Saturday, March 31, 2012

Food in Barcelona

After two trips to Barcelona, I am convinced that it is impossible to eat at a restaurant, cheaply. But at the same time I can say that eating at a restaurant in this city is worth the cost.

My first trip was in December and I decided to eat a nice dinner outside of my hotel. It was 9 p.m. or later when I went for dinner and most restaurants had closed. But I finally came across one that was open and went in. I don't remember the name but it seemed fancy. I felt under-dressed. I decided to order the menu of the day which was served in several courses. First came the break with tomato sauce and olive oil. They also served "aceitunas" and carrots. Later came a plate of steamed (or grilled) vegetables. That is where I learned to eat asparagus. After the vegetables came the main course, "dorada" with more vegetables.

The service was awkward. Most of the time, the waiter refused to speak to me in Spanish, which is common in Barcelona (I think the people like to practice their English), and for the majority of the meal he was standing two or three tables away watching me eat. I don't like people watching me eat. "Would you like to pull up a chair and join me," I thought. In Spain, unlike in the USA, the waiter only comes by a few times, not every ten minutes. This may be partly because there are no free refills on drinks or tips.

My second trip also had several experiences with food. Lunch was hard to find -- my tapa bar from the previous trip was closed. But we found paella and chicken on a stick. Dinner though was easy to find after we left Plaza de España. After being disappointed when the Magic Fountain of Montijuic didn't come on for the 8:30 show, dinner was no disappointment. I had a mixed plate with Baclao that tasted great. The sangria tasted so much better than the imported Sangria I have found in the USA. And the desert was no exception. The chocolate dipped fruits were amazing and the "Crema Catalan" didn't even compare with what I can buy in the stores. I give the food and the service an A+ at the restaurant.

The waiter greeted us upon arrival and was fairly prompt in asking if we wanted anything else after we ate. He didn't watch us eat the entire time either. Although it wasn't a fancy restaurant, the atmosphere was great. Eating outside with a fire lamp burning nearby for heat is nice. If I come back to Barcelona, Xop Dor, may have to be on my destination list.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Lively Country

Coming from small towns and city, I don't know a whole lot about the city life in the United States. I experienced living in Washington, D.C.  for two months. I grew up in the Little Rock Metropolitan Area. And I went to university in Jonesboro, Arkansas. And I have lived in a small Spanish city for the past six months.

Huelva is by no means a tiny "pueblo" or village. It probably takes a little over an hour to walk from the east side of town to the west side. And I don't run in to people I know on the streets very often (although if I lived here long enough that would be very likely). The populations is probably around 150,000 people from what I have heard.

But life in a small city here in Spain is much different from life in a small city or town in the United States. I feel like the people are much more lively here. It is much more social. There is a bar that I frequently visit and I have noticed that when people come in they greet the whole bar with a "Buenas." The complete phrase is "Buenas dias," or "Buenas tardes," but they shorten it. It is similar to how we will say, "morning," or "evening" and leave off the good. But instead they just say good. (I really like this when it comes to writing emails; it doesn't matter when someone reads it.) And upon leaving a bar, "Hasta luego," which roughly translates to "see you later."

Even in this small city, midnight is early. Dinner is around, what Americans would call late, 9 p.m. or so. And then people go out after dinner. Many pubs don't even open until midnight or later. And the people still get up and go to work the next day. Well, most of the time. That brings me to something else I have seen a lot of since coming here. Protests.

Even in the larger cities I have lived, I have not seen more than one or two protests. I am sure there were some in D.C. since it is the capital but I don't remember ever witnessing one in Little Rock, much less Jonesboro. But since being in Huelva, for only six months, I have witnessed at least five protests. Most recently, I saw a small group of people protesting outside the local newspaper. And tomorrow is the General Strike (Huelga General) in Spain.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mixture of Strange Dreams

Strange dreams are no strangers to me. I have shared a few of them on my blog before. Usually they have something to do with my fear of heights or something to do with water. It seems that the night before I go somewhere where I have to face my fear of heights, I almost always have a nightmare involving me being stuck in a high place or falling for a high place.

In another common dream I am swimming in a strange lake which is made up of three levels. The first level is fairly calm and there is a waterfall at the edge. The waterfall is about 20 feet high and lands in the second level of the lake. Occasionally I would swim to the edge and fall into the second level, which was a little less calm and a lot colder. In order to return to the first lake I had to climb up some rocks carefully in order not to fall back into the second lake. On one of the trips back to the top I slipped and fell. Not intentionally returning to that second level I was stunned by the cooler water and the pace at which it was moving. Someone in the top lake threw a flotation device which I went for. I had to swim closer to the edge of the second level, close enough to see the third level.

