The time I went to jail

You think it will be a fantastic idea to rent a home in the middle of Nowhere, Spain, just west of Wow That’s A Huge Mountain–Do We Have To Drive Up It? and a stone’s throw from Gorgeous. You brag (just a little) about the pool and garden and the peace and quiet and how you won’t see any other Americans for miles. And it is fantastic. For the first six hours of the drive from Madrid.

It is, until you reach said town, and the GPS announces ARRIVING AT DESTINATION at the top of a narrow dirt road without a house in site.

You leave the family in the car, and walk down an adjacent dirt hill in flip-flops towards a cluster of stone homes, as a dog runs at you barking wildly. Good pero, you say smiling, remembering the Spanish word for dog from your daughter’s Graco exersaucer that repeated cat-dog-ball in three languages. Bueno pero! you say, thinking that big ugly thing just paid for itself, if the dog does not eat you with your family watching.

You ask the nice family in broken Spanish where to find the street called Sucastro.


Is that name or number? Doesn’t matter, you have neither.

Sucastro, the nice man says pointing way down the hill, to the next mountain. He might have said something about turn right.

You walk back up the hill and drive to the police car you saw parked in the traffic circle. Surely in such a small town, he will be able to direct you to the street called Sucastro, the one that the owner described as “so easy! You can’t mees it! No problem! No problem!”

He instead points you towards another area. Information he says, only it sounds like in-for-math-ee-ohn. You are living a Monte Python sketch.

“There’s an information booth!” you tell your family, so excited that there is someone who can help. “Let’s go there!”

You drive back around the traffic circle and pull up to a large building.

It does not say infor-math-ee-on on the top.

It says penitentiare.

“You are going to make me go into a prison by myself?” you ask your partner.

“Your Spanish is better than mine,” he insists.

And so you go, cursing the fact that of all things, you forgot your deodorant at home. It becomes abundantly clear that European deodorant thucks ath and that is before you enter the hot, windowless penitentiare.

You hope to see someone inside who can help you find Sucastro. Someone who does not look like a prisoner. “Habla Ingles?” you ask three people? No, no one hablas Ingles here. You explain that you are trying to find Sucastro. A small crowd gathers around you.

“Esto es el penitentiare,” you are told.

“Oh, I know that!” you respond English. “I do noooot want to be in the penitentiare!”

They laugh. Much awkward conversation follows. The word “eh?” seems to be used the most. One man, who speaks the best English of the three, asks to type in-thtruc-thee-ohns on your iPhone. You are relieved. But alas, his fingers are too fat and everything comes out in consonants. You remember your Spanish translation app, and type “I just arrived from Madrid. I need to find Sucastro Street.”

“Ah!” he says. “I take. I take in my car. You follow.”

“Te amo Espana!” you say, which may or may not mean what you want it to mean,  but they smile at the sweaty American lady who can’t find her house with no number and wish you well.

25 minutes later you emerge, swearing you would pay $100 for a single swipe of stick antipersperant. You jump into the car and beg for air conditioning. Your four-year old daughter looks concerned.

“Sage wanted to know why you were in jail,” Nate tells you.

“Because the nice guard is going to take us to our house,” you answer. You can’t think of anything more clever than this at this time.

You follow the kind guard down the hill and into the town, from which “Eet is so easy! It ees only 200 meters!” But alas, there is no sign for Sucastro.

There are no signs for anything. People in this down do not label their streets with something so pedestrian as signs. Not when you can say “turn right at the sheep!” or “walk until you see a field of yellow flowers…”

You call your mother who is already at the house, but she has turned off her phone. You call the owner of the house who assures you that “eet is so easy! No problem!” then gives you 15 minutes worth of wrong directions. While your partner is driving.

While your partner is driving a stick shift that he is not so happy about driving in the first place.

While your partner is driving a stick shift up and down 60-degree inclines.

Your partner threatens to leave you on the third u-turn

Your partner threatens to leave you right there, that very minute on the fourth u-turn.

Your children want to see the jail.

You just want to stop sweating and find the house. Possibly in that order.

It is getting dark. It is now 7 hours and 55 minutes since you left Madrid.

The woman on the phone tells you to wait right there, the housekeeper will arrive to take you to the house. Wait right there. Eet is so easy!

You sit quietly in your car, at the bottom of a dead end in a small town, the quaint one with no Americans anywhere to be found. You know this will make a good story later. Except for part about you becoming a single mom.

The housekeeper arrives in time for the car to stall. On an incline. Your trunk is an inch from a wall. You make her start the car for you while making self-deprecating gestures about Americanos and stick shift.

You then follow her, only two blocks away (EET IS SO EASY!)  to the most beautiful little stone house you have ever seen, with your mother and your stepfather and a cold bottle of Albarino waiting for you.

You think it will be a fantastic idea to rent a home in the middle of Nowhere, Spain. The one surrounded by vineyards and cows, wild berries and passion fruit, bright roses and blue hydrangea, and no Americans in sight.

And God, it is.




31 thoughts on “The time I went to jail”

  1. I can’t wait to hear more and see more pictures! What an adventure. Glad you can laugh at it already. I have some fond-ish memories of multi-language translations and their results!

  2. Man, I wish I didn’t like you so much.

    I am horribly jealous and can’t work up the ability to do anything but wish you an amazing trip and a safe return home.

    Damn you for silencing my petty green monster!

  3. Two things: 1.”thuckth ath” is so accurate, it does (I bring two with me when we go) and 2. your pronunciation is impeccable.

    I wonder if they thought you were reporting a “secuestro” (kidnapping)? That might explain your detour.

    ¡Que se diviertan y que lo pasen de lo mejor!

  4. It’s those darn sheep GPS systems…
    Sounds like a great adventure! I can’t wait to hear more after you recover from your first drive.

  5. You are brave. I can picture you entering the jail. And I can picture my husband leaving me next to the sheep over the directions. I’m smiling knowing the hydrangea, the bottle of Albarino, the vineyards and the passion fruit were all worth it.

  6. Thanks for making me think you had become a Spanish convict since the last time I checked out your blog! Great post, super funny, my husband and I almost killed each other on our honeymoon over shitty directions. Can’t imagine how much more stressful it would have been with kids. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. Here’s hoping the trip back is a little easier (private jet, perhaps? Haha)

  7. Hilarious! I’m thrilled you all survived the jaunt from Madrid and I’m even more thrilled the journey ended with a cold bottle of Albarino. Salud!

  8. Too bad the Albarino wasn’t waiting for you at the penitentiare ‘Cause that’s about the moment I would have desperately needed it.

  9. This kind of travel is my deepest love and I hope to do it with my kids before too long. So cool that you’re there. That house is beautiful.

  10. I do believe the getting there is supposed to thuckth ath. Makes you appreciate the being there all the more right? (This post made me snort, so than you for that. How you deodorant situation? That would so be me.)

  11. This happened to us last month, but you write about it a far superior way than I ever could. We took the train from London to Paris to Avignon, which took a total of 8 hours. Rented a car to go to our friends house in Provence, which should have taken 45 minutes. It took us 4 hours. We were driving in circles and no one spoke a word of English. So, feel lucky you found a prison!

  12. We stayed at those houses throughout Spain –“casa rurales” they call them -rural houses- and they are pure joy. Any tourist information agency in Spain has a list of them, where you can call and make reservations. It is the BEST way to experience Spain. It is awesome that your family did that!! I am forever making that recommendation to travelers.

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