La Tormenta de Reyes

My 77 year-old mother arrived in Spain on January 4th. I am proud of her sense of adventure. Her trip to Europe began in Frankfurt, Germany, where she visited her granddaughter who is nearing the end of her first year of military service. Mother does not speak German or Spanish or any other “foreign” language. Furthermore, she has never traveled to Europe alone or without the safety of a pre-planned tour.  She arrived just prior to the Three Kings holiday.

My father-in-law also visited. He traveled to El Tremedal because he wished to see winter in his ancestral village. The four of us had plans to explore Toledo and Salamanca, and walk among the Gredos Mountains.

On Saturday, my father-in-law took us all to town to for a formal lunch to celebrate the Three Kings holiday. We drove down, stopped in Los Mazalinos (the grandmother’s village) to get some wood from “Las Salegas” one of the “barns” my wife’s family owns. We loaded our car with wood, and continued to drive to town in my father-in-law’s car. The meal was excellent, especially the white bean soup. Spanish style, we lingered with cakes and coffees. About 4:30p we traveled back up the mountain, retrieving our car in Los Mazalinos. With two cars, father & mother in one and my wife and I in ours, we continued to drive up the single lane mountain road. In town, the snow was falling lightly, turning to water as it touched down. As we traveled up the mountain, the snow thickened and the temperatures dropped.

My father-in-law, unaccustomed to driving on snow and ice, proceeded to drive with Mediterranean habits, as he navigated the steep, hairpin turns.  He put his car in a ditch,

The Gredos Mountains

luckily it was the ditch adjacent to the rising mountain. We were a bit behind them, so we watched the slow-motion slide off the road. My father-in-law proceeded to get out of the car and examine the situation — blocking the road as he stood pondering his mistake. Without a way around him, we too had to stop the car. All momentum was lost. His car was immovable and our car labored to climb up the mountain from a dead-stop. I suppose I got another 200 meters up the mountain before I resigned the hope to get home and find help.

Luckily, one of the brothers from the village came up the mountain, returning after feeding and caring for one of the cattle herds. He stopped and tried to pull the car out of the ditch with his pick-up truck — no way. My father-in-law called his insurance company. They immediately sent a guy, who drove up the mountain to tell us that the tow truck could not travel up the mountain — too hazardous. He did use his SUV to tug my car out of the middle of the road, pulling it over to a side ditch. Snow falling. My mother stuck in a car that was stuck in a ditch. Our little car unable to climb the snow and ice covered road, heavy snow falling, 3 km from the village…what to do?

Luis’ Pickup Truck

Luis, the brother with the pickup, decided to take my wife back to town where she might borrow some chains for the tires. Later, we were told that the pickup truck swerved and slipped and struggled to navigate the steep, hairpin turns. She was frightened and Luis was nervous. About a half hour later, my wife returned with the other brother and town patriarch, Mariano, in his 4×4. We rescued my mother from the ditched car, tugging her and her bad knees from the car –we piled into the 4×4. We cheered as Mariano navigated the steep curbs and the deepening snow cover.

The snow continued to fall — that night through the next day. No one knows for sure because of the lack of weather data, but it’s likely that a meter of snow fell. Joyous Snow! However, our cars were stranded on the mountain road. There were others visiting the town for the holiday. Two couples, one in each of the “casa ruals/ bed & breakfasts”,  and homesteaders visiting the village to celebrate the holiday. All of us were stranded. The visitors had no “extra” food — the homesteaders did not have proper clothing, and there were only 3 shovels.

The snow plow was unable to work its way up to our village. There are many stories — it was being repaired or it was being used to plow more important roads or it could not make it up the mountain or it was taken to help with the cars stranded on major highways between here and Madrid. No one could get an answer. Likely it was broken.

Mariano with his industrial sized tractor could not travel the mountain roads. His cattle were confused, without food, and wandering in search of shelter — he could not get to them. Vehicles were useless.

As food supplies dwindled, we shared food and shovels and laughter.

Trudging through El Tremedal

My poor mother. As the days passed, it was clear the only part of Spain she would see was our kitchen. On Tuesday, Mariano took a few men to town in his 4×4 to get food and chains for some of the cars. On his way back, he got stuck — unable to climb the mountain, he too went into a ditch. He called a friend from town who rescued them with another industrial tractor. They recorded a cellphone video of the tractor sliding back into the 4×4 as it tried to pull it out of the ditch and up the mountain. His tractor driving friend eventually pulled them up the mountain. As he arrived to cheers, he said, “you all are crazy to live up here.”

Again, my poor mother. Due to her bad knees, she could not walk around in hip-deep snow. She spent her time with us in the kitchen. We played cards and ate well. That said, without an activity and Spanish / English language barriers, we, like the deep snow, trudged around in limited conversations.

Helena’s father had only the clothes he was wearing, no toothbrush, no comb, nothing — nada. We made him a bed on the ceramic tile in the kitchen where he benefited from the heat of the fireplace.

Stress for my mother gained as we neared the date of her return flight. The roads had been cleared a little by the  tractor, so Mariano was able to search for and feed his various cattle herds scattered across these mountains. Nevertheless, our cars were still stranded along the road. The town visitors were still stuck because the road was impassable — unless you had a tractor. One visitor left his car and walked 10km down the mountain and took a bus home.

Gresca and Bruce Springsteen

Of course, Mariano rescued us again. On Wednesday, he took us to town in his 4×4, where we caught a bus to Madrid for my mother’s Thursday morning flight. I returned on Thursday, again picked up by Mariano & Luis. On the way up the mountain, I was dropped off by our car. My wife and father and another villager had dug out the car. We applied the newly bought “snow socks” for the tires, and drove up to our home.

There is an interdependence here in El Tremedal — a concrete need to work together — collaborate. I did not expect this aspect of living in a mountain village. For now, we are the dependent ones. The newbs. The newcomers being shepherded by the 3 other families that live here.

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