As I desperately looked through my backpack one more time, it was painfully clear, I had forgotten my wallet at the hotel.
I looked apologetically at the cashier and longingly at my pile of groceries and murmured, “Lo siento”, as I skulked away. It had taken 30 minutes to find something that we could eat for dinner that didn’t require refrigeration. I couldn’t figure out how to buy the fruit I wanted because you needed to weigh it yourself with a complex numbering system on a grid. Somehow each number coincided with a type of fruit that I wasn’t able to figure out. Rather than ask for help and deal with the language barrier, I strategically grabbed the pre-weighed, packaged grapes. But alas, no wallet – no grapes. Too tired to try again, I opted for a glass of wine and potato chips for dinner.
I had hit the cultural wall. It happens when you choose to get off the beaten path.
We had decided to stay and rest in Baiona, Spain because Rick came down with a very bad cold and riding for 4-6 hours a day wasn’t helping. Baiona Spain, A perfect spot for some down time. Sunny and warm. Beaches and low crowds. Really quite lovely. So we decided that Rick needed a solid break, and I booked a place for three extra days.
The first day had started out with purpose. Let Rick sleep while I explored a little bit. I had just one task, figure out the train or bus system to get us and our bikes to Bordeaux, France. This had always been a part of our original plan. We knew we couldn’t make it, on bikes alone, all the way to Amsterdam within our time frame. No problem. You can take a bike on most trains and some buses in most of Europe. How hard could it be to arrange this?
Internet search wasn’t getting me anywhere so I decided to take a leisurely walk to the tourist information center at the other end of town to seek help. Two plus miles each way seemed easy compared to our recent cycling days. Blue skies, sandy beaches, big medieval fortress. Paradise.
Because Baiona is located in Northern Spain in the region of Galicia, there are two languages spoken here, Spanish and Galician. Inevitably, my butchered Mexican Spanish was met with a lot of questioning looks and more than one “¿Qué?” So, when I asked the very nice young woman at the tourist office, “¿Habla Inglés?” Her response was no different. “¿Qué?” She tried and I tried but we just couldn’t communicate at the level needed. Finally I left with growing worry. How in the world were we going to get ourselves and our bikes to France?
On the way back to our room, I needed to pick up some food for Rick. I texted him that I was on my way. No answer. His cough had gotten progressively worse over the last several days and his non response added to my anxiety. After much hurried searching I was able to find an open restaurant, no easy task since mealtimes in Spain are very different from the US. Luckily, I had some success getting a takeaway meal by piecing together my “American/Mexican Restaurant” Spanish. “Tostas con jamón y queso y tomate, por favor.” I felt like a real rock star. I even told the waiter, “Mi español es muy malo.” And he replied. ”No! Muy bueno!!” Yeah right.
And I still hadn’t figured out a plan to get to France.
The mental fatigue of having to figure out every little thing was beginning to wear me down. I was “hangry” that the Spanish eat their mid day meal between 2-4pm and don’t eat dinner until 8 or 9 pm. Restaurants are either closed or don’t serve food at any other time. I was growing weary of using Google translate, especially with weak wifi. And I was worried. About France, but mostly about Rick. What if he had Covid? Would he need to quarantine? It was getting worse, not better. Did he have pneumonia like that cyclist we met in Lisbon?
I hurried back to check on Rick. Just sleeping. But he looked really flushed and his coughing was worse. When he woke up, I asked, “Do you want to see a doctor?” “No, no. I’ll be fine in the morning.” “Ok”, I said. I really wanted to believe him.
After the grocery store fiasco and my glass of wine and potato chips, I went back to our room. More coughing that sounded really bad. “How’s your breathing?” I asked. “I don’t know,“ he said. That was it. I was taking him to the emergency room.
I texted the owner of our small hotel and explained the situation. Minutes later she texted back, “Taxi will be there in 3 minutes. He will take you to social security office.” At 10pm? Social security? Ok then. I learned later that she had sent us to the free, public clinic which is paid for through the Spanish social security system. A private clinic would have charged us a lot.
I grabbed our important papers, passports, wallet, phone and charger and we met the taxi a few minutes later. “¿Habla Inglés?” Fat chance. But he knew what to do. We sped through the darkness to who knows where and we arrived at a small building in what appeared to be a neighborhood. When he dropped us off, he scribbled his phone number on a piece of paper, pointed to himself and said, “telefono mio ok?” “Yes. Si. Gracias.” He was going to pick us up.
The Clinic was definitely no frills. Just a small waiting room with two chairs and a counter surrounded by plexiglass. Behind it, a very tired looking man looked up at us.
“Hola. ¿Habla Inglés?” No. Of course not. Now the pantomiming began. Fake coughing, fanning face to indicate fever, pound on chest for congestion. He nodded, looked concerned and moved one of the two chairs outside for Rick to sit and wait in the cool night air-away from the others.
He thought Rick had Covid.
Did I say I was feeling anxious? Did I say I was tired? Did I say I had hit a wall? I wanted to cry but I needed to handle this situation.
So we waited.
Not more than 5 minutes later a young woman wearing a neon orange safety vest with the words, “Técnica de emergencia” emblazoned on the back called Rick’s name . EMT? Doctor? Nurse? It didn’t matter because thankfully, she spoke English. And after the predictable looking down the throat, taking the temperature, listening to the breathing and asking a few questions, it was settled. No pneumonia. Just a bad cold. Rick asked if she was going to do a Covid test. Nope. They only test people with life threatening symptoms because Spain no longer requires a quarantine. Bullet dodged.
She said that Rick should rest and I told her we were going to stay for several days in Baiona. Her reply? “You are lucky! There is not a more beautiful place in Spain to spend some time.”
As we sped back to our hotel with the same taxi driver that had picked us up earlier, I marveled at the goodwill of so many people I had encountered that day. The tourist office lady that tried so hard to help a floundering foreigner; the nice waiter that complimented my ridiculous Spanish; our hotel owner that quickly organized a free evening excursion to the emergency room; the taxi driver that knew we wouldn’t know how to get another ride without help; the emergency room man that patiently figured out our rudimentary sign language; and the doctor that delivered good news and reminded us of our good fortune.
We are so lucky. So fortunate. Today was a reminder that the world is filled with good people that just want to be kind. It’s easy to forget that.
So, It’s time to rest for a few days.
And figure out how we’re getting to France.