ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


¡¡¡ FERIAAA !!!

At the end of my last post, I was making ready for a weekend trip to my ex-village, Hinojosa del Duque, to celebrate her ‘feria’. Mainly I was going just to catch up with old friends, but I was also full of curiosity and excitement to see the village en su salsa, in it’s sauce, in it’s element. Having already spent one afternoon at the Feria de Cordoba, and attended a mock ‘Feria de Sevilla’ (in a two bedroom flat), I thought I had a pretty good idea what these fairs entailed.

In the end, I stayed nearly a week. And now, having been, gone, and survived (just), the true, full-length, Andalusian village feria, I’m left feeling a bit confused. Not to mention exhausted. What just happened? It was mostly a cacophony of bright lights and loud music, with little apparent structure or scheduling. I think the best definition of this kind of feria would be a cross between a funfair, a country show and a latin carnavale. To decipher the blur that is my memory, I’ve attempted to break it down and describe some of the key components.

Religious stuff – The whole shenanigan is technically for religious regions, in honour of a patron saint or virgin. There are masses and occasionally processions with effigies, although these are fading traditions. I should point out that in my last post I made a mistake (or was misinformed) about the patron. The patron of the Hinojosa feria (not the village itself) is St.Augustin. No-one can tell me what came first, the feria or the Saint. Perhaps the villagers wanted their feria at this time of year and so randomly picked a saint who’s day fell on an ideal date, or maybe they just really liked this Augustin fellow and decided to throw him a week long party for the hell of it.

Stuff with animals – Namely horses and bulls. The (very impressive) Andalusian horses strut, dance, prance and parade around (carrying equally well groomed riders in traditional costumes), as well as participating in various competitions. The bulls just fight, with people and each other, sometimes to the death. (Or so I’m told, it’s not something I agree with and I didn’t see any of the corridas).

Colourful stuff – showground attractions, ie rubber duck shooting, ferris wheels, fairy floss, giant Sponge Bob Square Pants jumping castles, smurf flavoured soft serve, dubious looking dodgems, and rollercoasters that make me grateful I don’t have children to fret over.

Cheap stuff – Temporary markets, run mostly by African clandestinos and gypsies. These sell all the usual gimmicks; imitation designer watches, mobile phone covers, Gucci underwear, cakes, lollies, turron (giant slabs of chocolate and nuts), children’s toys, and hundreds of hot pink miniature doll’s prams. The tradition in Hinojosa (and possibly elsewhere) is to enferiarse, a verb meaning ‘to buy oneself a present at the fair’. Excellent. I enferiared both myself and my host with some rather snazzy but totally unnecessary handbags… all in the name of tradition!

Churros and Kebabs – hot food vans (and plastic dining areas) pop up everywhere to make the most of the drunk and hungry hordes that stream in and out of the casetas at all hours. I’m not a huge fan of churros (I’ve given up trying… everyone says that their village’s/grandma’s/local churrería’s taste different, but to me they all taste like oil dipped in something that is supposed to taste like chocolate but doesn’t)… so I ate a lot of kebabs.

Casetas – make shift bars inside enclosures, usually run by different sororities, or as ‘sibling bars’ to other fixed venues in the village. I think each caseta is supposed to have a theme, a particular type of music or a feature beverage. In reality, they were more or less all the same. The same pop music on repeat, several times per hour, for hours upon hours, days upon days, until you want to find this Mr Paquito Chocaletero (the mythical subject of an inanely stupid song that has a corresponding dance which makes The Nutbush seem interesting) and stab him to death with your cheap tinsel-adorned swizzle stick.

The music is at such a volume that it’s impossible to talk, creating an inescapable cycle, in which the more they raise the music, the more you raise your voice, the more hoarse you become, and so the more you must struggle to raise your voice. By the end of the feria everyone’s got laryngitis and is too tired for the charade that is required for conversation inside a caseta… but still they persevere! Glumly sipping their sugary ‘mojitos’ (if a brown slimy mint leaf in a plastic cup of rum and lemonade can be said to constitute a mojito), and bobbing awkwardly to the music (whatever happened to Spaniards all being able to dance?), and then grimacing internally as they muster the energy for what sounds like another torturous round of Paquito Chocaletero…

Okay, that’s a pretty harsh rendering of the casetas, they weren’t all that bad. It’s just the pop-music-repetitivity issue hit a nerve with me, it’s something that’s plagued me since my college days, and is seemingly much more of a widespread global problem that I initially feared.

