I could easily sit here and tell you that my first experience of solo van life has been amazing and liberating. But the truth is that whilst I have enjoyed the most part of the last two weeks, I have also had more than a few wobbles along the way. I’m actually writing this from a campsite near Carboneras, where I have decided to stay for four nights in order to recharge and realign, as I almost threw in the towel.
These days the internet is full with images of “strong independent women” out there conquering the world, “living their best lives” and claiming that they dont need a man (or woman) to make them happy. Which is great and I admire their confidence so much! But when you’ve been with someone since you we’re 13 (we’re 26 now, so literally half of our lives) and they’re suddenly not there for weeks at a time, embracing independence is a bit more challenging. But I’m doing it. I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m bloody doing it.
To ease the transition period, I booked to stay at a farm near Elche which houses rescue animals (currently 8 dogs, one donkey, one pony and 2 pigs!) until they can find them a forever home. It sounded idyllic for my first solo venture. I made it to the farm, van unscathed, down some pretty hairy roads (at one point I had to pull right off the road to let a LORRY passed!!) and parked up along side the house amongst some olive trees. The rescue centre is run by Sissel, who is from Norway, and Leo who came over from Romania as a volunteer, fell in love and never left; they’re a wonderful couple who now have the most beautiful 7 month old daughter.
The farm itself was pretty small with the animals taking up the majority of the land (rightly so). But it had everything I needed both for the van and my own well-being, which isn’t something I had anticipated. I was immediately made to feel like part of the family and spent most days sitting around the pool with their Yorkshire (I can’t tell you how happy I was when I heard his accent!) volunteer Simon, playing with the dogs and eating delicious homemade meals. I honestly couldn’t have found a better place to stay. If you’re in the area please go and visit them; you can find their location here. You’ll receive the warmest welcome and could even leave with a fluffy addition to your family; I would have done if it wasn’t for the cat.
After three nights I was feeling brave enough to move on and try out some wild camping. I found a spot up in the mountains just north of a little town called Busot. It was incredible and one of my favourite finds so far! I spent the first night watching the sun set over Alicante; the sky gradually turning from a vibrant orange to a deep blood red. It was stunning and I felt like the luckiest person on earth. But as the last bit of sunlight faded and the few remaining cars left, my imagination kicked in. I was sure every little noise was a murderer lurking in the darkness, watching and waiting for the right moment to strike (I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts). Of course Barney is absolutely no comfort, he’s far too busy wandering around outside, with all the murderers, hunting mice and other rodent type creatures. So I attempt to distract myself with my latest Netflix binge, Sex Education (if you haven’t watched it, you must!), and eventually fell asleep.
I ended up spending three nights in the mountains, hiking everyday (short 3 mile hikes but mostly uphill so that definitely counts!), taking in the views and learning to appreciate the silent nights with nothing but the stars above me. It was all going so well and I was on top of the world, until I tried to leave. I turned the key and kaput. Nothing. Shit. Don’t panic. I rang Alex who kept me calm and I messaged everyone I knew in the area (which wasn’t many) to see if anyone could come and rescue me. No luck there so I gave in and rang the RAC (luckily we had cover as we never usually take it out on our cars). I was reluctant to call them because 1. I hate ringing people and 2. I had never had to call them before and especially not from another country. Within an hour or so the breakdown truck arrived, jump started the van and off they went within 5-10 minutes. I honestly cant fault them, they were amazing. Relieved and feeling only slightly deflated, I set off for my next destination; another farmhouse just outside of Altea.
Now when I say I got lost, I got lost! Towards the end of the drive the route ends and takes you down, what google map considers to be, a bicycle track. Armed with an address that google maps, my phone and the satnav didn’t recognise, I actually had no idea where I was going. I drove down some ridiculous roads, having to turn the van around several times, until the owner of the site finally found me in the wilderness (maybe a slight exaggeration).
This combined with the morning’s events meant I was starting to feel the pressure. And they say things come in three’s. Once we got to the site Barney managed to slip passed me out of the van and absolute chaos ensued as 2 of the farm’s dogs chased him, barking and snapping at his heels until they trapped him under the van, whilst he was swiping and hissing at them. I managed to get Barney back in, who was obviously shook up, and I just broke down. It wasn’t so much what had happened, in hindsight they were all very minor hiccups. It was the accumulation of everything that had gone wrong that day and the overwhelming sense of stupidity and failure; I knew for a fact that non of it would have happened if Alex was there. I locked myself in the van and spent the rest of the evening trying to pull myself together.
