Carnaval Festivities

Wasn’t Carnaval two weeks ago, you ask?

Yes, it was…but sadly I am a failure at blog posting these days. Here’s a little recap of the weekend:

After much time looking up ways to make my Indian costume by hand, I gave up the idea out of pure laziness…I just didn’t want to put the necessary amount of effort into it, nor did I want to spend the money for the suede fabric, which was quite expensive! Thus I became a black cat very simply with my own clothing, a purchased tail, and homemade ears…a touch of black makeup and I was set. Truth be told, the costume was pretty pathetic, especially by Spain’s Carnaval standards! But oh well.

Carnaval at ies Pobra:

On Friday at school, the last three classes were cancelled for the big celebration. The covered patio was set up with a runway for the costume contest, a separate stage for the always present and always terrible band of a few ragtag boys, plenty of decorations, and a bake sale to raise money for a trip to Paris. I was asked to be a judge in the costume contest and I quite enjoyed myself. The students truly went all out and we had everything from old women (actually boys), Madagascar characters, citizens protesting the crisis, Harry Potter, Dragon Ball Z, Pac Man and his ghosts, a famous soccer player and his girlfriend Shakira (both boys), and a group of cross dressing boys. Needless to say, the men here LOVE taking advantage of Carnaval to dress like a girl. It was hysterical, yet also a bit uncomfortable at times. haha

The costume contest was more than just modeling…several of the groups put together actual routines to go along with their chosen song. I was impressed! Others, however, simply danced around like idiots….including the three boys dressed as firefighters who ended up stripping off part of their uniforms. (The funny thing is, not one administrator said a word!) Afterward, a group of boys from my 1 BAC class (kind of like juniors in high school) played a bunch of their band’s music….much screaming, rock, and all in all…a headache. I feel like an old woman saying that, but I guess it just goes to show how my interests have changed since high school!

Two of the most popular treats of Carnaval that I sampled several times are “orejas”, which literally means “ears” but are basically fried dough that is supposed to be in the shape of a pig’s ear and sprinkled with sugar. Also popular are the “fiollas”, which were extremely thin crepes more or less, though a bit sweeter. If I’m being honest, neither were that special. I miss all the chocolatey desserts that are so popular in the US! (and not so popular with my waistline)  Another aspect of Carnaval is the “cocido”…for this festival, it’s a big meal that consists of every pig part possible. Apparently the teachers were going to have one, but either I missed it or they changed their mind…I’m quite okay with passing on some of the more undesirable pig parts anyways.

Carnaval in Verín:

 On Saturday, a trio of us made the multiple part trip to Ourense, another region (and city) of Galicia. We luckily got the last hotel in Ourense, though we did NOT realize that it was out in the middle of nowhere. We literally passed out of the Ourense city limits, into another town, out of that town, and into a third town before reaching the area where our hotel was. We were the last ones on the city bus as the driver kept going and going and going….while we panicked a bit. Turns out it was a 4 star, swanky hotel that we got for dirt cheap (and put 3 people into a double) and part of the Camino (the pilgrimage to Santiago).  That night we wandered around the old town in the city taking in the atmosphere, getting drinks and tapas, watching the children and oftentimes parents in costume running wild.

Sunday, we headed off on a bus to Verín, a small village in the middle of the region known for its traditional celebration of Carnaval. (Disclaimer: Carnaval is celebrated differently in every single region and even from city to city…I was simply recommended Verín because it goes all out in comparison to many other places!) Upon arriving, we caught the last part of an amazing parade with floats that had to have taken weeks to make (and in one case, months! It had a real fire, real chickens, meat cooking over the fire, and more). Also…you will notice in many of my photos on Facebook that there are the people dressed in white, elaborate costumes with several cow bells hanging from the back of their belts. They run up and down the streets wielding sticks with leather strips attached to them, hitting anybody not in costume, in the way of the parade, or simply because they felt like it. Okay okay, I may have provoked some of them by beginning to run after them as they went by. This generally resulted in me being hit, but it didn’t really hurt.