Some of the casetas are flamenco themed and host competitions, I just never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to see the performances.

By the small hours of the morning, the music generally improved across the board, as the jukebox monkeys were replaced with real DJs and nightshift bartenders, who had a slightly more polished repertoire. It just meant waiting until 6am to hear something that made me genuinely want to lift my feet.

Pretty dresses – At ferias you see all sorts of people; teenagers in hotpants, sunburnt guiris in socks and sandals, women dressed as though they’re going to a wedding (with a different ensemble every day of the feria), well scrubbed farmers with their best shirts tucked in, and regular folk in fun/comfortable smart casual. I even had the audacity to go in flip flops and didn’t feel out of place. But the signature costume of the Andalusian feria is the traje de gitana, the gypsy dress. These are long, brightly coloured, figure hugging dresses, with a flattering V shaped neckline (very low at the back), and a whirlpool of ruffles at the bottom. They’re traditionally worn with large earrings, an impressive floral headpiece, and long tassled necklaces. Everything, from bracelets to nailpolish, must match the dress, which is usually of two to three contrasting colours. They can cost anywhere between 100 and a couple of thousand euros, and you can usually tell which end of the price spectrum the dress comes from. With all those frills and accessories, there’s a lot of room for bad taste to look it’s worst. A particularly hideous example of a poorly fitted orange dress with large brown spots comes to mind. But some of the tailor made, tastefully coloured dresses look absolutely stunning. They are utterly feminine. Perhaps it’s a sign of my changing tastes, or maybe of growing up, but I want one. I don’t have the requisite hourglass figure, I’m too short for long dresses, and the idea of putting a giant flower on my head would usually make me run for miles in the other direction (or scramble up a tree like a boy), but suddenly I’m seriously considering buying or hiring one of the silly things next time I go to a feria. Perhaps in a deep wine red colour, or a brighter red and black for my football team…

Marching Bands – Not the stiff, synchronized, stuffy kind. Just informal groups of roaming drummers and brass musicians. They steered well away from the casetas, and mostly hung around the park and pavilion where they caused the crowds to intermittently leap into enthusiastic (albeit chaotic) paso dobles. During an afternoon cooking competition, one band honoured the prize winners by hovering around their picnic area and playing songs on request.

The Portadathe gateway. A giant, fairy-light studded structure, which marks the official entrance to the feria. The one in Cordoba was absolutely magnificent, and Hinojosa’s was a rather pretty miniature. Portadas, amongst other feria expenses, are paid for by local councils. It’s rumoured that due to the financial crisis, councils are stripping rows of fairy-lights from portadas all across Spain…

Botellóna rather sad and recent development. Hundreds of teenagers have a giant piss-up, just outside the fairgrounds. I’m generally in favour of pre-drinking, it’s cost saving and it’s great to have some bevvies with your close friends before mingling with the masses, but this particular botellón has swollen to ugly proportions. Whereas the feria was originally an all-ages party, the groups are now more segregated. The teenagers do their own separate thing and then hit the casetas at around 5am, when the old people and parents of toddlers have finally gone home. As a more ‘mature’ friend of mine said, it’s a shame because the young people have always made the party, and now that their energy is gone, the older people don’t party as long. Personally I think the older generations show a lot more festivity than their offspring, who huddle in an unanimated group, swilling hard liquor in the shadows so that they can build up the fortitude to awkwardly dance to music that their grandparents bop to with comparative ease. The other shame is that all the smuggled alcohol represents lost revenue for the casetas. It’ll be interesting to see for how long the feria can continue with it’s current set-up, under Spain’s current economic conditions.

The Rules – Unlike big city ferias, where the locals drop in for an evening or just go for the main weekend, the small town ferias require 100% participation, 100% of the time, from all citizens. This is needed to populate the casetas, to justify the migration of all the markets and attractions to their humble location, and really just to keep things running and the atmosphere buzzing. The rules/routine are fairly set.

  1. Sleep in
  2. Early afternoon: drinks in casetas, order food in casetas or go to local bar for lunch, more drinks and dancing in casetas, see a show or activity (bull fight, paella competition, childrens phantomine, whatever), coffee break and chillout in bar/cafe
  3. Late afternoon: more drinks and dancing in casetas
  4. 11pm: everyone goes home to shower, change clothes, eat dinner (optional). DO NOT SIESTA. It’s too late and you’re too drunk and if you sleep you won’t wake up. Leave camera at home, but keep sunglasses in handbag for the next day.
  5. Midnight-ish: rendezvous at a regular bar for more drinks, maybe tapas. Everybody’s appetites are out of sync so it’s every man for himself where food is concerned.
  6. Late: return to casetas for more drinks and dancing
  7. Early: Sunrise. The casetas are all outdoors so it’s pretty cool watching the sky change colours but my goodness we’re all so ugly by daylight.
  8. Breakfast: kebab and then bed.
  9. Midday: wake up, shower in slow motion and get ready to do it all again.

