Last Week in Spain and our Three Day “Vacay”
We were asked to stay on working at Suryalila for an additional week as they needed a yoga teacher for some individual guests who were scheduled to stay. I was beyond thrilled at the opportunity to teach my own classes for the week of Nov. 21 – Nov. 26, so of course we said yes!
We planned on spending the day in Arcos before continuing onward to Jerez where we would spend one night. We would then excitedly go to Cadiz on Tuesday and spend two nights hanging in Cadiz, relaxing and enjoying what the southern city has to offer. We planned on returning to Suryalila on Thursday, refreshed, rejuvenated, relaxed and ready to roll for a brief round two before gearing up for the next stent of this around the world trip.
Monday, Nov. 18, 2013
We were up around 7 a.m. packing and making breakfast for the departing group. We ran around like maniacs until 9 a.m. when made our way to the Villamartin bus station to catch the 45 minute bus ride to Arcos.
Arcos de la Frontera is an old town with a population of maybe the attendance (on a good night) to a Mariner’s Game (28, 0000). The tiny Muslim town was its own kingdom back in the 11th century until Seville came into the picture and snatched it up. By 1255 some dude named Alfonso X reseeded the town with Castilians and Leonese.
Within minutes of stepping off the bus we found ourselves in front of an information point. We grabbed a map and asked for advice, as we had no idea what to look for or to expect from Arcos.
We were told to go to the “famous balcony,” and even though we had no idea what that was, we decided it warranted our first stop. So we started the short 1km walk up from the station to the old town.
We tiptoed along the cool cobblestone streets through brilliant white stone walls that hugged the narrow streets closely on both sides. With a touch of Moroccan architectural reminders, we stopped to admire the very lonely Iglesia de San Pedro.
The exterior was gorgeous; worn stone walls with their neutral tones reflecting the glowing sunshine reach far into the sky. We spent a few minutes admiring the church in nobodies’ company and then carried on towards the ‘famous balcony.’
The famous balcony is a balcony that is going to crumble along with the disappearing precipices at any second, which makes it fun to visit.
Its a concrete slab that hangs off the cliff opposite Plaza del Cabildo. The mirador lends to amazing views of Rio Guadalete and the countryside that you wish extended further underneath the fog.
There were some massive owls and birds hanging out enjoying the views with us on the balcony.
We took a peek at the 11th century Castillo de los Dugues exterior and the Basilica-Parroquia de Santa Maria which was getting a bit of a makeover while we were there.
We headed back to the old town center to grab some water before heading southeast to see views of the eastern side.
We then found a pathway that led down the road where you could look up at the famous balcony from the bottom. We spent an hour walking down the trail, taking a seat and enjoying watching people step onto the platform.
We made the trek back up the hill and then found a cute tapas place where we sat in the sun and enjoyed doing absolutely nothing.
Just before 4 p.m. we were headed to the bus station to catch the bus to Jerez.
Jerez is an industrial city with 185,000 people calling the place home. It’s most famous for its sherry which is the wine grown from the grapes of this particular region where the soil is particularly chalky. The 30 km ride was short and we quickly found our hostel Las Palomas. We checked in, settled into our room, and unfortunately checked our email.
The story: I had ordered a new wide-angle Canon lens about three weeks ago. I first tried to order via Canon Spain, but after hours of dealing with them, they decided a visitor can’t purchase from the Canon website in Spain. Then I tried to order from a non-Canon vendor and it wouldn’t accept a non-Spanish credit card. So, finally I ordered the lens from New York and had it shipped to Villamartin. I paid over $100 in international expedited shipping and then another $150 for customs fees. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve said I want the lens and James was sick of hearing it, so I thought I was doing us both a favor by taking a piñata whack at my savings account and just going for it and buying the dang thing.
Well, it had been stuck in Spain Customs for over two weeks, and for some reason it just came to my tired attention that it was because no funds from my credit card had been released to process it though customs and forward it to Villamartin.
Sitting in our hostel room, we spent an hour going through various call centers (all in Spanish). Once we did get a live person, the entire conversation was in rapid-fire Spanish, so there was tremendous room for miscommunication. On the phone we were told there was a letter sent in the mail with instructions for how to collect the package. Well we weren’t at home. We had a kind chef at Suryalila Facebook a scanned copy of the letter to us. Then we had to figure out how to read it. The sheet had several options: 1) Go to Madrid 2) Send in this completed form, wait several days to received an email with banking transfer instructions, wait several days for the transfer to clear, and then expect your package sometime in the next decade, or 3) Send someone to represent you in Madrid.