People were covering the streets for the entire day (minus the long Spanish lunch hour)…it was beautiful weather, there were no open container laws J, there were fair-type of rides and attractions, food, and great fun.  In the evening, two concerts were put on with typical styles of music and at one point, there was a slower, clearly popular song to which all the couples were dancing. I took so many pictures and videos of old couples dancing and looking adorable that they probably thought I was a creep. I only put about half of my photos on facebook so as to not appear weird. ha!

Before returning to Pobra on Monday, we visited the thermal springs in Ourense. They are natural hot springs literally in the river, though we paid the 5 euros for the nice ones and spent several hours relaxing. They had all sorts of different pools at various temperatures and some had special jets or purposes. For example, there was one with some waterfalls that you’re supposed to position yourself beneath and allow the waterfall to massage your lumbar. It felt incredible. And again, we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful day!


A couple times in the past two weeks, I also have gone hiking up the mountain with a few other people. It’s been wonderful to explore more of the wild beauty of Galicia, while we cross rivers, climb straight up the side of a mountain rather than following paths, looking out over the bay with all the mussel farms from the top, getting close to the wild horses and cows that graze, and picnicking at the top near the windmills. I hope to go many more times depending on the weather over the next few months.

In other news:

 Actually not too much to share…I’ve been staying busy with all my extra private classes, school classes, gymming, hanging out with the other auxiliars and teachers, and planning my eurotrip with my grandmother after my time here!  Also, next weekend I am off to Germany! Another girl and I found a roundtrip RyanAir flight for only $44…can you believe that!!!! That’s much cheaper than even a pair of jeans. Needless to say, I couldn’t pass it up and it is my early birthday present to myself. J  We fly into Frankfurt, but as I’ve been told it’s nothing special and far too industrial, I’m planning to visit Heidelburg and the small villages along the Rhine River, including the Lorelei Rock, the many fortresses/castles, and get some hiking in! I’m excited, though I need to be practicing my German this week for sure. (in between all the extra make-up classes I have for missing a couple days of school. Meh.)

I will do my best to update again after the Germany trip.

Is this real life?

“Is this real life?” (no, I was not just at the dentist. If you have no clue what I’m referring to, please watch this video:

This is a question I sometimes ask myself. It might sound strange, but there are moments when I’m having a conversation in Spanish and I get the sensation that the person actually knows English and is just pulling my leg. Clearly this is a ridiculous thought, but I feel it’s a testament to the idea that life is the same everywhere. Sometimes it feels just like the United States…friends hang out together, families argue, children laugh and play, teenagers hate school, and more.

Then there are the moments when I ask myself ‘is this real life?’ simply because it’s hard for me to believe that I’m currently living on a different continent, communicating daily in two languages (and partially three if you count my Gallego comprehension). For example, a few weeks back, I went to Santiago on a Friday night with some teachers to see one of the music teachers perform at her album release concert. She plays the Celtic harp and her band’s music was spell binding, especially as all of the Spanish/Gallego blended together, helping me to focus not on the words themselves, but simply the sounds. I sat in my seat, sipping on red wine, and asked myself…”is this real life?”

In other news, I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I keep meaning to as things occur, but then I don’t write the actual post and the time continues to pass and now here we are! We’ve been having a lot of internet problems, but thank god I finally got my laptop figured out at the school and can connect to wifi from one of the teacher lounges. (I also learned more than I ever cared to know about static ip’s, dns servers, and routers in the process.)  For my classes at school, I have taken on more responsibility and am even putting together a blog project for my 4 ESO Bio/Geo students. In addition, I’ve picked up more private lessons, including a middle-aged woman starting at the very beginning of English. I can already tell she is going to challenge me as teaching adults is quite different from children!

