Friday, October 29, 2010

Granada and Andrew Bird: Part I


Hello, hello,

This is another one of those two-posts-at-the-same-time entries.  Well, maybe 2 ½-posts because this one has two parts. Again, I’m sorry for the wait but my previous source of internet (a café below my house) has abated.  For reasons unknown, they have decided to turn off their Wi-Fi.  At a business that advertises Wi-Fi.  Odd, huh?  Anywho, my new source of internet is an unsecured network in the middle of my plaza.  Thus far it has been, unreliable, to say the least. 

I hope that with this post I can almost catch you guys up.  I’m gonna start from last Thursday (the 14th), which was the weekend after my first puente.   We (Meg, Hillary, and I) had heard from a girl we met at orientation that there was going to be an Andrew Bird concert in Granada on the 14th.  If I haven’t shown you any of his music, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and check him out on youtube.  He is impressive.  

Thanks to the puente, I didn’t have to work the preceding Monday or Tuesday, but I did have to work on that Thursday.  I was worried about missing the concert, but I talked to my school, and I was able to work on Wednesday instead of Thursday.  First obstacle averted.

The next challenge was how to get tickets and how to get to Granada.  Finding the tickets was surprisingly easy.  I found out from the concert website that there was a travel agency in La Línea that sold the tickets.  One down, one to go.  The travel situation, however, was a little more difficult.  Bus tickets to Granada are around 15-20 each way, which was a little out of my price range.  A train ticket, which to me is so much better than one for a bus, is even more expensive.  We all looked around for a little bit, and after talking to some friends, discovered that the cheapest way to get to Granada was to rent a car.  Because Meg and Hillary both had to work Thursday morning, it was also the most convenient.  

By car, Granada is around 3.5 hours away.  Our friend who told us about the concert, Bianca, and her roommate Kelly were also going so we would have to pick them up.  The town they live in is called La Roda de Andalucía, which is only slightly out of the way on the road to Granada.   The concert began at 9:30 p.m., so if we left around 2 p.m. then that would give us plenty of time to pick up Bianca and Kelly and get to Granada, right? Well we thought it would.   As some of you aged folk already know, nothing happens exactly as you plan it; especially if you’re driving in a foreign country.  

The bumps in the road started when we first visited the car rental place –about a week before we left.  The second we opened our mouths, the man at the desk realized we were foreigners, and we realized he didn’t much care for foreigners.  It was like every word we said exasperated him.  Though all we asked for was the price to rent a 5-person car for one day.  He told us it would be 90€.  Ahhh!  Hold on! Just, just, wait one second.  Ughmm, excuse me sir, but that’s way more than the word-of-mouth price we were told.  Needless to say, we left to go and find out what was happening.  According to our friends, it should have been around 20€ or so per day.  Definitely not 90€.  

The next step was to retreat to the sanctuary of our generation: the internet.  The place where all your questions can be answered (if not always correctly).  Meg and Hillary looked up the website and made a reservation for a 5-person size car, with a manual transmission, for three days.  It was  42€.  Clearly the internet is the way to play.  I’m going to give the man the benefit of the doubt and say that we just weren’t specific enough with him.  Meg thought he was just an asshole.  Probably a mix of the two.  One more obstacle out of the way.  

Thus far the plan was to drive to Granada on Thursday afternoon, see the concert and drive back Saturday night.  The car had to be back in La Línea by 10 p.m.  The only obstacle left was trying to find a place to stay.  Bianca’s roommate, Kelly, has a friend in Granada whose roommates leave almost every weekend and we had first planned on staying with her.  However, that weekend was one of the few her roommates decided to spend at home, so no luck there.  Our next best option was to find a hostel. 
 
It was now Tuesday the 12th, two days to go, and I put the hostel problem on the back burner.  I went to work Wednesday and came back that night to finalize the travel plans.  I have to say gracias again to those wonderful ladies; they had hit the web again and found a hostel that looked pretty good.  Well, that sounds good to me.  All that’s left is to actually get there.  

I woke up Thursday morning, packed my stuff up, and waited for my roommates to get off work.  Hillary came back around 1 p.m. and we left around 1:30 p.m. to pick up the car.  Meg would be back around 2 p.m. so we planned to meet up with her then leave.  This is where the fun began.  

