Monday, December 27, 2010

Puente: Deciembre

December 2 - 11, I was suppose to be gallivanting across the United Kingdom with three other auxiliares - Maegan, Melissa, and Lyndsy - but due to massive amounts of snow and bad weather in England/Scotland/Ireland, I didn't make it out of Spain. It's kind of a (not) funny story.

Thursday, December 2, I met up with the girls to take the train to Madrid. Upon arrival in Madrid, we coger-ed a taxi and went to Madrid Barajas Aeropuerto.  We took our sweet time checking in, getting snacks, looking around the duty-free shops, and trying on perfume.  We were just about the last ones to board the plane...well, the girls were. This is were it gets (not) funny.  Stupid me, I didn't look at my boarding pass before handing it to the man at the gate - and all I hear is: "Este no es su vuelo!" (This is not your plane!) He proceeded to tell me that I had the same flight, same airline, same time...different airport. The girls' tickets were for Luton and mine for Gatwick.  London had received massive amounts of snow and yucky cold weather in days previous and Gatwick and Heathrow Airports were both shut down until an undisclosed time.  So, basically, I wasn't going anywhere for Puente.  My big UK trip was shattered at the gate.  I had to wave goodbye to Maegan, Melissa, and Lyndsy and wish them a good trip! (They had a fun time, the pictures are great! I lived the trip through them!)

Anyway, in continuation.  I headed back to the EasyJet counter to figure out what I was suppose to do.  Since it was closing time, EasyJet didn't want to argue with me (in Spanish!) so they just gave me the name of a hotel and told me I could stay for free and eat dinner and breakfast on them.  So, the next trip was to The Auditorium Hotel - Europe's Largest Hotel with 780 rooms. :) It was a wonderful free place with free internet, free food, heat, and hot water you didn't have to light with a lighter. I was in heaven: I guess I had my own Puente after all...
Largest hotel in Europe: Thanks Easyjet!
Let Them Eat Cake. (endless amounts of cake)
I spent Friday at the airport amongst the massive crowds of people who were waiting for flights, changing flights, or trying to get their money back from a cancelled flight.  Friday also happened to be the beginning day of La Huelga Controladores "Air Controllers Strike" - so NO ONE was leaving Spain. (Rafa, a fellow teacher, told me that the controllers went on strike; due to laws, there is a minimum number of controllers that must continue working even during a strike - but even these minimal people took medical leave so there was absolutely no one left!) During Puente, this is the worst thing that could happen as millions of Spaniards travel out of the country or to the other side of the country for holiday December 4 - 8. I was right in the middle of this mess - which I guess is kind of cool considering what happened next. For the first time in about 30 years, Spain declared a National State of Emergency - since millions of people were stranded, trains were overbooked, tons of traffic on the highways... and no one could travel during Puente.

I was told there were no flights to London until Monday afternoon, so I just gave up trying to get to the UK. I decided to stay in Madrid for one more night in the (free) hotel because I was given food and heat! It just so happened that the Spanish Air Controllers were staying at Auditorium as well, and they were confronted by disgruntled passengers.  The Spanish government found out and sent military officers and personnel to the hotel to bring the controllers directly to work to stop the fighting.  For 15 days, the air traffic controllers have been forced to follow government law since so many people were affected by their strike, on top of bad weather that had come just days before. Saturday morning I left bright and early - just before the fights broke out in the lobby between the air traffic controllers and unhappy passengers.  