About 500 feet below me the water fell into a third level with ice shards all over the place. To go over that fall would surely mean death. I was able to grab the flotation device but I was losing ground (or water) to the swifter water. I was being dragged closer and closer to the edge of the second level. I don't remember what eventually happened.

Last night I had a dream that mixed several of my strange dreams from the past with a little bit of reality. Its hard to determine where to even begin so I will start with the context.

I was camping in the hills with about five other friends. It was a rather secluded campground with a large lake below. During the night a large storm came through and the next morning we decided to pack up and leave. We drove up and down hilly roads with steep drops until we arrived at the campground exit. To our horror, there was water everywhere. The only exit had flooded and there was no safe route out of the campground. We decided to go to the campground office to inquire about the possibility of a ferry that could take us away from that place. The office had a sign on the door, "Closed due to severe flooding." And then we saw dark grey clouds moving in and decided we had to make a plan otherwise the entire place would be flooded.

We saw that there was a dam nearby that should keep the water from rising too much if we were to find high ground. But because of the dangerous roads no one wanted to drive up the hills again so everyone decided to leave the cars and walk. The scenery changed a little bit at this point and the high ground we found was the location I grew up hunting with my family. There were trees all around. There was no electricity except for a car battery. It provided enough to charge cell phones and for dim lights in the shelter. It had about three rooms and several of us were in one bedroom taking a nap. When we woke up it was dark. With heavy thunder we figured the storm had knocked out the power. We stumbled around calling for the others before eventually flipping a switch and finding that we had power.

There was still light outside. I suggested a few of us walk back to the car and bring back some food because it had been a long time since we had last eaten. Everyone agreed and about three of us headed to the door. When we opened it there were headlights coming through the trees. "There shouldn't be people going through this area," we thought. We decided to grab a few rifles before investigating.

When we went outside the vehicles stopped. There about three four-wheelers. The riders told us that they were out riding when they were trapped by all of the rising water and were just searching for another way out that wasn't covered by roads. We told them what happened to us and that it was flooded all over the place. They told us they would give us a ride to the car and that they would try to cross the water with their four-wheelers.

We arrived to the cars and they stopped the four-wheelers. The water was only about 10 feet from where we had left the car before. So we moved it closer to the office. As we did that, the others tested the water on foot and realized it was far to deep to attempt driving through. We told them to come back with us and spend the night.

When we got back to the shack, some of our friends had told us that they had gotten through to some of their friends on the phone. There was no ferry but there were more storms coming the following afternoon. That meant the dam would probably break, flooding the rest of the park, including where we were staying. So it was back to planning. We came up with several ideas for rafts. The next morning we woke up early and began constructing a raft, using three trunks as pontoons. If it worked, we would hollow out the tops of several to put the cars on and float out. But for the meantime, we placed smaller tree limps across the two logs. Three or four people got on and tried to navigate. To our surprise the raft floated, but it was very unstable on the flowing water.

It wasn't long before they were thrown off. Lucky for them it was near a flat shore and they were able to make there way back out of the water and back to where we were. We knew that the raft idea failed and we only had about four hours left. We were running out of options and one suggestion was calling the national guard to use helicopters. "Great idea. Who has the number to the National Guard?" Of course no one did.

And at this point I don't remember a lot of details. The National Guard showed up as the dam was breaking. They had almost everyone in the helicopter, but I woke up as my head went under the rising water. Who knows what happened next.

Little a poco

Yes. That title is most definitely in Spanglish which is slowly becoming my dominant language. I remember when I went back to the United States at Christmas. Upon arriving to my connecting flight at Atlanta I went into one of the stores to buy a drink. The employees had a little difficulty understanding me.

A few weeks ago, the other auxiliar and I had a conversation with the bilingual coordinator at our school. The coordinator told us that when we returned to the United States we would speak a strange form of English. And at this point, after six months in Spain, I can already see the truth to that statement.

For instance, every Tuesday I attend a language exchange. The first hour is in English and the second hour in Spanish. During the first hour I had to ask the Spaniards at the table, "Como se dice 'vocales' en ingles?" The answer: vowels. In a later conversation I almost said, "We assisted the same university." In Spanish, "to attend," is "assistir a."

And finally, today in a conversation with another American, I was trying to say English and instead "Englis," came out without the 'h.'

