Two weeks ago was “Semana Santa” or the Holy Week in Spain. Similar to the spring break of public schools in the states, all schools in Spain get this week off. Luckily for me, the spring break of Warsaw Community Schools and Semana Santa coincided and one of my good friends from high school, who is now a wonderful elementary school teacher, was able to come visit!
After a grueling trip (on her part), we were supposed to meet a little after 7am at the train station in Padrón, a small town close to Santiago de Compostela where one of my teachers lives. She was gracious enough to lend us her home during the week to stay the night in as a transfer point, since it is more accessible than my tiny town of Pobra off in the tip of nowhere, Spain. Unfortunately I got lost in twilight hours of early morning trying to find the train station stop, which I had never been to before. As I’m wandering tiny roads in the midst of farmlands, Hillary was getting closer and closer on the train. Finally I see the crossroads with train arms and begin speed walking even more. As I get closer, the train begins to pull away and I don’t see Hillary standing outside at the stop (not much there…can’t even buy tickets at it. You must buy them on the train if you depart from Padrón.) I search the train windows as it slowly gathers speed and I spy…..a pink adidas backpack. Aha! She was still on the train. ‘Well, what to do now?’ I thought to myself. She didn’t have a phone. I had no way to contact her. She had never been to Spain before. This was one of her first times on a train. Luckily, she knows a bit of Spanish and can get by perfectly fine. I told myself that she’s a smart girl and she would get off at the next stop, then come back on the reverse train an hour later. Sure enough, with the roosters crowing around me as I huddled up on a cold metal bench outside in the early morn, there she comes on the next train! It was such a relief.
I won’t go into all the details of the week, but I had a great time sharing my new culture with her and getting to see all the differences again through new eyes. I have become accustomed to so many ‘strange’ things here, that I forget what it’s like when you’re fresh from the United States. We were blessed with good weather for most of the week, so we hit up the beach, hiked to the natural swimming pools in the mountain, walked in the countryside, made dinner, went out to traditional ‘menú del día’, visited markets, and more. I even convinced her to try “pulpo a feira”, which is the octopus! I’ve developed a liking for it (though you can’t think about it or run your tongue over the tentacles in your mouth, or you get weirded out). However, Hillary tried a few bites and decided to cut off the tentacles on the outside of each piece from then on. I can’t blame her. She was brave! We tried many traditional Spanish dishes, from the basics like ‘tortilla española’, ‘croquetas’, and ‘jamón’ (and chorizo, nom nom)….to Galician dishes like the ‘pulpo’, ‘queixo de tetilla’ (tit cheese!), and ‘revuelto de gambas con grelos’ (like scrambled eggs with shrimp and ‘grelos’—a green leafy vegetable found only in Galicia). She even loved ‘clara de limón’, even though she’s not much of an alcohol drinker (similar to a summer shandy…half beer and half lemon soda).
One day, we headed by train to Vigo, the largest city in Galicia to catch a ferry from the port to “Las Islas Cíes”….voted the Most Beautiful Beach in 2007 by the UK Guardian. Even though the day was windy and cloudy at first, it was an amazing place. It’s a natural reserve as well, so they don’t even have trash cans. You can hike all around, visit a lighthouse, small pools in the middle of the island, a large old stone building at the highest point, go snorkeling or scuba diving, kayaking, and more. We packed a lunch and ate on the beach after hiking all morning, then took naps in the sunshine, albeit while we were wrapped up in jackets and towels.
On the way home, we stopped in Pontevedra, a city which is a bit smaller than Vigo, but has a lovely old town. As it was Semana Santa, there were also traditional religious processions all week. While we were sitting enjoying some tapas in a café, we hear drum beats and look outside….down the narrow cobblestone streets come rows and rows of people in white robes and white cone masks, similar to the KKK. There are many types of processions to represent different religious aspects of the Holy Week, but usually we saw huge elaborate statues of Jesus or Mary or something similar, which was carried on the shoulders of 4-8 men. Music and candles were used, people in costume, and some people even walked barefoot! And let me tell you, it was quite cold especially to be walking around for two hours without shoes. I have a long video of one of the processions from Santiago de Compostela on Friday…I can show some of you when I get home.
All in all, a great week with Hillary. It was comforting to have a taste of home and I was in sore need of a good friend, with whom I’m completely comfortable and even speak the same language…wow, the novelty in that!!! haha
As for now, time is passing week by week….at last count, I have six weeks left in Pobra before I embark on EuroTrip 2012 with my grandmother and mother! Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, and England…three generations of women, here we come! I don’t know where the last four months have gone since I returned from Christmas Break. However, with the constant rain and wind for the past week and a half yet again, I can’t say I’ll miss the weather. 🙂 But what an experience these past 8 months have been!
EDIT: My internet was failing to work last night when I tried to post this, and I’m glad for it now! 1. I came to a café to skype with my friend Alex and also took the opportunity to add photos. 2. I went on a two hour solo hike/jog this morning up into the mountain where the natural pools are…when Hillary and I visited (in the photo below), they were nice and calm. This morning when I went out there, they were absolutely raging and the whole river was up much higher. After 20 minutes of reflection out there, I understand why artists like to be in nature to be inspired. I could have written any number of poems or analogies with the way my brain juices were flowing. 3. My hike also reminded me of a funny story when Hillary and I went…I was checking out an old abandoned house and looking into the gate, which surprisingly was open on this day. I had never noticed it open before. Then we faintly hear bells and many feet trampling the ground getting closer and closer….I look around the corner and up the road and see a stampede of sheep!!! Sprinting at us! We panicked (while laughing about the situation) as they covered the entire road, so we went into this gate to try and hide, while I also snapped a few photos. Then Hillary asks me, “What if this is where they’re heading to??” Sure enough, the sheep turn into the gate but were clearly scared of us and ran into a corner off the side. We ran out as fast as we could and I slammed the gate shut….hahahaha. A bit further up the road was a little lamb that obviously got lost from the group. It just kept baa’ing at us….great fun. 🙂