Settling into a New Way of Life
Their wanderlust dream has been scuppered by van issues and terrifying nights in the wilderness but warmer weather and the idyllic beaches of Portugal beckon
Column by Jo Gregory
Wow! What a week… We arrived in Bilbao after an unscathed ferry crossing and were greeted by the sun breaking through wispy clouds and a warm breeze. It felt good to have sun on our bones but we immediately got lost, in the literal sense. Burning fuel doing laps of the city. We always knew this would happen at some point, but not fresh off the boat.
Eventually found a lovely spot in a campsite overlooking the city. We headed down, backpacks full to the brim, maps in hand and spent the day mooching around. We stumbled upon the David Hockney Exhibition at the Guggenheim which was a pleasant surprise as we missed it in London. By the afternoon we were sat in a bar sampling the city’s famous mini tapas; Pintxos. Bilbao is a culinary delight, bars lined with the tiny feasts. Chatting to the festive barman he informs me that the wine I’m drinking is from a wine cellar under the sea. Twenty metres below the surface of the water is an artificial reef keeping the wine at a constant temperature, the darkness and lack of gravity help mature the wine and the reef is now home to over 80 different species of marine life.
But our indulgent afternoon came at a price and if we want to travel for the year we have to budget ourselves. Our holidays used to consist of long lunches, gigs and bar hopping but this sort of luxury will need to be saved for special occasions. It’s going to be hard to change our spending habits, especially when you’re sampling some of Europe’s finest cities. Cruising along in Gladys at a leisurely 55mph has already saved us some pennies. Slow and steady wins the race.
After leaving Bilbao we decide to stop off at the charming San Sebastiàn, edged toward the French border. The drive there was breathtaking, the mountains & architecture felt almost Swiss. However not long after we arrived, disaster struck. We’d sprung a leak which had crept into our boiler’s electrics, we knew it was going to be a big job. Tom is quite the handyman but even this was a test of nerve and patience, especially as it rained for most of our time there, which made fixing it even more problematic. But after a lot perseverance we got it sorted and were able to have our first hot shower in the van.
We left San Sebastian the following morning, heading west to Portugal for some warmer weather, stopping at various places along the way to break up the trip. We’re using the park4night app which is a fantastic guide to wild camping. Some stops have been incredible, our night beside the River Douro was one. Parked on the river bank, all we had for company were ducks and a few fishing boats. Watching the sunrise from the comfort of our bed was utterly mind blowing.
However, one place we stayed didn’t quite have the same allure. We arrived in a village to find it completely deserted. It looked like a scene from The Walking Dead. Not a soul in site. We snaked down a long path, through crouched trees to a lake and parked up. I immediately felt anxious, I’ve never been this far from civilisation, we were 10 miles from anyone or anything. Completely alone. Don’t get me wrong; I like to be in the wilderness, but the abandoned dwellings we passed in the village threw me off kilter. My ears kept pricking at any kind of odd sound. In the dead of night I heard an engine. I peered through the crack under the blackout blind to see two motorhomes parking up. I was instantly relieved & felt my shoulders drop an inch or two. However, after 10 minutes they left, they too must have been freaked out by the eerie descent to the water’s edge and thought better of it. I watched, cheek pinned to the window as their tail lights disappeared through the tress. I knew it was going to be a long night.
The trip so far has really been a game of two halves, the rollercoaster we’re both on is insane. One moment you’re so content you feel like your heart is going to burst right out of your chest, the next you feel like it’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and want to come home. It’s rather like a stint at Glastonbury, extreme highs and lows experienced within minutes of one another.
As I write, we’re currently in Porto. I’m struck by the city’s beauty, even on a rainy day the colourful terrace dwellings pop against the 14th century stone buildings, I feel like I am on a film set. We finally leave Gladys alone in a car park for the first time. On a trip like this there are sure to be a lot of unwelcomed firsts. The first time you leave the van unattended, the first argument (which we’re yet to have), the first time you breakdown, the first time you sleep in a wooded area by a lake fearing for your life. But day by day things get a little easier. And I’m even beginning to enjoy the silence. I’ve never enjoyed silence. I’ve always needed the hum of music or people to crowd my brain but it’s a welcomed change, and it’s one I’m relishing in.