Saturday, June 4, 2011

SOUTH OF SPAIN... Finally =)

Lanjaron - Casa del Viento from April 6 - April 28

The first week I was in Spain – this is back in August - I decided to leave Madrid and go to Granada for a few days – an Andalucian town known for it's Moorish history and architecture. I fell in love with the city in those few days, and have been wanting to return ever since. On April 6, I finally got to. I arrived by train in Granada, switched to the bus station, and took the hour bus ride to Lanjaron – a small white village that was to be home for the next three weeks or so. As the bus ride went on, the road got windier. And the landscape became more impressive. With mountain cliffs to the left of me, valley to the right of me, and the snowy mountains caps of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, my jaw was wide open at the beauty of this area as we pulled finally into Lanjaron. This area, the Alpujarra mountainside is stupendously beautiful!

Ann, my helpxchange host was there to pick me up at the bus stop, and pointed out sites of Lanjaron as she went – an old moorish castle, prominent places in town, and her Casa del Viento white house villa in the distance on the mountainside we were about to drive up. It's really green here - there are tons of orange trees, lemon trees, olive trees, flowers, and cactus. And there are tons of mini water falls irrigating water from field to field. The air smells really good and fresh here, one always here's birds happily chirping in the trees, and Lanjaron is famous for having the healthiest water in the world. Yes, from the moment I arrived in Lanjaron, I've been happy to get to spend some time here.

Ann, the host of this helpxchange, owns a white villa that is snuggling into the mountainside overlooking the white hill town of Lanjaron below. When Anne bought her house and land about 9 years ago it was apparently a huge mess. The previous owner, like most Spanish people in the area, hadn't had electricity, and had kept goats and chickens in the buildings. Everything was overgrown, little was maintained, and there was even a bunch of left over chickenshit and feathers/ in one of the buildings that is now one of the main buildings. Over the last 7 years, solely through the help of woofers and helpxchangers like myself, Anne has managed to fix it up into a very beautiful, relaxing, mountainside retreat.

My work schedule generally consisted of five days a week. I'd start at 8, have a half hour “tea break” at 11, and then work till 2, when there would be lunch. I found out my first day that I would be in charge of the “pool area,” which included setting up and keeping track of the outdoor bar stock, cleaning the pool daily, watering all the plants around the pool, and weeding. Lots of weeding. It was a very peaceful place to work, and days would generally go quickly with the help of my ipod loaded with great podcasts, music, and Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosifal (I'm listening to books in Spanish now to help improve my comprehension). In addition, twice a week I was to help with the dinners Anne would serve to paying guests. The guests were always interesting, from England, or Scandinavia, Cheque Republic, or Slavakia, and the food was really delicious. Therefore, I wouldn't really call it work. Also, every Sunday she would cook a traditional Sunday roast, and people from the local Xpat English community would come over – about 14 people or so each Sunday. I always managed to be working these yummy events too. I'd always wondered what an “English Roast” was. Now i've gotten to enjoy quite a few of them. (Yorkshire pudding is not what it sounds like).

There is one main house, two smaller houses, and a pool. Here she runs what I would call a bed and breakfast type of business. She has five rooms, will cater every meal if her guests ask of it (and pay for it), and is generally quite busy. The Alpujarra Mountains she is nestled in are famous for their outdoor activity options, and Anne has a package deal going with a place that offers horse back riding trecks, so about half of her guests generally go horseback riding to different white villages during the day during their stay with Anne. While I was there, there were people staying there from Slavakia, Chechqe Republic, Sweden, Norway, and many many different areas of England. As I said, it was often part of my job to help with the meals Anne would cook for her clients. I would help set up the table, carry the food, maintain drinks, and then I'd get to sit with the clients and enjoy the good food and foreign conversations. Very often I was the only American.

Anne is a very active helpxchange host. While I was there, I met and worked with 6 other helpers, though not all at the same time.

Little Ann – a really awesome and mature 19 year old American from one of the Carolinas. She left a few days after I got there. She had already been in Lanjaron for a month. Before that, she had been working at a farm type place in Portugal for Three months. She left Anne's to go work at a an even catering place in England.

