I joined a gym in Spain.
The act in itself is not very impressive, anyone with twenty euros can join my crappy little gym. However, that orange I.D. card with my overly-excited face on the front signifies something pretty cool.
It means that, for at least a month (I’ll be here much longer but was too cheap to spring for the three month sign up special), Spain will be my home. After such a whirlwind kickoff to my trip, it feels great to settle down and begin a bit of a routine.
I arrived in Granada two weeks ago, the Spanish word for “pomegranate” and a beautiful city in southern Spain with a rich history. As evidenced by its beautiful architecture, Granada has a heavy Moorish influence and was the last foothold of Islam in Western Europe. In 1492, Christian forces led by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Moors from Granada and completed the 700 year Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. In the same year, Columbus came to Santa Fe, a small village a few miles from the center of town, to meet with the Catholic Kings and solidify the terms of his infamous voyage across the Atlantic. Like I said… a rich history.
Resting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada has an arid climate that fluctuates drastically. If you’re on the sunny side of the street(there is ALWAYS a sunny side) during the day, it’s quite nice. But as the sun dips below the horizon the warm air leaves as quickly as it came and the nighttime temps flirt with the freezing line. For this guy from coastal Southern California, it’s pretty damn cold. Begrudgingly, I had to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and buy a new coat. Tracking down a whole turkey to roast for Thanksgiving was impossible here, but I couldn’t walk half a block without seeing a huge Black Friday sale sign in a storefront window. I guess our consumerist holidays are more profitable to import.
And yes, they have Sierra Nevada mountains here too, no Yosemite or Half Dome though. But they do have tapas, and the best part is… they’re free! You just have to order a beer, or in my case, a soda, and voila, all-you-can-eat appetizers. Drinks cost less than two euro and you don’t even have to tip. Did I mention that you can rent out a one bedroom apartment for less than 300 euro a month? This place has Aaron written all over it.
So here I am in Granada, freezing my ass off while spending almost no money and settling into my first Workaway experience. I’m working and living in a hostel slash English school slash yoga studio called Itinere. The hostel is owned and operated by a sister-brother duo, Sayano and Takashi, who are half Japanese, half Spanish, and some of the nicest people I´ve met on my journey thus far. Their business definitely has an intimate and much welcomed family feel. I work about 20 hours a week teaching English, working in the reception area and sharing cleaning duties with my fellow Workawayers. In two weeks I´ve managed to get assigned just one cleaning shift and have yet to touch a toilet brush, ha! So much for Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports. Annnnnnd now I’ve most certainly jinxed myself and will be cleaning rooms all week, damn it. (Update: obviously, I got scheduled three cleaning shifts next week).
Cleaning aside, it has been an amazing experience forming bonds with the other Workawayers that I live with. Our dormitory is like a United Nations committee with representatives hailing from South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, England and of course the great state of California. Isolation from our respective homes, families, friends and familiarities has brought us together in a very short period of time. My Itinere family even chipped in and helped me cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner! Like I said, there were no turkeys to be had, so we settled for two roasted chickens.
Above all, I have enjoyed teaching English. I’ve learned so much about the people and culture of Andalucía by simply chopping it up with my students. They tell me about their lives and their families and the food they eat, they ask a million questions about California and they make fun of my Mexican Spanish. They explained how the economic troubles in Spain have driven many to pursue higher education while the economy sorts itself out. The public University of Granada, a well respected and very affordable school, is bursting at the seams with over 80,000 students enrolled in its various colleges. Most of my students work part time jobs, take classes all day and come to learn English in the evenings of their own volition. Talk about a long day. They earn those siestas, trust me. My students’ hunger to educate themselves and improve their lives is both admirable and contagious.
When planning my trip, I nearly bypassed Granada entirely, preferring to head straight for Barcelona, a city I already knew and loved. But sometimes our journey seems to plan itself, favoring the path less traveled, and I’m learning that it’s usually best to let it evolve as it pleases. It can be a little scary rolling the dice on an unknown place, but the juice is often worth the squeeze. And this pomegranate juice is really sweet.