Tag Archives: hiking

Rifle, Colorado: A classic Colorado getaway that’s easy on the budget

Rifle Falls State Park
Rifle Falls State Park

Emerging from Glenwood Canyon, driving through yet another CDOT construction project we motored past the Hot Springs pool and kept going. I could almost smell the chlorine and sunscreen from the shiny bodies I saw through the fence as we passed by. This time our destination was not Glenwood Springs, but its closest neighbor, Rifle.

Glenwood Springs neighbor

Rifle, Colorado is about 30 miles west of Glenwood Springs along I-70. That puts it about 5 hours’ drive west of Denver. Earlier in the week, we had contemplated visiting Glenwood again, but lack of reasonable hotel rates for the summer weekend led us a bit further away. We decided it was time to visit Rifle – normally just a rest stop along I-70 for these weary travelers.

When one thinks of Rifle, Colorado what comes to mind are shoot’em up old westerns with slightly grubby cowboys snapping matches to flame for hand-rolled cigarettes, lots of cows, and bars serving whiskey. Downtown Rifle is actually quite updated, with a few relics of its old West past. However, as a nod to its name, visit the Shooter’s Grill on East 3rd Street. The wait staff carry weapons along with your burger and fries.


A local hangout


Our very nice room in Rifle was under $100 per night, including a delicious breakfast. Lucky for us, our hotel was right across the street from the Sonic, where everyone was hanging out in the early evening when we arrived. A little ice cream really helps to top off a long drive in the mountains. The next day we would play the Rifle Creek Golf Course for a very reasonable rate. We were intrigued.

Rifle Creek Golf Course

Rifle Creek Golf Course
Rifle Creek Golf Course Hole #2

RifleCreek (1 of 1)-2

Rifle Creek Golf Course
Rifle Creek Golf Course
Rifle Creek Golf Course
Rifle Creek Golf Course

We showed up the next morning, ready to hit the links. The staff at the Pro Shop were very nice, and since we’d paid earlier through GolfNow at about a 40% discount, we were ready to go. The greens fees here are very reasonable, even if you don’t get a discount at $33 for 18 holes during the week. It was a Thursday morning, and we were playing mid-morning as a twosome.

This is a great course to play, even for a high-handicapper. It’s got some beautiful views, particularly from the back 9. The course really fits well into natural landscape of the Hogback Range. We had a blast, and decided that we wanted to come back and play again.

Rifle Falls State Park

Rifle Falls
Rifle Falls

Golf isn’t the only activity we found around Rifle. Rifle Falls State Park is a well-known in the area, and everyone we met asked if we’d been there. The park is easy to find, and visiting Rifle Falls is an easy walk. Visitors can explore the caves beneath the Falls if you like dark and spooky places, complete with bats. Folks can also walk up to the top of the Falls and look out over the park, with the roar of the water in their ears. The campground seemed very full the weekend we were there, so you might need to make reservations if you want to stay.

Rifle Gap State Park

We took a drive to Rifle Gap State Park, not far from Rifle Falls. This beautiful reservoir was being enjoyed by water-skiers, visitors on jet skis, fishermen, and boats just puttering lazily around the reservoir. There was plenty of room for everyone and for a Friday, didn’t look that busy.  There’s a campground not far from the beach that didn’t look too full on this Friday afternoon. But again, I’d check and make reservations if you want to stay the weekend.

Rifle Gap State Park
Rifle Gap State Park

The Rifle Arch

Before we set off back to Denver, we scouted out the Rifle Arch trail. This hike starts out pretty tame, and quickly advances into a steep climb. Once you get to the top, it levels out again. You can see the Arch from the trail early on, the trail ending just below the Arch. You can hike through the boulder field to get up to the Arch if you have the energy. As you hike, be sure to take in the views of the Grand Mesa and the Hogback Range.

The Rifle Arch
The Rifle Arch

The hike took us about 2 hours round trip. Take water and snacks and decent hiking footwear. There are no amenities along this trail and some steep inclines. We did see families with small children hiking the trail though I’m not sure I’d bring children under the age of eight on this hike.

Find the trail by driving north on Highway 13 out of Rifle. The trailhead is on the east side of the road several miles outside of town. For more information on hiking in the Rifle area, including the Grand Mesa and the White River National Forest, visit the Rifle Information Center, 200 Lions Park Circle, Rifle, Colorado.


