Plane, mountains and strangers

Being a tourist in distant countries has been an eye-opener.

I was stationed in Rota, Spain with the U.S. Navy. It was a six-month deployment with my Jacksonville, Florida-based patrol squadron, during which time we flew patrols to keep track of what the Russian navy was doing in and near the Mediterranean Sea.

In my “off time,” I enjoyed wandering among the full-time residents of the region, where I learned, for instance, about being a stranger in a strange land. My first such lesson was in a “bar” – we would call it a coffee shop – in downtown Rota.

It was my first experience in a land and culture not of my birth. I tried to order from the chalkboard menu which, unfortunately, was a language not easily understood by a young man of my background. Alas, no one in the bar understood English and I  had almost no idea what culinary surprises lay disguised by the Spanish words on the menu.

Finally, I took a stab at pronouncing what I was reading.

Several customers suddenly discovered a new-found ability to translate, – to help me pronounce the Spanish and then to tell me in English what I was trying to order.

The experience prompted me to regular patronage of that bar to share a cup of café con cognac y leche. During the following months, I became sufficiently conversant in Spanish that I could understand and be understood. That was Winter 1969, and a lack of practice has erased much of my linguistic progress, but the underlying lesson has stuck with me.

Another pastime was flying around the countryside in a little Aeronca Champ – a single-engine two-seat aircraft with a 65 horsepower engine and a maximum speed about 65 knots. One day I took in mind to find Granada, another large city in the Andalusian Mountains. It was early in my private aviation career. I misplaced some landmarks, the sun went down, and I judged it prudent to land on a tractor path at the edge of an olive orchard.

A pickup truck happened by, with a group of young men about my age. I convinced them I hadn’t a clue where I was and they took me to the nearest town.

There was a hostel in the town. Hostel is European for “inexpensive bedroom with a shared bath, breakfast, and maybe a few other meals. This one was owned by the family living there. I got dinner.

I don’t recall all we talked about. My translator was a sergeant of the Guardia Civil – the national police force. He was a friendly gent, and we visited into the night. They learned about me and I about them, and I retired to my room, refreshingly tired and still a mite confused, somewhere in the hills east of Rota.

Next morning I woke early to the aroma of a farmer’s breakfast. I tried to pay, because the hostel was their family income and because where I came from, one pays or charges for nearly every rendered service.

Lesson Two, as we arrived back at the hostel: Try again to pay, he said, and they will take it, and then don’t ever come back. They offered a good deed to an accidental traveler and paying would be an insult. That was the first of many lessons in the multicultural education of Mrs. Messeder’s eldest offspring. In time, there was a girlfriend in Germany and another in Thailand. The one in Florida, who was from Ohio, taught me many things. But those Spanish lessons, I submit, ranked among the most valuable.

Thanks for riding along. Please share with your friends and anyone else who might enjoy the thoughts.

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