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A Note On Becoming Bilingual

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Venezuelan flag at a fort, while on a visit to South America

So, as I’ve mentioned in my last post, I’ve become determined to grasp a really good understanding of the Spanish language.  I have some previous education with the language, and although it was eight years ago since my last Spanish class, there are some things that I haven’t forgotten.  The most important skill which I’ve held onto was ‘pronunciation’.

Based on that, it’s been making the learning process a whole lot easier.  New words stick quicker, and once I repeat them a few times out loud, they ‘usually’ roll off the tongue.  However, this isn’t to say that I’ll be bilingual in a few short weeks at all.

I’ve been studying really, really, really hard.  As in, 4-6 hours a day.  I’ve been immersing myself with the language as much as possibly while currently residing in an English speaking country.  Thankfully, there’s a large population of people from Santo Domingo living in Antigua, and they even have their own radio station.  While I’m in the car, the radio is constantly tuned into the Spanish station, and I try to pick out as many of the words I can.  This helps in getting an ‘ear’ for the language.

Reading and writing can be practiced with a fair sense of commitment.  There are countless books to assist with Grammar and Vocabulary online.  Here’s a list of the resources that I’ve been using so far:

1.  Fundamental Spanish by Barbara Bregstein – A great ebook on Amazon for only $3.03

2. http://www.spanishdict.com – This website has an awesome translator, a help forum and even flashcards! There’s also audio buttons which pronounces words for newbies.  How cool is that?!

3. Youtube – Yep.  This helps a lot with my listening skills.  By simply watching cartoons in Spanish, I learn a lot of words everyday by watching the videos with the Spanish subtitles….sort of like being a kid again!

It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but this is something I really want to do.  At the rate which I am currently learning, I should be at a proper conversational level in about 3 months. This of course, is considering that I don’t slow down my pace.  Giving myself a deadline to reach a particular level in a definite amount of time is an effective way of staying motivated.

By learning Spanish, the value of my travels will heighten exponentially.  I’ll be able to meet far more persons than I ever could with only my English tongue.  Thankfully, I have two friends who are perfectly fluent, so when I feel as though I’m ready to step up a bit, I’ll begin to have regular conversations with them for practice.

I’ve been making a lot of progress, and not a day goes by without at least 3 hours of dedicated focus.  I’m aware that 3 months sounds like an impossible timeframe, but others have done it.  This guy at http://www.fluentin3months.com swears by it.  Thankfully, with my previous education, I know that I can pull it off.  Will keep you guys updated on my progress! Have a great weekend 😀

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Loving Life in Juan Griego

Juan Griego is a small harbour side city on the Northern side of Margarita Island. During my short stay there, it was very easy to fall in love with the old world charm which encompasses the entire neighbourhood. It’s one of those places on this planet where you’d swear simply morphed out of a history book into our present day and age.

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 The most noticeable feature of Juan Griego is the harbour itself. The small cove is home to countless small wooden fishing boats, docked while awaiting their return to the Caribbean Sea. The water in the harbour is very clear and of a light blue colour, due to being sheltered by a mountain range to the West and cliffs to the East.

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 The subsequent absence of waves make this a prime feeding ground for hundreds of brown pelicans who make this harbour their home. They dive into the water from great heights at rapid rates and it’s a real sight to see. When the pelicans aren’t fishing for a meal, they simply hang out on the roofs and hulls of the fishing boats, which seem to suffice as their nesting spots.

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Further inland, is the quiet but formidable town where most of the locals shop, eat, work or simply pass the time away. The numbers of old school vehicles which drive on the streets are staggering, from small VW beetles to rusted trucks. Apparently, mechanics on the island must make a pretty good living!

The culinary side of the town focuses on seafood, seeing as the fishing industry is quite large. The prices are very affordable, and meals are prepared with local seasonings and herbs which provide a dinstinct yet pleasant flavour. For breakfast, my friends and I ordered as much arepas as we could possibly eat. This spanish staple consists of a flat corn flour bun with different types of meat in the center and grated cheese. I tried the fish, chicken and beef arepas and each was extremely tasty! The cost was approximately $1 USD, and two would provide a filling meal. Other sweet desserts included a ‘flan’ like pastry with bananas and pineapples! Yummm!!