A surprising number of activities


Rifle really surprised us. We have traveled through and past Rifle over the past twenty years, often stopping at the rest stop but never venturing further. For those folks that prefer fewer crowds and less chlorine, plan to spend some time discovering this old West town and the surrounding area. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at the number of activities you can find to keep the family busy as well.

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Enjoy Rome and Florence, visit Palm Springs, getaway in Steamboat Springs

IMG_9427This week’s deals include a deal on a great hotel in Palm Springs, a getaway in Steamboat Springs, and an adventure in Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Palm Springs

A great getaway from the Front Range in the fall is Palm Springs, California. Travelzoo.com has partnered with The Renaissance Palm Springs hotel and resort to offer weekday stays for $99 per night and weekends for $139. The Renaissance Palm Springs is located right downtown, near the popular restaurants and clubs. It has the largest pool in Palm Springs, if hanging at the pool is the most active you want to be. Get out and play by hiking, riding bikes, or playing golf at one of the many golf courses in the area. Dates are available through December and there are some blackout dates around holidays. A two-night minimum stay may be required on some Saturdays, so a phone call to the resort would be advised. Visit Travelzoo.com soon for more information and to buy your voucher.

Steamboat Springs

A bit closer to home, the Hotel Bristol in Steamboat Springs is also discounting rooms from now through October 2015 starting at $89 per night for two. The Hotel Bristol is in downtown Steamboat Springs, and amenities include rainfall showerheads, LCD TVs, pillow-top beds and Pendleton wool blankets. Mazzola’s Italian Diner is in the hotel or walk to one of the other great restaurants downtown. The ski resort is about a 10 minute drive down the road. There’s lots to do in and around Steamboat Springs including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and a trip to the hot springs. Visit Groupon.com by August 17 for more information and to book your weekend getaway.

Rome, Florence, and Venice

If you can get away in the next few months, Tour Crafters has a great package to Rome, Florence, and Venice, land-only, starting at $479.00 per person, double-occupancy, for nine nights. The package includes nine breakfasts, three nights each in Rome, Florence, and Venice, high speed train tickets – tourist class with an extra-large seat – between Rome and Florence and Florence and Venice, pizza at La Strenga, gelato at Gelateria Santa Maria Maggiore, and a Murano tour. You’ll cover your airfare to Rome, hotel city tax, excursions, tips, weekend supplements, and travel insurance. The dates are off-season, November 1 to December 20, 2015. This is a great price – if you’ve wanted to visit Italy, this may be the time! Visit Tourcrafters.it for more information and to buy your package.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information, go to www.debtalkstravel.com and follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

 

Castlewood Canyon: Discover Cherry Creek

Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak

The late afternoon is warm, with the requisite clouds over Pikes Peak providing that late day storm to the top of the mountain. The pine scent is heavy – it seems much richer than any fragrance you can buy. The hummingbirds are providing their buzz, sounding like a slightly off-key piper making a weak attempt at musical scales. The path to the overlook is busy, but not with people.

Castlewood Canyon State Park is a small slice of wilderness an easy drive from the big city.  It’s just a bit over an hour’s drive south of Denver, Time stops here for the deer, fox, coyote, birds and other creatures that can handle close proximity to people. It’s a popular location for day hikers, cyclists, and rock climbers as well as families enjoying picnics overlooking the creek.

Resident of the Canyon
Resident of the Canyon

This State Park was born of disaster. In 1890, the Castlewood Canyon Dam was completed by the Denver Water Storage Company, holding back Cherry Creek. The dam leaked from the day it opened.

Once the dam was in place, homesteaders started populating the area. In 1901, the Lucas family’s application for land was approved. The family lived in an area inside what is now the park for many years. Visitors to the park can visit the original homestead and see the walls of the house near the West entry to the park.

Homestead in Castlewood Canyon
Homestead in Castlewood Canyon

In 1933, during a heavy rain the dam gave way. A wall of water 15 feet high flowed down through the Canyon and towards the town of Denver. Luckily, the dam operator made it the 12 miles to reach the nearest phone operator, who could then warn the residents downstream. The wall of water pushed into Denver down Cherry Creek, flooding streets, demolishing bridges and  causing havoc in the city.  It took months to dig out from the mud and debris, and begin repairs to roads and bridges.

The ruins of the dam.
The ruins of the dam.