By the end of the week, not only is everyone completely hoarse, but visibly deteriorating. Bloated from beer, hobbling from wearing heels all the time, dark rings under every eye. Conversation frequently turns to what we all want to do ‘when the feria is over and life goes back to normal’. Every second person plans to give up alcohol, every other vows to never eat another kebab again. But the feria itself is treated as a compulsory activity, to be endured until the end, and if you’re not having fun then perhaps there might be something wrong with you. Even the elderly, or people with young kids, or people still working (in Hinojosa the whole week is a public holiday, but farmers can’t just let their animals run wild due to the feria), are expected to participate. For the most part it’s heaps of fun, emigrated relatives return to the village, the population doubles, the atmosphere is of chaos and reunion and light hearted wild abandon. But sometimes it seemed a bit much. One friend of mine, a working mother with serious health issues and who was emotionally drained by a recent family tragedy, had just had her only three weeks holiday entirely chewed up by three consecutive ferias, all of which she was socially obliged to attend. Surely there’s a limit, where it’s okay to just say ‘no, I don’t feel like it today’. But people don’t. They ludicrously keep pushing through, long after they’ve stopped having fun. This isn’t a phenomenon isolated to Spanish ferias, it happens in social settings all over the world, and it makes no sense.

I couldn’t help but get a little angry when on Wednesday afternoon I mentioned being just a wee bit tired of the casetas, and that I didn’t know if I felt like sticking around to see the closing fireworks that evening. I was told to aguantar, stick it out, and tolerate a few (10 or so) more hours until the feria officially finished and we could all proudly go home with our heads held high at having made it to the end. What rubbish. I love going out, I love drinking and dancing and being silly (probably too much), but I absolutely can’t stand doing it out of social obligation, and it pains me to see everyone trying so hard to carry out the script of a feria/rollocking Saturday night/insert orchestrated social event here.

That last evening I made an escape from the casetas, to have dinner with a friend in a bar where conversation was actually possible. Needless to say, after a few beverages, another night out didn’t seem such a daunting prospect, and of course I stayed up to see the fireworks. I’m glad I did, they were spectacular, and easily on par with any displays I’ve seen in big cities. However shortly after the last crack and fizzle, I made a thankful beeline for bed. A week of partying like I was ten years younger had left me completely sin pilas, without batteries, and feeling at least ten years older than I actually am.

The morning after the fireworks ‘closing ceremony’, I take a quiet stroll to Santo Cristo, the chapel on the hill where I used to regularly walk and run when I lived in the village. It seems surreal that it was just months ago. The countryside has once again dried up to the late summer yellow it was when I first arrived.  Everything is dead and muted in the wake of the past week’s colourful madness. Back in town, the Africans and Gypsies have all disappeared, the food vans have folded inward and are making ready to leave, and the bars are closed so the waiters can finally have their holiday. The friend I’m staying with admits to feeling lost. It’s like the after-Christmas come down, all that waiting, and now suddenly it’s over. There’s a lot to be done, cleaning, shopping for regular groceries and balanced meals, petrol to be bought before the government hikes up the taxes again on Sunday. But for the moment, no one else leaves their houses, and Hinojosa is once again a ghost town.

So would I go again to a Spanish feria? Almost certainly. But forewarned is forearmed. Next time, I’ll stick to my pija, snobby, city roots, and just visit for the weekend. I’d like to go a larger feria, that of Sevilla, for example. There, I am told, they have a bigger variety of better casetas, and not all the rides are SpongeBob themed.

As for the onerous journey to and from Segovia to Hinojosa… I don’t think I’ll be making that trip frequently. As much as I’ll miss my ex-village and the people in it, I’m ecstatic to finally be moving somewhere a little more cosmopolitan. Before I leave Spain, I’ll definitely go back to visit beloved Hinojosa, but perhaps just not during the feria period.



Write here, right now. The “first” post.

This is weird.

