Six Weeks

Six weeks. A lot can happen in such a relatively short period of time. The experiences I have had in the last six weeks have definitely changed me.

Six weeks ago, I was sleeping in my comfy bed at my parents’ house in North Carolina and running the same boring routes I’ve ran for years with the same people I’ve ran with since I started running competitively. Six weeks ago, I shoved all my running clothes, two pairs of trainers, my Nikon S1, laptop, and a few nice clothes into two suitcases and a backpack, showed my passport at the gate, and boarded a plane to Madrid. Six weeks ago, I asked myself what the heck was I doing in a place where I was unable to easily communicate. Six weeks ago, I was surrounded by complete strangers.

Some API Granada Summer I students

Some API Granada Summer I students

API Granada Summer 1 2015 students at the oldest chocolatería in Madrid

API Granada Summer 1 2015 students at the oldest chocolatería in Madrid

looking over Madrid from our hotel rooftop

looking over Madrid from our hotel rooftop

Five weeks ago, I met my host mom and explored the city I would call home for the next month.

Bienvenidos a Granada! (El Albaícin with La Alhambra in the background)

Bienvenidos a Granada! (El Albaícin with La Alhambra in the background)

La Alhambra

La Alhambra

Patio de los Arrayanas (La Alhambra)

Patio de los Arrayanas (La Alhambra)

view of Granada from Generalife

view of Granada from Generalife

Generalife

Generalife

Corpus Christi parade in Granada

Corpus Christi parade in Granada

first day of classes at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas in Granada!

first day of classes at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas in Granada!

In addition, I rediscovered my love of exploring new places to run, including a 17 mile long run through the streets of Sevilla. It is possible to have a great run by picking a random direction and without having any idea of where you currently are. So what that I got lost on a run in a foreign county, in a new city? I eventually figured out where I was, and ended up running through the beautiful whitewashed narrow cobblestone streets of the Jewish quarter, El Barrio de Santa Cruz (much to the confusion of outdoor diners, who were probably wondering why this chick was sweating so profusely for the fun of it).

looking over Sevilla from the top of La Giralda

looking over Sevilla from the top of La Giralda

Four weeks ago, I traveled alone for the first time, heading first to Malága before going to Córdoba to race a 6K. Four weeks ago, I questioned whether or not I was mature enough or capable of taking care of myself in a place I’ve never been. I arrived in Malága without a map or sense of direction, and just got off the bus and started walking. As a result, I eventually ended up on the beach, and from there, I hiked to the top of Gibralfaro and enjoyed amazing views of the city below:

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.49.00 PM

I also rode a train for the first time by myself! Four weeks ago, in Córdoba, I realized that kindness and compassion is a common trait of runners around the world. After randomly showing up at a race in a points series (and taking points away from several competitive runners), I was invited to cool down with a group of several runners who included me in their conversations, and even invited me to join their training group in Córdoba.

Post race in Córdoba

Post race in Córdoba

Three weeks ago, I rekindled my love for getting lost in the great outdoors, first with an amazing long run and hike on Saturday, followed by hopping on a bus to Capielira the next day.

While 5:45 am came way too early on Saturday morning, we were rewarded for our dedication with an incredible view of the sunrise from the top of a mountain.

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Post run treat: a Pionono de Santa Fe (Andalucían sweet pastry) at the best pastelería in Granada!

Post run treat: a Pionono de Santa Fe (Andalucían sweet pastry) at the best pastelería in Granada!

Hiking through el Dehesa del Generalife with Abby

Hiking through el Dehesa del Generalife with Abby

My plan was to hike the 12 miles to Trevélez on Sunday afternoon, but I was unable to find the trailhead, even after asking for directions from multiple people (everyone told me something different). So instead, I just walked around the dirt roads and took in the incredible scenery of the surrounding Sierra Nevadas. Things don’t always go the way you planned, and the fun of traveling is discovering how to make the best of every situation. There’s always something to explore, no matter where you are! Even on a cloudy day, I found my adventure on the dirt roads just outside a small mountain town.

A trail marker outside Capielira

A trail marker outside Capielira

During my second to last weekend in Spain, I challenged myself to scuba dive in the Mediterranean Sea in Cabo de Gata. While I was incredibly nervous, it was a fantastic experience and worth facing my irrational fear of sharks head on.

Most people don’t really know what’s below the surface of the water. Even though I do a bit of saltwater fishing, I’ve never snorkeled or dove down to the bottom to discover what it looked like (in addition, I’m not the best swimmer). Sure, I’ve seen pictures and visited aquariums, but it’s not the same as strapping on a dive tank and mask, jumping into the crystal clear blue water, and touching the rocks and seaweed, holding a live starfish, admiring the coral and tropical fish, and pointing out the large baitfish! My guide was incredibly knowledgeable, and even in an uncomfortable situation (my mask malfunctioned) I was proud of myself for still being able to communicate in Spanish.