I guess this can be a good sign that I am learning Spanish and using it. But at times it can be annoying to some of my friends and family when I am talking to them and let a Spanish word or phrase drop into the conversation. I just hope that I can retain everything I am learning.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Spanish Diet

There is no doubt about it for me. Coming to Spain not only has helped me improve my spanish skills, but also has helped me become healthier. I am slowly losing weight (opposed to the fifteen pounds I lost within the first week) and my diet is much better.

I wrote last year how I wanted to eat less meat (Solving World Hunger One Step at a Time). I may have had a little success at first but soon fell back into the same old meat-eating ways. But when I came to Spain, my meat consumption changed drastically. I don't want to spend the money to buy meat. Four slices of lunch meat cost a euro! So I eat enough to get some protein in my diet.

On top of eating less meat, my vegetable consumption has also changed. For someone who wouldn't touch vegetables at one point, I actually crave some of them. When I went to Barcelona in November 2011 one of the dinners I had included some amazing fresh asparagus. So I had to start trying to cook it on my own. (And it isn't bad actually.) Another thing I learned to like here is Eggplant or "Berenjena" in Spanish. Although my method of cooking it doesn't look nearly like that at the bar where I learned to like it.

I bought several fruits and vegetables today that I have never eaten or cooked. I don't know how I will like them but I have an avocado, turnip and an artichoke to try. I guess I better get to researching how to cook them.

Not in the Scenarios

I found myself in a situation today that caused me to reflect back on my time spent studying Spanish at Arkansas State University. There have been a lot of times where I am in a situation and I think, "I know I learned that word in class at some point. Why don't I remember it now?"

I am a clumsy and forgetful person. It took me three trips to the market today to finally come up with all the ingredients and groceries I wanted for the next two weeks. The second trip is what caused the reflection. After shopping for about half an hour I made it to the check-out counter only to find I had left my money in the apartment. I had been shopping online for hotels before going to the market.

So the reflection was about the times in Spanish class when we had to act out a scene or come up with a skit and act it out in Spanish. Never did this scenario cross my mind: forgetting your money while shopping. The good news is although I figured out on the walk home how to say it, I was able to communicate my thoughts in a sufficient manner that we both understood. About 15 minutes later I was standing in the line again with the groceries waiting for me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Once more I come to you almost a week later with breaking news... O.K. maybe it isn't breaking news, especially when it is a week late... But it was a new experience: getting a haircut in a foreign language.

I have been meaning to get a haircut for several weeks now. My hair was getting too long to deal with and the temperatures are finally warming up here in Southwest Spain. During my weekend trip to Gibraltar I even thought about visiting a barbershop so that I could explain what I wanted in English. But, I didn't have time. And I was too sore to do much of anything but come home on Sunday.

But finally, on Monday, I had my haircut in Spain. It reminded me of how children are always afraid of their first haircut. I felt like a child. I imagined coming out of the peluquería with some strange hairstyle. But, whats the worst that could happen? If it were horrible I could always come home and shave my head. Not that I wanted to be bald or anything. Luckily, that isn't what happened.

I explained in Spanish that I wanted my hair very short, with only enough left to protect me from the sun. I said I wanted it short on the sides and the top. Even at the end of the haircut it wasn't quite as short as I wanted, but I was tired of trying to explain that it could be shorter. I didn't have the vocabulary to explain in depth how I wanted it. So I finally said thats fine. And when I got home, I took scissors and cut my sideburns (another word I didn't know in Spanish so I was unable to ask her to cut them).

It wasn't as short as I had wanted but everyone seems to like the new, short hair. Just like as a child, I learned getting a haircut, even in a foreign language, isn't that bad after all.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thats one big Rock!

For a relatively unplanned trip, the weekend trip to Gibraltar was probably one of the easiest trips since being in Spain. After an early start Saturday morning, I walked across the border around 9:30 a.m. They looked at my passport and then I safely put it back in its case, with two rubber bands securing the top so it could not slide out. Futhermore, I tightened the strap around my neck and tucked the holder inside the waste of my pants -- a rather uncomfortable location for the 12 hours of hiking.

I knew there was some history in Gibraltar to see, but after researching a little bit I feared that the monkeys would be the highlight of the trip.

Damian Corrigan writes on, "Considering the acres of press coverage the battle between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar gets, you'd think there would be something worth fighting over. I'm still trying to discover what that is - maybe the Spanish like monkeys?"

He goes on to mention the monkeys about four or five times in the article. Lucky for me, I had looked up places on and added some geocaches also. The geocaching lead me up the rock before I ever made it to the cable car which I had planned on taking. So my adventure began. I didn't find the geocache I was looking for but I did end up finding the "Siege Tunnels," which were carved into the rock.