Considering I’ve been spamming friends and family with travel reports for years, and writing a regular journal for a decade, it now feels a little odd being prompted by WordPress to get going and write an ‘opening’ post… Surely that moment has long passed! Which means my blog is already a chronologically wrangled, unsalvageable disaster…

So where am I coming from, and why am I bothering to learn all this html/CSS/widget nonsense?


Roughly this time last year, I packed up all my things, sold some bits n’ pieces, gave away the bulk of my clothes, threw out a whole lot of ‘stuff’, and left Australia on a one-way ticket to Europe. I did a brief (wonderful) scoot around France and Italy, and then made my way to a small and isolated village in the south of Spain, where I would be living and teaching English in a primary school for eight months. That was my starting point. The extended plan was to use Spain as a base to further travel Europe, and then, after magically ‘mastering’ Spanish, I would continue onwards travelling around the globe, goodness knows where, for goodness knows how long. I made no promises about my return date to the folk back home. The reasoning (impulse) behind this indefinite departure was that I wanted total ‘freedom’. Freedom from what, I’m not entirely sure. I simply felt overwhelmed by the urge to be on the road, to find some time, space, ‘inspiration’, and then think of something amazingly clever to do with those things. Sounds a bit wishy washy, and it is.

Needless to say, since leaving Australia I haven’t had any epiphanies, or even come near to being fluent in Spanish. I’ve realised I have no real desire to truly ‘break away’ from where I’ve come from, and just how lucky I am to have a place in the world that will be a pleasure to go back to, when the time comes. Meanwhile, I haven’t tired of travelling (not even close!), I am making headway with Spanish (slow and steady), and teaching English is the most gratifying work I’ve ever done. I’ve signed on for another school year (in a different part of Spain), there’s still an awful lot of Europe left to see, and after that I’ve got my sights set on a couple of other continents… so for the foreseeable, ‘day-dreamable’ future, my initial ‘plan’ hasn’t altered much at all.

As for the dismal, ever-pending onset of creativity, well my most recent excuse is that it got waylaid by an irresistible tide of Spanish hospitality. Guilty as charged. I also got sidetracked by lesson planning, taking on too many private students, fretting over Spanish verb conjugations, and running up and down a hill (to work off all the churros and chorizo). Either that or I was travelling. But somehow, I always found time write in my journal, and maintain a detailed correspondence with people at home. To be honest, waay too much time. My travel emails have grown to excessive lengths; impossible for my very busy and mostly office-bound friends to read in their tea breaks, without violating codes of responsible internet time usage. And my journal makes my emails look like haikus.

So in regards to time usage – mine clearly merits scrutiny. It’s hit me that I do a lot of writing, without doing any actual proper ‘writing’. I’ve never struggled to fill a blank page… but how and what I fill it with, is something I want to improve upon.

Which is why I’ve decided to start this blog, against all warning that it will be a very dangerous source of procrastination. I’m never going to stop telling my travel stories, because I can’t, but I can aim to make them more concise, and present them in a more attractive format. I’m also hoping that having an ‘online showcase’ will spur me on to more ambitious projects, other than only writing about myself. For those of you who are kind enough to ‘follow’ me, I’ll be adding some photos, links, articles, sketches and snippets… whatever I can find to make things interesting, and as far as possible from a narcissistic online diary (even if that’s what it is).

If I’m feeling particularly brave, I’ll publish my attempts to write in Spanish, for anyone who knows the language and feels like a laugh. Even if you’re just learning, go on and have a read… my vocabulary won’t be nearly as daunting as that of a native speaker. But keep in mind that I’ve still got my training wheels on, so if you’re looking for examples of perfect Spanish grammar, look elsewhere! And I should probably make a similar disclaimer about my English. (there it is again, the ‘and’ at the start of a sentence!)

So… that’s it really. Oh I forgot to say ‘welcome’. That’s an important part of any opening post. Well, welcome! Have a look around. If you’re curious about the name ‘ciento volando’, check out the ‘about’ page. If you’d like to read my past travels (perhaps whilst planning yours), I’ve uploaded some old emails and backdated them… hopefully this isn’t a major breach of blogging etiquette/regulation. I promise I won’t fiddle with any more dates. (But that’s no fun! Perhaps I’ll write the next entry from the future…)

I digress. Old posts/emails can be found in the archives on the right. They aren’t nearly as dusty as real archives, how ’bout that?!

It appears that at  circa 1,000 words I go all stupid. Which is why in I must endeavour to write shorter posts.

