Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day 123. Driving through Burgos and Castilla-León

I spent the morning walking through the Río Lobos Natural Park, a jewel of the Burgos countryside that I found by pure chance. I always listen to the local radio when I travel, and—on one of those random comments that are made—the announcer mentioned this little known park. So I started asking around and eventually found it. It is a small river, but it flows through a green vale that cuts its way through rolling hills and small mountains. This is the land of El Cid, the legendary knight of the Middle Ages, and I could well imagine him and his troops following the river down toward Soria.

I got back at noon, spent a good hour cleaning the car and repacking all my stuff, and with stately speed worked my way toward Madrid. I think I have already told you that Spain has modernized a lot, and on the way I saw a couple of samples of this modernization. First, the Spaniards have jumped on the production of alternative energy sources, and it is not unusual to see the horizon broken by rows of wind power generators, and the valleys interrupted by solar panel farms. At any given point there are only a handful of windmills, or less than a hundred panels, so I suspect these are small “power plants” to serve mostly small rural villages. The second example is bitter-sweet with the construction of beautiful toll highways everywhere. Since I hate paying tolls I have developed a sixth sense for finding free routes that are not too slow or congested, but as one approaches the urban sprawl of Madrid this becomes more and more difficult. Still, the master succeeded, and by about 2 pm I entered Madrid.

I had but Spartan instructions on how to reach the apartment of my friends Juan and Maria Eugenia, so it took one full circle on the M-30, and finally asking for directions from a policeman, but I finally got the right exit and almost immediately found their street and building. Question: How do we know that Moses was a man, and not a woman? Answer: He was obviously a man because he wandered for 20 years in the desert rather than ask for directions. Me, I am a believer in exploiting the knowledge of the natives.

So, I rang the bell and went up to the apartment, where I had the delight of finding Estrella and Armando. They are the parents of Juan, and a delightful old couple. Armando just celebrated his 101 birthday, and he is looking great! He is a bit hard of hearing, and when he goes for walks he always goes arm on arm with Estrella, but outside of the that he is sharp as a tack, still does a good deal of the cooking, and loves watching TV. He right away remembered me from my previous visit, 12 years ago, and vividly remembers Faby from her year in Spain. Aurora is 87 years old, also as bright as I remember her, and loves to talk about her native land, Cuba. She used to work in Sears during the pre-Castro years, and that is where she met Armando, who was a Chinese immigrant to Cuba (he tells me it took many days on the boat to get from his original Canton to Havana). After the revolution she, like so many courageous Cuban women, struggled on an almost daily basis to make sure that her family was well fed, and that their only son, Juan, received the best possible preparation to become a doctor. It was at the university that Juan met Maria Eugenia, who has a degree in Physics and over the years has become a specialist in high tech medical instruments. They in turn have a son, Juan Armando, who is doing currently a Masters in Film Direction at Columbia University in New York. The whole family emigrated to Spain when Juan Armando was 7 years old, about 15 years ago.

Anyway, today only Estrella and Armando were at home, because Juan and Maria Eugenia had gone to the clinic in Malaga, and they would not come back until midnight. After getting installed I figured I would go for a walk, to get my bearings, and so I deambulated through beautiful Madrid visiting the metro station, passing many little cafes, and finally stopping in a small park to drink a cool beer. The park was full of kids, grandpas, and grandmas; the kids playing and the grandparents running behind them to try to keep them in line. A charming reminder of the importance that “los viejos” have in Spanish culture, where much of the early teaching and care of the young generation rests on the venerable shoulders of the wise. I had a couple of beers, and the corresponding “tapas”, before paying and returning home by the most twisted way I could find. When I got home dinner was ready, and we three sat to enjoy it while I brought Estrella and Armando up to date on Faby and DJ’s married life in Chico.

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