Back to the First World ~
April 6 through April 10, 2000
$1 U.S. = 170 pesatas
to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)
April 6 through April 7
(ccl) Before leaving La
Paz on Wednesday, we visited the coca museum. We had tried to go
a couple of other times during the week, but typical of the third world,
things aren't always open during their advertised hours. The museum
was quite interesting, containing lots of information about medicinal
uses of coca leaves such as increased respiratory capacity and enhanced
glucose metabolism. There was a complete display on that ubiquitous
American product, Coca-Cola, which most people don't realize STILL
contains an extract of the coca leaf. Coca-Cola used to actually
contain cocaine, but that was taken out around 1914. Now a pharmaceutical
company in New Jersey imports coca leaves, extracts the cocaine for medicinal
uses, and sells the rest to Coca-Cola for use in manufacturing Coca-Cola
At the Coca Museum, we ran into our
Swiss friends, Thomas and Alexis, once again. We met them on Taquile
Island in Lake Titicaca, ended up on their boat back to Puno, ended up on their
bus to La Paz, so I guess it was inevitable that we would see them somewhere
again. They told us that they had each played an April Fool's Day joke on
their friends and family back at home (something that we had contemplated, but
once the backpack almost got stolen, we kind of forgot about it). Thomas
sent an email to Alexis' friends, and Alexis sent one to Thomas' friends.
Both referred vaguely to something about each of them getting thrown in jail
trying to cross the border from Peru. It would have been a great joke, but
they couldn't find an Internet cafe open on Sunday, in order to send out the
message that said, "Suprise! April Fools!", so by the time they
got back on line on Monday, Alexis' father had notified some authorities in Peru
and there was general uproar and chaos. When we heard that story, we were
glad we didn't pull our planned prank.
We've done the trip across the Big
Water from the States several times. Usually, it's a six or seven hour
flight from Atlanta or New York to London, Paris, or some other westerly capital
of Europe. The trip from Bolivia took a little longer. We flew out
of La Paz to Sao Paulo, with a one hour stop in Santa Cruz (one of those
"direct" flights that's not so direct). Here we noticed that
once the cleaning crew had finished cleaning the plane, security personnel
searched them AND the trash they had carried out of the bathroom. More
evidence of the war on drugs, one can only suppose. This was similar to
our experience going through security in La Paz when both Wiley and I were taken
into separate, private booths and frisked.
After a confusing plane change in Sao
Paulo, our plane took off from Madrid around 11:00 P.M. I began to
question our purchase of coach tickets when the guy in front of me flattened his
seat out to full reclining position before we had even left the ground. We
were flying Varig, and while it was a nice airline, the amount of legroom in
coach was negligible. We flew through the night and landed in Madrid just
before 2:00 P.M. on Thursday, April 6.
Spending the night on an airplane
gives you a feeling of disorientation and fatigue unlike any other. You
land in a foreign place, try to look coherent enough to get through passport
control and customs without a hassle, then have to begin making decisions about
where to go and how to get there. We had made reservations while in La Paz
from an Internet cafe. Wiley found a hotel for 5700 pesatas on Yahoo!
Travel, so we set about getting a Metro map and finding out how to get
there. Madrid has an excellent subway system, as do most cities of any
size in Europe, which is quite safe, clean, and has stops all over the
city. On the way to the Metro, we stopped and bought train tickets for an
overnight train to Granada on Friday night.
Obviously, this didn't give us a lot
of time in Madrid, but we had spent a week there in April of 1999, so we felt
like getting out of the city and seeing Granada, a place we had heard great
things about but had never been to. Plus, Granada is in southern Spain, so
this put us on our way to Morocco, which was our ultimate destination anyway.
Certainly, one could make the case
that booking a hotel over the Internet was a crapshoot, but ours turned out to
be quite nice and very clean. We both took hot showers and headed out to
renew our acquaintance with this grand old city. We had some business
items on our agenda - reading email, buying vitamins, finding a new pair of
pants for Wiley, and buying a book on Morocco, plus some new books for pleasure
Madrid is a big, beautiful
city. Barcelona has gotten the limelight recently, especially since the
'92 Olympics, but Madrid is a wonderful place worth a visit of several
days. There are few better cities in Europe outside of Paris that have as
many first-rate art museums as Madrid, the most famous of which is the Prado.