The next few days were very boring and cold in Navalmoral - as I watched a total of 8 movies, saw 4 episodes of One Tree Hill, and made 2 collages for my room. I washed all my clothes... which was successful - until it took 3.5 days to dry! My room stunk like dirty wet clothes and it was just a very depressing lonely few days.
part of my new "Roots and Wings" collage.
A new addition to my night stand.
"Sometimes I like to just pick up and go...
Tuesday was a different story. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday morning in Jarandilla with Divina and Toni to celebrate Los Escobazos. This ancient regional festival is something that I had never seen in my life, nor will I ever experience anything like it in the future (that is, until I attend the festival where they throw watermelon sized onions/fruits at a man dressed in a ribbon costume who runs through the streets!) Basically, the whole town of Jarandilla and neighboring towns in La Vera came out in the (pouring!) rain to see the procession and fires! Fire: that is quite an understatement. These "fires" were more like every street, every plaza, and every other person ON fire. The whole town was dressed in overalls and face masks - except me - however, I did make good choices on fireproof clothing since I didn't burn/catch on fire. :) People walk through the streets with "escobazos" (branches of this bush) lit on fire. They hit people's legs and people don't seem to care. I was scared at times because some of these bushes were HUGE!!!!! And, jeggings just don't protect you from the heat too well. haha
Los Escobazos 2010
The pole looking thing is a large "escobazo"!
Children are taught to play with fire at a young age...
We at migas in the street, drank a few beers, and had a fun time as we viewed the procession of the Virgin Mary - which took 3 hours to go through the streets. Men and women hold huge branches and lead the way through the town. As it arrives to a plaza, a huge bonfire is lit. (no roasting marshmallows in these fires!) 
A burning chair in one of the plaza fires.
The largest fire of the night at the end of the procession.
After the procession is over, people go home to shower and eat dinner with their families - as they prepare to go out to the discos and bars (yes! there are discos and bars in Jarandilla - who knew!) where they dance the night away. ...And I did just that. Since you only have to be 16 to get into a bar and 18 to drink, I saw some of my students while we were out. While it was weird for me - I think they got a total kick out of it as they waved and said "Hello!!!". One student even grabbed his face and all he could get out (in English) was "Oh my gosh....oh my gosh...oh. my gosh!!!" (When I went to the high school after puente, Antonio told me that I was the top story of the day as the students were saying "Antonio - we saw Whitney in the bar!!! Whitney was there. We saw her!" - his response - "Yes, she goes out.")
A night out - in Jarandilla!
The next day, Divina and I met up with three other auxiliares who were in town to experience Los Escobazos as well: Matthew, Jeff, and Hunter. We went to see the garganta of Jarandilla and the old Roman bridge - which have a fantastic view of the mountains and a natural pool for swimming in the summer.  We had a nice lunch at Casa Leti and then we all dispersed, going back to our houses - the boys to Plasencia and Hervas, me to Navalmoral, and Divina to Jarandilla!
Garganta de Jarandilla
Old Roman Bridge
Hunter, Jeff, Me, Matthew
Arriving back to the house, I found Mamen had returned from Lisbon and Maria from Barcelona so it was nice to share our stories over late night tapas. I had the privilege of meeting "Eric" - the superstar auxiliar who lived in Navalmoral for two years prior to me. I'd seen pictures and been told stories of his time in Navalmoral and it was fun getting to meet him.
Mamen, Maria, Me, Ismael, Oscar, Eric and Diana
Thursday night was the night of all nights in Navalmoral. We celebrated three birthdays: Jose Miguel, Diana, and Mamen - in top fashion with a night dinner in Josemi's house and a night out on the town to follow. Eric had brought toys for everyone to enjoy: potato guns.  Safe to say, no one was safe that night - drinks and mouths included. They were taken to the bars and discos later and enjoyed ALL night. :) The bars played all Maman's favorite songs and even a special round of Happy Birthday! We all danced and sang - the video is priceless. 
Feliz Cumpleanos! :)
Thursday dinner in Josemi's house!
Dancing in the streets!
Levantando la mano.
I went home (quite late - against my will) to pack my bag to head to Madrid early Friday morning. I went to visit Jessica, who I met in Salamanca in 2008, and Michelle, who I met in Salamanca in 2009. Jessica had been studying in Madrid and Michelle was just passing through after her 2 week Spanish traveling adventure/aka spend the first paycheck on something really great! We had a wonderful time together. It was so nice reuniting with Jess in Spain - since we've only been able to reunite twice since 2008 - and we both are Missourians. I won't say we "live in Missouri" because that couldn't be farther from the truth. It's nice to have Spain to bring us back together! :) We spent the weekend touring Madrid - Retiro Park, Plaza Mayor, The Palace, Sol, Gran Via - eating sweets and wonderful tapas in El Tigre in Chueca - seeing Avenue Q - the Broadway Musical in Spanish! and just catching up. It was a weekend fantastico! :) 
Jessica and I rowing in Retiro Park - Madrid's Central Park.
Girl's night out on the town - just in front of Sol.
Christmas in Madrid - Sol.
Enjoying the Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor with Michelle.
Plaza Mayor by night with Jessica!
Avenue Q!
In the end, I have to say it was probably best that I missed the flight to London - while my hopes were really let down as I waved bye to the girls - I was able to see Los Escobazos, celebrate birthdays, and visit two old friends in Madrid. 

