Archive | October, 2010

Una excursión al Quejigo del Amo

26 Oct

This past Sunday, instead of staying in and sleeping until the afternoon (like I have on previous Sundays), my American friend Lauren, our Spanish friend Luis and I decided to do something a little more adventurous – we decided to go on a hike to see a tree.  Yes, we really hiked 10 km (about 6.2 miles) to see a tree.

This marked my first real trip outside of Jaén city since my arrival a little over five weeks ago. Most people find it hard to believe that I haven’t traveled further away to bigger cities, but I have to say that I’ve been so happy living in Jaén that I haven’t wanted to travel very much.  But for my first trip outside of the city, we didn’t travel too far.

About 20km south of Jaén city, but still within Jaén province, lies the Quejigo del amo, the tree which we went to see. But this isn’t just any tree, it can even be found on the map of Jaén province as a natural monument of interest.  I have to say that the tree was pretty cool, but the adventure was more in the trip than in the actual destination.

We had to travel up gravel roads that wound up and down the various mountainsides. The sometimes treacherous road was big enough for only one car at a time, but that didn’t pose too much of a problem, seeing as we only passed the occasional land rover during the journey. This definitely wasn’t a major tourist destination. In fact, I think we saw more sheep than people during our hike.

After reaching the tree at last, we had lunch underneath and hung out for a while to enjoy the scenery and take some pictures before heading the 5km back downhill to where we parked the car.

On our trip back, we made a stop in Valdepeñas de Jaén – a small pueblo south of Jaén city. In the town, we found a hiking trail that wound around the river and up into the forest, passing waterfalls and bridges along the way.


All in all, it was a pretty successful and adventurous Sunday. We returned to Jaén with just enough time to go out for Chinese food with some of the other auxiliares (language and culture assistants – like me). All the fresh air and food put me right to sleep!

My Lesson of the Day: It’s not always about the destination, it’s about how you get there.


The feria: a brief, but necessary recap

25 Oct

It’s been nearly a week since the Fería de San Lucas ended, and now I feel like I can properly do a brief, but necessary recap of all that happened.  Rather than bore you with the details of 10 days and nights at the fería, I’ve decided to come up with a top 5.

While the fería encompasses much more than these 5 things (a circus, bull fights, etc.), I think that these will give you a good overview of my feria experiences.

1. The Casetas:

Casetas (tents) are set up all over the fairground. Major bars and restaurants from all over Jaén close down their original locations to set up elaborately decorated and huge casetas. Organizations, such as the red cross or the diario de Jaén (the local newspaper) also design their own casetas with food, music and dancing. In some of the bigger cities in spain, such as Sevilla, many casetas are private and open by invitation only. However, because Jaén is a much smaller city, the casetas are open to the public. But don’t let this lead you to believe that this means the casetas aren’t crowded! From early afternoon until the wee hours of the madrugada (in between 12am and 8am) the casetas are packed with people of all ages. And don’t be surprised if you see young children dancing among all the adults. Some families stay out until 2am or later. But as the day goes on, the family crowd is usually replaced by jovenes (youths) drinking in the streets and dancing in the casetas.


2. The Attraciones:

In addition to the casetas, a large portion of the fair grounds are devoted to the various attractions. These attractions are pretty universally standard for any fair or carnival, but the feria had a wide range of thrill rides, kiddy rides and fun houses. Some of my favorites: coches de choque (bumper cars), la barca (a large swinging boat), and la lavadora (the washing machine). My personal favorite to watch was the rodeo americano (American rodeo). The ride – which required riders to hang on to large, spinning bulls – was anything but American. However, the rides were a big attraction for people of all ages. As a side note, the only difficulty I found was trying to teach one of my private english classes the concept of ride as a verb and noun – i.e. Did you ride the rides at the fería?


3. The Bebidas:

Another big part of the fería was the drinking. There were the various bebidas (drinks) that were especially associated with fería. These drinks included pilycream, a sweet, chilled white wine that was sold in bottles but meant to be sipped from small plastic shot glasses. Along with a bottle of pilycream came a panuelo (scarf) that could be seen tied around the necks, arms and legs of many feria-goers. In addition to pilycream, there was chatos de vino (shots of wine) that could be bought from different wine stands around the feria. This wine, like pilycream was very sweet, only red instead of white wine. Finally, there were rebujitos, a mixture of wine and fanta that many people drank.