First, we got to the rental place and the same frustrated man was working.  He ever so politely informed us that we couldn’t rent a car without a tarjeta or card.  From this we took that he meant a tarjeta de identidad extranjera which is basically a residency permit that we have applied for but not yet received.  Again we were confused, because our friend Bianca had rented a car with only her passport and visa.  We called Bianca and just in case we ran by the bus station and checked on the last bus out to Granada.  The last bus left at 4:00, which meant we would probably get into Granada around 9:00 p.m.  However, we didn’t know if Bianca and Kelly could catch a bus from their town as well.  We had already promised to bring a car, so if we couldn’t get it, we’d be stuck.  

Back at the rental office the guy told us a visa would work fine (why he didn’t mention this before I can only guess) and the only other thing we would need is a driver’s license that has been issued for more than a year.  Neither Meg nor Hillary can drive a standard, so I had already planned on driving, but alas my license was issued in April.  I was lucky enough to have lost it twice over the last year so we wouldn’t be using my information.  Hillary had just renewed hers as well so our only hope was with Meg.  It was now past two o’clock and we went back to the apartment to talk to Meg.

Back at the place, Meg told us that she had just renewed her license as well.  Damn.  Now we’re in a little bit of a bind.  Well, when in doubt, go talk.  Back to the car rental store!

We arrive again and what do you know, the man hasn’t changed his personality in the last 30 minutes.  You don’t have a valid license? I’m sorry; you still can’t rent this car.  There really isn’t anything I can do to help.  Yes, Spanish licenses have to be renewed as well, but they have both an issue and a renewal date.  All I can say is that I need some kind of official document that says you have been driving for more than one year (so I don’t get fired for renting a car that kills someone).  

Aaaaaand damn again.  Back to the drawing board I guess.  The girls and I split up again to go look on the internet for ways to get a copy of our driving records.  I was sure the DMV could send me something.  Eventually.  

All I found after about 45 minutes on the net was a private company that could email my records to me for the low price of $50.00.  If I lived in California, the DMV could email the records to me; however, Arkansas is not so advanced.  Only snail mail for the Natural State.  

Honestly, I didn’t think we would be able to make the concert.  I called the girls, relayed the news, and told them I’d be at the apartment if they needed anything.  They said they didn’t, so I waited. 

Around a quarter till four Meg and Hillary busted through the door with success in their hands.  Hillary had her driving records! And they had the keys to the car in hand! Apparently, they had contacted Hillary’s parents, who were able to reach the DMV in Greenbriar and email her a copy.  Wow, I’m impressed.  Good work girls.  Now let’s get out of this town. 

We gather our things and leave the apartment.  After finding the garage, we get the first sight of our temporary car.  It’s a Ford.  Really Spain?  We rent a car in Europe and you give us a Ford? I was hoping for a low end Mercedes or BMW or even a Peugeot.  Nope, just a Ford hatchback that feels like a bus compared to my old Civic.  I would love to show you guys a picture, but I forgot to take one.  I’m still trying to get used to this whole you-have-a-camera-so-use-it thing.  Just imagine a plain blue, 5-seater, hatchback station wagon.   It was nothing special and certainly did not have any secrets under the hood or in the tires.  The whole weekend it felt like every little car or bus was either out-powering or out-cornering me.  

This part of the story has turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be so I’m going to take this chance to end Part I of our Granada expedition.  Part II will be coming soon, if it is not already here, so don’t go anywhere.  I promise this next part will be more pictures and less text, but just as crazy. 

Granada and Andrew Bird: Part II

Welcome to Part II of my Granada expedition.

When I left you, we had just got in the car and are now about to leave for Granada.  I started the car and pulling out of the garage, I was a bit nervous.  Everyone has always told me about how crazy everyone in Europe drives and I was about to be on the road with these people.  Carpe diem I guess.  Let’s do this.

Here we are consulting the directions to Bianca’s house.  (Courtesy Hillary Birdsong)


Surprisingly, once I got out onto the road it was not that bad.  Once you master the roundabout then it’s all downhill from there.  

