Chameleon Chapter 20 - Fear. (of driving in the old city of Santillana with 1 million children surrounding the car)

I was afforded the opportunity to drive my father around Northern Spain in a car that was just big enough that they really shouldn’t rent it for use in the region.  It was almost too big for everywhere and while we managed the entire week without causing any damage, there were some tense parking garage moments and a few other close calls.  One experience that I imagine will stay with me forever was trying to get to our hotel parking spot in Santillana. Normally, it was a slightly stressful trip down a narrow, steep cobblestone road, through a corner of the town square which appeared to be a place that you shouldn’t be able to drive through, and around a blind, tight left turn to eventually arrive at a tiny parking lot behind our tiny, amazing hotel. The entire old city was cobblestone, and the streets were so narrow our car could barely get through without scraping the walls on either side - I’m talking inches to spare on either side and pedestrians squeezing round the side-view mirrors to get past.

We stayed in the hotel for two nights and on the second day we got back as dusk was settling in. As we drove past our hotel on the way to our spot we could hear music coming from the square and there were a lot of families with small children walking down the hill towards it. There was a puppet show in town. I am not exaggerating when I say that there were at least 300 kids piling into the square that night. Just families streaming in from all six streets that joined at the square. And we had no other option but to drive through the square. We slow-rolled it down the hill and as soon as we creeped through and entered the bigger space, I had to stop because people were coming in from all sides. There was no turning around or backing up, we were stuck and kids and their parents were streaming around the car like we were a large stone in the middle of a river (yes, I did just make that comparison, that’s truly how it felt).  So there we were. I had the brake pressed down as far as it would go (it was a standard car because, Europe). I also had the emergency brake pulled up. I was going all out. I broke out in a cold sweat.  Why didn’t any of the parents seem concerned about a mid-sized SUV accidentally running over their children? I was very concerned.  At one point, Dad got out of the car to try and clear a path that had just been painstakingly made by the only other vehicle that had been trapped in the square – the van delivering equipment to the stage.  He stood outside like a beacon of hope – with skilled crossing guard arm movements and gently and quietly held people off and motioned me forward.  A second later he looked at me with a panicked expression on his face as he was surrounded by at least 50 unconcerned people, including children weaving around him and surrounding the car. I was able to move about five inches in that brief moment. He eventually let their momentum lead him back to the passenger seat, defeated. There was no moving any further yet.  The street in front of us was still filled with people and the car was on a decline.

We waited for one of the longest 30 minutes of my life, my muscles tense, my hands gripping the steering wheel as I tried desperately to stop imagining all the terrible scenarios that could occur if the brakes gave out. Finally, as the puppet show began a path started to clear for us to continue moving. Dad got out again and guided me through the rest of the square and around the corner.  I didn’t breathe normally again until I was able to get out of the car and shake myself off.  The only real positive thing to come from the experience was that I now feel more prepared to handle any sort of driving situation. I’m sure there are more nerve-wracking experiences that could occur out there, but I would take a high-speed chase over trying to keep a standard car steady on an incline among a sea of children any day.