Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Madrid - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 4 (Part 1)

I woke up at 6:20am. It was just before sunrise, and the sky was dark blue. When I looked over at Felix, he started to stir in his sleeping bag. We were both awake, before our alarms went off. We were excited and ready for the day. This will mark the true start of my adventure, the flight that will put me just south-west of the Mediterranean so that I can start my journey - my goal of a land crossing of Europe along the Mediterranean Ocean from west to east. We packed up quickly and quietly as to not disturb our hosts. After the usual morning routine, we were ready to leave. We left the key in our room and passed through the corridor were we can see the other Couchsurfer peacefully asleep on the couch. Heading out the door, after one last mental check, we pulled the door closed, which automatically locked itself behind us.

Exiting the building, we see that the action had already started in the streets. The day was reaching full brightness, some of the early commuters were heading to work, and some stores were opening up. The day was already warm and humid, and we can tell that it was going to be a full-blown summer day ahead. We found our way to the subway, already bustling but thankfully not crowded yet. After we arrived at the airport, we found that we needed to take another bus to an outlying terminal, T4. The bus drove on what looked like a deserted raised highway, with the surrounding land empty, dusty, and of a brownish-yellow colour. There were industrial-looking buildings once in a while. The bus was modern, air-conditioned, comfortable, and clean, a stark contrast to the landscape we saw outside. The bus took one last ramp curving right on a bridge, and we saw the terminal ahead of us. It was a large silver building with glass panes. It seemed new and looked like work was still being done on it.

Pulling up in front of the airport, we hopped off and went inside. It was a modern airport of a standard design. We looked for the Iberia Airlines section. The first leg, operated by Iberia Airlines will take us to Casablanca, where we will board a local turboprop plane to take us rest of the way to Ouarzazate. Seeing the exotic looking Iberia and Royal Air Maroc airline symbols, I felt that we were on the verge of a great adventure. Checking in at the counter, I was slightly dismayed that I had to check my bag. I was somewhat comforted by the fact that we were not in the US or on a flight operated by US Airlines, as I've had horrible experiences of lost luggage nearly every time I fly through Philadelphia. However, I was still nervous and skeptical since I wasn't sure how reliable Moroccan airports were.

Passing through security, with me holding the top detachable portion of my bag, we found that were were still quite early. The airport had a large multi-story shopping mall, and we found a small café to have breakfast at. I had an overpriced Spanish version of a panini. Nonetheless, it was a warm breakfast and a welcome start to what I'm sure will be a full day. Madrid had been an introduction, a staging area of sorts, and soon it would be the start of my long-awaited adventure.

After breakfast, we exited Spanish customs. I was thrilled to get another stamp in my passport. Similarly, I was looking forward to the stamps I would collect in the next few weeks passing through Morocco, Gibraltar, and back into the European Union. I have always found it thrilling to receive a stamp in my passport. It is tangible proof that I had been somewhere and that it was not just a beautiful dream. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, we followed signs and arrows toward our terminal. I found it cool that each sign had an electronic section displaying the estimated time until our destination in number of minutes which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Arriving at our terminal, we sat and waited, watching the planes and rolling hills outside through the glass walls and chatted with each other.

The terminal was empty at first. There were rows of seats. We took turns going to the bathroom, taking a drink from the water fountain, and just walking around the area. We were restless. I noticed fun, complicated sign holders made up twisting tubes bolted together. I noticed there were many large bolts in the design of the airport, giving it an interesting, almost industrial, but clean and bright feel to it. Eventually, the waiting area gathered a small crowd. I was staring at the electronic boarding sign intensely as I saw the plane finally arrive and the passengers dismount.

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