And we’re back! A little over a year ago I published my last blog post from Argentina and returned from Cuba (and promptly forgot to post my Cuban blogs, forgive me). I spent the past year enjoying my final year of university, solidifying friendships, setting off fire alarms, and learning a thing or two. Unable to stay in the States for too long, I have returned abroad, this time to live in the boonies of Spain! The Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports in Spain sponsors a program called “Auxiliaries de conversación” which brings native speakers of English or French to Spain to teach in the public school system. They provide a monthly stipend for the assistant teachers to live on and we find our own housing and learn how to live like Spaniards.
Having traveled plenty on my own, I’ve learned that I prefer company when I travel. I mentioned the program to my friend Austin from Argentina and we both decided the best way to celebrate graduation and put off starting real jobs was to spend eight months as assistant teachers in Spain. The timeline to apply begins in January, applications close in April, and around May or June they begin going through applications and assigning positions. Because they are assigned first come, first served, later applications will hear back closer to July or August (at which point they need to rush to get their visa applications in). The assistants begin working on October 1, so Austin and I arrived about a week earlier to give ourselves time to adjust. The trip began with a two-hour delay on our flight which turned into a canceled flight, which led to an overnight stay in Boston. We tried again the next evening, made it through customs in Lisbon ten minutes too late to catch our bus and had to spend the day in Lisbon. Because our new arrival date into Lisbon was on a Saturday, there were only two busses a day going to Trujillo, so we wandered around Lisbon for a few hours until the 8pm bus left.
And by wandered around Lisbon, I mean we went to a park and knocked out for the afternoon before meandering through the park a back to the airport to catch our bus. The meandering part of the trip brought us to a cool monument in Lisbon with a great view of the city.
When we finally made it onto the bus and rolled out of Lisbon, it was 8pm and the bus had no wifi. We had been talking with our contacts in Trujillo who were going to meet us at the bus station, which we were rather against since we would arrive at 2:30 in the morning. When we finally rolled up to Trujillo we were so relieved we were finally there and we watched the castle from the freeway with excitement. And then we watched the castle start to fade into the distance behind us, our excitement turning to worry. Austin went up to talk to the driver, who didn’t know we needed to stop in Trujillo, and he turned around and brought us back. Our contacts had sent a taxi to meet us (one of the three taxis in the town) and we gratefully accepted the ride to our hostel where we promptly found out that there was no wifi. We collapsed into our beds and passed out, deciding to deal with everything the next morning.
Our first day in Trujillo was on a Sunday, we woke up incredibly disoriented at 2:30 in the afternoon and immediately hit the streets in a quest to find wifi. Our contacts had warned us that the whole town shut down after the siesta on Saturday so we were unsurprised to find most of the city was closed. As we headed up the narrow alleyways we joked that it would be funny if this was where we ended up finding an apartment.
Luckily, the whole tourist area was still open (or at least, it reopened after the siesta) so we were able to visit the main plaza, the castle and see some churches. This is a huge bronze statue of Francisco de Pizarro in the Plaza Mayor, behind it is the San Martin Church, which was built in the 14th century. Every hour and half hour the bells at the top start ringing and can be heard through most of the city. To the back right is a palace of someone very important, but because there are about four of those in the square I don’t remember whose house it is. The statue of Francisco de Pizarro didn’t come to the plaza until the early 1900s, 1927ish when it was donated by a New York sculptor who fell in love with this little town and decided that was how he was going to spend the last few years of his life. He died before he was able to get the statue cast in bronze so his wife took the mold to France, finished the statue, and had it shipped here to Trujillo where it hangs out in the plaza as a meet-up spot.
Unable to resist the temptation of the castle any longer, we finished our climb up the hill and were rewarded with this view of Trujillo. The far left tower is the Church of San Martin again, and the concrete in the center is the Plaza Mayor.
We were there during siesta so we couldn’t go into the courtyard of the castle, but here’s a picture of me at the base of one of the towers for scale.
Trujillo lauds itself as “One of the Most Beautiful Towns in Spain,” the locals have adjusted the signage to proclaim that it has the most beautiful women in Spain.
As soon as the siesta was over, we headed back to the castle. The inner courtyard has this tree growing in the corner of it, rather randomly, offering some shade to the tourists. I’m ninety percent sure it’s a fig tree so this photo is a shout out to all my Hamiltonians out there 😎 (minus the vine).
