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21 Days of Spain

Author: Betsy Lubis
Date of Trip: November 2013

For dinner, we ate Mediterranean again but from a different place. Here, our food was served quickly but we had to ask three times before getting our beers. Meanwhile, an English woman sitting behind us groused that her beer glass came to the table half-empty.

Day 9, Granada to Ronda
On the train near Antequera, we saw a rock formation that looked like George Washington’s head in profile as if he’s lying on his back. My husband thought every rock formation we saw thereafter resembled GW as well.

Flashback to the Alhambra on Sunday: A young lady is walking around with several funky purses (one a furry lollipop looking thing) draped over her shoulder and stopping at various picturesque points to photograph one or another of them. Forward to Ronda on Monday: We’re walking across the new bridge over the El Tajo (gorge) 360 feet above the Guadalviven River. A young lady has stopped in the middle of the bridge to text on her cell phone. My husband hits me and says, “that’s her.” I say, “that’s who?” He says, “it’s the purse lady. From the Alhambra. Same pink glasses. That’s her.” But, I’m not sure.

We don’t have reservations but there’s a room for us with a matrimonial (double) bed at Hotel Andalucia, across from Ronda’s train station. It’s adequately furnished, decently sized, and appears to be clean. One of the first things I notice is no light bulb in the lamp on my side of the bed, but it’s not a big deal until my husband goes into the closet to hang up his clothes and discovers a broken compact florescent light bulb in the corner on the floor. I go downstairs and attempt the Spanish version of our room’s an environmental hazard site. (After all, I have an entire instruction sheet posted at home about what to do if you break one of these). But, the young woman in charge only thinks I’m upset over my lamp’s missing light bulb. So, we wrap the broken bulb in some toilet paper, put it in a plastic bag we happen to have and give it to her. She says she’ll get a new bulb for the lamp in the morning.

We stop at a nearby restaurant with a reasonably priced menu posted outside and a few locals sitting inside at the bar. When I ask the bartender about food, he says the kitchen doesn’t start cooking till 7:30. I look at my watch. It’s 6:50. So, we order two beers and settle in to watch Spanish TV till dinner time. An old gentleman in a green sweater at the next table seems to be the one in charge of the remote. News is on, followed by the original John Wayne True Grit. During the News, my husband thinks he catches a glimpse of us at the Granada train station. It’s true. A news crew had been there filming and interviewing just as a protest parade with their signs proclaiming something about “vecino” (neighbor) was set to start. Here, news broadcasts always include a litany of the day’s protests in much the same way that ours begin with a rundown of local murders and car accidents.

Day 10, Ronda
Other than the gorge, Ronda’s not a hotbed of tourist venues. (Though, Pileta Cave containing Neolithic and Paleolithic paintings is fourteen miles away, we never figured out transportation for getting there. We’d read we would need a car. But, the right bus combined with a long walk could have done it. A rented bike could have made it, too. However, we were hesitant to shake up our exercise routine so close to the marathon.) So, we toured Ronda’s bullring. It’s the oldest official one in the country. Before rings, they just used town plazas. The overpriced audio guide describes how killing an animal has been turned into a pompous show complete with the bullfighter’s assistants first coming out to inflict injury in order to level the playing field. At this point, I began to admire the Catalans we hadn’t yet seen for having outlawed the “art” by now. (Barcelona’s former bullring is a shopping mall). And, as if the bullring and attached museum aren’t enough, the Rondans have an added wing to show off a bunch of horse riding stuff and quite an extensive cadre of weaponry. I think it’s all a collection from some old rich guy who had a loose familiar connection to bullfighting. Not positive, though, as I’d turned off my headset by then.

Later, we walked through the narrow-passaged white pueblo Arab section before returning to last night’s same restaurant. The old guy in the green (or was it red) sweater is there, too, with the TV set to a string of Spanish game shows we seemed to be the only ones enjoying.

Day 11, Ronda
We attempt to route a run in a direction away from Ronda’s hills. But, this leads us to a highway so we have to change course. We end up on a path with the locals. It’s kind of like a trail near our house back in Kansas except instead of blacktop, it’s dirt and rather than beside a creek, it’s next to a railroad track. It also has no shade like our heavily treed one at home but the morning’s not really hot, so we don’t mind. Best of all, it’s flat and with only a few days to go before the marathon, we can use flat.

For 1.65 euros, we buy two oranges, two apples and two bananas from a fruit market. I sit in the sun in the hostal courtyard and eat my orange. Then, we find a laundry and again wash our limited wardrobe.

At a new place for lunch, we order lasagna as the second plate of our menu del dia. This proves to be a mistake as we’re not in Italy. This lasagna is extremely short on noodles and long on cheese and tomato sauce, excessively long on tomato sauce. We could have used some of it on our pizza back in Segovia as that, essentially, had been bread and cheese. And, although we’re not charged extra for the bread at this meal, the large plastic water bottle the young lady brings when we say we’ll drink water costs two euros. I should have asked before opening it. The only other couple in the restaurant is Spanish. Since they also have the big plastic bottle, Spaniards must all be used to paying for water with their restaurant meals. Still, the practice angered me enough that I refused to leave a drop, chugging a significant quantity and filling up the little water bottles we carried around with the rest. Curiously enough, the Spanish woman had also ordered the lasagna at which she, too, primarily picked. The guy she was with had a nice plate of meat in front of him that she was helping herself from as well.

