NERJA (Balcon de Europa)
My adopted home of Nerja, is a quaint fishing village in Spain with an unbeatable climate, intimate beaches and charming streets. It lies midway along the southern Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula. To the west is Malaga and Gibraltar; to the north east; Granada.
In 1959, five boys were curious about a small hole in some rocks where bats were nesting. They enlarged the entrance, and wriggled through to discover an enormous cavern, littered with skeletons and pottery dating back over 43,000 years.
Further exploration revealed one of the most significant geological and archeological finds in the world. Thanks to this natural phenomenon, the town has evolved into a popular residential tourism destination and has expanded rapidly. It is now home to residents from over 77 countries.
In a perfect world they would all speak Spanish or the locals would have, at least learned English.
A WONDERFUL THING
To prepare for their eagerly awaited, hard earned retirement in Spain, Welshman Dai and his wife Blodwen from Swansea, bought themselves a left-hand drive Dodge pick-up truck imported into Great Britain from the USA. It was a robust, four wheel drive black monster that could easily cope with the steep winding track up to their recently acquired mountain retreat in Andalusia.
The idea being it would spare them the stress of trying to buy a car in a foreign country where they spoke not a word of Spanish and were clueless about the cumbersome bureaucracy.
Removal day arrived.
All their belongings were strapped tightly into a massive truck, farewells were exchanged and keys handed over. The neighbors waved, some a tad too enthusiastically, as the happy couple and their chattels disappeared into the morning mist to catch the Santander ferry from Plymouth.
Goodbye green valleys and grey skies.
Hallo life in the sun.
The journey went well.
Until the truck got stuck in the narrow lane leading up from the coast seven kilometers from their dream home. After much calm melodious debate with the removals team who had another load to collect, Dai and Blodwen reluctantly conceded that everything would have to be left in a field at the side of the lane.
Dai valiantly transported the lighter objects up to their villa in the back of the Dodge while Blodwen, guarded their pile. After numerous round trips, all that remained were the heavy items and the prospect of a mosquito charged night minding their stuff under a blanket of stars.
They arranged their bed and favorite armchairs in the field, spread out a rug between them and had just settled down with warm gin and tonics to watch the spectacular sunset when two elderly laborers, Paco and Pepe drove by on a rusty tractor. They were towing a battered farm trailer and stopped to offer their services.
A deal was arrived at using sign language, much waving of Euro notes and prolific wailing by Blodwen.
Two days and a rain storm later their treasured things had been delivered. Their new blissful lifestyle could begin, notwithstanding the damp bed, sofa, and rugs or the exploding TV.
It wouldn’t last long.
Two weeks later, Dai was stopped by the police on his way back from a bulk toilet paper purchasing expedition outside of a distant supermarket.
I was summoned to the police station where they were holding Dai and said Dodge. I found them shouting loudly at each other in their own languages; fists were waving, steam was wafting out of ears. Nothing was being lost in translation, communication was not happening.
Imagine if this had been something serious.
Both sides would have given their right arms for some linguistic assistance.
Step in voluntary translator.
It transpired that the police had never seen such an unusual vehicle in Spain and were curious to know if it had the correct paperwork authorizing its safe use on Spanish highways.
Needless to say, it didn’t.
Dai would therefore have to drive the offending machine to the official testing department in Madrid, pay a fee of several thousand Euros plus import taxes and stay in a nearby hotel while the inspectors did what they had to do. There was also a risk that it might fail the test.
I advised Dai not to stop in Madrid but to continue on to the UK, where he should sell the Dodge muy pronto. On his return, he bought a more practical Spanish registered vehicle from a local garage where they spoke perfect English.
And so my short lived career as a volunteer translator was launched and sunk. I quit after this unpaid and thankless experience with Dai.
There are many well-meaning folk of different nationalities doing this sterling communications work throughout Spain. You’ll find them in most medical centers and hospitals where foreigners reside.
But not at police stations. Why? When the Spanish police speak no English at all.
Because one wrongly translated word or misunderstood phrase by victims, perpetrators or their amateur translators could have serious legal consequences.
Best left to the lawyers or to experienced linguists such as the principal characters in the
Phillip Armitage Mysteries.
The first book is Stolen Lives.