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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Kirkby College: An unforgettable vacation

Kirkby College: An unforgettable vacation 

Through sleep-laden eyes we gazed wearily at the rustic scene, as the train chugged slowly across the Spanish countryside on a somnolent summer afternoon. 

 It was the summer of 1960 and a group of us, students from Kirkby College, Liverpool, were on a tour of France, Spain and Portugal. 

Back rowLto R: Cheng Swee, Lean Aing, Manjeet Singh, Nellie Khoo, Maureen Seet, Carmen Balhetchet,Anne Tan. Front Row: Lto R Chwee Seng, Maria Yew, OOi Phaik Choo,Mimi Foo, Vin Quen 

Then as the landscape became more indistinct in the fast fading light of dusk and still with no sign of our destination, a tinge of apprehension gripped us.

“Is this train going to Madrid?” Someone asked the train conductor.

“ No senor, Madrid that way.”

When we realised we had boarded the wrong train, we decided to disembark at the next railway station.

 Before long, the train screeched to a halt. We scrambled down the metal steps, hauled our luggage and found ourselves on the open platform of a small railway station. We asked one of the locals for a place where we could put up for the night. As he guided us along a narrow and dusty road to the town’s guest house, a motley crowd of curious and excited youngsters drawn by our strange and unexpected presence followed closely behind us, much like Browning’s piper whose magical music drew children to an unknown destination. 

We rounded a corner and suddenly stumbled upon a pushcart with a vendor selling ‘kacang putih’ packed in cone-shaped papers. We stopped to buy the much missed munchy and I found myself instantly transported back in time, back to my childhood days in Kuala Pilah when we would wait eagerly for the arrival of the itinerant Indian kacang putih vendor. I remember him carrying a wooden box, skilfully balanced on his turbaned head and the kacang putih and other nuts were similarly packed in cone-shaped wrappers, usually made from the pages of used exercise books.

After a short walk we arrived at a Bed and Breakfasts which had a clean and comfortable rooms and shortly after that were entertained to a wide spread of delectable Spanish cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised to see a dish that resembled our ‘nasi kunyit’ and it was only years later that I found out that it was paella, the classic Spanish rice dish.

As soon as dusk slipped into night, the sultry night air was filled by the sound of music that drifted from the small town square. Drawn by the sound of the lively music, we made our way to the square. A myriad of variegated lights that festooned the lamp posts and trees illuminated the place and transformed it into a miniature fairy land. The square was already thronged with merrymakers and we watched, spellbound, as the town folks, both young and old, began to twirl and swirl to the rhythmic beat of the music provided by the local band.

Dawn the next day found us on board an old ramshackle bus that would take us to another town where we would be able to take the train to Madrid. As the bus creaked and bounced along a hard beaten dirt track, the sight of a man leading a donkey laden with firewood made me feel as if we had traveled back into the medieval age. It was not long before the bus arrived at a river and came to a halt at the river’s edge. However, neither bridge nor ferry could be seen. The bus driver calmly guided the bus down a low embankment and we found ourselves being driven across a dry river-bed to the opposite bank. We emerged safe and sound and continued our journey to the next town without any incident.

During our trip we saw the beauty of the Alhambra in Granada, admired the fine architectures in Barcelona, watched the flamenco dancers and the bullfights in Madrid, however, to me the highlight of the whole trip was undoubtedly the day we got on the wrong train and landed up in a small Spanish town.  

Below is a slideshow of our summer vacation

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