Freelance journalist Kerryn Koh writes: Once upon a time in a land far away, two naïve and rather idiotic girls set off to find a fabled land near the border of Spain and Portugal. Rumours of its unsurpassed beauty ran rings around them as they eagerly planned their journey, their excitement growing by the minute. Little did they know that these plans would soon become unravelled due to one small detail — the siesta.
The siesta that turns any small, well-meaning village into a ghost town.
Such was the situation we found ourselves in as we disembarked into our ordeal. Alone. Not a soul to be seen. Nobody to ask for directions and nothing to go by except the soon-to-be-misleading-map we had brought along with us. The plan was to hike down a trail to a lookout point. So, being the highly intelligent individuals that we were, we navigated our way to the path.
The map said or rather, suggested that the trail was the first path on our right, so, we took the first path on our right. No brainer right?
The first thing that should have alerted us to our stupidity was possibly the fact that we were descending down what seemed to be the side of a mountain. Surely a lookout point would be situated somewhere reasonably high up?
Secondly, it was a hot day, over 30 degrees. The sun was high in the sky and we were only carrying one bottle of water each. Stupid? Definitely.
Letting naivety take control, we trudged down this trail. A path that seemed more like a cattle route for the local farmers, judging by the hoof marks and some rather large, regular deposits.
Two hours later and we had reached a dead end by the bank of the river. At this point we had no water left. Nobody had passed us on the way down the path — no cars, trucks, farmers or cows. We were alone, exhausted, and thirsty.
Wearily we weighed our options. Sit around and wait for someone to come along? Civilisation was somewhat lacking in the area. Swim across the river? Who knows what could be lurking in its depths. There was no other option but to walk back the way we had come from. A two-hour, waterless, uphill hike loomed before us.
And the journey was definitely eventful. We passed cattle and goats that bleated at us mockingly. We dreamt of giant bottles of water dancing before our eyes. Eating was impossible as our mouths were so dry that we couldn’t generate the saliva necessary to process the food.
Turn after turn we dragged ourselves up that mountain, hoping that each bend would be our last. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, we began to see glimpses of civilisation. A house with a señora standing outside its door. The poor woman never saw us coming. Desperation kicked in and we launched ourselves at her, begging for a drink. And, after gulping down gallons of the life-giving substance, we completely cleaned her out.
But finding water was not the last of our problems. The last bus back home had left hours ago and affordable accommodation was non-existent.
At least the village seemed to have re-awoken. People were gossiping away in the street and were eager to chat to the funny-looking foreigners.
Remarkably, after listening to our plight, one of the ladies invited us to stay with her for the night, reassuring us that she would point us in the right direction the next morning.
We never did find the lookout. The ‘correct’ path she showed us was an abandoned railway line complete with thorny, overgrown bushes and long, dark tunnels we were not brave enough to explore. On the upside, she was kind enough to pack us some lunch — and I have never tasted jamon that good in my entire life.
Kerryn Koh is a freelance travel-obsessed writer. She blogs at Misadventures of a Mistaken Melburnian (so named because her Chinese-Malaysian heritage confuses foreigners when she speaks in a strong Aussie accent), where this post first appeared.