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Catalan, Saved by the Digital Age

Many times when travelling to less popular destinations, I tend to make my own travel arrangements. This however, was not the case on a recent trip, deep into the heart of Catalan, two hours north of Barcelona.

Upon arrival I was greeted by my contact who had also arranged a car rental and hotel. We exchanged greetings and he said to follow him for the scenic drive along Spain’s wonderful east coast. As we headed into the Pyrenees Mountains I was captivated by the scenery and constantly attempted to stop for photos, however, my guide’s mission was to get me to the destination and he had no intention of slowing down.

We arrived at an old farmhouse, which had been turned into a three suite hotel. It was nestled in the middle of rolling hills, grazing cattle and superb wineries. Tired from the long flight, followed by the winding drive I decided to check in, grab a quick bite and get some rest. My escort said farewell and after an enjoyable meal I made my way to the quaint, sleeping room assigned to me.

The next morning I woke early (after 35 years of travel I have still not mastered jet lag) and went for a short walk in the surrounding countryside. My schedule called for me to be in Andorra at noon and back again in Catalan by 4, as I had offered to shoot a wedding (something I seldom do).

Andorra is a small country, the size of Scugog Township and is located in the Pyrenees Mountains between the Spanish and French border. After receiving directions from the desk clerk I set out in my rental car. There was no road map, but as there were only a few farm roads and one main highway it did not appear to be a problem.

The drive was enjoyable and there was plenty of time to take many photographs en route. Andorra, turned out to be little more than a tax-free shopping haven for people from the area. Very few tourists frequent the country, as it is a fair distance from most attractions. I took the photos I needed, gulped down a quick sandwich and started on my return journey.

There was plenty of time, but halfway back a dreadful thought occurred to me. I came to realize that I had no idea what the name of my hotel was. I cannot recall ever having been in a similar situation and the thought scared me. I fumbled for my room key, but there were no markings on it. In my mind I retraced yesterday’s events and remembered that my guide had booked the hotel, checked me in and handed me the key. No real concern, I thought, for it would be easy to find. Simply retrace my journey of a few hours ago.

The route was actually quite easy to follow. I continually recognized farm houses, which gave me a sense of relief. It was not until a traffic circle loomed in the distance that panic set through me. On my way down I simply took the exit, which led north. Now, it appeared confusing. A decision had to be made, but before I had a chance to think, my car exited at the first ramp.

I desperately tried to find something familiar, but everything looked new, as if I had never seen it before. Panic set through me, as the clock kept ticking. Suddenly, I was relieved when a policeman stepped from a cruiser and flagged me down. As soon as he approached I rambled on about having to find my hotel, but suddenly stopped, as I had no idea where it was located or what it was called. Besides, he simply kept asking for my driver’s license. I always carry an international license with me, something which has come in handy on several occasions. It is easy to obtain from the CAA in Toronto and is recognized in Europe, Asia and South America.

After looking at my documents it became clear he had no idea what I was talking about and simply walked back to his cruiser and closed the door. I continued my trek and suddenly saw a building which looked familiar. It was in a small village near my hotel. Relief swarmed over me and my adrenalin increased. I drove rapidly, but soon realized I had gone in the wrong direction. Time was running out and I was beginning to panic.

The country side looked the same and glancing at my watch made me realize there was less than half an hour before the wedding. Around another corner the small village appeared again. It was mid afternoon and most everyone was enjoying their daily rest. Suddenly, as if hit by a bolt of lightening, an idea struck me. I pulled up to a small store, grabbed my camera and ran inside. It was empty so I bolted to the next one. It was a small office and a lonely clerk was sitting behind her PC.

My first question was, “Do you speak English?” To which she smiled and nodded. I attempted to explain my predicament and when she asked me the name of the hotel I shrugged, but flipped through the disp