The dam was never replaced. Visitors to the park today can see the remnants of the structure in the center of the park. The Creek Bottom hiking trail along Cherry Creek is where visitors can retrace the path of the flood and sit on the rocks near the waterfall. For those not so ambitious, there is a road that goes through the park, passing the top of the dam. There is a parking area for access to the Westside Trail area, picnic area and restrooms.

Castlewood Canyon State Park
Castlewood Canyon State Park

The main entrance to the park is on the East side, off Highway 83. Day passes are $7. Holders of a State of Colorado parks pass get in free. The Visitor’s Center provides an overview of the area and a short video that describes the history of the area. The rangers are very knowledgeable about the park, and can point you to the latest birding spots or trails to suit your abilities.

The Canyon Overlook trail is one of the most popular. It’s a short easy hike that ends in a gazebo and overlook. The layers of rock across the canyon are home to birds and small animals. At the bottom of the Canyon, you may see hikers following the creek around to the remains of the dam. The hummingbirds provide the background soundtrack, along with the raptors that nest in the park.

The Overlook
The Overlook

There is no overnight camping in the park, and rock climbing is reserved for a few areas in the park. The rangers can point you to the climb sites. For great views of Pikes Peak, follow Castlewood Canyon road out of the park. Dogs are welcome in the park, as long as they are kept on six-foot leashes and keep to the established trails.

The falls at Castlewood Canyon
The falls at Castlewood Canyon

The East Canyon Preservation area welcomes hikers on the established trails, but no dogs or other pets are allowed. This area is fragile.

For more information on Castlewood Canyon State Park, visit State of Colorado. For more information on the history of the dam, visit CherryCreekBasin.org for personal accounts of the night the dam failed.

 

Ride Rio Grande rails, cruise the Inside Passage, enjoy Lake Las Vegas

This week’s deals include a train ride and concert, an Alaskan cruise, and a great deal at a resort in Las Vegas.

It’s summer in the Rockies, and the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is offering half-price tickets for their Mountain Rails Live Summer Concert Series. The package includes two economy class adult tickets for $19, the train ride and concert tickets with the train departing Alamosa at 10:30 a.m. and Fort Garland at 11:15 a.m. Standard class tickets are available for $39 for two. Standard class features more comfortable seating with chairs that can be reversed to make a four-person seating area. Children’s tickets are also available. There are eight shows during the summer included in this promotion. Visit Travelzoo.com soon for the dates and to buy your voucher.

For those who can travel at the last minute, Cruise.com has partnered with Celebrity Cruises to offer sailings to Alaska in mid-July 2015. Sail July 15 on the Celebrity Millennium starting at $749 per person for an inside cabin. The package includes prepaid gratuities, and up to $300 extra onboard c

Las Vegas Sign
Las Vegas Welcome Sign

redit, discounts on Vancouver hotel and shore excursions, and a value booklet with up to $350 in savings. The itinerary is Vancouver, thorough the Inside Passage to Seward, with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and the Hubbard Glacier. Visit Cruise.com for more information and other dates and to book your Alaskan cruise.

The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort in Henderson, Nevada is offering a great deal on room rates through September starting at $69 per night for two people. Breakfast is included with an upgraded, Premium King Lake-View room for $89 per night for two. Up to two kids 17 or younger stay free in double rooms. This resort has a private beach on the lake and watersports such as stand-up paddle boarding. Play some golf at the Reflection Bay Golf Club and the Southshore Golf Club or just hang by the giant pool. In Henderson, visitors escape the congestion and 24-hour hassle of the traffic on the Strip. Visit the Hoover Dam or nearby Lake Mead for hiking, biking, or fishing. Visit Groupon.com soon for more information and to book your Las Vegas getaway.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information, go to www.debtalkstravel.com and follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

 

Escape to Athens, Greece, party in the Dominican Republic, spa day at the Four Seasons

Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado

Today’s travel deals include a wonderful escape to Athens, an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic and a spa day at the Four Seasons in downtown Denver.

Gate 1 Travel is partnering with Groupon Getaways to offer a great deal to Athens, Greece with travel dates in late 2015 and early 2016. Packages for a seven night stay start at $899 per person, double occupancy including airfare from New York, five nights hotel accommodations in Athens, daily breakfast in Athens, and all airline fuel taxes and fees. Stroll through the Acropolis and visit the Parthenon, ride the funicular to the top of Mount Lycabettus for great views of the city or take a tour of Delphi for an additional fee. Visit Groupon.com by June 8 for more information, including available dates and prices. Book by June 16 and travel by March 2016.

