Assam village Spanish ‘son’ waves goodbye

Spanish tourist Manuel Rodriguez had planned to spend a week at Bokotial but stayed for 7 months due to the lockdown

Spaniard Manuel Arribas Rodriguez had intended to stay a week at Bokotial when he pedalled into the Assamese village on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

He ended up spending more than seven months at the village in eastern Assam’s Sivasagar district thanks to the series of pandemic-induced lockdowns.

And on September 22, almost everyone from Bokotial turned up at Simaluguri, the nearest railway station, to bid an emotional farewell to Mr. Rodriguez who boarded the Rajdhani Express to New Delhi. He is scheduled to fly out to Madrid on Friday.

“It was heartbreaking to let Manuel bopai (son) go. But I feel happy for his parents who will get to see their biological son after so many months,” said Dipeswar Chutia, the headman of the village of 10 Assamese households.

The 41-year-old Spaniard, who worked at a hotel in Spain for 10 years, had planned to cover most Asian countries on his bicycle. He flew to Tokyo last year, cycled around Japan before reaching the India-Myanmar border on January 27 via South Korea and the Southeast Asian countries.

“I met him at a youth festival in a college about 14 km from our village. We conversed in broken English and I invited him to our village as he was interested in local culture. He turned up on February 14 after touring other parts of the State,” recalled Biswajit Barbaruah.

During his extended and enforced holiday, Mr. Rodriguez stayed with the Barbaruahs, helped with the chores, learnt paddy farming and took part in community fishing and other village activities. He also taught the children of the village to play the guitar and speak Spanish apart from forming a bicycle and exercising club.

“The lockdown happened as Manuel da (elder brother) was preparing to leave. We informed the local authorities, who tested his health and got in touch with the Spanish Embassy,” Mr. Barbaruah said.

“We helped him get his visa extended. It was the least we could do for a foreigner who was stranded because of circumstances no one could have predicted,” said Sivasagar’s Assistant Tourist Information Officer Madhab Das.

Mr. Rodriguez said his visit to Bokotial on Valentine’s Day could have been predestined.

“I fell in love with the village. I can never forget the hospitality of the people, the kind I have never experienced anywhere else,” he said, hoping to return after the novel coronavirus no longer remains a threat.


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