Anyway, thank you for reading this far, and I hope you’ll stick around. Please feel welcome to leave me feedback, criticism, ‘likes’, ‘dislikes’, ‘hahahas’, ‘jajajas’, or even just a nice old ‘hello’ from time to time.


1 Comment

goodbye Hinojosa

To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: goodbye Hinojosa
From: jean

So I started the last email with Spring has sprung in sunny southern Spain. What a boastful, cocky little phrase. I think I liked the alliteration and just couldn’t help myself. Needless to say, the skies have punished me and the weather has been unusually inclement for this time of year. As one of my students taught me (I really should be paying them), Cuando marzo mayea, mayo marzea. When March becomes like May (May-e-fies?), May becomes like March (March-i-fies?). Really does sound much nicer in Spanish.

Anyway it rained heavily on the majority of the Spring festivities in Andalucia. Which is super unfair, as Spain is already passing a mala racha (bad gust of wind/going through a bad time) what with the stupid abstract economy nonsense ruining people’s lives and all…the least they deserve is a bit of sun for the following fiestas and ferias (I’m still not sure what the difference is)…

continue reading…



To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: SPAIN
From: jean

Greetings from Hinojosa del Duque (the pretty fennel of The Duke?!)

I hope you’re all well!

I’ve been here for about two months now, and thought it time to send an update on my life in the middle of nowhere. Except that it no longer feels like the middle of nowhere, it feels like home! Not in the way that Melbourne feels like home (nothing can compete), but in that I feel very comfortable here, I’m enjoying myself and I’m looking forward to the next few months, and hoping they don’t go too quickly.

Except for the weather. That couldn’t change soon enough. When I first arrived it was scorching, and being a reptile, I was loving it. But a few weeks ago someone flicked a switch somewhere, and suddenly we were in winter (it’s technically Autumn, but the seasons here are so extreme, the in-between ones don’t really happen). It’ll stay cold (bitterly) until the next time someone decides to flick the switch back, which won’t be for months. My flat is an icebox, the ‘heater’ is useless, the windowpanes are like tissue paper, and I’m pathetic, so it’s going to be a long long winter.

The kids have changed a bit too. They used to love me, but now I’m just plain old boring Jeans, and they talk over me just as much as the other teachers. Perhaps I’m blending in, or they’ve finally cottoned on that I can’t discipline them in Spanish.

Anyway, before I get stuck into the wonderful world of Hinojosa, I really should back track to my first week in Spain, and tell you about an amazing program I participated in…

VAUGHAN TOWN: is an intensive English program, run specifically for Spaniards in Spain. It involves an equal number of Spaniards and ‘Anglos’ living together for a week of English immersion, in an isolated (but luxurious) country hotel. We had hours upon hours of one on one conversation, theatre and music every evening, group activities, telephone interviews, and public speaking presentations. At every meal we sat with two Anglos and two Spaniards to a table, to keep the flow of English going. All food (buffet breakfast, and three course lunch and dinner with unlimited wine) and accommodation was provided. For Anglos, the entire experience is free, from the welcome drinks on Saturday night to the moment the bus drops you back in Madrid on Friday evening. The Spaniards paid a small fortune to attend, but it was no doubt worth the trouble, as over the week the improvement in their English was incredible. With so much talking, we got to know each other pretty well, and it was a great way to meet some very interesting people. We had everything from nuclear scientists and civil guards, to masters’ students and full-time nomads. The Anglos were a deliberate mix of accents and nationalities, and the Spaniards were from all over Spain (though the majority lived in Madrid). I learnt so much about Spain, the regions and the customs, and had such a beautiful introduction to the people – it was the perfect way to begin my stay here. If I have the time I’ll do it again, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested. You just need to be friendly, talkative, and a native English speaker.

If any of you are interested in participating, check out the vaughan town website. The application process is easy, and there are many dates and locations to choose from…

Back to my little village.

MI PUEBLO: According to Wikipedia, Hinojosa del Duque is a town of 7,000 people, in an area known as La Valle de los Pedroches, in the north of Cordoba province, which is in the northwest of Andalucia, which is the southernmost region of Spain (of tapas and flamenco fame). So I’m more or less in the North bit of the South.

During Vaughan Town, I tried to find out as much as I could about Hinojosa, to little avail. The only people who had ever heard of it were nuclear-something-physicists, who occasionally do tests on a nearby waste facility. Excellent.

The only other information I could gauge about the region was

  • The accent is horrible
  • The people are backward, but lovely
  • The women are very beautiful, and feminine, and curvy, and take great care over their appearance. Great.