There is always Puente 2011 to go to the UK! (Yes! I've decided to stay for a second year!) 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Weekend At Home.

I went home last weekend. I'm not talking about Missouri nor even the United States; I'm talking about Salamanca. Home is somewhere you are at ease; where you can be yourself; surrounded by family - people who know and understand you. It's so nice to go home: to Salamanca.

Sometimes when you have something in mind that you realllly want to do,  you won't let anything get in your way - not even the idea of traveling alone. This past weekend, I went to Salamanca - alone - yet, in reality I was far from "alone". 

The trip began quite funny actually... While waiting in the train station in Navalmoral to go to Plasencia (where I would catch the bus for Salamanca) I met an old man. While I couldn't understand a word he said, I was able to make out "hace frio" - which if you were in Navalmoral on this particular day, you would have known how freezing cold it was outside and that everyone's conversations were something about the cold weather. Well, to help me translate the rest of the conversation, I called on the help of three guys my age who were sitting to my right.  Here is where it gets interesting. Of these boys, one studied computers with my friend Ismael, another was from Merida where my friend Dioni is from, and they all study at the school where my friend Oscar's dad is the director.  phewww! Long story short, these guys were shocked that after only a few short months I had met/become friends such fine people from this area. I was invited to sit with them on the train where we shared stories and they practiced speaking English with the American girl. :) We laughed a lot and are now friends on Tueni. jaja

Just 45 minutes later, the train arrived in Plasencia. I met up with Lyndsy, Melissa, and Melissa's friend to go shopping. It was nice hanging out with them as it had been a while since I had seen them. Melissa made us lunch (chicken/tomato/cheese/olive oil bocadillos) and I went on my way to get the bus for Salamanca. A nice quick visit, time to catch up and share a few stories. 
Buying cheese and tomatoes for our bocadillos at the market in Plasencia.
You can see part of the old walls that use to enclose all of the town.
I stayed with my friend Tasos, who is so kind to welcome me to his house whenever I need to "go home". He cooked me dinner, turned the heat wayyyy up, and gave me keys to come and go as I pleased. I stopped by Rafa's cyber to torment him (which he loves!) and we enjoyed catching up on our lives since December 2009.  After getting ready, I headed out to the bars to see who I could see. I started where I usually start on a night out on the town in Sali- debajo el reloj. I saw Manny in the Plaza, he hooked me up. (If you know Manny, you know this means drink cardssss!!!! ...and I do mean cardssss.) Then, as i was walking to Irish, I saw Jim - at his normal post on C/ Iscar Peyra. It was so nice talking to him - memories of Summer of 2008. In Irish I watched the Irish Rover Band which is managed by none other than Miguel the Best.  I also saw several other Irish Rover regulars which is always a nice welcome. :)

