The Road to Santiago.

September 20, 2004

Photo of Dudley Glover in the Puerto del Sol.
Dudley in the Puerto del Sol, leaving Madrid

Madrid to Irun

Happy birthday to me! It took me a while to realize what day it is. It’s the fourth anniversary of my quadruple bypass surgery — my second chance. As the old joke goes, if I had known that I was going to live this long, I woulda taken better care of myself. Seriously, I never realized that I had heart problems although I shoulda since my father and his four brothers had massive coronaries. (Only one survived for any time afterwards.) I guess denial is a strong emotion.

Besides, I never felt any chest pain. I was just tired all the time and couldn’t walk far without tiring. I just assumed that fatigue was a condition of diabetes. What is a condition of diabetes is arteriosclerosis. And to make matters worse, it’s a condition known as silent ischemia. That means the patient doesn’t feel the pain of angina, which gives the typical cardiac patient enough warning signs to get to a doctor. I was fortunate: my doctor ordered an angiogram after hearing my complaint of tiredness. The rest, as they say, is history.

Churchill said nothing focuses the mind more than the prospect of getting hung. (Or was it Franklin? Well it was somebody like them.) The thought was seared into my mind during my recovery. Walk or die. Well, if those are the options, then the choice is obvious.

Just before you go under the knife, you try to make all sorts of deals. "Look, let me pull through this and I’ll be good. I’ll try and do it right, next time. Hey, I know! I’ll go to Santiago!" Thus, in a nutshell, is the reason for my caminos, but I digress.

Back to Hostal Americano in Madrid — I methodically started to pack my mochila (backpack), trying to figure out where to store things. Syringes, insulin, and pills in one compartment. Spare batteries and a tiny flashlight in a small pocket. Phone and battery chargers in another. Clothes, sleeping bag, etc., in yet another. My daily toiletries had to be in an easily accessible spot along with a pocket for my journal and guidebook. Of course, the most important component to pack was my laptop, its power cord, and a 220-volt adaptor plug. On one hip, I would carry my glucose meter, insulin, and a small bottle of water. On the other would be my digital camera in a carrying case. Around my neck hung my small cell phone.

Before I would pack up, I went out for breakfast. Now, Spanish breakfasts are not like what we have in the U.S. They usually consist of café con leche y un bollo o pastel (coffee with hot milk and a sweet roll or pastry). (Since I must stay away from that kind of carbohydrates as much as possible, and focus on protein, I wanted eggs and meat to start my day.) In a large city, such as Madrid, it’s possible to find places that serve huevos con jamon (eggs with ham), but that is the exception to the rule. Of course, one can generally find places that serve bocadillos (bite-sized sandwiches). This morning, I found something different: un sandwich mixto, which by its very name is American in style. It’s a grilled ham and cheese on toasted white bread. But it’s good ham and good cheese. Even the white bread tastes good.

After breakfast, I returned to the hotel to put the belongings I wouldn’t carry on the walk into my suitcase, which I would leave at the hotel’s storage space until I returned from the walk. I left my suitcase with the desk man, along with a small package containing extra syringes and insulin, to keep in case of emergency. I would then call and have him send it to me. I asked him to put the package into the refrigerator —  la nevera pero no helar (the refrigerator but not to freeze). It was bad Spanish, but he understood my drift. He gave me the hotel’s card with his name, Antonío, on it and told me to call him if I had any troubles.

As I left the hotel, I asked Manuel, el portalero (the door man), to take my picture in the Puerto de Sol. I first met Manuel 13 years ago during my first stay at the Hostel Americano. (He hasn’t aged a bit!). He wished Buen viaje (Bon voyage). I waved goodbye and went down the entrance to the subway and caught a quick ride by Metro to the estación de ferrocarril (railroad station), Charmartin, where I would get a train to Irun, the starting point of the walk.

I got to the train station by 11:00, bought a billete a Irun (ticket to Irun), then asked if there was coche de comedor (dining car) on the train — no! Since the train didn’t leave until 1:30 p.m. and wouldn’t arrive in Irun until 9:00 p.m., I decided to find some food now. I went to the station’s bar and bought una tapa (a snack) — roast pork on a slice of bread.

Beside me at the counter was a young man who struck up a conversation. He was originally from Argentina but worked for four years in Denver. Now he was here working for a real estate company (Century 21, I think). When he asked me if Kerry would win the election, I quickly changed the subject. (It’s difficult to explain to those not from Massachusetts about our second JFK!)

The train ride was nice but long. It went all around "Robin Hood’s barn." It did not travel in a straight line from Madrid to Irun. It went northwest to Ávila and Valladolid, then turned east to Palencia. From Palencia it backed out of the city and turned northeast to Vitoria-Gasteiz. Eventually the train would go to San Sebastian-Donostia, and finally to Irun.

At one stop, there was a delay for about an hour. The conductor kept speaking into his cell phone and mentioning autobuses (buses) as he counted up the seats. It was obvious, that due to the large number of passengers, this was not a good option. I asked a young girl what was the problem and she answered me with a rapid explanation. When she saw the blank look on my face, she reached into her purse, pulled out a cigarette lighter, flicked it on, and said loudly, "Fuego" (fire). I nodded my head and said, "Yo entiende" (I understand). It’s amazing how people, the whole world over, think that if they speak louder, the meaning of a word will suddenly become clearer.

Finally the train arrived in Irun at 10:00 p.m., an hour late. I hoped that it wasn’t too late. Tired, I went to the first pension that was listed in the guidebook. It was completo (full), but fortunately they directed me to a bar a few doors down the street.

I went into the bar and asked the bartender if there was una pención cerca aqui (a pension near here), and she said, "Si, aqui" (yes, here). Well, I looked a little askance but was too tired to be picky. After she copied down the information from my passport, she grabbed a ring of keys and signaled me to follow her into the street. We went to a corner where she pointed up a set a stairs that ended at a metal gate. Then she pointed to the keys. The first was for the gate. The second was for the building. The third was for the pensión en el segundo piso (pension on the second floor), and the fourth was for my room — suite D, room 14. ¿Facile, no? (Easy, yes?) No! I mean yes! I think!

I picked up my pack and headed for the gate. After the gate, I couldn’t decide which of the six different doors I should try. I had thought that she said that there was only one. I was about to start a systematic search when I saw two young men come along and enter one of the doors. I followed them into the building and to the acensor (elevator). But Spanish elevators are very small, especially for a yanqui caballo con mochila como yo (a Yankee horse with a backpack such as myself). So I waited. Fortunately, I was in the right building and found the pension and my room.

It was a nice, if not small, room. I rinsed out my shirt, which had taken on an aroma of it own. Had a nice hot bath and went to sleep.