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Another specialty of Margarita Island which became very obvious to us during our first day there, was the abundance of freshly made fruit juices. The bartenders and shopkeepers actually throw the fruits into the blender right in front of the customers, and within seconds, you’re being poured a tall class of watermelon, canteloupe, orange or peach drink. This is what the locals mainly drink, and it took a considerable amount of effort to find a can of soda in Juan Griego!

Further down the street has several stores, shops and vendors selling trinkets such as magnets, keyrings and wooden jewelry. I bought a few, but found the prices weren’t as good a bargain as I was hoping for. I guess we had finally arrived in the tourist district! Anything from clothes, electronics and tools can be bought downtown, and bargaining is allowed.

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A few churches and old buildings are scattered throughout the community, and they are kept in great condition. The European influence is apparent in the number of small town squares which have stone statues, trees and several benches for relaxation. I had a glass of coconut crush with milk and sugar while staring out at the harbour from one of the benches. The entire area is really laid back, and before I knew it, the morning was over.

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 Juan Griego really grew on me, and I absolutely enjoyed my stay there. I spoke enough Spanish to engage in a few conversations, and every local I spoke to was not only helpful, but very friendly and welcoming. Venezuela may have a bad reputation in the travel industry, but Juan Griego is another world all on its own!

Venezuela: A Sunset and A Spanish Fort

Overlooking the picturesque harbour along the coastline of Juan Greigo, is a small Spanish fort nestled on a hill. Fortin de la Galera, or Galley’s Fort as it’s known in English, is a historic site which was built in 1811 and stood the test of the Matasiete battle. It attracts thousands of visitors each year, both locals and tourists alike.

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Since I was staying at an inn nearby, I decided to take the walk up the hill to the fort, as opposed to hiring a taxi. The sun was warm but the soft coastal breeze tempered the heat as I slowly made my way up the ever increasing incline. The surrounding area was well taken care of, and many flowers proudly showed off their blossoms, tempting me to take several photographs with the Juan Greigo Harbour in the background. The road was paved and smooth, and the lack of vehicular traffic made my ascent a notably safe journey.

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As I neared the fort, I had to turn off the main road to climb up some stone stairs, alerting me that I had now arrived on the fort grounds. I then started to see other people strolling around nearby and others climbing the stairs ahead of me. The higher I climbed, the greater the view seemed to become. After a short hike, I arrived at the base of the fort. Looking up from below, the great stone walls seemed imposing, and its Venezuelan flag waved proudly from the top. Several other hikers were apparently tired from the walk as they sat on the walls of the fort, stretched their legs and admired the view from above.

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After I hauled myself to the summit, I understood firsthand as to why so many people were simply staring at the sky from the fort. The sun was just setting, and the resultant panorama was stunning as the sun dipped below the horizon. The golden sky seemed to clash with the blue sea , the green hills and brown cliff sides of the coast.

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From my perch, I could see all the small fishing boats in the harbour, and the fishermen hard at work as they prepared their vessels for their early morning trip the following day. I sat near to one of the many cannons which lined the walls of the fort and absorbed the beauty of the landscape below, happy to be treated to such an experience. As we all know, sunsets don’t last long, so I continued to explore the fort before the remaining light faded.

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The grounds of the fort were very appealing. A designer had created a small mini golf area in the middle of the property, with artistically broken clay jars and faux streams and lakes. Small shrubs and palm trees added a touch of greenery and water from a nearby pipe simulated a flowing stream.

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On the other side of the fort, the view didn’t have the pretty sunset, but the manmade lake that spanned a large area behind the fort was almost as captivating. The water was framed by small spits of land with dark green foliage and beyond the lake was a rolling mountain range. There was no question as to the natural charm of Margarita Island!

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Fortin de la Galera was a captivating and immaculately kept historical site, and I hope that it stays that way for future generations.