The Road to Santiago.

September 16, 2004

Photo of billboard poster with three models.
Las mujeres grandes


It always amazes me to fly into Spain at sunrise. As the plane begins its approach to Madrid from the west, it passes over Galicia, the province where Santiago is located. As the plane continues on it passes from the green and lush forests of Galicia to the harsh and brown of the central meseta (table land). The changing terrain is a beautiful sight.

We finally landed at 9:30 (Spain time) which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. (Iím not sure whether theyíre still on daylight savings time.) The sun rises here at about 8:30 at this time of year. The time difference is six hours from Eastern Daylight Standard Time back home. The temperature is 59įF. (It later got up to 72 F.)

I could tell that I was in Europe from the moment I got off the plane. Almost everybody immediately lit up a cigarette and headed for the smoking area which was packed with smokers. If youíre allergic to cigarette smoke, then think twice before coming across the pond. Smoking is allowed almost everywhere ó in restaurants, bars, hotels.

The taxi I grabbed was driven by a nice young man who talked way too fast for a tired Yankee to understand. And to make matters worse, he drove like a maniac. At one point, he cut to the right side of a truck which was pulling right off the exit ramp. We barely cleared the guard rail. After all my worry about terrorism, I almost got killed by el loco (crazy) taxi driver!

The taxi delivered me to Hostal Americano, my favorite hotel. Itís located in El Puerta del Sol, which means "door to the sun." This plaza is considered the zero point in Spain from which all directions are measured (the actual geographical center is a few miles outside of the city). El Puerta del Sol is the equivalent of New York City's Times Square; it's where the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops to celebrate New Yearís Eve.

I got out of the cab, paid the driver and trudged with all my luggage up to the front door of the edificio (building) where the hotel is located on the third floor. I reached out my hand to press the buzzer on the door on the lower level but the buzzer was not there. The entire door panel of the building was not there. It was gone! A sign said that the building was closed and undergoing restoration. I went around to the back to see if there was a rear entrance ó nothing! What was going on? What was I going to do? The hotel had moved in the last two years and hadnít told me where they went. So I asked around and someone told me to go around to the front of the next building. So I did! And guess what, I found a door exactly like the old one ó wait a minute ó it was the old one. I had gone to the wrong building. Thatís what a seven-hour plane flight and jet lag will do to the mind, not to mention a two-year gap between visits.

I then saw the reason for my confusion. The other buildings around el Puerta del Sol are of the same time period and the same architectural style, so itís easy to become confused. One building looks very much like the others. But, to make matters worse this year, a large pantalla (screen) with three beautiful models advertising cosmetics was in front of the entire building housing my hotel. This screening is the Spanish way of concealing the unpleasant sight of the restoration work going on behind the screen.

When I entered the lobby of the small hotel on the third floor and called out hola, buenas dias (hello, good day), the clerk greeted me warmly. He remembered me from two years ago on my previous camino. Then he slipped into the back room and came out with a package for me. It was my Spanish cell phone which I had ordered earlier. (American cell phones donít work here.)

Almost everyone here has a cell phone. Spainís landline system is old and outdated (It was difficult to use a public phone here in the past.) but now with the modern technology, communications for the traveler is a breeze. Itís really a necessity for me. My family wants me to be able to talk to them often since Iím traveling alone. Spainís universal emergency number is 112 so I programmed that into my movile (mobile phone).

Jeremy, the cell phone guy, had provided me with an Internet hookup, so I unpacked my laptop, entered the dial-up data, inserted the phone line into my modem card, and tried to go online. No success. After a few frustrating efforts, I decided to try later.

I then went to an ATM machine and withdrew enough euros to have some local money in my pocket. Flush with cash I went to a libreria (bookshop) to buy a guia (guide) of el Camino Norte, and to a restaurant for a quick lunch which was really my breakfast.

Now all systems are ready to go. Well, almost ready. I still had to calculate an adjustment for my insulin regimen to work in this time zone. I needed to catch up the time that I would be taking my nighttime dose of insulin. The daytime doses didnít worry me much since they are taken at mealtime and are based on how many carbohydrates I eat. But the nighttime dose needed to gradually change to adjust to the new schedule. I made a list of times starting with what would have been 11 p.m. back home and correlated it with local time. Since I was already four hours late, I took my dose and then planned to take the dose for each subsequent day an hour later until I was back on my nighttime schedule.

Back in my room, I took a shower and decided to take a nap. When I awoke at 8 p.m. and tried to go on-line again — no luck! So I went to a cyber-cafť which is very near the hotel to use their computer to answer my email. Later, at 10 p.m., I went to cena (dinner).

Spaniards keep very different hours from Americans. They prefer to arrive at restaurants for the most part any time after 9 or 10 p.m. In fact, if you want to meet other extranjeros (strangers, i.e. foreigners) then just go to a restaurant before 9 p.m. Anyone having dinner at that time is probably not Spanish. I prefer to do it the Spanish way.

For this meal I started with a first course of gazpacho (cold tomato soup), for my second course I had a couple of raciones (rations) of salpicon de mariscos (marinated shellfish) y mocilla de Burgos (Burgos blood sausage). The waiter gave me a complimentary plate of pimientos de Padron (peppers from Padron). This last dish is sort of a gastronomical form of Russian roulette. Itís a plate of tiny whole peppers sautťed in olive oil and garlic. They are sweet and delicious ó except one or two that are really out-of-this-world hot. They all look alike so itís hard to guess which are the potent ones. But you most certainly know it when you bite into it!

Of course, the meal was accompanied by a fine Spanish wine. A good end to a good beginning!

Note: I must make my usual disclaimer here lest you think Iím a lush. The menus del dia (set-price menus) always come in the following order: primero plato (usually a salad, soup, vegetables, beans, or rice dish) segundo plato (meat or fish dish) followed by postres (dessert) And of course there is always bread and drink. The drink is either a bottle of wine or a bottle of cold mineral water. Sure, during the day when Iím walking on the Camino, I have the cold water. But at night ó wine or water? The price is the same? What choice is the obvious one to you?