Authentically Spanish

Eleanor L. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Germantown Friends School in Pennsylvania.

The view from one of the towers  of Cáceres

The week-long school trips were approaching, and I had been assigned to the group going to Extremadura, Spain. To say I was thrilled would be an overstatement. The other destinations were Andalucía and País Vasco, places I already knew to be beautiful. I had no prior knowledge of Extremadura and had never even heard of the remote area in the far west region of Spain, bordering Portugal. But Oriol, the history teacher at SYA who was going with our group, assured us that we would be in for a treat. I knew we would learn a lot with him, and became eager to experience the authenticity of visiting a rarely-visited region.

Our first spot in Extremadura was a jamón factory. All around the building were rolling, squat hills and layers of greenery, stretching further than I could see beneath the gray of the low clouds. Here, the ham that Extremadura is most famous for is cured for differing lengths of time. We went on a tour and learned how to tell when ham is fresh, and ate different types supplemented by bread and cheese. We then went to the farm where these special Iberian hogs roam. We learned that because they run around more than the standard Spanish hogs, they have more fat (making them more delicious in my humble opinion). We got to run around with the animals, hiding behind trees and enjoying the fresh air.

Our next stop was Cáceres, the city where we spent the most nights. It’s a quaint place, though one of the biggest in Extremadura, with layers of history of Roman and Moorish occupation evident in its diverse architecture.

The next day we made our way to Mérida, the capital of Extremadura, that still contains the ruins of many Roman structures: an amphitheatre and theatre where a few of the SYA students gave a gleeful and spontaneous performance; an aqueduct; and various temples dotted throughout the everyday streets. As someone who has taken Latin for the last few years, I was in heaven. The town is also famous for its storks soaring in the sky and nesting on the ancient Roman walls. When exploring in a smaller group, I stumbled upon a very Spanish tapas bar, with extremely delicious huevos rotos made with authentic Iberian jamón. At the end of our full day, we watched the sun set from a lake that had provided ancient Romans with water through their aqueduct.

The monastery in Guadalupe

The following day, we took a day trip to the Museo Vostell-Malpartida, which had fascinating modern pieces and a beautiful view of a lake from an outside patio. The founder of the museum wanted visitors to be overwhelmed by the noises of 20th century machinery incorporated into the artwork on display, and subsequently comforted by the absence of noise upon leaving to the patio. This made us all able to more deeply appreciate the calm of the outdoor environment. We then took a hike around the lake, scaling the smooth rocks.

We next made our way back to Cáceres and toured the historic section of the city, which felt like Medieval Spain. Prior to our trip, we had been asked to familiarize ourselves with different parts of Extremadura either through research or understanding their geography. My assignment was to research the historic part of Cáceres, where I learned the TV show Game of Thrones was filmed. That’s pretty cool. Two other students had been assigned to take us to destinations around the city that they deemed interesting. They chose many Arab towers and a water chamber in the underground of an old Spanish house. We watched the sun set from the highest point in the city.

During the morning of the fourth day, we made our way to the Parque Nacional de Monfragüe, where we summited a beautiful, mossy mountain with an incredible view from a tall tower on top. Our last stop was the Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe. Upon our arrival, we took a tour of the impressive building. After dinner, we went to a cozy and very traditional-looking room to talk about the highlights of our trip. We compared expectations and realities, and appreciated each other’s company. We spent the night in rooms around the monastery, with history seeping through the walls all around us.

As we traveled back to Zaragoza on the fifth day, making our way through the culturally hectic and constantly moving Madrid, I had a new appreciation for the small, rural region of western Spain that I had just left. Even though Zaragoza was comfortingly familiar and felt like home, I missed Extremadura. To this day, when I eat huevos rotos for lunch in Zaragoza, I smile at the knowledge that nothing will ever compare to those I enjoyed in the rarely-visited Extremadura.

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