After we left La Línea, our directions told us to take the toll road all the way to Málaga then from Málaga to La Roda to pick up Bianca.  We left town at 4:30 so that gave us exactly five hours to make it to Granada. 
The toll road was pretty expensive, almost 7€ one way, and combined with fuel prices at 1.20 €/litre (4.80€/gallon) made our trip just to Málaga a little costly.  Though I will say that it was still cheaper than the bus and the view from the toll road is nothing short of excellent.  I think everyone should take it at least one way just for the view. 

I did promise you more pictures, so here we go.  These shots are courtesy of Meg Houston.  I decided to play it safe and not try to drive and use my camera. 

First: proof that I can drive in Spain.

The toll road took us through a lot of tunnels.




Then by some fantastic mountains.

  
And then by more mountains.
 
 
Eventually we came up on Málaga, drove through it, and were about 30 minutes outside of the city before we realized that we missed the turn off towards Bianca’s house.  Damn again.  Those mountains are distracting.  That five hour time limit is looking shorter and shorter.  We pull over at a gas station and randomly meet this guy from Morocco who speaks amazing English and sets us on the right path.  We turn around and take the road back to the highway when we are stopped by a man.  A man who is in the middle of herding his sheep across the road.  Oh yes.  I really do love this country.

Here is the aftermath of his efforts.  (Once again kudos to Meg Houston.)

This next one is of Meg making sure we’re on the right path.




We make it back to Málaga and it turns out the exit to our road was in a tunnel.  Gee, wonder how I missed that.  Anyway, we stayed on that same road and made it all the way to La Roda without a hitch.

Here’s another Meg-view of La Roda.



Bianca and her roommate Kelly told us to meet them by the mayor’s building but we found them on the way.  It was around 7:30 or 8 p.m. by then and our time was rapidly dwindling.  After no more than a five minute detour we were on the road to Granada.

Lucky from La Roda to Granada is pretty much a straight shot so we did not get lost on the way there.  However, our new bump in the road was the directions.  We had directions to La Roda and from La Roda to one hostel in Granada.  The problem was that we were staying in a different hostel.  We had the address of the second hostel and the address of the concert, but no directions to either one.  Our only hope was a friend of Kelly’s who was teaching in Granada.  

Granada is kind of a big so naturally there are several exits into the city.  I had no idea which one to take and neither did any of the girls so I just took the first exit to the city center.  It was almost 9 o’clock and we were running out of time.  This is where our little adventure started to get pretty wild.  Merely driving in a large Spanish city borders on madness, but I was driving in Granada in the dark.  It was insanity. 

Most of the city streets are made up of one-ways and roundabouts.  I would be driving, enter a roundabout, then circle it several times to try and read the street names so maybe the girls could find one on the map.  Some of the one way streets also randomly turn into taxi/bus only lanes.  As you can guess I found myself in one with nowhere to go but straight ahead.  I just kept going and hoping that no police crossed my path.  Or if they did that I could pose as an off-duty taxi cab or something.  I forgot to mention that Kelly had been in Granada before and remembered a little about the city.  Somehow taking random streets took us through one of the central plazas, which Kelly thought she recognized.  I was lucky enough to snare a handicapped parking space so we could call her friend and hopefully meet up.  As luck would have it, we were actually not too far from her, so Kelly left and came back with friend in tow in under five minutes.  Now all we had to do was get to the concert.  

Fortunately the concert was in a large complex of museums and science buildings so it only took us about 10 minutes to make it over.  Our wanderings in Granada had cost us though.  It was 10 o’clock.  We drove by the building and found a parking spot as quickly as possible.  The walk to the building landed us at around 10:15 p.m.  Bad luck, but at least we made it.  We arrived halfway through my favorite song, “Nervous tick motion of the head,” and watched the last bit on a screen before we were let into the hall.  I guess calling it a hall would be a bit of a stretch.  The room they had given him was about half the size of a large movie theater.  Seems like the genius is yet to hit Spain.  

 In the chaos of driving, I forgot my camera yet again so my concert pictures are from Meg’s camera.  Yeah I know, I really do need to work on this camera situation.  Next time, I promise. 

The man himself, guitar in hand.

 
A closer shot with my favorite instrument



One last shot of him mid-whistle.  Amazing.



Even though we missed a full half of the concert, it still was incredible.  He is a one-man show.  His music is a combination of violin, vocals, guitar, glockenspiel, and whistling.  This menagerie is achieved by a loop-station.  He will play a small melody, then loop it, then add another one or two melodies, loop them, then play over the repeating tracks.  It was pretty impressive.  To top it all off, his violin sound was immaculate.  I’m jealous of all that talent.

