How do you say “help” in Spanish?

This is the story of how we got ourselves into and out of a sticky situation in Spain.

My husband’s father and stepmother are spending some time in Spain and graciously invited the children and me to visit them for a week.  I haven’t been to Spain since I was 19 and studying Spanish in Salamanca.  The kids have never been, and we did not travel this summer due to Ramadan and work, so needless to say we were all excited and ready for some adventures.  And you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, because you may get it.  I don’t usually blog about the ins-and-outs of our comings and goings, but this is a tale worth telling.

My in-laws are staying in the south of Spain, but we flew into Madrid and they picked us up in a nice 7-seater, ready for the long drive south.  We managed to extricate ourselves from Madrid’s maze of highways and were driving comfortably down the A-4, without a map, relying on the GPS navigator.  After a couple of hours of travelling due south, the navigator takes us off the main highway and on to some byroads.  We are perplexed by “her” choice but trust that “she” will get us to our destination.  Now, this is important to remember, the navigator calculates the shortest route, not the most logical one. So there we are at about 10 pm on a small country road in la Mancha.  My littlest all of a sudden needs to pee, so without giving it much thought we pull off the road and I hop out with him.  It’s only then that we realize we’re stuck in the mud.  Really stuck.  The more we spin the wheels the more stuck we get.  We try to push the car from the back, but we can’t get much traction in the mud.  We make deep ruts about 10 feet long and cause significant strain to the (rented) vehicle.  The wheels are only about 3 feet from the highway, yet it’s impossible to breach the gap.  After about 20 minutes we call a friend in Madrid, who instructs us to call the rental company.  Duh!  One last thing, I ask him, how do you say mud in Spanish?  Because I’m going to have to do all this in Spanish, and although I have a college degree in Spanish, I sure wasn’t prepared to describe our current imbroglio in the Castillian tongue.  Barro, he answers, estamos atrapados en el barro.

I call the rental agency and explain that we are atrapados en el barro, and they assure me that being atrapados en el barro is most definitely not something we are insured for.  Why is that not surprising.  No matter, we still need a tow truck.  Un gruista.  So now I am trying to explain to the gruista our exact location, I give him satellite coordinates, road names, painstakingly describing our location in as much detail as possible.  I keep asking him to hable despacio por favor, speak slowly please.  I don’t remember any units in my Spanish textbooks covering a conversation with a tow-truck driver in the middle of the night on an abandoned highway.  No problem, says the gruista, I’m on my way.  We wait.  30 minutes later he calls.  I can’t find you, he says, I’ve been driving on these back roads and I just can’t locate you.  Apparently we have stumbled into a  Bermuda triangle right here in the vineyards and wheat fields of la Mancha.  Our hopes are dashed once more.  At this point the kids are out of the car, they are so excited, whooping and hollering up and down this country road that no one know exists.  And I realize one thing, you couldn’t buy excitement like this if you tried.

But wait, the gruista says, you can call trafico, they will locate you and then they can call me and I’ll come pull you out.  He gives me the number for trafico, I have no idea what that is.  It turns out that it’s theguardia civil, sort of like a highway patrol.  I’m running the gamete of emotions, feeling stupid that we are not travelling with a map, embarrassed that we have to be rescued by the civil guards during our first 5 hours in the country, thankful that they exist, even a bit jealous that there are these kinds of services here in Europe (as compared to Morocco of course).  Elated that when I explain where we are, they actually know where it is.  But not too elated, because we’ve had such an unbelievable run of bad luck, and we’re still not out yet.  At the same time, there is a deep sense that it’s all ok, that we are in fact, exactly where we are meant to be.   For reasons that are not quite clear.  We are happy to be together and this experience is grounding, we are breathing the fresh campo air, getting mud all over us, laughing and getting sillier by the minute.

Next scene: enter the civil guards.   Blue lights flashing on the highway.  We’re saved, I think to myself.  Two large and capable looking men emerge from the 4×4.  If these guys can’t get us out then no one can.   They are jovial, that typically Spanish mix of cynicism and humor.  They proceed to remove our luggage from the car, setting it on the highway, and in my mind I can just see us driving away without it.  Every ridiculous thing seems possible, even likely, at this point.   And indeed, when they try to hook our minivan up to their truck, well wouldn’t you know, their winch doesn’t work.  They spend some amount of time trying to fix it, cursing the tonteria, the idiocy of it all.   But it’s obvious to everyone that that our comedy of errors has a few more acts left in it.

We’re going to have to call a gruista, says one of them.  It’s like we are not only stuck in physical space, but in some some of time warp that folds back on itself.  20 minutes later, he reports that the gruista says he already went out to look for us once, and that he still can’t find us.  Just our luck that they would call the same directionally impaired guy that we had earlier.  One of the civil guards illuminates our understanding with this factoid: Que Espana no es Europa, es Suramerica.  Spain is not Europe, it’s South America.  I counter that while Spain might not be Europe, it’s no Morocco either.  In Morocco we would not have civil guards on call 24 hours a day.  My father-in-law says that in Morocco we would have about a hundred people come and just push the car out.  Ok then, says the guard, let’s do it como en Marruecos, like in Morocco.  It’s then that someone gets the bright idea to push the van from side, rather than from the back.  They are going to try to slide the whole van sideways onto the highway.  And obviously, since I am here typing about it, you can guess that they did in fact succeed.   We all cheered and hollered.

They escorted us to the nearest town, to a hostel where we ate warmed up Spanish tortilla and Manchego cheese at 1 in the morning, before collapsing in our beds.

Sometimes things like this happen and you are forced to slow down and smarten up.  When you are travelling it’s easy to get ungrounded, make little mistakes that cost you a lot.  Travelling in groups is even more challenging because the chaos of the group leaves you less attuned to your surroundings.  It’s easy to rely on someone else to think of everything.  Three kids in a car for hours on end is also a lot to handle, any way you slice it.  In our case we relied too heavily on the gps navigator, without knowing precisely where we were going.  The first thing we did the following day was buy a map of Spain.  Oh yeah, and we had to get the car realigned, one last little chapter in the saga.  Despite our eventful entrance into Spain, we’ve spent a week in a a place so idyllic and peaceful it seems surreal.  It’s like a blend of Taos NM and the Ourika valley in Morocco, so I feel like I’ve been here before.  Tomorrow we drive back to Madrid to catch our plane back to Morocco.  Insha Allah khair (God willing it will go well!).