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From Chocolate to Fossils: Experiencing the Culture and History of Alicante

One of the best parts of studying abroad is that it gives you a chance to travel; not only are you living in a different country than your own, you also may have the opportunity to travel to many other places, if you so choose and if you're able. However, for me it's been important to remember that my own adopted city and its surrounding region has so much to offer. I have loved traveling around Europe, but have also wanted to prioritize getting to know my own community.

This isn't hard to do in Alicante, which has so much history to be discovered and so many beautiful sights to be seen. Our CEA group did a lot of sightseeing in and around our own city, and through those local excursions we gained a lot more insight into the region in which we live.

One weekend we took a field trip along the Costa Blanca, the white coast, along which Alicante is situated. This terrain is beautiful in a desolate kind of way: it's a dry, rocky desert bordering the Mediterranean Sea. During this day trip, we walked along the streets of the idyllic little town of Altea and hiked up the Peñón de Ifach, a nearby peak. This was the first of our local excursions, and on each of these our CEA site specialist, Alvaro, encouraged us to return on our own using the easy and accessible public transportation system. Adventures were always within our reach if we just challenged ourselves to find them!
 View from inside the tunnel on the Peñón de Ifach

Another local group excursion was to Alicante's excellent archaeological museum. This museum contains artifacts from all periods of history in Alicante, from the early Iberian people, to the Romans to the Arabs, to the present-day Spaniards. Coming from a country that's relatively young by comparison, seeing the remnants of a history that stretches back thousands of years was absolutely mind-boggling.

One of the most unique local trips we took was to the Valor Chocolate Factory in the nearby town of Villajoyosa. There, we learned about how this business developed from one man grinding cacao beans with a mortar and pestle into an internationally known enterprise. Valor Chocolate is sold all over the world, but its headquarters is right here, a mere 45 minutes from where I live. Not only did we get to tour the factory, we also got to taste a delicious array of samples!
 Our tour guide talking about the development of the Valor Chocolate Factory
 If only Valor really made chocolate bars this big...

During another excursion, our group went to the nearby town of Elche, which is home to a beautiful palm grove. We felt like we were in paradise, following the footpaths through the lush, green park. 
 Our CEA group in the palm grove in Elche

In my final week in Alicante, I still continued to to discover new and fascinating tidbits of history and culture in the city. One day, I took a different route walking home from my classes at the University, and I passed a beautiful old building whose huge wooden door was standing open. A sign on the wall told me this was the Archivos de Alicante and that it was free and open to the public. I walked in, and found a room full of Alicante history. The walls were lined with photographs of the city in past decades, and a glass-covered case contained documents signed by King Ferdinand of Aragon establishing Alicante as a city in the year 1490! The biggest surprise of all came when I looked down through a pane of glass in the floor and saw several full human skeletons resting in carefully hollowed-out indentations in the dirt floor below! The museum curator told me that they were discovered when the building (which used to be the home of a wealthy family) was remodeled in the 1800s. The ground below the building is full of the bones of very early inhabitants of the city!
 Archivos de Alicante
 Skeletons of the first Alicantinos!

Three months, I have realized, is far too short a time to even come close to getting to know a city. But it's a start, and it's important to make the most of each day--to seek out all the adventures you can find, to walk into doors that you find open, and to appreciate the beauty and history right before your eyes!

Hillary Harder is the CEA Spring 2014 MOJO in Alicante, Spain. She is a junior at Goshen College.

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