Facing My Fears in Madrid Spain

Travel provides us with many memorable travel experiences.  Sometimes you have to face your fears in Madrid Spain.

fears in Madrid Spain
Plaza Mayor, Madrid Spain

I’m not talking about bungee jumping or anyting like that. I’m talking about facing personal demons.

Usually I travel with my wife, but this time I was traveling alone. I didn’t have my sidekick to turn to when things were a little challenging.

Paul was racing in the Madrid Night of Sport at 10:30 pm.  He said he would contact me via Facebook after dinner to make plans on us getting to the race

Until then, I had the entire day free, so I figured I would go sightseeing.  If you are looking for something to do in Madrid Spain, see my post on my Top 7 day trips from Madrid.  I ended up deciding to see El Escorial, one of the local sites on the outskirts of Madrid that I had heard about.  For only 3.95 euro, I took a one hour train ride on the C train to the El Escorial stop.

Reflection during the train ride

On that hour long train ride, I had some time for introspection, and wrote down a few things I learned about travelling alone.

  • It’s scary. Here I was in a foreign country, that spoke a language I barely understood, completely by myself. I was worried about not being able to communicate. I was worried about feeling like a fool for not being able to communicate.
  • I definitely felt more independent. It’s certainly hard to describe the feeling of being completely alone in a foreign country where people speak another language. I HAD to be independent…and I liked it.
  • I was less stressed out in many ways. If I made a mistake, I was the only one who would suffer, whereas when travelling with others, any mistake I would make could have a negative impact on others. I wasn’t worried about making mistakes.  If I got on the wrong train, I could simply get off.  In fact, twice I got on the metro going the wrong direction.  No worries.  No one knew.  I simply got off at the next stop and turned around.  I could just enjoy the entire experience without worrying I would ruin someone else’s trip.
  • I was more immersed in the culture because I was less distracted. I wasn’t having a conversation in English with someone I already knew well.  I had nothing better to do but pay more attention to my surroundings.  I read, and tried to understand, all the Spanish signs.  I tried to think how to say, in Spanish, the things I was looking at.  I heard people solely speaking Spanish.  All my senses were being bombarded by Spain.  I even tried to think in Spanish.

Anyway, an hour later the train came to the El Escorial train stop. This story isn’t about my El Escorial trip. I’ll save that for another time.

The plan for tonight

When I got back to the hotel, I checked my Facebook account to see what was going on tonight.  Paul did leave a message!

He said he is with his girlfriend and will be going with her straight to the race.  Maria (the girl who owns the house he lives in) will pick me up at the hotel at 8:30 and bring me to the race. 

This is the Maria who didn’t speak a single word of English yesterday at the memorable dinner party.  She is picking me up at 8:30 when the race starts at 10:30. That’s over two hours of just me and the lady who apparently doesn’t speak English!  What the heck am I going to do?  The thought frightens me.

I have no choice.  I have to go.


At 8:40, which I guess is 8:30 Spain time, Maria pulls up in front of the hotel.  I get in the car and politely say, “Buenos dias.”  Maria immediately starts speaking crazy fast Spanish.

I don’t understand anything. I am embarrassed. What do I do?

“Lo siento. No comprendo.”  (I am sorry.  I do not understand)

She timidly replies, “You want I try speak English?”

Thank goodness!  She speaks English. This isn’t going to be so bad.

It hits me.  In my brain, I realize I just gave in.  I acted like a simple tourist who didn’t even try to embrace the local culture and took the easy way out when someone offered me an easy out. 

And just as important, my hostess, who went out of her way to help a stranger, seemed uncomfortable when volunteering to speak English.

Not this time

Decision time for me.

No!  Today is not the day you take the easy way out.  Today is the day you do something bold!  

“Quiero aprender hablar Espanol. Pero hablo Espanol de la niño y no rapido” (I think I said: “I want to learn to speak Spanish.  But I speak the Spanish of a child and not fast”). Not the way I would say it in English, but in a pinch that was the best I could do with my limited Spanish vocabulary.

Maria laughed and said something very simple back. I understood it.  I was happy.  I felt good about myself. I just conversed in Spanish!

bali, bali

I said something simple back to her.  Enthusiastically she replied “Bali, bali.”

