David’s note: This Journal entry was orginally written in June 2007 details my adventure “driving” in Spain.
A few weeks ago my friends and I decided to explore a town which I’d never visited. We were in southern Spain, in the region known as the “route of the white villages.” This region is very mountainous and rugged, but dotting many of the hilltops are villages with their houses all decked out in bright white paint. We decided to visit one such village known as Arcos de la Fronteria.
Our group consisted of only 6 people, but we had a 9 passenger VW Van which made our travels quite comfortable…except for today. We arrived at the “bottom” of the town and practically drove right into the big underground garage. I thought this was great because it cuts down majorly on the stress of driving in a new place. However, we soon discovered that this was not the place we had read about in the guidebooks. We were looking for a hilltop medieval village.
After looking around a bit we decided the “town” we were in was considered the “new town” (only about 400 years old) and the one which we were looking for was a little farther up the hill. So…I asked a couple of people where the old town was and they all pointed uphill and spoke rapidly in Spanish which I totally did not understand. However, I did understand the pointing uphill part, so I felt reasonably confident that we should leave the comfort of the underground garage and drive uphill.
So up the hill we went. Imagine a big white VW Van barreling up a steep cobbled street that is only a couple of feet wider than our vehicle. There were five people leaning forward, looking in all directions, trying to read street signs and give me hints on directions and driving styles. At this point we were doing well. We even saw a couple of signs announcing the plaza we were seeking.
A delivery van was in front of us. That, plus us, made the only two vehicles going up the steep little street. But for the moment it was a street and all was well. Luckily the street was “one way” mostly because there was no way in the world two vehicles could pass each other. Soon the delivery van veered off to the left and we were faced with a decision…following him in a direction where there was maybe vehicular traffic, or go right into the unknown. I veered left and followed the delivery truck.
It wasn’t long before we all realized this was a mistake. The small road we had travelled uphill on had dwindled to nothing more than mere cobbled lane with not more that twelve inches of clearance on either side of the van. There was absolutely no place to turn around, so we followed the van. By now all my friends had quit giving advice…probably because there was none to give now.
We slowly came around a corner and found the delivery van had stopped and the driver was shouting to someone inside a house. We sat there a bit and soon a tiny garage door opened and the van squeezed in. Uh…oh…now here we were, stranded, with nowhere to go except downhill. But I thought this was logical since the only way off a mountain was downhill. So away we went. Downhill on the increasingly smaller cobbled street which had now turned to nothing more than a medieval sidewalk.
As I am sitting here writing this entry a couple of weeks later, it is hard to describe just how small and steep this little passageway really was. There were times, even after we pulled in the side view mirrors, that we had less than one-half an inch of clearance on either side of the van. In retrospect all six of us were very calm considering the situation.
The siesta period must have just ended because soon there were people coming out of the woodwork. Kids on scooters, women standing around gossiping, babies in buggies, and kids with toys. All of them were milling around in this little street on which I was driving. By the way, they were standing on the street because there was nowhere else to stand! I was really getting worried by now and began questioning everyone I saw with, “donde esta salida,” I think that is “where is the exit?” in Spanish. They all seemed amazed we were up there in the first place! I was amazed too! Each responded rapidly with something in Spanish and pointed downhill. I was getting good at understanding Spanish hand signals by now and continued ever so slowly downhill. With each meter it seemed the street got narrower and narrower.
We came to this hairpin turn. Here I had to maneuver the van back and forth about twenty times on a steep downhill grade just to get the van headed in the right direction downhill. This created an attraction in the neighborhood and it seemed everyone came out to take a look and comment on my driving skills, not to mention my stupidity for being up there in the first place. So here I was, working the clutch with one foot, the gas with the other, the emergency brake with my right hand, and trying to steer with my left. Remember this was all on a steep downhill grade, a one hundred and twenty degree left hand turn, and people all around.
By now everybody in the neighborhood was out in the street giving me directions and yelling out how much clearance I had here and there. I’m sure it meant something to them, but to me I understood nothing except an occasional “no”.
It was a miracle, but we got out of that predicament with no scratches or dents to the van. After a couple of more close calls with clearances, the road began to gradually widen and soon there was plenty of room on either side. As luck would have it, we ended right back up in the underground parking lot where we had started an hour ago. We all sat for a moment is silence, each thanking the Lord for the miracle of my driving. Finally we breathed a sigh of relief.
I parked in the garage and we all walked up the hill to the top of town. It was here we found that amazing medieval village with so much charm as described in the guidebook I was using. We found a hotel, I left the group at the bar and I walked back down the hill, got in the van and drove up the hill directly to the cental plaza parking area. It was a piece of cake the second time around!