Sheep, Aardvark or El Chupacabra?

Huesca meant the end of the line for train travel. We arrived around 9 p.m. in a small northeastern Spanish town that serves as a gateway to the Pyrenees. We still needed to get to another small town called Biescas, 90 miles away, where we had a hotel booked. We cabbed to another part of town to the Europcar office and realized that it was completely dark and very closed! The frustration was palpable. Our anxiety ramped-up even more when our cabbie, who still idled on the street, shouted at us in rapid Spanish. We waved him on and he finally left us to assess our situation on a dark street corner.

Two of four had cell phones and only one of us spoke marginal Spanish. Theresa pulled out her car rental reservation sheet and found several phone numbers that we began dialing. Finally, one of the two numbers connected and the handset was thrust into my hands to try and communicate about how to get our car. The call disconnected and I cursed. Ginger was beginning to panic standing on the curb with our luggage, while the locals drove by and gawked. She pleaded with us, “Girls, it’s late. Let’s just call it a night and get a hotel…please!” Her pleas had the opposite effect she was hoping for. As if spurred on by a challenge, Jen, Theresa and I responded by calling the Europcar number again, assured of a different result. Jen calmed Ginger while I attempted to explain our situation to the man who answered our second call. My conversation went something like this, “Hola…. nosotros reservacion Europcar…. la puerta ferme…. por favor…please don’t hang up!” An answer in rapid Spanish followed. The line clicked, and he was gone. I cursed again and rage-dialed him back as if my American impatience would help.

On the verge of siding with Ginger, looking down at the sidewalk in defeat, I heard Theresa give a yell of delight! The lights came on and a smiling middle-aged man opened the door for us. Sweet baby Jesus, I was so happy and we resisted the urge to give this stranger a lingering embrace as we filed inside the cramped office. Thankfully, he had our reservation and car. He sheepishly explained, in broken English, that he was just upstairs in his apartment when we had called…all three times. Each time we called, he was trying to explain he would be right down to unlock the door. I blushed at my inability to decipher his instructions and mentally recommitted to my Rosetta Stone Spanish on my laptop back home. Theresa completed the paperwork and we followed him out to the garage to inspect our muy compact car, a Leon hatchback. He gave us a map and verbal directions on how to exit Europcar and head out of town. One crisis averted.

We elected Theresa as the driver of our five-speed Leon. Jen hefted her large duffel into the hatch with a thump. (I had attempted to suggest she pack light in a pre-trip email.) Initially, Ginger’s face was stoic as she stared into the trunk at Jen’s enormous duffel. Then, with a combination of disgust and disbelief, she threw her hands in the air and announced, “Trunk’s full!” It was concerning to see our lack of cargo space with only one of four bags inside. But, after five minutes of rearranging and piling other bags on top and sideways, we crammed it all in. I got in the back seat and sat quietly while Theresa revved the engine and took off with a squeal.

Thankfully, it was only just over an hour to Biescas by car so I let Jen and Theresa handle the navigation up narrow and winding mountain roads in the pitch dark. I leaned against the window, shut my eyes and drifted in and out of sleep; Ginger napped next to me too. Nodding in and out of a daze, I overheard pieces of Jen and Theresa’s conversation about the next turn. Jen randomly asked Theresa if the car had the outside temperature displayed on driver panel. In the very moment, when Theresa looked down toward the display, a furry gray/white animal appeared and ran across the road right in front of the car. A flurry of frenzied screams escaped, the car jolted and air-brakes were maniacally depressed. Jen pistoned her hands up and down smacking the roof of the car yelling, “Aardvarrrkkkkk!” all at the same moment. Shocked awake, I shouted, “Sheeeeepppppp!” clearly in the midst of an Irish dreamland. Theresa had looked up in the nick of time to brake hard and swerve around the furry creature. Ginger was startled awake by our screams and only caught the tail of the animal as it disappeared into the night. Only Theresa knew how lucky we were to still be on the road and not tumbling down a rocky gorge to a grisly end.

After the shrieking and OMG’s tapered off, we all audibly exhaled. We continued to calm down. After the shock wore off, we began snickering at how ridiculous our reactions had been. Theresa made fun of Jen for banging on the roof during the near miss, then we all took turns guessing what animal we had nearly road-killed. Clearly, it had not been a sheep, which brought on a wave of laughs as Ginger imitated me yelling, “Sheeeeeppppp!” I giggled helplessly at my inadvertent animal choice. We continued guessing and surmised that it may have been a possum, a small bear or a wild hog. Theresa mocked Jen and asked, “Are aardvarks indigenous creatures to the Spanish Pyrenees?” Jen smirked but assured us the animal was long-snouted. Then, Ginger volunteered enthusiastically, “If not a sheep or aardvark, I think it was an elchupacabra!” She was right we all agreed….we would never know what the beedy-eyed mythical creature was, that darted in our path.

We laughed the rest of the way into Biescas and found an Irish Pub and asked for directions to our hotel. Hotel Tierra was an oasis after our action-packed day that had begun in Madrid. Set in the foothills, its modern exterior and warm lights beckoned us inside. A cheery staffer checked us in and we were surprised to learn they had saved us a cold dinner. We happily accepted and she led us around the lobby to a small dining area where we munched on fish-shooters with peppers, goat-cheese salad and some fruit. The food was a welcome night-cap while we recounted our day. Soon after, we headed up one flight of stairs to our rooms. I was so happy to retire to my comfortable bed, hoping not to dream of a pair of eyes, reflecting demonically off headlights.

Madrid, Palacio Real

The Royal Palace, Madrid 2011 (Left to right: Laura, Jen, Theresa, Ginger)
Spanish Pyrenees near Biesccas and Torla
The view during the day, the roads of the Pyrenees .

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