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!

2 days in seville

After the harrowing experience that was my journey to Seville, I was glad to finally reach the hotel and get settled in. For the next couple of days, CIEE (the organization that I applied through) had a series of orientation sessions planned for us. There was tons of important information covered, from setting up a bank account, to getting a Spanish cell phone, and dealing with day-to-day issues at school.

On the first day of orientation, we were divided into groups, and a CIEE tour guide showed us around many of the highlights of central Seville. Seville is an absolultely gorgeous city, and during the tour it finally started to sink in: I’m in SPAIN!!!

la catedral – sevilla

tomb of christopher columbus. allegedly.

view from la giralda

la giralda

las setas

roman ruins beneath las setas

miniature of las setas

la giralda

At the end of the evening we were treated to an amazing Flamenco performance. Absolutely breathtaking!

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.”


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.

makes no sense at all

I’m flying to Miami this evening. And I feel like I’m going to throw up. My palms are sweaty. My stomach is in knots. My mind won’t stop racing. I literally feel like a bundle of nerves. I keep telling myself to just breathe. Everything is going to unfold as it should. You’ve done all you can do. The rest is just going through the process and waiting to see how everything turns out. But a few moments after I’ve taken some deep breaths to enhance my calm, my restless mind is back at it again.

Tomorrow I go to the Spanish Consulate just outside of Miami to apply for my visa. The application itself is a daunting process that might make anyone more than a little bit nervous. But my particular visa application experience is even more nerve-wracking since I only have 3 full weeks between my application date and my (alleged) departure date for Spain. For the life of me, I still can’t figure out how this happened, when I started planning for this so early.

Back in early October, I made my original appointment at the Consulate for mid-October. This, however, was before I realized that I would need to gather documentation from everyone and God to take with me for the appointment. It was also before I realized that I would have to travel all the way to South Florida to present said documentation. I decided to reschedule for a later date. A quick look at the Consulate’s calendar revealed that the months of November and December were wide open for appointment slots. “Cool,” I thought. “I’ll just check back in a week or two after I’ve made more progress with my paperwork, and reschedule for late November or early December.” Bad decision. When I did check back about a week and a half later, every date was booked up until mid-December, well after the date that my program coordinator had suggested was advisable in order to ensure the Consulate would have enough time to process my application.


I went ahead and took the next available slot, but over the next couple of weeks, I called the Consulate every other day asking if there were any cancellations or openings for an earlier date. There weren’t.


Ok, then. So this it’s how it’s going to be? Fine. Bring it. I recalled that Dominique and a couple of other program participants had said that it had only taken 2 weeks to receive their visas back from the Consulate, so I held on to that as my one glimmer of hope. 2 weeks. 2 weeks.
Since then, it’s become a sort of mantra for me. As I’ve crossed off every item on the list of documents that I needed to procure or provide, I’ve just kept saying it over and over to myself, as if saying the words will make everything alright. Despite the program coordinator’s advice to hold off on buying my plane ticket to Spain until after the visa appointment, I went ahead and purchased. Those prices weren’t going down any time soon. And besides… 2 weeks.

So here I am, with my overnight bag packed, my packet of documents printed, copied, stapled, and signed; preparing to head to sunny Miami with an invisible cloud of dread and trepidation over my head. I feel like a soldier heading into battle for the first time (kinda like Denzel in that scene from Glory); I feel like how I used to feel just before I had to go to confession, (Forgive me, Father, for being a procrastinator); I feel… like this:

“How in the hell do we get ourselves in these situations?”

Wish me luck.

it’s official!

So, for those that don’t already know… it’s official! I will be following in the footsteps of those esteemed ladies of lexis and literature – Ms. Krauss (my middle school English teacher) and Mrs. Reaves (my high school teacher). Starting in January, I, too, will be a teacher of English… in Spain!

I’ll admit I was almost as surprised at the news as everyone else has been so far. When I applied to the CIEE Teach Abroad program back in late September, I remember thinking all of the following, in no particular order:

Wait. Are you sure you wanna do this?

But what about your job?

What about money?

You don’t know the first thing about teaching English.

Is your Spanish really that good?

You? In a classroom? With kids? Real, live… KIDS?

What about somewhere closer to home like Central or South America?

Are you SURE you wanna do this?

But in spite of my initial misgivings, I realized that I had a much bigger decision to make; a decision much more important than how much money or language skills I had. What I had to decide was: would I be the kind of person who actually DID the things she always talked and dreamed of doing, or would I be the type of person who kept putting off a dream or goal until it faded into dim memory or lingering regret?

So… I applied. And then I was accepted. And then I freaked out a little bit. And then after my fellow CAU alum Dominique (aka, La Morena de Andalucia) talked me off the ledge (she’s already in Spain now, and was my inspiration for this lunacy brilliant idea), I started planning for what I think will be one of the biggest adventures of my life.

There’s lots more to share about what’s happened from September to now, but here’s the basics:

The program:

I’ll be participating in the CIEE Teach Abroad Program as an English language assistant. I’ll be working in a secondary school with students from 12-15 years old. I’m not 100% sure of all my duties yet, but I know that I’ll be assisting with a variety of classes, not just English language classes.

Where I’m going:

I’ll be living in southern Spain, a region called Andalusia. During the application process, I was given the option of selecting 3 preferred locations for my school placement. I chose Andalusia because my first-ever Spanish teacher was an American woman who’d lived there for several years. She always told the most charming stories of the area which planted the seed in my mind that one day I’d visit. The other major factor was that Andalusia is characterized by smaller towns, or pueblos, that are not at all like the bustling cities of Barcelona and Madrid. The slower pace of life, the lower cost of living, and the more traditional Spanish lifestyle were all very appealing to me. No surprise there, really. I’m a Southern girl at heart.

My school is located in the province of Malaga, in a town called San Pedro de Alcantara, just west of Marbella. If you’ve heard of Marbella, it’s probably ‘cause it’s a popular resort town known for its picturesque beaches, its posh visitors, and active nightlife. San Pedro isn’t nearly as happening, but it’s still got the beaches and the activity of Marbella just a stone’s throw away. As one of my former colleagues from the UK would say, I’m chuffed. J


How long I will be in Spain:

I’ll be in Spain for the spring school semester, which starts on January 7 and goes through May. It’s a relatively short stay, but since I’d already missed the deadline for the 8-month program that CIEE also offers, I figured it was good enough.

Where I’ll stay:

For the beginning of my trip, CIEE will provide temporary lodging. After that, though, I’ll have to find my own apartment, which, given my history of sitcom-like life occurrences, will most likely be a ridiculous experience.

Welp, that’s all for now. I’ll be posting more details and stories about my preparation for departure in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned.