I am sure most people are familiar with the expression: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
On my recent roadtrip to Spain in a campervan, I experienced a wonderfully surreal situation which made me think of that old saying.
Let me explain.
A Place To Camp
We had been driving all day through the back roads of southwestern Spain. The sun slipped behind the craggy sierras as we searched for a place to pull over the van to sleep. Frustratingly, there were no hidden hideaways convenient to the road we were on to wild camp. Our search for the local campsites had led us on a wild goose chase through the mountainous region about 80 kilometres north of Huelva.
As darkness enveloped the surrounding landscape, we were running out of time and energy. There would have to be nothing for it; we were going to have to pull over in a layby and simply put up with it.
After some food and a couple of glasses of wine we were feeling content; snuggled up against the side of the van in our camp chairs, the road blocked from our view we could almost forget that we were parked in a layby at the side of a road by a tiny speck on the map called Campofrio.
We became aware of a ute parked on the other end of the layby, engine left running with its lights stretched out into the shadowy distance. Odd, we thought, why not turn off the ignition if you had pulled over, but we paid it little attention.
As Night Fell
A short while later footsteps approached accompanied by the swing of a torch beam.
My friend and I caught the anxious whites of each other’s eyes in the glow of our torches. The boots that crunched the gravelly ground were headed straight for us.
A man wearing a yellow high-vis jacket appeared around the nose of the van. He looked to be in his mid to late forties with hair that glinted with a streak of grey round the temples.
A flicker of uncertainty rose up in my chest.
Now this man would tell us that we could not sleep here and that would be a disaster.
Plan A’s failure had meant we were in the layby of Plan B to begin with. Plan C was looking very unlikely as the desire and ability to continue driving had ebbed away with every sip of wine.
‘Hola,’ the man began and launched into a stream of Spanish. I grasped a couple of words; ‘aqui’ – here – and ‘dormir’ – sleep. It was quite clear he was asking whether we intended to sleep in the layby, but whether that was ok with him or not I could not decipher.
Gradually, I felt my initial concern subsiding as I realised that he was anxiously trying to make himself understood, and his tone was earnest but friendly. He wore a fluorescent jacket with the word ‘seguridad’ – security – on the badge. He was not the Police, and just who he worked for was unclear, but on first impression he didn’t strike me as threatening.
‘Aqui, ok,’ he repeated, gesturing to the ground with his torch beam. Relief flooded into me with a jolt of understanding. I thanked him gratefully and he seemed pleased that he had managed to make himself understood. He bobbed his head and disappeared back into the night towards his van.
Several minutes later, we heard the crunch of footsteps. The flashlight preceded the arrival of the high-vis wearing security guard again.
He reappeared around the van and stretched out his hands to us. His palms were full of oranges, freshly picked and still sporting bright green leaves.
Looking at us closely to judge our reaction, he placed the oranges deferentially on the little camp table in front of us. ‘Naranjas’ he said and gestured excitedly over to the far corner of the area where his ute was parked. I grasped the word ‘Ãrbol, for tree.
He continued to smile and repeat words for our benefit. ‘Zumo’, he said, ‘mañana’.
The lightbulb of recognition went on inside me. He was telling us he had picked oranges to make juice for our breakfast in the morning.
We thanked him profusely for a second time, repeating the words over and over as thatâ€™s all we could manage in Spanish. Satisfied, he disappeared.
Feeling a lot happier and touched by his small gesture we stored the oranges safely in the van.
The Kindness Of Strangers
Five minutes later, he was back again. My friend and I exchanged another bemused look; just what could he possibly want now?
He was clutching his phone and pointing to the screen. I moved closer to take a look. He had downloaded a translation app and had typed the word hello in Spanish to convert it into English. Pleased with himself, he typed out that we could use the app to understand one another.
We couldn’t help but to laugh at his infectious joy at this discovery.
Do many people use this layby for camping? we asked.
None, came the reply.
Do many English tourists come this way often? we wondered.
Never, came the amused reply.
What are you doing here? we asked him.
It turned out that around the corner lay a giant mine by Rio Tinto, a humongous crater akin to something you would find in a Star Wars movie that we were to discover when we continued our journey the next morning. Little did we know that we were parked beside a lake in which various water filters could be found. He explained that divers would make daily checks of the water filters in the lake and he was ensuring their safety and the safety of the area. He worked daily from 7pm until 7am. Another security guard took over the shift in the daytime.
It was clear he was overjoyed that two English girls had unwittingly parked up in the otherwise dull layby he had to dutifully ‘protect’ every night, meaning that a bizarre exchange of words via a translation app could take place.
He used to be a long distance truck driver, he explained, but now this job meant he was close to home. Did he live in Campofrio? we asked him, thinking guiltily about the tiny place we had visited earlier and immediately dismissed as a one-horse town.
His pride was evident in his smile. Yes.
His name was Joe, he told us. And he was here to guard the layby and would make sure that we could sleep ‘pacfícamente’ – peacefully.
When Life Gave Me Oranges
The following day we found a beautiful place to camp. We set out our chairs and table and retrieved the oranges from the cupboard. As we sat in the golden glow of the mid-afternoon sunshine, listening to the distant clang of goat-bells, we sliced open the oranges and squeezed the juice into glasses with our bare hands.
It tasted beautiful.
The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, and to me, the following photo is all about the kindness of a stranger.
Have you ever been helped out by a complete stranger whilst on the road? Did someone go out of their way to make sure you were ok when travelling?
I’d love to hear your very own ‘when life gives you oranges’ experience!