Sometimes, getting there is Half the Battle

OK – I couldn’t resist. We took separate flights to Sao Paolo – for reasons I won’t go in to, the consequences of which I’m still paying for. But we did get here. I knew it was going to be interesting when I saw a Franciscan monk get on the plane in full robes and a 3 foot cross embroidered on his chest. When he passed by my seat praying, I didn’t take it as a good sign. Then as they were closing the doors a woman ran on waving a lamp shade. Not a small one either – a VERY large lamp shade. And it’s not like she didn’t have two pieces of hand luggage and a roller bag with her. I just shook my head.

After take off, the English guy in the seat across from mine got into a serious argument, and almost fisticuffs, with the Spanish guy sitting in front of him over some perceived slight. I just thought ‘This is what that monk was praying about’ and just a little bit of ‘Where’s the lady with the serious lamp shade when you need her? Cause I’d like to hit this British guy over the head to shut him up so they don’t turn this flight around’. But she was in the back somewhere. Finally, his co-travelers settled him down. With the help of the flight attendant, they explained that just like your Dad told you and your siblings fighting in the back seat of the car ‘Sir, we will turn around and head for home if you two can’t get along.’ No one wanted that.


We both landed in our respective planes in Sao Paolo – different terminals, of course. My flight went straight south from the Iberian Peninsula. Jeff’s flight went over Africa most of the way and crossed over the Atlantic at the narrowest possible point between Africa and South America. But we met up and got into an Uber. I mean, how long can it take to get from the airport to our hotel? Well, in a city of 12 million people (and 32 million in the greater Sao Paolo area) it can take 2 hours. No kidding – TWO HOURS.

But we were lucky and got Denis, the most amazing Uber driver ever, who drove us in his red Chevy Celta (Never heard of that model before? Me either). Denis regaled us of tales of Sao Paolo and Brazil in general, it’s history, it’s politics, the best places to go. He told us where we might ‘or most probably would’ get killed if we walked at night, and how to hold our wallet, purse and cell phones so as not to be victims of muggings or the like. He informed us how not to get ripped off by taxis, shops or restaurants. We loved Denis –  we actually formed a bond with him. But you can’t argue with the price $27 for a two hour Uber ride for two people. Unbelievable.

Then we pulled into our hotel, with a guard at the gate of the long driveway, into one of the most beautiful hotel drives I’ve ever been to. The grounds are amazing and I would pit the service and ‘that special something’ the staff has – it’s a spark of magic – against any 5+ start hotel in the world. Truly exceptional. Sure, you see pictures on a website when you book a place, but you don’t really know what it will be like. This place lives up to the photos. Check it out if you’re ever staying in Sao Paolo. Jeff’s hotel snobbery has been fully assuaged and tomorrow should be nice so we can have breakfast on our terrace. I’m almost forgiven for his air travel experience (or lack thereof) and the class he flew today as a very tall person.


And then my ‘Only you’ moment came as I knew it would. But it’s good I got it out of the way early. Whew! Jeff sent me to get him a Coke – I still owed him for the flight. We were jet lagged and I had already drunk all the still water in the mini bar. So down I went to the lobby. But then I got stuck in the elevator after the doors made a terrible metal grinding noise, not quite closing. I started pressing buttons.

‘Surely, it’s been hours I’ve been stuck in here’ I thought, sweat pouring from my brow as I looked at my cell phone for validation on my rising stress level. It had been less than a minute but it seemed like more than an hour. I looked at the bell on the panel, but thought I’d give the frantic-random-button-pressing one more try before pushing the actual panic button. It worked after a few minutes. The elevator made a horrific sound and then dropped a foot. I wanted to scream but it was only me in there.

Then it started going down and finally, the doors screeched open on the bottom basement a few floors down – the hotel laundry. I got off the elevator and I wasn’t getting back on. Pushing the buttons for the other elevators didn’t work because this broken devil one was just sitting on that floor, like a goalie. I crept down the hall, looking for an exit or stairs, when I heard voices. ‘Hola?’ I called out tentatively – luckily it’s the same in Spanish – cause I looked it up on Google translate on the plane.