After the concert, we walked back to the car in a musical stupor to try and find our hostel.  Kelly’s friend was kind enough to mark the approximate location on our map before we dropped her off.  Thus far I had only driven on the main roads of Granada, which are quite different from the back roads of the city
The hostel we had chosen was on a hill overlooking the city and the Alhambra.  Once we left the city center, the road got narrower and steeper.  I was handling the directions at that point and my plan was just to drive around until maybe I could find the hostel or at least the street.  In that area of the city, the paved roads turn into cobblestone streets that are often two-way but pass through choke points that are barely wide enough for a car to fit through.  How I drove in that area without scratching the car or taking off a mirror remains a mystery.  I am sure that I am now a much better driver than before.  

We had narrowed down the general area on the map and were pretty much just looping around and trying to take different roads until we stumbled upon the place.  This went on for about an hour and a half to two hours.  We drove continuously through roundabouts then up steep, narrow streets, around, and back down again.  Then back to the same roundabout, this time taking a different street which also eventually led back to the same roundabout.  At the top of one of these loops we passed by a police car and I decided to flag them down and ask for directions.  On a side note, the police here are great.  Apparently every officer has to pass an annual fitness exam so there are no large and lazy upholders of the law.  Each one I have talked to thus far has also been really helpful.  I don’t get the feeling that they are out to get you like the cops from the States.  These officers were no different.  

They told us, people from Granada mind you, that the area the hostel is in was really hard to find.  In fact, you could only reach it by walking.  So instead of giving us directions, they just decided to lead us there.  It was pretty neat because we all felt like we were part of some official parade or something.  As it turns out, I had gotten very close to the street, but I didn’t go up it because I thought it was a dead end.  Apparently the turn was just really sharp and really narrow.  From there we went up one of those one-car-wide-but-its-a-two-way streets.  Here is where following a cop really comes in handy.  As we were going up the street, someone was coming down, so our cop friends just flexed their muscles until he backed up and halfway parked.  

Here’s a Meg action-shot of us going up the one-way hill.


I said halfway parked because the front part of his car was still sticking out.  You can see in the picture how close we were to this huge wall.  This was probably by greatest feat of the night’s activities.  I had to squeeze between this guy’s car, the wall, and a couple people walking in the street.  On a hill.  Driving a standard.  I’m going to guess that I had no more than eight inches of clearance.  It felt like the culmination of all my driving stress.  Getting through that gap was such a relief that everything was downhill from there.  At the top of the hill our cops pulled up onto the sidewalk and told us this was as far as we could get by car.  They told us to just take their spot on the sidewalk when they left and walk up a few streets to the hostel.  We got out of the car, finally, and set off towards the streets.  Keeping with the trend of our adventure, we got turned around again and walked about twice as much as we should have.  Eventually we got to the hostel and it was worth it.  The guy we checked in with was really nice and the view was excellent.  Everyone was beat so we went straight to bed.

We got up and walked out to this amazing view of Granada.

This next picture is all me.  Straight ahead is the Alhambra and down to the right is the rest of the city. 



From here on out we just relaxed and enjoyed the city.  Of all the places I’ve been in Spain thus far, Granada is by far my favorite.  The city is gorgeous.  When you walk the streets you feel like you are walking in history.  The streets, the buildings, the shops, and the markets, everywhere you go; it feels old.  It’s not a dying kind of old.  It’s an ancient, aged kind of old.  Like a fine bottle of wine.  I met this hippie girl from Barcelona at the hostel.  She and her boyfriend were traveling and living out of a van.  She told us that of all the places in Spain, Granada is her favorite.  It has the best energy.  That’s about the best explanation I can give of the city.  It just feels like a good place.  It’s comforting to know that you are walking through, and becoming part of, such a historical city.  

That’s about all I can say for Granada.  I’ll leave you with some pictures of our sights before I go.
These next few are of some amazing street art we found.  This guy does professional street art and had actually decorated part of our hostel.

See a trend in the content yet?
 He decorates buildings as well.


We also had to stop for churros and chocolate.


And finally, our hostel view at night.


