The smell of fresh tamales mingled with whiffs of sweet atole and my stomach grumbled. Throngs of people of all ages were crammed into the dark plaza with lighted brujas (lamps) as the only source of light. Someone came onto the stage: a roadie setting up a mike. An excited murmur moved the crowd.
The first time I went to a Spanish speaking country I figured that needing to know the language was over-rated. I jumped on a plane bound for Spain with an exaggerated sense of confidence, and a tiny phrase book that I assumed would cover everything I needed. After landing in Madrid, I found my way to the train that would take me to my destination: the beautiful city of Seville in Andalusia.
“Meet me at the sunset!” My friend called to me over his shoulder as he peddled his ancient bicycle past me on the little dirt road. Sounding more like the last line of a classic film than a concrete plan to meet up, I smiled at how poetic my life felt since moving to the tiny Mexican town of Sayulita. Even the name is beautiful.
When I started learning Spanish in Spain some years ago, I never envisioned how helpful it would become. Mostly, I just wanted to know how to order food, talk to people a bit and avoid embarrassing myself as much as possible. The more I learned, however, the more I discovered how much of a key that speaking the language is. Spanish has opened many doors for me—in Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba and Mexico.
My profession has taken me all across the world, experiencing unique journeys…attending world famous events…and meeting fascinating people. And I got paid to do it. I have rung in the New Year at Hogmanay in Edinburgh, danced up a storm at Seville’s April Fair, and was awed by the beauty of Buddha’s birthday celebrations in South Korea. I have ridden camels through the Sahara desert, liberated baby sea turtles in Mexico and swam with sharks in Belize.
Go for Tapas. One of the many delights of living in Spain is the food. The Spanish are known worldwide for their tapas (small appetizer style dishes) and with good reason.
The early morning sky is cluttered with color. The large crowd that woke up as early as 5.00 a.m. to be here oohs and aahs in unison as yet another balloon inflates and calmly lifts off the ground. There must be nearly 30 of them up in the skies of north-central Mexico by now and many more to take off.
I would have to get used to this type of thing. I was smack dab in the middle of “Ape’s Den” on the famed Rock of Gibraltar—and I was surrounded by dozens of free-roaming monkeys. The macaca sylvanus, or Barbary ape as it’s more commonly known, is a species of tail-less monkey known as a macaque.
The scent of orange blossoms permeates the air. Faint traces of flamenco guitar can be heard from all corners of the city and beautiful women walk past in their “faralaes” (traditional flamenco-style dresses) that swish with every sway of their hips. Proud young men saunter after them in their “trajes cortos” (Andalusian horsemen’s outfits) complete with wide-brimmed hats and riding boots.
With a number of language schools and private teaching opportunities around every corner, Oaxaca is an exciting city to be in for someone in my profession. English teachers are spoiled for choice here. Many locals are eager to learn English and I’ve often been approached in the street with teaching requests. My dentist even offered to trade English classes for her children in exchange for dental work!
After a somewhat bumpy and dusty drive, passing by small pueblos, burros, and sombrero-wearing farmers, we arrived at Mexico’s most unique set of “waterfalls.” Around 40 miles from the colonial city of Oaxaca, is Hierve el Agua—The Water Boils. This bizarre formation is one of only two found anywhere in the world; the other being Pamukkale in southern Turkey.