Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 1 (Part 2)

The main lobby of the airport was run down, dark, with a rather drab brownish colour scheme. With the heat, humidity, and the disarray caused by some maintenance work, the place rather reminded me of the Varadero Airport in Cuba. From the information booth, I followed the signs pointing me in the direction of the metro station. Leading me through various corridors, turns, and different lobby areas that become emptier and more desolate with every doorway I pass through, I start wondering if I was going the right way. Eventually, I give up, and backtracking a little bit, I head out the doors into the open. I had been looking forward to this moment as I had caught glances of the surrounding countryside through the windows ever since I was standing in line at customs.

It was hot. And humid. The climate is very different from home. Seeing the bright blue sky and the bustling cars and buses that look older and more run-down compared to what I see at home, I feel like I'm in a foreign land. There was barely any English in sight. I suddenly felt and intense feeling of freedom. There was no more school to worry about for I had graduated, and my job wasn't starting for another three months. I had absolutely no responsibilities or expectations and had come away victorious, with a double major from a top-tier university with various honours. Above all, I was in a strange land with so many many things to explore. For the next few months, I can live my life anyway I want to. It was the most freedom I had ever felt, unlike anything I had felt before. I was completely liberated.

I was completely liberated except for one thing. My pack. I hate carrying my pack on hot and humid days. Even with moderate activity, you can't help but sweat a bit on a hot and humid day. Even the slightest amount of moisture would pool behind a large, heavy backpack after an hour or so, putting a oval of dark, sticky, clingy, uncomfortable mess on the back of your shirt. I had to get rid of my pack, the sooner the better.

After a short period of exploring, I finally find the metro station at the airport. I was lucky. Having arrived very early in the morning, the metro system wasn't overly crowded yet, making for a comfortable ride. Having a large backpack on with a Canadian flag on it, however, made me stand out on a subway in Madrid, a fact which I was painfully aware of. I was especially self-conscious of my situation since this was the first day of my trip, and had not yet grown accustomed to being the odd one out yet. Wanting to avoid crowds and potential pick-pockets, I stood off to one side of the car I was in, away from the crowds.

The train started to fill up on the way to Atocha Renfe, although there was still enough room to easily get to the doors. Eventually, I noticed two men standing to either side of me, almost squeezing me into a corner of the train by the doors, away from most of the other passengers. This was suspicious enough to me that I lowered my hands to protect the pockets that contained my camera (which was large and bulky), and my wallet (which I tied with a string to my belt for extra security). I noticed one of the men draped a thin jacket across his arm, and the two men were glancing at each other, and would sneak quick looks in my direction. I pretended not to notice. As we neared a station, with me in alert mode, I noticed I was being slowly squeezed toward the doors by the two men. As the doors opened, I ducked between them with my hands by my pockets. They exited at the same time, squeezing me between them. All of a sudden, I felt a hand in my pocket, fumbling around as if trying to find something to grab a hold of. It was subtle, and would have gone unnoticed if I hadn't been paying attention. I quickly raised my hand of slapped his. A second later, the two men were out of my subway, with the closing doors separating me from them. Checking all of my pockets, I was relieved that I hadn't lost anything. I hadn't expected to come into contact with pickpockets so early in my trip. I had expected to lose some money during my trip since I figure you can't completely avoid pickpockets and other criminals over a trip so long. Even so, I decided to be constantly on the lookout for suspicious behaviour.

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