The night was no where near over, as I proceeded to go to Medievo, Elektrotaco, Chupiteria and later to Paniagua. I ran into Jorge and Nacho in Chupiteria and was so happy to find them! I drug Nacho with me to Elektrotaco to pick up Rafa to go to Paniagua where we split Calimocho liters all night, enjoying the company of Seodhna, an Irish girl who i met last year through Rafa. The night was too fun...and ended like most nights do - in Khandavia. 
I can't go to Salamanca without taking a picture of the golden streets and buildings!
Iglesia of the Pontifica (the private university) and Casa de las Conchas
Irish Rover Band (and Miguel in orange!)
Seodhna's friend, Seodhna, Rafa, yo, Nacho "Cheese" in Paniagua
Saturday was suppose to be spent in Toro/Zamora on a wine tour hosted by Irish Rover, but plans changed since I was too late to get a ticket. Boo. Anyway, it was the best thing that could have happened since I spent Saturday day shopping for new jeans (since I don't have a dryer, each time I wear them they get BIGGER!) I went to El Fogon, Lourdes' restaurant, to see Lorena, my old host sister - Lourdes' daughter. OMG. I can't say how much the restaurant smelled like Lourdes' kitchen. Amazing! Lorena was surprised to see me, as she shouted "hola!" from the small round window in the kitchen door. She came outside and immediately said "Ah, have you been to visit my mom? She will love that you are here - you need to see her!" And so I went. I actually ran into Lourdes in the street just as she was leaving the house to go to the restaurant. She was excited to see me, as she yelled "buenas Whit" from far away, down the street! She invited me to have dinner with her and the girls who are living with her this semester. I couldn't have been happier!
We always told Lourdes to open a restaurant... and now she has one!
Being back in Lourdes' house was just like going home. I didn't know whether to smile continuously or to cry... I chose to smile continuously! I was so happy to be home. Lourdes and I talked about my semester in Salamanca, my job now, my old Salamanca roommates, stories from when I lived with her, my future, etc. It was so nice to relive these old memories and to toss new ones around. Dinner was prepared - brushetta, spinach pastries, and gnocchi pasta. It tasted just like Fall 2009. Of course, I wasn't shy and had several helpings - Lourdes kept said "come! come! eat! eat!" and even followed it up by "Whit isn't shy, she will eat." And I did. I had a good helping of fruit too... seriously, one year later and nothing has changed. Well, the bathroom has had a makeover and my old room has two strangers living in it, but nothing else. Lourdes' hospitality and the warmth of being home is still very much unchanged. I enjoyed getting to know the girls living with Lourdes right now, as we shared stories about Salamanca for about an hour after dinner ended. I then joined Lourdes to watch Sexo en Nuevo York (Sex in the City) which was on tv. While watching tv, I received a text from Allyson, an English teacher in another town in La Vera (we met in Caceres during orientation - she went to MU!) and she said she was in Salamanca. We met under the clock and started the night at Cubic (chupitos gratis!) and then proceeded to Paniagua...Daniel's...a few new places...then to Chupiteria. At Chupiteria I was greeted by none other than Yussef, Jorge, and Nacho. I was so happy! I spent the rest of the night with Yussef in Chupiteria and Potemkin (a new favorite!) 
Allyson and I in the Plaza Mayor (it was freezing!)
On Sunday, Tasos and I met up with Allyson and her friends in Van Dyke to have some tapas and canas before leaving. Allyson offered to give me a ride home to Navalmoral since she had to drive through Navalmoral on her way to Losar de la Vera. It was nice to be traveling via car and not spending extra time waiting around for buses or trains from Plasencia to Navalmoral. I enjoyed our roadtrip - listening to Jack's Mannequin and making fun of the drunk Spaniard in the back seat! 
Sunset from the car - somewhere between Salamanca and Navalmoral.
Can you see the snow in the mountains behind this tiny pueblo?!
All in all, it is weekends like these that make this job placement so enjoyable - time to go home when I need a weekend away.  While I was a bit hesitant about coming to Extremadura (As Joelle, a fellow auxiliar, says: "Extrema-what?") I couldn't be happier with Navalmoral's relationship to Salamanca; because, in Salamanca, I know I always have friends/family waiting to welcome me home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


To Americans, Comenius means nothing. To Europeans, Comenius is very important, especially for schools.  A Comenius is a lifelong learning program for education and culture; it is comprised of schools from different countries in Europe.  This past week, I had the opportunity to be part of Europe's biggest Comenius EVER.  The primary school where I work belongs to a Comenius called: EcoCitizens of Common Europe which is comprised of 16 schools from 14 countries.  I had the opportunity to meet people from Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Holland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Norway, Wales, and of course Spain. 
Logo of the Comenius group comprised of 16 schools from 14 countries.
While it was a tiring week, I think you'll clearly see why it was a fantastic time! For starters, I lived like a queen in Jarandilla with a fellow teacher, Toni, and her husband. I HAD HEAT! IN MY ROOM! IN THE BATHROOM! IN THE KITCHEN! IN THE HALLWAY! IN THE CAR! I HAD HEAT EVERYWHERE! Seriously, I was able to wake up and not step onto a freezing cold floor. Luxury. (I write this as I sit in my bed, under covers, blinds shut, wearing a sweater...oh the days of living like a queen, well, are--over.) Thursday morning, I left early for another day of work in the primary school. The week prior, I had been preparing things for the Comenius and it had finally begun. People were arriving; Divina my tutora was running around crazy. She and I went for a late lunch at 5pm to my favorite restaurant in Jarandilla: Casa Leti. It is actually the restaurant of one of my student's family and Patricia is always so excited to know that Whitney has come to eat at her family's place! We welcomed teachers and students from Denmark and I went home with Toni to "move" into my new house for the week! Toni's husband, Emilliano, had prepared us a wonderful dinner and it was waiting for us when we arrived. 