4. The Botellon:

In order to cut down on the cost of highly-priced fería drinks, the younger crowd had a giant botellon (pregame) where you bring your own alcohol, mixers, glasses and ice – All of which can be purchased at many stores along the walk to the fería. In addition to cutting down on costs, the botellon allows for a lot of socializing the streets along the way to the fería. Although illegal, there is somewhat of an unspoken agreement where people can practice botellon during the fería as long as they stick to certain areas of the city. This allows for an easier cleanup during the next morning.


5. The Comida:

This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the various types of comida (food) that is sold all around the fería. This includes all types of incredible sweets – chocolate covered apples (above), churros, turon, etc. – and typical spanish food such as paella, migas, and jamón (ham). It’s not hard to find good food, it’s just hard to choose what to eat. But sometimes the food can be a little more expensive, as are many things at the fería.

Well, that’s the brief recap of what the fería consists of. I hope this makes sense and does justice to the fería.

My Lesson of the Day: It’s good to move to a new city in enough time to enjoy their fería

My life without internet

24 Oct

After about a month in my new apartment, I still seem to  to be internet-less. While it was hard to adjust at first, I think it´s actually been a blessing in disguise. Instead of spending countless hours on facebook, I´ve been keeping so busy that I´m hardly at home.

However, I´m not proud of how long it´s been since I´ve written a blog post! I have a lot to catch up on, but will hopefully try to do that soon. My roommate Bea and I are going to the store tomorrow to check out prices and hopefully (keep your fingers crossed) purchase some internt.

So basically, I´m sorry for not keeping in touch and will hopefully be online more soon!

My Lesson of the Day (weeks): Having internet is a luxury, not a necessity.

San Lucas 2010, La Feria de la Crisis

12 Oct

The feria has finally arrived to Jaén! Bringing with it about 10 days of festivities, food, music, dancing and so much more.

The best way I can think to translate all that encompasses the feria is “state fair”. Only the feria is much different than any other state fair that I’ve been to.

During the day, the fair is full of families, food and attractions. Women and girls get decked out in the traditional flamenco dresses with massive flowers in their hair. They parade around the various casetas (tents) while dancing to sevillano music.

Then as the sun sets, the feria becomes illuminated with the bright lights of the attractions, games and food stands. Music pours from every caseta and it becomes a total locura.

The younger crowd (anywhere from 18 to 30) gathers in the streets for the botellon, which is just one giant pregame. Not even the pouring down rain on Saturday could stop the botellon. We could hear the massive crowd blocks before we actually reached the the spot for Saturday night’s botellon. Bringing our own bottles, cups, and ice, we stood around shoulder-to-shoulder drinking and chatting for hours. Finally, around 3:30 am, we decided to decend upon the feria. The bright, lively casetas were transformed into packed night clubs, blasting typical club music, followed by classic sevillano tunes and spanish music from the 80s. I even heard Mambo number 5… twice.

After more dancing and drinking for hours, we finally walked back home at around 7 am. Just as the sky began to light up, I turned in. But miraculously, all the dirt, broken bottles and garbage that accumulates during the night is cleaned up by the next morning. And as we went to the feria at 3 pm on Sunday, all looked fresh, clean and ready for another night of craziness.

Luckily, the feria happens to coincide with Columbus Day (today) so there is no school. Most schools in the area also choose to take off Monday as well in order to make it a 4-day weekend. So since Friday night, I’ve probably spent majority of my waking hours at the feria. As much as I’ve been enjoying myself, I’m a little excited to get a break tomorrow and go to school.

But that’s all for now. Time to head back out to the feria once more!

My Lesson of the Day: The internet in the park is not so hot. Going to try to add move pictures to the blog soon!


Casi Española

6 Oct

As I went to sign my apartment contract the other day, my landlord asked for my passport number in place of a residence number. When she found out that I now have an official foreigners number, she announced that I’m casi española (almost Spanish).

