Leaving the fair shores of Blighty on a cold but crystal clear day, only to arrive in Santander the following morning under brooding, ominous skies was not supposed to be in the script. No sooner had I hit the road the skies opened with a vengeance, proceeding to bucket hail and driving rain in unimaginable quantities for the rest of the day. Determined to to put as much distance between the port and my first night on the Iberian Peninsula, I managed to find a secluded spot about 45kms due east of Santander overlooking a sleepy valley dotted with rustic farmhouses. I didn’t sleep much that night as I was woken with frequent regularity as the next wave of hailstones hammered the canvas. Still, I felt dry and cosy in my Terra Nova Quasar tent augmented by a slightly righteous warm glow of someone who had successfully carried out the art of their very first ‘stealth camp’. Or so I thought…
A french breakfast of strong Ugandan Robusta (High Roast) espresso and dark chocolate fortified me enough for the pack up and go. By now, pretty much everything was either damp or just plain wet through. The rain and hail continued to fall from a seemingly bottomless sky and I kept on having to dive back into the tent to take cover as the storm clouds marched on overhead and deposited yet another torrential downpour. Like a ridiculously outmatched game of cat and mouse, it went on like this for two hours until a break in the sky meant I could eventually get the kit fully packed and back onto the Sherpa.
Pleased with myself, I decided to fire up the MSR stove to brew a celebratory Robusta. It was at this very juncture when the farmer and his son chose their moment to turn up on their tractor for a bale of hay which had served as my windbreak for the night. Now, I have an admission to make; I’m not that fluent in Spanish. In fact, despite my repeated attempts to translate phrasebook scenarios into real life situations with varying degrees of success, I struggle to get understood as soon as I deviate from the basics such as ‘Hola!, Gracias’ and ‘Cerveza, por favor?’
How was I going to explain my way out of this? I couldn’t remember reading a chapter on ‘How to Placate Farmers’ in my Lonely Planet Spanish Fast Talk edition phrasebook.
After a surreal exchange where I attempt to articulate why I was brewing a cup of coffee on his land which revolved around the words ‘camping’, ‘frio’ (cold), and ‘perdido’ (lost), the farmer looked at me with bemused puzzlement, smiled, turned his tractor around and headed off with his hay bale, giving a salutary wave.
‘So much for the Lonely Planet, thank heavens for the international language of mime’ I thought to myself and made my getaway.