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:
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.
Having 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.
San Telmo is the oldest barrio (neighbourhood) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cafes, tango parlors and antique shops line up the cobblestone streets, which are filled with artists and dancers. Sundays is the day of the main San Telmo market, and this video is a collection of four short clips I filmed during the Sunday market.
Colonia del Sacremento is a beautiful small colonial town only a two and a half hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires. It has everything a place needs to be a tourist Mecca – a beach, cobbled streets, intriguing history and a location overlooking the Rio de la Plata.
The city has some good guesthouses, restaurants, bars and expensive supermarkets.
The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 to smuggle goods across the Rio de la Plata into Buenos Aires. The Spanish captured it in 1762 and held it until 1777, when tax reforms finally permitted foreign goods to proceed directly to Buenos Aires.
San Carlos de Bariloche is the Argentine Lake District’s largest city and popular with both Argentinian and foreign tourist summer and winter.
It is located on the shore of the beautiful lake Lago Nahuel Huapi (the picture above) and surrounded by mountains. The city offers many shops (specially chocolate shops), hotels and restaurants. But the real attraction is outside the city: Park Nacional Nahuel Huapi. The park offers splendid hiking, rafting and skiing.
It’s a fun place to visit, but be prepared that its rather expensive (for Argentina).
Paragliding has been a life-long dream for me. Flying free in the sky was something I really wanted to try. I don’t think I will ever work up the courage to jump from an air plane (except maybe the week before I get married – one fear conquering the other :-))
But paragliding is totally different from jumping out from an air plane. A para-glider is a free-flying, foot-launched aircraft. The instructor/pilot and his passenger (for a tandem) sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing, whose shape is formed by its suspension lines and the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing.
I found a place in Mendoza offering tandem paragliding for about 50 $ which I think is very cheap and I decided that I definitely wanted to do it. We drove outside Mendoza to the mountains and waited for the wind to pick up.
We used a mix between a forward launch and a ‘reverse launch’. We were standing forward facing the wind and let the wind bring the parachute into the air after which we just took a few steps over the edge and we were flying.
Paragliding is often seen as a higher-risk sport more than it actually is. Nonetheless, there is great potential for injury for the reckless or ill-prepared.
The safety of the sport is directly influenced by the skill and sense of the pilot. It’s important to note that almost all paragliding accidents are the result of pilot error. Paragliding equipment is very well built and, if properly cared for, will almost never fail. General safety precautions include pre-flight checks, helmets, harnesses with back protection (foam or air-bag), reserve parachutes, and careful pre-launch observation of other pilots in the air to evaluate conditions.
I had worried a bit about the safety before doing the jump – not because I was afraid of falling down, but because I had pain in my back and was thinking the landing might make it worse. There was no reason to worry. The landing was very soft. We ran forward for a little while in order for the parachute not to fall down in our head.
I thought it was an absolutely amazing experience and highly recommendable.
For more information about paragliding – go to: http://www.answers.com/topic/paragliding