people out and about, but, with map in hand, I manage to find one of the schools I’ll be teaching at this year (IES Torreon del Alcázar). As I meander about, I keep my eyes peeled for ‘se alquila’ (for rent) signs, and, after meeting one owner for a viewing, I stumble onto Parque Gasset – a big park located in the center of the city. I stroll around for a bit, enjoying the unseasonably warm October weather.
IES Torreon del Alazar
On my way back to the hotel, I cross yet another park. “How lucky!” I think to myself, “I’ve landed in a town with no shortage of places to sit, think, and daydream.”
Later that night, while I’m relaxing in the hotel, I’m startled by loud noises right outside the window. Turns out there’s a fireworks display going on for some reason. I amuse myself with the idea that the display is Ciudad Real’s way of saying, ‘Welcome, Kisha!’
Monday – Whirlwind Tour
I only booked the hotel through Wednesday night, so I’ve got to get on the ball with finding an apartment. The lady at the front desk got wind of my apartment hunt, and first thing in the morning, I head a few streets over to have a look at an apartment she has for rent. It’s nice and new, but way bigger than what I need (2 bedrooms / 3 baths), but very reasonably priced (yet more than I want to pay on my own). I briefly ponder if I could find a roommate to share with me after moving in, but quickly decide it’s not worth the risk of being stuck paying all of the rent by myself.
I have appointments with 2 different real estate agents later this morning. The first shows me 3 flats, each in a different part of town. By the time we’re done, I feel like we’ve walked around almost the entire city. The apartments are very nice, but they’re all about 50 euros over my maximum budget for a non-shared flat. I meet the second agent who shows me 2 loft-style flats in the same building. They’re within my budget, but each is missing an oven. With my penchant for cooking, I can’t imagine living without one, but I’m also aware that if I’m paying rent and utilities on my own, an oven may literally be a luxury I can’t afford. Electricity in Spain is expensive, and the last time I rented a place, I paid one all-inclusive price for rent and utilities, so I really have no idea how expensive, but it’s a serious concern for me.
After the viewings, I head in the direction of the hotel, and cop a squat on a bench outside of an H&M; near Plaza Mayor to rest from all the pavement-pounding and mull over my housing options. Moments later, a brown-skinned guy (one of maybe 3 other brown folks I’ve seen so far), passes by, doubles back, and introduces himself. He tells me he thought I was a store mannequin until he saw me move. He introduces himself as Eduardo. I learn that he’s originally from Cuba and has been living in a nearby town for a few years. He invites me to ‘tomar algo’ at a tapas bar on the plaza. Eduardo is quite the talker, so I mostly listen and relish in the fact that, unlike Marbella, the tapas bars in Ciudad Real adhere to one of my favorite Spanish traditions of, ‘buy a beverage, get a free tapa’.
Eduardo, the chatty Cuban
One of the bars in La Mata – Ciudad Real’s club / bar district
Eduardo and I hop to another couple of places for a proper meal and another round of beverages. In the process, I get a sneak preview of the local bar district. One place actually plays some fairly decent house tracks in their rotation. At another, I hear some pretty good salsa and bachata. I’m pleased that I’ll have some options for dancing in the future. By the time Eduardo and I say goodbye, it’s almost 10pm. I thank him for his generous hospitality, and head back to my room to get ready for an early start tomorrow.
Tuesday – Test Run
Up early to head to my second school – the only one I’ve heard from so far – IES Hernan Perez de Pulgar. I’ve been communicating with my coordinator, Teresa, for the past few weeks. Even though I don’t officially start working until tomorrow, I plan to stop by and meet her and the other English profes. I check online for which bus I need to take (#7), and head to the bus station, about a 12-minute walk from the hotel. Apparently the info on the website I looked at was wrong. After 15 minutes of more looking for the non-existent #7 bus, I finally find a bus that drops me near the school. The English profes are all excited to meet me. Just like at my last school, they are a little surprised that I’m not a guy (apparently both my name and my email address led them to believe that, though not sure why), but ultimately they’re happy, because they’re an all-girl band. One of the profes, Juana, offers to let me stay at her home with her husband and 2 boys if I don’t find anything before my stay at the hotel is up. I’m completely floored and thankful for her generous offer. We exchange info, and she invites me over to meet the family and have dinner with them the next evening. I say my goodbyes, then head off to do more apartment hunting for the rest of the day.
Wednesday – Take it Easy