Friday: Day 1
Friday morning was the official start date of the Comenius. We headed to the Summer University of Extremadura, just up the street from the primary school, to have the opening session.  I have been working with 12 students from the 3rd and 4th grades to preform a play and a song. They were so nervous to perform in front of 50 people, but they did a wonderful job! After, they were so excited and constantly asking "How did we do Profe? Did you like?" I was a proud teacher and I think the whole room could tell! :) There were also cultural songs, dances, and children playing instruments. It was such a fun little show!
Students performing a chant "There's An Ant"
Putting on a play: "Pretty Ritty"
Me with the kids from 3rd/4th after their performances!
After another tasty lunch with Toni and Emilliano, we went to visit the Parador of Jarandilla from Siglo XV (15th Century). It is the former residence of former King Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany. It is a beautiful castle, very warm and inviting.  Even though it was raining, pictures of its main patio look stunning!  
Parador of Jarandilla de la Vera.
Friday night was the Cena de Bienvenida.  All the countries brought goodies from their homes to share with the other countries. It was a smorgasbord of meats, cheese, sweets, wines, liquors, etc. My favorite things were the empanada from Spain and the chocolate from Poland; least favorite: salmon from Norway.
Treats from Wales.
So many cultural goodies! YUM!
Viva Espana! Tortilla de Patata!
We saw traditional dances from the La Vera region and heard traditional music. Four of my students were dancing in the group and they were very excited to show me their traditions. After, they were taking pictures with the visitors from the Comenius group, and when they saw me, they ran over to ask to take a picture with ME! Suddenly, I was the famous one! (I am Whitney Houston after all.) We also had the rare opportunity to see a group of all male dancers perform. Usually, they only dance a few times a year, on certain holy days of the Virgin. However, they agreed to dance for us, and it was a magical moment. They were dancing, stomping, beating sticks, drums, and playing castanets. I have a video if you would ever like to watch!
This group of dancers is composed of dancers from 7 different towns in La Vera.
Dancing, over and under with ribbons.
A picture with my students who danced in the show!
They were very excited that I saw them perform!
I had the opportunity to put my Spanish/English skills to the test just before the dancing began... The lady in charge of this singing/dancing group asked me to translate what she was going to say to the Comenius group. While a bit scared out of my mind, yet excited, I became a human dictionary. I was successfully able to translate everything the lady said...about the group, where they are from, they were happy to be sharing their traditions, and that she hoped the Comenius group had a nice stay in Jarandilla! Until one sentence came across too quickly and I looked at her and said "huh? too fast!" Everyone laughed - myself included.
Saturday: Merida  
After going to bed around 1:30am after cleaning up the welcome dinner, we woke up early to board the bus for Merida, a city about 2.5 hours from Jarandilla.  Merida has Roman ruins, even more well preserved than those in Rome.  Because everyone's common language in the Comenius is English, we had a guided tour in English throughout the city to visit all the important ruins and museum. I felt like I was in Italy, in Rome, at the Coliseum with my family or Kasie; while they were not able to attend, I was blessed to explore Merida with some of my favorite students. The day was full of adventure and new friendships. 
Lucia, Racquel, Elena, Paula y yo in Merida
Roman Theater. (Plays are shown here weekly during July and August)
More Roman ruins throughout the streets of Merida.
Walking in Merida...
Just walking along the streets seen above and Bam! there is this!
An original Roman road that has been preserved, in the entrance of the Museum.
Plaza Mayor, Merida
Old Roman Bridge, Merida
We had lunch just outside the Roman ruins, the Spanish gang (which includes me!) and Adam, the Comenius leader, from Poland. Because Adam doesn't speak Spanish, I was the translator for most of the meal, and I have to say I even surprised myself with how good of a job I did! I wouldn't trust my Spanish for anything, but I guess I make some sense! After lunch, we boarded the bus for a short 1.5 hour ride to the city of Caceres to visit it's old parte antigua. It reminded me of Salamanca, but just not the same. The streets were of a golden stone, but it wasn't the golden streets of Sali. Nonetheless, we visited a beautiful church in the parte antigua,an Algibe, Spanish Army exibition in an old palace, saw an old monastery, etc. The sun was setting, the street lights were coming on, and the cold was setting in. We walked through the streets until it was time for dinner; Maria Jose, the school's headmistress, took the kiddos so Toni, Divina, and I could go for a nice meal just off the Plaza Mayor (which is under construction!) When the children were shopping with Maria Jose, they bought me some googly bands (which have just caught on here in Spain in the last 3 weeks) and a key chain that says "Amo mi mobil" because they love my American cell phone. ;)
Entrance to the parte antigua of Caceres.
Back in the days, the most prestigious people were buried INSIDE the church.
These are grave stones. After the tsunami that hit Portugal long ago, the graves were sealed for good,
so that the body remains wouldn't surface as they did in Portugal.
The church has a (rare) cedar alter, which was never painted gold like all others.
Due to the cedar, the ants never destroyed it and it still remains in perfect condition today.
San Mateo Iglesia - has Caceres' oldest/biggest sistern underneath!
These costumes are on display in the sistern. They are for Easter ceremonies.
The privacy hoods are to cover the men's faces so no one knows who they are.
If you didn't know, Spain is very laid back. An example: Just after the guided tour was finished, the tour guide invited the Spanish gang (Maria Jose, Toni, Divina, and yo) to tomar algo. Of course, you don't turn this down, so we decided to have a drink. Well, it just so happens that we were in charge of the 10 Spanish children who had also come along for the day... what to do with them? It's easy. We had them eat their packed dinners, in the street, outside. No cars = No problem, they can stay there, playing in the street, in the town of 100,000. No worries! I do believe this is a big difference between Spain and America. Don't you agree? jaja