Ok, well this is where I leave you guys. The drive home was smooth and uneventful so I’ll just leave you with a nice sunset.  I know these posts were long, so I’m grateful if you took the time to read them.  We had a wild ride but it was all worth it.  The girls and I decided that after this adventure we make a pretty good team.  They can do the planning and I can get us around.  Not too bad for a couple of Arkansans.  I'm not sure what's next but I'm definitely going to see Granada again and I hope to do the same with Andrew Bird.  

As you may or may not know, October 20th marked my first month in Spain.  I missed the real anniversary but I plan to do a one-month post next to catch you guys up all the way and see where the time has brought me.   

Until next time,

Zach.

Back from the puente

Hello again everyone,

I'm back from the puente safe and sound (I'm sure y'all were worried).  I know my posts have been kind of drawn out, but we still don't have internet in our place (see the above post).  I think that once we get that rolling I'm gonna try to aim for around 2 posts/week.

So anyway, without further adieu, my fantastic puente weekend adventures!

For our first puente we decided to take things a little easy (for reasons I'll explain later) and take a trip over to Tarifa.  Tarifa is a small town about 45 minutes by bus from La Línea.  Its known as the Spanish town that's physically closest to Africa as well as the kite surfing capital of the world.

 Here's a map for reference:

 I'm sorry to say that we didn't choose the best day to go to Tarifa.  Its a beautiful beach town in the spring and summer, but when we got off the bus, it started raining.  We decided to take shelter in this cool little café and ride the storm out.  Lucky, the rain did not last and it was not long before we were able to venture out and explore the city.  

After walking through several narrow streets, the city turned into the beach.  We came out on a small bridge leading to an fort, which separated the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.  

If you look to the left, you can see Africa.
And to right you can see the Atlantic and the remnants of the storm that just passed over us.  For some reason these clouds fascinated me and I took about 10 pictures of them.  For time's sake, I'll only put a few up.

We walked a little father down the bridge and found some signs.  Just in case your geography is found wanting...

This way is the Med (left):

And this way is the Atlantic (right):
Farther down the path is an old fort or building of some sort.  Unfortunately, the entrance was gated and the Franco-reminiscent guards would not let us pass.
 Before heading back to town, I turned to the right and caught this dude going out to surf.
 One last look at the city before heading back towards it.
 To the left are mountains that are an example of Spain's alternative energy plan.
 I also caught a shot of the boat from Tarifa to Tanger. 

Back in the city I found this park that reminds me of my mom.  Its a health-friendly exercise park, which apparently exist in several Spanish cities.

 Some of the "rides".

Warren the demo-Irishman 

After the park we walked along the waterfront to check out some graffiti art.


Its kinda weird, I know, but it was more impressionable in person.  

That's about it for my trip to Tarifa.  I hope you guys enjoyed more photo-journaling.  It was a nice little trip and I definitely plan to go back on a sunny day.  The town is a nice mix of charm and tourism. 

As far as the rest of the puente goes, I spent it exactly how you should spend a puente: doing nothing.  Like I mentioned, we decided to take this puente a little easy because October 14th we're going to see Andrew bird in concert!  In Granada!

Stay tuned,

Zach.

Friday, October 8, 2010

First day of work


This next post should catch you guys up.  (I did two posts today, so be sure and read the other one first.)

Thoughts on my first day of work: Monday October 4th, 2010. 

I got to my school today around 8:55 in the morning.  Spanish schools are in session from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.  The kids start school at 3 years old and are in escuela infantil until they’re 5 years old.  They then enter escuela primaria from 6-11 years old, and escuela secundaria from 12-16 years old.  At 16 they can either go into a bachillerato for 2 years in preparation for university or straight into the workforce.  At 18, provided they passed their bachillerato courses and the university entrance exam, they can enter la universidad for 4 years for a grado or what we would call a bachelor’s degree. 

The grading system in Spain is also different from the U.S.  Students are graded on a scale of 0-10.  Usually grades above 5 are considered passing.  Also contrary to the States, students in Spain are less concerned with their grades.  Usually just passing the class is enough.  Grades are also distributed publicly- as an announcement in front of the class.  The teachers also have no problem telling the students that they failed because they are stupid or lazy.  The students aren’t babied here like they are in the States.  Basically, you are how you are and there’s no use hiding it.  