It’s my first official day of school. I don’t have a set schedule for classes yet. Teresa explains that we’ll just take it easy this week. I go to a couple of classes where I introduce myself to the students and have them do the same. Teresa finally gets in contact with someone at my other school. I learn that I won’t be teaching students there. Instead, I’ll be working with teachers from other schools in the area, helping them improve their English for classroom purposes. Should be interesting, to say the least. Teresa also shares the disheartening news that I might not get a paycheck until December. I ask her to repeat herself a couple of times to be sure I’ve heard her correctly. I have.
After class, I have 3 more apartments to see. I’m weary of the search, and I’d hoped to have a solid contender by now, but all I have is a bunch of ‘maybes’. The last apartment I look at, however, seems promising. It’s tiny, but is centrally located, and in a good area. It also lacks an oven, but I’ve resigned myself to living without one. It’s 10 euro over my budget, but the small size of the place means my utilities will likely be very low. I decide to sleep on it.
Juana picks me up from the hotel for dinner later that evening. I meet her 2 sons – Danny, 12 and Diego, 10 – and her husband Pablo. They all lived in the US for several years a while back, so they speak English almost as well as I do – the boys even speak with American accents. Pablo used to run the auxiliar program when they lived in the Maryland / DC area – a fortunate coincidence. Their friend Pedro joins us for dinner, and we enjoy a good meal, wine, and lively conversation before they deposit me back at the hotel.
Tonight’s menu: Burgers! The boys have dubbed the spinach-chicken burger on the left, the E.T. burger
Pablo, Danny, Diego, and Pedro
This family loves to travel – Fridge magnets from all the places they’ve visited
Thursday – What a Feeling
I carpool with Juana to work. When I open the door to her car, Donna Summer’s ‘What a Feeling’ is playing on the radio. I sing along to the chorus, and mention to Juana that I think this a good sign. We both had long, tiring days the day before. She agrees. It’s going to be a good day. I get through my one class for the day, and hang out for a while in the teacher’s lounge. Today is checkout day at the hotel. I’m seriously considering taking the tiny piso I saw yesterday, but want to make sure it’s the right decision. I poll 3 of the other English profes. They look at the pics, ask me questions about the location, the amenities, the price, the amount of sunlight it gets. After sharing all the details, they all agree that it’s a great find for the super-low price. After getting some more help reviewing the rental contract, I contact the agent and tell them I’ll take it. I meet them later that afternoon, sign papers, pay the deposit, and get my keys. What a feeling! I’ll stay at Juana’s for the next couple of days, and move in on Saturday. I enjoy another pleasant evening with Juana’s family. Her boys are a couple of wunderkinds. Diego has his own YouTube channel where he does gaming reviews and performs magic tricks. Danny is a pre-adolescent techie, and he even recommends an app for me to download to make free VOIP calls back to the US. They both play the piano, and after dinner, I catch up on some work while listening to them practice for the evening.
//www.youtube.com/get_player
Friday – Free Time
My day off! While the rest of the house heads off for the day, I stay behind to do some more work, and try to resolve my phone situation. Months ago, I’d installed a hack to turn my supposedly non-global phone into a global device, but it had started malfunctioning before the last time I left Spain. Danny and Diego’s tortugas keep me company while I find a fix.
The little tortuga practices his yoga poses
After that, I pop out to put some saldo on my prepaid phone plan, then stop by Acuario, the tapas bar Eduardo had shown me earlier in the week, for a quick caña and a snack.
I spend the rest of the evening relaxing and watching a movie at Juana’s.
Saturday – Moving Day
In the morning, Juana and I head out to the mercaillo, an open-air market that happens right across the street from their house every Saturday. We purchase some fruits and veg for later, while Juana explains some of the items I don’t know.
Berenjenas – prepared in the regional style
We stroll around the market, and I enjoy the sights and sounds of bustling crowds, and the barking vendors calling out from their stalls. Once back from the market, Pablo and Pedro help me move my luggage to my new place. I spend a few hours starting to get settled, and head to the nearby Walmart-like retail outlet, LeClerc, to pick up some immediate essentials.
Later that afternoon, I head back to Juana’s for lunch. Pablo has prepared a seafood paella and a homemade ali-oli sauce. I bring a couple of bottles of wine. We feast on the back patio, enjoying the sunshine, talking, laughing and passing the time until late in the afternoon.
Hard to believe it’s only been a week since I arrived. But in present company, I’m already starting to feel at home.

