"Those bells," I wondered. "They must stop at night, mustn't they?"
"I expect so," was Harry's unconvincing answer.
I put the thought to the back of my mind. We were here and it was all going to be fantastic.
During this tour of the town, like a recurring nightmare an old worry again reared its ugly head. If it was difficult getting up to the top of the place, what would the journey down be like? Deciding to investigate the route we'd have to take the next day, it did nothing to reassure us. If anything, the streets were narrower and had more bends even sharper than those we'd negotiated on the way up. Optimist was now my middle name.
"There's no point in worrying about it now. It can't be that bad. That bus must use the road, after all."
I was trying to play it down, but Harry was in no mood to be buoyed up by false cheerfulness.
"It's definitely much worse than the way up," he said, "and that bus was smaller than us anyway – it had a much shorter wheel-base!"
"I wish you'd stop going on about wheel-bases and cheer up a bit," but I kept this thought to myself. I seemed to have stolen his middle name and this defeatist attitude was becoming a habit.
There was no point though in letting the possible troubles of the morrow ruin the rest of our stay in Arcos, so we returned to the Parador and the luxury of being able to stretch out in that lovely bath and move around the room without treading on each other's feet. Our evening in the Parador of Arcos de la Frontera was perfect. We ate a wonderful evening meal in the restaurant where smiling waitresses were charmingly dressed in traditional brightly-coloured Adalucian costume. They thoughtfully brought us extra supplies of the giant tapas olives after noticing we'd enthusiastically polished off the first bowl in seconds, and didn't blanche for one moment when we requested a vegetarian meal. Nothing was too much trouble, and everything was accompanied by an old-fashioned serving of helpfulness.
That college video hadn't deceived me about the incredible view from the Parador. Our dining room vantage point was above scores of swallows and bats swooping and screeching around the cliffs below in the twilight - a magical experience which almost compensated for all the tiring difficulties and inconveniences of the previous weeks of travelling.
"Well it is an amazing view," Harry had to admit, "Now we're here, perhaps we can forget about staying in a parador for the foreseeable future!"
Had I gone on about it that much? Well, I guess I had.
Afterwards, we stood on the terrace which looks out over both the plaza and the surrounding landscape. A million stars twinkled in an endless sky unpolluted by light. No sound of traffic broke the tranquillity. The air was balmy and perfumed with the herbs of the sierra which stretched out into misty blue folds towards the horizon. I breathed in deeply and knew I would always remember this perfect moment in such a perfect place. I did not want it to end. I was actually staying in the Parador at Arcos, and could not believe how lovely it all was after our problems in getting there. Then an unwelcome but familiar sound began to invade my euphoria…
We returned to our room and reassured ourselves that more than likely they would cease at midnight. After all, the powers-that-be whoever they were, wouldn't want to upset their paying guests in the Parador. We were deluding ourselves. The various bells of Arcos did not take a rest and were determined to deprive us of ours. Along with striking each quarter, the clock in that picturesque church tower marked each hour with a tune which seemed so quaint and pretty in daylight hours. Throughout that hot, interminable night it became a thing of torment. And as if that wasn't enough, for good measure we were treated to an extra peal for matins at some unearthly hour while it was still dark outside. Once this was over, it was then that the local dust cart arrived. Not noted anywhere in the world as being a quiet activity, the garbage collection in the plaza mayor of Arcos de la Frontera was no exception. Past experience has taught us that one should not expect a good night's sleep in any hotel no matter how many stars it boasted, but this was the Mother of them all …. How anyone got any sleep in that place I'll never know.
By the morning we were completely shattered and did not relish the drive back down from the town, which promised to be even more fraught than the upwards journey of the day before. It was no wonder that we weren’t in any rush for an early attempt at the unknown and perilous, deciding to delay our departure until the town was enjoying its afternoon siesta.
"If we leave it till everyone has their siesta this afternoon, we might have more room to manoeuvre" Harry reasoned, " and you can do a bit more exploring if you want."
