Today is our first typical day at Pueblo Ingles. Think of it as a "musical Spaniards" talk-athon. Wake-up calls come promptly at 8:15am, and we all head to breakfast. There is no assigned seating, but each table for four must include two Anglos and two Spaniards for breakfast conversation. The potent Spanish café con leche wakes us up and give us a jumpstart on the day.
Following breakfast, it’s off to check our morning schedules. Beginning at 10am, for the next 4 hours we are paired off each hour for one-on-one conversations. Pueblo Ingles director, tall, dark, and handsome Alvaro Medina, keeps both groups on track and focused. There is levity and laughter but no time for slacking here. Schedules are rigidly structured and maintained. The Spaniards love to walk, so most of our talks are outside walking the pathways of the past in the crisp and invigorating mountain air. We average walking about 3 miles each day.
There are no assigned conversation topics, so virtually anything goes. During the first day, conversations are superficial, primarily about jobs, families, and program expectations. We quickly learn that just because our Spanish partner nods and says yes, they do not necessarily understand what we are saying.
As the week goes by, topics become increasingly more meaningful and intense. Discussions include sharing thoughts on the threat of terrorism, the war in Iraq, religious differences, gay marriage, and personal problems, hopes, and dreams. There are also many hours spent discussing the intricacies and inconsistencies of English verbs, nouns, and slang. How do you explain why you wind a clock, but the wind blows your hair?
A late lunch at 2pm each day and dinner at 9pm follow the same format of four per table and new partners at each meal. Spanish wines flow freely with meals. Perhaps the wine helps loosen our tongues and reduce inhibitions, but there is no abuse in quantity consumed. Following lunch, a welcomed siesta until 5pm gives our vocal chords time to rest.
Then, late afternoon finds our entire group convening at the Meeting House for group activities. Greg Stanford, our incorrigible and entertaining master of ceremonies, leads us through group discussions, improvisational skits, and impromptu performances with humor and flair.
There is no break in the evening. At 6, 7, and 8pm there are three more one-on-one talk sessions before dinner at 9pm. As each day passes, dinners become longer as we linger with our new friends over coffee and (of course) more conversation. Bedtime is rarely before midnight, and with younger Anglos and Spaniards, interaction often continues until the wee hours.
This may sound somewhat grueling, and the days are long and often intense, but around day three, the magic that Vaughan spoke of begins to emerge. We discover that the Spaniards are extremely intelligent, warm, polite, and generous. They discover that we are sincerely interested in their success and that we all have much in common in spite of our diversity.
In addition to our paired conversations, there are telephone conference calls with business scenario role plays. Each of the Spaniards must also do a 5-minute presentation for small groups of Anglos. I will never forget the poignant presentation by Miguel. As he tells us about a terrible family tragedy that has affected his life over the past 5 years, we all shed tears and share his sorrow and his dreams for a brighter future. Later, Lucia brings tears of laughter to our eyes with her description of a very different personal journey that went awry.
Surprise activities keep days and evenings from becoming monotonous. One evening we were treated to a Queimada ceremony. Queimada is an ancient potion of potent brandy and other liquors. It is mixed in a large vat and flamed to the tune of ancient incantations in Spanish and English to "drive away evil spirits." We decide that possibly the next morning, the Spaniards will speak perfect English and we will awaken speaking Spanish.
A few nights later, at the sangria party, our Spanish friends attempt to teach us the flamenco and the paso doble. It is amazing to watch as each day their English fluency becomes more pronounced.
Mid-way through the week, we take a field trip. As a group, we walk into Barco de Avila for guided tour of this 12th-century walled city, a visit to local cafés and shops, and to view gigantic stork nests atop the churches. We are introduced to Spanish chocolat and churros, a hot, thick, rich hot chocolate and a fried doughnut-like pastry. Our students become our teachers, helping us negotiate and purchase souvenirs and mementos of our trip.
Too quickly, the final day of our program rolls around. This is a sad and happy day. Today, March 11, is the first anniversary of the Madrid Train Bombing. We have a moment of silence at the hour the tragedy occurred. Tears are shed and memories are shared of friends and family lost that day. Victor’s son and his three friends always rode that train. His son was not on the train on March 11, 2004. His three friends all died that day.
Our day ends with a graduation celebration. As each of our Spaniards receives his or her certificate, we cheer like proud parents. As we receive our Certificates of Appreciation, our Spanish friends cheer with equal pride and affection. As we board the bus for the trip back to Madrid, there were tears, hugs, and promises to stay in touch. The magic that Richard Vaughan promised was tangible.
One of our Spanish friends expressed the Pueblo Ingles experience perfectly, saying, "We came together as strangers with many misconceptions about each other and our diverse cultures. We ended the week as friends with the realization that we are much more alike than we are different."
Since we returned home, several times each day, I find myself wondering how Jose Antonio’s big English presentation in Orlando went, whether Fernando (a captain with Iberia Airlines) will get a route to the US, or how Elena, Gemma, Pepe, and the others are doing. How is their English progressing? Emails and photographs flow back and forth daily from around the world. Thanks for the recipe, Joaquin; we will think of you each time we prepare it and we’ll be sure to put in the cups of love and Gredos memories you included in the ingredients.
Would we like to participate in Pueblo Ingles again? Absolutely! We have traveled throughout the world and enjoyed many memorable travel experiences, but our week in Gredos with Pueblo Ingles was truly the most rewarding travel experience we have shared. The days were long, tiring, and often frustrating for both Anglos and Spaniards. The rewards were great. We feel we left Spain with much more than we gave, and we heard that sentiment expressed by many of our fellow Anglos.
Does Pueblo Ingles sound intriguing to you? Are you truly a person who enjoys talking for hours with different kinds of people? Can you talk on a lot of different subjects? During 2005, the three venues for Pueblo Ingles will require over 1,200 Anglo volunteers. Plans are also in the works a similar program in Tuscany. For more information about Pueblo Ingles venues and programs, visit www.vaughanvillage.com.