The naval station had a flying club and I had a license, so I had been flying the club’s Aeronca Champ – a two-place single-engine airplane made of steel tubing and canvas –for several months, having a great time exploring the Spanish countryside.
I decided to see if I could find Granada, a small ski resort in the hills somewhere east of Rota.
I have never been truly lost, hiking or flying, though I have been a mite confused a few times. As evening approached, I discovered someone had moved the mountain I sought and failed to mark it among the numerous other hills in the area. Night was approaching, and the better part of valor seemed to be to land and ask directions. I chose a nice tractor path along one side of an olive orchard, and set down the plane.
I climbed out and stepped onto the two-lane country road and began walking to the nearby town when a pickup truck full of young men about my age came along. They spoke Spanish. I only knew a few words, but I convinced them I hadn’t a clue where I was. They took me to the town.
There was a hostel in the town. Hostel is European for “inexpensive bedroom with a shared bath, breakfast, and maybe a few other meals.” Or maybe not. This one was owned by the family living there. It was dinner time, and they invited me to share.
I don’t recall all we talked about. My translator was a Guardia Civil sergeant stationed in the town. The Guardia are akin to state police, except they are national. At the time, Generalisimo Franco was the dictator, and the Guardia was accountable only to him.
Smugglers were a problem in that coastal part of Spain, but the word was out if someone yelled at you to halt and you did not, the next sound you might not hear likely would be a machine gun halting you.
I got to know several such officers while I was in Spain. All of them were great guys, including the sergeant assigned to that town. None of them would have hesitated to halt a suspected smuggler. Permanently.
On the other hand, the sergeant clearly was on the friends-list of the family running the hostel, and we visited into the night, doing our best to mingle my Spanish with their English. Eventually, I retired to my room, refreshingly tired and still lost, somewhere in the hills east of Rota.
Next morning I woke early to the aroma of a farmer’s breakfast. I tried to pay, since running the hostel was the family’s income. They would not take money. I insisted, The sergeant invited me to a walking tour of the town, including a winery where I purchased a few bottles clad in embossed leather.
He told me I could offer again to pay for the hospitality, but that I would thereafter be unwelcome in the town. Money would reduce the family’s hospitality to a stranger to a mere commercial transaction, and that would be an insult.
That was my first up close and personal experience with “foreigners” since I had left home at nearly 18 to visit countries I had previously visited only in books.
Many experiences have colored my life since the Winter of 1969, but that day, in an unnamed town in rural Spain, with a family whose name has faded from memory, taught a lesson I’ve since learned to treasure.
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