surprising / annoying / amazing things about spain

surprising things about spain

how NOT amazing the food is.

The food in Spain is definitely not bad. But it isn’t nearly as amazing as I’d expected it to be. Part of that could be because I live in Marbella, which isn’t exactly hailed for its cusine. The other part could be that, given my teaching assistant’s salary, I try not to eat out too much. When I do eat out, I go for the best value. Maybe if I could afford to splurge on some higher-end places, I’d have a different experience. But for now, I remain surprisingly underwhelmed.

pan con aceite y tomate. a typical spanish breakfast. when it’s good, it’s good. but usually it’s just soggy bread.

it’s kind of country.

I live in Andalusia – the south of Spain. Among Spaniards, it has a pretty similar reputation to the South in the United States. Spanish people who live elsewhere seem to think Andalusians are ‘slower’ and have a funny-sounding accent. Even though I live in a fairly large city, it’s quite common to see touches of rural life on a daily basis – like the horse-riding vaquero that grazes sheep, cows, and steers in a big field near my school. Also, I was surprised that much of Spain seems to be uninhabited. When I’ve flown or taken a long-distance train, I’ve seen large expanses of land that have no cities or towns to speak of – only the occasional pueblo / village or often just a small house or farm in the middle of nowhere.

cattle grazing near my school (and adjacent to a major highway)

how cold the houses are in winter.

Before coming here, I knew that many Spanish houses lacked central heating, since most are built to be naturally cool during the sweltering summer months. But nothing could have prepared me for how cold it would be inside the average Spanish home from January to early March. Even when the temperature outside was Fall-like, the temperature inside was much chillier. With electricity being very expensive, space heaters are generally out of the question. And even if they weren’t financially impractical, the lack of insulation, and the heavy use of marble, tile, and stucco for interiors would render them almost useless anyway. My #1 saving grace was a hot water bottle that my roommate wisely suggested I purchase, and was my nightly companion for my first two months here. There were many nights that I went to sleep muttering profanities under my breath about the cold, and many mornings where I could see my breath in front of me while getting ready for school. Thankfully, all that seems like a dim memory now that Spring is here.

i actually bought a space heater, but it ended up collecting dust once i found out how expensive and ineffective it was.
my ‘hot water bottle boo’ in granada

annoying things about spain

dog poo. everywhere.

Spanish people love their dogs. It seems like almost every family here has at least one. And every one of them is cuter than the last. Yet I have no idea why these people feel it’s ok to let their cute little dogs leave unsightly poo all over public areas. If you’re walking down the sidewalk, there’s no such thing as absentmindedly taking in the sights around you. You’d better keep your eyes focused on the sidewalk or else you will definitely end up stepping in one of the many mini monuments of poo peppered all along your path.

poo
poo
and more poo

spanish people can’t walk. or stand. or generally congregate in large groups.

There are some cities where it’s almost a pleasure to walk in. In crowded, pedestrian-heavy cities like New York, London, or even Amsterdam, most people have figured out how to navigate the streets on foot so well, that you can tell a tourist from a local by the way they walk. The folks in Spain have acquired no such talent. Spaniards don’t walk so much as they meander. On a given day, while walking the streets of almost any city in Spain, at least one of the following pedestrian ‘violations’ are bound to occur:

  • Stopping short for no apparent reason.
  • Walking 3 or 4 abreast on a narrow sidewalk at a snail’s pace.
  • Darting out of a doorway into oncoming foot traffic.
  • Tripping or hip-checking another pedestrian with a stroller or rolling bag.
  • Having an involved conversation while blocking an entrance/exit.
  • Doing 1 or more of the above without awareness or apology.

shhh… it’s a secret.

There’s a certain clandestine nature about vital information in Spain. Info that you would assume should be readily available or clearly communicated, often isn’t, and if you don’t ask specifically, you might only get a piece of the full picture. This secret but valuable info could be anything from a bus schedule or ticket price, to exact directions to a location you’re looking for, or even what day you will get paid on.

amazing things about spain

there is no famine of beauty.

Geographically speaking, Spain pretty much has it all. Glittering beaches, impressive mountains, rolling countryside. And since there are those large expanses of unpopulated space, it makes for some really lovely, truly breathtaking vistas. I can’t count how many times I’ve involuntarily whispered to myself, ‘That’s beautiful!’ There are so many lovely natural and architectural sights in this country that sometimes I  think to myself, ‘Ok, Spain. Enough already! I get it. You’re beautiful’.

the lifestyle.

