As I sat propped upon a rock next to a trickling mountain stream I tried to think about nothing. Instead, after a last minute change in plans, I couldn’t help but contemplate how I would get back to Madrid to collect all my belongings. I’m in the middle of the sierras where I’ve spent the past few days, 12kms or more from the nearest town and my mobile went flat yesterday. I’ve got two tortillas, an avocado and an orange. Gathering the last of my thoughts and my backpack I inhale one last breath of mountain air and decide to beat it.
It’s early Sunday morning and at this hour there’s no one driving back down the winding mountain road. I get a few strange glances from those who pass heading to the start of the hiking trails. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to implement my hitchhiking contingency plan this time.
When I arrive in the little town a few hours later I’m told the bus will pass in 5-6 hours. I’m not really in the mood for being stationary so after a quick coffee I keep on moving. I know that this road connects with the one that goes directly to Madrid 30 something kilometers further on in the larger town of Arco de Avila.
By the time I decide to stop walking the midday sun is sweltering, I calculate it’s still at least 23km to Avila and I’ve begun to get a little peckish. Here, there’s enough room for a passing car to stop safely and I welcome the opportunity to rest and prepare an avocado wrap.
As the cars pass I pop out my thumb and put on my best please-pick-me-up-I’m-not-a-serial-killer face. And for the better part of an hour, to no avail. Finally an old man driving the classic small town pick-up van stops to offer me a ride. His reaction is priceless and says something in Spanish roughly translated to, “Holy shit! What valiance!’ Followed by, ‘Shit lady you’ve got two balls as big as…’ Suffice to say he was surprised to encounter me that day.
Weaving down the mountain I try my best to keep pace with his strong southern accent. This is where learning Spanish in Andalucía – despite initial recommendations against it – finally paid off. Words were partial and silent consonants could easily slip you up. A few kilometers later he’d regained composure, improved articulation and eased up on the ‘joders.’
He motions to the backseat where a tattered leather sunhat and wooden shepherd staff lay. He explains that he’s just coming back from mushroom foraging. One of his favorite sports – where it’s nothing but him, his small cloth sack and the fresh mountain air. Perfect for thinking and clearing the mind. Once upon a time he lived in the city – now he enjoys the simplicity of mountain life.
We talk about family – he has a partner and two dogs, they couldn’t have children but he doesn’t seem to mind. He carries the stereotypical Spanish passion for food – with all his hand gesturing I’m worried for a moment he might lose the road but he tones it down around bends ensuring at least one hand is on the wheel.
I notice we pass the turnoff for his village where I was going to continue my afternoon hike down the mountain. He hushes me to not worry and drives out of his way to drop me at the bus stop.
I run my finger over the column marked ‘Domingo’ under the heading for transportation; direction Madrid. The clock on the wall above the notice board reads 14:35 – just under two hours before the next bus. Right now I’m not sure if I can be bothered to hitchhike the remaining distance and could do with respite from the searing near summer sun. As a final effort before the siesta I wander past the bus station in the direction to the plaza mayor to investigate. It takes all over 10 minutes to circumnavigate and boasts a church, a castle, a romantic bridge and 50 years of judia production.
I settle on occupying a small patch of grass under a tree in front of the bus station while I contemplate my next move. To hitchhike or to wait for the bus? From experience I know that I make decisions better after a small nap. And there’s no point rushing – I’ll probably have to wait a few hours anyway before I can get in to the apartment to get my things in Madrid.
I notice a small van approach the station and the person in front waves. I look around and, spotting no one, realise they’re waving at me. I’m surprised to see it’s Adrian, the man who picked me up earlier, with a woman in the passenger seat and small dog in the back. Julia jumps from the van, grabs my hand, greets me with two kisses and introduces herself as Adrian’s wife. She’d become preoccupied as he told her my story over lunch and she insisted that they return to look for me. Honestly, ‘Yes,’ I was a little bit hungry and after 4 days in the mountains I would really enjoy a shower. A home cooked lunch, freshening up and Spanish hospitality was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. If I wanted I could spend the night and head to Madrid in the morning but I told them I’d prefer to keep moving, catching the next bus at 17:00. Not a problem; they’d drop me back.
The town of Bohoyo felt familiar. Like those I’d walked through on the Camino de Santiago two years earlier where time had apparently forgotten to pass. Julia and Adrian’s house was made from stone and the wooden balcony looked like it might collapse should someone stand on it. Standing outside only revealed half it’s charm. Inside the rooms were small and the ceilings were low. There was enough room to accommodate two or three families but now the extra rooms were kept for visitors and family.
As I showered they sat on the stone bench in front of the house. I’d decided to skip the next bus – electing to take the last one at 20:00 so that Julia and Adrian could show me the lesser known secrets of their rural town. At the local cafeteria a woman with red curly hair smiled as she greeted me, ‘You must be the Australian.’ I suppose news travels fast in these parts. The only other patrons were four old men playing dominos around a plastic covered table. Two were brothers, one the father of the waitress, and another the town mayor. Julia generally introduced my presence – she was evidently proud to have a foreign guest and welcomed the opportunity to show off her English skills.
In the late spring the snow had started to melt from the mountains causing the river water level to rise. Now the water gushed passed the bridge and through the waterways that ran through the small cobbled streets. Aside the prettiest part of the river nestled a small bar where I met, what I can only assume were, the remaining residents of Bohoyo. The custodians of the tavern were four brothers; sons of the man playing dominos and siblings of the cafeteria waitress. They introduced themselves as they appeared in succession, one-by-one, from inside the wooden building. The eldest had also traveled – visiting Thailand and the Caribbean. He wanted to come to Australia one day but rubbed his thumb and his forefingers together, shrugged and raised his eyebrows – the universal signal for ‘but that’s expensive.’
The mayor’s wife was also there with the other ladies of the village. While the men played dominos they’d gathered to play bridge. The mayor’s wife signaled to Julia to join to which she replied, ‘But I don’t know how to play.’ ‘You’ll have to learn one day,’ came the response with a warm smile. The ladies laughed as they chatted and recounted stories from their youth.
Julia wrote down her email and phone number should I decide to come back to Bohoyo – apparently it was lovely in summer and early spring when the valley was in bloom and now I had friends there. Deciding it was better to be earlier rather than later we made our way to the bus station with plenty of time to spare. With time to kill we strolled to the castle lookout. Cranes had constructed their nests atop the turrets and flew in and out presumably with the next delivery of newborns.
At some point during the day I’d lost some confidence – perhaps in people in general. There’s a little more to it – ask me in person and I’ll fill you in. A friend once gave me a great analogy she’d learned from her dance teacher - she’d said that when you encounter the awkward part between songs when everyone leaves the dance floor, when you’re feeling vulnerable and exposed, you’ve got to embrace the discomfort. Go back to something you know, a move that’s repetitive, but whatever you do don’t leave the space! Because if you do that then you’re not allowing yourself to be open to the next dance, to meet someone new, and for something great to happen.
It might not have been monumental but meeting Julia and Adrian helped the transition out of an otherwise awkward place and renewed my belief that people are generally good. On the bus I plugged my headphones in my ears and selected my favorite travel album - the one that’s been played for the last 5 years now – and allowed all the good memories and visual associations to flicker through my mind as the mountains disappeared behind us.
|The streets of Bohoyo that time forgot.|
|Julia and Adrian out the front of their home.|
|A crane leaving its nest atop a castle turret.|
|Julia and Adrian’s dog looks out over the river next to the castle.|