Back in Madrid after a great week in Valdelavilla. I met some truly amazing people and walked away with so much more than I expected. There is something indescribable about what happens when you put a group of people who are essentially complete strangers in the middle of nowhere and give them very limited access to "the outside world". Valdelavilla happens to be the only venue with that type of isolation, and in a strange way I am glad it worked out to be my first program. The rest of the venues are either in a city or within walking distance of a city, and while I was slightly skeptical of the limitations of our little village at first, it actually worked in our favor. The volunteers and participants got to know each other really well (while joking about the fact that we had no choice but to spend time together), and we all left with more than just the accomplished goal of stronger language skills.
As I was hoping, the time I spent there gave me a wealth of information on this country and where I definitely need to travel. The participants came from all over Spain and they were more than happy to tell me about their little piece of the country. In my very loose original plan, Spain was the place I was planning to spend the most time and for several reasons I am now considering staying here until I head to Macedonia. Since I can't sit and chat with you guys about it, here are some of those reasons:
1) I am discovering that I prefer slow travel as opposed to the rush of seeing as much as possible in one or two days of staying in a city. Yes, you can spend 4 nights in Madrid and hit the major sites, but if you spend a week, you really start to appreciate and understand the city.
2) I am looking into taking a Spanish course to refresh the little bit I remember from Spanish 101 at Rutgers and give me a base for my time in South America as well.
3) The south of Spain is hot in August. Very hot. If I shift that part of my trip to the beginning of September, I can actually enjoy Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Cadiz, etc. without hiding indoors between 1pm and 5pm.
4) The thought of skipping Italy to allow myself extra time in Spain is actually a relief in some ways. The whirlwind tour I was planning to accomplish in under 2 weeks was going to be slightly stressful/rushed which is probably not the best idea right before a 10 day build with HFH in Macedonia, in addition to being rather expensive since I would need to get from one city to the next quickly. (Also, see item #1 regarding slow travel.)
5) I really like tapas.
So, we'll see. I am looking into a few different programs and talking to several people over the next day or two and I'll figure out the plan from there.