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Stranded and penniless in the Pyrenees


My friends Mary, Deena, and I had planned to take the overnight train from Paris to La Tour de Carol where we would change trains for Barcelona, spend a few days there, then off to Madrid and finally Seville before returning back home to Paris. Since we were traveling on a shoestring, we decided to forgo couchettes (the bed compartment which was an extra $20) and sleep sitting up.

Word to the wise, sleeping sitting up on a train is NOT a smart idea, no matter how broke you are. With no sleeping pills, I could barely doze off even after a couple glasses of Chateau St. Emillion so I woke up with a majorly stiff neck and my arm had fallen asleep. Needless to say, my mind wasn’t exactly with it the next morning when we had to transfer trains in La Tour de Carol.

Mary and I woke up from our ill-begotten slumber in a daze.

“I think we have to transfer soon.” I said.

“Yeah, let’s get our stuff. Where’s Deena?” Deena’s stuff was gone, and so was she.

“Whatever, let’s get our stuff and find her.”

We meandered towards the exit. We were supposed to make the switch at La Tour de Carol at 7:10 am, and it was already 6:55 am. We walked along the train not seeing any sign of Deena.

“We’ll find her when we get off at La Tour de Carol. We’ll see her on the platform. ” Mary offered.

“Yeah makes sense. Geez, she’s such a space cadet. I don’t understand how she could just walk off when we’re about to leave.”

Mary shrugged. The train pulled to a stop. It was now 7:00 am. “I think this where we get off.” Mary said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah Deena said we get off at La Tour de Carol at 7. This is it.”

We hopped off the train. Still no sign of Deena anywhere.

“Where the fuck is she??” I asked.

Mary and I walked to the other end of the train car looking for Deena. We saw her conversing it up with some guys near the exit of another train car.

“What are you guys doing out there?” Deena implored.

“We have to change trains here.” I said.

“No, not here, I was talking to these Spanish guys, and they said it’s the next stop.”

“Are you sure?” Deena looked smart, but as she had recently mixed antibiotics and profuse amounts of alcohol only to vomit all over the place 2 hours later, I didn’t have much faith in her opinion.

I looked over at Mary, “Well they are Spanish, so they must know.” Then I glanced over at the cute Spanish guys who were waving us into the train.

“Good point.” As I said this, the train slowly started to chug forward. Oh FUCK.

“Oh shit!” Mary’s eyes bugged out of her head as she quickly jumped on the moving train. Now anyone who knows anything about trains knows that they pick up speed VERY quickly. In the five seconds it had taken Mary to hop aboard the train, it had already started moving pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that I would have had to do a running long jump, like Jackie Joyner-Kersee. With a twenty-five pound backpack on my 5’1, 100lb frame. I knew this was never going to work. Unless my goal was to slam into the train and kill myself.

So I watched as the train chugged off into the distance. Surely Mary or Deena would be sharp enough to pull the emergency stop. Well maybe not Deena, but Mary would. Or not. I watched as the train kept going and going until it was out of sight. I couldn’t believe it! Neither one of them actually thought to pull the emergency cord. Thank goodness I wasn’t sick or dying, then I would be screwed with those two. Now I was a little concerned. I was sans cell phone so it wasn’t even like I could call Deena or Mary up and ask them what on earth they were thinking.

Quick what would MacGyver do? I thought to myself. I looked around me for help. The platform was entirely empty. In fact, I wasn’t at a train station; I was at a pit stop in the middle of the Pyrenees. To my right there was giant electronic sign that informed me that it was now 7:10 am, and the next train would arrive at 8:30 am. In front of me about eight feet down, lay the train track. On the other side of the track was the rest of the mountain. At the bottom of the mountain was a freeway with drivers, in typical European fashion, driving at breakneck speed.

To my left was a payphone. I pulled some change out and stood there staring at the phone. Hmmmm who will I call? Maybe I’ll phone the police! I picked up the receiver. No dial tone. I put the change in hoping that would make a difference. Still no dice.