My first experience was buying postcards. That experience was in English. My second experience was buying a ticket to enter the tunnels (which turned out to include the other attractions also). That experience was in Spanish. The tunnels offered some interesting glimpses into history and some cool views of the land.

I later visited a Moorish castle, the Mediterranean Stairs Trail (N 36° 07.499 W 005° 20.612), St. Michael's Cave and a lighthouse. I only missed two locations that I would have liked to seen: The Pillar of Hercules and the American War Memorial.

Some personal notes:

* The highest point is about 1,400 feet. I reached that point and then hiked down and back up. That is in addition to many other ups and downs I did on the roads and some of the stairs.

* I lost count somewhere around 200 stairs that I climbed after the apes decided to jump on me for a THIRD time. The first time was when I sat down at the picnic tables. The second time was also there. (The second time, after one pulled my hair, I got up and started up the stairs. Soon after they chased after and jumped on me again.)

* The third encounter was the scariest. I am afraid of heights and these monkeys were on me in a very high places.

* Somehow I think if monkeys were human's ancestors that some of the traits we have developed are definitely better. But we lost a lot in that evolution too. There is no way I would be anywhere near some of the places these apes were -- hanging off the guard rails!

* I think I spoke more Spanish in Gibraltar than English. Not that I am complaining!

* The next day (today) muscles I didn't even know existed are sore. I walked for about 20 miles up and down the hills. I spent 12 hours in Gibraltar.

* I think Gibraltar has one of the coolest airports I have ever seen. Pedestrians and vehicles drive across the runway. Pedestrians can walk to the airport.

A Successful Trip to Gibraltar

I have returned from a safe and fun trip to Gibraltar. I think that this is the first trip (other than going home at Christmas) where I didn't really encounter any major problems.

After buying my ticket from Sevilla to La Linea de la Concepcion, I began feeling sick. I began thinking about just going home. About 15 minutes before my bus I was sick. But then I felt better so I decided to go for it. But just in case, I bought a plastic "sick" bag for the four hour bus ride. Luckily I didn't need it; I blame it on the beer I had before going to Sevilla.

I made it back to Huelva today, along with my passport. And I have a souvenir: soreness in muscles I didn't even know existed. The rock of Gibraltar is about 1,400 feet tall and I hiked up and down it for about 12 hours. In total I walked about 20 miles on Saturday.

I will try to write a blog or two about the travels here soon and post some pictures.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Faith and Prayer

What is this blog? Well I'm not really sure. A prayer. A confession. A statement. A mixture of all of them? Most of all it's just something on my mind.

Traveling the world is an adventure but living life is the greatest adventure of all. Each and every day is something new. Every day is different, even if only in the smallest details. It is a gift from God. In that daily adventure, for me, faith  seems to be like the highest, fastest, loopiest, twistiest roller coaster, without anything but gravity holding me in. (OK, maybe I just made some words and a hyperbole but trying to live life by faith is a huge adventure.)

That being said, I was browsing through some quotes by one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, and found several thought-provoking statements that he made which eventually led me to other quotes by other famous authors and leaders.
The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. - C.S. Lewis
I almost missed this quote. I read it quickly and was on to the next quote before I stopped myself, went back and reread it slowly and gave it a little more thought.  After a little thought it brought me to the journey and adventure of faith. I began thinking about how often we want life to be easy. When things get hard, it is easier to desire they get easy again rather than using God's greater strength to get through whatever situation.

When I first came to Spain, I almost left four days in to my stay. Things were hard. I could barely speak the language after studying it for three years or more if you consider the time I spent in high school. I lost 15 pounds in a week because I couldn't figure out when I could actually eat lunch and dinner in this culture. My first trip to the market was a disaster, unable to find much of anything but bread and cornflakes. I wanted to go back to the easy life I knew in the United States. But God had something else in mind and when I bought my airline ticket home it was rejected by my bank because it was too expensive. So five months later, here I am in Spain. And I am speaking Spanish better than ever, not to mention actually finding food in the markets.

During the first few months I really had to rely on faith. I didn't know much of anyone. I didn't know where I was. I was constantly lost when I left my apartment. When I went to church on Sunday evenings, I had to walk 45 minutes each direction. But after a few months, things got easier. I began to speak better. I began to learn my way around the city. I began to rely on myself again. The routine and familiarities had set in.

