We made it! A very large plane, a lost but recovered iPhone, a day spent navigating Madrid using public transportation followed by a very comfortable train ride to Malaga.. the transition is complete! We are currently tucked into our Airbnb in a small resort town called Torremolinos while we wander up and down the Costa del Sol looking for a place to lay our bursting little brains for 3 months.
We changed time by 7 hours from Cancun, and on top of that we took a red-eye flight. Suffice to say we’ve been pretty messed up on our sleep for awhile. Thankfully we’ve had relatively few middle-of-the-night insomnia stretches, but we’ve all seemed to shift our sleep/wake times by about 4 hours. This early bird is now sleeping until after 10 a.m. and going to bed after 1 a.m. We also notice the timing of our regular communications are off. Facebook is very quiet when I get up and have coffee, but very active when I’m trying to get myself to bed. Communications with friends and family about their day take place after the day is over, or my day is ending while theirs is in full swing. It takes a lot of getting used to and it makes me feel even further away. But we are adjusting. In addition, the Spanish tend to stay up quite late and it does not get light until after 8 a.m. so I’m allowing myself to be on a different wake cycle to try and adjust to the natural pace of this country.
[The topic of the time change allows me to do a housekeeping note… we will be posting blogs at all different hours now and many of our loyal followers will be asleep when we are putting up the blog. If you want to make sure not to miss one (as everyone should) you might want to sign up for an email when a new blog comes out. Facebook will only feed you what it wants to, and sometimes it buries content. So now might be a good time to subscribe. The process is simple: put in your email address in the box on the left or below. Get an email, click the link for confirmation and wah-lah… you get an email when we post. You can even choose the timing (who wouldn’t want to know RIGHT AWAY when we post???!!). Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…]
Being in a new country is always so much fun. We are enjoying comparing all the new things to the other countries we’ve been to. It’s much too early to wrap our head around any kind of big picture experience or Spanish historical or cultural a-ha moments, but for now I hope you’ll be satisfied with some observations from our first week. First, here are a few scenes in no particular category:
Of course they speak Spanish here. It’s the mothership! But oh boy is it different. There’s the lisp that everyone has when they say the “s” sound (“grathiath”), the way they eat their words and drop the ends and also that they talk so fast! But apart from that, today’s blog post is brought to you by the word VALE (“vah-lay”). You cannot have a single interaction with a Spaniard without this word. It pretty much means “OK” or “alright” or “gotcha” or “got it” or “it’s ok”. They use it all the time, and frequently multiple times in a row. It goes like this:
Me: I’d like a hamburger please
Waitress: Vale, do you want cheese on that?
Me: Yes, please. Cheddar if you have it.
Waitress: Vale. Would you like something to drink?
Me: Yes, please. Water.
Waitress: Vale vale vale
It’s pervasive. It’s cute. It’s vale.
We’ve also noticed some new words or new use of old words. Bathrooms here are called aseos (Panama called them baños, Mexico called them sanitorios). We learned a new word called ocio which is usually on the same sign as the bathrooms, it means “leisure” so I assume it’s a place to sit down, maybe for nursing moms or something. I like ocio. The Shermans are good at ocio.
We also notice how many people speak English here, at least in this region. And this isn’t just “I’ll speak enough English to talk to the tourists”. This is full-on “English is one of the many languages I speak so I’ll put you out of your misery of bumbling through in Spanish and I’ll just switch to English”. It’s a true melting pot here in Europe and people tend to be from lots of different places. A saleslady helping us at the mall the other day was from Belgium and speaks 5 languages. Five!
People look different here. In Panama, Guatemala and much of Mexico, the local residents looked very similar to each other. Similar hair color, skin color, body shape and even clothing, But here it’s really hard to tell where people are from. In Mexico you could pick out a gringo from a mile away but here you just don’t know. And the main tourists seem to be the Brits so even then if you do see a gringo-type person, they probably aren’t American. The kids love hearing the English accents. We do a lot of “guess that language” while walking around.
We have not yet ventured into countries where they drive on the
wrong left side of the road. Driving is relatively easy here compared to Mexico and Panama. This area of Spain has lovely roads, no potholes, marked speed limits and lots of tunnels. But also a lot of tolls. We went an hour an a half down the coast and it was almost $10 in tolls in each direction.
The Spaniards seem to have a bias against stoplights. They love roundabouts. Everywhere we go we find roundabouts. We almost never stop because there are no stoplights, we just go around and around these circles at every intersection. Thankfully these nice people seem to know how to use them and everyone pays attention to the rules and it’s very logical and orderly. But there are just so many circles! Circles + stick shift car = carsick. Ugh.
