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¡Adiós, España! June 18, 2010

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I’m feeling a little nostalgic… I can’t believe that my time in Spain is finally over! Seriously, these past few weeks have been so amazing, which makes it difficult for me to say adiós. I guess I am feeling a little bittersweet though, since, although I am sad to leave Spain, I will be in Honduras tomorrow, which is also going to be a lot of fun!

From days at the beach to debates about current issues to biology research, it has truly been a summer of non-stop excitement and cultural exchange. I’ll never forget watching World Cup games in bars, talking to locals during economic protests, buying fresh fruit in the market, and, of course, hanging out with all of my new friends.

Escribo esto con un nudo en la garganta, pero sé que regresaré pronto… Valencia is too much fun to not come back and explore!

HERMIT CRABS <3 June 16, 2010

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SO. We have been working with Hermit Crabs for the past few days at Les Rotes Beach in El Montgó Natural Reserve, and let me just say that although I began this research feeling a little bit squeamish about picking up crabs, I have had so much fun researching them! It’s still a little bit hard for me to pick up the bigger crabs, since their claws actually hurt a little bit, but I have definitely gotten a lot more brave since we started.

Mediterranean Hermit Crab (Cilbanarius erythropus)

We arrived in Dénia three days ago around 2pm, after spending the morning at Devesa, a dune area located in La Albufera Nature Reserve. While we were only there for a few hours walking the beach and dunelands, we learned a lot about ecological succession and attempts to reintroduce native plants to the area. (more…)

Catching Birds, Mountain Research, and Cave Drawings, Oh My! June 9, 2010

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These past two weeks have certainly been a blast… and full of activities! I knew that we would be busy nonstop, given that we are supposed to complete an entire biology course in four weeks, but, despite all of the work and field trips that we have to do, I wouldn’t change this experience for anything!

Our biology class started off with a day trip to La Font Roja, a local nature reserve located about 45 minutes away from Valencia. Although it started thunderstorming, so we had to turnaround during our 5 mile hike, we waited out the storm while having lunch and still were able to complete the afternoon activities: bird catching!

Recording Data After Catching a Woodpecker

We were incredibly lucky to have caught such a huge bird, as we caught a very large, female woodpecker, and, after catching it, we then proceeded to take measurements and tag her before finally setting her free. It was really cool since, being the most fluent, I got to work directly with Pep, the specialist, to record all of the data.

A few days later, I ventured out on a three-day trip to Fredes, a small town where we conducted our first extended research project in the mountains. The town we stayed in, El Boixar, was beautiful, albeit with a population of only 10 people (really only 3 people on a normal day). It was abandoned during Spain’s period of urbanization, when most of the rural populations surged towards the cities in search of work, and, even now, the few residents that remain only return on weekends or during the summer months.

I decided to conduct research on two local flowers, the tufted milkwort and herb bennet, looking specifically at their dispersal and competition patters. We were initially drawn to them because of their vibrant purple and yellow colors, respectively, but as we studied them we became more and more interested in their other characteristics as well. It was a lot of fun utilizing the different data collection methods we had been reading about in our textbook, and we surveyed 28 different quadrants across the mountainous slope we were working on.

Measuring Trees in Fredes

One of the best parts of each day, however, was returning after a hard day’s work of data collection to literally some of the freshest, most delicious food we’ve had yet. I know I’ve probably said that several times by now, but literally, this food was excellent.

Our cook was an old man, and one of the only three people that routinely live in El Boixar, and each night he cooked up a spectacular three-course meal all by himself. My favorite were the soups that began each meal, my favorite being a pumpkin soup on the first night.

Today’s trip to La Valltorta was also one of the coolest trips so far… we got to see cave drawings from 10,000 BC! After arriving in the town, we spent our first hour touring the local museum so that we knew what to expect once we were actually at the caves. Next, we visited two different cave sites. One was very close to the museum, and the other was about 45 minutes away and located on private property.

I found it interesting how the public cave drawings were literally non-existent due to high, unregulated tourism traffic starting in the 1980s, and it made me so sad to learn that people actually attempted to chip off the cave paintings in order to “bring home a piece of the drawings”. Seriously, the huge toursim boom during Post-Franco Era was the worst thing that could have happened to Spain’s history and attempts to conserve its history. Just like the Altamira caves, which had to be closed from public viewing, the first cave sights had been so trashed and graffited that it was almost useless, in my opinion, to look at them.

In Front of the La Valltorta Caves

The second cave site, which has been virtually void of human traffic, was so well preserved that you could still see just about every detail. Compared to the first cave, the second cave’s deer and cattle were impeccable. And, we could even see bloody footprints leading from the hunter to the animal!

The walk back down the mountain was very nice… we made it before it started raining too much, and the prospect of rain made the climate very temperate instead of burning hot! The whole group was still very tired, however, so we all ended up falling asleep on the bus ride back to Valencia.

AventuraTH en ValenTHia: Learning the Spanish Lisp June 3, 2010

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Our stay in Valencia of course started with a tour of the city so that we could begin to familiarize ourselves with the different barrios we would be walking through over the next four weeks. It was a great way to see some of the major buildings, plazas, and shopping areas in Valencia, and even though the tour was rather brief, I can definitely find my way around the city and back to our apartment.

Street View of the Catedral de Valencia

My favorite stop on the tour was the Catedral de Valencia. Not only is it one of the most gorgeous buildings in Valencia, but, inside, it houses some of the most amazing relics and paintings. For example, the cathedral has the arm of St. Vincent, one of Goya’s earliest paintings, and, allegedly, the real Holy Grail.