I’ve had several fun evenings/nights with some other auxiliars/English speakers in the area, including a hiking exploration into the mountains one day where we also made some doggie friends. 🙂 We are figuring out plans for this weekend/early next week as it’s Carnaval! This celebration is essentially like Halloween for us, so I’m now stressing out about a costume. I hate the gaudiness of a store-bought costume, so naturally I’m going to make it more difficult on myself and try to make an Indian costume, I think. I’ve already found the fabric store, which was essentially a hole in the wall and rolls of fabric are LITERALLY piled to the ceiling in all areas of this tiny hole. It should be interesting trying to hand sew suede, but I think I’m going to attempt it because then I can just paint my face, wear leggings, braids, and a feather headband and I’m set! If only I had my giant costume box from home that I collected throughout my IUDM/college theme party years…pretty sure I could outfit this entire village with my collection. No joke.  Anyways, Carnaval should be fun….we’re planning on heading to this small town in Ourense that supposedly has the best celebration in Galicia. One thing I keep getting told, though, is that there are flour fights (awesome), but it’s become common to put “hormigas que se pican” in the flour….meaning biting ants (not awesome). So I was recommended to cover all the skin I possibly can while we’re in the streets. :/ Still should be fun.

There also was an…..interesting….day that occurred about a week ago. Not only was I running on 2 hours of sleep and had several things go wrong at school, but soon after arriving to my private lessons in Ribeira with three brothers, I receive a text message from my roommate letting me know there was a small fire in the living room of our flat. To be honest, I panicked a bit, not knowing exactly what “small” meant. However, as there was nothing that I could do about it, I went about my day and when walking home from the gym that night, a car literally backed into me and hit me. No, I wasn’t hurt seriously, but it was just one more thing on an insane day. I literally smacked the car’s trunk as hard as I could and said, “Are you kidding me?!” haha. When I arrived home, I finally got to see the damage….a chair was destroyed, a pillow, part of the sofa/covering, the rug, and some of the wood floor. Not so good. But things are getting taken care of now, so it should all work out. What a day though…what a day.

This past weekend, we had some people over to our flat and then on Sunday, I headed to Noia with the family of the two little girls with whom I have private lessons. We went to a wonderful market, where we of course ate churros (not the Mexican cinnamon-sugar kind you’re thinking of…these are a similar shape, but just fried dough and absolutely delicious when they’re hot and fresh!) and the little girls, Sara and Ana, teased me about all the pigs’ heads lying around. During Carnaval, the Spaniards eat pretty much every part of the pig you can imagine. I’m invited to a “cocido” with the teachers sometime next week and I’m pretty sure I just won’t ask what part of the pig it is from until AFTER it’s digested. (A “cocido” is essentially a big meal.)

After the market, I went to their home where they were having a big family meal. The Spanish aren’t messing around with their lunches either. I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but I still am not accustomed to eating so much at once!  We began with “empanadas” (basically a filled flat pie) of some sort of “marisco” (shellfish…this one was something similar to clams, but they are also often filled with tuna, different types of meat, zamburinas, and more). Oh! And something I found neat is that we bought the fresh dough at the market for the empanada, then took it to the husband’s mother and she filled it and cooked it at home. How convenient. Anyways, we had empanadas and then the GIANT pot of “almejas” (clams) was brought out. They were quite delicious with the sauce they had on them, but still…every time I had to crack open the shell entirely, I jumped a little bit expecting it to jump out at ME! Haha. I filled about a third of my plate with the almejas, but I was so stuffed after churros, empanadas, bread, the homemade wine they were giving me, and because I got motion sickness in the car (typical). However, Berta (the mother of Geno, the girls’ dad) kept insisting that I eat. “Come, come! Más, más!” (Eat, eat! More, more!) So I tried to take a few more, but I thought I was going to die. Meanwhile, everyone around me had an overflowing plate of clam shells that they had already slurped the meat out of…even to the point where the plates were emptied and refilled (especially the men). Finally, I thought I was golden…only dessert and coffee to go before my stomach can rest! But nope….the children left the table and then the meat dish was brought out. Chicken and crinkle French fries (some of the kids ate this in place of the clams…those picky eaters. Not that I wasn’t picky as a child…). I couldn’t believe anyone else still had room! I ate barely two bites, then pushed it around on my plate so as to not make them feel bad. Haha.

