Friday, July 8, 2011

Closing Thoughts

Dear Reader,
Before I tell you my last story of my final days in Spain and the return home, I wanted to thank you.  Writing this blog has been one of the best parts of my last three months, and it would not have been the same if it weren’t for you.  You’ve motivated me, inspired me, and supported me throughout this entire journey, and I could not be more grateful.  
This won’t be the end of lachicaamericana.  I have a few ideas for continuing this little relationship of ours post-España, but I’ll be taking a short break first to settle back into life stateside.  Until then, though, stay happy, stay healthy, stay safe, and...

Love, love, love,
Endings and Beginnings

Home.  The homeland.  The promised land.  The motherland.  The mothership.  The nest.  Headquarters.  Home base.  Home plate.  Place of birth.  Place of growth.  Place of being.  Here.  I’m back.
And I can’t quite believe it.  
It’s been a week and a half since I made the return trip across the Atlantic, and I still haven’t been able to really come to grips with the fact that my Spanish adventure is behind me and real life is staring me in the face.  Nothing’s really changed around here.  There’s leaves on the trees and grass on the ground.  The cat’s grown.  But the people, the places, the conversations.  It’s almost as if I’d never left.  
And it makes me think, was Spain just a dream?  It did really happen, right?
But I have pictures.  And I have blogposts.  And I have emails.  Concrete evidence that the last three months came and went and that I was in a foreign country for all of them.  Maybe it’s just the reality of it all that makes it so hard to wrap my head around.  A little country bumpkin from Caledonia hops on a plane to Spain without any plans or any spanish.  There, she finds beaches, sun, friends, memories, and a little bit of herself.  She falls in love with Fanta Límon, chocolate croissants, travel, writing, photography, and the sea.  She narrowly escapes near-fatal experiences with jellyfish, pierogies, and unexpected swarms of male genitalia.  And she realizes the value of her friends, the support of her family, and her potential.  
I woke up at 6:00 am on my last day in Spain to meet the sun as it rose above the sea.  The air was warm, but with that slight tinge of coolness that defines a summer night.  The sand was almost cold, having lost the heat it carried the day before.  The sea was steel grey and the sky was lavender and peach and beautiful and sad all at the same time.  And after snapping some photos, I sat down on the boardwalk, and I just sighed and dropped a tear or two into the sand.  The clenching in my chest I felt about leaving Spain wasn’t really about Spain.  It was about the people I came to love, the moments of absolute happiness I had, and the feeling of a journey completed.  I thought about where I was a year prior to this, compromising my goals and dreams, grappling to hold together a relationship that just wasn’t holding.  I thought about where I was in February and March, starting to find happiness again running, dancing, and feeding cows; anxiously embarking on this big journey in the hopes that I’d pop out the other side a whole person again.  And I thought about where I was and who I’d become.  

So did I find what I was looking for in Spain?  Perhaps.  I’m still not quite sure what it was I’d lost in the first place.  My groove?  My mind?  A little piece of my heart?  Myself?  My way?  Maybe a combination of those things.  There wasn’t one thing missing from my life pre-Spain that I could point to and say “Yup, that’s it.  That’s the missing thing.”  But wherever the holes were, and whatever you call them, they’re filled.  Do I know myself completely?  Absolutely not.  If anything, this trip taught me that I have quite a lot more learning to do.  But do I feel whole again?  Yes.  I feel bright and shiny and brand new.  Ready.  
In closing, I want to share with you an excerpt from my first journal entry in Spain:
April 4
“Now I’m here.  I’m in Spain.  Three blocks from the Mediterranean Sea.  And I sat here in my little room and looked at how the sea changes color with depth and distance, and I cried.  I wondered, I marveled, I believed.  I thought, for the thousandth time in the last few months, about what a truly lucky, lucky girl I really am.  Happiness found me, or I found it.  It doesn’t really matter.  But this trip, this journey, is both an end and a beginning all at the same time.  And I am so grateful.”
Full circle we have come, my friends.  Now, it’s time to start again.  
I’m happy.  
I’m ready.  
I’m back.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for everything,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If You Play With Fire...

As it’s already the 23rd here in Spain, I officially leave in 5 days.  
And as the days seem to pass faster and faster, I can’t quite come to the realization that the last three months have already come and gone.  I won’t go into my misty-eyed, staring-off-in-the-distance recounting of how quickly time passes (not yet, atleast), but it does seem that this final week is really just flying by.  As I’ve been a bit silent with my posting (sorry about that guys), I’m going to give you some quick updates about the happenings with me and in Alicante before I go into a short description of the gigantic festival that’s going on right now.
*I returned to Tabarca, the island of the demonic jellyfish, to find the water crystal clear, warm, and, amazingly, perfectly jellyfish-less.  I did a little snorkeling, laid on the beach, and explored the island.  It was a beautiful day, although I’m still dealing with the repercussions of thinking I have a “base tan” and therefore am exempt from wearing sunscreen.  Silly Alicia.

