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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Cara

Life lessons: #1 Perseverance: That one time I went to Castellón

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

I’ve had a bit of a brain wave over the past few weeks regarding my blog. I’ve been in Spain for almost two months and I guess you could say that I’ve had my fair share of tears, trials and tribulations. Even though I’m currently on an academic hiatus, I have definitely learned a few life lessons in my short time in Valencia. One of which is perseverance. This came in the form of a spontaneous weekend to Castellón. My friend Kira invited me to come and visit her one weekend. Normally I’m someone who likes to weigh up my options and make balance decisions; however I had no qualms about replying ‘Of course I’ll come’ straightaway. Castellón is still in the region of Valencia and is about 45 minutes- 1 hour away by train. In case anyone didn’t know, I hate travelling. Or rather I hate the transport side of travelling. I love exploring and seeing new places but the thought of catching a train or a flight by myself conjures up a feeling of dread in my stomach. After countless nightmarish experiences with trains as well as my mother’s unfortunate experience with a train- sliding doors, trapped, Huddersfield (I won’t say anymore). Needless to say, since then I’ve always been extremely wary when travelling particularly on my own.

‘I love exploring and seeing new places but the thought of catching a train or a flight by myself conjures up a feeling of dread in my stomach.’

I know what you’re thinking, ‘Tash you’ve moved to two new countries, managed to navigate the Paris metro system everyday, taking a short train journey should be a piece of cake’. I thought that too, but the little voice in my head kept feeding my growing anxieties. I tried to extinguish all doubt by expelling all thoughts of being trapped on the train and having positive thoughts. Despite my growing anxiety about catching the train overall I was actually quite excited to be visiting a friend. This was my first trip outside of Valencia city. The city it can feel like a bubble sometimes and you can get into the habit of binge watching Netflix (I finished Jane the Virgin season 1 in 2 days #teammichael) and lazing around in your apartment. Castellón is a lot smaller than Valencia but I thought it might help me appreciate where I am more and give me a little perspective of Valencia as a region. Kira had an extensive list of things for us to do- as someone who loves to plan this also excited me. I also figured that this trip would give me a reason to follow my mantra of ‘saying yes to everything’.

‘Tash you’ve moved to two new countries… taking a short train journey should be a piece of cake'

Saturday rolled around and I miraculously managed to catch my train without a hitch and the next step was meeting up with Kira. She does something called Muixeranga, which is basically when people stand on each other’s shoulders’ creating human towers- at least that’s what I thought. She had invited me to the 5-year anniversary of the club and they were having a special performance highlighting the fundamentals of Muixeranga. My first test of perseverance was actually finding the theatre. I used Google maps- and anyone who knows me well will tell you that my sense of direction is far from perfect. What should have been a 20-minute walk from the station took almost an hour. At this point my phone was in Spanish so I was working overtime trying to understand the directions- in rapid Spanish (as well as multiple diversions) whilst hauling my rucksack with me. Nonetheless I persevered and managed to make it to the show with 15 minutes to spare.

The next challenge came with the actual show itself- I was slightly apprehensive about heading in- the theatre hall was full of family members and they all had one thing in common. They all spoke or at least understood Valencian. Before arriving in Valencia I was very ignorant to the fact that the Valencian language has had a huge revival in recent years. The teachers at my school speak Valencian together sometimes and some of my students are first language Valencian speakers too. I hadn’t realised but in smaller towns, like the one in which I was based and Castellón,- Valencian is spoken widely. This show was no exception. Every part was in Valencian. There were no subtitles; there wasn’t a translator, just pure, unadulterated Valencian language. I immediately felt way in over my head- even the toddler next to me understood more than me. Valencian is very similar to Italian and French and of course Spanish. I can understand some words due to my background in French and Spanish but others are completely lost on me. The show was over an hour. I really tried to listen and concentrate. It wasn’t all dialogue, there were theatrical performances, dancing, live music, and singing and of course the human towers.

The twelve fundamental values of Muixeranga were explained using blocks (emotion, co-operation, commitment, brotherhood, confidence, humility, history, tradition, values, improving, friendship and the future). Even though I only understood about 40% of the words spoken I still persevered with it and didn’t zone out completely. I was so grateful that Kira invited me to see the show- I learned something new. The human towers aren’t just about how high people can go, it’s about working together as a team, trusting one another, communication and everyone taking on a bit of the weight to make something amazing. It was also nice to see that it’s an intergenerational activity - it was refreshing to see young children as well as older people participating in something- you can see that the tradition is passed on through the ages and I felt very lucky to have been invited to see that.

‘Say Yes’

The next day we went on a hike. I’m not the most ‘outdoorsy’ girl- but I figured that it would be fun to have a nice active Sunday rather than lying in bed all day. Kira took me on a route called the Vía Verde. It used to be an old train route but now hikers, joggers and cyclists use it. I was uncertain as to what to expect- I don’t have much experience hiking but I remembered my mantra ‘Say yes’ and threw myself in full force. We took the bus from Castellón to Benicàssim and then hiked and scrambled from there to Oropesa. The day was full of spontaneity- form walking along a hollowed out riverbed, strolls along the beach and long meaningful conversations I really enjoyed the day. The hardest part was scrambling- Kira is a fantastic hiker and was definitely more at ease than I was- we both persevered and often took the more beaten track- which was much more rewarding.I let go of the fear and ignored the voice in my head which was trying to convince me I couldn't do it or that I'd fall or injure myself. It was tough and a lot of hard word climbing up but I managed to do it. Kira was so patient with me too- even when I was slowing down and a little out of breath and when we reached Oropesa it really did feel like a mini triumph.

‘It really did feel like a mini triumph’

The fourth and final part of my perseverance lesson was the language side. I hadn’t realised until I arrived in Castellón that I hadn’t been speaking much Spanish. I live with English speaking housemates, my colleagues encourage me to exclusively speak English with them- the most exposure I was getting were my multiple visits to the bank and doing my weekly food shop. Kira speaks both Castellano and Valenciano however throughout the whole weekend we spoke in Spanish when we were around others- even with her Italian housemate. On my final night we went to a chic cocktail bar and met up with her housemate Martina’s Italian Erasmus friends. I was already a little tired from the hike that day but we spoke in our common language Spanish together all night. I found it easier to be more relaxed when speaking Spanish with non-natives. The conversation flowed well and my confidence was definitely improving. I battled through the tiredness and managed to get involved with the conversation. However I do know when to say enough is enough and listen to my body- I could tell that I was becoming lethargic and needed my bed- nonetheless I was proud of how much Spanish I had spoken throughout the weekend.

The trip to Castellon was definitely a well-needed break from the clustered Valencia city life that I was becoming bored with. It broke my routine and for that I am glad. It also stirred up a fierce emotion within me- my feeling of wanderlust was back. Immediately off the back of my trip to Castellon I booked a weekend trip to Barcelona for the following weekend- a blog post is coming soon don’t worry. Another advantage is that I now speak to my colleagues mainly in Spanish and really started to engage with language learning again- even if it is via watching trashy Mexican reality TV and duolingo. I’m continuing to persevere and apply this mentality in all areas of my life- I’m quite far into my year abroad now and I’m not ready to give up just yet- so when I have days when I’m homesick, sad or frustrated I remind myself of all of how far I’ve come and I tell myself to keep calm and keep going. So that’s what I'm doing- I keep calm and I keep going.

Here are some links on more information about Castellon and Muixeranga: Muixeranga video

Search for the Conlloga Muixaranag de Castello for more information about the muixernaga group I saw in Castellon

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