I could see myself from the outside. This is the point in a horror movie where the guy in the hockey mask with the ax comes out of a cloud of steam. The one where the audience is thinking ‘What’s she doing? Don’t go down there!’ Finally, I saw a door and heard voices. When I walked in they looked at me like I was an animal at the zoo. A gazelle who wandered into the lion’s cage – I didn’t belong there.

‘Ingles?’ I asked. They pointed to one guy. I explained that I had a problem with the elevator and asked if he could help me get back up stairs. He took me through the parking garage, the spa and finally to another elevator. My blood pressure had finally dropped. I got to the room and Jeff had taken his shower and was looking refreshed. Clearly, I seemed out of sorts and had no beverages in my hands. I told him my tale. He shook his head.

‘So I guess I’m not getting a COKE.’ was all he said,

‘Don’t you get it? I could have been killed.’ I was aghast at his lack of empathy – no matter what seat I put him in on that flight.

But he was unmoved. ‘You’ve been gone less than 15 minutes.’

So I decided a nap was in order. Being awake for 28 hours and learning that not only could I be killed outside these gates, but by the elevator in the hotel, was just too much for me. Where’s a fully robed Franciscan monk, muttering under his breath, when you need one?





Teaching the Test

I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.

I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.

And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.

I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:

a) the right side of the road.

b) the left side of the road.

c) the entire road.

The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.

I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!


Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.

Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.

I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!

Warning! A Rant to Follow

‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.’

‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone.’

I’ve heard them all. And of course, they’re true. I’m not perfect. Far, very far from it. And since I’ve heard horror stories of ugly Americans, when traveling, we try to go out of our way to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Do I love everything about living here? No. I miss some stuff, and some of it’s doesn’t make sense to me. We choose to live in Spain because we like it here better than we did back in the US. Jeff reminded me the other day it was his idea, after all.

We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now and I’m fed up. ‘With the Spanish?’ you might ask. But my answer would be an emphatic ‘NOOOO.’ I’m fed up with British and the arrogance I witness, over hear and generally experience from these people every freaking day. It’s very clear many British Expats – or even holiday maker –  is under the misapprehension that Imperialism is still an actual thing.

Now, as a caveat, we have some friends here who are Brits. But sometimes even they will say things that make me go ‘Hmmm’.

Today Jeff and I headed to the beach for our morning coffee. It’s been super stormy here and the beach was festooned with mostly locals running. And the waves were huge. The Med is usually pretty calm and flat. This morning it looked more like Manzanita – the small beach town in Oregon where we used to go in the summer when I was a kid. Big angry swells and crashing waves. We watched the Spanish Coast Guard perform a real rescue of a wind surfer.

I was wearing my Pendleton fisherman’s sweater. It wasn’t warm out. And then a flock of tourists came by. We knew they were tourists before we could hear them because they all had large red beach towels with the word ‘ENGLAND’ emblazoned across it hanging around their necks, like they were part of the same flock of red faced birds, to be observed from afar. Then one of them decided that he needed to take a wee and promptly relieved himself all over a stack of beach chairs where we rent loungers in the summer. To say we were actually pissed off is an understatement! How dare he? But we knew they dared – they’re English, and they told us so!

Recently, Brexit has been a large part of the convo around here. It’s become an obsession since so many British citizens live in Spain. They speculate about it, and rant and rave about their Prime Minister’s botched Brexit job. We aren’t ones to talk. with our own country in such a freaking mess right now, so we usually just listen.

‘Well, I just don’t see why we have to follow all those laws the EU would come up with. I mean we’re not all supposed to smoke in cafe’s now. It’s the law in EU and in Britain we follow the law. But you’ll notice in Spain they don’t. They just ignore what they don’t like. That’s why I voted to leave.’

My eyes narrowed.

‘You voted to leave the EU because Britain is following EU laws around smoking in outdoor cafe’s, and Spain isn’t?’

‘Well, yes.’

