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Upside Down

I thought I would use this week to share my experience as the recipient of an extraordinary effort to assist a traveler in need. Although we often think of travel assistance from a designated person, assistance can be from the most unexpected "Traveler's Aides."
10/02/2015 10:15am ET | Updated October 1, 2016
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I thought I would use this week to share my experience as the recipient of an extraordinary effort to assist a traveler in need. Although we often think of travel assistance from a designated person, assistance can be from the most unexpected "Traveler's Aides".

I was upside down! Literally upside down. There was water running by my head, soap suds, cereal, lettuce and socks. Everything was the opposite of what it should be.

The traveler was me. I was on a young man's adventure roaming the countryside of Europe in my VW Camper Van. I was in the south of Spain where the weather is usually lovely for most of the year, but today, it wasn't. The rain was hard, fast and cold. I encountered a severe storm which I was told was quite unusual. My only option was to seek refuge in a caravan park near Marbella. For days I waited, reading James Michener and old copies of the Herald Tribune during the day, writing letters by candle light at night and cooking my meals in the cramped eight by four foot living space. I waited and waited and waited some more. After six wet, cold days, I figured the full extent of the storm must be hovering directly overhead and I thought that by moving west I might make it to clearer skies. Thus, I fired up my van and began the drive north and then west onto the mountain roads on the way to Lisbon. The rain continued as I drove along the narrow and curved mountain road. Rounding the next bend, there had been a small landslide and mud was flowing across the rough pavement. With no time to slow or stop, my wheels began to slide and my last view was of a black cloaked, grey haired, elderly woman with terror in her eyes as my car sled sideways catapulting off the road... bouncing and rolling with the sounds of scraping metal and finally coming to rest upside down in a small creek. The world looked quite different from this perspective. I was indeed upside down.

A small stream was running down the inside of the roof to the broken front windshield mixing with my detergent, ketchup, clothing and pots and pans. I was still hanging there when I pushed on the seatbelt release button and dropped suddenly, head first onto the roof (which was now underneath me). Other than my ego, I was fine. I crawled out the bent door, gained my footing and looked up to the road where a truck load of field workman who had been riding in the back of a stake truck stopped to survey my mishap. As the rain continued, eight or nine of the road crew, wearing their flannel pants, dark shirts, suspenders and short brimmed wool caps stepped over the edge of the road and began to slide down the muddy hillside where I was still surveying the damage.

My limited Spanish vocabulary of fruits and vegetables in the "central market" wasn't going to serve me well in this dilemma. I thought we should call the police... "NO NO NO" I was told. It was a dictatorship. One doesn't call the police. I was so naive.

Soon, directions were being shouted, arms moving in frantic gestures and a surprisingly coordinated effort began to push and pull my van, flipping it over so the roof was once again, on top where it was supposed to be. With that first task completed, I was gently guided back into the driver's seat and instructed to turn on the engine and be ready to steer. My new heroes began pushing, pulling, laughing, shouting and sliding in the mud and rain as the tires whirled and my van slowly rose to the road above. With a bounce and thunk, I was back on the road. With lots of slippery, wet, muddy handshaking and "thank you's," my new friends (and Traveler's Aides) climbed into the back of their truck and were gone as quickly as they appeared. I looked around for the lady in black who watched me fall, but she had also disappeared. By any other name, these friendly and humanitarian rescuers were indeed my Traveler's Aides. I will never forget them.

My car worked, in spite of the dents in the roof, front, back and both sides. Oh well... I added oil, re-connected the battery and I was off to Lisbon, Portugal where I would leave my four-wheeled home in the car hospital for the next eight weeks.
However, before I left, something else happened. To be continued. . .