Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April and most of March... in summary (the post whose pictures shouldn't exist)

Dear all,
Hmmmm... it has been a long time and so much has happened. I will have to be brief, in order to save your sanity... and time! haha
First thing is first. During March and April I traveled a lot, much of it in cities and I came to realize a very important observation: I believe that the next evolutionary step for the city pigeon is... well.... a rock. In no way, shape or form can I see these creatures improving themselves in terms of intelligence. My hypothesis is that due to the inordinate amount of times that pigeons in cities run into windows, knock each other over in their humorous yet bizarre lovemaking, and the general lack of intelligence needed to peck up bread thrown from tourists will result in this evolutionary 'progress'. Look for this stunning piece of academic evidence in "Evolution Today" (Additionally i am happy to sign autographs for people). ;-)

Okay, as for life in Andorra, which is where I currently reside, although not so much in the last 2 months. Life has continued to proceed well. Teaching continues to go, which is perhaps the best possible. My students and I have overall progressed to a stage where we have an understanding whether or not they like English or not. To say that I am the most effective teacher would be false, but to say that I had no control at all would be equally false. To say that I will be happy to finish this year would be also true. The rest of my life here though is great, our Encamp choir had a great minitour to Catalunya where we sang at a school in Manresa outside of Barcelona and also at a choir convention with over 5000 students! It really was a great moment and very fun to see the kids outside of class. Overall, we couldn't have been prouder of our 30 odd students and their representation of Andorra as they were polite, they tried their best with singing and they seemed to genuinely be interested in those they met. Particularly when there were any boys deemed "macos" or cute.... haha, being in choir with them is of particular joy to me. Two weeks after our "big" tour, we went across the border to Seu d'Urgell to do a concert with their school too. This was great because one day they came up here and the next we went down there. Again, our kids made us proud. When the other choir was here at our school some of our audience members were fairly embarrassing but the choir itself, impeccable! In the midst of one of those tours my friend Jenny came from Madrid and we had a great weekend exploring Barcelona from the luxury of the apartment of one of my co-teachers in Andorra. Thanks again Jenny for coming up, so many great laughs and it was cool to have you meet some of my students and co-teachers.
In other news in my Andorra life, my football team, Lusitanos are 2nd division champions of Andorra. I can now proudly say I was part of a european division-winning football team... even if I never actually played in a game... hehe. I continue to enjoy practice and starting this next week will begin running with Dany who is my closest friend on the team. What a wonderful privilege to be able to exercise, run around and play football with some very talented, and for sure exuberant people!!!!
Of the months of March and April I was actually only IN andorra for one weekend because of all these trips, and choir. For the one weekend I was here our choir had a concert at the mall as part of a fundraiser for a NGO working towards "ending world hunger". Then, I also got to go skiing which was fun as always although the snow was pretty crap so by 12 or so it was almost impossible to ski and certainly jumping was difficult. I had a very bad fall at the very end which resulted in skis, poles and me all in different directions. I twisted and bruised my knee fairly badly but after about 2 weeks I was able to once again run with fair ease. I also lost 1 pair of sunglasses*** (note, another pair of sunglasses will be mentioned later...) Because of the craziness of the weeks I have been here I did not go to Catala class or language sopars because of the busyness. BUT, I did get a chance to go to church which is fairly rare, and that week the pastor was from Malaga but was American. As always, church is a refreshing, albeit very different from church where I grew up or Green Street in Winston! haha, but that's probably good cause it's in a different place!
Final bad thing that did happen in the last month was teh collapse of my WFU issued Lenovo which died a painful death from 2 sources, both software and hardware. I was beyond repair but luckily a kind coteacher lent me her super old one to help me with my classes and then my gracious roommate helped me a) pick out a new computer, and b) he let me ship it to his address in NY where he was going for Easter so he could then bring it back for me. Angels and luck come in all ways, shapes and forms and this was luck although it started as seemingly an awful event! It's body has since been donated to the science class at my school for dissection and hopefully some sort of education purpose.

