Driving: Don't expect an easy ride abroad
It seemed like a foolproof idea. Frugality being the order of the day in these cash-strapped times, my wife Deirdre and I decided to book a standard resort-style holiday on Gran Canaria for the family (us and our 12-year-old daughter, Marnie), but then eschew the usual package activities and hire a car, exploring the parts of the island one might normally not experience.
We had the car for a week, and on the final day were exploring the far north -- a densely mountainous region of forests and tumbling rivers.
It was hot. During our stay, temperatures had reached 50 degrees. All the water in the car was as warm as tea, so we decided to find a café to get some drinks and cool off, as Marnie was feeling carsick and dehydrated.
Everywhere we passed was closed. We decided to turn around and head back for the nearest town. We searched for a safe place to change our route, but it was virtually impossible on such a narrow laneway.
By now, we were all little tired and agitated. It's at times like these that mistakes are made.
A small gateway loomed to our left, barely wide enough to get the car through, but we quickly swung into the entranceway and slowly reversed back out on to the road, pointing now in the direction we wanted to be going -- not exactly a U-Turn, but on a bend in the thoroughfare.
As we straightened up, two huge motorcycles zoomed up behind us, having to slow rapidly to avoid crashing into our rear.
Any relief at our narrow escape was short-lived -- a second glance at the bikers showed police insignia. They indicated we should follow, and, minutes later, stopped at a safe spot.
As the lead officer dismounted his motorcycle, I told myself that there was nothing to worry about -- we were tourists. Dehydrated ones at that. They would understand.
Not so. I walked around to the boot of the car, produced all our papers and tried to explain our predicament. This did not foster any friendliness. Removing his helmet, he took out his notebook and drew a large U on the page.
"This," he said, jabbing his finger at the page, "is impossible!" He then wrote €100 and €200 on the page beside it. "You pay now," he said pointing at the first figure.
"No pay today, you pay tomorrow," indicating the second.
I took €100 from my wallet and handed it to the cop, who wrote us a detailed receipt.
On-the-spot fines for foreign drivers are becoming an all too regular occurrence in holiday destinations around Europe. And why not? Misguided tourists are an easy source of revenue.
In truth, we probably deserved the fine. When I think of the treacherous roads on Gran Canaria, I'm kind of glad the police are so tough. If we had met ourselves making that stupid turn, would we have stopped in time?
The hard lesson we learned was if you're driving in Spain, stick hard and fast to the rules of the road.