Goddamn it!! I turned around and stared at the track. How the hell was I going to get to La Tour de Carol when I was stranded on a mountain? I sure as hell couldn’t wait for another hour for the next train. I looked around for a solution. All of a sudden I noticed a little toll booth on one side of the freeway. Eureka!

I took the backpack off and dropped it into the track, as there were no trains coming for an hour, I figured I was safe. Then I lowered myself to the edge of the platform, dangled my legs and jumped off remembering to bend deeply as to not injure my knees, (thanks cheerleading coach). Slightly jarring, but not too bad. Next I reassessed the situation. With my ginormous backpack strapped on, the sheer weight on my top half would probably cause me to propel down the hill rather than slowly descend slowly. (Turns out I did learn something in physics after all.) But even without the backpack, it still seemed to steep to attempt walking. I was going to have to slide down the hill. In a skirt. I pushed my trusty backpack ahead of me, praying it didn’t get hit by a car at the bottom. I sat down and used my hands to push myself off down the hill. I caught a little momentum, a few rocks, and a lot of dirt, but I finally made it to the bottom a few minutes later.

I picked up my bag and waited patiently to cross the freeway. There was a blind curve to my left, which made it impossiblo to see if any vehicles that were coming, so I had to cross my fingers and hope that I didn’t turn into road kill as I ran across three lanes to the toll booth on the other side. I summoned all my might and booked it. Oh God please don’t let me get hit by a car! Oooh this is exciting! Huffing and puffing I walked up to the toll booth operator who in typical French fashion acted was completely blasé, acting as if it was totally normal to see a random person walking around on a freeway in the middle of nowhere at 7:30 in the morning.

“Bonjour.” Thank GOD I spoke French and was still in France, and therefore able to communicate. “I got off at the wrong train stop, and I need to get a taxi to La Tour de Carol.”

“Ah yes La Tour de Carol. That is only five minutes away. I will call you a cab.”

“Thank you!”

The driver arrived in a little under five minutes, but regrettably for the driver, I had only three euros on me. No time to tap an ATM when you’re marooned on a mountain top. I watched as the meter ticked past five euros. Oops. Better come up with plan B quick. When we got to La Tour de Carol 10 minutes later, I was ready.

“Fifteen euros, si’l vous plait.”

“Um, I don’t have that much cash on me. I have three euros, and I can give you the rest in a check.”

“You want me to take a check? Why would you take a cab if you have no money? Oh la la!”

Now I was pissed. I was fucking stranded, what did he expect me to do? Hang out on the freeway? He could at least cut me a little slack.

“Well I was stranded. Listen the best I can do is to write you a check.”

I tore it off and threw it at old sourpuss, running into the station before he could argue. I had just climbed down a mountain, sprinted across a freeway, narrowly escaped death at the hands of angry cab driver, and freed myself from withering away on a mountain top. Not too shabby.

“Rachel!” Mary and Deena screamed with relief. The two of them were standing in front of me, tear-stained faces, luggage piled around them.

“Whats up guys?” I said rather nonchalantly.

They rushed over and hugged me so hard I thought my organs were going to pop out of my throat.

“We were soooo worried! We called the cops—“Mary started explaining.

“We told them you were wearing a red sweater and a black skirt” Deena interrupted.

“We were totally freaking out. Omigod I feel terrible. It was so awful!” Mary continued.

“Well HELLO, why didn’t you guys pull the emergency stop??” I asked. I was still puzzled as to why they didn’t do anything.

They looked at each other in confusion. “We didn’t think about that” Deena said while scratching her head.

I couldn’t be angry at them. Not with all the tears and all. They were clearly just too emotional at the thought of my stranded-ness and they couldn’t think straight. “Well whatever. I’m here! Barcelona here we come!”

Barcelona here we come!”

More about Rachel on her homepage.

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