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Photo by: J W Foster

Seville to Bilbao

Elaine: We thought today would be pretty uneventful, just a quick jaunt from Seville to Bilbao on the North Atlantic coast of Spain via Ryan Air, a no frills airline that offers cheap direct flights throughout Europe. We left Seville for the airport expecting that the most stressful challenge was going to be keeping our luggage to carry-on size. Let’s just say, WE WERE WRONG! We’d been told back at the Rota Naval Air Station that we would have to get our passports stamped at a police station so we’d have a record of entering the country. The typical customs procedures are not followed when arriving by military plane to a military base so we had no record of our arrival in Spain, at least as reflected by our passports. We thus walked to a police station in Seville under the blistering hot sun only to find that it was closed on weekends. Yes, it is still Africa hot here in the middle of September.

Joe: “Oh, come on darling, it was a nice day, a lot like New Mexico in the summer…. it’s a dry heat.”

Elaine: After finding that the police station was closed, we worked our way back to the center of the city to see the sights. On the way, we stopped at a tourist center and asked about any other police station where we could get our passports stamped. They directed us to the Police HQ about a kilometer away. We headed that way strolling through the fashion district and then into a “gypsy” looking area with a large central courtyard and some pretty rough looking people hanging out smoking cigarettes. I couldn’t help thinking that the police had picked a good location for their headquarters. We found the entrance to the building, and walked up to an officer sitting just inside the door. He listened patiently as we explained our problem with the passport documentation and he seemed genuinely apologetic when he declared, “Sorry, wrong place, you were supposed to get that done in Rota.” We had unwittingly traveled to Seville with the idea that we would just find any police station to document our entry. It turns out the passports had to be stamped at any police station within Rota, not any place in Spain. Maybe it was the sweat streaming down both our faces, or our pathetically wilted expressions (and clothing) that made him offer up a solution. It was simple, “Why don’t you just go to the airport?” Duhh! Why didn’t we think about getting a passport stamped at an airport?

Joe: By now Elaine is starting to wear down and I’m also starting to get stressed. We have several potential issues coming up at the airport tonight:

1) We are in a foreign country without proper documentation.
2) We have carry on baggage that’s slightly oversized (Ryan Air changes as much for checked baggage as for passengers and they are very strict on size)
3) We have potential “weapons” consisting of aluminum and carbon fiber trekking poles, a Leatherman utility knife and a titanium spoon and fork that I want to try to get through security.

So off we go to the airport to jump the next few hurtles.

Elaine: First the passports! Entering the airport we headed for Arrivals not Departures.Joe flagged down an attendant and I asked her where to go to get our passports stamped. We were instructed to enter through the arrivals gate. We both looked over at the sliding arrival doors labeled in bright red letters “Security Zone: Do Not Enter” and then back to the attendant. “Are you sure we should go in there?” She assured us that is exactly what she meant then quickly dismissed us. We hesitantly headed in that direction. There was a crowd standing around the sliding exit doors waiting for their loved ones to come walking through. They stared at us as if we were insane as we practically “moonwalked” our way backwards towards the “Arrivals” gate hoping to pass unnoticed. We reached the closed doors and pushed then pulled at the sleek frosted glass. It refused to budge, no matter how much force I used. Once I got over the immediate panic and desire to run, it didn’t take much mental acumen to determine that automatic doors won’t open automatically from the wrong side of a security zone!

We courageously stood in place and waited for the next exiting passenger to trigger the doors. After what seemed like hours, an arriving passenger casually walked through, unwittingly colluding with our break-in. I was fully prepared to be taken down by the security agents as we brazenly took our first step through the doorway. We instantly received attention by a gun-carrying airport security, but instead of a takedown he greeted us warmly, “May I help you?” After we explained our dilemma we were directed to the International Police Office. Incredibly, we were allowed to walk freely within the secure area while carrying two large, fully loaded, uninspected backpacks. We made our way to the police Lieutenant’s office and explained our passport dilemma. He asked me where we were heading and I nervously stuttered “Balboa.” I think he sensed how close I was to becoming incontinent and said, “Oh, you mean Bilbao? You must be thinking of the movie with Rocky Balboa.” He said it with such a warm smile that it brought a wave of relief to my petrified heart. After that gentle ribbing he graciously stamped our passports without a second thought. I thought we had gotten through the worst of it but I was wrong again.

Joe: Elaine and I exited the Arrivals area while thanking every official we walked past, including the janitor. We then made our way to the airport Departures with confidence on the outside and trepidation on the inside. Approaching the x-ray machines at security we did the typical drill, emptied our pockets, removed our shoes, etc. Elaine went through first so she could distract them with her beauty. I was quick behind with a smile on my face and some liberal “Buenos dias!” I cleared the metal detector and reached for my backpack lying on the conveyor belt. But before I could even make first contact with the backpack, I heard a booming voice cry, “Alto! Alto!”

They nailed me! I didn’t have to understand a single word of Spanish to understand the security guard sitting at the x-ray monitor. “This guy’s got a knife and a titanium spoon in his bag!” The guard called to his supervisor and pointed out the articles on the screen. I was done for. “Midnight Express” here I come. I started stuttering “minuto knife!” and “Camino – Camino de Santiago!” several times but they just looked at me strangely. Elaine laughingly told me later that “minuto” doesn’t mean “miniature” it means “minute” in Spanish. The Chief of Security walked over while taking off his jacket as if preparing for a long interview with this foreigner. He instructed me to collect all my belongings and follow him to “The Room.” I grabbed all my stuff and shuffled behind him in my stocking feet to a private room while envisioning the upcoming cavity search and jail time. Elaine is quick behind me talking in non-stop staccato Spanish while waving her LtCol Military ID card with fire in her eyes. The next thing I know they are laughing (at me?) I’m hearing the words “Camino” and “Frances” repeated several times as the chief starts drawing an imaginary map of Spain on the wall with his finger indicating several different starting points for our route. HE DOESN’T EVEN OPEN MY BACKPACK! He asks Elaine to tell me to not pull out the knife while we are in the airport. We then hear our first authentic, “Buen Camino” and he sends us on our way.

Elaine: Did you say “fire” in my eyes? If fire is the new spelling for fear, then you would be right. I was so scared I didn’t even remember I had a military ID so it wasn’t my idea to wave it around. It was the Chief who asked me to produce identification and I didn’t even stop to look down when 50 euros and several credit cards tumbled onto the floor while I was searching for my ID. I don’t even remember what I was babbling in Spanish, I just recall how relaxed he seemed for a man who was about to penetrate Joe right in front of his own wife. Thank God he turned out to be pro-military. We are now in the airport on the correct side of the security zone waiting for our plane to Bilbao. Please let the boarding be boring.

Lesson for the Day: Today’s lesson is a simple one, “No Guts, No Glory!”

“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky




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