20 April 2010

Hotel California in España (You can never leave....) OR "You Shall Not Pass!

Recent events realated to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano have extended our stay in Spain considerably longer than was anticipated. We were originally due to fly out of Madrid on April 17, but it is now looking like April 23 is the closest likely date.
To sum up the last few days in six words:
Tired, lines, pay, hungry, metro. Again.
We have been several times to the airport to speak directly to customer service personnel, since phone lines and websites are too overwhelmed. We´ve checked into and out of our hostel 4 times. We´ve looked into taking buses and trains to get out of Madrid, but they are all incredibly expensive and already booked full. Now that we have accepted with some certainty that we will be staying here for several more days, things are a bit easier. We have taken a view of moving very slowly, since we no longer have the energy to be stressed or worried about travel arrangements.
Yesterday the weather was a little better (finally!!) and we wandered over to Madrid´s enormous Buena Retiro Park with some folks we met at the hostel and took refuge in the greenery. I had a terrific grass-flop nap and woke up feeling much calmer.
In a funny way, I am quite glad we have been forced to stay in Spain a bit longer. Our time in Valencia and the first part of Madrid was pretty rough for me. I've encountered more anti-american sentiments here than I've ever experienced and it's been humbling, frustrating, eye-opening. Traveling with my Mexican friend Pam has brought out some remarkable contrasts, at the level of our different languages, of assumptions others make about why we are traveling together, why we speak French together instead of English or Spanish (the simple reason being that she doesn't speak much English and I don't speak much Spanish). Traveling together is a bit like being in a huge social experiment, but we don't always have enough distance from our encounters to appreciate the irony. There are moments that are just weird, as when we ate at a restaurant where the wait-staff thought Pam was my hired tour guide instead of my friend and kept behaving in ways that were really awkward for both of us, kind of implying that we were of different social classes. Other times Pam receives a really warm reception and people ask all sorts of questions about her country, then they turn to me and, on hearing I´m from the US, they shut down completely. And there have been many variations in between these extremes. We've gotten to know to know some interesting people here at the hostel in Madrid, and it's great to be able to move beyond those first assumptions and stereotypes and see and be seen as human beings. 
This is what I remember loving about backpacking around England a few years ago, how the limited time and space encourage people to move past their normal barriers and politness and be more open with each other than they otherwise would be.
The first night you arrive in a place and put your stuff down. Maybe you are tired and hungry and you think "Ah jeez, the girl in the bunk under mine has left her crap all over the room and I can't climb up to my bed without stepping on it, GRRR." But by the second night you think, "Oh, that's so-and-so from Argentina" or whatever, you begin to have a much more human view, the smaller frustrations and first impressions fall away as you find out more about others' lives, why they are the way they are, why they are traveling...
I've had some incredible conversations in the last couple of days for which I am very grateful. I'm not really at the point to clearly articulate them, but they are all there churning away. I look forward to sorting them into a bit more order soon.


  1. Lindsay, I hope you are back in France by now and recovered from your extended stay in Spain. I hope your return to the U.S. is less tramatic. Ken

  2. Hey Lindsay,

    I'm kinda curious for all the sorted reports on your incredible conversations.

    You okay on the other side of the Atlantic?