Finding our niche, losing our way
Trip Start Mar 14, 2009
6Trip End Mar 21, 2009
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Alone, Carrie and I embark on another journey into the foreign thereby opening those imaginary limits of ours - if only temporarily - to see what this world is hiding from our hindered sight. And I wax poetic.
Our trip began calmly. It is nice to have enough time to board, to have your tickets sorted, to not have to run frantically like you had to in high school with Coach Sayid creeping behind you in his Nissan pickup truck yelling, "Keep up the pace Conkey. Look at Andrew!"
First, we met up with Carrie's friends, Freddie and Amy, who were easy going and fun. Carrie mentioned how their going to Spain and then Portugal was only a ruse for a proposal, but Freddie was not one to give out hints or subtle clues. Finally, we boarded, cramped and anxious with the pelaton; all of us on time and poor.
I tried to sleep but since I never did get my Navy Seal training (seeing how I dropped out of Boy Scouts when we had to get badges), I am never comfortable sleeping with a pillow the size of four cotton balls and a blanket big enough to cover me from ribs to foot. We drank and ate, peeling the heat-trapping cellophane from each of our meals. Carrie and I toasted with the rich, economy cabin wine; we were king and queen miles above the Earth.
We decided to rent a car instead of using the trains and buses. When asked if we wanted insurance, the clouds seemed to gray. Oh the mention of doom, please don't say it, don't even whisper. We could pay 200 now or we could skip it and gamble with Fate, maybe we won't get into a ghastly wreck, maybe our car won't get stolen. "Do you want insurance," it seemed the only phrase this woman could speak in perfect English as horns began poking from her forehead and a guttural laugh began to bellow from her chest. I pictured dings, scratches, crazy European drivers. Lightening struck, scantily clad demonesses began tempting me with the barbiturate of insurance, "Take it, it will calm you. It is safe, something is bound to happen." But we struck our Triton of Frugality on the ground and smote those evil and sexy temptresses, we grabbed the keys and the GPS system, "Is this free?" "Si." "Okay." I took the drivers seat - not really because I'm the better driver, but I get oh so car sick in the passenger side (I'm probably anemic), and we peeled responsibly out of sight and into the chasm of chance. We were happy.
Now, about GPS. Had the GPS not been free, our Triton of Frugality might have smote it as well, and .5km into the trip, we would have already been lost. If you are EVER driving in a foreign country, get the GPS system, because no matter how good you are at reading maps, when you have to read a foreign sign, obey all these strange markings and road hazards, AND you are flipping and folding a map trying to point in your direction, well, you might need that insurance. All day long we were guided by the female voice of our GPS, "Slight left, slight left, go straight 350 meters and turn right." At times, just like any relationship, I wanted to scream, "Shut up shut up shut up. I heard you, God I wish I knew how to shut you up!" But in the end, I cuddled her in my arms and admired the inner beauty of her making.
Our first stop, Toledo, which, when we put in the GPS (whom Carrie has named Magda, short for the female version of Magellan) she brought us to a store front on the side of a very busy street. Not quite what the tour book had described. So, we began playing with Magda and realized that we needed the city of Toledo and not the cafe. "Recalculating," she said and would say many more times today as we would miss turns, make up turns, or just plain avoid her detailed and knowledgeable advice. At last, we arrived at Toledo.
Toledo seems the meeting place of Christianity and Judaism, locked away behind monstrous city walls and surrounded on all sides by a moat-like river, Rio Trios. Toledo's streets twist and turn, up and down through cobblestone and brick, up steps and down slopes, narrow alleys and one way streets. One cathedral begins to look like another; each intersection is a maze of 5 or 6 streets, undoubtedly we got lost. Assuming at the end of the day, as egocentric Americans would, that our car was parked next to the 1 on our generalized map (of course, making this assumption with no geographic proof whatsoever) we followed an arbitrary path to the complete opposite end of town. After reaching this end, we were convinced of two things - Carrie and I were lost and neither one of us knew the first thing about reading maps. This is where we got creative.
I said, "Well, we parked East, so since it's later in the day, if we walk with the sun at our backs all day, we will eventually get there." Carrie offered, "If we keep our right hand on the wall, we can't lose, we'll get there for sure." Well, I wasn't about to drag my hand on a wall for 20 kilometers, so I won. And besides, Carrie really is down with anything.
We walked perhaps another hour through the circuitous streets of Toledo, finding about every dead end that here was to find, always with the sun behind us. I was the navigator extraordinaire, the true Magellan, the Crocodile Dundee and just after Carrie finally declared (with hints of both humor and despair), "I'm about to cry," we came upon our car - with the sun smack dab in front of us. We had a beer.
Afterwards, we followed our Magda - who apparently only works in the car and therefore not an aide in Toledo - we followed her to a town called Consuegra. If you haven't heard of it, it's because you didn't take a class that had assigned "Don Quixote." Consuegra is the town where the fictional "knight" did fierce battle with a wind mill. I find this all too amusing. We drove to the wind mills, and as we were quite tired and spent, we took a little siesta on the side of the road. Very refreshing. Afterwards we headed up to this collection of stucco-like wind mills. I'm not too sure if they were ever fully functional or just a decorative tourist checkpoint. In fact, there is a marker that assigns this as a stop on the "Rute de Quixote" and as we drove on later that day, there are more stops for this "Rute." It reminded me of the ever elusive Route 66 in the States, at times you aren't sure you are on any route, until a bubbly sign pops out of no where and says, "Route 66, next right."
Carrie and I took many pictures of these windmills and the country side - the art of which has turned into some unstated and subjective contest best objectified by the ohs and ahs of onlookers long after this trip. Where I find beauty, she might say something like, "I wouldn't have done that." It has me nervous to take her picture when she hands me the camera and says, "Take one of me by this wall." You see, I am a firm believer in the aesthetics of "The Rule of Thirds" while Carrie is someone who centers her pictures. It's all a personal preference that has got me thinking way too much.
For a closing on the first day, we chose Ciudad Real - for absolutely no reason at all. We drove around for a while "shopping" for the best hotel rate. The first, Hotel Dona Carlota, was 57 Euro which seemed much too expensive. The next hotel was too seedy, the next too expensive, the next, a pension (basically a room without a bathroom) had no heat and was therefore not cheap enough for the compromise, the next had a great vibe but far too pricey. We ended where we began, Hotel Carlota - fine accomodations, a fine shower, very good for the money. We created a rule: the first place we come to that we like that is a comfortable price, we will take; we will not search for the absolute cheapest and we won't settle for the uncomfortable.
We crashed for an hour, debating whether to go out or not and finally did. We walked to the first bar and tested our new rule and had a great time. Great waiter, great food, and as we left he bade us to wait and then gave us each a sort of butter dish with a picture of Don Quixote on horseback. The rule worked.
Tomorrow Cordoba and Seville.