Travel: Your holiday disaster - I lost my car, husband and my way, recalls Julia Deakin

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The Independent Travel
FROM A tranquil poolside in Andalucia we drove 150 miles north to Cordoba for the day. After a searing three hours along dirt tracks we arrived at midday and were sucked into a labyrinth of streets not marked on the palm-sized map in our Michelin Guide. Eventually we parked on a small cafe forecourt, got out and were promptly addressed by a local in French. My French is better than my Spanish, so I humoured her in the hope that - when she paused for breath - I could ask directions. I established that we were still in Spain and could probably park there till the cafe opened at 8pm.

Baked and dehydrated we spent the afternoon traipsing from bar to bar, squinting at the odd sight until, drifting again into a maze of alleys, we remembered the car. What we could not remember was where it was.

Without a better map we couldn't search systematically, so I waited while Steve went to the end of the street and disappeared. I mused about placating first the irate cafe owner and then, when Steve did not reappear, the hire car company. I now realised that Steve, whose only Spanish was "un poco", had the dictionary, passports, cameras and car keys; I had the money and maps. How would he find his way back? By 7.45pm the light was fading. We were both oafishly clad in shorts, sandals and Bart Simpson t-shirts.

Over the next 40 minutes I faced facts. I had lost my husband, my car and my way in a dark city, with no ID, credible clothes or means of explaining myself. I scanned passers-by for likely polyglots and chose a young woman who spoke no English or French but luckily had world-class patience. I fumbled on in tourist speak to a growing audience. Presently two burly cops arrived on jumbo motorbikes and my explanations began again.

At this point, an hour after he'd left, Steve reappeared. The cops, lowering their sights from a manhunt to a search for a small Gibraltan rust bucket, motioned Steve to the pillion seat and set off to look for it. I knew he was averse to white knuckle rides - and indeed they soon returned, Steve having endured it with his eyes closed shouting "un poco" at every turn. They now condescended to take me and we all sped off: two helmetless camera-laden tourists, our bare legs inches from being flayed.

A flash of linguistic inspiration brought me the Spanish for "a sort of triangular square". Cordoba, it seems, is full of them. In the umpteenth we found the car, flanked by candlelit diners. Thanking everyone we said goodbye. Strangely, our officer friends seemed keen to escort us right out of town.

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