The much awaited La Puerta. Where do I begin? Well, let’s begin with its size and location, since that is what makes it….remarkable? Remarkable is not quite the word. Anyways, it’s small. It’s small and farrrr away. It took an hour and 40 minutes on the bus to get to La Puerta from Úbeda, which is already out in the middle of nowhere. The bus ride was uneventful, but it was fantastic to see all the towns that I had only madly researched online until then. They all looked the same, they all looked kind of gross (sorry, towns).
When we got to La Puerta, it was, yes, RAINING. Again. My gafe status reared its ugly head again. I still hadn’t learned the meaning of that word since it hadn’t really become an issue yet. I will explain later. Salvador, my coordinator at the secondary school, picked me up from the bus stop, which was actually just an unmarked street corner in front of the local ferreteria (hardware store, though on my first trip to Spain I was really hoping that it was a ferret store and I think of that every time I see one. They have a Pajararia (bird store) in La Puerta, so a ferret store wouldn’t be too much of a stretch). Anyways, Salvador picked me up and brought me to his house where I was to stay until I figured out my living situation. He showed me around the town, which was rainy, hot, and gross, and pretty much consisted of one street (c/ Andalucía), with about a block of houses extending off each side of the road for the entire mile or so of its length. It starts with a Cespa gas station that is filled with old Land Rover Defenders and ends with a bocce ball court filled with old Spanish men that absolutely stared their eyes out when we walked by. Salvador said it was because they had never seen either of us before and they probably couldn’t figure out why we were there. Smeared up on the hill overlooking c/ Andalucía and the bocce ball court is the “old town” which is mainly populated by toothless old people who spend their mornings sitting on benches or folding chairs on the sidewalk and their afternoons toting bags of equally old-looking groceries up the hill to their houses, which look like they are made out of mud and covered in white paint. I think they actually are made out of mud and covered in white paint. One day I saw a lady just touching up the paint job on her white house with a big gloppy bucket of paint. She was like 300 years old and still painting. Anyways, I think this arrangement is pretty cruel, not only because these old people are living in painted mud huts, but also because these painted mud huts are stuck on the side of a hill that was difficult for me and Salvador to climb up, and Salvador is training for a marathon. I think I understand why they sit on benches all day now, because I would need a rest too if I knew I needed to carry multiple bags of smelly old groceries up that hill later in the day.
While up in the “old town,” we also saw a troubling looking man with no teeth, some more old ladies sewing on their front porches, and a medium-sized boy with a large-sized gun. They all stared at us as long as they possibly could since we obviously did not belong in this part of the town, or in the town at all. The boy with the gun followed us for more time than I was comfortable with, until he got close enough to us for me to realize that it was only a pellet gun. Still, I was hoping to not get shot on my first day in town by a bullet, pellet, or anything else, so I was rather pleased when he disappeared.
Salvador told me that La Puerta was an ugly town and that his town in Sevilla province (Cazaya) was better (which I don’t doubt for a second), and that he joked with his friends that La Puerta was the “end of the earth.” I think he then realized that it would be better for him if I didn’t run screaming from the town on the very first day I was there, so he started to tell me that it really was a rather nice town, not like one of those really terrible towns where they had goats and animals running all over the place. Then we walked down to the river where random horses were just walking around all over. Pooing in the water, walking up the hill, chilling near some stairs, whatever. So the town doesn’t have goats in the streets, but it does have horses in the river. It also has a healthy population of stray dogs and cats, 96% of which are missing half of their tail. Salvador says they are allowed to wander because everyone knows whose dog is whose. Evidently they aren’t strays, the town is just so small that they don’t have an animal control equivalent, and I guess no one cares about their dogs because they are mostly really ugly so no one wants to steal them. There is one cute puppy who always sits in the same place in the street and I see him on my daily walk to school, but the others are nasty. One particularly ugly one with short legs and snaggleteeth roams the street near the bus stop and yesterday I saw it attack some old lady’s equally ugly dog with similar snaggleteeth that she was walking on a leash. There is also a pack of wild cats that lives outside the high school but they are all really cute and at least appear civilized (until you see their half-chopped-off tails). I am too afraid to ever go near them though, because even cute cats are generally mean little jerks, and I have no interest in getting scratches and rabies. There is also some kind of shack posing as a barn in the same location that houses a number of very noisy roosters that crow in the morning, just like a real-life middle of nowhere town should have. The barn smells very terrible, and I suspect there are other creatures living in there, but I am way too scared to peek through the holes in the door to find out what kind of horrible smelly silent beast is sharing the barn shack with the roosters.