I was dumbfounded. ‘First off, you don’t smoke.’

‘I know.’ they said ‘but other people do.’

‘Yes .’ I said ‘But I don’t want to have to smoke other people’s cigarettes while I have a coffee. So it’s good Britain is enforcing it. And secondly, you live in Spain. And you want to stay here, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to after Brexit. So you voted against your own self interest, so that Brits you don’t live near can smoke in Britain, in outside in cafes?’

But the capper for us was over hearing a rowdy group of English (I’m hoping on holiday and not locals) in a cafe we frequent. Now my Spanish is not good. And after being away for a month it didn’t get better. But I do what I can and I muddle through. One thing I don’t do is shout louder in English when I encounter someone who doesn’t speak any of my native tongue. But this group of jolly, rather inebriated, assholes did just that. And when the waitress walked away they said something that is the cherry on the ethnocentric cake that seems all too common with those from the British Isles.

‘Spain would be so much better if there weren’t so many Spaniards.’ Loudly, and then they all laughed and agreed wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, it’s the Spanish that ruin Spain because they’re all lazy and they don’t speak English. We got the check and paid. While walking ever so close to their table to leave I said – not so much under my breath.

‘I disagree – I just think it’s all the fucking assholes who come here and forget to pack the manners Mummy tried, and failed, to teach them.’ And we left quickly before I was tackled by a guy who clearly played a game or two of rugby at school.

This week I saw the article about how Spain will surpass Japan in life expectancy by 2040. Yes, if you live in Spain you’ll live longer than all others in the world. It has the weather, A LOT less stress, and the food is a Mediterranean diet. The best for heart health and cancer prevention. And if you do get sick, the health care here is top notch. Believe me, I know. Next time, I want to hold that up to the British, who are ranting about the people of the country they are lucky enough to be allowed to enjoy by the grace of the Spanish government, and shout.

‘Your culinary contribution to the world was boiled meat! You didn’t discover the existence of garlic until 1975. Suck it!’

I used to be very quiet about telling anyone I was an American when traveling. Our reputation in the world being what it is. But now whenever someone asks me if I’m from Inglaterra I make sure to tell them NOOO! I AM NOT. There’s a part of me that is hoping that some of the English can’t come to Spain after Brexit. They can go back to the UK. You know how the old saying goes ‘England. Not like Spain at all, and without all those lazy Spaniards.’ Sounds like heaven to them. Wonder what their life expectancy in the UK will be in 2040. Oh wait! I won’t really care because I’ll be living in Spain.

OK – I’m done now.

If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.

I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.

The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.

The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.

In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.

Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.

The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.

We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.

And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.

Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.

If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:

1 Special vehicles providing special transport

2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units

3 Vehicles pulled by animals

4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs

5 Collective passenger transport vehicles

6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans

7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars

8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles

9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds

10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles

So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.

I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.

If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.

Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.

Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.



Fiesta de la Sweat!

It’s been hot here. Really HOT! So hot that even going to the beach is a fools errand. You hardly see people out on the street. Spaniards aren’t stupid. Screw the siesta. The entire month of July and August deserve siesta. Just laying down and going into some sort of suspended animation – like a bear hibernating – except instead of a cave in winter its on the surface of del Sol.

Now I know heat. We spent two years in Arizona in the Valley of Death. Not Death Valley – a proper name – the Valley where Phoenix and Scottsdale sit where you’ll actually die if you go out at mid-day for more than about 10 minutes without shade. We used to do our daily walks in the summer there at midnight or before the sun rose in the morning. That was fraughts with animals that would like to kill you and eat you, on top of the heat cooking you from the pavement beneath you.

Here it’s just as bad right now – perhaps worse with the humidity. Yesterday I decided to take the Valensibi bike to my Spanish lesson. It’s on the North side of the city near the IMED (Four Seasons of Hospitals) so I have walked up that way many times. I know how far it is. But I was running a little late and thought I would use my GPS to pinpoint it and then ride so I wouldn’t get there after the other students. I’m having an intense group class with other Expats I know – just this week – so I didn’t want to be the last to arrive and recite my homework. That was a grave mistake.