Bill – First time I met Bill, he had on a big leather cowboy hat and an I Heart Austin TX t-shirt (yes. He's from Austin). To complete the picture, he's growing out a mustache that would make Colonial Mustard proud. He's a young chef, about a year out of Chef Academy. He loooves food and could go on about the topic with a passion. Before becoming a Chef, he had served about 4 years as an enlisted Army man (one of those years was in Iraq, a war which he doesn't support). He was a passionate speaker about a lot of things actually, and an interesting guy to listen too. He was there for about a week and a half of my time there.

Fionna – Fionna is an adorable 20 year old red head from Northern England. She's currently studying at a university in Newcastle to be a nutritionist. This was her second time working at Anne's. We spent a lot of our off time together. I don't think I've ever met such an English girl before. She had an accent that reminded me of Gavroche from Les Miserables, and would say the cutest old fashioned English things such as, “It's black over Bill's Mum's house” meaning it's cloudy, and “My feet feel as fresh as daisies,” to express that her feet weren't sore from a hike we were doing, despite it being nearly all downhill, and she was wearing nothing more than a pair of weak sandles (their strap broke about halfway down the hill too). She was at Anne's for two weeks while I was there.

Marija – Marija is from Croatia! She arrived three days before I left Ann's, so we had only started getting to know eachother. But she is awesome, really nice, and had just finished working in hostels in both Malaga and in Granada. She had some really great travel suggestions, and we'd both laugh over our mutual situation of not really being sure where we were going to go next. She can't make any decisions until she finds out if she gets into this program back in Croatia, and I can't make any decisions until an Au Pair family decides if they want me to work for them or not. I hope she gets the program, and i'm sad we didn't have too much time together.

Mark – Mark lived in Canada until he was 13, and then his family moved to London for the rest of his upbringing. Consequently, I would make fun of him for being a cultural chameleon. He'd be with me and Bill and understand every American reference we were making, leaving Fionna confused. Then he and Fionna would start talking English pop references or politics or whatever, and I would be the one who was clueless. Mark is 23. He just graduated from University with a degree in Music (he is a Killer guitar player). He was living in London not really sure what to do with himself and feeling kind of lost until he recently inherited some money. He's decided to use the money to go traveling and figure out a bit more about what he wants, what life is all about. We had a lot of good conversations. He was the only other helpxchanger who was there the entire time that I was.

A guy from Denmark arrived the day before I left. He was 18, had just dropped out of High school, and had been traveling for three months. His last helpxchange (close to Barcelona) had been so organic and sustainable that they were asked not to use shampoo. I didn't get to know him hardly at all, but he would say things that made me think we may not have gotten on too well.

Anne's place was pleasant, and the best part about it was it's location. It was an hour or two away from really interesting places, and surrounded by hikingtrails. One of these hiking trails was straight downhil and led to Lanjaron, a small little white town that Andulucia is famous for. It took about 15 minutes to hike down to the town, and about 25 minutes to hike back because it was all uphill. All too often we'd hike up this hill at 1 or 2 in the morning after spending a merry night in town. Allthe hikes were hilly around there! Even Anne's property was a variety of flat areas connected by steep hills. All those hill made me feel a bit like like a mountain goat. Buns of steal!

In addition to Lanjaron, and the hikes around Casa del Viento, her house was also about an hour from Granada, so I spent a fun weekend there with some friends who had come down from Madrid. I managed to sneak into their hostel and sleep in their room for free... but that's another story =)

Me and my fellow helpers hiked or took the bus to the nearby white town with a hippy reputation called Orgiva.

I also went to the Andalucian costal town Nerja, a place I'd always wanted to see with pretty beaches where the sand was full of polished marble stones.

Probably my favorite excursion though was to Los Pueblos Blancos (the three white villages)– these three white villages are high in the mountains, with beautiful views of the mountains, and the snow. The hikes around there are amazing, you can hike to the river that runs along side the villages, and and you can hike from town to town to town. It feels like a place that has been only slightly altered over the years. The villages cater to tourists, and that's how it's changed, but other than that. Hardly at all. I asked this old man for directions there on how to get to the other town. He gave them to me, and then said to me astonished “thousands of people walk that way every day! Thousands!” The conversation (in spanish) made me think how that man must have lived in that village his entire life, from when they were quite and sleepy, to now when thousands of tourists do visit them.

I LOVE the South of Spain. I don't think i'd go back to Casa del Viento. I experienced what I wanted to experience there and in Lanjaron, but the South of Spain would be a great place to get to live again for a while.

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