Diving head first into solo van life

The morning after my eventful evening with Jan and Ben (if you haven’t read my previous blog post “Transition into Solo Van Life”, I suggest you do) they generously offered to go to Benidorm with me for, as they put it, “added security”. Needless to say I politely declined; I don’t know what I was more afraid of, someone breaking into the van or seeing Ben’s pole dancing attire in all its latex glory! 

Instead I headed south to a small (and cheap at €8 per night) campsite located right next to an airport where the Patrulla Águila (Eagle Patrol) practice their aerobatic demonstrations for the Spanish Airforce; which I was lucky enough to see. Not quite the Red Arrows, but they were pretty good. I spent a few days relaxing at the van and on my first night my short stroll to the beach turned into a spontaneous 3.5 mile walk into the the next town through a protected nature reserve.

It was all going well until one morning when I woke to find Barney curled up on the sofa, obviously very on edge and growling at me whenever I went near him. I realised he had hurt his front paw and was crying out in pain whenever he tried to walk; but as he was so scared I couldn’t get a close look at it. Assuming he had gotten into a fight overnight with another cat, I decided it was best to stay one more night and take him to a vet the following day if there was no improvement.

Reception offered me an electric pitch for the night, but when I went to move the van and turned the key in the ignition I was greeted with the familiar sound of a flat battery. Not again! I was sure I had been using the leisure battery after killing the vehicle battery only last week! Obviously not. A few people on the site had jumpstart kits which weren’t quite powerful enough to get the battery going. So once again I reluctantly called the RAC and once again they were brilliant. With me within an hour, done and gone within 10 minutes. Unfortunately their efficiency didn’t soothe my self-doubt or silence the voice in my head saying “you shouldn’t be here”. 

Just as I was about to call it a day and start heading back to the UK, Barney got up and walked over to his food bowl like nothing had happened. The difference in his leg from only a few hours before was unbelievable. So with Barney’s miraculously recovery and the van battery charged up again, I was determined not to be defeated. I found another campsite 3 hours south (with electric hook-up this time) which was plenty of time to give the battery a good run and to give me a boost by blasting my “motivational women” playlist the entire way. 

The site was tucked away in the mountains and just a short walk away from the coastal town of Carboneras. I stayed for four nights and once again tried to slow down, relax and remember why I was there. Carboneras was like most other coastal towns in winter; beautiful but deserted. But it’s a privilege to be able to experience these places like a “local” and not surrounded by tourists. I found a little seafood restaurant facing the sea and ordered a beer (mainly because the first thing the waiter said was “Beer?”) which came with a plate of tempura peppers; my first taste of free tapas! And we all know things taste better when they’re free. Since I was pretty hungry I also ordered a portion of mussels and fries. It was all so fresh and I was back in my happy place. 

Apart from the occasional visit to Carboneras I spent most of my time doing, well, nothing; which can actually make you feel quite guilty when you are given the opportunity to travel. But if you were to go exploring every single day, you’d burn out pretty quick; it’s important to take it easy sometimes. I did however have a ton of washing to do. Two and a half hour cycle for €4. Not bad. Or at least it wouldn’t have been, if I hadn’t put all my dirty clothes in the dryer instead of the washing machine (facepalm). Honestly, I think if that had happened a few days earlier, I would have cried. Luckily I was in a much better frame of mind and found it bloody hilarious. 

I could’ve stayed in Carboneras much longer; it was quiet, close to the beach, I was finally starting to get a tan after several days of sunbathing and best of all Barney could go out at night safely (which is ultimately how I rate any location I stay at). But I was aware that my time in Spain was running out, so I wanted to move on and do a bit more exploring. 

I went to Almería for one reason and one reason only; ancient bath spa. Two hours soaking in baths of different temperatures, with the most delicious complimentary teas I have ever tasted , followed by a half hour full-body massage. Oh. My. It was pure bliss. I particularly enjoyed the Caldarium, which is heated to 40 degrees and was like lying in a freshly run bath. I could not have been more relaxed. But unfortunately my zen state was to be short lived. 

