Language Teacher Perks

Working as a language teacher has its perks.  A big one is that I can pretty much justify showing whatever video clip I want, as long as it’s in the target language and I can vaguely relate it to the subject at hand.  And as a recovering college politician, I’m good at spin.

The other day we were discussing the “schwa” sound (that beautiful “uh” that comes at the end of words such as “India”).  It just so happened that there is a great video which exemplifies, over and over and over, how to make this sound using the word “China.”

I’ve never seen thirteen year olds so into repeating a word on their way out of class.

The next video I’ll be showing tomorrow comes from my alma mater’s Traditions Night.  They gather all the incoming students together and talk about the university, chants, songs, etc.  This year, they found a rather entertaining way to introduce the chancellor.  Quite the way to meet her as a new student!  We’ll see how my Spanish adults react to how goofy American adults can act sometimes.


Sexy Sexitanos

Demonyms can be fun.  Just ask the Sexitanos.

A few weekends back, we headed east, leaving the Costa del Sol behind and heading to the Costa Tropical in the province of Granada.  About an hour and a half after leaving Fuengirola, we arrived in the coastal city of Almuñécar, a city of about 30,000 with a picturesque castle, mediocre tapas (save for one delicious exception), and delightful beaches.

IMG_8571 IMG_8579

Contrary to what the name might suggest, the residents of Almuñécar are referred to as “Sexitanos.”  This comes from the name of the Phoenician settlement, “Sexi,” which was located where the city is today.  It also makes for some great bar names—the Sexitanos aren’t afraid of a good pun.

While not a major tourist attraction, the city boasts a stunning castle which overlooks its beaches.  It looks just like a castle should.  My favorite part by far was this tower, which has seen straighter days…

Almunecar Castle TowerIMG_8575 IMG_8590

The trudge up to the castle, reminiscent of the steep hills of Gibraltar and Granada, left us sweaty but content as we explored other parts of the city which we hadn’t the night before.  The previous evening, after hitting up a local beach, we went out for tapas hoping for the full Granada experience.

In Granada, the tapas come with whatever drink you order and tend to be delicious.  In Málaga, they might give you some potato chips.  In Almuñécar, it was kind of a mix—the tapa came included, but mainly consisted of some form of cooked potato or sausage.  So while I ended the night full, I didn’t necessarily end it feeling all that satisfied.  Or healthy…

Thankfully, the next day we found the place to eat.  It was right on the beach, AND we snagged the one open table that some people were vacating just as we arrived.

It was packed.  Full to the brim.  The restaurants on either side, however, were close to vacant.  In my experience, always a good sign.  We got four huge chunks of fish for our first tapa and decided to order some more food (fried octopus in this case).  And as we ordered a second drink, we got two enormous tapas of paella as well.  It more than made up for the lackluster sausages of the previous day.

Before and after exploring the city, we went to the beach.  Given that it was the middle of September, the beaches of southern Spain are noticeably more vacant—we had quite a bit of space to enjoy the rocky beaches and blue water.  The coast of Granada is known as the “Tropical Coast,” and the difference between the water there and in Málaga is impressive.  In Málaga, the water tends have something of a brownish tint, but in Granada it’s much bluer.

Having started at a new job the week before our trip, taking a night in Almuñécar was a delightful way to unwind, and also explore another picturesque Andalusian town.  While maybe not the place to go for tapas, it’s definitely worth checking out for the castle, the beaches, and the sexy Sexitanos.

A picturesque doorway in the old downtown of Almuñécar.
A picturesque doorway in the old downtown of Almuñécar.
View of the beach through a window in the castle in Almuñécar.
View of the beach through a window in the castle in Almuñécar.
Chilling in the castle.
Chilling in the castle.
Carlos in front of the Mediterranean.
Carlos in front of the Mediterranean.

Gibraltar, Part 2

With three American visitors this past week, one of whom was born in Gibraltar, the two hour car trip down was a must.  After several passport checks[1], some mishaps finding the car rental place, and lots of walking and sweating, we finally took off to Britain’s own paradise on the Mediterranean.

Some monkeys grooming in Gibraltar
Some monkeys grooming in Gibraltar.

As we arrived to La Línea de la Concepción (the Spanish town right across the border from Gibraltar[2]), we opted to walk across the border.  Getting into Gibraltar can be done either by car or by foot, but I advised that we walk in, as the lines to enter by car usually move slowly and go on forever.  And of course, that day there was no car line at all.  Of course.

The walk across the border involves showing a passport or European ID card, to varying levels of scrutiny.  The Spanish authorities have never done anything but just nod at it, and the Brits have only stopped me once to scan my passport.  It’s rather laid back, as customs should be.  Heck, you hardly even break a sweat on the way in.

And after your brief walk and double ID check, you’re in.

Once you cross the border, you immediately walk right across the airport tarmac.  Being a different country, this tiny peninsula created their own airport by reclaiming land from the sea. So on occasion, the border crossing closes down because a plane is taking off or landing.  We in fact got stuck in Gibraltar a good ten minutes in order to watch a Monarch flight land as we were trying to leave.

This being my third time in Gibraltar, and with three Americans accompanying me, it was finally time to pay the money and take the cable car up to see the monkeys.  Once up on top of the Rock of Gibraltar, you can see for miles.  Sights include Africa, the Strait of Gibraltar, Cádiz, and miles into a Mediterranean filled with ships.  Very picturesque.