Generally though, there are less animals than I suspected. The bats, however, are ALL OVER THE PLACE as promised, and you can hear them at night. In Baeza, I have to keep my window closed because I am scared a bat is going to come in and fall on my bed, and you can hear them squeaking outside the window all night long. They look cute from afar, and I actually think they add to the Renaissance atmosphere there, but still, THEY ARE BATS so I don’t want them accidentally falling into my bedroom.
But anyways, in La Puerta, there are bats and stray animals and like three roosters and three river horses, and then JUST OLIVES. Olives as far as the eye can see, and then beyond what your eyes can see, more olives. I don’t even know how to describe it except to say that I have never seen so many of one thing in my entire life. They are everywhere. You’d think they’d like some variety in their crops, but evidently not. Jaén didn’t get to be the self-proclaimed “capital mundial de aceite” by letting their farmers grow a few nasty fruits or vegetables. It’s olives or bust here. There are also olive oil factories about every ten kilometers throughout the province. Since I’m always in a bus with closed windows and I don’t have a sense of smell anyways (and the air in La Puerta always smells like a rather lovely campfire for some reason), I can’t actually tell if the air here in general smells like olives, but it would make sense. I actually don’t even know what olives smell like. One of the auxiliaries that I met in Jaén told me that during harvest time, which is coming up in November/December, the province is overwhelmed with migrant workers looking for field work, and the streets are filled with the ones who weren’t successful in their search, or who weren’t able to find a place to stay here. And when the trees bloom in the spring and release their pollen or whatever it is they do, people all over Jaén wear facemasks so they can breath without dying. I guess if you have allergies and can’t handle the pollen, you can go to your doctor and they will prescribe you a week’s vacation at the beach for your recovery. Oh, Spain. I have my fingers crossed for an allergic reaction, but with my luck, I’m sure I won’t need to put a lot of effort into making that happen. I’m currently battling my second cold of the trip, and it’s only been 40 days. I’m hoping it’s not swine flu which everyone seems to have here, or at least everyone here thinks they have swine flu.
But back to La Puerta: Week one was rough for obvious reasons, and because the bus that I was supposed to catch to get the hell out of there decided to arrive at the bus stop and depart from the bus stop about ten minutes early, I was trapped there for an extra day that I really wasn’t looking forward to. That straw broke the camel’s back and resulted in a few tears. But the next morning, after walking very, very far in the dark with lots of bats around, I was on a bus out of there for the weekend.
The next two weeks were better. Work is easy and fun and short (12 hours per week), and everyone is really helpful with me and my Spanish, which needs a little work. The benefits of the town being super small are also starting to show. The students and teachers at the two schools I work at make up about a fifth of the town’s population, so I see them all over the place, which makes it easy to feel at home and to get free rides to school! And I found an apartment! I am living with a 29 year-old kindergarten teacher named Silvia who spends the weekends with her husband and one year old baby in Úbeda. She only speaks Spanish, and she is a TALKER, so it’s been really good for my Spanish. She also has the patience of a kindergarten teacher when it comes to attempting to understand me, which comes in handy…a lot.
I’ll have plenty more to say about La Puerta in the future, so I’ll save the rest of my stories—like my first time eating CONGEALED BLOOD (seriously, gross) and my experience with a flat tire on a dirt road in the middle of the night and the middle of an olive field—for later. ‘ta luego, as they say. Or at least as they say here.