My experience as an English teacher
at Sierra de Gata, Extremadura
Sierra de Gata in the background Sierra de Gata in the background

 
The accent from Sierra de Gata is infamous throughout Spain for being almost impossible to comprehend, even for other Spaniards!
 

I worked as an English teacher in a place called Sierra de Gata, an extremely isolated region of Cáceres, Extremadura. As its name suggests, life in Extremadura can be tough, it is one of the poorest parts of Spain (extrema = extreme, dura = hard). Sharing a border with Portugal, Extremadura is known for its abundance of land and fiercely traditional way of life.

 

I lived there in 2010/2011 in a place called Hoyos, a tiny village of 1,000. With picturesque cobblestone streets lined with traditional houses aged hundreds years old, Hoyos is simply spectacular. Often sitting in doorways are widows dressed entirely in black, using traditional, local techniques to weave intricate lace tapestries. In El Redoble, the local bar and restaurant, you'll find old men playing cards, arguing over controversial moves. The local store is another central meeting point–it was only a two minute walk from my house, but to buy milk and bread I needed thirty minutes (at least) because there was always someone to chat with in the street.

When I first arrived, I had a difficult time understanding the local accent (not to mention the slang). The accent from Sierra de Gata is infamous throughout Spain for being almost impossible to comprehend, even for other Spaniards! If that wasn't enough, there are a number of local dialects spoken throughout the area. For example, I taught in a village called Valverde del Fresno, which is only a few kilometres from the Portuguese border. The school hosts 150 students from three small villages, each of whom speak their own fala: a dialect that combines Castellano (from the Cervantes era), Portuguese, and Bable (the Asturian language). This meant students could talk to each other in fala and the teachers, who weren't locals, couldn't understand!

The school in Hoyos is slightly bigger with 250 students from eleven villages, some of which are an hour's drive away. A lot of the students work on their farms from sunrise, then go to school, return home for lunch (and of course siesta) and then work again until sunset. They were great characters and I'd often see them riding their horses and donkeys in the campo, playing football in the street, or sometimes playing cards with the abuelos in El Redoble!

Due to high unemployment in the area, many people rely on the land to eat. I loved helping farmers with tasks in exchange for delicious food and drink. I'd climb olive trees to harvest the fruit for oil, scrape bark from cork trees, and collect chestnuts. I even participated in 'matanza': the slaughtering and butchering of a pig. The pigs in Sierra de Gata only eat acorns and are used for the world-famous jamon iberica.

When I wasn't teaching or working on farms, I loved walking. I'd explore for hours and discovered ancient shepherd huts, drank from wells built in Moorish times, and chat with local goat herders along the trail.

My year in Sierra de Gata was an amazing cultural experience. The friendships and memories will stay with me forever - and so will the thick, Extremaduran accent, apparently!

By Devin Sturdy