It was a good thing that it was my wife’s birthday.
After spending almost two months in Spain, we had decided to drive from Madrid, where we had spent a month, to Malaga (in the south of Spain) where we were leaving from to come back to the US. Despite several trips to Spain and numerous cruise stops at the usual Mediterranean ports, we didn’t feel as if we knew some of the smaller cities in southern or western Spain.
In the next 12 days that we had to drive the 350 miles to Malaga, we had definite preferences to follow to make our last days in Spain as pleasant as possible. We wanted to spend at least five days in Seville on the way south, we didn’t want to drive more than 2-3 hours in any day and we would rather stay in any hotel stays less than two days. From Madrid, we mapped a route which included the region southwest of Madrid called the Extremadura, a largely agricultural area but one full of history dating back to the Roman times. The major tourist destination, Mérida, was more than three hours from Madrid, so we chose to visit Cáceres, a smaller city further west not far from the border with Portugal.
We left Madrid early in the morning in a rental car. I figured we had a lot of time to spare before we checked in to our hotel in Cáceres which was only about 2 ½ hours away, so I picked a route which included a few detours where we could have lunch.
My wife, always the more practical of the two of us, asked me if we could just drive straight through so that we could reach the hotel early in the afternoon.
“It is my birthday, and I want to be able to enjoy the hotel as much as possible,” she pleaded.
My style, completely the opposite, is usually to turn every drive into a field trip with numerous stops for photos and touristic discoveries.
Being her special day, I could hardly argue, so we proceeded to Cáceres along the most direct route. Cáceres, an old Roman city dating back to 25 BC, is one which I soon discovered could be confusing to a GPS. Its ancient streets in the old sections of the city are so narrow and twisting that it makes it easy to get lost.
As we entered the old city, the GPS informed me that we were close to the hotel, but unfortunately we found ourselves at the end of a one-way street. When I began to turn around, a group of old men came running up to the car and asked me if I realized that there was smoke coming out from under the hood.
Panic immediately set in since I always worry about breaking down in a rental car. They attempted to reassure me and asked me to open the hood so they could check it out. In a crevice on the top of the engine sat the oil cap, obviously not in its appropriate place. Hot oil had sputtered out from the uncovered opening. They kindly replaced it and told me that it appeared that I could make it to a service station or to the local branch of the car rental agency.
I knew exactly what my wife was going to say at this point as I re-entered the car.
“Can you imagine if this had happened up in the mountains or far away from the city on one of your ‘field trips’?” she said, trying her best not to rub it in, while emphasizing that she was relieved that this had happened close to our destination and during daylight. I could hardly disagree.
When I brought the car the next day to the local agency, it turned out that the car had survived and that the engine oil level was not dangerously low. The manager of the agency noted in our rental record that this mistake had happened. He suggested that I notify the company in the US which had booked the rental. When I returned home later that week, I was pleased to learn that the total cost of my rental had been reimbursed as compensation for our inconvenience.
Of course, my wife and I were pleased that we had averted a situation which could have been even more disruptive. And I know that had I not listened to her, it would have created an unpleasant permanent memory of the “car disaster” on her birthday! I also realized then that the mistakes of a GPS can form the basis of an interesting story.
By the way, Cáceres was a wonderful place to spend three days. The city is full of surprises including excellent regional cuisine and very friendly people who were curious as to why an American couple would choose to visit their city.