Epilog CVdlP, October 29, 2016
I thought I had written the last of my blog for my trek on the Camino Via de la Plata, but I had an every interesting few days on my journey home.
I had had several very nice days in Santiago de Compostela and found myself just soaking in the sights as the tourist, especially just watching the new pilgrims coming in from different Caminos.
I ran into Patrick from Ireland, and met several new people, including another German named Detrick, and a Dane named Henry. We met at lunch and later that night went out for diner. Detrick had finished the Francis and Henry had only done a portion of the Francis, but had done the whole Francis before. Meeting them was pretty typical of how you meet people on the Camino as most pilgrims are so open to meeting others and sharing their experience. It’s one of the things I enjoy about trekking the Caminos.
When I left Wednesday night I was actually sad to be leaving, but also looking foreword to going home. I had booked a regular train to Barcelona in hopes of getting a sleeper room on the train but the were all sold out. The train left around 7:00 PM and arrived in Barcelona at 8:30 AM. It was 60€ ($67) and was cheaper than a flight, plus of course another night in a hotel. I was told that there was a possibility that there might be a cancellation and a sleeper might open, which didn’t happen. However, I got a nice single seat on the aisle and it was wider and more comfortable than any airplane seat, and it almost fully reclined. The rail company, Renfe, supplies you with a blanket, ear plugs, night shade, and toiletries, and overall it was a very nice train.
I had to take a short twenty minute connecting train to get on the final one to Barcelona. The train follows parts of the Camino Francis and stops in some of the town that I had stayed either walked through or stayed at. The train was not the high speed AVE that I had taken to Sevilla and definitely wasn’t as smooth either. The first several hours, until it was out of the mountainous areas of Galicia, were very bumpy and the train swayed so much it was almost impossible to walk. After the mountains it was fairly smooth. I was told that work on the new high speed AVE train, including in this area, was at a standstill because the government was out of money.
I got to Barcelona at about 9:00 AM. The hotel was about a half mile from the train station and I had a little difficulty walking as my knee had gotten stiffer. It was hard not to walk after you’ve walk over six hundred.
I wanted to see some of the sights in Barcelona including the Sagrada Familla Cathderal and the hotel clerk suggested a bike or taxi. It was only two and a half miles away and I ended up walking there. I know I shouldn’t have, but again, it’s hard to stop walking if that’s what you have been doing the last month. I sure felt it in my knee on the way back.
The cathedral and the parts of the city that I saw were very beautiful and I wish I had had more time to sightsee.
Friday morning, October 28th, I left the hotel at 8:00 AM to make sure I had plenty of time for my flight leaving at 11:15 AM. I limped to the airport bus station a few blocks away and caught a bus right away and got to the airport by 8:30 AM. Wow, I thought to myself, this is going to be another good day as I had a great breakfast at the hotel, and got an early and nice start to the airport.
By the time I got to the airport my left knee had stiffened up to the point it felt better to keep it straight. I went to the ticket counter at United Airlines and asked for a left aisle seat so I could stretch or keep my left leg straight in the aisle. They were very accommodating and helpful and even offered to put me on first in a wheel chair. I liked the idea but would have be men too embarrassed, especially after just waking the Camino. I declined, and they offered to let me board first with the other assisted passengers. Sure, that will keep me from holding up the line with my slow limp anyway.
On the plane I went feeling great about having such nice people helping me. The friendly woman that was pushing an elderly man told me to lean on her shoulder, but embarrassingly I didn’t of course. I could tell that she was honestly a kind person by the way she was helping everyone. I could tell she had a great sense of humor, and she actually gave me a hug and the European cheek kisses as she left. Wow, what a wonderful way to leave spain! That’s what I thought!
I was on the right aisle seat in the side row with only two seats. The seat area, and the whole plane seemed very roomy. The passenger next to me was a young Spanish man going to Mexico with a friend and he seemed like a very nice guy and I was glad I’d have him next to me. This is going to be a nice flight.
We got the usual emergency information on the tv screen, which I have heard so many times and usually don’t listen to, but actually listened this time because it was done in animation and was very funny.
The plane started the high speed takeoff run down the runway and I could just start to feel the plane lifting off the ground when suddenly the plane came to an abrupt stop and the engines sounded like they were roaring in reverse. The stopping was so forceful that everyone was pushed forward and were bracing themselves to the seat in front of them. There were also a few screams!
The pilot announced there was no problem, and of course everyone laughed. No problem?! A minute or two later he announced that the left engine had failed and that there was a fuel leak. No problem, so why are there fire trucks all around our plane spraying foam and water on the plane? That went on for about fifteen or twenty minutes and it didn’t feel great sitting there. The pilot announced that the brakes tend to overheat and had to be cooled before moving the plane.
