IN THIS BLOG–I REMINISCE ABOUT MY WALK ON THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO A YEAR AGO
After an uneventful night-long flight, I arrived in Madrid in the morning of the 10th of December, 2010, picked up the duffel bag from the luggage belt, and proceeded to stand in line for customs inspection. The serious uniformed official stamped my passport, as he asked how long I would stay in the country. As I entered the terminal, I felt odd not having someone there waiting for me. In the summer, Montse, the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha staff person, is usually there waiting for me. I lugged the huge duffel bag to a taxi knowing that it would be near impossible to lug it around from metro to metro on the way to the Atocha train station. At the ticket counter, I was glad that I had remembered to bring my tarjeta dorada that guaranteed a 40% senior discount on the train fare; I purchased my round-trip ticket, and off I went to board the train from the usual gate where trains depart every hour or so to Toledo. I dozed during the short train ride, and in less than an hour I was in Toledo at Zocodover, the main plaza, cold and wet.
I had not located the charger for the cell phone that I usually use in Spain, so I walked across the Calle Ancha to the Movistar cell phone store, and for 19 Euros bought a simple Samsung cell phone–the lightest I could find. I called home and talked to Elsa and left a message for Elvia. I wanted to let folks know I had arrived; I used up most of the time I had bought with the phone to make the long-distance international calls. I then called Lisa, my former student with whom I would be staying; she was at work, but she would come and meet me in a couple of hours. I waited for her at a nearby cafe where I ordered a light lunch of a bocadillo de tortilla (a kind of potato and egg omelet in a small french bread bun). I was sitting quietly waiting for my order, when in came a group of rowdy Italian tourists, who interrupted my reverie. I took out La Lacuna and read a couple of chapters, ate my meal, and paid. I forgot to mention, that I had some Euros with me from the summer and that I had not brought much money. The plan was for me to use my ATM card to withdraw cash as needed along the camino.
Up until now, I had paid with the card for everything—train ticket, cell phone, and food. But, knowing that the bank charges a surcharge for international charges, that was not very smart. I had called the bank and alerted them of my travel plans so that they would not shut down access to the card when it registered an international charge as they had done one summer. I went to the bank and withdrew 200 Euros which is about $300, the daily withdrawal limit. In a couple of hours, Lisa met me and we walked to her apartment on calle Lucum where I would stay for a few days until Becky arrived to start our trip to France.
I had never been in Toledo during the holidays. I marvelled at the decorations, not too different from those we would encounter along the Camino. Toledo in winter is the same place it is in the summer–the cathedral, Zocodover, the various plazas and stores, everything is the same, but it is not the same Toledo dressed in seasonal winter garb: tinsel and lights in the traditonal colors, creches–what we call nacimientos, the Spanish call belenes.
That evening, Lisa and I went for a stroll; I wore my boots and one of the turtleneck sweaters I had bought to wear during the pilgrimage. The blustery winds and my intolerance of the cold cut our stroll short, and we came back to the apartment where, after eating a delicious dinner of salad, cheese and great bread, I borrowed Lisa’s laptop to check my email. I emailed Elvia asking her to send me the Frova, the migraine headache medication, that I had forgotten, with Becky. I had also asked her to return to the airport to retrieve the tiny Swiss Army knife when I realized that they would not let me through security with it and I had already checked my duffel bag, so I reminded her to also send it with Becky.
After a hot shower, I readied for bed, tired and sleepy. I read a couple of chapters of La Lacuna and turned off the bedside light with a sigh–Spain already felt familiar and comfortable, and being in Lisa’s cozy apartment felt like home. Little did I know how I would wish I were back in the cozy warm apartment when we were sleeping in icy cold albergues during the Camino.