I swear the route doubled itself since the last time I went out there. I rode and rode and rode some more. It was awful. I found the back side of the building and then went in search of where I could drop my bike off at a Valenbisi bike station. The closest one was like a mile away. OK – I rode over there and had to stop 2 times on the way to hydrate while cooking in the sun at lights.

Then I had to make my way back to the school and what did I see? Oh yes, the tram that runs blocks from my house in Benimaclet runs right in front of the school. WHAT!?! Other students were getting off looking refreshed from their air conditioned ride, hopping into the school to greet the receptionist. I was like a melting popsicle who just flowed through the door and left a wet spot on the chair. They all looked at me like I was crazy – they actually told me I was crazy – for riding a bike in this weather.

I was telling a friend last night about it after coming home from the Mercadona having had to purchase a cooler from the El Chino next door to it before attempting to purchase ice cream. They don’t have A/C in their apartment and they’re dying. I told her I believe we are missing a festival here.

‘Fiesta de la Sweat’! Come on, it will be fun! I riffed some ideas last night but I’ve had time to mull it over and I think I’ve got the details worked out.

  • The Patron Saint of Fiesta de la Sweat would be San Sudor – He would be carried around in effigy having been carved from an iceberg brought in from our sister city in Northern Greenland. We don’t have a sister city in Northern Greenland, you say? Well we need to get one with all sense of urgency! It’s a festival, damn you!
  • Much like during Fallas when small innocent looking children would throw lit firecrackers under our feet as we walked down the street – under the complete supervision of their adult parents, I might add – in Fiesta de la Sweat, we would all throw water balloons and crushed ice on unsuspecting passersby off our balconies. Come on, it will be fun. And anyway, what are those people doing out on such a bloody hot day anyway. They deserve it. I mean, they deserve the refreshment. He He. And they’ll be dry by the next block anyway.
  • Chocolate would be banned during festival time. Children on the tram wouldn’t have melted chocolate covered hands and faces ready to wipe on you as they passed by to the only open seat when there are 20 elderly people standing with walkers and canes.
  • The official Fiesta de la Sweat drink would be Gin + Tonic, because as every sweaty Brit on holiday will tell you, it’s a restorative and it just works in every weather.
  • There would be no fireworks because no one wants to go outside to light them – Thank GOD and San Sudor for make that happen!
  • There would be the ‘Running of the Cubes’ where people would race each other in the street with large ice blocks over their heads while it melted down on them. They would sign up gladly as the winner is the one who can keep it aloft until it melts completely. Entrants would pay a fee of 100 euros just so they would have access to the ice. Nevermind having to run around with it down the street in the sun.
  • And finally, there is no Fiesta de la Sweat worth it salt (ha!) without a parade. This parade would only include people who I have actually seen, who don’t appear to sweat at all. Honestly, it’s like they don’t have sweat glands or something. Their faces aren’t red like mine, they aren’t fanning themselves, no sweaty bandana pulled out to dab their brow – NOTHING. In human, really. For the Fiesta de la Sweat parade, these people will march in colorful bathing costumes of their own creation (there will be judging). We will clap and wave at them from under our sweaty umbrellas or from our balconies. Then we’ll throw buckets of water on them or hook a hose up to the kitchen sink and spray them with water. They’ll love it!

Of course, I’m in the early stages of planning for next year’s Fiesta de la Sweat – I’ll keep you posted on the exact dates. Oh wait! Or you could just watch the temperature gauge. When it hits 35 – that’s opening ceremonies day. Mark you calendars in advance.


Massage Buffet

I’ve only had a couple of massages in Spain. The first two were while I was walking the Camino and really needed them. Sometimes Albergues offered them and other times hotels or shops in the town would post signs in the Albergue and the prices were always really good.