This last point came to mind when I finally arrived in Hinojosa, late on a Saturday night. I was sweaty and sleep deprived (and hungover from Vaughan Town festivities), and had to lug my backpack from end to end of what appeared to be a very dusty, industrial, and unattractive town. But I passed a number of people milling around the streets. They were in formal attire, impeccably groomed, and totally incongruous with the landscape. The women were really dressed up, with professional hair styling and make up, high heels and little clutches, and everything sparkling and matching and expensive looking. All I could think was that if this is how the townsfolk dress for a regular Saturday night, then I will surely be a fish out of water. Then I noticed a few little girls in matching frocks, and realised (to my relief) there was a wedding on. Unfortunately, the reception was in the restaurant below my hotel. There went my reception. That night the staff were run off their feet, so they just shoved a key in my hand and left me to my airless room, to listen to everybody else having fun for a few hours. At 5am I heard the sound of tables being dragged across the floor, and thought ‘oh good, they’re finally packing up’. But of course they were just making room to dance.

Sunday, worse for wear, I stepped out to explore my new surroundings. The town was totally dead. I walked and walked through lanes of whitewashed concrete houses. Nothing was open, the air smelt of burnt rubbish and dirty livestock, and there was not a speck of green to be seen. Even the flowers in the flower shop window were plastic. The fountains were empty and marked ‘undrinkable’, and dead oranges were scattered about the footpaths. I could hear hoons on dirt-bikes burning through distant streets, and occasionally passed bars where seedy looking men stared at me from the doorways. The snatches of conversation I overheard were unintelligible. I felt like I’d moved to the end of the earth, and started to despair at the eight months looming ominously in front of me, and felt a bit silly about the decisions I’d made over the past few years, and a bit sorry for myself and having got myself into a situation where I’d be wasting eight more months of my dwindling youth in such a forsaken place. It all felt very melodramatic. I probably just needed a good night’s sleep and some vegetables.

But then, after a bit more walking, I came to meet Pepi, the owner of the refreshment stall in the central ‘park’. We started talking, and I managed to convey that I was here to teach English at the primary school, and of course it just so happened that her daughter is a student there. She closed her shop to show me the way to the school, so I wouldn’t get lost on my first day of work. This made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and from that moment I knew everything would be all right :-)

Being a city girl, the ‘small town’ culture shock has been more of a shock than moving to the other side of the world, but every day I’m getting better at it, and loving it more. It is weird walking into a bar at 3am and running into my boss and my students, but aside from that aspect, this ‘small town’ doesn’t seem so small anymore. It keeps opening up for me, I’m still finding shops and streets that weren’t there before, and there are parts that I haven’t even been to yet. For the size of the town, I’m pretty impressed with the nightlife. It’s nothing fancy in terms of music/decor, but there are plenty of bars and discotheques which are open til about 6am (maybe even later, I haven’t pushed it further yet!).  From the outside they’re closed shopfronts with roller doors, but inside, they’re packed! And smokey, unfortunately Spain’s new No-Smoking law doesn’t apply to isolated towns.

The houses are colourless and unadorned from the outside, but inside, they’re full of life and beautiful courtyards and exquisite Arabic tiles and patterns all over the walls. I want one.

The streets are spotless. Every morning there are women out sweeping, and literally on their hands and knees scrubbing the pavement, curbs, doorsteps, and the fronts of their houses, with their hair in rollers and dressed in a comic mix of pyjamas, scarves and winter jackets. A little bit weird if you ask me.

LA GENTE: The best thing about living in a small town is the people. They’re friendly, welcoming, generous, and just. so. laid. back. If I had a euro for every time some told me ‘tranquila’ (relax, slow down…), I’d be able to fly home to Australia for Christmas! And the warm fuzzy acts of generosity just keep on coming…

