Tales from Abroad: Aracena
When we share our experiences in Spain, Juan and I jokingly say that we were promised decadent adventures of wine, beachside serenades, and quaint mountain villages, but instead got endless confusion with foreign relatives and a nauseatingly endless supply of pork.
The truth is that the trip was one of a lifetime. Then again, you’d expect that from two months in Spain. We went to Spain to work with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that connects volunteers with organic farmers from across the world. We stayed at a small town in the province of Huelva called Aracena and could travel at our own leisure, visiting family and friends for another month after our time working. Our home base was Zaragoza, the home of Juan’s grandparents and great aunts and uncles. We zipped back and forth to Madrid, Barcelona, Cordoba, Huelva, Granada, and Segovia. From planes and buses, to trains and cars, during our two months we experienced all of Spain’s forms of motorized transportation.
As expected, we ate spectacular meals, saw breathtaking sights, and met fascinating people. But, we won’t bore you with those particulars. If you’ve watched any Anthony Bourdain or read any Federico Garcia Lorca, you can imagine it all pretty well.
For starters, we learned that America is the land of advanced flavors. We had never realized how far the US and the UK have gotten away from the concept of natural flavorings until Leon, a soon-to-be investment banker we had met, explained his seemingly odd craving for “advanced candies.” Advanced candies? We were baffled at what he meant. He then explained, “You know, advanced, the kind of thing you can’t find in nature like blue raspberry or pink fuzz berry. The kinds of things where the best way to describe them is not by the flavor of the drink, but by the color.”
It turns out that Spain doesn’t have advanced flavors. In Spain, when you order a soda, you’ve got three choices for flavors: cola, diet cola, or orange. For Leon, a Londoner raised on only the sweetest of candies and sodas, this was a nightmare. To him, this was a sign that Spain was a backwards country. To us, it was a sign that something was off in the UK and US. Since when was ubiquity of artificial flavorings a prerequisite for a modern society? Weren’t libraries, computers, and democracy enough?
Juan learned a lot on the farm about goats, like how dealing with goats is like dealing with women. The first day that we were milking goats with Manuel, our boss, Juan was having trouble getting the goats to stop kicking him when he was grabbing at their udders. Manuel told Juan that grabbing a goats’s teat was just like grabbing a woman — “Do not ask for permission.” You really just have to go for it and grab it! No one should heed this advice too strongly though, unless you normally take advice from a guy that unapologetically wears un-ironic pot t-shirts where anthropomorphized pot leaves smoke joints.
When we weren’t on the finca (ranch) and found ourselves out late in bustling cities, hunger would often hit us with a vengeance. At those times, shawarma, an inexpensive Middle-Eastern street food, became a godsend.
Given our experiences, we recommend you sit down in a shawarma place and order to your heart’s desire, rather than shell out loads of cash to get an “authentic” experience. After all, what’s more authentic than immigrants trying to make a buck in a European metropolis by selling tasty food?
To elaborate a little on the possibility of finding yourself in shawarma heaven, we could have sworn that one night in Granada we had gotten fried brains in our kebab. How did we know? The shawarma was too good.
After biting into the warmth and juicy softness of the kebab, we knew karma had bestowed upon us a genuine gift. Although we were a bit apprehensive to continue eating after our realization regarding its contents, we kept nibbling and found that the kebab was too good to not devour.
Every day in Spain with Juan was so memorable and hilarious, and there are honestly just too many wonderful things to share at once.