Aventuras en Las Sierras Guadarramas
In the fall of 1971, at the outset of my junior year abroad as a student at Smith College, I had an unforgettable experience in Spain. It was on a mountain hike in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range near Madrid. The hike was organized for the group by our program director Charles, a Smith faculty member and outdoorsman.
As we gathered on that balmy, bright Saturday in October, I was feeling alienated from the other “Smithies,” who seemed so self-assured. I was in a particularly sullen mood for this first outdoor activity. Throughout the hike, I kept to myself, watching the other students talk and laugh as they climbed the trail. Once we reached the top of the mountain, I stopped to rest. Catching my breath, I looked over the wide valley spread out under a cloudless Mediterranean sky. Gazing across the unfamiliar landscape, the panorama inspired me—I felt something new. The brilliant sunshine brightened my mood and invited me to celebrate this moment, instead of just plodding through it.
With only a few more hours before sunset, Charles instructed us to buddy up for the descent and stay together on the trail. Ignoring his instructions, I dawdled and turned in a different direction from the others. With each step away from the group, I felt freer from pessimism, insecurity, and self-doubt than I had for many years. I began to feel hopeful and curious about this adventure in Spain.
After a while, I realized the light had dimmed and the trail had disappeared beneath my feet. I was alone at the edge of a field. A pair of reddish bulls grazed nearby. One of them continued eating the sparse grass, while the other lifted its head and stared placidly in my direction. My glance flicked from bovine face to pointed horns, and I quickly moved away from them.
The air had cooled, and for the first time I realized I was lost. Near tears, I began to yell for help–first in English and then, after a few moments, in Spanish. I alternately cried out, “Ayuda!” and “Socorro!” as loudly as I could. As I continued walking downhill, I heard only my footsteps. Suddenly, a male voice responded, “Dónde está usted?”
A brief dialogue ping-ponged until I saw a light approaching through the dusk. The lantern was held by the elder of two bearded men in coveralls who strode toward me through the darkness. His young companion stood back as the elder came near me with soothing words: “Está bien, señorita–ya no hay peligro.” It would be all right, I was out of danger. By the flickering beam of light, my rescuers guided me through the woods until we emerged onto a paved road that led uphill. A few minutes later, we reached a large building, perhaps an inn. I saw some of my Smith classmates in the group gathered on the lawn.
Someone called my name; Charles turned toward me. “Stephanie!” he shouted. I ran to him and he reached out to pull me close, near tears. Sobbing, I pointed to the edge of the woods. “Those men rescued me–shouldn’t we give them a reward?” But as we looked toward the forest, all we could see was a beam of light bouncing through the distant trees.
* * *
That day, on the summit of a Spanish mountain, I decided to set aside my doldrums and descend the steep trail alone. Not until I came upon those grazing bulls did I realize that I’d strayed off the trail. Although I had never asked for help before, I took action that only I could take. Calling out for help was the first step on my new path.
About the Author
A member of Straw Dog Writers Guild and Florence Poets Society, Stephanie Shafran resides in Northampton. Her writing appears in journals such as Earth’s Daughters, Slant, Persimmon Tree, and Silkworm. Anthologies featuring Stephanie’s writing include A 21st Century Plague:Pandemic Poetry, published in 2021.
Stephanie published the chapbook Awakening in 2020.