When I stayed at ‘Casa Magica’ in Villatuerte, the man who ran it was a massage therapist too. And he was the real deal. He had studied in India. My shoulders were shot from carrying a pack, and from sleeping in beds that were little more than a pallet, for that first week. He gave me a massage that was like an awakening. I never felt better than after I had that massage. I was ready to take on the rest of my Camino. It was my favorite Albergue of my entire Camino.

The next massage was in the village of Torres del Rio. We had walked into the hill town in a torrential down pour and I was cold and wet. Saw the sign at check in at the Albergue and the lady at the desk called the hotel and got me a spot. So after I changed into the only semi-dry clothes at the bottom of my pack, and hung up the rest to dry, I made my way down the hill to the hotel.

The person at the check in desk took me back and said some stuff to me in Spanish. I’ve had a hundred massages in my life so I got undressed and got under the sheet. The guy who came in to give me the massage freaked out. He expected me to keep my clothes on while he massaged me. I told him this wasn’t really how we do it in the US. Then he indicated that I should put my underwear back on. But here’s the thing, (OK maybe TMI here) but they were all soaked from the monsoon rain I had just walked through and were on a line at the Albergue, so he was out of luck there.

He took a deep breath and then reluctantly started massaging me while continuously muttering in Spanish under his breath. Like I was a leper or something. He dug into my hip muscles so hard that he actually hurt me. Afterward, I went up to the bar and there he was having a stiff drink. He looked so traumatized that when I ordered a double shot of Jack to alleviate the pain he had caused me, he turned bright red and fled. I’m pretty sure he had to take a Xanax just to get to sleep that night. I know I wanted one.

So, before today, that was the sum total of my massage experiences in Spain. No wonder I’ve been reluctant to book something since we’ve been here. But today I bit the bullet, after a particularly hard workout on Friday, and got an appointment at the gym I belong to. The price was right – 36 euros for 85 minutes. So yeah, it’s almost free. And I thought, how different can it really be from the US? Valencia is a big city. No prudish village boy who’ll need therapy after massaging me here.

So I turn up for my appointment. They have a full Spa at the gym where I go. And a full bar, so I figured if I had another Torres del Rio experience I could get a couple of shots afterwards before walking home. The woman took me back into the room lined with lit candles. So far so good. Then she told me – in Spanish – a bunch of stuff. At this point I found out I don’t speak ‘Spa Spanish’ and it would be helpful to know what I’m supposed to do. Etiquette-wise. But I was again going to wing it in the massage room – as is my way in the massage world of Spain, so far apparently.

I opened some of the packages she left for me and it helped clue me in. There was a weird thong-like thing they usually only give you when you’re getting a bikini wax so that answered that question. The next package contained a hair cover. Like what surgical nurses wear. It was a mystery to me that I was going to care so much about my head being covered when the rest of me was buck naked, except for the little flimsy thing they had given me in the first package. I mean, massage therapy isn’t brain surgery – or is it?

I put it all on and laid down with the hand towel they had given me for – the one word I understood from the woman who took me to the room – Modesty. Soon Sven arrived. I’m calling him that because he was tall and blond and looked decidedly more Norway than Spain. He said some stuff to me and I tried to comply without letting my hand towel go. Then the fun began.

If I worked at a local olive oil grove and fell into the vat of Extra Virgin, I would have had less oil on me than I did during that massage. No kidding. it was dripping onto the floor. I wondered if he was just going to flip me over and fry me like bacon at any given moment. Or just begin dipping tostadas into the pool on my lower back.  He was furiously moving the oil up and down my body, but here’s the thing, the massaging of my muscles wasn’t really happening. They were too far down beneath the gallons of oil on my skin and he couldn’t get any purchase.

Now, I know I can suffer from dry skin at times, but even I couldn’t soak all that up like a derma-sponge. 85 minutes. Yes, that’s how long this was going to go on and we were in minuto Dos. I wanted to get up but this is my gym. I can’t get a bad rep at my gym. It’s hard enough to get motivated to go workout. If you have ‘Spa shame’ on you you’ll never go. So while he splashed around in the olive oil, I made lists and rewrote chapters of my book, and remembered things I’d forgotten at Consum when we did a big shop this morning. As you do when you’re being drown in olive oil by a large Nordic Man.

