Monday, March 28, 2011

Sevilla, Senderismo, and Spaniards

Adventures from Friday, March 18 to Monday, March 21

I had not planned any trip for this weekend because I did not think I would be ready to travel right after midterm exams.  Others also wanted to avoid the anxieties of travel preparation the week of exams.  Thus, I stayed in Sevilla Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday, I joined CIEE for an organized hike ("Senderimso") of the Spanish countryside (outside Huelva).  Full of camaraderie, it would be a memorable weekend.

On Friday, I called Salima and Clara to organize a jaunt through Triana, the neighborhood across the river from Sevilla's Centro.  As I described in my last post, Triana is where I work for Manolo; those from Triana are a tight-knit group.  As we discovered, Triana is also home to Sevilla's best farmers market.  Housed in the ruins of "Castilo de San Jorge," the market is comparable to others I have visited.  What I enjoyed was watching how and what Spanish people purchase from the vendors.  We continued by looping through Triana, culminating the visit at the "Portada de Feria."  Here, the campus of tents are already being built for Sevilla's greatest party: Feria de Abril (taking place in May this year).

With Saturday plans still uncertain, I planned a trip to Malaga just in case nothing else sprang up.  I would not end up going to Malaga (thereby saving quite a bit of money) because of an invitation from Clara to join her and her Spanish "boyfriend," Adrián, for a night out in Sevilla.  Adrián brought along Jesus, Raquel, and others for a night of Spanish/English conversation.  We began as we often do at Coffee Corner ("La Esquina"), a bar across from the University with 1 euro "cerveza" (beer) and "tinto de verano" (mix of fruit juice and red wine).  Adrián and Jesus have scholarship money to come to the US this year.  Not knowing where or how to travel in the US, Clara and I drew a map to demonstrate the difference in scale.  The Spaniards had no idea; to them a three hour train ride is "far," while to Americans it is nothing.  We stayed out until 2:00 am.  Having so much fun, I decided that getting up for Malaga would be impossible.

On Saturday, I leisurely got out of bed and reunited with Clara and Salima again for more Sevilla explorations.  The highlights of the morning tour included Maria Luisa park and a stop for churros, the quintessential Spanish breakfast.  They resemble a less-sweet funnel cake, and are enjoyed most often dipped in hot chocolate.  We would continue eating our way through Sevilla that night for a tapas tour.  We ordered one tapa at three separate restaurants.  My first was a cold tapa salad of Pulpo Aliñado (Marinated Octopus).  My second was "Rabo de Toro" (Bull's Tale Soup), my first time trying this Sevilla classic.  Finally, I also tried Cazón en Adobo (Frito) (Fried Marinated Squid).  

My adventure on Sunday, however, would be the best part.  I got on a CIEE bus headed for a "Senderismo" (hike) through the pueblos (small towns) of the Sierra de Huelva.  We started in Castle-guarded town of Santa Olalla de Cala and finished in Cala.  It was nine mile hike through one of Spain's best agricultural areas.  Here plots of land are divided for two purposes: (1) Olive trees, which sheep ("ovejas") often guard, and (2) "Dehesas," or plots of land with "Encinas," trees that shed acorns.  Here the pigs ("cerdos") run free and eat the acorns.  These are the pigs that make for the best jamón in the country, here distinguished by the label:
"jamón ibérico de bellota."  This means a black Iberian pig has grazed the acorns of Huelva or Extremadura (farther north).  After years of curing, each "pata negra" (leg of black pig) hangs in bars and markets waiting to be sliced.  One scent unique to Spain that I will not forget is the smell of cured ham.  Thanks to the hike, I have now witnessed the process full circle: from the countryside to the market.  

As I discovered, hiking was a perfect medium to practice Spanish.  With nothing else to focus on besides the path ahead, I was free to have great conversations with fellow Spanish-speaking Americans and a few Spaniards that had come along as well.  Juan Palma, whom I had met in Córdoba, was my companion throughout the day.  Like Valeriano, Juan is passionate about learning English and understands what struggles Americans have with learning Spanish.  Whenever Juan said something in English that I did not know how to say in Spanish, I would ask him to translate back.  This has been a wonderful way to learn the language: from those "thinking" in reverse.  We are a resource for each other because we both intuitively know what is correct in our own language.  Juan is also unique because he is gymnast and has traveled more than other Spaniards.  I would later meet up with Juan on Wednesday at the business school to help him with an English speaking exam he was preparing for. 

More friendships with Spaniards developed the next day on Monday.  My Corporate Finance class hosted an exchange event, whereby we Americans shadowed a Spanish business class.  Afterward, we all went to the bar across the street and were treated to complementary beers.  This was the first time in which I was among a group of Spaniards at one time and could understand nearly everything they were saying to each other.  Likewise, I could speak quickly and comfortably enough to be part of the conversation.  I was thrilled.  I ended up being the last American to leave the bar, having connected with the group of Spaniards.  Best of all, they are all business students within my same building.  So far I have run into Maria and Alicia again, and they were the ones who approached me and wanted to talk to me.  Refreshing considering the otherwise tight-niche aura of Sevilla. 

A few hours after the bar experience I reunited with Nicole's intercambio, Moises, and his friend, Juan Carlos.  I had invited other Americans per Juan Carlos's request.  Together we discussed the strong cliques of Sevilla.  Juan Carlos explained that those from other towns like him (from Huelva) are more open.  Lara, who had studied in Madrid last semester agreed, saying that students in Madrid are much more open because of the international mix that exists.  The fun continued until 1:00 am in the morning (on a school night).  Juan Carlos had us over at his apartment in the Centro.  Moises and I walked back home at which time I was happy, but ready to crash. 

I will remember this weekend for the relationships that I developed, the Sevilla culture I absorbed, and the beautiful Spanish countryside that I admired (all at little cost to me).  To see pictures of this weekend, see Sevilla and Senderismo 3-19 at

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