A little over a week ago, I bought a round trip ticket to Madrid for the sole purpose of attending a concert at 23:00h on a school night. However, it wasn’t just any concert – it was my favorite Spanish band ever, Maldita Nerea! While I was questioning my sensibility to hop on a bus to one of the largest cities in Europe with only me, myself, and I for trusted company, I felt like I was capable of staying safe at a Spanish pop-rock concert, and navigating the transportation systems to and from the concert. I managed to get to Torrejón de Ardoz (the suburb of Madrid where the concert was held), walk around in the opposite direction for an hour before finally finding the fair grounds, ask a policeman for directions to the concert venue, get soaked when a popup thunderstorm drenched the fair and left the concert in jeopardy, impatiently wait an hour and a half for sound check and for Jorge Ruiz to finally come on stage, and hail a taxi back to the bus station just in time to catch my 1:30 am bus back to Granada. The concert itself was fantastic, even though it was cut short because of the thunderstorm delay (Jorge Ruiz did his best to perform as many songs as possible within his time limit). After four years of non-stop listening to Mucho + Fácil and Es Un Secreto… No Se Lo Digas a Nadie, in addition to their newly released album Mira Dentro, I know all the words to every single song by heart. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded with people my age who love Maldita Nerea’s music just as much as I do, with all of us singing at the top of our lungs and swaying together to the beat. We were so loud at times that it was impossible to hear Jorge Ruiz singing! What made the experience even more surreal was that I had planned to attend a Maná concert in Atlanta with a friend in the States that weekend, but instead, here I was in Spain, in some little pueblo that I’ve never heard of at a free concert, rodeada por muchas tortugas! (‘tortugas’ is the name given to aficionados of the band Maldita Nerea). I will never forget the experience of feeling like a true Spaniard (if only for an hour) instead of an imposer for the first time in my life.

Jorge Ruiz singing the hit “Nunca Estarás Sola”

Jorge Ruiz singing the hit “Nunca Estarás Sola”

Six days ago, one of my friends and I booked a hotel in Trevélez, the highest pueblo in the Sierra Nevadas, with the goal of hiking to the Siete Lagunas (a 17km journey with over 1600 meters of elevation gain, but we hiked a bit further farther and higher after we arrived at the lakes). Somehow we ended up losing the trail on the way up, but some Spaniards helped us find the path again. We saw waterfalls, clear blue water, bright green grass surrounded by rocks, outlines of other mountains in the distance, wild mountain goats, a cloudless cerulean sky, and even a bit of frozen snow! Looking down at the valley from the top of the mountain reminded me of how small I was, and how much of the world (and Spain) I still have left to explore!

Two days ago, I turned in my last final exam and said “hasta luego” to all of the friends I made in the last six weeks. Saying “hasta luego” instead of “adios” was much easier, but it was still difficult because “later” can mean tomorrow, or ten+ years down the road. Although getting on the plane was hard, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to my life in Granada, I reassured myself that I would be back one day in the near future. Besides, there are still a few more things I want to experience in Spain as well as in Europe; traveling to Barcelona is just one of many remaining items to cross off my bucket list!

Currently, I’m sitting in seat 21C on a crammed flight between Madrid-Barajas and Charlotte, NC thinking about all that’s happened over the last six weeks. For starters, my confidence at speaking in Spanish has improved greatly, and so has my ability to converse with others (I was actually mistaken for a Spaniard in the airport earlier today; however, my blue USA passport gave me away).

In addition, I’ve become more independent, as well as more confident in my ability to travel solo. Although I had done a fair bit of traveling before this trip, I’ve never flown internationally or took public transportation by myself. Traveling around Spain by myself on the weekends was a good challenge, as it forced me to communicate exclusively in Spanish and be responsible for myself in new situations.

Finally, I became accustomed to the relaxed lifestyle. At home, I have a very rigid and busy schedule, but in Granada, I had time to pursue activities that I enjoy without feeling rushed, such as photography, running, and trying new foods. I’m so thankful I pushed myself out of my comfort zone for six weeks full of delicious food, beautiful scenery and fantastic memories. I’m already looking forward to my next adventure!

As an economics major, I enjoy numbers, so here are a few statistics from my trip:

Days in Spain: 38
Hours spent traveling (to/from/around Spain): 95
Total miles ran: 401.25
Total pictures taken (both iPhone and Nikon S1): 3987
Number of speaking mistakes I made: countless (I stopped counting after day 1)

Melanie Ng is a student at the University of South Carolina and an official API Blogger. Melanie is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.

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