Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long time, no post and Semana Santa update

To the many thousands of you who follow my blog I have been derelict in my duty of keeping you up to date on my life in Spain. It was just last week that I got a new camera to replace my old one that met its end in Morocco. Alas, it had been months since I had taken pictures with my own camera and as a result had not added new ones here.

For Semana Santa (Holy Week) I am grabbing my bike and heading up north. Starting in Pamplona, I hope to take a quick jaunt west and dip into the French Pyrenees before crossing back into Spain. Working my way west, I'll be hostel jumping as I go. I'll take in some of the coastal cities before heading south to Picos de Europa National Park. It has a few good hiking routes. After a night or two there I plan to head south to Leon or west to Oviedo to catch a bus back here. Depending on my schedule I probably will get back to Andujar in time to see some of the lovely processions whose participants have practiced on the local street for months.

You can checkout my my rough itinerary on this Google map.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The rain in Spain....is over for now

In Andalucía, as in most places, weather is a common conversation topic. Whether in the colegio (elementary school), frutería (produce shop) or cafes the chatter is often weather related. It had been mostly negative "it's so cold" or "it's so rainy".

In fact, here in Jaén and much of Andalucía this winter has been marked by higher than normal precipitation and, depending on who you talk to, colder than normal temperatures. According to sources at my colegio and local produce shop there were only a few truly rainy days in January, February and March. This past Wednesday we celebrated the reappearance of a bright, radiating sphere to the Andalucían sky. It had peeked out only occasionally during breaks from the two week long rains. Now, the local talk is more positive except when referring to the hot summer months to come.

Aside from affecting the local chit chat this weather has major impacts on the lives of Andalucíans. With the temperatures of summer come a drop in precipitation. In this predominately agricultural area water plays an essential role in the economy. Full reservoirs help ensure the success of vegetable,cotton and other dry crops. On the other hand, when this clay-rich soil becomes wet, it is difficult to get around in the field. The olive harvest begins in early December and usually continues until all the olives are collected, typically sometime in January or February. This year it's a different story. The main concern is not that the fruit will spoil in the field but rather that it is an inconvenience to the thousands of people in the province who are involved in the harvest. A fair portion of the olive pickers come from Morocco, Algeria and Senegal. Many of them just have to wait until the soil drys enough for machinery to move around again.

The weather now feels distinctly spring-like. Days are noticeably longer and the air has a fresh touch. It is perfect weather for biking in just a t-shirt and shorts. I enjoy this change, but at the same time I feel somewhat cheated out of winter. There was no snow, no sledding, no skiing. In Minnesota I appreciate the distinct seasons and the change that each one brings. I'm afraid my internal calendar will be off. Perhaps I will get a small taste of snow when I go to Munich at the end of the month. As we move more into the warmer months I hope to take get out biking more and possibly go kitesurfing after the water warms up a bit. By the time I get back in early June I will be ready for the lovely weather there, come rain or shine or, yes, even snow.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spice shop in Marrakech.
Checkout more of my photos at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/album.php?aid=204722&id=578155077

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Christmas Vacation in Morocco

Several days ago I got back from my Christmas trip to Marrakech, Morocco. I volunteered for two weeks at an orphanage through the coordinating organization "International Workcamps Morocco". Fifteen to twenty children ages 5 to 17 call "Al Karam" orphanage home while more than half that number participate in day activities at the center. The kids come from a variety of backgrounds and will be there a month or two to years depending on their situation. While there I lived and worked with two other short-term volunteers - a guy from South Korea, Howard, and girl from Hong Kong, Crystal - who are now studying in the England. In addition, there were long-term volunteers from Germany and France.

As a former French protectorate French is the unofficial business language of Morocco and is spoken widely. Some of the kids spoke French and all spoke Moroccan Arabic, but, unfortunately, only Crystal spoke a bit of French. Language was definitely a barrier especially when trying to teach or give instructions. We communicated with Moroccan staff in a mix of bad French and bad English, while the German served as our on-call interpreter. We often found it much easier to communicate with the children - often through actions - than the adults. They are much more animated, forgiving and less afraid of being wrong than us old people.
Plus, who needs to speak to play a game of soccer? Our activities there centered mainly around games, drawing and frequent trips to the nearby soccer field and sports complex. The kids had so much energy!

Aside from our volunteer time we got to know Marrakech by walking around and getting lost in the city's medina or old city center. As the tourism capital of Morocco there were plenty of souvenir shops selling ceramics, metalwork and woven goods. Most of these shops are concentrated in the medina. It's a confusing, lively maze filled with buzzing scooters and shopkeepers eager to lure you into their stores.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An interesting website for making word lists

"Wordle" allows users to create word lists - for teaching, for fun of for other purposes - based on word frequency. Input the text manually or enter a url of a webpage that you want to have searched. It generates a customizable, visually appealing list with the most common words in the largest text. You can also customize language, layout, font and color before printing or saving it to their online gallery.


Friday, December 12, 2008


The other day I tried my hand at making this classic dish from Córdoba. Although some establishments serve it where I am one hour away from there, it is more typical of that region west of here. This fresh tomato dish is the perfect accompaniment to a good loaf of French bread.

2 lbs fresh tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
3 slices of bread (old and dry is fine)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
red wine vinegar (opt)

Blend using in food processor, blender or hand blender until mixture reaches an even consistency similar to a thick soup. Serve in a bowl topped with diced hard boiled egg diced bacon. Slice up a loaf of French bread and enjoy the dip.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Lonely Planet Andalucia

I found a link to Lonely Planet's Andalucia guidebook online. Plan your next trip to visit me using this Google book.