On Monday, I started an intercambio with a Salamantino named Carlos. An intercambio is a language exchange in which you meet up and talk for half the time in English and the other half in Spanish. Since coming here, my speaking abilities haven't improved as much as I was hoping, due to the fact that my program is all Americans, and they all want to speak English all of the time. So, the first day of the intercambio kicked my butt! We spoke for about an hour and a half in Spanish and then another hour and a half in English. It was great, but after going for an hour and a half straight, I was exhausted. I know that an hour and a half doesn't seem that long, but when I've only been speaking for 15-25 minutes in Spanish, it was tough. We've met again several more times this week and it's been great. Each time we meet, it becomes easier and easier to speak and easier to understand him (he talks SO fast). On Wednesday, Carlos and his brother Pablo took me, the guy Pablo does intercambio with and a few other people out to their family's land in a pueblo called Ledesma, which is about 30 minutes outside of Salamanca in the country. We started by visiting the town's castle and then went out to their property (they have thousands of hecatres) to see their bulls, lambs and other livestock. Their property was gorgeous and in the middle, they have a house that was built back in the 1800s. They don't use the house anymore, but their family used to go out their during the summers and for vacations. The pueblo of Ledesma is important to their family, because their parents, and each of their aunts, uncles and grandparents met in the town of Ledesma. Very cute stories.
During our intercambio times, I've talked with Carlos about how I love visiting all of the smaller pueblos in Spain more than the bigger cities. So yesterday, Carlos invited me to go out to Alberca, a super-tiny pueblo about 80km outside of Salamanca. It was incredible. Alberca is situated in the mountains, and has beautiful views. It also has a completely different style than any other in Castilla y Leon (this region of Spain). The houses all had wood supports, as opposed to the bricks and older stones used in other towns and cities. We had a blast just walked around the town, then drove down the mountains to the valley. The valley was definitely "la naturaleza pura". Although there is a bit of tourism in Alberca, there was hardly none in the valley. It was gorgeous. We went hiking around the valley and up the side mountain. We ended up going out to these prehistoric drawings. They were pretty worn, but after staring at them for about 20 minutes we were able to find most of them! After we hiked back to the car, we drove over to "La Pena de Francia", which was the tip of one of the other mountains. On the top of the mountain there was another monastery, which is actually a stop on the Camino de Santiago de Compastela.
The whole thing was such a great experience. Not only did we talk in Spanish the majority of the time, but the countryside of Spain is beautiful. I had no idea that there were such beautiful mountains and scenery that close to Salamanca.
Then, last night, I ran in the Carrera Popular Nocturna, a 5k put on by Salamanca A Tope. It was crazy. There were more than 700 participants. Who knew that there were so many intense runners in Salamanca? The race went all through the city, and I got to see a lot of things I hadn't seen in the city before. As all things Spanish, the race was supposed to start at 10, but didn't end up starting until 10:40 or so. So, after the race (I did 26:35), and the post-festivities and all, it was super late when I made it home and was exhausted. Needless to say I slept like a rock. It was lovely :)
Sadly, I only have 12 days left here. It feels like this trip has gone by SO fast. I really do wish that I could stay longer. Being in Salamanca is completely different this time than when I was here back in 2009, but I feel like I've integrated a little bit more into the city and am actually "living" here (if that makes any sense at all). Before coming, I was incredibly nervous to be here alone, not knowing anyone, but these past few weeks has really shown me how independent I am, and that I am more than capable of living abroad. We'll just have to see what happens after graduation...
Street in Alberca
Sweet garage in Alberca.
Lovely! A view coming down the mountain.
View from the top of Pena de Francia
It was incredible.