Saturday, 19 December 2009

Glorious Gredos

So another week at Vaughan Town came, and sadly went! The last program of 2009 was one I'm really glad I was part of. It was my 4th time at Gredos, but my first in the winter. Despite the potential for heavy snow, which would have kept us indoors a lot of the time, we were instead treated to (mostly) blue skies, sun and freezing temperatures. One night of light rain combined with a massive drop in temperature did leave the pathways between one of the buildings a lot of us were sleeping in, and the main hotel, like a skating rink. Several people fell victim to the slippery conditions and I think we were lucky not to have serious injuries.

As usual, there was a fascinating combination of people and personalities in the group. The Anglos were from far and wide, with a big range of ages and some hidden (and not so hidden) talents. The Spaniards were, as ever, the most delightful group of people you could hope to meet. Without exception they were charming, interesting, enthusiastic, friendly, exuberant and eager to make the most of their week in a little English enclave.

I have to mention Vicente, the most inspiring septugenarian (nearly octogenarian) - not only was he the most disgracefully fit person (for his age) thanks to a regime of tennis 6 days a week, running 3 times a week, regular pilates and who knows what else, but he was one of the most dignified, proper "gentlemen" I have met. Anyone who knows me, knows that I find a lot of the old school gentlemanly behaviour somewhat sexist, but I swear that there was nothing Vicente could have done that could ever offend anyone. He is interesting, eloquent, funny and frankly, mad as a brush! He took up skydiving at, I believe, the age of 72 having lied about his age to get his first jump! By the end of the week, everyone wanted to take him home as an adopted grandfather. Not least for his ability to eat 3 if not 4 helpings of dessert at every meal!

We had a great selection of sketches, presentations, readings, musical interludes and everyone joined in. Those of you that have done a program will know that the hard work that has to be put in by Anglos and Spaniards during the day is made even more worthwhile by the hour of entertainment at the end of each day.

As always, the Spaniards' level of English, comprehension at least, rocketed up over the course of the week, which is good since that's the point of them being there. I have huge admiration for the sheer guts of them for even being there in the first place - I know I wouldn't be brave enough to go and do the same thing in a foreign language.

Even the veggie food had improved since the last time I was there - though the vast quantities of red wine I managed to drink at every meal may have skewed my opinion just a little. Really, I don't know where it goes - it must evaporate while I'm enjoying yet another bread roll drenched in olive oil and chatting away nineteen to the dozen about a bizarre selection of subjects.

As always, I'm having a huge comedown now I'm back to reality - the price you pay for having such a good time, I guess.

The only disheartening thing about the week was the fact that there are some weird goings-on with the company at the moment - they appear not only to have lost focus and interest somewhat but, for a company that is all about communication, they are failing to keep potential participants up-to-date on future opportunities. The Spanish version of their website clearly shows the whole of the 2010 schedule and details a change of venue for next year. The English version however, which would be where any interested Anglos would be looking, is sadly lacking, showing only 5 programs for next year and still talking about a venue they won't even be using. The machinations may well result in one of the loveliest and most talented people I know no longer having a job next year and frankly, if that's the case, they won't be seeing me back either. It seems to me that employee relations in a lot of companies these days have hit the back burner and those companies are going to be losing some of their best employees who simply feel abandoned.

OK, I'm off my soapbox! Nonetheless, it was a week filled with fun, laughter, chat, some tears and a great feeling of friendship that will hopefully last a long time. I'd still heartily recommend a program to anyone looking for an unusual but very rewarding experience, whether it be with Vaughan Town or Pueblo Ingles, the other company offering a pretty much identical program.

Back to real life then, I guess, but if you're interested in my photos of the week, they're here: