Then the time had come for Emmy to experience #vanlife (and me to get back to it)! The weeks before had been pretty busy for me, meeting friends, working and being in different places. I was actually craving some time alone, but that wasn’t going to be on the menu for a while. Luckily, my aunt is good company.
We got off on a very slow start. I had ordered some fabrics that were going to be delivered at her place (one of the downsides when living in a van and wanting to have something delivered, figuring out where and when to get that done). Unfortunately, they took a bit longer than I had hoped. We had decided to drive and about 15 minutes later is was delivered at the neighbours (a shop). By the time I read the delivery message, we had driven for an hour. We found a nice spot for the night and decided to drive back the next day. The idea of the shop having to keep the package for 3 weeks didn’t feel right. We did however manage to exit the country twice, without any vanissues 🙂 (they would come later though…).
In the beginning of our trip we needed some time to get used to each other’s dynamics and habits. We’re both used to living on our own and a van is a really small space. Both of us are also quite sensitive people who pick up on each other’s moods quickly. The biggest practice of our trip together, for me, was staying connected with each other through communicating. Our first night was crap for both of us. Em was afraid she would snore and keep me awake. I was afraid she couldn’t sleep and be uncomfortable, because of being in a van and me not sleeping because she might snore, possibly resulting in me being tired while having to drive. Great start ;). So, the first morning we shared and laughed about how we both were in a sort of spasm to make sure the other would be ok.
During driving I can have quite some emotions going through me. From daydreaming/memories to little frustrations about me or life or our dynamics now. Normally I don’t communicate them, cause there’s nobody there (I do tend to cry or sometimes even scream). But now, Em would pick up on my vibe and would want to know what’s going on. That could be so annoying. Sometimes I didn’t even really know what was off, or it felt too insignificant to me to want to share. But we shared anyway. In the end, we talked, laughed, cried, shouted at each other (in a fun way), imitated and mocked one another and always found each other and reconnected again.
Our journey took us through Belgium, France, the North of Spain, Portugal and ending in the South of Spain. In France, the weather was changing all the time. It turned out to be quite cold already and with lots of rainy moments, we just kept driving every day. Fortunately, we drove a beautiful scenic route most of the time. Autumn was still full on, with its colourful trees. By coincidence, we stayed at places where I had stayed before twice. Only realising that just before we arrived at the spot. What are the odds…
One of those places was just before the border with Spain. Last year I was kept awake by a rave that was happening there. This time fortunately, there was no rave, but it was hunting season. A rave place turned into stables and lookout, very versatile 🙂
During our trip we also stayed at a few B&B’s and with friends. It was Em her holiday and with the rain and cold, we didn’t have much nature to be comfortably outdoors in, keeping our livingspace small. Outdoor pooing was something that Em hadn’t yet experienced and wasn’t too keen on trying. So, the toilets and warm showers were very welcome. We went to a very cute little B&B in France, Les Petites Martinies, run by a French man and his Dutch girlfriend. It was in the middle of nowhere, really peaceful. We shared a lovely dinner together with the owners and a man who was going to housesit. Em slept there and I stayed in my van. There is no bed like my own.
As we made our way out of France and into Spain, hoping for better weather, we were greeted with snow. I always love to take the smaller mountain roads, because the scenery tends to be beautiful and the highway is usually boring and Lotje is not made for speed. But the forecast had been saying that there was a chance of snow, which Em had been dreading. We had decided to stay on the highways. But then, a tunnel was closed and everyone had to take the mountainous detour. The highway was at a low altitude so there was only rain. Slowly as we were climbing, the rain turned into snow and quite a lot of it too. Fortunately, everything went well and while standing still waiting for the snowploughs to clean the road, we could also slightly enjoy the beautiful snowy scenery we were surrounded by. After about 12 long kilometres we were back in the rain and on the highway.
Not long after that, while we were driving uphill, I felt Lotje suddenly losing power and smoking more than usual, while working hard. That always makes me feel really uneasy, knowing something’s wrong, just not knowing what exactly. After a short stop and some debate over what to do, I decided I wanted to go to a mechanic. I always have this hope that after a short break everything is ok again… never works…
We drove to Cizur Mayor, next to Pamplona, to a garage. In my best Spanish (my language skills are surely improving with all these not-Dutch mechanics…) I explained the problem. I joined him for a drive, so he could see for himself. He thought it was the filter, replaced it and off we could go again. It was dark already so we stayed in the parking lot close by. Next morning, happy to get away from the cold (the weather was fairly shitty there), we drove off. Quite quickly I felt the problem was still there. Totally disappointed, we turned around, back to the garage. The mechanic looked a bit puzzled and told us he was going to be needing some time to figure it out. We had been spending our time in a hotel café closeby, to which we returned, for some reading and playing rummikub. Typical Spanish place with the TV on, but warm and dry. At the end of the day the mechanic had called in his boss and they had found an extra filter, which not many other cartypes have, with half an insect in it. They had decided the whole dieselsystem needed to be cleaned, taking another day. After that pretty laborious job, Lotje had her power back. Just in time before they were closed for a long holiday weekend. She was still smoking a bit, but the boss told me that that would mean something with the dieselpump had to be fixed, which is a whole other job and she should be able to manage like this.