So we went to the Correos Office down the street and again had the entire conversation about customs, policies, processing of forms, bank transfers and processing times with the man behind the counter entirely in Spanish. Oh god.
We spent a few hours trying to figure out if there was any way possible to avoid going to Madrid. We made one last trip to the post office at 8:30 p.m. and I asked the man what he thought – to send in these forms and hope my lens comes within the next week before I fly to Portugal, or simply (ha!) go pick it up myself in Madrid. He reminded me that if nothing were to be done by this upcoming Sunday, Nov. 24, customs would send my lens home and I would be out a minimum of $350, with no lens.
We decided it was best to go to Madrid, and then we couldn’t decide if I should just hop on the midnight bus and deal with it all in the morning by myself or if we both should go in the event it took two days we could at least hangout together.
In the middle of bumming around deciding what to do, we checked the status of our passports (which are being processing by the India Embassy) and found that James’ passport was making his happy way home in the ONE envelope we provided them for our two very different passports. Mine was now considered homeless and was no longer being processed. James managed to cus loudly and multiple times at the poor little Visa man on the phone whom delivered us this information. At this point I had had enough for the day and was proceeding to have my own complete meltdown.
Luckily James has the coolest, most helpful parents on the entire planet so he called up his Dad and his Dad managed to completely save the meltdown by calmly saying he will take care of it. By the time we were done dealing with that, it was 11:45 p.m. and I decided there was no way for me to run to a cash machine, yank €200 and find my way in the dark to the bus. We decided to sleep and figure it out tomorrow.
Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013
We were up early and back at the post office to ask again if we absolutely had to go to Madrid to get the lens. After confirming that was the case, we decided we would try to reclaim some of our three day vacay and head to the Hammam baths before jumping on a eight hour overnight bus to Madrid. We spent the day walking around Jerez before heading to find James €2.50 bathing suit so we could go to the baths.
Despite that I am late for everything in my life, somehow James and I pranced into the Hammam a good 30 minutes early for our appointment.
We were told to change, shower, and then head into the baths and remain quiet and enjoy our one and a half hour session. Moroccan tea would be served at some point and we would be collected once our session was completed and not to worry about the time. We were told also to start in the tepid pool, transfer to the hot pool, and then take the plunge in the cold pool.
We jumped in just before 3:45 p.m. and had the Moroccan joint to ourselves. We ditched the stressed out, pissed off at the world attitudes at the arabic door and immediately melted into the peaceful place. The place had candles lit around the pools and was completely quiet and absolutely perfect. A few more people joined within a half an hour and with only about eight people between the pools, you could manage to carry the feeling of content aloneness with you the entire time. We jumped between the hot and cold pools dozens of times. It was a perfect reset button for us that was pressed at the perfectly timed moment.
It was 5:30 p.m. and we had been bouncing between the hot and cold pools so stealthily that we had apparently been missed when the bath ladies asked the guests in our session to leave. I don’t think we even noticed we were surrounded by different people until a good half an hour later.
Hey, the man at the front desk said not to worry about our time, so we gladly took that advice.
We continued to play in the pools until about 7:30 p.m. when the guests of the session after ours were asked to leave and we laughed as we joined them on the way out of the pools. Unlike the time when my mom lost me in Disneyworld, this was the absolute perfect situation to be forgotten.
All zened out we stumbled out of the baths and back into the cold streets.
We collected our things from the hostel and made our way to find James some pizza before our eight hour bus ride to Madrid.
The bus left at about 10 p.m. and we didn’t exactly sleep at all. The righteous gentleman behind me kept deciding that while every other passenger on the bus had the right to recline their seat, he was absolutely determined to preserve his legroom. If he was an NBA star I wouldn’t have cared, but he could only have been a horse jockey and persisted to reach around my seat to release the recline button and send me back up to vertical in the middle of the night.
We arrived at Terminal 1 of the Madrid airport at around 6:30 a.m. I parked my butt right in front of the Correos office, matched up my addresses and showed paperwork to the information center at the airport to confirm.
Yup, good to go.
