I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

Pick up a book, search Google, scour social media channels – it’s easy to find someone else’s story about their epic adventure in Sweden or whirlwind romance in Italy. Plenty of people travel abroad each year and have perfectly normal vacations. Others, a rare few, experience that once-in-a-lifetime moment – those are the stories you hear about. When I left the States two years ago for a study abroad program in Spain, I never thought that I would have a story like that to share.

It wasn’t a whirlwind romance, I didn’t meet Shakira or paraglide over the ocean. I sprained my ankle and received a stunning moment of clarity – that’s my amazing story. Allow me to explain: my study abroad group was scheduled for a weekend trip to the Picos de Europa mountain chain in Northern Spain. My Achilles tendon had been bothering me all week, but there was no way I was going to miss this trip.

So, backpacks at the ready and quite a long drive later, we reached our destination. Our tour bus took us all the way up to the top of one mountain where the hiking trail began, dropped us off and drove back down to the city where it would pick us up five hours later. As we began our hike, we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks, a gray sky, hazy fog and a chilling wind. I snapped a few ceremonial pictures and began the descent.

I was struggling in school, was overweight, felt useless and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I hoped – prayed – that a trip to Spain would afford me some clarity.

As I rounded the first corner and dropped to the next altitude, I was knocked back on my heels from the drastic change in scenery. I might as well have been in a different country. Suddenly, I was in a lush green valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, a bright blue sky, colorful flowers and roaming cattle.

This was the view I had been waiting for – this is why I came to Spain. You see, I had been battling depression and a deep, unsettling feeling that I couldn’t shake. My self-confidence was at an all-time low and I felt as if my life had no direction. I was struggling in school, was overweight, felt useless and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I hoped – prayed – that a trip to Spain would afford me some clarity. Gazing at this incredible view I thought to myself, “Perhaps Picos de Europa will be my answer,” – and I didn’t know how right I would be.

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

I almost felt a sense of peace as I continued on the journey down the mountains. Our group stopped halfway through our five-hour hike for lunch at a small cabin restaurant in the middle of a second valley that rivaled one from Sound of Music. I was grateful for the break because my foot was killing me – my Achilles tendon was actually squeaking with every step. By the time I got back up and continued on, the rest of the group was already miles ahead. My friend, Stephanie, and our cute little old lady chaperone hung back with me and agreed to take it slow.

That sense of peace I had earlier had evaporated, replaced by my pain and creeping depression and, as if on cue, down came the rain. Great.

We bid adieu to the Sound of Music valley, rounded yet another corner and again experienced a drastic change in scenery – and weather. We were now walking down a steep gravel road (much to the dismay of my ankle) encased in a thick line of trees. To our left was the side of a mountain. To the right was a steep drop-off. That sense of peace I had earlier had evaporated, replaced by my pain and creeping depression and, as if on cue, down came the rain. Great. There was still about 30-45 minutes left in our hike, but about halfway down that gravel road my ankle just gave out. I collapsed to the ground and grimaced in pain. The three of us, me, the group chaperone and my friend, looked at each other in silence. What were we to do?

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

Stephanie volunteered to finish the hike down to the village to notify our group and hopefully find help. It was an honorable suggestion, but both the chaperone and I agreed that we couldn’t willing let her go alone. I told both of them to let me sit on the side of the road while they both went, but again, it was unsafe to leave one person unaccompanied. Besides, the road wasn’t fit for a tour bus, so there was no way it could come pick us up. By then, I was exhausted, in pain, upset and cold from the rain. I was seconds from tears, staring up into the concerned faces of my companions, when I heard something.

A jeep. There was a jeep making its way down the gravel road, windshield wipers going a hundred miles an hour. Stephanie flagged down the driver and we held our breath as we waited to see who rolled down the window. Much to our surprise, and relief, it was a woman. A young, beautiful, blonde American woman. How strange.

For the same reason that I came to Spain, so did she. She told us about her adventures, about the days and weeks alone on the trail, and her new dream.

We explained our predicament and she immediately agreed to help. They hoisted me into the vehicle and we headed for the village with Stephanie and our petite chaperone crunched in the back. During the remaining 30 minute drive, we got to know our savior and how she came to be driving a jeep by herself in the middle of a remote part of the Picos de Europa chain. She was looking for someone.

“It’s kind of a funny story, actually,” she told us. A few years ago, she had a mid-life crisis and quit her comfy, secure job in corporate America to travel in Europe. Namely, she wanted to embark on El Camino de Santiago, the “Way of St. James” pilgrimage. For the same reason that I came to Spain, so did she. She told us about her adventures, about the days and weeks alone on the trail, and her new dream.

During a snowstorm, she found herself at a farm in the middle of nowhere. The farmer, accustomed to having wanderers pass through his home, agreed to let her stay in the barn – in fact, there was another hiker already there. She went to the barn and met an attractive Spanish man building a small fire. You can guess what happened next.

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

They talked, they fell in love, they got married. She had her own once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fast forward to her and the dreamboat having trouble balancing life between their families in Spain and the United States. They’d had a fight and he flew back to Spain to take a break. I guess she decided she couldn’t live without him because she came back to Spain and spent weeks tracking down old friends to find her beau. She’d heard that he was spending the week hiking in Picos de Europa, and that brought us back to present day. She was driving through the national park looking for him when she happened across us.

I was silent in the front seat. I couldn’t speak. This woman was me in 10 years. My mind raced as I thought about the similarities: I, too, was having a crisis. I, too, was searching for something that I couldn’t name. I also wanted to do the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. She even wanted to write a memoir, just as I did. If this woman could quit her job, leave her family and search for something that would make her whole, why couldn’t I?

I would follow my dreams, I would accomplish the impossible and one day, I’d make it back to Spain.

I felt a wave of relief – I was going to be okay. I was going to be okay. This woman single-handedly provided me with what years of therapy, medicine and love, couldn’t do. She reminded me that life is short and you only get one shot at it. At that moment, I made a vow to myself to always fight for what I wanted. I would follow my dreams, I would accomplish the impossible and one day, I’d make it back to Spain.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know if she ever wrote her book. I don’t know if she ever found her future husband. What I do know is that 30 minutes in the car with her on the side of the mountain had more of an impact on me than any other 30 minutes in my life. I wish I could find her and thank her because she gave me the courage I needed to follow my dreams.

I have a once-in-a-lifetime travel story. I went to Spain and met an angel on the mountain.

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa
Amanda got her once-in-a-lifetime travel story after all.

I Met an Angel on Picos de Europa

About Amanda DeMarcus

Amanda DeMarcusAmanda is the founder of the travel blog, Maps & Memories. While in college, she completed a study abroad program in Santander, Spain, and her love for travel was born. Amanda has since been traveling the world and blogging about her adventures. She spends her free time outdoors or at the park with her beloved Beagle mix, Ellie. She is a 2012 graduate from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, a current public relations professional and an aspiring writer. Connect with her on Twitter: @MapsandMemories.

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