Presentation Thurles Student Scholarship to Mexico, Spain and Portugal

When my Principal Mrs. Collins came to me one day and suggested I enter a Spanish essay writing competition I never imagined that one year later I would be travelling around Mexico Spain and Portugal in style. The competition was sponsored by the Embassy of Spain and the Spanish Bank BBVA. It aimed to promote Spanish language and culture.

Participants from all over Ireland wrote an essay in Spanish and if shortlisted, then attended an interview in Spanish in front of a panel of judges. Every year the scholarship is awarded to one student only. This year’s trip consisted of a tour to Mexico Spain and Portugal.

I was fortunate I was chosen to represent Ireland on the 25th expedition of the Route Quetzal in what proved to be a fantastic adventure –a wonderful learning experience. The theme of the expedition was “The mystery of the Mayan white roads”. A total of 270 students aged between 16-17 years old, from 53 different countries gathered to embark on a 42 day trip through Mexico, Spain and Portugal in an unforgettable journey of discovery.

During the first 20 days of the trip we visited Mexico. Here we toured ruins and temples in seven Mayan sites: El Tajin, Uxmal, Ek Balam, La Venta, and Izamal, Edzna and Chichen-Itza, (declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and the colonial cities of Veracruz, Orizaba, Campeche, Papantla, Gutierrez Zamora, Comacalco, Merida and Cancun. 

Our daily activities were planned from the minute we got up to the time we went to bed. Some activities included visits to museums and national parks, along with the introduction to cultivation of cacao beans and their transformation into chocolate, the cultivation of the Vanilla and the ancestral production of Salt. We also saw the Ibero American boat Regatta del Bicentenario.

However my favourite experience was a 12 hour hike in heavy rain through the jungle of ’Koleem Jaa’. This walk is one of the most memorable events in my life, an indescribable experience with a mixture of beauty and fear that tested our strength of character and physical endurance on which we learned to support each other during this arduous trek. in intense but humid tropical heat .This trip occurred during the tail of the hurricane “Alex”. One of our last stops in Mexico was a visit to Chichen-Itza, one of the most impressive and beautiful sites left by the Mayan civilisation. We explored the city of Chichen-Itza and took photos under the majestic pyramid of El Castillo .It was stepping back in time and being in the presence of greatness.

The second half of the trip was in Spain and Portugal. Here we visited 16 Spanish cities and 10 museums including Del Prado museum. We did tour of the city of Madrid where we got permission to close all the main streets in the city in order to complete the tour by bike. From Madrid we toured to the south of Spain and then we went to the capital city of Portugal where we were received by the Mayor.

After our tour in Lisbon we sailed north off the Portuguese coast for 4 days and 3 nights with the Spanish Navy on one of their largest navy ships called ‘Buque Galicia’ and visited various Spanish Islands. Furthermore we completed the Portuguese side of the walk of Santiago de Compostela which lasted a total of 10 hours. We were received by the Royals of Spain which was indeed a great privilege .From there we travelled around the Kingdom of Leon to return to Madrid and finish the expedition.

However, my most memorable moment in Spain was the night we spent on a beach in Bolonia where we saw the continent of Africa just across the ocean. That night we watched the World Cup semi-finals and the atmosphere was electric. The Spanish won of their first world cup ever! Everyone but particularly the 150 Spanish expeditioners were ecstatic.

Throughout the journey, we were treated exceptionally well. We had exclusive access to all parks, museums, world heritage sites and cathedrals. In every state we were received by the major governmental authority and we got a lot of public and media attention!

During those 42 days we attended more than 26 conferences dealing with a wide range of interests including astronomy, botany, naval, history, biodiversity and poetry. We participated in many workshops to do with traditional fishing, archaeology and arts. I was privileged to learn a lot about human and cultural diversities and made many new long lasting friendships. I became aware of the various Spanish dialects that exist, making the language all the more lyrical and poetic like the beautiful, multicoloured and free spirit of the Quetzal Bird; “The Ruta Quetzal” was indeed a memorable and unique experience.