Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My First Excursion

On Friday, May 8, 2009 I went on my first school excursion as a chaperone. We took the entire fifth grade class and a handful of 4th and 6th graders for a biking excursion to Olvera, a small, historic (dating back 2,000 years) pueblo in Andalucia that serves as the starting point of a famous route called the Via Verde. The Via Verde is a well known and extremely beautiful path that runs between Olvera and Puerto Serrano for some 38 kilometres. It follows an old rail line that was built by the military regime led by General Rivera between 1923 and 1929 and used a few years later during the Spanish Civil War. As railroads typically are, the Via Verde follows a fairly flat route, and is not a difficult ride. However, it does go through a total of twenty-four tunnels, some of which are without lights, which makes for a little adventure.

It is not uncommon to see hundred of students and their teachers spending a Friday excursion along the Via Verde. The day we went, there were at least 8 other schools (so likely over 400 students and 50 or so chaperones) biking along the narrow path. My gut feeling when we arrived told me that such a scene had the potential to be a catastrophe. I was right. Five minutes within the trek, one of our students fell going down the first hill and fractured her wrist. She was immediately taken to Villamartin (the nearest hospital). Then one girl got separated from our group, and when another chaperone and I finally found her, we were hundreds of students behind Fernando Gavilan. We also learned why she fell behind: This was only her 3rd day riding a bike...and was still a bit (very) wobbly. She almost took each of us out about 10 times before we finally passed 200 students and caught up with our group (which took about an hour). Then we had various other incidents with students falling, crashing in the dark tunnels, and just going crazy. Then there came the craziest incident of all: me!

We are riding along, enjoying the beautiful scenery and I all of a sudden do not feel well at all. I mention to Antionio, the head teacher I might sit down for a minute or ride in the truck (following all the schools in the event of an emergency or if someone needs a break). He looks over at me and says "Dios mío, siéntate ahora, eres blanquita!" (Oh my goodness, sit down now, you are as white as a ghost). So I stumble getting off my bike, and he decides it is better to take me to the truck immediately. The truck has students in it already, so they take me to the ambulance (just so i can ride and cool down for a minute). The staff ask me if I am okay, I say yes, and we drive off. Five minutes later I decide I really am not as okay as I thought, and I calmly mention I don’t feel well. The ambulance comes to a halt and two of the nurses rush back to me as if I was dying or something. I found it kind of funny because all I said was "I don’t feel very good, can we stop for a moment". They made me lie down on the little stretcher with my legs elevated, and began taking my blood pressure. Turns out it was super low, and they were debating whether to take me to a hospital or not. Finally my blood pressure went up a little, but they kept pricking my poor little fingers to make sure my blood sugar was maintaining an okay level. Even though I stabilized, they would not allow me to I spent the last 45 minutes of the beautiful bike ride in the back of an ambulance without a view. Moral of the story: drink lots of liquid, eat lots, and wear hats and cool clothes when in the south of Spain to avoid heat exhaustion. But really...who would of thought?! I run and walk everyday, and have never had a problem...then in front of all my students, the heat gets to me?! Oh well, it was still a blast, and definitely an interesting excursion. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009


On the evening of May 3, many pueblos and cities throughout Spain celebrate the "Fiesta de las Cruces"...which is popularly (and appropriately) known by the Ubriqueños as "Día de los gamones."

A gamón is a type of wild lily, similar to a gigantic asparagus plant, that grows in hills surrounding Ubrique. Days before the fiesta, Ubriqueños can be seen throughout the mountains collecting as many gamones as possible in preparation for the evening activities of May 3rd. Once dusk hits, the entire town of Ubrique is illuminated by over 60 "candelas" or bon fires scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. The largest and most famous candela is in the Plaza de Verdura (which is conveniently right across from my flat).

So what does a wild lily esparragus like plant have to do with a bon fire? Well, as tradition has it, you place your gamones at the base of the fire, allow it to heat up, and when you see smoke and start to hear it sizzle, you grab it and smack it as hard as possible against a nearby rock. If all goes well, the end result is an extremely loud explosion (accompanied by parts of gamones flying everywhere). And everytime you explode a gamón, you are supposed to make a wish for good health for someone in your family or one of your friends. The idea being that the gamón loses its vigor and passes it on to someone else. So if you collect 30 gamones, and have 30 explosions, 30 people will supposedly have good health (that is, if you remember to make the wish).

The origin of Día de los Gamones is not exactly known, but there are two existing theories. One theory says that the practice of exploding gamones originated and was done by local shepherds to scare the wolves away from their flocks. However, the other (more widely accepted) theory suggests that at the beginning of the 19th century a French detachment occupied the area and a large portion of the Ubriqueños fled to the surrounding mountainside where they exploded gamones in an attempt to trick the French into believing the pueblo was heavily armed. And that is the story of the gamones, and the Día de los Gamones that is only celebrated in Ubrique. And in case you were wondering, while I stood around the bonfire from 10 pm until 3 am in the morning, and attempted to explode a ton of gamones, I was unsuccessful in every attempt. I must say, however, that I got a half-explosion out of a couple. That´s something, right? I guess I will have to practice when I get back to the states, so that next year I can call myself a true gamonera!