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Spanish Secrets: The Good Samaritan

Craig Briggs tells of the time when a Good Samaritan provided guidance when he and his wife Melanie were lost in Galicia.

Reading last weeks Open Writing article by Peter Hinchliffe, “The Man from Bulgaria”, it reminded me of a similar experience my wife Melanie and I had,during our first visit to the Spanish-Eden paradise of Galicia.

A place we’re now privileged to call home.

On 28th February 2002 we flew with British Airways, from London’s Gatwick airport, to Oporto in Portugal. We’d organised a short four-day break. This would give us the opportunity to explore Galicia, with a view to moving there. During our stay we’d also pre-arranged various property viewings, to get a feel for the area’s housing market.

Having collected the hire-car in Oporto, we headed north towards Spain.

The drive through Portugal is stunning - high mountain ranges covered in deep-scented eucalyptus forests. The peeling grey-green bark of the eucalyptus trees revealed a smooth pale centre. Between forested peaks are deep valleys and rolling hills. Small hamlets speckle the landscape as the main highway carves its way through the valleys on tall concrete stilts.

The border crossing from Portugal to Spain passes almost unnoticed, marked only by the change in language on the road signs. Here a long modern road bridge crosses the river Mino. High to the left are the centuries old ramparts of the Portuguese fortress town of Valenca. Our destination in Galicia was Caldelas de Tui.

Hours of late night internet surfing, had uncovered a romantically appealing restored mansion house, reincarnated as a guesthouse. Within its grounds, several outbuildings had been converted into small self-catering cottages, one of which would be are countryside haven for the duration of our stay.

The historic cathedral town of Tui, which for centuries has stared across the river at Valenca in Portugal, is well signposted. Leaving the main highway, we trundled along winding local road until we reached the town centre.

The centre was deserted. There was no sign of activity anywhere. The pavements were empty and the shops closed. Unbeknown to us at the time, we’d arrived during the hours of siesta. Previous holidays on the Mediterranean Costas had not prepared us for this urban abandonment.

Up until now everything had gone smoothly. It had never entered our thinking that we’d be unable to find our lodgings, or that there wouldn’t be anyone to ask for directions. We drove around the empty streets aimlessly, looking for any signs of life. Even the petrol station was closed.

After an anxious 15 minutes we finally spotted an old man sitting on a doorstep. We pulled alongside and Melanie asked for directions.

Her enquiry was met by silence and a curious blank expression on the old man’s weathered face. Thinking his lack of understanding might be related to our broad Yorkshire version of the Spanish language, she stepped from the car and approached him. Armed with the printed internet page, giving address details and a pretty picture of our sought-after destination, she enquired again.

The old man carefully studied the printed offering. Raising one eyebrow, then the other, his face contorted in a state of confusion. After several minutes of concentrated study, he lifted his head and shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of incomprehension. Without a single word being spoken it was obvious that he hadn’t got a clue.

Politely thanking him we continued on our quest, with more than a nagging doubt that we were in completely the wrong area of Spain. A further 10 minutes passed before we spotted our next would-be guides - two young men walking along the street. Once again we pulled alongside and in our strongly accented Spanish asked for directions.

An enormous and tangible sense of relief flooded the car as one of the young men, whilst not knowing the exact location, was able to send us off in the right direction.

The next 10 minutes’ driving took us far away from the centre of Tui , deep into the Galician countryside. Seeing a man leaving his home we once again stopped to ask for directions. Finally we’d stumble upon someone who knew the exact location. With communications stretched, he asked us to follow him. Jumping in his car, he guided us to the gates of our destination.

This was a much appreciated, generous and selfless act by a true Good Samaritan to help lost travellers from a distant land find their desired destination.

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