*José Antonio and I spent 25 minutes looking for my house keys the other day.  He found them.  They were in my glasses case.  Though I’m not surprised that they were in a strange location (I have the tendency to absentmindedly put the TV remote in the fridge,  among other things), this whole debacle does beg the question: soooo, where are my glasses?  Well, they were on the bookshelf, of course.  Because normal people not only display their favorite reads, family photos, and nostalgic mementos on bookshelves, they also put their glasses there for all to see.  At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself to calm my soon-to-be-25-years-old-and-I’M-GETTING-OLD panic.  
*Now the best, and possibly most miraculous news of all (which isn’t too new for the Facebookers out there), I SOMEHOW passed my Spanish class!!!  Not quite sure how this happened, but it did.  So, technically, my Spanish is Intermediate level, but don’t have any preconceived notions about my speaking abilities when I get home.  I still sound like a robot and often take a full 2 minutes to piece together an incorrectly-pieced-together sentence.  
Now that the excitement of the exam has passed, I can direct my attention to more important matters.  
In no particular order, these are:
My tan
Enjoying the nightlife
Sampling EVERY chocolate pastry available
Spending as much time at the beach as possible
With only 5 days left, a girl has to prioritize.  In truth, though, the biggest priority for me is to experience Las Hogueras de San Juan, which means, The Bonfires of Saint John.  Hogueras (pronounced oh-GAIR-ahs), as it’s informally called, is Alicante’s biggest celebration.  From what I’ve observed so far, it’s 4 days and nights of fireworks and drinking.  Everyone buys fireworks and lights them from streets, windows, lawns, beaches, wherever.  This includes children.  More than once this week, I’ve been surprised by a rolling ball of smoke stumbling to my feet, and moving just in time before the bang.  
Unfortunately, the irresponsibility with explosives does not only lie with the children.  On a few occasions now, I’ve seen adults being carried off on stretchers because of an amateur attempt at pyrotechnics gone bad.  Also, there are these big things, called hogueras, which will eventually get burned to smithereens on Friday night with hundreds of people dancing around the flames.
Does anyone else see that this stuff is DANGEROUS?!?!
Precarious firework displays and 5-story bonfires aside, here’s how Hogueras works: The city is divided up into 86 districts, each district then commissions an artist to create an hoguera based on a theme so 86 hogueras are built throughout the city.  Now, on top of that, each district also has a barraca, which is a private, fenced-in area in the middle of their district where the members of that district can go to socialize with each other, eat, drink, and dance the nights away.  So, throughout the streets of Alicante, you have 86 GIGANTIC statues and huge sections of streets closed off for parties.  This isn’t to mention the nightclubs, bars, restaurants, food stands, and temporary shops also set up IN THE STREET.  On top of this, each district also has beautiful lit arches that frame the streets of their district and identify them from the others.  I have never seen an entire city get so involved in a festival before.  It’s exciting, invigorating, and makes me want to dance the night away with locals and foreigners alike.

An example of the lit arches in one district
At the barraca of my friend Nerea's district 
One hoguera
And another two blocks away
An outdoor nightclub
And another right in the middle of the street
As you may imagine, with all of the roadblocks there is also a lot of strange traffic, changes in bus and tram schedules, and all sorts of general transportation squabbles.  So, as you’ve probably rightfully deduced, just as I’m starting to get a hang of the bus schedules here in Alicante, they go and switch them all on me.  I just can’t win.  
So now that you have a little background info, I’m headed back to Alicante to enjoy the next two days which are traditionally, “the craziest.”  I’ll write a post with my conclusions on the festival this weekend, but if you haven’t heard from me by Sunday, just pray I haven’t been the victim of a drive-by fireworking. 
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A List

