A year of travels – 14 countries

A year of travels

A year ago today I boarded a plane in London for Madrid, and began a journey that has taken me through fourteen countries in 12 months, culminating back in Spain where I am now. Along the way I have had some amazing high points, and also without doubt some of the most challenging times of my life. The countries I have travelled through are, in this order:

SpainGuatemalaHondurasNicaraguaCosta RicaPanamaColombiaVenezuelaBrazilEcuadorPeruBoliviaChileArgentinaSpain

12 months later I am speaking Spanish fairly well (albeit with multi-country accents & vocabulary), I’ve finally learnt some yoga, and I’m in the process of setting up an online English teaching business with an old friend here in Barcelona. You’ll be hearing more about this sooner rather than later as it should be ‘going live’ within the next couple of weeks.

Finally, I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the people I have met along the way. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you. Special thank-yous to: All at the Cooperative School in San Pedro, Sushi, Francisco, my mother, Paul, Serena, Jameson & Laney, Pete & Heidi, Svayam, Carlos & the Reina Madre crew in Buenos Aires, Rachel, Ben & Marina, Rory/James & Marcela in Spain, and Ana-Maria.

Click here to see some of my trip photo colllections on Flickr.

Vejer de La Frontera & beaches, Spain

Firstly, some shameless Vejer plugs:

Having spent a couple of months travelling regularly on the Ave train between Madrid and Barcelona, I headed back down to Vejer de La Frontera in Andalucia to meet up with my mother and sister for a couple of weeks of catching up & ‘recuperation’. Arriving in early September, the weather was glorious – Vejer de la Frontera, like all of Andalucia, can become far to hot for comfort in July and August – and we spent our time on the beaches of El Palmar, Los Caños de Meca, Bolonia and Valdevaqueros, and made a couple of day trips to Seville, Cadiz & Grazalema National Park.

The photo below shows Vejer De La Frontera from the air – The town of Vejer de la Frontera occupies a hill overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar (with views all the way to Morocco on a clear day) and is surrounded by orchards and orange groves. It contains several ancient churches and convents, and the architecture of many of its houses harks back to the period of Moorish rule, which lasted from 711 until the town was captured by Saint Ferdinand of Castile in 1248.

Vejer De La Frontera, Spain: Aerial photo

Recently referred to as Vejer de las Fashionistas in the press, due to the increasing numbers of celebrities (like Jude Law) spotted lurking within it’s walls, the beaches near Vejer are some of the least spoilt and most beautiful in Spain. Lying on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light), a section of the Andalucian coast facing the Atlantic, and with building restrictions brought in to combat the kind of development seen on the Costa Del Sol, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Valdevaqueros, Tarifa, Spain

For those of you partial to your kitesurfing and windsurfing, Tarifa & Valdevaqueros lie only 35-40 KM to the South East. This is the busiest kitesurfing & windsurfing destination in the world. Luckily the huge beaches can cope with the hundreds of kites that descend on Tarifa – on busy Summer days there can be up to a thousand kites simultaneously flying. The downside for sunbathers is that on days that the Levante wind blows, sunbathing becomes a serious exercise in exfoliation. (Watch my video on Windsurfers on Valdevaqueros beach)

Map showing Vejer de la Frontera


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Tourist board video of Vejer de la Frontera

Seville, Spain

Finally I made it to down to Seville! More than 2,000 years old, Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain and the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. Two of the most important historical sites in Seville are the Cathedral of Seville (pictured in the background below) and the Alcázar of Seville (the old Moorish/Arabic palace).

Seville Cathedral, Spain

The Cathedral of Seville was built between 1401"1519 on the former site of the city’s mosque. It is amongst the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals. The Cathedral reused some columns and elements from the mosque, and, most famously, the Giralda, originally a minaret, was converted into a bell tower. You can just make this out in the photo – it’s the tower to the right of the palm tree.

The Alcázar of Seville (see photo below) is a royal palace. Originally a Moorish fort, the Alcázar (from the Arabic, al-qasr, meaning “palace”) is one of the best remaining examples of Mudéjar architecture. The Almohades were the first to build a palace, which was called Al-Muwarak, on the site of the modern day Alcázar.
Alcazar, Seville Spain

One of the main sections of the Alcazar is the Patio de las Doncellas – “The Courtyard of the Maidens.” The name refers to the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from Christian kingdoms in Iberia. The legend may have had some truth to it in the sexual abuse of Christian women by powerful Moors.

Climate-wise, Seville is one of the hottest cities in Europe, with temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in July & August and a maximum recorded temperature of 47.2 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) in 2003.

View photo slide show taken in Seville

Getting to Gibraltar from Barcelona…

So, I’m trying to find flights from Barcelona straight to Gibraltar in the South of Spain, and I realise that there’s some kind of conspiracy preventing people doing this particular trip. It would probably be similar trying to get from Buenos Aires in Argentina to the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas).

Flights from Barcelona to Gibraltar

As you can see from the image above, the cheapest flight (with Air France) is £1,350 (about US $2,200). It leaves Barcelona at 06.55, arrives in Paris at 08.50, leaves Paris at 10.00, arrives at London Heathrow at 10.15, you then have to transfer by train or bus to London Gatwick, then leave London Gatwick at 13.20 and finally you arrive in Gibraltar at 17.25.

The total trip takes about ten and a half hours (about the same as flying from London to Bangkok in Thailand) and costs about double the London-Bangkok price. You can even drive it in 11 hours according to Google.


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Cooling off in Madrid…

Arriving in Madrid in July from the Argentinian Winter was like stepping into an oven. I wondered how I would survive the raging temperatures, permanently hovering somewhere around 38-40 degrees Celsius. Even the Spaniards all get out of Madrid in July and August, heading to various locations in the mountains and along the coast.

Then I found this pool:

Swimming Pool, Madrid

Known as Centro Natacion M 86 the centre was especially built for Madrid’s World Swimming Championships in 1986. It offers some of the best facilities available in Europe, including seven swimming-pools in total (three indoor and four open-air).

I think the pool in the photo is probably the best swimming pool I have ever been to in terms of swimming lengths, and I end up there most mornings as a start to my working day… In fact, I’m heading there in about half an hour 🙂

Map


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Spanish Conversation Practice – ‘Intercambios’

Spanish Conversation PracticeHaving studied Spanish grammar in Guatemala and Ecuador until I was blue in the face, my Spanish language learning leveled out for a while simply because I couldn’t face opening up another grammar book.

Then I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and decided to try out the famous Intercambio concept. Put simply, an Intercambio is a language exchange between two people. You meet up, spend half the time talking in your native language and half the time in theirs. This usually takes the form of meeting for a coffee and chatting for an hour in English and an hour in Spanish, although some Intercambios I have done have lasted 5 hours or more…!

I have been using a website called Conversation Exchange to organise Intercambios in Buenos Aires, Madrid & Barcelona. You need to register and add a brief profile (no photos allowed incidentally), then you can either contact people or wait until people contact you.

Intercambios also have a bit of a reputation as a means of meeting potential partners. Out of 15 people that contacted me in Buenos Aires from the Conversation Exchange website 14 were women between the ages of 28 and 33. My Colombian friend suggested to me that they were all after European visas. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that more women are learning English?

Whatever the underlying motivations, intercambios are a great way to practice your Spanish, get out and meet local people, and make new friends.