My first encounter with Spain was in 2012 where I visited Barcelona, Figueres and Madrid (BFM!). At my final stop in Madrid, I headed out to Castille y Leon on a program called Vaughantown where I spoke English to Spaniards. We are placed in a boutique hotel and the Spaniards are not allowed to speak their local language for a period of a week. The ideal size is an equal number of Anglos (the English speakers) and locals; usually about 15 on each side.
There will be a combination of one-on-one sessions and skits and despite the language barriers, we do find a way to communicate. We always get to the heart-to-heart conversations about unemployment, politics, faith, families and just life in general.
The journey getting there this time was long; from Abu Dhabi, Rome and finally to Madrid. Thankfully the trip back was more straightforward going through Amsterdam before arriving home. These trips can take anything from 15 to 20 hours so why do I do this?
Over the years, I have made great Spanish and English-speaking friends and even make plans to meet at one of these programs to rekindle friendships. I have since done this programme three times and I am always the sole Malaysian. You’ll get mostly Brits coming with a smattering of Americans and Aussies. I always have a lot of explanation as to why I speak English and so the history lessons begin. And you know, I am probably the only Malaysian they will ever meet in their life and so I have to be a good ambassado!.
So this trip to escape from Chinese New Year, I went to this town called Belmonte. This is my third programme after a hiatus of two years. The last one was in 2013 where I went to Segovia where their famous suckling pig (cerdo) comes from. As if there isn’t enough food, there’s also plenty of wine to help with the conversations and a bit of time for their wonderful siestas.
Belmonte is a tiny, tiny town with a lot of history, I believe we stayed in a former palace and if not, it’s very old anyway. It was built in the the 15th century and the ruins are still left intact. I’m sure many stories can be told about the building and their inhabitants. It’s located right next to a cemetery after all! Belmonte is also where Don Quixote of La Mancha originated. The castle nearby is where El Cid’s was filmed (Charlton Heston & Sofia Loren).
Why do I keep doing this programme? The friend I have made from my first trip will still make time to see me whenever I make a trip over. The guy who took me on a running tour offered to give me a free tour but I didn’t have time to meet him. The girl I stayed with in Figueres (Salvador Dali’s birthplace) through AirBnB has moved to Madrid and asked me to a Marc Almond concert (which I didn’t :(). Again, new friendships are forged with Spaniards and Anglos alike. Parting is such sweet sorrow. How can I not return? I don’t know when I’ll do this programme again but I know I will. In the meantime, goodnight Spain!