The school I’m teaching in is an escuela infantil for children 3 to 5 years old.  Obviously the teachers here aren’t that harsh with their students.  However, the idea of personal space still doesn’t exist.  For example, one of the 5 year olds in my class peed his pants during the lesson and had no problem walking up and telling the teacher what happened.  He also didn’t mind that all the other children noticed, or that the teacher loudly pointed it out, or that he had to change his pants and underwear in class.  Needless to say, this same situation would have happened much differently in the states.  

Back to when I first arrived at the school.  All the schools here are surrounded by walls, which I imagine is as much to keep the students in as it is to keep everyone else out.  I’m greeted at the gate by a rough looking old man.  His skin is approaching a leather-like consistency, several teeth are missing from his smile, and it looks like one eye has gone blind.  Creepy.  This is a school for children, right?  Did I take a wrong turn and end up in the crazies? 

Turns out I was wrong.  I did arrive at the right place, and my unease was misplaced.  The man I described is named Pepe and is the caretaker/janitor of the school.  He is actually a very nice guy and all the kids love him.  Whew.  Close one.  

I came into the school and talked to the principle a little bit who gave me my schedule.  I work Mondays 9 to 12, Tuesdays 9 to 2, and Thursdays 9 to 2.  Not too bad I’d say.  I think I can deal with that.  The school currently employs an English teacher named Sandra and I’m to assist her in class.  The kids are divided by age: 3, 4, and 5 years; then each age is further divided into 3 groups: A, B, and C. Each group has a classroom and a homeroom teacher and we move from class to class.  Mondays we have an hour with each group of four year olds.  Tuesday mornings we have an hour for each group of three year olds, lunch from 12-12:30, and 30 minutes with each of the five year olds until 2 p.m.  Finally, on Thursdays we have an hour with each of the five year olds, lunch from 12-12:30, and 30 minutes with each four year old group. 
As far as the actual teaching goes, it’s not too tough.  Sandra prepares the lessons and I help her manage the class and provide the native-speaker pronunciation/sentence structure.  The only downside is that the lessons are bit repetitive because we do the same routine with each of the A, B, and C sections.  However, Sandra is very sweet and has encouraged me to bring whatever I can to the table.  I think that once I become accustomed to the school routine and I can start contributing more to the lessons.  

Let me leave you with a quick word on my students.  They are impossibly cute.  American children are just downright ugly in comparison.  They all wear orange smocks that are embroidered with their name, and walk to and from class holding onto the shirt of the kid in front of them.  I must look like an alien to them, because they all just stare at me with wide eyes a little too big for their head.
All in all, I think this’ll be a pretty good year. 

Hasta luego,

-Zach.

P.S. This weekend is my first experience with a wonderful Spanish invention known as a puente.  A puente happens when a holiday falls on a day like next Tuesday.  Instead of just taking off Tuesday, the schools are closing this Friday and don’t resume until Wednesday.  Makes sense, huh?  Why work Monday when you’re just going stay home Tuesday.  And yeah, you guessed it.  My next week is a one-day work week.  It’s a hard-knock life. 

The hot water adventure

Hello everyone,

First of all, sorry such a long delay between posts.  Since we moved into our new place, the internet has been a bit scarce.  We don’t have it in our place yet, so we have been going to a café to log on.  The only problem is that my battery lasts about 45 minutes to an hour so I haven’t had much time to get my blog situated.  I’ve been writing out some posts offline, so I’ll try to catch y’all up all at once.  And to add insult to injury I’ve been sick for the past two days.  I wrote these two on Wednesday and meant to post them, but the Spanish flu caught me off-guard.  Who says it doesn’t exist? I’ll spare you the gory and whiny details.  On to better things.  ¡Enjoy!

When I last left you, we had found a place and were starting to get situated.  However, as Mr. Lucas has shown us, the saga always continues.  This week's adventure is brought to you by our defunct hot water heater and friends. 

This exciting endeavor began as soon as we tried to use our water last Wednesday.  As you may have guessed, it was all cold.  No hot water in sight.  We called our landlady, posed the problem, and she sent over her "hombre de confianza," Juan.  After a look at our heater, he decided that one of the hoses should be replaced because the flow of gas to the pilot light had somehow been impeded.

