The Backstory: Going Beyond the Preconceived Notions of Spain

After studying abroad in Costa Rica I fell victim to my wanderlust, set my eyes on a new target, and quickly bought a one way plane ticket to Madrid, Spain. I originally planned to only stay for a few weeks, but little did I know that this new experience would take me on to many other places such as Sevilla, Salamanca, and Bilbao. As I sat on the plane I drank a glass of wine (or two or three), imagined my new adventure to come, and woke up nine hours later only to hear the pilot say the words “bienvenido a España y ojalá que Ustedes tengan un buen día” (welcome to Spain and I hope you all have a good day). My Spanish was a bit rusty at the time but it did not matter as I was simply overjoyed to experience a new country. Conquistador Craig had landed and it was time to get things poppin’. 

As a rookie nomad my only sources of information I had used to help me prepare for my trip were guide books, a few blog articles, and gossip from other students who had previously been to Spain. The information was bland and basic - which did not quench my urge to travel against the grain. Going to touristy areas and spending time with Americans 24/7 was not my cup of tea as I preferred to immerse myself within the local culture, make new friends, and experience new things. Having this alternative mentality proved to be very useful while traveling throughout Spain because I was quickly able to adapt to my new surroundings, improve my Spanish, and experience the country in a more authentic manner.

Upon first glance you make take stereotypes at face value and assume that everybody within Spain is homogeneous in appearance, speaks Spanish (as a first language), or maintains similar customs. In reality, this could not be further from the truth as Spain is a very multifaceted, complex, and diverse country within itself. For example, people from the northern part of the country are typically fairer skinned, three additional languages (other than Spanish) are readily spoken, and two autonomous regions within Spain have or are currently attempting to secede in order to receive international recognition as independent countries. Essentially, there is a “Spain Within” and as you travel throughout the country you will discover many unique nuances which distinguish certain places from others.

Monestary in La Rioja

Monestary in La Rioja

Don't They Speak Spanish?

Although Spanish (Castellano) is the official language of Spain, varying on the region you are traveling within, you may hear locals speak completely different languages including:

Galician – This is an Indo-European language which is widely spoken in Galicia, Asturias, and some parts of Castille and Leon. Galician is said to be most closely related to and can be easily misinterpreted as Portuguese.

Catalan – This is another Latin derived language which is common in Catalonia and Valencia along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Interestingly enough, this language is also spoken in select areas of France, Italy, and Andorra

Euskera – This language is widely spoken within the autonomous region of Pais Vasco, Navarre and southern France.  Euskara is unique in its own right with no similarity to any modern linguistics, predates Latin, and is assumed to be one of the world’s oldest spoken languages.

 Spain in Africa

Although there are a total of 17 autonomous regions within mainland Spain, there are also two autonomous Spanish cities located within the tip of northern Africa which many foreigners do not know about:

Ceuta – This is famous port city located along the northern coast of Morocco which is known for its walled enclaves and historic military past. Ceuta can be easily accessed via a ferry ride from Gibraltar.

Melilla – This multicultural port city is known for its great surfing and pristine beaches. Access to Melilla is readily available and you can easily fly here from a plethora of mainland Spanish cities.

Spain is More Than Madrid

Madrid may be the capital of the country but in certain places some Spaniards allegiance lies within their own local autonomous region. Whether it is language, lifestyle, or other customs – these following areas provide a truly unique taste of Spain:

Canary Islands – These tropical islands are known for famous beaches, pyramids, and tranquil vibes. Locals live, walk, and speak at a slower pace than in the mainland and you may find yourself not wanting to leave. Tourism reigns kings here and you will be sure to find plenty of entertaining outdoor activities available at all times throughout the year.

Andalusia – This area was the former home of Moorish kings and queens for hundreds of years. Famous for gazpacho, La Alhambra, and Flamenco – Andalusia will be sure to provide you with plenty of fun in the sun. The climate is hot year around and please be sure to visit the cities of Sevilla, Cordoba, and the independent city state of Gibraltar.

La Rioja – This autonomous region is known for its production of grapes, vino, and rolling green valleys. In the summer there is a famous wine harvesting festival in the capital city of Logroño where people douse each other with bottles of wine, grapes, and anything else that is available. If you are a wine aficionado then La Rioja is perfect place to buy, pop, and enjoy a few bottles of world class vino!

En Fin

In sum, Spain is a fusion of multiple cultures, languages, and communities which bond together to form one unique country as a whole. Do not take what you see, read, or hear at face value and go explore this wonderful country for yourself. Make sure to travel at your own pace and do not rush yourself or you may just pass by an unforgettable one in a lifetime experience. “The Spain Within” is a hidden gem that is worth a visit, or two, or three.

What are you waiting for?

Craig M. Chavis Jr is a creator, self-starter, and Urban Renaissance man who is dedicated to continuous self-improvement, world travel, and living life to the fullest. Craig began his travels at a young age, has essentially moved every 3-4 years, and he considers these previous experiences to be the catalysts for his current insatiable wanderlust.  He desires to be a living breathing example for young black men who aspire to take control of their lives, travel the world, and make something of themselves. He is currently living and working in Peru.

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“I do not like labels and prefer to redefine my reality and not fall for the categorized, standardized, and cliché stereotypes the world has bestowed upon me. To be exceptionally cultured, well rounded, and quite unique - is my cup of tea”