  • Whilst house hunting, the owner of one property gave me a lift to the next inspection
  • My real estate agent (who is also the insurance broker, travel agent, tax collector, and local photographer) picked me up from the hotel and helped me move into my flat, and bought me cake from his sister’s birthday
  • My land lady (who’s about eighty) bought me milk, biscuits and a watermelon when I moved in. (I would have preferred functioning amenities but that’s another story).
  • The hotel I originally stayed at served as my address for visa purposes (months ago when I was in Melbourne), my business hours delivery address, and twice paid my customs fees out of the til (I did pay them back), weeks after I’d checked out.
  • I asked a teacher in the staff room for a plastic pocket, and left the school carrying an assortment of folders big enough to open a shop. Ditto with every other request for stationery, and all my trivial enquiries are met with the same overwhelming helpfulness, to the point where I’m almost afraid to ask for a post-it note, lest they saddle me with a roll of poster paper.
  • The bartender at my WiFi pub spent ages searching online for flights for me
  • One of my students brought her older sister to come and meet me and take me out for coffee, because she was concerned I might not know anyone the same age in town. I’ve had a number of similar offers, to the point where it’s a bit much meeting everyone, and the truth is I’ve got plenty to do and no shortage of people to speak to
  • So many people, ranging from my students to the supermarket check-out chicks, have said to me very seriously, ‘if you ever need anything, anything at all, you can come to me…’
  •  A random little old man gave me a detailed lesson on the stonework of the church, and then invited me to his house to introduce me to his wife and grandkids. I don’t usually follow strange men into houses, but, what the hell! His (twin) grandchildren were adorable, and he gave me a stack of pamphlets on the history of the monuments about the town, and two copies of a map – one for me, and one to send to my family… apparently I have a friend in him, if I ever need anything, anything at all. and his business card states Rafael Gil, Gentleman. Love it.

As for my social life, when I’m not busy with work and weekend holidays, I mostly hang out with other teachers. There are two more language assistants (a Scottish and an American girl) at the secondary school, who live one street away from me, which is really nice. The teachers from the secondary school are a younger crowd, from all over Spain (something to do with credit points and the way teachers are allocated to Government Schools), which is great except that many of them go back home on weekends. So it’s all about Thursday nights now. We had a massive Thanksgiving dinner last night (my first), and of about 20 people, only 3 were from Hinojosa. In contrast, many of the teachers from my school have lived in Hinojosa their whole lives, went to the same school, and have now taught there for 10, 20, 30 years… So they’re a wealth of knowledge when it comes to local customs and Spanish history, and they keep me in the loop with all the cultural stuff that’s going on (such as free theatre on Friday nights). It’s a good life.

LA ESCUELA: Looks like a military bunker from the outside, with concrete playgrounds and no grass. The classrooms sometimes smell of jamon, depending on which way the wind is blowing. But of course, once full of students, the place comes alive and has a warm and welcoming feel to it. Now that there’s been some rain, the little courtyard is looking gorgeous, thanks to the four and five year olds who have been planting flowers and vegies, and lugging around watering cans as big as themselves.

Technically it’s a bilingual school, but in reality everything is taught in Spanish, with dribs and drabs of English vocab thrown in, depending on the whims and ability of each teacher. The students are between 3 and 12 years old, and I have an hour per week with every year level. Having had little experience with kids or teaching, I was apprehensive to begin with, but the moment I entered the classroom it was fine. Although I feel like a giant, the kids are so entertaining that I forget I’m standing in front of a class and just enjoy the spectacle that is everyday life in a primary school.

  • The toddlers are absolutely adorable, and class usually consists of colouring in, acting like a fool with puppets, and playing with plasticine. At first I was dubious about the use of teaching English to kids who’re still learning to speak their first language and can’t yet read or write, but after nearly two months, ‘red’, ‘yellow’, ‘apple’ and ‘thank you’ seem to have stuck. We’re getting somewhere.
  • The kids (from age 5 upwards) aren’t allowed to go to the toilet unless they ask in English – but usually desperation gets the better of them and they stammer ‘Ca I…ca I… puedohacerpee-pee? Preas!’ before darting out the door. Well I can hardly stop them.
  • The middle sized ones (6-8) are my favourites. Every day is a drama. The teacher will spend half an hour reprimanding them, yelling at them to sit still, and explaining very clearly that for the next activity they need to work in silence and under no conditions is anyone to get out of their seat. For a minute or two they appear to understand and sit there like little angels, diligently copying the blackboard. But then someone will spontaneously fall off their chair, another will bursts into tears because their writing doesn’t fit on the same line, and three or four will have jumped out of their chairs to ask if they can sharpen their pencil, show me their wobbly tooth, or invite me to their sisters birthday party in December. A pencil case tower comes tumbling down and suddenly the whole class is AWOL. This is ritually followed by another half hour of castigation. You are bad! What do you think Maestra Jeans thinks, coming all the way from Australia to waste her time with such naughty children?! (she thinks it’s pretty funny)
  • Despite the silliness, they are actually learning, and it’s a fascinating process to observe. I’m jealous of their ability to mimic and form totally foreign sounds (that older students just can’t get their mouths around). Hopefully by the end of May, Hinojosa will be full of kids speaking English with cute little Aussie accents… and nothing like my disastrous Spanish with it’s bizarre Australian/Hinojosa accent
  • As a language assistant, my job is merely to help out. I’m not expected to supervise or plan lessons, I only ‘work’ 15 hours per week at the school, and I rarely have any extra ‘work’ to take home with me (except for making posters on Halloween, Australia, Christmas etc). Which is all very wonderful, but not particularly challenging, and I feel quite underutilized in terms of the amount of speaking we do in class (there’s a lot of colouring in and copying from the blackboard going on). I’m trying to slowly push for changes, as diplomatically as possible!

