Hola from Spain!
In July, I had the opportunity to visit Spain for an adventure camp organised by the GSD (Gredos San Diego) International School, Madrid. The GSD group organises this camp every year and invites students from different schools across the globe. This programme is only offered to international students in the month of July but its open throughout the year for the Children studying in GSD.
The students of GSD visit this camp weekly and in rotation to integrate their curriculum with experiential learning. They start with camp activities from as early as nursery. Once in Madrid, the Director of GSD himself picked me up along with Berti, a teacher from Indonesia and Ahmet (another teacher) who hails from Romania. We were guest teachers. We stayed in a dormitory in one of the branches of GSD International in Buitrago for the first night. The previous camp just finished and the learners had a farewell dinner with wonderful indigenous paella, made from the freshest seafood.
The next morning after breakfast we were moved to the camp hostel in Sendas Del Riaza, more commonly known as Valdevacas, which was a forty five minutes’ drive from Buitrago. We eagerly waited for the series of surprises that we experienced with each passing day.
Valdevacas is basically a small village with a scanty population of twenty nine inhabitants whose main occupation is agricultural and cattle rearing. This whole area has been declared as a natural reserve to protect the griffon vultures which are now endangered. It is a very serene and quiet village with no shops or restaurants. There’s a van which would comes regularly to sell basic things to the residents of this village.
Upon reaching the camp hostel, we were assigned our rooms. Each room was shared by twenty children and five teachers shared one room. There was altogether seventy five of us living in the facility with fans or air conditioning and only two windows in each room. There I met with other teachers from Mexico and India. Gursimran (teacher from India) became a close friend.
The students had to hand in their cell phones on the first day and were allowed to speak with their families once a week.
There were students from all over. We had students from Mexico, India, America, Costa Rica and Spain itself. It was a wonderful experience to meet all the different nationalities. Most of the learners and teachers spoke Spanish, so there was a language barrier, but we were lucky enough to also have teachers that spoke English and translated for us. What astounded me was that all the Mexican children could speak Spanish and English, but the Mexican teachers only spoke Spanish. Amazing!
The sound of Spanish music would wake us up each morning (each room had speakers) and we would just gear up for another surprise that lay ahead. The second day, we went for our very first hike after breakfast. I would call the twelve kilometres trek a warm up to all the subsequent treks and hikes that we undertook during our stay. Approximately 5 km each day. The countryside is wonderful!
The stamina and endurance that we developed along the course was complimented by the hot weather as it only made us mentally stronger. I can proudly say that eventually the tans will fade but the memories will last forever. With very long and busy days starting from as early as eight in the morning until midnight, it was indeed an adventure in the true sense of the word.
Activities were planned methodically. Besides the long hikes and treks, we also went for activities with learners like bug hunting, canoeing, shepherding, astronomy nights, obstacle courses, zip lining, and swimming. All these activities had something formal or informal to teach the children about nature and the outdoors.
Our day usually ended with children playing team games in the village square. These games focused on teamwork and helped in bringing everyone closer to each other. The visit to a real cave and the museum of human evolution left us curious about the science behind our existence and it certainly made us sit up and think! Pizza and a donut making session on one of the days was much enjoyed by all the children and the same was served as dinner on that night. This ten-day long camp helped in shaping my mind to see positivity in every situation and to overcome some fears and to move on in this beautiful journey of life. We all made friends for a lifetime during our stay at the camp and learnt that the human mind knows no barriers. It’s what we create around us that decides our future.
The camp was undeniably very therapeutic and added to my Spanish experience in a very positive way. After the camp, myself, Berti, Ahmet and the Mexican and American children were fortunate enough to be taken back to Buitrago where we stayed for three days as part of the extended program. We were taken to the Madrid city centre. It was amazing! What truly astounded me was the rich culture of the people. Teachers could explore the city on their own. Wherever we walked we felt very safe. Children were also allowed to walk alone around the city if they were two or more in a group.
Even though Madrid is in the middle of Spain, they had fresh fish and seafood every day. I ate prawns like it’s going out of season. Madrid is very modern, even though they have a lot of old buildings. Around every corner more astounding views awaited you. The next day we went to Toledo. Toledo was Spain’s capital before Madrid, in the 1800s. But the countryside does not allow for much expansion, so Madrid was made the new capital. Toledo is a town that looks as if it’s still stuck in the 1800s! It felt as if a knight dressed in full armour on a horse was going to come pass you at any moment. I was in awe of all the wonderful roads, buildings, cathedrals, and wonderful small shops.
The last day, we visited Segovia. Segovia is also an old town like Toledo and it has an aqueduct that was built in the Roman times. It’s amazing to think that this construction still stands even though no mortar was used to build it.
We also visited a castle.. a true castle on a hill! It even had a moat around it with a bridge!
I can only thank the Lord on my knees for this amazing experience! It made me a better person and a better teacher! Also, thank you to Mrs du Toit, Mrs Fouche and Mr Ferris for everything you did to make this trip possible. May God truly bless you!
Anneke Terblanche - July 2019