Sunday: Nature Day
We left Jarandilla at 10am to go visit Spain's largest National Park and Biosphere reserve, which included a visit to an old castle, a 1 hour hike down hill, birdwatching and having a picnic. This park has the world's largest colony of black vultures.  We were able to view the birds  through big telescopes as they flew overhead! I ate way too many madroñas on the hike back to the bus... if you eat too many madroñas, you can become drunk! I didn't have THAT many, but it make the hike go by faster anyway. I was having the visiting students pick them for me, so I didn't have to do much work at picking them!
Black vultures: EVERYWHERE!
Checking out the vultures!
We learned how to make cave paintings!
Standing on the edge of the castle...
The perfect madroña. yum!
After a long day in the mountains, we boarded the bus to Plasencia, another city just 1 hour from Jarandilla. It is Toni's home town, so Divina and I had the opportunity to follow her around as she showed us her city. We saw where she went to school, visited the cathedrals and parador (an old monastery) and finished the night in a cafe drinking claras con limon
Plaza Mayor, Plasencia
Kids playing soccer ON the church... I guess we know how high soccer ranks!
I want you.
Monastery that is now a "Parador" government hotel.
Monday: Escuela
Monday morning, I helped in a taller (workshop) with the visiting students. We made paintings by placing leaves on paper and spraying them with spray paint. While it was fun, I could hardly breathe, so I kept opening more and more windows throughout the school and told the kids how fun it would be to wear face masks because "they were the newest and coolest thing!" They believed me and everyone continued spraying and painting in high fashion (and breathing regularly!)

