the Long's Strange Trip

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~  Back to the First World ~
April 6 through April 10, 2000
$1 U.S. = 170 pesatas
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Madrid, Spain
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 syrup.

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.  Thomas, Wiley, Christie, and Alexis

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 reading.

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 in.  

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.

Granada, Spain
April 8 through April 9

Bonito Noche in Granada(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.

Overview of the Alhambra  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.  Intricate Islamic stonework

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.

Click here to continue in Morocco with "Touts in Tangiers"




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