I apologize for my lack of blogging this week as I’m experiencing the sudden onset of ‘Blog Block.’  Coupled with a generally uncomplicated and disaster-less week, I haven’t had much material or gumption with which to conjure up a good story.  I’ve also spent most of the last week complaining about the Spanish exam I’ll be “taking” tomorrow.  I know it’s difficult to picture me complaining about anythingggg butttt.....(I can hear my Mom in my head laughing out loud right now).   
You may remember that, this being the Intermediate Spanish course, and me being an extreme beginner Spanish speaker, I vowed to grab the quintessential Spanish bull by the horns and “rock” this class.  Turns out when you live on a beach, it’s very difficult to motivate yourself to move your limbs, much less exercise your mind.  And since I’ve been spending quite a lot of time lately on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, my old habits of procrastination have been running the show here in regards to studying.  So far, I have logged exactly 4 minutes making a list of things I need to study.  So now you may be wondering what I have been doing all this time instead of hitting the books.  Luckily for you, I’ve compiled a list:
25 Things I’ve Done Besides Study for My Exam Tomorrow
  1. Napped
  2. Laid in bed wishing I was napping
  3. Facebooked
  4. Swam in the pool
  5. Swam in the sea
  6. Laid in the sun
  7. Edited video footage
  8. Looked through alllll my old photos
  9. Watched the two part reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County (it was awesomeee)
  10. Watched 5 episodes of So You Think You Can Dance (also awesome)
  11. Facebooked
  12. Researched the cost of shipping boxes of stuff home
  13. Stressed about the cost of shipping boxes of stuff home
  14. Donated stuff to charity
  15. Clicked around the internet...all of it
  16. Went to the beach...a lot
  17. Ate chocolate...a lot
  18. Tried to think of more ways to use “...” in my writing...
  19. Danced around Alicante
  20. Planned summer barbecues
  21. Planned summer 5Ks to counteract the effects of said barbecues
  22. Skyped with whoever would possibly talk to me
  23. Facebooked
  24. Messed with Zipi’s emotions
  25. Wrote this blog post
Thanks for reading,

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Which I Lose Again

As my days in Alicante are dwindling, my general demeanor has quickly gone from “Ahhhh...relllaaaxxxx” to “I only have 2 and a half weeks to see EVERYTHING.”  The last minute pitfalls of living in a heavily tourist-ed area are starting to show themselves as I have been putting off visiting the region’s major attractions.  Since I've been living with the mentality that "I can just see it another day" for quite a while now, those other days are numbered.  Now, I’m paying for it as I watch my To Do list grow longer than all of my past Christmas lists combined.  To kick off this flurry of activities, I made a date with one of my Dutch friends (or as Dad calls them, Hollandaise), Lori, to make the journey to the top of Mount Benacantil where the Castillo de Santa Barbara sits overlooking downtown Alicante.  

Lori and I.
Our goal
At 166m (roughly 550 ft.) this is by no means a mountain, but since all those feet are accomplished in a very short distance, the trek can get a bit steep.  Thinking ourselves smarter than the average bears, we opted to take the elevator to the top of the mountain (what? don’t alllll late 9th century castles have elevators in them?) with the plan of bounding down the stairs, sweat-free and jovial back into the city.  Upon our arrival, we discovered that the elevator was in fact, closed, (I mean, it's me, what did you expect?) and that if we were going to get to the castle, we were going to have to hike it.  Now, there are a few routes to get up there and, naturally, we chose the most difficult, as that’s just how things work out with me.  Thus began our climb of Mount I-Don’t-Wanna-Do-This-Anymore.  Also known as I-Wasn’t-Supposed-To-Sweat-Like-This Peak and Is-This-NORMAL?! Hill.  Keep in mind, these are the names I’ve deemed suitable for a family reading audience.  You can use your imagination about the others.

Sizing up the trek to those litttlleee tinnyyy lookout towers which were our destination.
And you can imagine our surprise (forced smile) when we finally reached the top of our grueling, sweat-drenched, calf-burning, 90% incline hike (alright, it wasn’t that much...but it was close) and viewed...THE PARKING LOT.  With CARS.  Connected to the ROAD that you can DRIVE on to the top.  Such fools we are!  But we were calmed by the knowledge that neither of us has a car, so we’d have to walk anyway.  Oh, that’s such a relief.  For a second, I thought we were justifiably dumb.  
And I held onto that happy ignorance for a few hours until I talked to my Mom after I got home and she informed me, “Ya know, you can take the bus up there.  You know, the public bus, it goes right up there.”
....Kill me.
So friends, as usual, the Alicante Bus System wins again.  Someday, I will be smarter than it.  Someday.
Despite the climb and necessary usage of my beautiful Barcelonian scarf as a sweat mop, the views from the trail and summit were well worth the trouble.  

Goofing usual.

San Juan.  That's where I live!

After some more picture taking and exploring, we descended down the much LESS slanted path from the castle back into the city.  And as I was looking over the twinkling lights of Alicante, boats passing in the sea, and the distant sign of life over on jellyfish island (Tabarca), I couldn’t help but come to some thrilling conclusions after the day's journey:
  1. I love this place.
  2. I should be a princess.
  3. Freakin' buses.
  4. I’m out of shape.
And with that, Lori and I made our way to the first ice cream parlor we could find.  
Thanks for reading,

