31 October 2017

We started with a relaxed Sunday wake-up and an almost complete separation of girls and boys waiting for the first of many action-packed bus rides. During the journey the odd tentative and uncomfortable eye contact with members of the opposite sex added to the tension and excitement that enveloped us, with the first drama occurring with a passport being left on the plane at Porto. Our late evening/night bus journey from Porto to Santiago included forest fires – too close for comfort -, sweaty backs and more awkward looks. Arriving at Manuel Peleteiro School at 11.30pm, the fragile atmosphere popped at last as we set eyes on the friendly people with whom we would be staying for the next 8 days. 

The next day we set off on a 6km walk with some pilgrims, along a surprisingly hilly Camino de Santiago, finishing off at the beautiful and atmospheric Catedral de Santiago where we were lucky enough to see an impressive butafumeiro – a huge swaying incense holder. Other highlights included trips to A Coruña and Baiona – sun on the beach in both places!, trips to a shark-filled aquarium, a cool science museum and an old fort and last, but not least, to a huge new shopping centre where we undertook the impossible task of trying to find Cam some shoes in his (enormous) size.

Another big highlight was our time at the school, which is a really impressive building with amazing facilities. We joined our partners in classes, had a dance lesson (mixed reaction to that one!), learnt to play some folk music and were interviewed by some cute primary school kids. The timetable took some getting used to though – the school days are long (buses home at 6.30pm), and every night we went into town until late, generally not having dinner until after 10.30pm. Even the 2-year old sister of my exchange partner was still up at 1am playing with her toys!

But the best thing of course was spending time with our exchange partners – in amongst the Burger King visits (quite a few!), we ate tortilla, chorizo, jamón, pulpo and pigs' ears (!), had a football match, a party and a mass trip to A Coruña. By the end we had become really good friends, not just with them, but their families as well. The tentative and awkward looks had vanished with the SHSK girls and our confidence to talk not only to them in English but all our exchanges in Spanish had grown exponentially. The morning we left, there were big and long hugs all round, with the Spanish kids doing a heart sign with their hands as we drove off. A couple of us even cried… but I promise not to say who… (even if one of them may have been me!)

Written by Jimmy Strainge

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