Langa de Duero — My Great Spanish Adventure

Oct. 27, 2022

Sometimes our classroom experiences plant seeds that we nurture for a lifetime. For me, it was a Spanish civilization class at the University of Missouri. The lectures of Miguel Ugarte inspired me to make Spain my first overseas trip almost 10 years ago, and I’ve been returning here since to experience Spain’s vivacious culture, it’s savory mediterranean dishes, it’s friendly and carefree people, and its historical ties to the New World. It can be fascinating and thriving, but sometimes frustrating and archaic. 

I’ve been in Spain for more than two weeks now, enjoying the incredible experiences that endear me to this place. I relish its dishes and cuisine: oily slices of jamón, crunchy fried pork, mouth-puckering olives, mild and strong cheeses, octopus sautéed in pimenton and olive oil, creamy cafe con leche, warm fresh bread, flavorful tomatoes — my list seems endless. The passionate expressions of Spain’s artists and performers awaken my senses. And always, the Spanish people amuse me with their animated hands and expressive voices, their smoochy greetings, their paseo strolls with family, their why-do-today-if-you-can-do-tomorrow attitude, and their welcoming embrace once they know you.

Each visit to Spain has left me with a greater desire to return. Last winter, I discovered an opportunity that will let me be in Spain for three months. I’m here as part of a cooperative government volunteer program that pairs me with a host family and a school that I’m assisting in teaching English. 

Each visit to Spain has left me with a greater desire to return.

My Spanish home is in the pueblo of Langa de Duero which is located along the Duero (or Douro) River in the region of Castilla y León. It reminds me of Kansas, and is Spain’s heartland. The pueblo has seen more prosperous times. Its current population of about 500, is down from a high of 1,700 in 1970. Several buildings are crumbling from age and neglect. Most of the residents are older and young families are sparse. There are three bars (Spain has the most per capita in the world), an ATM, a pharmacy, two shopettes, a meat market, a fish market, a government/tourism office that never seems to be open, a post office that is open only for a half hour each day, a church and a small hotel occupied mostly in summer.

The Duero River which runs through the heart of Castilla y León has made this a region of strategic and commercial importance for centuries. The legendary mercenary El Cid battled in surrounding lands during the 11th century.

The legendary mercenary El Cid battled in surrounding lands during the 11th Century.

Agriculture is the main economic engine here. The pueblo is surrounded by wheat and sunflower fields, and vineyards. Several hog farms that have a few hundred to a few thousand animals dot the landscape. There are some sheep farms, but their numbers have dwindled. Animal waste is used to fertilize nearby fields, and that gives the place an earthy aroma when the wind blows certain directions. The local vineyards have earned a mark of distinction and have the Ribera del Duero denomination of origin.

The school where I am helping teach English has 35 students from ages 3-12. The school has eight teachers total, but only three to teach regular grouped level classes for grades 1-6, and one of these is also the directora (principal). They have their hands full. There is also a cook. The stone school building was originally built in the mid-1900s. Nobody seems quite certain of the exact date. Most of the teachers are relatively new in the profession.

My favorite part of being here has been to live with my host family — mom, dad, a 14-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. The family operates three hog farms with about 5,500 animals and 20 employees. My hosts have given me a wonderful introduction to Spanish family life in a pueblo. The daughter speaks only a little English, so conversation has been a bit challenging, but not impossible. It’s been an authentic Spanish experience. 

I have much more the share about my experience in Langa de Duero and Spain, and I’ll be writing about these here in upcoming blog posts. Check back to see what’s new. 

Street scenes below of Langa de Duero. Click for larger view.