Before we go any further, let’s talk 'bout Juan.  First of all, Juan is a pretty old dude.  He reminds me a lot of my grandfather, George.  If you ever met George, you’d remember the way he puttered along.  (As a side note to this side note, George’s birthday was around a week ago so I hope everyone had some ice cream in memoriam.  I know we all miss him.)  Juan moves in George-like fashion, but with more agility- like the little old engine that could, and might never stop.  He also likes to mumble to himself while working.  Speaking of speaking, when Juan does actually talk to you, he has the thickest Andalusian accent in the known universe.  All his words are so slurred and meshed together that so far I haven't managed to understand a complete Juantanese sentence.  All of my descriptions about this happening are from my inferences of Juan’s actions plus the one to three words out of every sentence I can actually decode. 

Back to Wednesday (September 29th).  If you have been following any world news, you might have heard about the recent labor strike in Spain- on that very same Wednesday.  Entonces, Juan couldn't get the part he needed because all the tiendas were closed.  Soooo…yeah. Night one with hot water.  I guess that would bother some people, but we're all from Arkansas so no big deal.  We weren’t gonna shower anyway.  I deciphered from Juan that he’d be back around 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m.: Juan appears at our door at casi 11 on the dot.  Not too bad for an old Spaniard.  Punctuality must come with age. Juan has aforementioned part in hand and immediately gets down to business.  An hour or two passes by and still no luck for Juan.  The new part he bought didn't work and now I think he's telling me that we need to get a new water heater.  However, it’s now almost 1 and he has to leave to pick up his granddaughter from school.  He's going to talk to our landlady and then be back tomorrow, I think. No hot water again, no big deal. 

Friday morning, 11 a.m.  Juan and our landlady, Loreto, show up in front of our door with a brand-new water heater.  I'll admit, I was pretty impressed.  Not only are they punctual, but they got that water heater up three flights of stairs by themselves.  I hope I'm this spry in my old age.  So far these spry ancianitos have disproven Dr. Parrack's horror stories about lazy Spanish landlords.  Maybe those stories just didn’t include little old ladies.  In any case, from here on out is where we really start to feel sorry for Juan.  The poor man just can't catch a break.

He removed our old water heater and hung the new one up, but they are different sizes.  The hoses for the old heater can't reach the new one, and moreover, one of the valves on the new heater is positioned at just the right angle to shoot hot water straight through the wall. 

Juan has worked until 1 o'clock again and has to leave to pick up his granddaughter.  He also confers to me that he has to get his drill to re-hang the heater, AND buy some more parts so we don´t have water spraying through the wall.   He spends his last 20 minutes trying to close the pipes tightly enough to at least give us cold water, but can’t so we´ll have to go without until he gets back. 

Juan gets back around 3:30, and starts back to work on the water.  He drills out new holes, and connects two of the three pipes, but can't connect the last one.  This is the same pipe that has been threatening our walls with water.  The piece he bought to divert the connection isn't working because it has male/female ends instead of male/male.  This time is now 4:30 and he has to leave on the parts hunt again.  I crack a little more of the Juantanese code, and realize he isn't sure if the stores reopen after siesta at 4:30 or at 5 so we might have to wait a little while longer.  No problema Juan, we don't mind.  Just don't fall down the stairs or anything. 

Juan conquers the stairs like a pro and is back at our place by 5 o'clock.  We're starting to feel like he's our fourth roommate.  After another 30 minutes, the gods finally smile on him because this time, the new parts work!  After a few careful minutes getting the fights lit, the hot water is flowing all from all the faucets.  In case you were wondering, the hot water here isn’t like the hot water in the states.  We have our little heater, which is hooked up to a small butane tank.  It’s kind of an on-demand system.  If you want hot water, you have to turn on the gas and light the pilot light.

Here’s a picture of our setup.

This is our new heater, post installation.  I didn't get any shots of Juan in action.  I felt too sorry for him to worry about that sort of thing.  Look at my last post for a "before" picture.

There was one last little bump in the road.  It seems the hot/cold hoses were switched during their installation and the hot water comes from the cold knob and vis-versa.  No pasa nada Juan, we can survive.  You've done much more than expected.  Please, have this glass of water and go home to your granddaughter.  The Ring has reached Mordor.  Our quest is complete.

-Zach.