After the main courses, Berta (did I mention that she lives on the bottom floor of this home, while Bea and Geno live on the floor above? That’s often how it works here because the families are so close.) took me out to one of the cellars to show me their homemade winery and wine cellar! It was so neat…I got lost in some of what she was saying as it was mostly Gallego, but she described the process they use, showed me the huge vats of both the red and white wines they make, then all the bottles…some are empty ready for this upcoming year’s harvest at the end of the summer, others are still full from past years as they age them to increase the quality. Both kinds were delicious, and I loved that we just took out a glass jug to fill it up ourselves! Then came dessert, where two types of “tartas” (cakes) were forced on me, along with champagne.  Finally, on to coffee (two cups) and some “chupitas” (shots) of the “aguardiente” or “caña” that they also make homemade from the leftover parts of the wine process. Berta kept telling me about it when we were in the cellar, but I wasn’t understanding, so she told me I had to try it. So three glass bottles/jugs were brought to the table…one hand labeled with “Caña” and the other two plain. The literal translation of “aguardiente” is “rough liquor”, so I’m sure you can imagine how that went. The clear one was ‘plain’, while the other two had been infused with different spices or things. Bea thought the whole thing was hysterical and took many videos and pictures. Oh, and to my family that didn’t believe me when I tried to explain that it is the norm to have the leg of a pig in the kitchen in order to cut off slices of “jamón” whenever you want….we took a picture. I’m just waiting for it to arrive in my email!

Okay, well that was a lot longer than I intended about all of the food, but it was a fun day and purely Spanish. I’ve been keeping a lot busier than before. I’ve even started training for a triathlon! I was super gungho about it at first, though, and pushed myself too hard to the point I got sick two weekends ago. So now I’m just doing it casually in hopes that I’ll be decently prepared for this summer sometime.

One last thing, I have decided not to reapply for the program. My last chance to retain preference status for placement is the end of this month, and I’m not sure it’s what I want for a second year. I’m ready for something with more commitment and responsibility, where I actually feel useful. As for exactly WHAT I’ll be doing next year, that’s still up for debate. It changes nearly weekly.

That’s all for now! We’ve had a Siberian cold front come through, so it’s been really chilly, but luckily we haven’t had much rain since I got back (knock on wood). I Hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day! I sure did, as I received my mother’s care package of peanut butter and seasonings to make meals. 🙂 Also, on that note, if anyone is planning on sending a note at all by mail in the next couple months, I’d love it if you threw in those chili seasoning packets…I made huge pots to share with people here and the ones I brought from home are already gone! And in regards to my cooking, I’ve become a crepe master in the past month, made pizza dough from scratch, garlic knots, chili multiple times, and strawberries are somehow already in season here (or must be, since they have them at the market again!), so I’ve been making smoothies. Nom nom.

“Why is this happening? Is this gonna be for forever?”



Airport benches, planes, airport floors, train stations, cafés against the wall, sleepers two feet wide on overnight trains, buses, backseats of cars, park benches…these are all places in which I have become adept at sleeping, regardless of noise, light, time of day, temperature, and comfort.

Perhaps this ability started many years ago as I shared rooms with sibling after sibling, or lived in the six-girl at Theta, but it has definitely been honed in the last year of my life as I travel from country to country. I can’t complain…though I would never call these “quality sleeps”, oftentimes interrupted by security guards telling me I need to move to a different area of the airport or something similar. I guess that endless number of all-nighters I pulled in college have prepared me for this, though my “adult internal clock” always wants me in bed by  midnight now. Oh, the effects of growing up.

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Bye, bye giant jar of JIF…

Yes, sadly the pompous staff at O’Hare security has confiscated my giant jar of JIF peanut butter. Indignation and anger first crossed my mind as he dug through my backpack and pulled it out, then sadness, as dreams of pb&j’s and bananas with pb slowly floated out of my mind. I refused to throw it away myself (being difficult, naturally) and he rolled his eyes at me while taking it away. Stupid airplane rules. The seal was still on and everything! L

I’m heading back to….PAUSE. I would say “reality”, but I’m not quite sure that’s the right word for this, but I can’t think of a better choice, so UNPAUSE…..reality, as I sit at Gate K19 waiting for my flight to Madrid. As most of you know, I surprised everyone by coming home for Christmas. The holidays were absolutely amazing and worth every penny. I made the rounds all over the state of Indiana and into Chicago to visit friends and family. Thanks to all of you for making it fabulous!!!