In general, Spanish people are more relaxed than Americans about… everything. Sometimes, this can be irritating (as is the case with customer service), but for the most part, it’s a huge plus. If there’s one thing the Spanish are good at, it’s enjoying life at their own pace. This is not to imply that the Spanish don’t have worries or issues that they struggle with on a daily basis, but rather to highlight that there’s not also a constant undercurrent of external stress from hectic schedules, long work hours, few vacations, and infrequent naps that they have to contend with. Besides that, most Spaniards seem to make the most of what they have, even if they only have a little. The often used Spanish phrase, ‘no pasa nada’, is the Iberian equivalent of ‘no problem, mon’ or ‘no worries, mate’, and it adequately sums up how many people here approach life.

the transportation.

Even without a car, it’s incredibly easy to get around within a particular city, and especially between cities. The buses and trains within Spain are extremely reliable and comfortable. Way better than Amtrak and Greyhound in the States. High-speed trains can be a bit pricey if you’re on a tight budget, but offer huge time savings. Buses are usually very affordable when travelling between cities, although they may not be the most convenient where timing is concerned. Yet both are clean, comfortable, and well-serviced. It sets the perfect stage for easy, affordable weekend excursions.

how amazing the food is.

While restaurant food underwhelms me, the quality and price of grocery store goods makes me very happy indeed. Mind you, I can’t find everything that I’d normally cook with at home, but the produce and meat available here is of much better quality than in the US. And the prices for most non-packaged goods are comparable, if not much better. Especially the fish and seafood. Seriously, there are days when I just go to the seafood counter at the local grocery store and just drool. There’s stuff there that I have absolutely NO idea how to cook, but I geek out just looking at it.

finding my place

It’s funny how things work out. Hardly ever like you expect them to, but almost always like you need them to. Well, I suppose that’s how my Spanish apartment search worked out. Before arriving, I’d pretty much put all my eggs in one basket. When I heard from Tonisha while I was back in the States, I was like, ‘Great! This is gonna be the best situation. Living with someone in the same program, who speaks English, and whose name is Tonisha… so she must be cool (yeah, ridiculous. I know).’ But, after I arrived, it seemed like her communication got worse and worse. I was starting to get the feeling that she was no longer interested, and that I should come up with some alternatives. So, I hit the interwebs and started looking for other roommates and rooms for rent. Not an easy task, given the on/off again nature of the wifi in my room. But, despite the difficulty, I managed to come up with a list of about 10 suitable places. I narrowed that list down to a ‘top 4’, and started making calls and sending emails.

Of course, due to my shoddy Spanish, I was really nervous about calling, but on my first one I stumbled a bit in Spanish, before asking if the person spoke English. She did, and we set a time to meet the following day. In the meantime, Tonisha got back in contact with me, plus, I heard back from a couple of other places. Secretly, I was hoping that I would meet with Tonisha and be completely done with the search, but I kept the other appointments just in case.

My first apartment showing was with an older lady within walking distance of San Pedro. I was a bit concerned about the place, since her ad mentioned that she lived with 3 dogs, but the price was right and she was pretty close to the beach… big plusses in my book. The room was a bit on the smallish side and she had another renter already in the place – a Polish girl who I didn’t get to meet during my visit – who I would have to share a bathroom with. After showing me around and explaining everything about the house and the neighborhood, my potential landlady’s tone of voice changed rather abruptly as she said to me, “I have just one rule for the house. No men. Ever.” What came out of my mouth was, “Ok.” But what was going on in my head was, “Girl, stahp. I’m grown! What if my boyfriend wants to come visit? I gotta find someplace else for him to stay? Sneak around like a high school virgin? Ain’t nobody got time for that.” I silently crossed ‘cheap beachy abode’ off my list of contenders.

My next visit was the next day with Tonisha. Like I mentioned before, I was sort of hoping we would meet, fall in love, and be best roomie-buds forever! Sadly, that was not the case. The place was nice and spacious, centrally located in a very cool area in the center of Marbella (about 7km from my school), but Tonisha’s whole demeanor seemed lackluster and really low-energy, almost ho-hum. I tried to engage her in conversation, “What do you do in your free time here?” “How’s your school / work situation?” “What kinds of things do you like to eat / cook?” But it seemed like so much effort to get an energetic response from her, and she asked me nothing in return. Plus, there was also the issue of a shared bathroom. As I left to head to my next viewing, I thought, “Well everyone has an off day. Maybe she’s still a bit tired from travelling back from the States.” I filed her in the ‘Maybe’ column.