The N.I.E. (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) that my landlord was referring to signifies that I now have the ok to stay in the country. I’ve only completed the first of several appointments to obtain my official card, but getting a N.I.E. is the first step.

With my N.I.E., I opened a bank account and signed my contract, which makes this a pretty important string of 9 letters/numbers. This number will also allow me to stay in the country until my teaching assignment is over.

As for the teaching, I’ve been slowly progressing. It’s definitely been a learning process for me and my school. We’ve been moving day-by-day to figure out my schedule and what I’ll be doing. Mostly, I’ll be working one-on-one sessions with the professors in my department, but I also will help out in one class – about databases. Today was my first day with the students (about 14 boys and 1 girl) and they all seem nice. They’re a little timid when it comes to speaking in English, but I think it will be a good year.

Today, I also gave my first private lesson. One of the counselors at my school wanted a native speaker for conversation classes with his 14-yr-old daughter. I’m pretty excited to continue with the private lessons, and it will definitely be a good supplement to my income.

Well, the sun is starting to set here in the Parque Bulevar so I guess this blog is done. Time for some tapas and bed.

My Lesson of the Day: I think I’m becoming more Spanish than I realized. Not bad for less than a month!

Save the drama for your madre

5 Oct

As I’ve written before, I finally have a home in Jaén! I could not be happier with my piso, but I had yet to meet my roommates… until this past Sunday.

Let me preface this by saying that I knew something was up between two of my roommates, who had lived together before, But I had no idea what was going to happen. They showed up like a storm. The first one coming in with printed messages and texts from the other in order to try to get her thrown out. The second arriving with a friend, who we jokingly referred to as her “bodyguard.” Needless to say, I was feeling a bit incomoda.

So I decided to break the ice. “I imagine that we need to talk about things, because there is a little tension in the room.”

Consider the ice shattered.

What followed was a 20 minute “discussion” between the two, during which I made out a lot of “he said she saids” and “thats not trues” This was never going to end.

At last, I decided to intervene. I basically just asked them if they thought they could live together for the next year without fighting and that was that. One decided to move out. Leaving us with 3 roommates in a 4 bedroom piso. Luckily, the first person to come to look at our place, loved it and we are once again four.

I can only say that I have high hopes for having a less-dramatic year. My three new spanish-speaking roommates all seem extremely nice and we are planning to all end this year bilingual! And if I ever get too stressed out, I at least have this beautiful view to keep me peaceful:

My Lesson of the Day: They always say that its more difficult to live with girls. I’m beginning to think there may be some truth to that.

Getting to work

2 Oct

October has arrived! And with it comes my first day of work. In the stress of finding an apartment, settling in, trying to speak Spanish and getting to know the city, I almost forgot about my purpose for being here: teaching!

I was told to come to work at 10 am on Oct. 1 to start my first day of teaching, so I arrived at Las Fuentezuelas a little early – which is practically unheard of here in Jaén. I went up to the secretary to explain who I was, what I was doing and that I needed to see Manolo, who was preparing my schedule. Instead she called one of the English teachers to come meet me.  At least she didn’t show me the door?

The nice English teacher wound me around the school – back outside, up a few flights of stairs and into the department de formativa, which apparently means working with computers.

I met with the staff and my colleague Silvero took me for a tour of the school, stopping to fill out paperwork and get a café con leche and some toast with olive oil. Then we went back upstairs to chat a little more before break time at 11, which brought more café con leche and toast with olive oil. I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, but had a hard time following the 5 men shouting over one another in Spanish. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up soon?

Finally, we went back upstairs so they could show me around the department’s classrooms. I found out that I’ll mostly be working with alumnos (students) between the ages of 18 and 24. So much for teaching little kids! And as we took a look around the classrooms, I couldn’t help but notice that the classrooms were packed full of guys blatantly staring at me.  Yikes, hope this year goes smoothly!

After putting in an exhausting (not) two hours of work, I headed back to my piso to finish painting my bedroom.

My Lesson of the Day: Just because things don’t always go the way you plan, doesn’t mean that there can’t be a silver lining. I’m staying positive about the year to come.