• Vincent Vanlife

Are We Dirty Hippies Now?

‘Are we dirty hippies now?’ I asked Seb as we rolled into the motorhome service stop to empty and replenish our toilet and water. We were surrounded by battered, old-school motorhomes, with equally battered, old-school looking owners: their grey hair long and their socks and sandals game strong. They looked as though they’d been on the road their whole lives, maybe some of them had. So we did our jobs, feeling very impressed at the free facilities that are dotted across Spain and much of Europe. We were worried before we set off on our trip that we’d struggle to find places to fill up and drop off, but we have been pleasantly surprised at how prepared Spain has been for camper-vans. Service points are located everywhere- some just in practical city centre car parks, some at service stations and some more picturesque, like the one we’re at now, perched on the top of a beautiful cliff overlooking a sandy bay in a very posh little village. All are equipped with water taps, a drain with covering and bins.

However, throughout the same day our inexperience at driving across Europe would come to light, not so much the dirty hippies we thought we might be... First the supermarket. Easy enough, right? We’d located a ‘Mercadona’, which, according to Google, is Spain’s number one budget supermarket about and was only about ten minutes away. Perfect. Not quite so perfect was the 2.2m height restriction for the underground car park that, as we have come to realise, is the norm for many inner-city supermarkets. This just wasn’t going to work, not unless we wanted to rip our solar panels off the roof, no thank you. This all doesn’t sound too bad apart from the fact that we only realised this as we were on the ramp heading into the car park. We had to back all the way back up the ramp and reverse all the way back onto the road. The locals weren’t impressed. Oops.

One of the prettier service points- many are more like, or in, a car park. Image from park4night app.

Mistake number two of the day was taking a wrong turning on our ‘easy’ forty-minute drive to the park up spot we had chosen- a beautiful, grassy looking spot by a beach. This wrong turning took us up a very narrow, very steep road. At the top of this path, we needed to turn right. There was a car coming along the road we were turning into, so we had to pull completely to a stop to allow this car to pass. Hill starts in the van aren’t exactly a desirable move and this hill, combined with the incredibly tight right turn was just too much. The van just kept sliding backwards, until one tyre landed in a farmers (very wet) field next to us. Second oops. As we tried to pull forwards, this tyre was just spinning and spinning. In hindsight what we should have done was put some wood or something dry under this tyre to get back onto the road and then reversed down the hill. For some reason what we did do was try to turn around in the field. Third, massive, oops. The van was now sliding not forwards or backwards but sideways, I genuinely thought it was going to fall flat on its side. This was not a shining moment for my panic-meter. Thankfully just before I went into a fully fledged meltdown, a farmer in his tractor appeared on the road. We ran up to meet him, and he came down to help us. He had no English, and we have no Spanish so communicating was quite a task. The farmer managed to pull over another car whose driver was able to communicate to us that the farmer was going to come back in five minutes. And he did! He came back with some rope which we attached to our tow bar, and he quite literally dragged us out of there. We then reversed all the way back down the hill and back the way we came. I’m quite disappointed by how un-dramatic this sounds written down, but trust me, it was incredibly stressful. I don’t quite know how the van remained upright at the angle it was. That night we abandoned all thought of a picturesque setting and slept in the nearest towns camper-van parking area. Not beautiful but we felt safe and slept well. I will be forever grateful for the help of the kind farmer, and just couldn’t thank him enough. He took it all in his stride and acted as though it was no inconvenience at all and as though he had nowhere else he needed to be. Thank you!

This picture really doesn't justify how stressful the situation was...

Apart from this one day, our first week in Spain has been glorious. The weather is a vast improvement on the UK, it may not be shorts weather, but it is dry and has hit highs on 17/18 degrees as we’ve progressed further South. We are really meandering around the coast, the most we’ve driven in one day is about two hours. Now we’re here we just don’t feel a rush to get anywhere. For the first time in both of our lives, we have absolutely no time-sensitive commitments and nowhere that we have to be. It is very refreshing but has taken a bit of getting used to, our bodies are certainly adjusting to the change too- I end every day tired (but in a good way) and we both sleep like logs. We’re also outside for most of the day, only really spending driving time and evenings in the van, once the sun goes down. I feel fresh and free and very very happy.

Night one: arriving in BilbaoAfter an absolutely horrendous 24hr ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao where we both spent the whole journey laid in our cabin, in the dark, incapable of movement and without eating or drinking much of anything (we’d packed loads but just couldn’t move to get it!) we were both ready to just drive eat and sleep. So we just drove half an hour up the coast to a small village where there was a gravel/grassy car park next to the beach. It was a lovely bay with a few surfers, lots of dog walkers and one strange lady pacing the shoreline wearing NOTHING but a coat and socks. We had a good afternoon and evening eating, walking the beach, paddling and drawing/writing. This pattern of activities set the trend for the rest of the week! Compared to where we’ve been since it wasn’t the most beautiful place but it felt amazing to be there and was our first proper feeling of starting our adventure. It finally felt real!

First spot. If you look closely you can see the pacing lady on the right.

