How My Travel Nightmare Turned into an Adventure

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Skyler Tuholski is a 4th year Biological Science student at The University of Georgia and will be attending PA school after graduation. In May 2017, she had the opportunity to participate in an Atlantis Fellowship in Alcázar de San Juan, SpainIn the article below, Skyler highlights the captivating story of her weekend gallivant to Valencia, proving E.M. Forster's words that "Adventures do occur, but not punctually." 

Imagine being in an airport, eager to travel to an exciting destination, but all the crucial directional words are in a different language! You look around and see people rushing every which way. You hear foreign sounds on the intercom announcing arrivals and departures. And to top it off, you don’t even know how to ask for directions.


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My Atlantis Fellowship was made complete by the trials and adventures of my weekend travel experiences with my new and lasting friends. Don’t be afraid to get lost; you might just end up exactly where you need to be!

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These were familiar circumstances during my weekend travels with my Atlantis Fellowship group, but luckily I was not alone! When I arrived to Spain one warm morning in May, I quickly realized that the luxury of having English as the primary language had entirely dissipated. But I got by with some high-school Spanish and a little help from my newfound friends (and Google translate).

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At the end of our first week, buzzing with enthusiasm over our shadowing experiences and newfound camaraderie, we all decided to book a trip to Valencia together.

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Weekdays on my Atlantis Fellowship had a comfortable, steady rhythm: we shadowed 8 AM - 3 PM every day except Wednesdays, which were exciting, full day excursions! While the weekdays offered incredible insight into medicine and culture, I felt as though I should see as much of Spain as I could during the free weekend time. Thankfully, my group felt the same.

At the end of our first week, buzzing with enthusiasm over our shadowing experiences and newfound camaraderie, we all decided to book a trip to Valencia together. Getting there, though, would be more of a journey than we had all bargained for, and it had not even been a week since we all barely managed to navigate airports, trains, and buses to our fellowship site. Regardless, we set off to our small, local train station with full hearts and bags, determined to see the Spanish coast.

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The train network in Spain is extensive, which is both convenient and confusing. Even the locals think the train stations are stressful! You have about three minutes from the time an arrival is announced to locate and board the train. From our small station in Alcázar de San Juan, we had to take 2 different trains to complete the 7-hour journey to Valencia. Upon arriving to the much larger connecting station in Albacete, we realized we had a 15-minute turnover to catch the next train. I think we would still be stranded in that train station had it not been for the one member of our group, Andres, who was bilingual.

Andres directed us to the terminal on the far opposite side of the bustling station, and we attracted a lot of attention in doing so. Picture ten clearly American girls with overpacked weekend bags running after the one male of the group (we attracted a lot of attention wherever we went in Spain). We breathlessly tumbled into the departing train with just seconds to spare, brimming with laughter and relief. I imagine the quiet evening commuters were both entertained and irritated judging by the flurry of chatter that ensued.  

Arriving in Valencia felt like stepping into New York City compared to our small, quiet town; there were actually buildings taller than two stories and lights on at night! All we had to do now was get a taxi to our Airbnb. Easy, right?

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Wrong. The taxi drivers in Spain do not operate with Google Maps, but rather possess an impressive mental map of every city road and the lifeline of phoning a friend if lost. Our beach-side destination was quite off the beaten path, so navigating there with a significant communication barrier, no data plan to support GPS, and no knowledge of the surrounding area was the biggest struggle of the night.

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The driver said we had arrived at our destination and seemed as concerned for us as I did. Where were our friends that left in the first cab? Where was the beachside Airbnb that boasted of space to sleep 12?

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We drove in a few circles, and each turn felt as though we were getting farther from civilization and closer to total darkness. We finally turned down a dirt road with no lights and stopped near a field and a small building. The girls in the back seat were no longer giggling, and I was sure getting that tingly feeling that we might be in a bad situation. The driver said we had arrived at our destination and seemed as concerned for us as I did. Where were our friends that left in the first cab? Where was the beachside Airbnb that boasted of space to sleep 12? Just before actual panic set in, Andres rounded the corner of the shack with a smile and explained the house was set back from the road. Ah, relief so sweet washed over all of us (including the cab driver).

We settled in to a neat hostel-style loft and stayed up until 4 AM exchanging stories and getting to know each other more. That moonless night was so dark, we had no idea what kind of a view awaited us at daybreak. I woke to a very strange sound and crept over to the window to see horses trotting in a riding area, surrounded by beautiful green crop fields. The ocean was just visible in the distance, and the host of the house was kindly setting out a breakfast buffet on the garden patio. It was like a dream!

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We spent a beautiful Saturday eating paella and ice cream at the beach and exploring the city. I knew that we could conquer any further weekend travels after making it there, and we sure did. Our group quickly bonded and went on to explore Madrid and Sevilla together with slightly more ease (though Spanish train stations still intimidate me).

My Atlantis Fellowship was made complete by the trials and adventures of my weekend travel experiences with my new and lasting friends. Don’t be afraid to get lost; you might just end up exactly where you need to be!


About Skyler

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After graduating from the University of Georgia in May 2018, Skyler plans to attend PA school. She gained her healthcare experience by working as a patient care technician at a hospital and as a personal care assistant for a student with a disability. Skyler's four-week fellowship in Alcázar de San Juan, Spain, was an incredible experience from both a clinical and cultural perspective. Her favorite memories were the weekly program excursions and weekend travels with new friends.

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