We were very fortunate as taking off is one of the most dangerous times of a flight. Your hear about planes loosing an engine in flight, or even landing, and being able to fly but it requires the most power from the engines on a takeoff, especially because the weight of a full fuel load.
We sat on the runway for over a hour while we could see the emergency and news vehicles on the ground below. I told the young guy next to me not to worry because we were on an American airline and we would be well cared for. Was I wrong!
Finally the plane was towed to near the terminal and we were finally deplaned. They herded and packed us, and I mean packed, into the few awaiting airport buses. They drove us to a terminal and parked the buses with us locked inside.
We sat there for over twenty minutes, with no one giving us any information. Standing there with my knee surely didn’t feel good. They finally drove us to a terminal and had us go back up to the original check in counter. Up the escalator, through customs again, and then back in line at the check in. Half hour later we were told to go back downstairs to the baggage area to retrieve our bags. Back downstairs, limping along with the hundreds of other passengers, I stopped and got a cart to carry my backpack.
After about a half hour of waiting for our bags, we were told that they could not get the baggage off of the plane and to go back upstairs to the ticket counter. Really!
It was like seeing a herd of cattle moving back and forth. Most people had started back up when I noticed one of the passengers in a wheel chair sitting all by himself in the middle of nowhere. I walked up and interrupted two employees that were giving some passengers information and pointed out the man in the wheel chair and asked them to take care of the man. They assured me they would. I told the gentleman that someone was going to help him and he thanked me.
I stood there for a while and didn’t see anyone help the man in the wheel chair. I went up to the what I assumed were the employees again and demanded that they help the man, and again they assured me they had someone coming. The gentleman again thanked me, but I had lost my confidence in United.
Upstairs I limped again along with the hordes of passengers. Standing in line one of the passengers told me to sit down and said they would push my cart in the line as it wasn’t moving. Fifteen or twenty minutes later they told us to go back downstairs as they had gotten the baggage off of the plane. I am not kidding, really!
Limping back downstairs again I could do nothing but laugh. Has anyone seen Planes, trains, and automobiles! Is this a funny movie script?
This time we got our luggage, finally. Everyone was in the dark and a few passengers were saying that we could go upstairs, and probably stand in line again, for a 10€ meal ticket. It was chaos and there was no direction.
I sat next to a couple from Reno, Nevada, that were coming back from their honeymoon. They told me they had booked a return flight directly through United telephone customer service. He gave me a Spanish United Airlines phone number and fortunately I had ability with my phone to call direct (thanks again Paul, my German friend).
I called United and was told there was no flight out with them from Barcelona until Monday, and today was Friday about 5:00 PM! However, they could book me a flight with Swiss Airlines to Zurich, Switzerland, at 8:00 PM that night, and then a flight from there directly to Los Angeles at 1:15 PM the next day. I took it since United would reimburse any of my additional expenses.
I was happy that I had the ability to book my flight as there were many other passengers in total confusion.
My fight to Zurich wasn’t perfect, which I didn’t expect the way my day was going, and I really just laughed at every issue. First the plane’s arrival was over a hour late. Then our flight time of one and a half hours was extended, and almost cancelled, due to heavy fog in Zurich. The pilot announced that we were going to fly in circles until it was clear to land.
We finally landed after eleven and I was told to take the hotel bus to the hotel I had booked. I started to wait for the bus, and said, “no way, the way my day is going, I am taking a taxi!”
I was in the hotel a little before midnight and in bed by 1:00 AM, a long day!
I had hoped to sleep late Saturday morning as my flight wasn’t until 1:15 PM and I was only ten minutes, by cab of course, from the airport. I woke up at seven and couldn’t go back to sleep, and it turned out to be fortunate for me. No, my interesting return trip hadn’t ended.
I took a cab to the airport thinking I had lots of time and got there before ten. I stood in a long line for immigration or customs, and when I finally had my turn I was told it was the wrong line and I’d have to go to the other line. I got in a line that split in two, and I should have listen to my intuition. I watched the woman officer going through the passports with a fine tooth comb, while the man next to her was passing the passengers through much quicker. My first instinct was to move to his line, and I should have! But, heck, I am in her line, and I have nothing to worry about. My turn, and there I stood as she went through every page of my passport, back and forth.
Sir, were you in Europe last May to July? Yes. Have you been in Europe from September to now? Yes. Ok, you have been here four more days than you are allowed, please stand to the side and I have to call another officer. What the?