Early in the evening, my husband was still taking a siesta when I decided to go out and see El Tajo one last time. Near the bus station, a French man, speaking French, held out his map and asked me a question. I considered that he might be up to no good but I was carrying no money so it didn’t matter. His wife stood close by yelling. I grabbed his map and turned it so its orientation made sense to me. Misunderstanding me, perhaps, he jerked it back, up-side-down as far as I was concerned while his wife continued to yell. I turned it back again and tried to point out where we were. He only looked confused so I waved and walked on. His wife was still yelling.

Day 12, Ronda to Malaga (to Valencia)
At the Ronda bus station, a) the unfriendly clerk can only take cash, b) it cost 0.40 euro to use the bathroom and c) we have an hour and a half wait. We walk across the street to a café where my husband orders tea and I try the infamous Spanish churros for the first and only time. They taste distantly related to a glazed doughnut without the glaze. But, really, they don’t have much taste at all. I’m hoping they improve once dipped in chocolate. Only the chocolate they bring me doesn’t have much flavor either. It’s thinner than pudding and thicker than hot chocolate. It doesn’t taste sweet. It doesn’t taste bitter. It doesn’t taste like much of anything other than hot. And, I, notorious for devouring anything sweet and chocolate, leave most of it all behind.

A bunch of passengers stand around waiting to board what we think is our bus. A blond girl joins the crowd. The bus, which does turn out to be ours, is a local that stops in several pueblos, more than one equipped with basketball courts. My husband says the Spanish like basketball. So, I wonder if anyone here would recognize a Kansas (KU) shirt if they saw one or do they just know the professional version. He says they might be familiar with the Jayhawks.

In Malaga, the blond girl is in front of me as we get off the bus and steer for the restroom. It’s closed for cleaning so we begin to talk. (Note on Spanish restrooms: when they clean them, they close them completely rather than make any effort to work around the people who need to use them. And, second note: Spanish restrooms are generally not very clean even when they clean them. This includes the ones they charge money to use. Plus, they’re often out of toilet paper. And, they have no hot water and, only rarely, paper towels. Plus, the air coming out of their hand dryers is cold and the flow is meager. No one bothers to dry their hands as, under those conditions, the process is excruciatingly tedious.) Nonetheless, the blond says she’s American and I say we are too. She asks where we’re from and when I say Kansas City, she lights up as she’s from Minnesota but goes to KU. She’s fulfilling her foreign language requirements by studying Spanish in Ronda for the semester. She’s also packing more for a week-end trip to Germany to visit a former foreign exchange student from her high school than we’re lugging for the entire three weeks. But, the point of this story is that she, at least, would have recognized the basketball team if I’d been wearing my KU Jayhawk shirt.

We leave Malaga’s station to find the Mediterranean. My husband, who essentially grew up at the Jersey shore, hasn’t looked at a map, or so he says, and doesn’t reference the sun. Just smells, I suppose, and his nose leads us on a fifteen minute walk to the waterfront.

We lunch at a probably overpriced restaurant on the beach: a plateful of olives, bread (extra, this time), and small lettuce-free salads comprised of tomatoes, green peppers, white onions and fish.

Malaga’s train station with a mall, food court, movie theaters and bowling alley is much nicer than the bus station next door so we hang out there for a while. Later, in the seedier bus station, a supposed drunk guy who claims to be with the mafia tries to shake my husband’s hand.

Day 13, Valencia
The all-night bus ride from Malaga to Valencia is pure misery for a myriad of reasons. For the trip’s first leg, a young German couple directly in front of us talks both loudly and continuously. Then, for more than half the night, the radio blares from beside the first bus driver. And, of course, this bus is another local so it makes at least eight stops. Added to all that, the guy sitting directly behind me for the entire trip has a cold and blows his nose so often that, even though the seats recline, I’m afraid to lay mine back. I never sleep.

We reach Valencia at 7:00 Friday morning to a primping olive skinned guy in tight pants standing over the sink in the women’s restroom. A young woman just off our bus pauses at the door, calling to him, “senor, senor, this is the women’s room.” Another young woman from the bus walks up and calls out, too. I stop a second beside them before concluding he’s not deaf, he’s just ignoring them. He’s fiddling with his hair, adjusting his clothes, trying to impress or intimidate, one of the two, and I’ve got to go. So, I call the guy an English word that translates well and walk on in, motioning the young women to follow me. The stalls have full walls and doors so it’s not like he can see anything. When I’m done a few minutes later, a woman about my age is just coming in. She looks at me and says something in Spanish to the effect of what’s he’d doing in here right as I notice the creepy primper leading me out. I call him another word that translates well and shake my head.

Outside, my husband is waiting. Meanwhile, the guy goes up to another questionable looking character a few yards away and says something. We start walking into the station with me telling the story on the way. We’re looking at a map when the first guy comes up to stand right beside us. So, we leave. I turn around once or twice to make sure no one’s following.

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