So when it was finally over and he said, ‘You book another next week’ I almost laughed. There weren’t enough towels in the room – nay at the gym –  to soak up all the oil. And, for the record, that surgical hat thing didn’t keep one of the waves of olive oil from crashing into my hair. I got dressed, walking gingerly out the lobby so as not to slip in my own oil slick, and made my way home. Emilie had gotten back from the beach and looked at me as only a teenager can.

‘What happened to you? You’re all wet.’ she asked – with a look of disdain bordering on disgust. But who could blame her.

‘I got a massage.’ I told her.

‘Did you work out afterwards? You’re dripping with sweat.’

‘That’s not sweat’ I told her. ‘It’s oil.’

‘That’s just gross.’ and she turned back the show she was watching.

She’s right, of course. I was pretty disgusting. So, I’m not batting very high in the Massage World Series here in Spain, and it’s a problem I’m not sure how to solve. But I do have to say, my skin is silky smooth and I’m craving a little Farga and tostada so maybe what they say is true. You can never have too much olive oil.

The Dance

Life is a set of choreography. Daily, we develop routines and we understand the steps, operating without thinking on auto-pilot. Because of this we can miss so much of what goes on around us. Moving to Valencia, we find that we see more than we would normally at home because we don’t have the same schedules we did before.

The other day, we were meeting friends for lunch and came around the corner to a Tango Dance competition. You know, as you do. Yup, just walked up and heard the music. Then realized that people were dancing.

Tango is an interesting dance. The moves are very deliberate and slow. The partners are very engaged with one another and are more like one person than two people, as they move across the floor. I’ve included a video. It was so random we had to stop and watch for a while.

There are other kind of dances and they’re certainly less sexy than The Tango. This morning, we decided to walk through the park and have our coffee at a new place. As we sat there we watched the Dance of the Parking.

A little background here. We live down the street from one of many Central Commercial (aka Malls) and the one near our house has a lot of parking – free parking. But this doesn’t keep people from wanting to park on the street out front. Thus an industry has sprung up here, and in other parts of the city we’ve been in, where generally gentlemen of African descent manage this organically. Groups of them spread out and stand in open spots. If you want that spot they will direct you in and then you give them a Euro and everyone is happy.

Today, we saw a bit more directed operation. One guy sitting in our cafe seemed to own that area of the street. He even moved people’s cars that were double parked, held the keys of some of the people who lived in the area apartments or owned businesses on the street, and generally seemed to have it all under control. We watched this guy shuffle cars up and down the street. Everyone seemed to know him and they tipped him for his efforts.

All of this was happening while a construction dumpster company was creating havoc by moving and removing dumpsters from the same area, while trying not to take out some of the palm trees between which their dumpsters were wedged. It wasn’t going well. The African guy who was managing the on street parking situation was moving double parked cars and helping to accommodate it all.

Then the garbage truck showed up to empty the garbage/recycling neighborhood dumpsters directly across from where the parking guy and the construction dumpster guys where dancing with each other. And this set off the ‘Driving on the Sidewalk’ people to launch themselves into the mix. Since we were sitting at a table outside on said sidewalk, this gave us some skin in the game as we moved our chairs to accommodate those whizzing both in front of us and behind us.

Jeff and I sat and watched this Total Cluster for an hour. Traffic backed up and I thought, after watching this guy park cars like the professional he clearly is, if they just let the African guy position the dumpsters it would have taken less than half the time it took ‘the pros’, and the 100’s of cars that were backed up down the side streets would have been on their way. And the scooter who nearly took out the cafe con leche from the hand I was clutching it in, would have been more than 6 inches from my face while traveling 20 miles an hour on the sidewalk, weaving in an out of pedestrians and uniformed school children on their way to their local escuela.