The "Real" Holy Grail

I was most excited by the Holy Grail, since I find it fascinating that the cup that Jesus could have drank from at the Last Supper is still around today. The cup on display has been defended by historians as being the most authentic, since it dates back to the correct time period; however, the claim to having the true Holy Grail has been made by many different locations worldwide and there is no way of knowing for sure. Either way, it was definitely cool to see a cup that old, and learn that many popes have in fact used it in recent years, such as Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Spain in 2006!

After finishing the tour, I went shopping with a group of the girls before heading back to the apartment. It was a lot of fun just walking around the streets, even if I didn’t buy anything, as well as talking to the locals.

Later that night, a huge group of us decided to check out the tapas bar scene in the port area near our apartment. We had a lot of fun trying different finger foods and drinks, and eventually ended up on a green floating bar/discoteca in the Port of Valencia!

Getting ready to leave for Tapas!

The entire night I had been trying to improve on my Spanish accent, since I speak Spanish with a strong Nicaraguan accent, but it wasn’t until later that night that I truly picked up the correct lisp. We had been talking to a group of guys dressed up as Elvis for a bachelor’s party, and they actually thought that I was from Spain!

It felt good to know that I could blend in, but I hope that there is a way to de-learn the lisp when I have to work in Honduras later this summer, since I might get made fun of a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty cool sounding, but when one of the guys told me why people in Spain have a slight lisp, I couldn’t help but laugh! I guess that one of the kings of Spain was unable to correctly pronounce s’s and z’s, so he made it a royal decree for everyone to speak with a lisp. Parent’s taught their children to speak like them, and the rest is history!

The guys could have been joking around with me, but either way, it’s a pretty good story and I am having fun speaking with one… at least for the moment. Pero, ojalá que pueda dejar el THeTHeo cuándo me voy de valenTHia! :-)

From Portugal to Spain (At last!) May 30, 2010

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We arrived in Spain today! Madrid is gorgeous, but so much has changed since I was last here, that I could barely find my way around. We took the metro to our hotel (Hotel Muralto), and then walked around the streets for a few hours before dinner. The best find was the El Corte Inglés less than two blocks away… everything you need in one enormous store! By the time we returned from our walk, we were famished, but we didn’t have to wait long for our flamenco show and dinner.

Dinner at the flamenco club was absolutely amazing. I was so excited to eat paella, drink sangria, and watch a flamenco show, and the club surpassed my expectations! The first plato was a fried potato and egg dish, and the second plato was chicken paella. The flamenco show started while we were being served dessert (chocolate cake), and I was so absorbed in the dancing and rhythmic beats that I almost forgot to eat it!

All of the Girls Outside of the Flamenco Club

There were four dancers in the flamenco show, three females and one male, and each person took turns dancing while the others accompanied the musicians. I loved the flamenco show since it is a blend of dancing, singing, and playing instruments, and all three of them blended seamlessly throughout the performance. Also, the stamina of the dancers was phenomenal- one woman tapped her feet for over 15 minutes! It was also interesting to note how, depending on the dancer, the style of the flamenco dancing changed slightly. This ability of flamenco to adapt to the current situation is what makes it so unique, and, as a result, no two shows are the same. (more…)

BULLFIGHTS&BEACHES May 25, 2010

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Inside Evora's Famous Bullfighting Ring

My short stay in Portugal is officially complete: I attended a bullfight yesterday! It was perhaps one of the most amazing things to happen to me this trip, despite the fact that I was so nervous about attending because of all the blood I knew would be present. Something about harming innocent animals for sport just isn’t that attractive to me; however, the bullfight was not what I was expecting. Apparently, Portuguese and Spanish bullfights are completely different from each other, which made me actually enjoy the experience so much more! I ended up sitting next to a friendly Portuguese man who gave me a running commentary of what exactly was going on during the fight, and I felt very lucky to have had such a good guide to bullfighting!

The first difference between the two countries’ fights is how the bull and the fighter interact: in Spain, a matador fights on foot, while, in Portugal, a horseman fights the bull. This changes the type of interaction between the bull and fighter, and, in my opinion, leads to a less graphic fight. Also, because the horseman must also honor the bull throughout the entire fight, he is not just evaluated on his bravery, but also his ability to showcase the bull and his horse. As such, there are only a limited number of small javelins that are put into the bull’s back, usually between 4-6, and the point of this first phase is for the horsemen to exhibit their skill in the arena without mortally wounding the bull or causing it dishonor. (more…)

From flight delays to Pope delays… May 15, 2010

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Our view of "o Papa Bento XVI" as he passed through the streets of Lisbon

I arrived in Lisbon late Monday night due to flight delays from the volcanic ash, but couldn’t have been happier, even if the flight was almost four hours late! The timing was perfect- we flew over the Tagus River just as the sun was setting, and the sun’s reflection off the water made for a gorgeous backdrop. The quick taxi ride to our hostel (Lisbon Calling) took us right through the main parts of town, so my first glimpse of Lisbon from the ground was dominated by bright streetlights and honking taxis as we drove up and down the hilly city.

Our hostel is positively gorgeous. I don’t know how we found this place, since it is literally a hole-in-the-wall, but we are very lucky to have done so! There are a ton of bright colors, and the staff here is so nice and helpful.

Our first day in Lisbon was essentially an introduction to Portugal: we went over transportation, useful words, culture, and safety (among other things), and then spent the day walking around the city. However, the most exciting thing was Pope Benedict’s visit to Portugal that night! While we only saw him briefly, he is actually visiting Portugal for a total of four days.

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