1st trip to talk about a bit. I went to Berlin for the Fulbright Europe conference which was a blast. Got to explore Berlin a bit, meet a few really excellent, cool people and hang out with a Wakie. Plus, got to stay with a dear friend of my sister-in-law which was extremely generous since they had a baby in April so she was very much pregnant! It was a great 4 days there, and then I was able to take the train down to Ulm, Germany where I was able to spend 3 very lovely days with my dear old friend Sara. She and her boyfriend were so unbelievably generous to share their lives with me for those three days and particularly generous since Sara and I did a ton of catching up which can't be too fun for him! Ulm is a very pleasant small city which I recommend visiting sometime. I went to school with Sara where I was able to enjoy a class with some of the darlingest little kids. They were really cute, they were so excited to have an english-speaking american in their midst that they were on really good behavior. I also attracted visitors from the next-door school during break time. Needless to say that the the fact that Sara and I know each other from Congo was probably going to be a bit too much for them to handle with ease... haha. It was a great time and Sara is a wonderful teacher so to see her in action and then realize how many things I have to learn to make my classes be even CLOSE to that smooth is humbling. So much energy, diversity of learning skills offered, so much stimuli, funny examples, really cool for realz.

The second trip that I went on could take pages and pages to describe but, I will spare you. In short, I went to Morocco and then to Southern spain. Further detail will entail now so you can skip if you just want the shortest of summaries. I went to visit a friend in Agadir, in southern Morocco which was interesting as it was completely rebuilt after an earthquake 60 or so years ago and it was built with the express purpose of being a tourist town. I spent two lovely days there resting, exploring a bit and catching up with friends. Then I went by bus to Ourzazate where I sat next to a very friendly, nice guy called Isham who was from the area nad therefore gave me a guided tour along the way pointing out caves he explored as a kid, valleys with high numbers of snakes, what this village or that village was famous for etc. It was really kind, and I enjoyed our 9 or so hour journey together. I spent that night in an oasis out of town which I got to by moped and got out of with a hitched ride. ***** (you can begin counting means of transportation for fun if you want now...). THe oasis was beautiful. Thanks to angels in the form of Michel and Cristine, two french tourist who have me a ride and with whom I enjoyed great conversation and a warm beer! haha, I am able to have any photos of this journey at all. This is because, beign Mark, I left my camera in their car but luckily we had exchanged contact information so that I was able to get it back in an hour or so... Wow, the only reason they even found it was that I had forgotten to totally close the window so they stopped to close it and found it... what incredible luck, eh? My life is grace-filled for so many reasons, but this being a clear materialistic example of such grace! Merci encore vous deux car si non pour vous, je n'aurai pas des photos d' un voyage magnifique! Vous etes toujours bienvenue chez moi. Et pour que vous saviez, j'ai nomme l'album de photos sur f-book avec le nom que vous m'avez donne! merci mille fois!
I then joined up with a tour group in town which was heading to the Valley of dades and then the desert. This turned out to be a fantastic, life-filled group which I felt SOOOO lucky to be part of, especially since I was a bit nervous about joining a random tour group. It turned out that we were all young(ish), lively, and interested in each other's lives so we got along well and were able to learn a lot. In particular, three of the girls ended up being Catalan so they live nearby and 1 will come up and visit me this first weekend of May and hopefully I will get to hang out with them later in May!!! What luck, eh? It was so neat to be able to meet some young Catalans who are interested in the world outside of them. Definitely something that is hard about living in Andorra, since there aren't many people around my age. We saw the valley of roses, a fantastic, steep, impressive gorge with one night spent near a rock formation called Monkey's fingers before culminating in the expectedly cool experience of one night in the desert. Most of this was done with a minibus by the end by camel... Camels, a good thing to try once, but I have no desire to do a trip with them again!.... EVER. ugh, my butt, and overall body hurt after 1 1/2 hours so I can't imagine longer.
At the desert I parted ways and headed to Meknes by another kind of bus (cheaper and without air) where college friend Monica was unbelievably generous and allowed me to crash with her three nights and showed me her town of Meknes and then I explored Fez mostly by myself with a visit to an old friend there too. WHat an honor to get to spend so much time with friends in places they live and know (and speak arabic). Arabic is now on my radar of languages to learn... it will surely be the greatest of challenges that I have faced linguistically but certainly cool. Again, I can't underline how much I appreciate Monica's hospitality. From her place I headed off to Tangier/Tanger by train. Trains are very comfortable and nice in Morroco. I spent the day in Tangier walking around, exploring, seeing a beautiful sunset and getting a shave! It is a decent town, but in my opinion cities of MOrocco are not the charming part of the country, despite all the talk about the Souks (markets). Also, I spent one night in a super cheap but equally super shady hotel which left me feeling like bedbugs all over and teh ice cold shower they offered did not help me feel like I got rid of them. No worries though, no actual signs of bedbugs.... gracias a Dios!