If the beach is more your style, Livingsocial.com has partnered with Cofresi Palm Beach & Spa Resort in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to offer a six day stay starting at $560 for two. That package includes all meals, domestic alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks, non-motorized sports, daytime activities, nightly entertainment, and taxes and fees. Relax by one of the 12 pools or on the beach. There is an on-site spa and a movie theatre. Golf is nearby, as well as kiteboarding and waterfall climbing. Visit Livingsocial.com by June 9 for more information and to book your Caribbean getaway.

The Four Seasons Hotel Denver is offering a luxury spa day, including a facial or a massage and your choice of a massage add-on (collagen eye treatment, scalp treatment, or hand or foot scrub) or facial add-on (lip enhancement, scalp treatment or hand or foot scrub) for $119. You’ll also get a glass of sparkling wine or a mimosa and access to the pool and all other spa amenities.  This package is available Monday through Thursday starting on June 1. An automatic 18% gratuity will be added on to the total cost of the services. Visit Travelzoo.com soon for more information and to buy your voucher.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information,  follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

A Patagonian trek, getaway to Glenwood Springs, sun in the Riviera Maya

Beach
Caribbean beach

This week’s deals include adventure in Patagonia, a hotel deal in Glenwood Springs, and a getaway to the Riviera Maya.

Trek in Patagonia

Trek in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia for 11 days, starting at $2,744 per person for the land-only package and $3,785 per person with round-trip flights between Los Angeles or Miami and Santiago. Santiago is the Chilean capital city and has a booming restaurant scene and trendy shopping centers, with the looming peaks of the Andes Mountains in the distance. South of Santiago more than 1,500 miles, Torres del Paine National Park is a treasure-trove of mountain peaks, huge glaciers, and icy mountain lakes. Spend six days trekking through this spectacular wilderness. The packages also include round-trip ground transportation per itinerary from the airports to the hotels and sightseeing destinations, double-occupancy accommodations’ for three nights at the Casa Bonita Bed and Breakfast in Santiago and six nights at the Refugios in the National Park, with one night at Hostel Amerinidia in Puerto Natalas.  Also included is 10 breakfasts, seven lunches, and seven dinners, domestic airline flights, taxes, fuel surcharges, hotel fees, entrance fees, trekking permits and medical and evacuation insurance. As a bonus, 10% of the trip cost goes to the OneSeed Microfinance Fund for investment in local entrepreneurs. Visit Livingsocial.com to learn more about OneSeed Expeditions and this Patagonian adventure by May 8.

Swim in Glenwood Springs

For those who prefer to stay in the mountains close to home, Glenwood Suites in Glenwood Springs is offering a great deal on a rooms, with dates into June. Stay in a King Room for as low as $59 per night and a Double-Queen Room starting at $79 per night. Glenwood Springs is a great weekend getaway from the Front Range, offering hiking and biking trails, whitewater rafting, and the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool to sooth away the aches and pains of the day. Visit Groupon.com soon for more information and to book your getaway.

Sun in Cancun

Sun and sand is only a short flight away from Denver, and Apple Vacations is offering a great vacation deal to Cancun, starting at $599, including airfare and taxes. This package includes three nights at an all-inclusive beachfront resort, the Barcelo Maya Beach & Caribe. This luxury resort features a dolphinarium, spa, miniature golf, live shows, and kids club and surf ride wave pool. This is part of a larger sale on three- to seven-night vacation packages and stays at other resorts. Cancun offers beautiful beaches, great restaurants, and nightlife. Visit Travelzoo.com by May 6 to book your summer vacation.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information, follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

Getaway to Prescott, vist San Clemente, airfare deals to Spain

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia

This week’s travel deals include a two-night stay in Prescott, Arizona, airfare deals to the Spanish coast and a great deal on rooms in San Clemente, California.