That evening I was parked in a secure car park by the docks, which is always a must for me when visiting cities. I didn’t, however, sign up for the brass bloody band that was practising until 11pm! Which would have been fine if they weren’t just playing the same 20 second tune over and over and over. As if that wasn’t bad enough the car park also happens to be a popular spot for night fishing. Fishing you say, that’s a pretty quiet sport? Not when they’re also playing music to try and drown out the brass band; all you end up hearing is Spanish rap over a trumpet backing track. The fishermen eventually left at around 3am and I eventually got some sleep. 

Needless to say we moved the following morning, not only because of the sleepless night but also because Barney had developed a pretty nasty eye infection so we had to go to the vet. I was a bit anxious but the vet was wonderful and soon put me at ease. He gave Barney a full eye test which confirmed there was nothing wrong with his cornea and it was just conjunctivitis (which I suspected anyway because I’d obviously been googling his symptoms). A quick trip to the pharmacy and a week of eye drops later he was absolutely fine.  So after one more day relaxing in the van and making pancakes once I’d realised it was pancake day, we started our journey north back towards Alicante. 

The plan was to stop at a free aire for services then head back to the beach. But we all know things never go to plan. Barney had been cooped up in the van for few days so as soon as I opened the door he saw his opportunity and flew passed me. No big deal. He usually goes exploring on his own anyway and checks in with us every so often. But on this occasion he was off exploring for a solid 4 hours without coming back once! Well that was it, I was 1000% sure he was gone for good. We we’re in the middle of nowhere, next to a pretty busy and fast road, with farmland either side. I looked everywhere! Eventually he just strolls in like nothing had happened whilst I’m sat on the bed absolutely besides myself. In hindsight I definitely overreacted (which has been a common theme the last few weeks), but what can I say, cat mums are next level crazy!

The following morning I found a campsite near Cartagena and spent the next 3 days sunbathing and crocheting (I’ve just finished a really cool project which I’ll share with you once I’ve given it to the person it’s for). I had planned to go into Cartagena but I was further away than I thought. The options we’re either 2 buses which ran very infrequently (and I would definitely miss the last bus and end up stuck miles away from the van) or a taxi for €12 each way (which just wasn’t worth it). Instead I planned to drive there a few days later. But more than one thing meant my plans changed. 

The first was that a French couple who are travelling and living in their motorhome with their three children and their dog (who I have been following on instagram for a few months now), were back in Alicante and wanted to meet up! So I drove to the beach to find them. Despite not actually speaking the same language, we had the best evening together and laughed so much. Their kids are so wonderful (they are 7, 5 and 2!) and despite living in such a small space get on amazingly. They truly are such an inspirational family and I cant wait to see them on the road again. 

The second reason I had to get to Alicante was that Alex was finally coming back after being away for just over three weeks! I cant even explain how happy I was. This was my first attempt at travelling on my own in the van and it hasn’t been easy. When you hit a lot of setbacks in a very short space of time, even little ones, they eventually add up and begin to feel so heavy, that they outweigh all the positives. But being able to look back and reflect on what I have done, despite the dead batteries, getting completely lost in the middle of nowhere, Barney’s injury, his eye infection, almost losing him, hitting a tree (forgot to mention that one, its could be worse…it could be better), I am genuinely so proud of myself. Hopefully when the time comes for Alex to go back to work, I’ll have the confidence to do it all over again. But for now, I am very, very happy that he is here with me. 

We are unfortunately nearing the end of our time in Spain and we’ll soon be heading north, through France and into Belgium to go and see Avril Lavigne on 18th March (which I am totally fan-girling over and may actually cry!). I have completely fallen in love with Spain and cannot wait for our next visit as I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface and there is still so much more to discover.

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