...with students from Poland and Wales.
The finished products of leaves and spray paint.
We headed to the pre-school (just behind the primary school) where the parents had prepared a Calbotes festival, with roasted chestnuts, fruits, nuts, juice, etc. The littlest students (3-5 years) joined us to have a early morning snack. The entire primary school (ages 3 - 6th grade) sang a song called "Escuela de los Colores" in the school playground and each class made a flag that said "Welcome" in one of the visiting countries' languages! It was such a fun song, I think the kids and adults really enjoyed it! (Rojo, verde y azul!)
Una "Granada"
Check out those flags!
They were making animal growling faces... how cute!
4 year old Picassos.
We enjoyed eating Migas, a traditional breakfast food from the region, consisting of bread, meat, garlic, spices. It is a different taste, but seeing that I had two plates full, shows I enjoyed it! To make the Comenius group visiting Jarandilla, we planted a tree in the school garden.  Around it, we placed painted rocks depicting the 14 different countries.  We went to Guijo de Santa Barbara, a nearby village high on a mountain. In Guijo, we visited the Interpretation Centre, that had lots of animal horns/antlers and mountain diagrams of the Sierra de Gredos. We walked through its streets and enjoyed its pretty landscapes. Even though it was windy, the scenery was wonderful.
Migas. Jamon. Vino.
Comenius: Spain. (around the new tree!)
A picture for my daddio: mountain goat horns/antlers/?
Guijo de Sta. Barbara
Sunset in Guijo.
Sunset in the mountains.
In the mountain towns there are lots of cats roaming the streets. I asked one of my student's dads how to get the attention of the cats. I explained to him that when I say "meow meow" in Spain, the cats run in the other direction. Well, I have learned that to call a cat in Spanish, you say "shawie shawie shawie" or something like that (I have no idea how to spell it!) AND, the cat just comes running up to you! Thank you for the cat lesson, Paula's dad. 
Getting lessons from Paula's dad....
YAY! My first Spanish cat experience! (Miss you, Zoe!)
Tuesday: More Nature
Today the children started off in a workshop about how to make a healthy Mediterranean diet. Well, this consisted of making fresh squeezed orange juice (YUM!) and tostadas with olive oil, tomato puree, and jamon. The best part, the kids made it and I ate it! The two young boys from Poland were so funny. They enjoyed the orange juice so much that they kept making full glasses--for just themselves! I wish you could have met Metaus and Michail, they are characters. While they didn't speak much English, they were constantly saying funny sayings in Polish to their teacher who would translate them for me! They taught me how to say "Yes" Tak and "Goodmorning" Dzien dobry (pronounced like gin doble - two gins please!) Later, the students served the healthy breakfast to their teachers! It was very genial!  
fresh zumo de naranja!!!!
Tuesday afternoon was spent visiting the Monastery de Yuste in Cuacos de Yuste, the Cuartos Garganta in Losar de la Vera, and the traditional streets of Valverde de la Vera.  The monastery is where Spanish Emperor Carlos V came to spend his last year of life. He lived in the Parador in Jarandilla until the Monastery was completed, and was later buried under the alter, after the monastery underwent renovations according to his will that his son carried out. There is a route called the route of the Emperor which was the route Carlos V took when going between Jarandilla and Yuste; today, people hike this trip in the spring. We had a picnic lunch just outside before we went to Losar.
Carlos Quinto.
Entrance to main door.
Monastery de Yuste.
For the visit in Losar, I had made a book full of plants and trees that the Comenius visitors would be seeing. It was such a hit! :) We walked through the hills, along the side of the garganta which was prettier than a few weeks ago as the trees have began to change colors! When we arrived to the final stop, Adam, the Comenius director, wanted to take a group photo. Everyone was off on their own and I was to round up the gang with my wonderful English skills. Well, no one was listening so I got a bit frustrated and irritated that even the teachers weren't paying attention. So I (not so kindly, yet still kind) said "Adam, the director of the project wants to take a picture. Why don't you all listen? When he says everyone, he is speaking to you. Just come and take the picture. You all are teachers...and if you don't listen, how do you expect your students to listen?" Then I threw my hands up in the air. So. Spanish. Well, this set off a huge laugh, because until this point of the trip, I had been very sweet and kind, always saying "we are going to take a group picture, come if you would like to be part of it". Well, the Spanish teachers found this so funny that I got angry and they said "In just 2 months you have learned to be a teacher!" :) It was a very memorable moment. 
Losar de la Vera, Spain
Friends from Denmark utilizing my book!
Valverde de la Vera was the second to last stop on Tuesday. Valverde is a traditional town that still has traditional village architecture of mortar and wood.  There is a religious ritual: Los Empalaos which is when men do a pilgrimage in the streets of Valverde. Standing in front of crosses or at a crossroad of two roads that make a cross, men's faces are covered and they are tied to a heavy wooden cross. The Stations of the Cross are said as men do their pilgrimage. Family members say prayers to the participant, until the man cannot bare his cross any longer.
Valverde de la Vera, Spain
An old castillo en Valverde de la Vera
The final activity was the cena de despedida. We went to Casa Leti to have a very nice meal, buffet style, of all my favorite Extremaduran dishes: potatoes with paprika, jamon/queso, pimientos, tortilla de patata, croquetas, etc. Dessert was just as delicious with good yogurts, bautidos, and an assortment of cakes. After dinner, we brought out the Spanish guitar and fellow teachers sang and played the guitar while others danced. Everyone began dancing and tapping their feet to the wonderful Spanish beats. Several others from the Comenius group sang traditional songs from their countries and Robert from Holland played some classic English songs for everyone to sing (or hum) along to! It truly was a wonderful ending to the awesome week!
Greece, Estonia and Denmark singing along!
Portugal and Holland on the guitar!
Todos bailando!
Dinner topics included why is Whitney in Jarandilla de la Vera and why Poland doesn't have a word for "Monday" - they just say "The day after Monday".  Three groups (Denmark, Holland, and Poland) have all invited me to visit them in their countries, to learn and experience their cultures. I really would love to go to these places and explore with a local. The couple from Holland have a summer house in France and are neighbors to Johnny Depp! :) Maybe I can visit there...???

