Travel & Holidays

Volunteering in Spain: Martyn’s first thoughts

Having headed out to Spain on Sunday the 4th for a two-month voluntary placement, Co-Editor Martyn Sibley discusses how he’s finding his new surroundings, the challenges and adventures he’s already experiencing.

As the clock ticks around to midnight during the first few days of my time in Aviles, Asturias, I have been overcome with creative juices. That is the thing I love about travel and new places; it seems to open up your mind and makes you appreciate the finer things in life. It’s not been long since I arrived but I have already experienced so much!

Martyn Sibley's accessible room in Spain | Accessible travel | Disability Horizons

At the airport I met the same luggage guy who was funny about my wheelchair weight on the plane last time I travelled to Spain. He was in similar form on Sunday, but nothing was going to dampen my mood; I was headed for Spain to live for 2 months, I was going to be ‘living the dream’. Having met the organisers and other volunteers, I unpacked, settled in, and relaxed to watch Aviles FC score 4 goals from my bedroom window. Awesome. Then I grabbed a beer and pizza with the nice German lad I am living with, before crashing.

On the first day two new volunteers arrived, one from Northern Ireland and one from Greece. So in addition to a Finnish girl, my German roomate and my Portugese and Polish care assistants, we are quite the pan European outfit. Later, one of the paid staff invited myself and the guy from Northern Ireland out for a beer, followed by plenty of the local cider. Beware, this stuff looks and tastes light but it is hardcore. You have to pour it a special way (bottle held up near your head and the glass by your waste) creating bubbles that make the taste near to perfection, and you then have to down it before the bubbles disappear. I felt fine in the bar, but oh my God I was hammered walking (rolling) home. We even got lost and my hands were so cold that I could barely operate my chair. Still, all is well that ends well!

The day after definitely felt sensitive. I just cannot drink like the uni days 😉 says the old boy… Anyway, I met my coordinator and chatted about how I am settling in, what I will be doing and had a general catch up. I have taken some time to explore the town and really like the feel here. I am now feeling about right to get my head down, plan and deliver some projects. I have a half hour slot on the local radio planned for every 2 weeks. It will cover different topics, including how to travel if you have a disability, as well as playing a range of music, which I’ve already started sourcing. I’ve also arranged to meet an Asturian artist who will help me to deliver a project around disability awareness in Aviles.

The town seems pretty accessible on the whole. I have had to be lifted up the odd step, but nothing insurmountable. Clearly, no steps would be preferable but when people are happy to muck in and help, it removes the frustration of said step anyway. I have met lots of cool, open-minded and friendly people. The town itself has 85,000 inhabitants, it is by a harbour, ten minutes from the beach and has a lot of character. The colours of the houses are bright and distinctive, it reminds me of a cartoon sometimes. There is a lot yet to explore.

The best part of the trip so far has to be this evening’s Spanish classes. I have already been feeling slightly out of my comfort zone, but this was something else. I did Spanish for one year (fourteen years ago) and I really want to learn it well whilst here, but what a reality check. It was funny being in a situation of having no knowledge, feeling stupid and being helpless. I say this positively as I know I need to study harder now and this is the exact reason I chose to volunteer; to challenge myself. I will keep you posted on the lessons as I go…

I have been able to grab a Skype chat with my mum. I definitely needed a little lift from home, plus I am sorting my new wheelchair, car repairs and subletting my flat while away. As well as Disability Horizons, the webinars and my new ecourse. Busy but amazing time.

Lastly, here is a little video tour of my accommodation:

By Martyn Sibley

Read about how Martyn was able to organise volunteering abroad and the care he needed, and visit our Travel section for more inspirational travel stories.

Have you thought about volunteering abroad? We’d love to hear about it, so email us at, tweet us @DHorizons or send us a Facebook message.

One Comment

  1. Fab read – thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the next installment!

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