The next day I jumped across the Mediterranean (in a boat) to the charming,  lovely town of Tarifa which is a super place to chill out, and posssibly own a beach house if you have the funds... look into it and if someone ever does, tell me so I can visit cause I doubt it will ever happen in MY life! haha. THis is where adventures began. I spent one day in Tarifa just exploring, enjoying the beach and relaxing at a 12 euro hostel, awesome. I began walking.... about 5 kms before I got a hitchiked ride to the nearest intersection of the town of Vejer where I then had another 2 km walk up a steep mountain to the hilltop, which was worth the walk. I spent an hour there enjoying the first white-washed town of the "Pueblos blancos" before then walking about an hour and change. I figure I do about 7 kms in a good hour but I"m only guessing. Got a ride for about 30 km where he dropped me off at a 2nd pueblo blanco called Medina Sardinia. a half hour more walk got me to the actual town where I had a lovely menu lunch where I consumed as much agua griffa (tap water) as possible! Another hour walk before I got a ride that took me to Arcos de la Frontera. Lucky too cause there were no trees, no shade, no restaurants, nada and it was very hot in Andalusia. Apparently that day was the hottest day of the year so far... haha. Got to Arcos de la Frontera which was my favorite city of the south of Spain. Loved the views and the lovely guesthouse I stayed at there. Then began my longest straight walk. I ended up having to walk about 14 kms to the next town cause no one would pick me up and I needed to catch a bus in the next town. ugh.... definitely left my legs hurting, my back and backpack sweaty and my taste for hitchhiking significantly embittered.
I spent that night in ROnda which is perhaps the most touristed of the pueblos blancos and famous for its Bullring where modern bull-fighting started as well as its gorge-spanning bridge connecting the old town with the new town but it was not my favorite. Arcos was. From Ronda, I headed to Granada which quickly became one of my favorite towns I have visited, ever. Although I was only able to spend a day there, the proximity of skiing 1 or so hours away, the beach equi-distant, and the blend of hippies, modern business and the antiquity of the Alhambra was great. I came into serious luck here as I had no reservation for the alhambra (apparently booked for about 3 weeks now) but I went to the ticket office anyway and someone canceled right when I got there so I was able to visit the Alhambra in the end. It is a very impressive palace. I would definitely opt to be an Arab/Moorish prince to european princes trapped in shady castles and such organized bush gardens. The gardens at the Alhambra still maintained some wildness and were full of water.
The final part of my trip was spent in Madrid, which I went to by train and stayed with Kesley and Dan, two fulbrighters who stayed with us in January. Again, what luxury to be able to spend time with friends everywhere. and of course, all these lovely people saved me a ton of people which is what enabled me to do all this. In Madrid, I enjoyed a myriad of cafes, senegalese food! :-) hmmmmmm, and a whole day of Madrid Open tennis where I saw Nadal, Federer, Murray, and got the signatures of Sharapova (I think that's the beginning of a promising relationship.... ;-) hehe) and Wozniacki and got to see a good number of the top 20 women play in their respective matches. Sunday saw me return back to Barcelona by airplane and then the final three hour, familiar bus ride to Andorra. Oh, I got to see the Athletic Bibao football team at the BCN airport which was pretty cool. I was just waiting for my bus right where their bus was waiting for them so they all walked right by me... haha, but I didn't get any autographs this time.

What awesomeness, right? I feel like a rockstar after such a luxurious trip, and despite a great deal of money spent along the way, every cent was worth it and the amount I saw makes that sum seem incredibly small. I tried new things, met cool, new people, saw amazing places, tasted new food (some good and some bad) and overall loved living the entire way. Isn't that all you can really ask for, especially when you enjoy the materialistic luxuries of my life? Traveling alone isn't all that it's cracked up to be, although making decisions was easy... as was finidng places to stay. I would just show up in a town and start asking and visiting hotels/hostels till I found something in my price range that was decent. haha. but, I prefer traveling with others. It is my last real holiday in europe before heading back to the USA where I am very excited to join the WFU admissions team in Winston-Salem, NC at my alma mater as we try to bring the best and brightest who will thrive at Wake. I will have a luxurious 5 days between jobs as I drive from the midwest to NC with a car which my cousin is kindly organizing the purchase of.

Much love for now, pictures will follow later as they are on an external hard drive. Much love and thanks as always for reading and keeping in touch.
Peace and Love from the Principality for one of the last times....
Mark Titus Hoover