Monday, October 4, 2010

Viva la vida que amas, ama la vida que vives...

Where can I even begin to describe the past few days?  I guess in the quote that became my motto two years ago when I went to Honduras.  A boy named Josue (ho-sway) used to tell us “ama la vida que vives, y viva la vida que amas.”  It is simply that.  Love the life you live, and live the life you love. 

I have said before that I can’t live without horses.  Here or anywhere.  Friday was the first day that I had the opportunity to go out to a farm and relax, and be with horses- what a feeling that was.  Hacienda Dos Olivos is located 45 minutes outside of Sevilla in a small town called Aznalcázar.  That means this was also my first time using Sevilla’s public transportation system.  The Plaza de Armas bus station is enormous and though fairly straight forward, I of course managed to need to ask for help several times.  Finally though, I made it onto the right bus, and off we went into the countryside.  After the first few stops I realized that the bus driver assumes everyone knows where they are going, and therefore does not call out the stops in any way shape or form.  I kept my looking around and waiting for the signs letting me know I was entering Aznalcázar.  Thankfully the Bienvenidos signs are fairly large.  Another fun fact about the bus system is that there are no official stops.  Anyone can press the stop button to have the bus stop wherever they want in the city; therefore I had to be very aware of my surroundings and where I was supposed to get off. 

When I arrived into the town center I called Johanna, the owner of Dos Olivos, and after asking me which part of the town I was in, she let me know that she would be there to get me within 15 minutes.  As we pulled into the farm my jaw pretty much hit the floor.  The architecture is all classical Spanish architecture with white walls and beautiful roofs.  Johanna immediately invited me into her home, and gave me a cup of tea.  It is the Spanish way to move slowly and appreciate the time we have.  Nothing is ever rushed, and I think it greatly adds to the quality of life the people here live.  

After the glass of tea and a phone call to my friend Victor to make plans for the night, Johanna took me outside and began the tour of the facility.  The farm is over a hundred years old, and in the best way possible, it shows.  You can feel the history around you as you walk through the courtyards, see the branches of the hundred year old olive trees hanging down, and notice the heads of beautiful Spanish stallions hanging over the stall doors.  The farm is a 30 hectare olive farm that grows organic table olives for the province of Andalucía.  Though the farm is small, it still takes the workers weeks to hand pick all the olive trees on the farm.  
Anyway back to the horses.  I had a chance to meet many of the faces around the farm including Johanna’s mother and daughter, yard manager, olive pickers and some of the temporary students.  I met each of the stallions and learned a bit about each of their stories.  I also had a chance to begin discussing with Johanna what arrangement we will be able to come to with the exchange of my photography for lessons.  They are looking to rebuild their website from scratch without using anyone on the outside, and I may be the perfect opportunity for them to use a professional without having the price tag that normally accompanies it.  Even just in the two hours that I spent with them, they already made me feel at home, and despite not being a dressage rider, were still perfectly welcoming in letting me know they would be happy to make me a part of their family.  Johanna offered to let me come out for full days at a time so I’m not rushing back to the city, she offered to feed me lunch on days when I stay later, and she offered to let me spend nights in the house so that I can see just how beautiful the farm is at sunset and sunrise.  I am beyond excited for this opportunity, and can only wait and see where it takes me, and this journey I have begun with my photography. 

After I finished touring the farm I hung out and watch Nancy, the farm manager, teach a lesson.  She is a calm and compassionate teacher that manages to share her knowledge in a way that is easy to understand.  When it came time for me to leave for the night, Johanna took me back into Aznalcázar to meet up with my friend Victor.  Normally the last bus leaves town at 19:05 but because I was meeting up with Victor we didn’t leave until 19:45.  Victor had received a text earlier in the day that had let him know there was a horse show beginning that night in the town next to his.  He of course thought of me right away and asked if I wanted to visit it.   Sevillano’s are a different type of people all together: Victor had just returned from Cordoba with his French friend Doña who was visiting for the week, and still he came to Aznalcázar just so that we could go to a horse show.  I can’t even convince my brother to come watch a horse show that I’m actually competing in, and here I have made a friend that is willing to pick me up from 30 minutes away, take me to a horse show despite knowing nothing about horses, while his friend was visiting, and just after finishing a long trip back from Cordoba.  AND afterwards he brought me back to his house and his mother cooked dinner for us before driving me the 25 minutes back to the area I live in the city. 

Its so foreign to me that the people here are so nice and don’t mind going out of their way to make other people happy.   There is no burden because here people aren’t only concerned with themselves, what a fantastically foreign idea to us americanos. 

On Friday I didn’t make it home until midnight, which was later than I had thought I would get home since we were leaving for Granada at 8:30 the next morning.  Despite the late night packing after an exhausting day (without a siesta!) I managed to wake up and make it to the bus with plenty of time to spare.  We spent the next several hours making our way east to the city of Granada, and when we arrived we were greeted with the most beautiful assortment of food most of us had seen since we arrived.  I think though that may be because most of us are not content with the food we receive in our home stays.  I know that at least for me I’m a picky enough eater that I struggle with the food on a day to day basis, and even when I try new things, most of the time I still don’t like the food and am left feeling unsatisfied and still hungry.   The food in the hotel was an all you can eat buffet with salads, breads, pastas and delicious meats.  The entire weekend we gorged ourselves knowing we would be returning to unpredictable food. 

The city of Granada is known for its major attraction – the Alhambra which is basically a series of palaces where the last Islamic king lived.  We had a tour (in Spanish of course) of the Alhambra and all of its rooms, including the restored lions from the Fuente de los Leones, a historically famous site regarded as the last symbol of peace between Muslims and Christians in the 1400s.  Its interesting that the gift was so well received by the Muslims because it is against Islamic beliefs to depict any living creatures in their art or buildings (they also cannot build their structures out of rock as it is too permanent – only Allah can create something that will last forever).  Therefore their buildings are adorned with colors and Sanskrit text instead of with any human or animal representations. 
After our tour of the Alhambra we rested before getting ready to go out in the city of Granada.  To our dismay the top location recommended to us by CIEE was a jazz bar that had for one, changed locations from the address given to us by CIEE and two, had some of the most expensive menu items we have seen since arriving in Spain (three euros for a cerveza is beyond expensive).  Adam, Paige, and I ended up finding a Chupitería (shot bar) nearby that had .50 cent mixed shots.  We each took eight (which might have been the equivalent of 3 shots… maybe) before heading back to Granada’s Plaza Nueva to meet back up with our friends.  Along the way (we didn’t have a map with us) we had to ask many people for directions, and the number one thing I learned about the city of Granada is that the people are much less friendly, and much less willing to help foreigners out.  I know that Sevilla has a reputation for being a very happy city full of inviting people, but I didn’t imagine that another city in Andalucía would be so opposite.  In the bars everyone keeps to themselves, and on the street many would simply ignore our questions asking for directions. But as the Sevillanos say “no pasa nada”.  We returned to Sevilla after two long days and were happy to be home. 

After I told my señora about my experience in Granada and she agreed, Sevillanos are known for being very happy and friendly people, and by noticing that, she says I am becoming a Sevillana. 

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