We have been twice, so we skipped it on this visit, but it is an incredible
place, with huge collections of paintings by Reubens, Velasquez, and Goya.
For Impressionist and Modern art, the Thyssen-Borgensen Museum, just a block
away, is also impressive. But probably my favorite thing to do in Madrid
is just to stroll along the many wide, tree-lined boulevards and admire the many
beautiful buildings, statues, and fountains. We had the opportunity to do
quite a bit of this on Thursday as we completed our errands.
Without question, you haven't seen
Madrid unless you've visited one or two of the many tapas bars around the
city. Certain areas seem to be filled with them, and it's easy to visit
five or six in a couple of hours. The tradition of eating tapas, or small
plates of appetizers, started in Spain. Usually you order a small beer, or
cana, and the bartender gives you a little plate with a tasty snack on
it, like some olives, homemade potato chips, or maybe a canape that includes a
pickle and an anchovy (believe it or not, it was quite good), for free.
You can also order and pay for more substantial tapas, like meatballs or boiled
shrimp. Usually tapas are eaten standing up at the bar (many times prices
are better there than when you get table service), and you throw your used
napkins and toothpicks on the floor at your feet. It looks a little messy
in a lot of these places around 8 or 9 o'clock, but that's the sign of a good,
popular tapas spot! It's quite easy to make a pretty good meal out of
several of these snacks.
We should have been feeling the
effects of jet lag, but for some reason we had a lot of stamina that night, and
we kept going to tapas bars until around midnight. I had just announced my
intention of going home and to bed when Wiley spotted a Cuban bar and announced
it was time for a mojito, my favorite drink in Spain. So we opened the
door of this place and found it rocking with Cuban music and packed with
people. Madrid is a late-night town. The streets are full of people
at well past 2:00 on any given morning. We enjoyed a couple of mojitos,
chatted with the bartender/owner, a Cuban immigrant, and even got a recipe
for our readers.
The next morning I was awakened at what
seemed to be about 7 A.M. by some folks in the hallway of our hotel having an
extremely loud conversation. After I had opened the door and glared them
into silence, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:00. It felt like
I had only been asleep a couple of hours! Finally, the jet lag had kicked
We spent Friday wandering around
Madrid completing our errands. We went to the big Spanish department
store, El Corte Ingles, to get Wiley some new pants. If you've read
Wiley's Travel Challenges page, you know
that he had to buy new blue jeans in Mexico, because the ones he brought had
developed holes in some places that might be somewhat improper in Muslim
countries. Well, those jeans were now too big, and probably to heavy to be
comfortable in hot climates.
Corte Ingles is a really nice store,
and you can get pretty much whatever you can get at a Bloomingdale's or a Macy's
there. We noticed how much more expensive the American brands, like
Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein were than the European brands.
Wiley found some pants, shucked his jeans in the store, and we left them with
our hotel manager, hoping they would fit his son.
After hitting a few more tapas bars,
we headed for the hotel to pick up our luggage, then on to the train
station. In my two trips to Madrid I have known of only one train station
there, Atocha, and we headed for that one. Once there, we looked all over
for a board that listed where the train to Granada was leaving from, but couldn't
find it. Finally Wiley asked a train station employee, and she said
(rather urgently) that it left from Track 2.
I began examining our tickets, and
noticed that they said "Chamartin" as the origin of the trip, not
"Atocha". After asking a few other people we realized that
Chamartin is the OTHER, newer train station in Madrid, and THAT was were our train was
leaving from! We quickly boarded a train for Charmartin, but got there at
11:10, well after our train had pulled out. We went into the office and
the folks there changed our tickets so that we could leave on the first train
out in the morning, at 8:06.
OK, so now what were we supposed to
do? We were in a part of Madrid that we didn't know, apparently an
out-lying suburb. Someone told us that there was a hotel at the train
station, but that it was a four-star place. We went there and asked and
found out that they did have a room for 25,000 pesatas. We decided that we
couldn't/wouldn't pay that price to spend about 6 hours in a hotel room, so we
formulated a rather shaky plan that included bowling until the train station
bowling alley (This place was quite the upscale entertainment complex.