So to crank things up a notch, I put the word out for private students. I also printed some posters, which proved totally unnecessary.

CLASES PARTICULARES: are now the bane and joy of my existence. It’s great being able to do things my way, have some adult students for variety, teach smaller groups, have some extra cash, and feel like I’m running my own little (booming!) business… but the lesson planning eats up the bulk of my spare time, and the enquiries keep on coming, and it’s so hard to say no, and it’s all getting a bit intense! Especially with ‘emergency’ situations like ‘I know you’re fully booked but my daughter needs to learn English for her very important speaking exam next Tuesday could you possibly squeeze her in for five hours this weekend’ (true story). Especially when the student in question has been learning English for 13 years of schooling and has never had speaking practice in class. I’ve also got two groups of students that have a mixed bag of learning disabilities, which is proving to be a challenging but no doubt character building experience. Originally I was to be helping them with their homework after school, with the assistance of a Spanish supervisor. But often the kids ‘forget’ their homework, and the supervisor seemingly ‘forgets’ to come, and I’m left trying to teach/control a class of mostly hyperactive kids, in Spanish, whilst simultaneously tutoring those who did bring their homework and genuinely need help. I’ve never had to multitask this much since waitressing… but, I’m getting better at it, and none of them are actually bad.  And I know that once I get into a groove, the lesson planning won’t take so long, and I’ll be able to reclaim my siesta time…

MI PISO: my little apartment. It’s been my dream for ages to have my own apartment in Spain, and now I do! Admittedly, I imagined something a little closer to the seaside, or the hills or Granada, and a little less bloody freezing in winter (actually winter didn’t factor into my dream), and perhaps owning, rather than renting from an eccentric landlady. But, I love it! Now that I’ve figured out how to light the hot water system and boil water without a kettle (who’da thunk it could be done?), I’m feeling very happy in my own space, cooking in my own kitchen, and not having to share a bathroom with twenty other smelly backpackers. I know it would be better for my Spanish if I lived with a Spaniard, but it doesn’t seem to be the done thing here. (But if I ever want to talk to one, I just have to step outside, and they’re everywhere!)

LA POLITICA: Well, the elections have been and gone, and there’s been a change of government… but I don’t really understand what’s going on (I don’t think many people do). From what I can gauge, things aren’t looking too good for Spain. Unemployment is a huge problem. Most people are fed up with the old party but don’t have any faith in the new one either (like most countries I suppose). Fortunately Hinojosa is miles away from all the drama and protesting, and although it’s not a wealthy town, I think the industry is fairly robust, so we’re buffered from the major ups and downs. But really, I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I should probably keep my mouth shut on the topic of politics, it makes most Spaniards look like they’ve eaten something rancid.

EL FIN DE SEMANA: This weekend is a big one in Hinojosa! It’s the inaugural Ruta de la Tapa competition, and everybody is very, very excited. Every restaurant in the town is entering 3 tapas, and it’s up to los Hinojoseños to decide the winner. All participating tapas are 1€ (or 2€ tapa y bebida), and you have to go to at least five different restaurant before you can submit a vote. I’m thinking of voting twice.

So that pretty much sums up where I’m at! I’ve done a little bit of travel (to Cadiz and Cordoba, and I’m going to Granada next weekend), but I’ll save that for another day, you probably all have work to do!

I’ve also uploaded some pictures of Hinojosa and the school. I’m the girl with the scarf, in desperate need of a haircut. I took a lot more, but these were the best of a bad lot, as I’ve broken my camera and can’t actually see what I’m taking pictures of…

Anyhow, I hope you are all well! Believe or not, I do really miss Melbourne, and all of you, so give yourselves a big hug from me, and send me news!

Xx jean