In just two hours time I was sure they would just pop my lens through the counter in exchange for a pile of euro notes. At 8:30 a.m. the chick opened the squealing blinds and looked at the sheet and told me I was in the wrong place. That I needed to go to a different office, take bus number 101 and deal with another set of dingdongs.
After a brief panic attack, we jumped on bus 101, got dropped in the middle of a round-about and then mazed our way through the industrial puzzle. We found a bored looking man asking for attention in his hi-vis vest and showed him my Correos sheet. He pointed us to another office. Rather than bring you through the rest of the morning, I will just give you the tally:
Total number of people we had to get in line to see: 14
Total number of different office buildings we had to go into: 6
Total added cost of the lens: $452
By 10: 30 a.m. we were getting closer and after getting a ridiculously easy to forge customs and Caixa bank transfer stamp on my Correos sheet, I was finally in line to see the man that had the power to hand over my lens. At this point I was nervous and actually skating back and forth in front of the counter while he russled through paperwork.
Finally I stepped up to the window, handed him my paperwork and he asked for my passport. Silently I said more curse words than I thought I knew, and I calmly reached into my bag for my drivers license.
Unimpressed he handed it back and again asked for my passport. I said it was currently in possesion of the US Embassy getting Visa approval for upcoming travels. He rolled his eyes and thought about handing my paperwork back and saying no. He turned to his colleague in the next window, the same one that I had seen at 8:30 a.m. this morning, and she shrugged back at him.
I think they both knew they were either going to give me that package or have to mop up the biggest meltdown in the history of the Correos parcels department. He disappeared and within a few minutes came back with my package. We sprinted out of Correos and felt the most ridiculous sense of accomplishment wash over us.
Lesson learned from this one: Don’t ship to Spain.
We figured we were already in Madrid and there was no way we were making a bus to Cadiz and doing anything productive, so we might as well explore the capital city. We took the train to the bus station so we could buy our Socibus tickets for the overnight bus that night and then took the metro into the city center.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2013
Immediately after surfacing from the metro we looked for the familiar green yogi mermaid of Starbucks. Thankfully, we found her quickly and crashed on the cozy chairs while we opened our new present and checked out a map of Madrid.
James created a cool route for us that would take us to explore the highlights of Madrid in a day.
We started out walking along Gran Via. James made a pitstop at McDangles and we headed to the big archway Perta de Alcala.
We then walked to Parque Del Buen Retiro, a gorgeous park which takes you lightyears away from the city.
We walked around the park and then made our way west to checkout the hostel we would potentially be staying at in exactly one week. We would be sending our passports to their front desk so wanted to ensure they were a legit, safe place to be doing that. Afterward we headed down towards the Palace, which we greeted at sunset.
By 6:30 p.m. we were quickly fading and absolutely freezing. It was about 6 degrees celsius in Madrid and we had packed for Cadiz, which was windy, but significantly warmer.
We found a National Geographic store and ended up getting completely lost in everything travel. I’m not really sure how that happens.
One minute we are completely amazed at how we just traveled eight hours on a bus to get a dang package that customs refused to process in the matter of four weeks, and then the next minute we are drawing imaginary trip itineraries on maps and suffocating in travel books piled to the ceiling.
We managed to spend a good two hours in the store and then still freezing cold decided to find somewhere to eat, or at least pretend to eat so we could get warm. Well what better place than T.G.I. Friday across the street.
We ordered a glass of wine and I think we fell asleep at the table after that.
We then caught the midnight bus back to Seville.
Thursday November 21st, 2013
We arrived in Seville at about 6:15 a.m. and of course nowhere was open. Besides that it was absolutely freezing cold, it was beautiful to walk around the city with not a single person in sight. We walked around to keep warm and then waited outside the door of Starbucks to open at 7:30 a.m.
We mad one last visit to Placa de Espanya in the daylight before jumping on the bus to Villamartin at 11 a.m.
We were back at Suryalila by 3 p.m. and absolutely wiped out. It felt so good to be in our little home, all warm, sipping tea and sleeping horizontally again. It was a total bummer that our three day trip took a serious detour, but at the end of the day, nobody said traveling was easy.
Well, I guess it could be if you weren’t applying for tourist visas in the most strict country in the world from afar and ordering hundreds of dollars of electronic merchandise and shipping it into the most disorganized country in Europe.
HUGE THANK YOU to John and Judith for all of your help. There is absolutely no way this would have been possible without you guys on the other end!!!!!!