Norm Simons survives a car-jacking outside Barcelona.
On reflection, I suppose we were an obvious target in Spain: a new Renault, red Parisian plates and the back of the car stacked with luggage.
We had met friends in Figueras, about three hours' drive north of Barcelona, to see the Dali Museum. Our plan was to travel to Barcelona, where we had booked an apartment. There were six of us: one couple with us in our Renault, the other couple travelling by train to Barcelona.
We were driving slowly in the right-hand lane on the outskirts of Barcelona and my navigator was poring over a map when I glanced in the wing mirror and noticed a silver car behind us. There was no exit in sight so I did momentarily wonder why this car was behind us but my attention turned back to the frenetic traffic.
A few seconds later, we were jolted to attention by some sharp metallic noises from the rear of our car. The silver car was beside us and a young man was gesticulating and signalling for us to pull over.
I slowed and stopped in the emergency lane and the silver car pulled in front. The young man got out, walked back to us and pointed energetically to our rear wheels and motioned me to join him.
Completely taken in, I got out.
He indicated that the four of us should get out and inspect the damage. My navigator saw the driver of the silver car sneaking up on our car and shouted at me to get back in. Not really understanding what was happening, I raced back to the car and locked the doors. The two culprits sprinted back to their silver car and disappeared in a cloud of tyre smoke.
The realisation struck us all at once: we had just survived a car-jacking.
Later we pieced together how the deception was supposed to work. The car-jackers cruise the road in a stolen car, select a target and drive up behind it. The passenger leans out and throws stones at the rear of your car, then they draw level with you under the pretence of alerting you to damage.
One car-jacker gets everyone out to see the damage while the other gets in your car and drives off. They both disappear, leaving you standing in the emergency lane wondering what happened – minus luggage and valuables.
A little shaken, we eventually found the exit and drove towards our destination.
After negotiating hectic traffic and one-way streets, we happened on an underground car park and decided to cut our losses and go on foot to the apartment.
We found our friends and the apartment without too much more difficulty.
The week in Barcelona was fabulous. We saw Gaudi's architecture, visited tapas bars and listened to classical guitar.
The message of this cautionary tale is always expect the unexpected, which after all is the essence of travelling.
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