Night two: Noja

For our first full day, we drove to the town of Noja, still wanting to keep the drives short as this is Seb’s first time driving in Europe and we also just don’t really feel like spending all day driving. Noja was beautiful- I got the impression that if we were there in July, it would have been absolutely jam-packed with tourists but, in December, almost everything had its shutters permanently drawn, and as you went down onto the main beach there were several massive hotels above which were all closed up for winter. The only other people about as we walked along the stunning cliffs to the next town along were those of retirement age. Later a few younger residents were about, a surfer and several photographers capturing the fantastic scenery. It did feel a bit like a ghost town though. We could hear the waves from our bed that night.


Nights three and four: Mirador del Fito

The most amazing place!! A large car park up in the mountains, near to Fito viewpoint. I have never been anywhere like this, it was just so stunning. I actually gasped as we pulled up to park! On one side of us, there was a mountainscape stretching as far as you could see and on the other side: the ocean. This was a two-hour drive from our last spot, so we arrived relatively late- maybe at about 3pm. We went on a 1.5hr walk to take in the landscape. It was absolutely deserted, and the view just kept getting better. As sunset drew closer, a few people arrived in their cars, purely to watch the sun go down. Throughout our stay here locals would drop by for an hour or so in their cars to take in the view which I thought was lovely, this spot was clearly special to the people who knew it. As it was completely deserted the next day, we had a shower using our solar shower. It was so refreshing to shower outdoors, an excellent feeling. We then went on a longer walk than the previous day- about 3.5hrs in the other direction along the mountains. We passed lots of people as it was the weekend, friends, families, couples. All said hello. At night, the stars were amazing, I have never seen a night sky so bright. We were surrounded by nature meaning there were no street lamps or any light pollution and what a difference it makes! Gazing at the sky that night was such a lovely experience. When we first arrived at this spot, we both felt that we could stay forever, but by the end of the second day, we both felt the desire to move on and to keep exploring.

Mirador de Fitu- really not a good enough photographer to capture the wonder of this place.

Night five: Aviles

This was the disastrous day I described at the beginning of the post, it had all started so well up in the mountains! Maybe we should have stayed another day! Did the water and the shopping in Gijon but didn’t see much of the town, didn’t really look like anything special, to be honest. Ended the day in Aviles, after being pulled out of the mud, the next big town along.

The exhibition centre in Aviles.

Night six: Rigoabajo

Woke up in Aviles and went into the town as we wanted to buy a capo for the guitar. We found a music shop- it was next to a sex shop and a homeless centre of some sort. Not the nicest area, and not really somewhere to stay for very long, reminded me a bit of Hull. However, we did walk back along the seafront/river which had been tarted up a bit, nice walkway with old black and white pictures showing how the town used to look when it was more of a dock. Walked up to the exhibition centre which was very modern, all white and curved- wasn’t 100% sure of it really. Planned on going to see the Sorolla art exhibition but it was closed, so we just headed back and had some lunch. Drove out to Rigoabajo which was about forty minutes and such a change! Again, an absolutely stunning view. We were parked right on the cliff top and next to a working lighthouse. This is probably one of the busiest places we’ve been so far- apart from the towns. There was a constant stream of walkers and people dropping by in their cars to capture the view. We walked along the cliffs, did some drawing/writing and made some tea (everything tastes better cooked from a Spanish supermarket!).

The view at Rigoabajo.

Night Seven: Ortigueira

We woke up late and whilst we were having breakfast a police officer came by- he was very friendly, and we’re not too sure what he wanted as he didn’t tell us to move. He just looked at our passports and left saying ‘have a nice vacation’. He dropped in at every little stopping place along the road, I expect he does the route every morning to make sure people don’t stay too long. I think it’s not too much of a problem in December. We went down onto the beach which was a rocky little cove, had a bit of a paddle then headed back for lunch. Drove about another forty minutes up the coast to a designated camper-van area. We were expecting just a patch of grass a the top of a cliff with a tap etc but when we arrived we discovered a very well kept area in a posh little village with a mix of big old houses and new, very modern houses- one has a section which looks as though it floats over the cliff edge. Just along from where we are there is a newly renovated square with a lovely little church, rendered white and another lighthouse- the sort you’d picture in a children’s book but black and white, not black and red. Yesterday we explored the area and spent the rest of the day on the beach- I finally made it in for a swim! It was very very cold!! The tide was so strong too; I could really feel the waves pulling me out and had to grip the sand to feel safe. It is always so exhilarating to swim outdoors though, especially in a cold sea.

We had neighbours last night with children and dogs- it looked like hard work. Today we walked down to the next little village in search of some roman fort ruins, which we didn’t find, and along the coast to the next beach, which we didn’t quite reach as there was a river in the way and the only bridge was a motorway bridge 1.5hrs away... Oh well! We found a nice picnic table and made our lunch before heading back to the beach where we spent an hour or so. Played a board game on the cliff and have both been writing. Going to stay here again tonight before heading on.

View from current spot: Ortigueira

We don’t have any major plans going forward. We have bookmarked two waterfalls, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella and some hot springs that we would like to see before and en route to Portugal but really we’re just going with the flow and seeing how we feel. Morocco for Christmas is looking unlikely but we think it’ll be nice to see festive celebrations in Portugal, we just can’t bring ourselves to rush. I’m sure Morocco will be just as lovely in the new year! Let us know if there is anything/anywhere you think we really must see ahead of us on our route!

Our route so far showing our stops- some will be the overnight stops and some just or parking/service/fuel etc. From our tracker app.

Well done if you made it to the end, this post turned out fairly long, thanks for reading!

Rose xo

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