There were a lot of fascinating nooks and crannies I'd noticed during our guided tour of the previous evening, so this seemed like an excellent scheme. Not only would the streets be deserted while the townsfolk snoozed away the hottest part of the day in the coolness of their shuttered houses, but I could make the most of our limited time in Arcos. I didn't think it would be on Harry's wish-list for us to darken its doors ever again.
Arcos really is a stunning place, but all too soon we realised we couldn't put off taking our leave any longer. In my new-found rôle of tour optimist, I had a bright idea which I hoped might help us with the drive down.
"Why don't I walk in front of the van to see how much room we have each side?"
We'd only be going at a snail's pace, so it seemed a sensible thing to do.
"Well, I suppose you could try it," was Harry's over-enthusiastic reply.
"I could carry a red flag! You know, like they used to when cars first went on roads."
"Mmm. Well let's just get going." My suggestion had fallen flat on its face.
Like a pathetically small carnival procession though without the music, singing and dancing (in fact nothing like a carnival procession come to think of it), we made our tentative way along, Harry in campervan behind, me in front but with no red flag.
As we feared though, the way down was even more torturous and problematic than the way up and our hope that there would be no other cars on the road at that time proved to be just that. Almost immediately we 'picked up' a rearguard intent on staying as close to us as a Garfield on a rear windscreen and it didn't seem possible that he had no idea of the predicament we were in. Our polite pleas for him to back up and allow us a bit of space behind were unsympathetically ignored, with the result that again we had little room to manoeuvre at each bend. Eventually though, and after what felt like eternity, we reached the wider expanses of the road which leads out of Arcos. I'd done my best to gauge the clearances, but it obviously wasn't good enough seeing as in places our van's smart new paint-work now looked like it had been set upon by Jackson Pollock with a pen-knife. Along one side a nasty dent had appeared to balance the composition. We were free though, relatively unscathed and the ordeal of that suffocating afternoon at least was at an end.
Harry pulled over and stopped. He was looking not a little wearied by all the strenuous wheel-turning and shunting backwards and forwards, and sunk the most-part of a large bottle of water. If we hadn't planned to drive on to Seville that day, the occasion would have called for something a bit stronger. I was keen to get going again, but he had other ideas.
"Let's just sit here for a while," he murmured.
We sat quietly and enjoyed the feeling of liberation.
"Thank goodness we don't have to do that again!" It was the understatement of the year.
At the time we were not quite ready to find anything actually funny about our experience, but I couldn't stop myself laughing hysterically with relief.
A few days later, when all of this was becoming a distant memory to be reeled out as one of our 'adventures' when we got home, we had arrived in Seville. Stopping for diesel on the outskirts of the city, I found myself amusing the friendly service station attendant there.
He pointed to the obviously fresh damage, "What ees? You 'ave bang?"
Without thinking, I found myself paraphrasing the slogan used by the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, which was quoted prominently in the film, 'Land and Freedom'. I pointed to the scrapes and said with feeling,
"Arcos de la Frontera. No Pasarán!" (None shall pass!)
"Ah, Si! Si!" he laughed, obviously appreciating the joke.
As soon as I'd said it though, I felt certain I'd committed an awful faux pas. Was it in good taste to make light of what was, after all, still a sensitive part of Spanish history? I'm still not sure, but I think I got away with it.
Had our visit to Arcos de la Frontera been worth all of that hassle? I shall always treasure the memory of that magical moment on the terrace of the Parador. There will be no room for such romantic notions in Harry's mind though. It will evermore be the place where we acquired that dent in the van and which, during the rest of the time we owned the vehicle and despite all his efforts to eliminate it, still continued to serve as a constant reminder:
It is not always a good thing to have a wish fulfilled.
And I'm sad to say we never did sit on the Parador's sunny terrace and have that glass of Rioja!
Written and contributed by hallyally