No Pictures Please/Traveling Blindly to Jaen

The big news has finally come! I have received my teaching placement in Jaen, Andalucia.

Okay. Hold up, let’s be real. How many people have even heard of Jaen? Spain is big, for sure, but also has many well known cities: Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba, Valencia, to name just a few. So I know for me even, who studied in Spain for six weeks and has been studying a Spain guidebook religiously for the past few weeks, was like, Jaen, huh?

That seems to be how the rest of the world feels because Google has actually not been able to yield a satisfactory amount of information about my future city. It seems that Jaen is not a popular tourist destination, and while initially I was disappointed in how little information I have found, I am actually incredibly relieved.

When I first left for Costa Rica for a three month volunteer adventure, I was nervous as all hell, and researched everything I’d be doing like it was no one’s business. I went through hours of information on-line from people’s blogs to any tourist site possible to calm my anxiety about sailing off into the unknown. Of course, when I got there, I had a blast and nothing but. However, I soon regretted how much research I did, and wish I had known less when I got there.

A lot of what you find on-line is subjective, and everyone’s experience can be entirely different. Therefore, it is easy to travel with preconceived notions that stem from others’ opinions and this can ultimately influence your own experience, either positively or negatively. Not to mention, those naturally occurring surprises, like that sunset over sister volcanoes, is tainted frankly, because you saw the picture, and many others like it, on-line.

While it’s good to obviously plan in terms of travel within the country, and it doesn’t hurt to find out how to set up a bank account or where the not so good neighborhoods are to rent an apartment in, it is easy to get so excited about your trip that you start flipping through other people’s pictures and reading their blogs and their experiences. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE travel blogs and travel memoirs, and I don’t mind a couple of pictures here and there to serve as a teaser, and some people are simply stimulated visually (I have posted and do indeed plan on sharing photos on my blog throughout my travels). But I refuse to overload myself with information about a place I am contractually bound to live in for nine months. (Complete 180 from where I was two years ago in regards to Costa Rica, right? GROWTH!) Besides, my definition of travel has expanded to include adventure, and for me adventure is diving into the unknown.

With the internet at our fingertips, and in our pockets thanks to smartphones, it is so easy to simply look up everything and know everything there is to possibly know about a particular topic, or about something you’re simply curious about in that moment of time. Where then, does the joy of discovery come in? Can you truly experience something for the first time having looked through a billion photos of a location and asked everyone and their mother about what it’s like before you actually go there? Nowadays at least one person has been to pretty much every city/village/mountainous landscape/beach/forest on practically every single continent of this incredible world. And all of those places are in the full color picture guidebooks. The opportunity to get “off the beaten path” is becoming almost non-existent. That in itself can almost take out the sense of adventure inherent in travel, but it doesn’t have to.

I bought my guidebook excited to find new places to travel within Spain, as I feel most of my traveling will be spent in-country. However, I am grateful for the fact that it has the fewest pictures a guidebook possibly can have and instead is chalk full of history. Based on this, I am already highlighting some places I want to see, most of them being natural parks where I can hike and climb. This being all the reason more to not have pictures. Parque Natural de El Torcal, for instance, has natural rock sculptures that apparently are well-known and heavily visited, but I don’t plan on having any clue what they look like until I get there, so I can allow myself to be amazed, or underwhelmed, but either way it will be my own experience. Heck, I’m not even looking up traveling to and from these places, I’ll figure it out when I get there. I’ll even do the old-fashioned bit and talk to some locals and ask them

So all this being said, when I initially received my assignment and was trying to find information, it seems Jaen is an “ugly” city, and one future auxiliar even went so far as to say they want to be placed anywhere but there. Ouch. But, you know what, I refuse to be influenced by others’ opinions, good or bad. In the end, I’m going to have an incredible experience simply because I’m determined to, and wherever you are, it is what you make of it. I learned everything I need to give me absolute confidence that this is the city I am meant to be in. There are fellow Soka Gakkai members there, it is home to a conservatory of music (i.e. concerts and cello teacher), and to an international piano competition, several international music festivals, and bonus: there are an unbelievable amount of adventure activities within the province thanks to the fact that it is surrounded by nature and a few national parks. Baby, I’m set.

It’s time to turn off the Google search and look forward to the fact that I am sailing off to distant lands, not knowing what to expect. Maybe I won’t necessarily be “off the beaten path,” but I’ll be on my own path of discovery and adventure, experiencing it for the first time with my own senses, with my own current knowledge, prepared to learn the old fashioned way: hands-on, sans internet.

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