I apologize for the delay in your receiving the next chapter of my blog. I have been laid low for almost 2 months by a really bad cold that turned into bronchitis. I have been too sick and just too tired to do anything but take antibiotics and sleep! But I am finally on the mend and promise I will follow this post quite soon with my adventures in London, the Isle of Man, and Dublin plus details of our Atlantic-crossing cruise back to the States. ReAnn
Early on Friday morning, twelve DIVERBO Pueblo Inglés volunteer ‘teachers’ (all this session from the US) and twelve Spanish ‘students’ boarded a lovely big bus for the four-hour drive to LaAlberca. There we will spend the next eight days conversing with each other for approximately fifteen hours each day!
Puelbo Inglés is a wonderful way to enjoy a cost-free week in an absolutely beautiful setting while meeting and getting to know a group of diverse and interesting Spanish executives and helping them improve their conversational English.
This was my fifth time volunteering. The first time was in 2002. That time we were housed in a ancient and historic village high in the mountains that Spain was promoting as ‘the new tourist attraction.’ Our rooms were literally dug out of the sides of the mountains and were cold and damp. Higher up the mountain was a buzzard preserve where farmers and locals would take their dead animals for disposal. I am not making that up! Where we stayed this year was much nicer.
We always make a stop half-way through the four-hour bus trip coming and going to La Alberca. From the restaurant/gas station we have the most outstanding view of the old, walled city of Ávila. It’s history, both yesterday and today, is so interesting that it’s high on my list of places I really must return and spend time exploring.
Once we arrived at the resort we are assigned our own 2-story townhome. The lower level has a large living room, small kitchen with a mini-bar and a bedroom with 2 twin beds and an ensuite bath . This is the room that the volunteers are assigned. Because we were a small group, each volunteer got to have their own room. The townhouse’s much larger, spacious and elegant top-floor suite is assigned to one of the Spanish ‘students.’
The ‘students’ or their company pays the cost of approximately $2000 USD for them to spend eight days improving their conversational English. Their jobs and/or their advanced-degree studies require that they be proficient to not only do their job, but advance their careers.
So for the next eight days the ‘students’ are not allowed to speak Spanish, even to each other. (They do cheat when they call their families or their office.)
Beginning at 9 a.m. each morning we assemble for a breakfast buffet and must rotate our dining companions for each meal. Conversations cover any and all subjects imaginable and as the week progresses and we all get to know each other better, become more personal.
From 10:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. we have one-on-one or small group conversations, conference call practice, or skit rehearsal. From 12:30 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. we reconvene in the meeting hall for a group activity. This can be a skit, a presentation by one of the volunteers or something new that the Master of Ceremonies has dreamed up.
At 2:00 p.m. it’s time for lunch. We are given a choice of menu options for lunch and dinner each day and both meals are served with as much white or red wine as your table would like!
At 3:30 p.m. we all get to enjoy my favorite Spanish custom – SIESTA! Wine at lunch makes for a good nap -or time to check on emails or do some reading – and enjoy an hour and a half of not talking to anyone!
At 5:00 p.m. it’s time to once again to have one-on-one or small group conversations, conference calls or if you’re chosen, rehearse for the evening’s play. We all regroup at 7:30 p.m. in the large meeting room for the play or presentation or sing-along. Again, whatever the Master of Ceremonies has planned for that evening.
Dinner is finally served at 9:00 p.m ! The Spanish think this is early while Joyce and I are normally in our jammies and watching TV by this time!!! Once again, the wine flows while the topics of conversation vary from table-to-table. Dinner concludes at 10:30pm.
The bar is now open and the partying begins. And boy, can Spaniards party! The younger volunteers join right in the fun. One night they were up until 2:00 a.m. and the final night they broke their record and partied until 4:00 a.m. I am rather sorry that I am long past being able to drink and stay up late and expect to function with some type of coherent manner the next day. But our ‘students’ managed to do just that – telling us that these hours are their ‘norm.’ Dinners in Madrid are known to begin at 10 p.m. at the earliest, though 11:00 p.m. is more normal and the bars start the music and dancing at midnight or 1:00 a.m.! Oh, to be young again (or Spanish) for just few days!
One morning we walked into the nearby village of La Alberca. This small village has been in existence since before the arrival of the Romans. Today the population hovers around 1,100 and they are famous for the production of iberico jamon , a truly delicious ham that is from very fat, acorn-only fed pigs raised on the surrounding farms.
There are dozens of stores in the village selling the ham (and they all have this funky, pinkish lighting.) They sell whole hams, ham slices, ham sandwiches and even ‘cones of ham.’ Carving the ham correctly and as thin as possible is considered a great art and there are actually world competitions for the best ham carver!
La Alberca has a long history of allowing ‘the town pig’ to roam free, being fed by tourists and locals and bedding down on the doorstep of wherever he chooses. Also, the route of the Camino de Santiago passes through the village and you see the shell direction signs plus walkers and pilgrims loaded down with their huge backpacks stopping along the road to take off their shoes for a few minutes or hours and give their sore feet a rest!
We were treated to a nice lunch at one of the many restaurants in the village, stopped and posed in the town square for a group photo before walking back to the resort just in time for afternoon siesta!
The week concludes with each ‘student’ doing a five-minute presentation in front of the entire group. They can talk about their work, family, hometowns, whatever topic they chose, just so it’s in English. This is followed by a formal dinner at the resort’s main dining room and the presentation of our course completion diplomas.
The next day the bus arrives from Madrid filled with the next group of students and volunteers. Once they have unloaded their suitcases, ours were quickly loaded and we are on our way for the four-hour return trip to Madrid.
At our destination, hugs and promises to keep in touch were made. Joyce and I returned to the same nearby hotel for our last night in Madrid before our flight to London the next morning.
We had had a great time, met some wonderful people and after talking and talking and talking for the past eight days, by mutual agreement we barely spoke to each other for the rest of the night!
Until next time……