I set off for my next appointment, which was a bit far from both my school and the center of Marbella, but I figured it would at least be good to see it for comparison purposes. After deboarding the bus, I started walking, using the directions that I was given by the potential landlady. Since the directions contained only loose landmarks (go past the Shell station, to the second roundabout, and take the 2nd exit), not street names, I quickly realized that I might be lost. I had already walked up 1 very long, steep hill, backtracked and walked up another. Since the weather was unseasonably warm, I’d once again broken a sweat and had to shed my blazer. After about 15 minutes of walking without any sight of the street or house I was looking for, I grumbled to myself, “I don’t care how nice this place is, I can’t live here. It’s too damned far!” I finally gave in and called the landlady, explaining that I’d gotten turned around. Thankfully, she was the one who spoke English, and after giving her a landmark, she said she knew exactly where I was and would come pick me up.

When Simin zoomed around the corner in her little car and stopped to pick me up, I don’t think either of us was exactly what the other one was expecting to see. But we instantly fell into easy, spirited conversation with each other. When we arrived at her house, I regretted my earlier statement about never being able to live here. The place was absolutely gorgeous. A traditional Spanish-style townhouse, with a whitewashed exterior, a nice little garden and a sunny, open terrace. Inside, Simin’s decorating style could best be described as hippie-chic. Nothing matched, but somehow everything worked. I instantly recognized some prints of Frida Kahlo, and noticed that many of her furniture choices were very similar to my own back home. And then, she showed me the room. It was huge! A queen-sized bed, writing desk, and a bookshelf with a closet that could easily be a whole ‘nother bedroom. And the cherry on top of it all? My own bathroom! As she showed me around the place, we continued our easy chatter – we discovered that we’re both into hiking and yoga, and she let me know that even though she was born in the area, she had just moved back after several years away and felt almost as new here as I did. As we wrapped up our conversation, I prepared to leave for my next and final showing. Simin volunteered to give me a lift to the place, since she was headed out in a few minutes. “How nice!” I thought.

The next place was literally a stone’s throw from the beach in Marbella. The apartment was shared by 2 or 3 students, and I would have my own room and bedroom. But when I entered, it definitely looked like students lived there. There was a mattress randomly thrown against the wall in the main living room, and the rest of the place looked like it had been decorated with somebody’s grandma’s leftover furniture. The oven in the kitchen didn’t work, and the sink was full of dishes. There was an absolutely amazing terrace, though. And I would have direct access to it from my room. Still, I knew I wouldn’t be able to live comfortably in the dorm-like environment. I crossed it off the list.

Slightly exhausted from all the walking and viewing, I decided to take a quick break at the beach to mull over my options. In my mind, I really only had Tonisha and Simin to choose from. While sitting and soaking in the sun, I recalled the prayer I’d said before setting out on the hunt today. I’d asked God to help me find a place that felt like home. After a quick phone chat with Bro. Johnson, I dialed a number.
“Hola, Simin! It’s Kisha.”
“I don’t think I’m going to find a place that’s a better fit than yours. If it’s ok with you, I’d like to take the room.”

————-

Pics of my new place:

my roommate, simin

first impressions

As of last night, my official assessment of San Pedro was, “I effin’ hate this place.” But, honestly, I think I just got so spoiled by the grand elegance of Seville that I couldn’t appreciate it. It’s definitely small, and it seems to be just a little bit ‘hood. Plus, the street system is like a big pile of tangled spaghetti. Hardly any street runs in a straight line, and a street will change names without warning, so it’s ridiculously easy to get lost or turned around, even with a map.

if it weren’t for the friendly name on this building, i would never have found my room again.

Also – I think my assessment was severely tainted by a piece of graffiti that I saw on my walk. Scrawled on a wall in the middle of an empty plaza were the words, ‘No Moros’, along with a faded red swastika. Needless to say, it made me very uneasy and equally pissed off. Even on the other side of the world, the ugly spectre of racism cannot be escaped. I tried to put the image out of my mind, but it stayed with me (subconsciously) for the rest of the day, ‘cause I remained in kind of a bad mood. I’m already sensitive and aware of how conspicuous I am walking around such a small town; I really could have done without that.