For those who are interested in a beach getaway, the San Clemente Inn in San Clemente, California is offering a great deal on rooms into mid-June. Two guests stay in a studio starting at $67 per night, a room for four in the Breaker Suite starts at $79 per night, or six guests stay in the Crest Suite starting at $85 per night. The San Clemente Inn is located less than a mile from the beach and has an on-site restaurant that specializes in hearty breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Each guest room has a kitchenette including a microwave and dishwasher and the property includes a heated outdoor pool and hot tub. Activities in the area include miles of biking trails, swimming, fishing, and surfing. There are plenty of great restaurants along the coast to have a meal and people-watch. Visit Groupon.com soon for more information and to book your getaway.

A trip to Spain is never a bad idea, and the Norwegian Air Shuttle is offering great deals on airfare to some of Spain’s most popular destinations. Currently Norwegian Air Shuttle is flying out of five markets: Fort Lauderdale, NYC, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Oakland. From Los Angeles, fly to Malaga in April, May, and October starting at $662. Fly to Barcelona April, May, September, and October starting at $696. Norwegian Air Shuttle was named the Best Low Cost Airline in Europe by Skytrax. The sale fares are their LowFare class which includes fees for checked baggage, seat reservations, and meals. To include these extras, check the LowFare+ class for pricing. Visit Travelzoo.com by March 31 for more information, including links to the reservation system. Book soon for the best selection.

If you love Arizona but the heat of Phoenix and Tucson is problematic, then visit Prescott, one of Arizona’s best preserved 19th-century towns. For fans of the Old West, Prescott boasts more than 800 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and home to the World’s Oldest Rodeo. Stay at the Hotel Vendome, right in the center of town. The hotel includes oak furnishings, patchwork quilts, wireless internet, off-street parking, and an on-site pub. Prescott is about a mile above sea level and a short drive from five mountain lakes. Visit Livingsocial.com by March 28 for more information and to buy your voucher.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information,  follow Deb on Twitter at debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

Getaway to the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs makes a great getaway from the metro Denver area. About 45 minutes drive south of Denver, Colorado Springs boasts the Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and the Olympic Training Center. The Antlers Hilton downtown is offering a discount on stays through March 31. Two guests stay for $99 per night through January 31, 2015. Starting on February 1, the cost increases to $119 per room, double or king. Add $10 to the room rate for a mountain view. Breakfast and parking is included. There are a few black-out dates in January and February. Visit Travelzoo.com soon for more information and to buy your voucher. Call the hotel directly with the voucher number to reserve your travel dates.

Like this article? Click the subscribe link at the top of the page to get the latest information by email when it’s published. For more fun deals and information, follow Deb on Twitter at

debtalkstravel.

These deals are subject to change or cancellation at any time, and restrictions may apply. Book early for the best deals.

Luxury Beaver Creek resort discounts through October 2014

Entrance to Beaver Creek
Visit Beaver Creek!

The Beaver Creek Lodge is offering their King Room starting at $129.00 per night through October 19. The price is based on a two person stay. There are some dates blacked-out, including August 8-9, August 15-16, Sept 5-6, and Sept 9-13.

The Beaver Creek Lodge offers a great location for mountain biking, hiking, golf, and just enjoying the spa. Book by August 8. Visit Travelzoo.com for more information.

In Spain – no Spanish allowed

Villas at Abadio de los Templarios
Villas at Abadio de los Templarios

What’s it really like to participate in one of those English-language immersion programs in Spain?

I’m nervous and chilled standing outside a non-descript office building in Madrid. It’s first thing in the late November morning, and folks are gathering with their luggage and looking around wondering what we do next.  A friend and I have volunteered to be native English-speakers in an English-language immersion program in Spain, and the group of about 40 folks is gathering on this sidewalk during the Madrid commute. Soon, we board the bus and leave the big city behind for the quiet of Northwestern Spain, about an hour south of Salamanca.

As the bus smoothly moves into traffic, the directors give us the first of several sets of instructions. The most important instruction: no Spanish allowed. Although the bus is quiet now, a few moments ago the low murmur of twenty or so conversations had filled the space. Each English speaker, or Anglo, was sitting next to a Spaniard having a conversation in English. This is what we’ve volunteered to do, and being nervous or uncomfortable is not an excuse to avoid talking.Schaffer_Spain_Templarios

There are several of these volunteer programs available in Spain. Native English speakers apply to volunteer for a week at one of several different resorts around Spain. Once accepted, volunteers are required to speak English for the entire week, following the instructions and the daily program outlined by the directors. This sounded very appealing while back in my office in Colorado and now it just sounds daunting.