She asked me a simple question.

I gave a simple answer.

She replied “Bali, bali.”

I don’t know what “Bali, bali” means, but I felt good every time Maria said it.

Finally I ask, “Que es bali?”  (What is bali?)

Bali is like when, as an American, I say “OK” when I understand something. 

I reply “Bali, bali”.  OK, OK, I understand! 

I just realized since I only heard the word, I have no idea if I am spelling it right. Maria made it sound like the island in Indonesia, so that is how I am spelling it.

Tour of madrid

Maria asks if I want to drive around and see Madrid.

I reply “Bali”

I feel good about myself.  But at the same time I am scared because I am SO far out of my comfort zone.  I have never done anything like this.  Can I keep this up for two hours?

On the tour, Maria points at something and describes it. 

I often keep my answers simple.  “Me gusta.”  (I like [it]).

I kept thinking, Poor Maria, I bet she didn’t know what she was getting herself into for her Friday night.  I felt embarrassed many times and wanted to give up and speak English, but I wouldn’t let myself.

If I didn’t understand I would simply say “no comprendo”.  She would then try to describe it in even simpler terms.  Finally I would understand and reply “Bali”.

We spent the better part of the next two hours conversing in “baby” Spanish.

A highlight for me was when Maria pointed at a statue of a man on a horse.  Before she could say anything, I cut her off and blurted out, “Generalisimo Francisco Franco” in my best Spanish accent.  She was so proud of me and exclaimed, “Perfecto!”  Little did she know that I just took a wild guess as Generalisimo Francisco Franco is the only famous Spaniard I know.

Killing more time

After the tour, we parked near the race finish.  We walked around.  To pass time I would point at something and say “Photo” and we would take pictures.  Yes, there were times that this was all it was.  At other times, if you knew what I was saying, you would probably argue with me and say I wasn’t really speaking Spanish.  Maybe; maybe not, but I was not speaking English for over two hours and was communicating with someone!  That has to account for something.

It was getting late.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I saw a bench and figured we could sit down for a while.  I don’t know how to say “Would you like to sit on the bench?”  What do I do?  Well, I do know how to say chair.  So I point and in Spanish say “You sit on chair”.  Probably not the politest way to say it, but after this long, I think Maria understands my intent with my poor Spanish and sits down.  I can be chivalrous in multiple languages!

I want to learn more.  In my baby Spanish, I say “Spain is beautiful.  I like Spain.  I want to see more Spain.  What cities in Spain do you like?” 

For the future, I learn from Maria that Seville, Granada and Barcelona are the most beautiful cities in Spain.  I actually use that information and plan my next trip to those beautiful cities. Good thing I spoke to Maria about it.

Race time

It is almost time for the race to finish.  I don’t know how to say what I want to say, so say the closest thing I can think of.  I point at the finish line and say in baby Spanish, “Paul run now”. 

She replied, “Bali”

She understood; we walked to the finish line.

The best part is that we look down the street from the finish line and there is Paul sprinting home in first place! 

After the race, we meet up with Paul.  Paul’s girlfriend is there.  I say “Hola”.  She says “Hola.”  That’s about it.  Paul’s girlfriend doesn’t speak English.  We walk down the road trying to find someplace to eat, which is going to be hard since it is after midnight.  Paul speaks to me in English.  Then he says something to his girlfriend in Spanish.  Then he says something to me in English.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  I realized that when I had the chance to speak to someone in English, I got lazy and just spoke English.  I actually felt a little guilty.

Finally we find an open McDonald’s and decide to eat some American burgers and fries, and wash it all down with an American Coke.

Time to head to the hotel

It is finally time to head home.  Paul tells me he is going to his girlfriend’s house.  Maria will drive me back to the hotel. 

Another 30 minutes with no English!  I don’t know if I can do it.  You would not believe the constant thinking and concentration you have to do to maintain this for hours when you have never done it before. 

I’ve done it this long already.  Now is not the time to give up.  We spend another 30 minutes speaking in baby Spanish, and I survive!

Conclusion Fears in Madrid Spain

As hard and stressful as it was, I feel really good about myself!  You wouldn’t believe the confidence you get from putting yourself in such an uncomfortable position and then not giving up.

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