Anywho, I’m on the bus to Marbella now, it’s a much prettier and warmer day than yesterday, and I’m hoping to get a better look at things. I may even meet up with Tonisha (potential roomie) as she finally got back in touch with me today.

view from the edge of town
plaza de la iglesia – at night

plaza de la iglesia – day

avenida marques del duero – runs through the center of san pedro
how’d they know i was here?

making moves

The bus ride to my new town was comfortable and largely uneventful. From Seville, we traveled maybe an hour or so to Ronda. Along the way, I was treated to an up-close view of the southern Spanish countryside, which honestly looked rather hardscrabble and barren. Rocky ground with clumps of low shrubs and wild grasses. Low, rolling hills everywhere and every couple of minutes, large patches of land with neat rows of what I’m guessing were olive trees (some orange trees, too).

One interesting note is how many Japanese people were also on the bus. In Seville, one of our tour guides had mentioned that there were Japanese people everywhere, and he said it with a kind of distaste in his voice. Japanese people can be kind of obnoxious tourists, much like Americans, I’m sure. All the ones I’ve seen so far have way too much stuff with them and they seem to have a camera jutting from every orifice or hand. Once we made it to Ronda, most of them disembarked. Only a couple remained for the trip to San Pedro.

We had a brief 20-25 minute stop in Ronda – which seemed like a very charming traditional Spanish town. I made a note to myself to add it to my list of places to visit before leaving Spain. The passenger makeup of the bus changed to mostly abuelitas (grandmothers) for the Ronda to San Pedro leg of the trip. Soon, the low, rolling hills changed to steep mountains with lazy clouds drifting by. We were now passing through the Sierra de los Nieves.

a glimpse of ronda

passing through the sierra de los nieves

I’ve never gotten carsick before, but I was sort of glad that I hadn’t eaten anything yet, since the winding roads and sharp turns through the mountains felt more like a slow-moving rollercoaster than a charter bus. With the chatter of old Spanish ladies (one of whom had brought a twittering parakeet along for the trip), and the bus’ soundtrack of easy-listening Spanish style jazz muzak (including a sax-muzak version of ‘Careless Whispers’) as my background noise, I soaked in the gorgeous mountain views and tried not to get too excited as we got closer and closer to San Pedro.

Unlike in Ronda, where the bus stopped at a proper bus station, in San Pedro, the bus just stopped in the middle of the street (at least that’s what it seemed like to me). Just to be sure I was in the right place, I asked one of the abuelitas, “Es San Pedro?” “Si, es San Pedro,” she replied. I exited the bus with a handful of others, all of whom seemed to be heading to other destinations nearby. I followed them to the bus ticket window near our stop and asked where I could find a taxi, since there were none visible at the stop. With my 2 heavy bags, I was not intending to hoof it to my hotel. The ticket lady directed me up the street, literally.

A short walk up a steep hill with an extremely narrow sidewalk, and over 60 pounds of luggage caused me to break a small sweat by the time I reached the taxi line. The driver loaded my things, and I told him where I was going. “Cuanto cuesta?” I asked. He laughed. “Poco poco” (though it sounded more like Popo… Andalusians NEVER finish their words!). He added something which I understood to mean that everything in town was very, very close. Sure enough, it seemed like all he did was circle the block, and we were stopped in front of Hostal El Labrador, my temporary accomodation for the next 5 days.

El Labrador is a combination bar / restaurant and hotel, but a sign on the front door mentioned that the bar was closed until January 20, so the main entrance was closed and locked. I was peering in, trying to figure out how to get in the place, when I heard a woman shouting over my left shoulder from above. Some auntie was leaning over her balcony trying to tell me which door to go into. We played a quick game of pantomime Spanglish and at one point, I was sure she told me to hit the tiger (el tigre), but soon realized she meant push the bell (el timbre). I did, and got a crackly ‘Quien es?’ from the call box. After identifying myself, a woman opened the door, and started speaking rapidly and motioned for me to come in the other door around the backside of the building, before she retreated back inside.

Not quite sure I’d heard her correctly, I paused at a door just a few feet away, then heard another voice behind me, this one from an older male. He’d apparently heard my interchange with the balcony lady and the proprietress, and saw my confused brown face and could tell I needed all the help I could get. He gave me a firm signal that said, yes, i should continue around the back. As I walked, I thought, ‘Wow, these folks sure are really helpful. I’d probably be well looked after in this town.’