Wednesday: Goodbye
Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to my warm house, my kind family, my new friends, and Jarandilla. It was a sad moment as I had grown attached to all of these things. I gave one final tour of Jarandilla as we walked to the highschool to do a visit. I talked about the regional food, culture, festivals, and monuments. I am so Spanish. We ended the tour at IES Jaranda, where Antonio and Lara gave the group a tour of the school. We visited the forestales students and culinary students. The culinary students were preparing paella in class; it smelled amazing! While we didn't get to eat paella, they had prepared lots of sweets for us to have during our coffee break (which is daily at 10:30/11:00) And, after having a few dulces, I got in the car and headed back to Navalmoral. 

Thanksgiving in Zurbaran
Wednesday, I gave the first of two Thanksgiving lectures to Maria's high school. I spoke to 100 students in the bilingual program (Eng/Spa) Surprisingly, most of them listened to my speech, and I only had to get loud twice. I've found that saying things in English very fast and very quietly makes them stop talking.... and also, that if you pick on one of the popular kids and make them look stupid, kids also shut up. :)  I picked on a boy in the front row; of course, the kids laughed, so I said, "I don't know why you are laughing, I wasn't talking to you". AND with that, they were quiet for the rest of my talk. Ta-da! Magic. Round two on Friday went well too. The students had a higher level so it was easier to say whatever I felt like and have them understand. After, a group of girls in the front row were asking questions about my life in America. I love when people take an interest in my life and culture and I only hope I show this much interest in others' lives. It is such a nice feeling to know that people want to know about you and who are you are...and how I got to Jarandilla de la Vera!

It's nice to be home with Maria and Mamen, but I really miss Jarandilla! When I said goodbye to my "mom" Toni on Wednesday, she said it's going to be weird not having me at home as she and her husband really enjoyed my company. It reminded me of home, of my family, my Spanish families, and not being on my own; it was wonderful. I left with new Spanish music from Emillano, and I am very excited to listen to it! 

El Fin
I leave you with this. After I translated for the head singer in the traditional group of singers and dancers, a man approached me and said, "I know you are Spanish, but have you ever studied English in the United States? ...because you have a wonderful American accent?!" I simply responded with "I am American" and he was speechless. :) Surprise surprise! You never know who you're going to find in Jarandilla de la Vera!