Daily Wanderlust: Sunset over Monfrague National Park

I truly believe the Extremedura region of Spain in the springtime is quite possibly the most beautiful place to celebrate this spectacular time of year.

In April, Monfrague National Park comes alive with a carpet of bright green grass dotted with yellow flowers, little pea-green leaves sprouting from trees, and blue, blue skies.

Sunset is no exception to the beauty this part of the world offers.


Escape of the Week: Spanish Spring

I remember it like it was yesterday … there I sat on a bus barreling out of Madrid and toward the beautiful Extremadura region, ready to go and teach  more English.

I was exhausted from the evening I had before, and was struggling to keep my eyes open.

The Vaughantown bus stopped for a food break, and the Anglos disembarked, stretching limbs in the brisk spring day.

And, there it was. The snow-capped mountain jetting above a carpet of green and yellow against a brilliant blue sky.

And, here it is for you.

Destinations Spain

Back back back to Extremadura

Nearly six weeks after my initial trip into Extremadura, I was at it again. This time, the bus was replaced by a nice four-door sedan, and the 20 Anglos were replaced by two Spaniards — Marcos and Jesus, a friend of mine from the Monfrague VaughanTown program.

Just like the first time on the bus, I sat with my eyes wide, staring out the window, marveling at the beauty of Spain’s countryside. This time was even more magnificent.

Snow still clung to the mountain peaks, and the fields below were still a vibrant green with yellow flowers blankets the ground. And then, there were more colors. Purple! Red! White! All competing with the yellow, blending into one of the most picturesque sights against the cork and olive trees I have ever seen.

“This … it is just so … amazing,” I explained to Marcos and Jesus, searching for the right words to convey the beauty I was witnessing.

“Si,” they said.

It went on for hours … this gorgeous countryside. Every now and then, we would pass ruins of old castles or palaces, little cities on hills, fields of horses and cows and bulls. Each minute, my heart wrapped itself more and more firmly around the country.

I have to live here.

Jesus and I had been working for a month on finding a job for me. I had even redone my entire CV and written a cover letter on how I wanted to work and live in Spain. And Jesus, bless him, had translated it all into Spanish for me. Up until that Sunday afternoon (the day of the Formula One race in Monaco (Alonso placed sixth), the tennis match with Federer and the Barcelona v Madrid futbol game), we had no luck, but my fingers were crossed.

And now, we were headed to Merida, where I would have a Monfrague reunion of sorts — seeing most of the people who played such an important role in my life during that one week … Jesus, Maria Antonio, Jose, Macarena and  Alfonso.

“We are home,” Jesus announced as the car pulled up in front of a white apartment building. The two men, being the polite and wonderful men they are, hauled my bags and buzzed Maria to let us in.

“Hi!” I squealed when Maria, head full of curls, greeted us at the door to her flat. We hugged, and walked into her beautiful home, leaving Jesus and Marcos to continue their day.

That was just the start of the impromptu (and awesome) Monfrague reunion in Merida.

Blog Spain Travel

Decompression numero dos


Man, leaving new friends is a bitch.

The second time I had bid farewell (“see you soon”) in three weeks to a group of amazing and beautiful people who became my family in the blink of an eye was no easier than the departure two weeks earlier.

First, it was Valdelavilla. And now, Monfrague. Two completely different programs, two completely different locations. Two completely and breathtakingly different groups of people.

And both forever have special places in my heart.

Leaving the Spaniards is never easy. This time was especially hard because there were a few people on the both the Spanish and English sides (and they know exactly who they are) who immediately captured my love.

I was so reluctant at first to accept this new group of people. It felt a bit like cheating on the original Valdelavilla family. Anthony and I stood in the meeting room of Hospedería Parque de Monfrague, me leaning my head against his shoulder, exhausted from the night we had previously with some of the participants of this program.

I whispered in his ear, “I want to be in Valdelavilla again.”

The group we were surrounded by was new. Different. Overwhelming.

It was about 20 Spaniards compared to about 12 from the last program, as well as about 20 Anglos. We had the bus ride with just the Anglos, and there were a few we spoke with. But all these people? Really? It just tired me to look at their faces.

We did the introductions … “I’m D,” kiss on the cheek, kiss on the other cheek, “nice to meet you.”

And again, I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself in to.

But, intense experiences like this bring people together, and this was no exception.

Within three meals I felt something towards every person in our group.

Within three days, I couldn’t imagine my life without having met them.

By the end of the week, I was making plans to see nearly all of them again.

Every meal, every one-on-one, even the cigarette breaks (no, Mom, I did not smoke), were filled with laughter and conversation —  most of the time in English.

There were so many moments during Monfrague when I just wanted to press “pause” and make it last longer.

One moment was during our siesta — about half of us decided to go and explore Monfrague, a stunning national park with a castle perched atop a mountain. I stayed about mid-hike while the others climbed up to the castle with Tina, an Anglo from the UK.

Tina and I bonded instantly. We sat together, watching the vultures soar above our heads, sun shining on our faces, and had us some proper girl talk. By that night, she, Anthony and I were our own little club.

Another was when Jose, whose dimples, English phrases (“I can’t beeleeve it!”) and general oozing of happy quickly won me over, and I decided to head into the little town by our hotel for our one-on-one.

Only, we picked up some additional people.

He and I were driving down the road and saw Alfonso, another Spaniard who, along with his sister, Laly, ended up being like siblings to me during the trip, and Kate, an Anglo. So, we kidnapped them and they joined us as we sat outside at a little bar, sipping wine and beer and eating vultures feet (at least that’s what Alfonso wanted me to believe I was eating).

Another late afternoon, Jesus and I had our one-to-one and we took his little “puppito,” Lucky, for a walk around Monfrague. It was fun to watch the pup frolic in the yellow flowers, hopping through the neon green grass. And it was even more fun to talk to Jesus about life in Spain, my plans to live there (and how we are going to work on getting me a job there).

Then, there was the party. And, it was a party. A table covered with drinks and snacks mixed perfectly with the 40 or so of us until the wee hours of the morning.

And, of course, the next morning, Graeme (Anglo), Jose, Hector (Spaniard) and I continued the party at the little bar in town with coffee and brandy. Not my idea, but it worked.

Friday afternoon came and I was dreading it. Absolutely not looking forward to lunch or to leaving.

After lunch, we all congregated outside in the hotel’s driveway, hugging, kissing, promising to “see you soon,” and really meaning it (update: a group of us are having a reunion camping trip in May … looks like I’m headed back to Madrid!!).

As we pulled out of the hotel’s driveway, the Spaniards waved goodbye one last time.

There were a few tears. But, those tears were accompanied by the fact I KNEW the friends I had made would not disappear.

Friday night when we arrived back to Madrid, I was mentally exhausted. The “see you soon’s” of the day had ripped at me. But, I can’t wait to do another one …

Blog Spain Travel