After checking in with Inmaculada, the innkeepr, I entered my room. The place made my hotel in Sevilla look like the 4 Seasons. It was clean and neat though, and it IS only temporary, so… no pasa nada (still don’t know if I’m using that right).

Unfortunately, though, it seems that the wifi does NOT want to cooperate, so I am on a communication island right now. Not good, as I need to get in touch with my potential roommate to meet over the weekend, and I’d like to see if my school coordinator has responded with when I should arrive on Monday. I tried to restart my PC to see if that would help, but good ol’ Windows decided it wanted to install 34 updates before restarting, so I’m sitting here waiting on that now. I think I’ll just head on out to take a look around for a bit while it finishes. But it being siesta, I’m not sure exactly how much I’ll be able to see.

solo in spain… for real.

Last night at the farewell dinner for my orientation, two of my newfound friends approached me where I was chatting with another colleague at the bar.

“We just had to say that you look like the most confident woman in the world. Look at you, leaning against the bar with your wine glass perched just so in your hand!”

We all laughed, and I assured them that it was only because I had about 12 years on them that my stance seemed so relaxed and assured.

Today, however, timidity is my travel companion. I have to keep reminding myself that I am in Spain, not on a hostile foreign planet. No one is going to eat me alive or yell at me, or do anytning bad. But whenever I have to open my mouth to ask, “donde esta…?” or “cuanto cuesta…?” I can hardly believe that the quiet, almost bashful voice is my own.

 I am waiting in the bus station near downtown Seville right now, preparing to travel to my teaching destination of San Pedro de Alcantara. After almost 3 days of being in a group of about 25 other auxiliaries, I;m admittedly a bit spoiled. I haven’t HAD to speak Spanish or even figure out what I’m doing, or what I’m going to eat or drink since I’ve been here. My schedule has been planned by the organization I applied through. And even during my free time, I’ve relied heavily on my colleagues with stronger Spanish speaking skills or previous experiences living in Spain to show me around or communicate when my barely functional Spanish elicits confused looks from the locals. But today, I’m officially solo in Spain, and last night’s confidence has dwindled significantly.

2014 spring semester CIEE teach in spain participants

My two new friends: Liz (Pittsburgh) and Amy (LA)

I photobombed this pic of Lyanne, Liz, and Amy – I think I made it better!

lo perdí (i lost it)

subject to change. ain’t THAT the truth!



My flight to Spain should have been uneventful. But one tiny noob mistake turned an uneventful trip into something of a ridiculous saga.

The Realization

Maybe it was the excitement, maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was meant to be, or maybe I’m just a bit daft. Whatever the reason, I managed to deboard the plane at my first connection point in Paris and leave my passport behind in my seat. How the hell I did something so ridiculously stupid, I’ll never understand, but I’ll probably be a long time forgetting the repercussions, namely, an extra 6 hours tacked on to an already long journey.

Once I’d discovered that I’d left my passport, I hurried to the airline help desk to see if I could get someone to quickly check the plane for my missing travel document. I explained my predicament to the desk clerk. She called the gate, spoke to someone in rapid-fire French (half of which I understood), and then hung up, turning to let me know that they were checking and would call back. When they did a few moments later, she relayed the message in heavily-accented English, “They deedn’t find eet.” WHAT!? Oh, Jesus, no. This is not happening. Of all the f*(#@n things to lose, I lose the 1 things that I barely got back in time for the trip!? This. is NOT happening.

I fought back encroaching tears and pleaded with the desk agent. “I know it’s there,” I explained. “I have been nowhere else, not even to the bathroom. I’ve already checked every inch of my bag, and nothing! And, I remember putting it on the seat next to me when I sat down.” She reconfirmed my seat number with the person on the phone, waited. “No,” she said. They saw nothing. At that moment, still fighting back tears and resisting the urge to cuss my own self out for being so careless, I just started praying under my breath. “God, I need you to come through for me. I know this can be resolved. I know you will help me find a way to resolve this. I know this cannot be how this is supposed to turn out – me, stuck in a Paris airport, unable to reach my destination.” Just then, the desk agent offered the only other suggestion she had, “Haff you reported eet to the police?” “No,” I said. She suggested I do so and pointed me in the direction of the airport police office.