Not so picturesque is what is actually on top of the rock.  The building the cable car arrives to is a mass of concrete surrounded by a concrete jungle of recent ruins reminiscent of my summer afternoons spent exploring abandoned buildings near the old quarry by my house.  It’s ugly as sin, as some Midwesterners might say.

Anyway, the monkeys did their best to be in places with terrible lighting for photographing them, but we got to see them, explore the strange old concrete maze, and gaze out for miles.

Monkeying around atop the Rock of Gibraltar
Monkeying around atop the Rock of Gibraltar (the monkey chose this lighting not me).
Poking around the abandoned concrete structures atop Gibraltar
Poking around the abandoned concrete structures atop Gibraltar.

As we trudged back toward the border, sweaty but as happy as the European monkeys we had just ogled, we used some of the extra pound coins we had to buy some souvenirs and refreshments, cognizant of the fact that in just a few minutes (plus ten, with the flight landing), we’d be back to Spain and Euros.  Although intimate neighbors, Gibraltar and Spain feel the same and yet so very, very different.

[1] The first time I tried to visit I thought it would be cute not to bring my passport. Which meant I couldn’t get in. Which meant that to make up for driving four hours round trip we got to explore the nearby port city of Algeciras.  It was fine, just not all that different. Quite a “treat…”

[2] Most of the traffic signs near Gibraltar in Spain only mention this town, not Gibraltar, as Spain claims that Gibraltar is its territory.  A lovely bit of international passive-aggression!

Gibraltar, Part 1

Monkeys, pounds, and reclaimed land.  If that doesn’t sound like a party I don’t know what does.  The only place to hit up this party on the entire European continent is a tiny peninsula controlled by the British since the 18th century, claimed by Spain, and riddled with the bizarre.  This is Gibraltar.

Aerial view of Gibraltar in the foreground and Spain behind.
Aerial view of Gibraltar in the foreground and Spain behind.

Gibraltar, of Strait of Gibraltar fame (and sometimes known as “The Rock”) is a British Overseas Territory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea from the Spanish province of Cádiz.  Gibraltar itself is a rather small peninsula, home to about 30,000 inhabitants, and principally comprised of an impressive mountain (this being “The Rock of Gibraltar,” as it were).  Aside from The Rock, its claims to fame are lax gambling and banking regulations, low tax rates, and the only remaining monkeys in Europe.  I warned you it’s strange.

Upon entering and walking down Winston Churchill Avenue, Gibraltar begins to feel like a strange compilation of southern Spanish Mediterranean and Great Britain.  There are British mailboxes, strikingly different architecture, and, on one occasion when I was visiting, lots of signs excited about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  There is a main street in the town of about 30,000 people which is lined with shops hocking electronics, jewelry, tobacco, and alcohol (low taxes).  In fact, people leaving Gibraltar most always have a bag conspicuously occupied by some form of alcohol which they got far cheaper there than in Spain.

Almost all shops and restaurants allow you to pay in Euros or Pounds.  That’s convenient, as long as they don’t screw with the conversion rate.  I was quite peeved when our lunch in Euros was calculated far above the actual rate.  How dare they try to rip me off while allowing me to pay in a currency which is not legal tender in their country.  How dare they.

In all, Gibraltar is an exceptionally interesting part of the world to visit and spend an afternoon in.  My trips mainly consist of marveling at its uniqueness—a little chunk of Britain sequestered in a sparsely populated area of the southern Iberian Peninsula.  I just hope someday Spain and the UK get the Gibraltar situation figured out so Spain can start attending official state functions in England again.

Check in on Thursday to see how four Americans enjoyed their time this past week!

Costa Rican Currency Catastrophe

“Expletive,” I thought, rousing myself from the half sleep I was in as we sped through Bonner Springs on I-70.  Costa Rican beaches vanished from my mind as ATMs and red zeros flooded in to replace them.

“What?” my dad asked calmly, ever a beacon of patience.

“I forgot my debit card,” I uttered meekly, the blood draining from my face.  Although hardly noticeable at 5:18am in the Kansas December, it was draining fast nonetheless.

“Really?” said my father (or so I recall him saying; I felt deserving of a far harsher berating, but he was far too wise and paternal to offer it).


Relaxing during a tour of a since-forgotten location in Costa Rica while repping the University of Kansas.
Relaxing during a tour of a since-forgotten location in Costa Rica while repping the University of Kansas.  Not worried about money.

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Up Next…

Check in soon to see how my travels to Costa Rica were almost ruined by a simple mistake.  (First world problem alert: It revolves around a first world problem.)

Showing just how bad at violence I would be. Forgot to take the sheath off.
Showing just how bad at violence I would be. Forgot to take the sheath off…  Taka would never deserve that though!
Leaving Costa Rica was a bummer, but at least I left with quite the tan!  And sooooo much hair.
Leaving Costa Rica was a bummer, but at least I left with quite the tan! And sooooo much hair.

Czech Koruna

Nothing like a pocket full of dollars in a plane from Málaga to Prague.  Kind of important to exchange those upon arrival though.  As an American traveler, I have something of an entitlement complex.  And if you’re an American who has traveled abroad you have it too.  Services should be provided.  People should be able to understand English-plus-hand gestures.  Times shouldn’t be allowed to surpass 12:59.  But above all, the invisible hand of the market, that American god so revered by the one percent, should never allow currency exchanges to shut down before the last flight in from southern Europe has landed.

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