Sunday, June 5, 2011

F.O.L.C.A.: G.H., V. 1

As I am in between thrilling adventures of unparalleled peril and close encounters with the Spanish kind right now, I decided to throw together a little compilation of my friends’ and families’ greatest hits (and a little dash of my own quips from my journal mixed in for good measure). 
Explain? Ok.
As we are just over three weeks away from the end of this exciting, sunny, and oftentimes absolutely ridiculous adventure, I’m spending a lot more time thinking about what has transpired in the last months.  Luckily for me, I have a very large network of people alllll over the world who have not only been my support system, but have provided lots of thoughtful, heart-wrenching, philosophical, metaphysical, and hysterical quotes that I have personally enjoyed greatly during my time in Spain.  Little did all of you know that I have been closely monitoring our Facebook/email/snail mail conversations for humorous musings and tidbits of advice for me, the lonesome traveler (not really lonesome, but I thought it sounded dramatic) that would resonate with an even larger audience of faithful readers, family, and friends alike.  With two months of frequent communication under my belt, it’s impossible to include a little something from everyone here, especially when many of your comments are so wonderful, that I needed to keep them allllll to myself...
They’re my preciouses, and I shall call them my preciouses.

Ohh...K.  You get the point.
So I’m displaying here some of the great transmissions of the last months.  Except in cases where the identity of the writer (other than myself) is relevant to understanding each quote, I’ve disguised my unknowing blog participants with initials in the hopes that, in the event that I accidentally post something controversial, I’ll be able to use the excuse “But no one knows it was you!”
So, with that being said, let me present:
Friends of La Chica Americana: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
“Don’t eat too many churros...we warned you!” - J.D. & M.D. 

“This is your story of rediscovery and new discovery, and you are the only one that can write it.” - K.R. (aka M.R.)

“I’ve been here a month and a half and still have no idea what ‘asada’ is from the Taco Bell menu.” Excerpt from my journal, May 15th.
(Note: I have since found out...and by since, I mean today, that it means meat that is baked in an oven).
“Who knows what Spain has yet to teach you.  Be present there.” -T.F.
“Borja’s cat, Zipi, continues to dislike me.  24 lbs.  We weighed him at the vet last week.  He spends most of his day sleeping, throwing around a stuffed toy dog, and sitting outside my door and glaring at me while I write blogposts.  I call him ‘pantera.’” Excerpt from my journal, May 10th.
“As soon as you think your life is set there is usually something that will happen and, in return, flip your life upside down.  You have to roll with the punches like missing a key change in the middle of a piece when Trost [my high school band teacher] is giving you the eye in the middle of a concert.  You are in the prime of your life where doing is much more important than dwelling.” - E.O. (aka F.F.F.)

“I think Spain is making me: tanner, more social, a better dancer, more self-assured, more confident, better looking, more independent, happier, and even more hilarious (and obviousssllyyy humble, too).” Excerpt from my journal, May 28th.

“I began to see that none of us ever make it through this world without scars...but now I know that there are no good stories without messy parts.  Tales without complications are rarely retold.  Pain is one of grace’s greatest disguises, and how thankful I am for the transformation that always comes along with it.” - L.M-V. (quoting
“I think you are stumbling across a beautiful truth.” -I.K.
“I only speak English with Borja and sometimes his father, José Antonio.  With everyone else, I speak Spanish.  And by “speak,” I mean that through a series of incorrect pronouns, unconjugated verbs, hand motions, clicks & whistles, and smoke signals, I get my point across about 70% of the time.” Excerpt from my journal, May 4th.
“U will write again soon and be interesting.” Gagee, my grandmother

“With lachicaamericana, I’ve somehow tricked my family and friends into finding my life interesting enough to follow in a blog.  Small moments, events, I’ve turned into posts that they find interesting!” Excerpt from my journal, May 15th.
“I hope you had a great weekend and you are swept away by some hunk with large deltoids.  Are those the ones in your neck?  I don’t know.  A stud with a large neck.  No wait, that doesn’t sound right either.  A stud with fat shoulders.  Oh, crap, let’s go with a decent looking, moderately to not-so-hairy man who may or may not have a good personality.  As long as he doesn’t sweep you away forever.” - R.F.S.H.
“Keep dreaming, keep dancing, keep writing, keep smiling.  Keep both feet on the ground and remember:
“Only when we lose the world will we find ourselves,” Henry David Thoreau.” - M.R.G.
And finally, one of the best and most meaningful compliments I have received about lachicaamericana:
“Oddly enough, your blog makes me feel a little less homesick.” 
     - Senior Airman Justine Wolff, U.S. Air Force, from Bragman Army Base, Afghanistan
I’m so darn lucky to have all of you.
And all of YOU!!  Let me just quote one more excerpt from my journal (June 1):
“I literally have the most supportive friends and family in the entire world.  They make me feel so happy and so incredibly confident in myself as a writer, as a person, and in the choices I’ve made.”
So, you see, I really just wouldn’t be able to do this without all of you.  Whether I hear from you all the time, a few comments here and there, or I just hear through the grapevine that you’re reading along, it’s all supportive, and it’s all appreciated.  So, I’ll see you in three weeks, but until then, I’ll keep writing, and as always,
Thanks for reading,