The Station

So, at just past 5am, I find myself communicating my situation to a French policeman as best I can. He is listening as best as he can, standing behind an unnecessarily tall desk. I am eyeing both his face for the appropriate level of understanding, and the face of the clock on the wall next to me, noticing the minutes dwindle along with my chances of making my connecting flight. After communicating my issue, I am told to wait a few moments. I briefly consider taking a seat among the dozens of others waiting on uncomfortable-looking chairs, but I decide that standing in direct eyesight is the better choice. Much conversation transpires in French among the 2 or 3 officers gathered behind the desk. One, the most genial and the one who I have just talked to, seems to be pleading my case to another more stern, apparent authority-figure who seems to be rapid-firing back the appropriate protocol to Msr. Genial. Msr. Autorité appears totally unsympathetic to the silly, simpering American woman looking on helplessly at their conversation. I don’t think he even makes eye contact with me. A third officer stands by, mostly watching the exchange, his body and facial language seemingly saying, ‘Damn. That sucks. But I don’t want to get involved in this mess.’

After a few stomach-churning minutes, an officer approaches (was he 1 of the previous 3? In my flustered state, I really can’t tell.). He speaks to me in English, “Follow me.” I do.

“Have you asked the desk agent?”

“Yes,” I say. “She called the gate and said they found nothing, but I know it’s there,” I tell him.

We go back to the help desk, this time to a different agent. She phones the gate again, gives the same details as before, listens, then speaks something in French to the officer. He turns to me. “They found it.”

YES!

A flood of relief washes over me. I notice that the previous agent gives a pinched look. What was that all about, I briefly wonder. But I have no time to pontificate. Officer Helpful is writing down the gate number, and escorting me back to pick up my passport.

The Reclamation

I chalked up the fact that no one really seemed rushed at all, or offered any help in getting me to my connecting flight to French / European standards of service or their overall lack of urgency about things. Still, I was hoping there would be a sliver of a chance for me to make it, as long as I moved very, very quickly. Well… I did move quickly, but the airport tram, the gate workers (who where nowhere to be found when me and Officer Helpful arrived. Really!? We just called and said we were coming. WTF?), and everyone else in the airport were not on the same page. After Officer Helpful had retrieved my passport and given it back to me (he also had to take a pic for his report), I dashed back through the airport terminal, on the tram again, then a quick customs stamp, a thorough undressing at security screening, and by that time I saw flashing on the monitors that the status of my connecting flight was:

Boarding – Last Call

I broke into a run, with my shoes barely zipped and my belt barely back on, and my approved carry-on liquids barely stuffed back into my bag.

Now, I’m already not a runner, but after an 8-hour flight with spotty sleep, a stressful ordeal and with a kinda-heavy carryon in-tow, I’m pretty sure I looked like the most awkward, disheveled, panicked, banshee-woman that Charles de Gaulle airport had ever seen. I was sweating, and panting, and thinking of stopping, but I had to push… just in case. When I made it to the gate, it was immediately clear that I was too late… by about 7 minutes.

Final Destination

I asked the gate agent what my options were and she pointed me to the AirFrance info counter just a few feet away. I approached, explained my situation, and asked what could be done. I was preparing for the worst – an extra fee, no more flights / seats available, etc – but hoping for the best. After a helluva lot of click-clacking, typing, sighing, and conferring with her manager, Mme. Info Desk uttered my new favorite French word, “superb!” And I was all set with a new ticket with no extra fees. My next leg would take me from Paris to Madrid, and the final flight would leave from Madrid to Seville… about 6 hours afterwards.

Though I was happy that I hadn’t totally screwed myself, I was completely dismayed at the idea of having to wait in another airport for hours. Plus, now that I would be arriving late, it meant I’d have to find my own way from the Seville aiport to the hotel (instead of taking the free shuttle provided by my program), and that I would likely miss the first part of orientation.

I was exhausted, disheveled, and it appeared that my too-thick socks combined with my too-tight new boots, along with all the running and walking had resulted in a painful blister on the back of one heel.  Any hopes of arriving cool, calm, and collected were long gone.

By the time I finally boarded the flight to Seville, I was an irritated lump of sweaty, achy, tired flesh, and I still faced the possibility that my luggage might not be waiting upon my arrival. Fortunately, it was, and I sailed out of the Seville airport as quickly as I could, caught a cab to the hotel, and vowed never to repeat such a ridiculous mistake or experience again.