There was a nightclub with a line of about 150 people waiting to get in, said
bowling alley, plus a movie theater and an ice-skating rink.) closed, then
spending the rest of the night in an all-night restaurant until the train
station opened back up in the morning.
Bowling was great fun. The
place was really crowded, but the shoes were new. I have never excelled at
bowling, and have always said I didn't WANT to excel at bowling, but as a
family, we did OK. At one point Wiley had three strikes and I had one to
end the game.
We started getting hungry at about
2:30, so we got in a cab and asked him to take us to an all-night
restaurant. He said, "7-11?", and we said no, a
restaurant. Little did we know that 7-11 is the ONLY place open in that
part of Madrid at that time of night. So he said, OK, he'd take us to a
restaurant. He dropped us off in front of a place, and after we had paid
and turned around, we saw that they were locking the door and turning out the
lights. We started yelling at him as he drove away, and he ignored
us. So here we were, each carrying a backpack and a day pack, with no
where to go until 5:30.
We started walking down the street,
figuring we'd find a hotel in the area where we could get a room and crash for a
few hours. The first place we stopped in wanted about $70, and when we
told him that was too expensive, he gave us directions to another place a few
blocks down the street. Let me add at this point that the question was not
could we afford to pay this, because certainly we had credit cards,
but did we want to afford it. I guess we both felt like it
was silly to pay all that money for what was now only a couple of hours, so we
trudged on, figuring eventually we'd come upon an all-night restaurant (Note to
Waffle House executives who may be reading this page: Spain is your next
territory to expand into!).
We walked further on, being
encouraged occasionally by neon lights in the distance, only to find out they
belonged to car dealerships or gas stations. The neighborhood we were in
was extremely upscale and safe, and we never felt threatened. The puzzling
thing was that there were so many people still out - the buses were packed, the
taxis were full, lots of people were walking the sidewalks - but we couldn't
figure out where anyone was going, because nothing was open!
Finally, we came upon a place that was open, where we could get some food.
You guessed it - another 7-11. We shared one of those delicious
pre-packaged chicken salad sandwiches that I would have never eaten in my
previous life, then headed back into the night.
By this time it was about 4:30, and
we were both really tired from carrying our backpacks so far. Plus, it had
started raining, so we sat down on the steps of a bank next to the ATM.
Eventually, a homeless guy came up and made his bed a few feet away from
us. He was actually doing a lot better than we were, because he had a
blanket and a piece of cardboard. At about 5:30 I announced that we should
get in a cab and go back to the train station, open or not. Turns out it
was open, so we were able to wait for our train in some warmth. By the
time we got on the train we were delirious from lack of sleep. We each
crashed for 3 hours on the 6 hour ride, and actually felt pretty human when we
arrived in Granada.
April 8 through April 9
(ccl) Granada is a beautiful
little city in southern Spain. Like Cordova and Seville, which we visited
in 1999, the influence of the Moors is evident everywhere. Arched doorways
and windows, tiled walls with incredibly intricate geometric designs, and
cobbled streets. It's a great place to spend three or four days in, just
wandering through the narrow old streets, enjoying the neighborhood cafes, and
shopping. And speaking of shopping, Granada has amazing shopping.
There were great clothes stores all around our hotel, with the greatest
selection of cocktail dresses and shoes I have ever seen. I kept thinking
about my friend Betsy back home and the damage we could do together in Granada.
The main tourist attraction in Granada is the Alhambra, an old fortress that
dates back to the 1500's, when Granada was a caliphate, then a sultanate.
The Alhambra also houses a palace used by the sultan, which is covered with the
intricate stone carving typical of Islamic buildings.
We said farewell to Granada and
Europe on Monday morning, when we got on the 8:00 train for Algeciras, the
southernmost city in Spain, and the point where you can easily catch a ferry for
Tangiers, Morocco. We had planned to spend the night in Algeciras and
"get ready" for our entry into Morocco, but the city was so
unremarkable, we decided to go ahead and make the crossing that afternoon.
Armed with a hefty bit of cynicism, we headed over the Straits of Gibraltar for
our first foray into Africa.
here to continue in Morocco with "Touts in Tangiers"