So back to the quote. That path with a gentle slope, soft footing, no sudden turns, etc, is easy. In reality we have so much to be thankful for. When we are walking without trials we should be thankful for God's guidance. But when we face trials, temptations and other difficulties we should also remember to be thankful for those times as well. Through faith and navigating with God's strength, they are bearable and will eventually draw us closer to Him if we let him work.

An important step in all of this faith is prayer which is where I think my confession part of this blog really comes in. Prayer is an area where I am very weak. With eyes closed it is very easy to drift off to sleep or at least into daydreaming and not having my heart into it. And without prayer living by faith is impossible.
To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” -  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The bible says we should pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Of course going along with faith it is important to ask for guidance and help, but praise and worship and adoration are also important. Thanking God for what he has done, what he has provided (such as the aforementioned trials) and thanking Him for who He is are all just as important and maybe more important. For me I find myself praying only when I really need something. And even then its maybe a sentence or two, after all, I don't want to fall asleep.

Life is so much better with a good prayer life. On the uphill slopes of that roller coaster, I would often start my day reading God's word and praying. Those days went by much smoother. Not to say that there weren't any problems, but when those problems arose they didn't seem so bad. They were in perspective.

But as I fall back into the normal, everyday life, living on my own, prayer becomes a thing of my past. I don't have the time. That is such a lie. All I have is time. Most of the time, I am bored. Yet, I am not going to the Word. I am not getting on my knees. Even if I were really busy, that still isn't much of an excuse. I am reminded of a few times that Jesus prayed.
Mark 1:35: "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (NIV)."
Luke 6:12 "One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God (NIV)."
Jesus made time to pray. It was a priority to speak to his Father. Not only did Jesus get up early, he got up VERY early, to pray. I am lucky to get myself out of bed to be at work at 9:30 in the morning, much less getting up while it was still dark. In the second instance above Jesus spent the night praying. As I said, after five minutes of prayer I tend to be off in my own thoughts, no longer in communion with God. It is kind of like me reading, when I come across a word that triggers another thought, I am gone. I may read three pages only to realize I have no clue what happened.  In both instances he was in a solitary place, by himself, without distractions.

I really want to improve in my prayer life -- not only with the prayer but also quiet time in general. I want to spend more time reading God's word. I want to listen. I want to walk by faith, not by my own understanding. I want to continue on this journey and hopefully there will be more uphill slopes on the roller coaster. I don't want it to level out; I want to keep growing in my faith. And although I know there will be downhill portions inevitably, I want to see more and more uphill slopes, growing in my faith and growing closer to God through Christ.

But what if my prayers aren't answered? Here is one more quote to ponder.
All prayers are answered if we are willing to admit sometimes the answer is "no."- Unknown

I realize that not everyone will agree with this. Please be respectful, but I look forward to your comments. What do you think about these quotes? What do you agree with? Disagree with? Why?

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I didn't know what to expect when I arrived to Salamanca late Friday night. With the university I half expected there to be a lot of people in the streets partying. But I was surprised. That might have been because the bus station and my hostal were not exactly in the down town part which is where everything including the university is located.

The original plan was to get there at 8 p.m. and check in to my hostal before walking around the city at night a little. Of course, arriving after midnight I decided just to go to bed and explore the city the next day. That meant buying a ticket for Sunday morning to Santiago. So the first thing I did on Saturday was buy my ticket and then I headed to el centro.

I am pretty sure I passed "Casa de las Conchas" or "House of seashells" about a hundred times. I walked in circles several times and found new sights each time. I was looking for a few things that I had researched beforehand on the internet. And after seeing all the signs "de Tormes" I had a personal search in addition to what I had found online. I was determined to find some kind of reference to Lazarillo de Tormes, a book that we had to read in one of my university Spanish classes. Sure enough I found him and one of his masters near the Roman Bridge on the Rio Tormes.

I never found the frog on the skull in one of the plazas. But that was because I never found the plaza. I stayed busy there in the city until about 7 p.m. at which time I went to the bus station to take shelter until my bus came. I didn't want to spent the night in the bars. That was a mistake. At least three people approached me begging, and two of them I am pretty sure were looking to rob anyone they could. One guy touched my arm, "Thats a nice watch..." I had to get up and walk away twice just to find people and get away from them. I eventually said if one more person attempted I was going to lock myself in the bathroom for the next hour and a half until my bus was scheduled to arrive. Luckily that didn't happen.

The bus arrived about half an hour late and we arrived to Santiago an hour late which didn't bother me. It meant I didn't have to wait around in another bus station.