The castle, which is more of a fortress, was built first by the arabs in the ninth or tenth centuries and then built over by the Spanish in the 13th century. It was primarily used defensively, so it’s built on the top of the highest hill in the area giving us an amazing view. The inside has a small mosque/church of some sort that’s under construction so we have yet to visit it, a water cistern (presumably built by the arabs), and some barracks. Otherwise it’s just ramparts upon ramparts; perfect for someone like me to go running around and playing “the floor is lava.” Down in the courtyard they have stones from the original walls on display, some have carvings of people in them, others have writing in arabic, latin or (presumably) olde spanish.
We finally met up with our contacts that evening. They have helped us set up our lives here in Trujillo and Austin and I have adopted them as our host family of sorts. They connected us to a realtor to help us find our apartment, set up appointments for us in Caceres to get our permanent resident cards, showed us where the local telephone company was to get our wifi set up etc. etc. Our adopted host mom is from the United States and has been incredibly helpful in knowing what we’ll find confusing and laughing with us over the cultural differences. Our adopted host dad is a native Trujillano (they met five years ago and our host mom stayed and got married to him and they have two adorable kids; it’s a pretty common story here in Trujillo). He has helped us get connected to the town, showed us around, introduced us to people and taught us some new spanish vocabulary. Both speak english and spanish pretty fluently so when we all hang out the conversation tends to switch languages pretty frequently depending on who’s tired and wants to speak in their native language, or whether the story we’re telling happened in english or spanish.
Between getting our lives set up here, we decided to take a city tour to see some of the sites and practice our spanish. Unfortunately, the churches are pretty echoey, so while we understood most of what our guide was telling us outside, we were unsure what he said inside the churches. Nonetheless the gallery below shows a few photos from the church of Santa Maria la Mayor. All the old churches here have windy/small passageways and staircases that lead to the tops of towers. Not good for anyone with claustrophobia, but excellent for making you feel like you’re living a few centuries in the past. The churches here also have a habit of allowing you to go upstairs where the organ usually sits to look down over the congregation, the photo with the bronze cross in the center was taken from there. The doloroso Jesus is a statue from the 14th century and they have an identical statue in Caceres. They still carry it through the city in processions during the Holy Week. And finally, the statue of “Nuestra Señora de la Victoria” is a statue of the patron saint of Trujillo, I included her in this gallery since she’s everywhere in Trujillo.
Our tour took us back to the castle eventually, but at this point we were so exhausted we didn’t learn much, other than what I’ve already told you. Austin and I had been to the castle a few times at this point so we strolled around the ramparts and took a few pictures I hadn’t gotten around to yet. As you can see, this staircase has nothing to stop me from falling off of it. The castle really lets you live life on the edge.
Our tour ended here, near Francisco de Pizarro’s house at this plaza. These holes sticking up out of the ground lead to a ninth century Arab cistern that was used to hold rain water, allowing people to survive the hot summers in this desert. We walked around to the bottom of the cistern and were able to walk inside…
The whole place was pretty spooky, definitely sets the mood for October. The water was about three meters deep and definitely didn’t look safe to drink — especially after we saw some newts swimming around in it. On the other hand, it made for a cool picture!
The orientation for language assistants took place in Caceres, the capital city of the Extremadura region, which is only forty-five minutes away from Austin and I, so we headed over there early in the morning in order to sort out some of our paperwork and found ourselves with time left over. As we do, we wandered up towards the castle. Along the way we found this church, I think it’s the Church of San Francisco, so I had to take a picture.
We continued walking, noting the areas that were being used (or will be used soon) to film a tv show (which we suspect is Game of Thrones) and found another church with a tower. We headed inside and picked up an audio tour in english and climbed the highest tower. Here you can see the old city of Caceres, lots of old, stone buildings, in the distance I think you can see the wall of the fortress on the right. The Church of San Francisco from the previous picture is on the left with the two parallel pinkish towers.
And just in case you get the feeling that there are no modern buildings here, I’ve added in a picture that also shows downtown Caceres…
There are lots of ancient texts inside this church, this old hymn book was from (I think) the 17th century, but it’s possible it was older. They had a whole room of old books that I thought weren’t properly sealed off from the air, but I’m not a professional librarian so don’t take my word for it…
This is the twin doloroso Jesus to the one we have in Trujillo, it’s also from the 14th century.
This glorious organ is from the 18th century, which means it’s not that old compared to other buildings and historic pieces scattered throughout the city, but it’s still older than the United States. And it’s rather glorious.