Before we picked her up, Em asked me if a protection hood that was lying on the floor in the workshop was Lotjes’. I figured it wasn’t, because they wouldn’t forget such a thing (right?). I even quickly checked and thought it was there. We stayed in the parkinglot one more night, after 1 night in a hotel, because it had been cold and rainy and Lotje had been in the workshop. Next morning, on the holiday, during my meditation, I got super restless about the protection hood. I checked properly and saw that they had forgotten the hood. Em had been right… if only…
We decided we weren’t going to stay there for 4 more days, even if it meant calling the police to get them to help us contact the garage. Their phone was off, but hooray for facebook, where I found them (which was also quite the hassle since the screen of my phone also isn’t responding properly since it has been replaced). Luckily, they did answer their facebook messenger and within 2 hours the mechanic was there to put the last piece of the van back.
Off we went! Finally.
A long drive in the direction of Portugal and better and warmer weather. For me, it felt strange to be back in Portugal again. As if I went back in time to last year, where I had just started vanlife and had no clue what I was doing… because I really didn’t. Even though I have lots of nice memories from that period, it still felt like something I was going back to, which made me feel a bit sad. Luckily, I was there now to add some new memories.
Our next stop was a friend of Emmy’s, who lives off grid with her partner, in a beautiful place near Monsanto. We stayed at their place for the night. It’s a really cute self-renovated house. Basic but really comfortable. The next day we visited Monsanto together. Monsanto is a village build on a big granite mountain. The houses use the massive rocks as part of their building structure. There are also the remains of a medieval castle on top of the mountain. It’s an impressive place to visit.
Then, it turned November 4th, Em’s 60th birthday! We drove to Vila Nova de Milfontes, on the Portuguese coast enjoying the beachview. In the evening we went out for dinner at a really nice place. It was an all you can eat buffet, where you had to pay extra if you wasted food. The food was really nice and we shared a beautiful bottle of wine, which went down really well, as the rain was pouring down and the wind blowing loudly outside. While we were stuffed and eating desert, the crew dimmed the lights and came in singing with a piece of pie and 2 glasses of really good port. It was such a sweet surprise! With full bellies and kind of tipsy we went to bed. Total shitty night with loads of wind and rain. That’s the downside of living in a van, when the weather is bad, so is your night sleep. The next morning was mostly sunny though, as if nothing had happened. It was lovely.
We continued our journey to Tamera. A community and a healing biotope about 45 mins from where we were. Emmy has been friends with them for a long time, making us able to visit for a day. This way I could get a feel for the place and see how they’ve set everything up. It was intense, there was so much to see, but it’s beautiful and they’ve accomplished so much with their gardens, buildings and sustainability developments for a big group of people. The vibe there is lovely, different from how I experience the rest of Portugal. Who knows, I might want to go back there some time.
As we drove off the next day, continuing our journey South, I felt super tired. All the repairs frustrations, driving and impressions, had become a bit much. Em felt it would be a good idea to find a B&B to relax for 2 days. To me being in a place that is not my van isn’t necessarily relaxing, I always prefer being in nature and sleeping in my van. But the weather forecast wasn’t great. So, after a fairly big debate, we decided that it would be better to stay there. We could have a shower and I could still sleep in my van, but we wouldn’t need to go anywhere or do anything. It turned out to be a really good idea. We went out for a wonderful dinner and had a walk around the area. Most of the surroundings had been burned by the fires from last September. The B&B we were staying at had also almost burned down. On one hand incredibly devastating to witness, on the other hand it was impressive to see how quite some of the burned trees were still alive and already growing new shoots again.
The last part of our trip together brought us back to the place where I had left at the end of March this year. The South-West coast of Spain. I felt a big relief, having made it there with a few days left to show Em around and meet some of my vanlife friends. We went to see Carlos and spend some time at his place. With a good glass of wine, we had some lovely and intense conversations about life and how we view and experience it.
Then the time had come to bring Emmy to the airport and say our goodbyes-for-now. It had been 3 intense weeks, where I again learned so much from us spending time together and from living and travelling together in a van and all that comes with it. The journey was beautiful and I feel it’s pretty awesome that she joined me in doing something so out of her comfort zone. We really got the whole vanlife package, with all the types of weather, scenery, the distance, the (dis)comfort, the vanissues, everything. Even 2 bodies that had washed up on the beach, surrounded by police, after a boat with refugees had sunk a week before. Next to it some of my friends were having a really nice surfsession. Quite the contrast…
For now, I feel that I’m very ready to not travel for a while and just be in the same area. Taking some time to figure out, where I want to be and what I want to do…