I assaulted several of you with questions regarding my future during my stint in the states…there are several things I have been considering, but I’m not quite sure which is right for me at this time.  I appreciate everyone’s advice and I’ve decided I’ll simply see how I feel in the next few months before I make any decisions.

Cultural Happenings

Christmas dinners, Galician dance festivals, children´s birthday parties, nearly stealing puppies from a random home, class evaluations for the term´s end, cooking attempts, ballet performances, nights out, The 3 Kings, glasses of wine, christmas carols, private lessons, marketplace chatter, snack projects at school, learning to flirt in Spanish, and moremy past couple weeks have been filled with these things. And it has been a wonderful few weeks! Time is starting to pass much more quickly, and I feel I am finally starting to get a life figured out here.

I´ve continued to have several downfalls, but now I just cannot wait for Christmas to finally arrive. It´s crazy that I´m still at school right now, there´s no snow outside, and there are not decorations all over the hallways, yet Christmas is in 6 days. It makes me miss the days of high school when they played classical Christmas music during the passing periods…made everything feel more festive! However, we do have some beautiful lights up around town, some of which are blue/red which makes me think of Independence Day, and I have a whole I-Tunes playlist dedicated to Christmas music that I play constantly while making Christmas cards and drinking tea. The temperatures have dropped nearly to freezing (yesterday I was informed that it 3 degrees Celsius…not sure what the conversion is, but 3 is almost to the freezing point of 0!), but it´s not raining as much, so I´m not complaining!

“Papá Noel no viene por la chimenea esta noche…. (Santa isn´t coming down the chimney tonight…)

One thing about the holidays here that I´ve learned is that it´s not all about Papá Noel (aka: Santa Claus)…in Spain, The Three Kings/Wiseman are of more importance here. The major day of festivities and gift giving begins the night of the 5th of January and continues into the 6th. They have parades in the pueblos (villages) and huge nativity scenes set up in every town. It´s literally in a large enclosed glass building near the town centre and only used once a year for the nativity scene at Christmas. I´ll try and take a picture today to put up on facebook. An old tradition is that the children move the three wisemen figurines a bit closer to the stable every day starting on the 25th until the night of the 5th when they arrived (is this where the 12 Days of Christmas reference comes from, does anyone know??). Apparently not all of the children do this anymore as the influence of Papá Noel is starting to take over, but it depends on the families. In pueblos such as mine, where they are smaller and isolated, there is more of a continuing tradition, whereas in the larger cities, the commercialization and Santa stuff reigns. It´s been neat to learn about the differences since I didn´t know too much about how they celebrate here…I assumed it was Santa everywhere! (how egocentric of me…I´m embarrassed) They are also forcing me to try all of the traditional Christmas sweets, too! How terrible. haha

“Mosaic” Pros and Cons

As I recount all of these aspects of their culture and got to see some neat traditional shows of Galician dance, music, and costumes this past weekend, it makes me a bit sad that our country doesn´t have these. Yes, it´s wonderful that we are a mosiac of cultures, but it also means that along the way, many wonderful traditions have been lost as we meld together. When people ask me, ¨What music/food/dance/clothing/etc is traditional for you?”, I never know what to say! Indiana is different from Florida which is different from Texas which is different from Washington which is different from Maine….and beyond that, every family is different! It´s hard for me to come up with specific traditions to share with the Spanish that truly encompasses everyone from the USA. And that makes me sad…however, I recognize that it´s supposed to be one of the benefits of coming to the states…you can become anyone you want to be and start new traditions and we have become our own blend of  cultural identities….but still. Does anyone understand what I mean by this? I don´t mean to bash our own country, but I feel this is a great loss.

Apologies for strange symbols in this post…I am using the computer at school with a spanish keyboard.  They don´t have apostrophes, so it appears like an accent, and I have to spend time hunting for certain symbols.  Also, I have some new pictures from the past weeks that I will be putting up on Facebook once I have a faster internet connection. 🙂 You can see the little girls I give private lessons to in their Galician dresses, the adorable puppies I nearly stole when I discovered them on a run, and several other events.

Hope everyone has a fabulous Christmas break!!!

¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!