Back in Trujillo we sorted out our wifi, opened up bank accounts and patted ourselves on the back for managing to completely settle into Trujillo entirely in Spanish (we gave ourselves an extra pat on the back for each contract we had to read over in Spanish because that was an added difficulty). After meeting with our adopted host family on Saturday morning, I took a siesta in the afternoon and we hit the streets when everything reopened. Our plan had been to go out, get an ice cream cone and sit in the plaza and enjoy the early evening. But, as always, Austin and I were side tracked. As we walked past the public library I saw a sign for a planetarium, and I couldn’t help but go investigate. Austin and I had loved the planetarium in Buenos Aires, and I’m always a fan ofstars, so I couldn’t pass it up. It turned out the EU was sponsoring the planetarium so they did free shows every fifteen minutes or so on a variety of topics in this giant, blow up planetarium. We had a couple of minutes until the next show so the guy running it told us to enjoy the Suit Museum in the other room as it was free today and he would come get us when it was showtime. We wandered over and the woman sitting outside the store told us that today they were celebrating that Trujillo was one of the most beautiful pueblos in Spain so all of the public tourist destinations were free. She gave us stickers that would get us entry into any of them and then we walked into the suit museum to enjoy all of the nineteenth and twentieth century dresses. Most of them just looked hot and uncomfortable. This dress was from 1800 and was worn by Petra Sanchez, I have yet to google who she was.
Inside the planetarium we got to lie back on an inflatable couch and enjoy the stars as they showed us a few of the most popular constellations — the big dipper in Spain is not a cup, but a cart, and I had always thought Orion had a bow and arrow but he had a shield and club here. We then watched a video on black holes but understood almost none of it because the dub wasn’t clear enough (and we were tired, and comfortable, and trying to stay awake) before heading up to the plaza. We didn’t have much time left to take advantage of the free tourist things but we decided to go into the Church of San Martin, as we hadn’t done that yet.
When we got to the plaza, we saw this show happening and were so confused that we joined the crowd to watch the end of it, trying to understand why a pink tank with clowns in it was driving around the plaza while the blue clown and all the children ran away from it or protested it.
In the end, the children and the blue clown pulled out the darts that were in the general clowns heart, greeted him with love and everyone made peace with one another. The crowd was invited to sing along with the clowns to a simple song that repeated “La tierra, sin frontera” (the world/earth without borders). The blue clown also gave a speech saying that we build many walls around ourselves, between nations, around our hearts, and that they can be physical walls, emotional walls, etc. but that only love can breach through those walls and bring everyone together. What started out as a very strange kids show, ended on a very touching note.
Still a little confused as to what we had just witnessed, we headed into the church and found another epic organ, again from the 18th century. I particularly liked the faces around the slots in the pipes.
This church also had what Austin and I think were catacombs down below. Certainly the cutouts in the stone look suspiciously like bodies…
We did finally make our way up to the castle, with ice cream cones, to enjoy the sunset. It has almost become a daily ritual. Around 7:30, we head up to the castle, sit on the wall and watch the sunset over distant hills. From that vantage point we can see down to the fields on the other side of the castle and enjoy the sounds of the sheep returning to their pen and roosters crowing, it’s incredibly peaceful.
School starts next week, so I’ll have plenty of interesting school stories for you all soon. This week I dropped by my schools, both of which claim to be bilingual schools, to meet my teachers, the majority of whom don’t speak very much english. Despite the fact that we’re supposed to only speak with them in english, they are shy about their english skills and I’ve spent the majority of my time here conversing in Spanish. Most Trujillanos don’t speak English at all, so Austin and I have enjoyed practicing our Spanish. The only people we speak to in English are our host family, one other American we know in Trujillo and each other.
The title of this post, Deja Que Comience la Magia, is the slogan for Trujillo and translates to “Let the Magic Begin.” I thought I’d left behind all of the magic in Southern California at Disneyland, guess not! Wandering around the castle and the old streets of Trujillo certainly feels magical, and though they don’t deny the brutal parts of their past as much as the United States does, they perhaps aren’t as honest about the effect that their beloved conquistadors had on South America.
Getting around Trujillo with all of its winding streets is easier than we expected due to the castle at the top of the hill. The way our host family told us to orient ourselves was, if you’re going up, you’re going toward the castle, if you’re going down, you’re going away from the castle. As soon as the groud levels out, you hit the main road in and out of town and from there the layout is easier to navigate and Austin and I have started memorizing the streets and locations of things. When wandering around the old city we have a couple routes memorized, but, in general, we just wander in the general direction and find new sites everytime we go out. Nonetheless, we’re never lost because we know if we go up we’ll hit the castle and if we go down we’ll either hit Plaza Mayor or the main road which is right near our apartment (which did end up being on the street we joked about). Trujillo certainly gives a new meaning to Uptown and Downtown. 😉