So, here comes the armed police officer (customs, immigration?). She was short and stocky looking, and very Germanic tough looking, without an ounce of kindness on her face, if I can stereotype. Sir, please come with me, you are here illegally because you have been in Europe ninety-four days, over ninety days total you are permitted without the proper permits. I just laughed to myself! More for my Trains, Planes, and Automobile script.
There I sat on a bench while the officer went into another room. Before she left I ask, “am I going to miss my flight?” “Maybe not,” was her relay. By now I was cursing United under my breath. I was already on a plane home and now this!
Was I sweating? Yes and no, and only because I wanted a good night’s sleep and I don’t think I’ll get that in a detention center or jail.
Five or ten minutes later, which seemed like a hour, while constantly looking at my watch and thinking of my flight time, she walks back in with no expression on her poker face! Sir, you are here over the allowed time but I am going to let you go. I responded that I didn’t know that, but I should known better and should have shut my mouth. It is up to you to know the laws and we could fine you. I asked how much, and she said 350€. But the worse in me came back, and I shouldn’t not have said anything. Europe right now is having a major immigration issue because there are millions, and millions, of illegal immigrants coming into Europe, especially the countries with good economies like Switzerland, and I was originally here legally and I am just trying to go home! Sir, it is my job and I work at the airport, came back her robotic reply. Shut up Ted, I said to myself!
I thanked her and laughed at myself as I walked out of the room. What an unbelievable Camino story.
When I got my ticket with Swiss Airlines it was noted that I was a wheel chair passenger and I was asked if I wanted help onto the plane. I said no but asked for an aisle seat so I could stretch out my knee in the aisle as it was painful to keep it in one position for too long. When we started boarding the Boeing 777 I was happy that I had asked for an aisle. Unlike the United flight this plane was packed and very cramped! My seat was so tight that my knees almost touched the seat in front of me.
Not that I want to dwell on the negatives of my trip but the stories just seemed to continue and I think it’s all part of a funny return trip.
After about two hours on the cramped plane, I reclined my seat so I could sleep, and was adjusting a pillow behind my neck when I felt the man behind me literally kick my seat. At first I thought nothing of it, thinking it was just normal moving around by another passenger. Then I felt it a second, and then a third time, and it was hard. I glanced back and I saw the older guy sitting behind me yelling something. I had my ear phones on listening to the movie and took one off. I smiled at him and asked what was wrong? He yelled at me that every time I move around he was going to kick the back of my chair. Apparently he must have had his laptop on the backrest tray and it was disturbing him. Wow, I was a little shocked someone would be so immature, and I yelled back I was only getting comfortable. I did add a little more than I shouldn’t have, but I was feeling my two days of travel trying to get home and I wanted to tell him that. He replied that he was going to tell the flight attendant and I laughed at myself thinking he was like a little kid telling the teacher, but it was just how it had been going for me. I just decided to shut my mouth and reminded myself that I have had a wonderful time and I am in control of how I was feeling and shouldn’t let someone else’s unhappiness affect me.
After ten minutes the flight attendant came and talked to the man and I heard him almost crying about how I had hurt his knee every time I moved my seat back or moved around in my seat. Listening to him he sounded like a little boy, but I could understood how he felt in the packed plane. I also realized he was just an unhappy man and I shouldn’t let his unhappiness affect me.
The flight attendant came and talked to me and told me that the overcrowded planes are a real problem now and that she sees things like this happen every day. I started to explain my situation and had to remind myself that it didn’t matter and I should just focus on the positives about going home. I had two very nice men from Belgium sitting next to me and that was a positive.
We got to Los Angeles on time at around 4:15 PM and that was a positive. When we were going through the zig zag immigration lines at the airport I saw the man that was sitting behind me confront an employee and seriously challenge her and asked her what would happen if he were just to cut through the ropes to the other lightly used checkouts. He was serious, and it reaffirmed what I had thought of him and I was happy that I had made it a point to ignore him.
I did not want to end my epilog with negative incidents. My trek on the Camino was very challenging, especially due to my stomach illness and my knee and shin injuries, but overall it was a wonderful and great experience. I look back at the issues on my two day return home as just part of my experience, and something I can look back at and just laugh at because they are somewhat unbelievable and I couldn’t have written a funnier scrip for a comedy movie. I think we were all real fortunate that the engine failure happened prior to takeoff because it could have been much worse.
I have also met so many nice people, some of them I may forget, and unfortunately I will remember some of those very few that were not. But overall, I have to remember that ninety-nine percent of the people I met were kind, nice, friendly, and helpful, and those that were not were less than one percent. Those in the majority are one of the reasons why I’ll keep trekking.
Thank you to all that sent me those positive messages, thoughts, and prayers!