We arrive at the resort

After a stop near the walled city of Ávila, we arrive at Abadio de los Templarios. The group from the week before is finishing up their farewells. They seem to be so sad to leaving one another. Will our group be like that at the end of our time together? The directors gather us for room assignments and we are put two to a villa, the Anglos downstairs and the Spaniards upstairs. The villas are very nice, though not luxurious with common living quarters and separate bedroom suites. We don’t spend much time there anyway as we drop our luggage and head back to the dining room for lunch. Luckily, we already know at least one person in the group. Unluckily, for the timid among us we’re asked to sit four to a table, with someone we haven’t yet met. It’s time to get social.

Lunch is three courses with wine and by the time lunch is over folks are much more relaxed. More rules of the road are announced, including requests to be on time for meals and to have patience as everyone gets used to the program. The directors ask the Anglos to work with the Spaniards on common language errors, and to be gentle. The Spaniards look much more anxious than any of the Anglos, and they are working very hard to maintain their side of the English conversation. I can see frustration on a few faces.

The schedule

The each day starts at 9:00 in the morning with breakfast and goes nearly non-stop until about 11:00 p.m. There are a few hours break from the activity mid-day. I find myself looking forward to the late afternoon siesta for a quick nap and some downtime. It also turns out to be a good time to get to know the other Anglos in the group. Since the Anglos are always paired with Spaniards, we only spend time getting to know the other English speakers during mealtimes.

It can be as difficult for the Anglos to listen to Spanish-accented English as is it for the Spaniards to discern our English inflection. The program brings together Anglos from around the world, and in our group we’ve got folks from Britain, Wales, Australia, Canada, the U.S., and Malta. In Spain, English is taught with a British twist, so our Canadian and U.S. accents are puzzling for some of the Spaniards. As a group of English speakers, we try to speak carefully to help our new Spanish friends understand.

La Alberca Sign
La Alberca Sign

As the week progresses, we take a few field trips from the beautiful resort. The town of La Alberca is a short walk away, and we spend an afternoon there learning about small-town Spanish life and the famous “jamon” (ham) of the area. We’re all getting much more comfortable with each other, and the nerves are receding. Sitting in the town square having coffee in the warm November sunshine, the group watches the community pig snuffle around the table for a handout, and then the owner of the café shoos the pig away. After the stress of the first couple of days, it’s fun to unwind in town.

Our own brand of crazy

After the first few “one-on-one” conversations, we’re all starting to enjoy the process. No one could have convinced me before I got here that one could speak to an emerging English speaker for an hour and not have many awkward silences. We talk about our families, our work and jobs, and the Spanish economy. Conversations flow about online classes, gathering mushrooms, what it’s like to live in the U.S, and the best shopping in Madrid. The Anglos huddle to come up with an explanation of the idiom “to be cheeky.” Members of the group do funny skits, play games, and tell stories into the night. The Spaniards are required to prepare and present two different talks during the week, and the Anglos spend time with each presenter perfecting their English to sound as natural as possible.

By the end of the week, we’re like a crazy family. The Spanish women have taught several Anglos the Sevillanas, a local folk dance. Our resident guitar player has entertained us during breaks and parties with traditional Spanish ballads. Our new friends arranged for a trip to the top of a nearby mountain to visit a centuries-old monastery during a siesta, rounding up enough cars and drivers. And a small group played hooky just long enough to buy some jamon from the best butcher in the area. We gathered between activities at the fireplace to warm up when it was cold and rainy. We truly bonded.

The week was a grand success. Those of us who were anxious forgot our fears. As we laughed with our friends through the final skit of the program, we were sad that it had to end. Spaniards started to realize that they really did understand the Anglos much better by the end of the week. One of the Spaniards mentioned that as he packed to leave, he realized that he had actually heard and understood the English-language songs coming over the radio. Invitations to visit families flew around.

Wrap-up

The next morning, we all gathered to say our goodbyes to those driving home and climbed on the bus for the trip back to Madrid. Back on the sidewalk in Madrid we all said good-bye one more time and headed off to our next adventure. Between the photo-sharing sites, social networking, and email we’ll keep in touch and remember our week of “no Spanish allowed.”

Want to volunteer as an English speaker in Spain? Contact Diverbo or Vaughn Town to apply for their programs. Your resort stay is free and transportation is provided to and from Madrid.