The drivers are more calm than in Mexico and Panama. You use the left lane for going fast and if you are going too slow, someone waits behind you until you get into the right lane. You drive the speed limit (except that the freeways here appear to be a Spanish autobahn) and you obey the rules of the road. And we have heard no honking!!! We aren’t in Mexico anymore, Hombre!
As we are driving around looking for apartments for a longer term stay we have learned that Google maps doesn’t work as well here. Google maps acts like it works, and it finds places you want to go and it directs you there and it looks like it’s in the general direction you want to go. But when you get closer to actually getting there… well good luck on that. You’ll be a few blocks away and Google will tell you to make an illegal turn onto a one-way street. You can’t so you don’t and after that you are just toast! In addition, finding a known location that someone has directed you to can be complicated as well. Yesterday as we were meeting apartment owners, twice in 2 hours we were waiting at the wrong location. Multiple stores in the same town have no distinct names so it’s difficult to describe where to meet. At least for these jet-lagged gringos.
The gas stations are very nice here. One of them had a very small candy section but a very large salad section. They have great bathrooms and even a nice area to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee and a pastry. But the gas pumps themselves are kind of messy, so they give you little plastic gloves to wear when you pump your gas. Speaking of gas, it’s pricey! Yikes! Diesel is US$4.64 per gallon.
We are now using the euro, which is an easier conversion rate with the dollar. Add 10% and you’ve got it. It’s so easy that we don’t really even think in dollars anymore. We’ve translated our daily budget into euro, Zoe’s allowance is now given in euro and we discuss monthly apartment budgets in euro. But the actual money is a bit of a challenge. The 50 euro bill is bigger than the rest and doesn’t fit in Dan’s wallet like the other bills. They have a lot of coins for cents, but also one for 2 and 1 euro, but they all look the same and are almost all the same size. We end up giving a lot of change to people to pay for stuff and just wait for them to count it.
We can’t really comment on prices yet. We are still in touristy areas and not really getting off the beaten path. But in general we can say that we aren’t in Mexico anymore!
Well we have barely scratched the surface of this yet. Spain is famous for their tapas, which are little plates of appetizer type foods. We haven’t tried any of those yet, we are a little too busy for experimentation, and my family is not exactly the adventurous type when it comes to food. Haley was very pleased at all the positive feedback on her food post on Mexico so she’ll be doing that again for Spain, but I’ll give a little update of first impressions.
Panaderias (bakeries) are everywhere. You cannot swing a dead cat (natural causes) without hitting one. And they smell sooo good. The girls are really enjoying them. Cafes are everywhere and they are always full of people at any time day or night. It seems like Spaniards do all their business at cafes. The other thing we notice everywhere are these giant legs of ham. They love their pork here and they are always working it into all kinds of foods. Even at a fancy mall we saw a big store selling pork. At a mall! “Honey, can we go to the mall I need a new pair of jeans… and some pork.”
An unexpected but very welcome finding is all the gluten free products. I need to eat gluten free so in Panama I had a lot of rice. In Mexico I ate a lot of corn tortillas but here in Spain it’s all about the bread, baby! They have several bread options at regular grocery stores, entire sections in panaderias, gluten free menus and we found an entirely gluten free bakery yesterday. I love you, Spain!
We are currently on the southern coast of Spain, down at the southern tip. The weather is great! It’s mostly sunny, the mornings are marginally cool, the evenings are marginally cool and it’s nice and warm during the day. It’s humid but less so than Panama or Mexico. It’s lovely! I loved Madrid too. It was crisp and cool. We were the only ones wearing shorts and flip flops though! Down here in the south near the water there are more people in flip flops. They seem to have a greater tolerance for cold water, though. We see people going into the water at the beach and the water is COLD! Panama and Mexico spoiled us in that way. But the beaches have great rock-finding potential so the girls are pleased. There is no need for heat or A/C in the apartments. I have heard that Spanish houses are meant to keep out the heat, which they do very well even in the dead of winter, much to the occupants’ dismay. But down here in the south we should be quite comfortable for the 3 months we are here.
We experienced it when we came backpacking in 2000 and we figured it would still be pervasive. And it is. There are so many people who smoke here. Not just cigarettes but cigars and clove cigarettes and everything else too. And everywhere. You could be walking down the street and people are blowing smoke right at you, without a care in the world. Restaurants are hard because they tend to be open air, both inside and out. We want to sit outside to enjoy the weather but invariably someone plops down beside us and lights up. You can be assured, that is one local habit that we will not be picking up while we are here.
There’s so much more to say… and do… but I will give it some time to sink in and update all our loyal followers again soon. But you can rest easy knowing that our continent shift was successful and we love our new host country. Vale!