Horns honked, shouting ensued. We just sat and watched it all. Something we would have had no time for back in the US. But it was such a strange convergence of nonsense we couldn’t look away. I didn’t try to capture the chaos in pictures or film because you just had to be there. Finally, Breakfast Beer makes total sense! Every morning we wake up with no idea what’s in store for us and I think that’s how I prefer it. New steps to learn in the Dance of Life.

Oh My God!!

It’s probably not as bad as all that. But now that we have wheels – only two really – we are mobile. Seems like that would be a good thing. Driving ourselves to where ever we want to go. We’re free wheelin’ now. Ha!!

No more constrained by where the Valensibi bikes can take us. No more taxi charges. The Metro is great but it only goes so many places. Now we can go to Shopping City and we’re not constrained by the hours (or siestas) of the IKEA bus. We were so excited and then we discovered The Spanish Round About.

Now in the US, our use of round abouts is more limited but has grown over the last 10 years. So, as a people, we’ve been forced to come to terms with their use. Not so hard. You just pull up to the roundabout, wait for it to be clear to enter, get into it and get out. Easy. One lane in, one lane out. Civilized.

On our ride across Western Europe last week, we found the round abouts of France and Germany to be much the same. No problem. Then we hit Spain. I could hear Jeff ‘s screaming inside his helmet, all the way in my helmet – through layers of padding and a hard shell to keep out sound. It didn’t inspire confidence while clinging to the back of the motorcycle he was controlling.


This image is how NOT to do a round about. The blue car is doing it right. The Green car is doing it right. The red and yellow cars? Yeah, not so much. And here’s the thing. In our experience, nearly everyone is a red or yellow car. OMG!!!

If you look at the image – and it’s pretty accurate in most round abouts, there are two lanes entering the round about, but three or four lanes in the round about. Why would there ever be three or four lanes? Doesn’t everyone eventually need to exit the round about? Who would ever need to be in the lanes closest to the center? They would never get out. I’ll tell you who – Jeff.

We got stuck in a round about. Traffic whizzing past and him being afraid of getting hit by the cars careening towards us, weaving in and out of each other as they went around and shot off across multiple lanes of traffic into other streets, nearly taking each other out in the process.

Eventually, we got out and stopped on a side street. His helmet came off.

‘What the HELL?! That’s insane! Did you see that?!!’

I couldn’t believe he was asking me this question. I was still replaying some of the less attractive moments in my life as it had flashed before my eyes just moments ago.

‘We can’t go back into that thing!’ He was hyper ventilating.

‘How are we going to get home? They’re delivering everything by 6.’ I reminded him, but at this point I didn’t really care about that.

He didn’t answer at first. Silence. Then he put his helmet back on and typed some stuff on to the GPS. Apparently there was no ‘Avoid Spanish Round About’ setting. He had to go back into the belly of the beast. He started the bike. I girded my loins – literally – I practically wrapped my legs around him and prayed.

He had 4 round abouts to navigate before we were home free on a straight away near our apartment. This is what we learned.

  1. Stay to the outside – at least you can get out.
  2. Just because you are on the outside, doesn’t mean someone won’t come careening from your left (it’s guaranteed to happen) and cut you off or take you out.
  3. When you exit the round about in the right lane, onto the right lane of the road you’re getting off on, you’ll need to immediately get over because you’ll be in the transit/taxi only lane. (why do they allow cars to exit into this lane in the first place? Who knows?)
  4. Never, ever get into the center of the round about unless you can get super aggressive and be willing to fight your way to the outside.
  5. Never, ever listen to your GPS. Garmin software is a pack of lies and will lead you somewhere you don’t want to go. (maybe this is an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is.)

We made it home. The stuff got delivered and we’re ready when Emilie get’s here on Saturday. But, like almost every other time we’ve gone out to Shopping City – we have forgotten a few things and will need head back there before the week is up. That IKEA bus is looking pretty good right now..

Before this week, I would have told you I didn’t need driving lessons. Its stupid we have to take a test and do hours of driving lessons. We already know how to drive – been doing it for years. But now, after the last few days, I’m pretty sure we are 100% in agreement that we need them. No way am I driving here without them. Spain 1 v. Us 0.