I was determined the following day would be better and it was. It literally went from one of the worst days to one of the best days! I credit some of it to my mentality, I woke up feeling positive and ready to seize the day. But a lot of it was definitely down to the erotic art I found lining the beach in Altea. When I saw the first one I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at. After staring at it for much longer than I should have been, I realised it was an image of a woman “touching herself” (you get what I mean, but my mother-in-law reads this). I continued walking down the beach (after having a little giggle to myself) to find a whole series of erotic art depicting some very risqué poses. Well, I bloody loved it! And what was even better was watching other people’s reactions when they also spotted the artwork. Bravo Altea, bravo!
Walking along the beach, passed all the seaside bars and restaurants, I stumbled upon Plant Shack, an adorable little vegan cafe just a few streets back at the base of the old town. It’s owned by a couple from Brighton who have infectious personalities, making every customer feel welcome and at home. So I spent a few hours eating their delicious food (I went two days in a row and had the Buddha Bowl, which was a mix of rice, salad and sticky tofu, a BBQ jackfruit toastie, which came with a little side salad with strawberries and blueberries, followed by a slice of their homemade banana cake), chatting and comparing vans with one of the owners, Lee, and a bit of people watching.
Full of sticky tofu and banana cake (turns out tofu is delicious when cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing), I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the old town which is a maze of stunning white buildings, panoramic views of Altea, quirky shops, restaurants and the Casco Antiguo de Altea (the church). It’s typical of what you imagine when you think of Spain, everyone’s so relaxed, happy and just enjoying the sun without a care in the world.
I eventually left Altea with the intention of heading to a beach a little further south, after diverting to a motorhome service spot just down the road to fill up with fresh water etc. But I never made it to the beach. I got chatting to another English couple, told them I was traveling alone temporarily and they said I could park up next to them if I was planning on staying the night. I wasn’t planning to, but a few more English vans rocked up and by the time we had all finished chatting it was too late for me to drive to the beach, so I decided to stay the night and move in the morning. Whilst I was cooking tea there was a knock on the door and Jan, we’ll call her (you’ll find out why I’ve changed their names), invited me round to their van so I wasn’t on my own. What a lovely offer, I thought. So a bit later on I popped round and spent the evening with “Jan” and “Ben”, shall we say, drinking tea, watching coronation street and sharing stories.
They were a pretty cool couple. Both in their 60’s, retired and living in their van full-time. Ben was obviously a bit of a punk back in the day, tattoos all over, mohican still intact. Jan on the other hand was pretty average, your typical grandma really. Or so I thought. As the evening progressed I learnt some pretty interesting facts about the pair. Turns out Ben is a pole dancer and has his own portable pole. Now, I know a few people who do pole fitness and its bloody hard so I was genuinely quite impressed knowing the skill and strength it takes. That was until he whips out his phone to show me pictures of him on the pole, strutting his stuff, in high heels and an array of black, red, lacy, leather, studded lingerie. Well, that took a turn, and there was more to come.
I also discovered that Ben and Jan spend their summers at a naturist village in the south of France where everyone is naked, all of the time, even in the supermarket! Jan you dark horse, sitting there looking all sweet and innocent! But honestly, I actually thought this was awesome, I personally love being naked (in the privacy of my own home…or van) so why the hell not. Good on them! They were clearly very care free and living life to the full. Which became even more apparent a little later on.
Whilst sipping my cup of tea, Ben casually tells me that him and Jan are swingers (yes, swingers! I nearly choked on my tea). Now by this point I was in well too deep. I’d been there for hours, I couldn’t just leave. So I did what any normal person would do and asked all the appropriate questions: Where do they go? How do they pull another couple? Etc. Ben was more than willing to talk about it, whips out his phone again and shows me even more pictures which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase from my memory. Including a lovely photo of Jan wearing nothing but a thong, lace cardigan (which had absolutely no purpose) and well, that’s about it. Oh! And her nipples were attached by a chain.
After my questions and Ben’s delightful slideshow, he says “so yeh if you fancy hopping into the bed you’re more than welcome”. I left shortly after.
Surprisingly Jan and Ben’s family dont know about their secret lifestyle, which is why I have changed their names. But in their defence they were genuinely brilliant people. They have been dealt some pretty shitty cards during their lives, which I assume contributed to their current lifestyle. They weren’t afraid to be who they are and live life the way they want to live it. And whilst I was in no hurry to have a threesome with a pair of pensioners, I think we can all learn a little something from Jan and Ben. Oh and maybe don’t get into vans with strangers.
Until next time.