Sunday, May 27, 2007

Killing us with kindness in San Sebastian

When Beth and I were travelling in Mexico we discovered that Mexican people wanted very badly to help us or at least help us feel better. We almost never encountered a person there who when asked for directions confessed that he didn't know how to get there. It seemed important to them to give us something even if it wasn't perfect. This little episode in San Sebastian brought all of that back to me.
Tim and I took off Saturday morning and made a dash for the border, the Spanish border. Destination San Sebastian. We were there in three hours. We strolled about, had lunch, and then tried finding a pension in the old city. Everything was full so we went to the tourist office.









The woman there said the city had been booked solid for a month. She did find something outside the center of town though. She traced the route on a tourist map of the city, very faisable I thought to myself. Very helpful and I loved her Spanish accent when she spoke French to me.












We drove straight to the spot she had marked but when we arrived there was no hotel only a residence building. Puzzled, we got out and looked around. I saw a car pull up and a couple of guys begin unloading bags. I went up to them with a copy of my reservation and the tourist map and succeeded quickly in presenting myself as an abject person in need of help. Both gentleman considered the information with interest. I gathered that they were from this city but not this quarter. They seemed convinced that the hotel could not be in this part of town, I tried to explain that the tourist office lady had been very explicit about the directions. They smiled and gestured for me to get in the car and follow them. Something told me not to do it, but I did it anyway.
We tailed their bright yellow car away further and further away from the place where we had stopped. Tim and I both were laughing nervously at how this was unfolding. We weren't in a hurry to get there but we also weren't in a hurry to get completely lost either. Finally the yellow car pulled over on the shoulder of a main thoroughfare. I follow the man across the street. He asks to see the registration papers again. He looks across the street at an enormous and ugly building that sits in what appears to be an industrial commercial zone. This is it he says, pointing to the number on the building, 23. I see the number but I don't see anything remotely resembling a hotel. The man concedes my point but can't shake the fact that the number is right. Then he notices another address on the reservation.
"Ah, he says, follow me. I think I know where this is."
Now we have to follow him because we have no idea where we are anymore. Interestingly he takes us more or less back to where we started only he circles around the back and heads up a very steep hill. There are in fact hotels up here, an encouraging sign, but not, alas, our hotel.
Our friends pull over and gesture to us, "Your hotel is back that way, I am sure. Follow me. I will point to it." He makes a u-turn and goes back down the hill.
Since we don't know how to say "Thank you, but please stop helping us!" in Spanish, Tim and I decide that it's time to ditch our guardian angels so we slow down and let them get ahead of us...it's a painless parting. They pull away and disappear into traffic. They haven't helped get any closer to our hotel but they have tried, much harder and with more goodwill than we had any right to expect.
We circle the area convinced that our hotel is somewhere nearby. Finally we park, and walk around. A few blocks down from where we originally started this whole escapade, we notice a brightly painted building up a side road. It looks like a middle school or something. I say to Tim, "Tess would love that building." We go on. At last we go into a large hotel to ask them, they're in the business after all.
The woman behind the desk looks at the reservation and confidently gets out a map just like ours and points to a spot. She traces a route on the map...not walking distance, mild surprise, alarm bells ringing. But it's relatively close to where we've been looking so we're convinced that at last we're home free....
Ah, no.
Ten minutes later Tim and I sitting in the car at the dead end of a road that is lined with condos and garages. What the...? is about all we can say.









Finally Tim suggests that we check out the brightly colored middle school. So we do. Turns out it is a school dorm during the school year...and a hotel the rest of the year, including today.
Home at last.
K

p.s. the statue of Jesus in one of the photos above inspired a poem which I'll post in the near future

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