While studying abroad in Barcelona, I took field trips whenever I could to other cities around Spain. Barcelona was a magical, complex, fairy tale of a city, but I also enjoyed southern Spain a lot (Granada and Sevilla, in particular). You have to go to the south the get the true, authentic Spanish experience that I love, and I went to Sevilla more than once during the semester I was abroad for that reason.
There’s dancers and guitarristas in the streets clapping in the rhythm of flamenco. In the south, you can get free tapas with a bottle of wine, which is unheard of in Barcelona and pretty much anywhere else in the world. The orange blossoms were in bloom in the springtime while I was there and the air smelled sweet as I walked down the old roads through buildings of white walls and curvy terracotta roofs. Pretty details of painted tiles and iron work decorate the darling abodes and cafes.
There’s a culture of young “gypsies” in southern Spain, too, which are basically equivalent to the hippies or hipsters here in Chicago. Dreadlocked, funky, free spirited musicians and artists who hang out in the parks selling jewelry, juggling and soaking up the sun. I was drawn to them as a 21 year old college student and was invited to join some friends we met by the river in Sevilla for a reggae boat party one afternoon.
The plan was that we’d board the boat, have some cervezas and listen to reggae bands on the water, stop at a town a few hours down the river to party on land and then jump back on the boat to head back to Sevilla. My American friend, Laura and I couldn’t pass up this fun excursion! Dancing on the boat to reggae music was amazing and it was all great until the boat left us in that town down the river that we stopped at. Yes, the boat left us there.
We were enjoying some ice cream during our break on land when we saw a guy untying the rope that attached the boat to the dock, departing without us! We could have sworn the lady who seemed in charge of things on the boat told us we had 2 hours but we had only hit land for about 20 minutes before we saw the reggae party slowly (but not slowly enough) moving back down the river. What the heck?! We didn’t know if the schedule was lost in translation or if we were actually misinformed, but either way, we were running down the long wooden dock towards the boat shouting “Espera!” Wait! But they were outta there.
There we were. Two young foreigners, stranded, and we didn’t even know the name of the town we were in. In desperation we turned to ask this old fisherman by the dock with a thick Spanish accent. Andalusian Spanish, in the southern region of Spain, is beautiful, but not the easiest accent to understand if Spanish isn’t your first language.
“¿Cómo se llama este pueblo?” we asked.
Sanlúcar de Barrameda
But it didn’t sound like that… “Otra vez, más lento, por favor.” We asked him with confused eyes to tell us again, once more a little slower.
Sanlúcar de Barrameda
We had no clue what he was saying. We hadn’t even heard of this place. We left the dock and started down the street to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat and think of a plan to get back to Sevilla. Well folks, this was a traditional Spanish town and it was about 3pm. This means that NOWHERE was open because everyone was home with their families to have their biggest meal of the day together and then take naps, siesta time. We were so hungry! Luckily, we found an empty bar where a nice man was still working and we got a glass of water. We talked to him about where we were and it helped to see the name of the town printed with the bar’s name on some paper napkins. Sanlúcar de Barrameda. So, that’s what the fisherman was saying. The bartender man told us where we could find a bus station to buy some tickets back to Sevilla. ¡Gracias a Dios! We were on our way back!
So, we made it back after what I think I remember to be a 3 hour bus ride and everything was fine, but then my story continues a couple years later.
I was working at a Spanish immersion summer camp in the south suburbs of Chicago as an intern, teaching 3-8 year olds to speak Spanish. The head teacher, Alma that I worked with was from Mexico and all of the other teachers were native Spanish speakers from around the world. One day, Alma had a barbeque for the staff and I got to mingle with a big group of fun, likeminded Spanish-speakers who shared a love for teaching language to kids. One lady brought her boyfriend who was from Spain and I started chatting with him about my study abroad experience in his home country. I told him how I studied at the University of Barcelona, but that I especially loved southern Spain, too.
“Oh, I’m from a small town in southern Spain near Cádiz. Most people have never heard of it. It’s called Sanlúcar de Barrameda,” he said.
WHHHAAAAAAAT?! Of all the places! He couldn’t believe I’d been there before and then, of course, I had to tell him the story about when I was lost in his hometown.