Fast Track Back to Old Blighty

Unfortunately this leg of the journey has come to an end. With funds running low, and being less inclined to do workaway, we have to head home to find well-paid work. I was hoping to be able to pick up some more cash jobs and maybe even some professional-type work while travelling, but this was harder than I had anticipated. I still need to incorporate the simpler way of life into what lies ahead and travel has definitely focused my attention to ideals such as – living without excess, being ethical and thoughtful of the impact we are making.

We were actually starting to miss England – if you can believe it! Not the weather, that will always be rubbish unless climate change works in our favour one day, but the British culture is something special and I’ve missed it. The sarky weird sense of humour we have, but also how far ahead Britain is. We have so many options available to us in Britain that you may not see, but once you take them away they become quite important. As we’ve travelled around we have definitely become more focused on our goals for when we get back.

Workaway was a funny old experience. In some ways it worked quite well and in others it didn’t work at all. A lot of people just want cheap labour and to lord it over you while you do their dirty work, but there are still random workaways that made our journey something special. In reflection we were happy that we included workaway as part of our experience, but it is quite tricky to balance what’s expected of you and not being taken for granted.  Communication is key, but awkward situations arise, comms break down and you can leave feeling either used or unappreciated. We didn’t need to rely on workaway as we could live more than comfortably in our camper parked up on the beaches, but for us it was a way to meet people, integrate and find out all the great places to go from the locals. We are really grateful for the awesome places we stayed, and those positives really do outweigh the negatives from the other places we stayed.

What’s next – make some improvements to the van, earn some money and then see what happens. I think the simple life idea only really works for a short time, you quickly start to feel like you need some purpose: unless you want to sit on your own in a cabin in the woods you do need to re-engage with the world. I’ve released myself from the “having to work to pay the mortgage commitment”, so that I can now look upon work as an exciting new opportunity.

I would highly recommend taking a trip like this to anybody and even if you can only get a three month sabbatical, jump at it. Keep your options open and remember life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

 

San Sebastian – Ror’s Tours

A chance to meet up with my well travelled childhood friend Rory. He always knows the best and worst places to go in the city and gives you the alternative tour, not so much focusing on the history aspects, but more – this is the best place to eat, don’t go in that bar I got thrown out of there, and here’s good to get shit faced.

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San Sebastian is a great little “Basque” city.  It’s basically the Spanish Biarritz, and if you’re looking for a weekend away San Sebastian would be perfect for a city/beach break. It’s nice to be back in a modern environment but where you can still witness all the regions old traditions. This city has a nice vibe and you can get caught up in the buzz but still has the feeling of a smaller surf town. The buildings and architecture are typically basque with large white building with the crimson wooden shutters, and the inner city is lined with tall skinny apartments towering over the back alleys and lanes, all with the intricate cast iron railings on their balconies.

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We finally succumb to the pinchos concept. This is where a bar will be completely covered with plates of canape type foods ranging from squid and octopus to little meaty treats. Usually priced about 1.5 Euros each this is a great way to snack while you get sozzled on the local cider. You have to order at least one cider, even if you’re not too keen, just to have the bar staff pour the drink from above their heads into a glass held waist height. This process is to aerate the drink so you can release the real taste of the cider, and it also makes a good picture for the tourists.

Unusually one of the best bars to literally soak up these old traditions is Bar Sport. I would usually walk straight past sports bars in the UK as they are they are often your working mans drinking pub, but don’t let the name deceive you this is a hidden gem.  If you’re feeling brave order the squid and also the octopus, it’s served as fresh as it comes, and if you can get past your squeamish reservations you will be rewarded with a taste sensation and a good story to tell when you get home.

 

Praia Das Catedrais, Ribadeo

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There’s a motorhome park up here, it’s out of the way and perfect to break up a long drive and get some fresh air. It is a little tourist spot though and you will see coach loads of them, all in the latest walking gear. They will pile into the carpark when the tides out, go down the steps and stand on the beach, take photos then all huddle in the cafe/restaurant and buy an overpriced burnt coffee, then disappear almost as quickly.

As with most Spanish places of interest the toilet facilities are locked, and it’s been quite amusing watching all the tourists and campervan residents taking the same short walk into the neighbouring field, acting as though they have a great fascination in this particular area, then darting behind the little hedge which offers the only privacy for miles.

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If you take the time to be in the place that you have come to see, you can not only tick the box, but you can also have a walk along the cliff tops while watching all the waves crashing heavily into the rocky coastline. It’s a lovely feeling taking a windy clifftop walk and returning to the van and in good old English fashion, “stickin’ kettle on.”

It’s like a smaller – not as good version of the twelve apostles on the great ocean road, but still worth a visit, and a decent place to park up.

 

The Spanish Gawp

“Gawp” (verb) – to stare openly in a stupid or rude manner.

This is something you will have to accept if you plan to travel around Spain in your campervan. We’ve now travelled around pretty much all of Spain, and it’s the same everywhere. We’ve tried to fight it, but there’s just too many of them. It’s ingrained into their society. You can’t fully understand it until you’ve experienced it. Even writing this now, I’m getting gawped at. I’ve tried dramatically gawping back, I’ve tried over enthusiastically waving at them – nothing works! I may consider putting up a sign next,  just to see what effect it has, but I think I’ve had to admit defeat and accept it.

The Spanish are generally fantastic, I love Spain, and have found most people to be welcoming, helpful and also generous, I just wish they could be more subtle. Everyone likes a little snoop, and I too like to have a quick look into someone’s campervan, to see how they’ve kitted it out and generally have a nose at what they’re up to, but seriously – it’s ridiculous!

On their approach to their van, once they’ve noticed you, the mouth opens, they’re transfixed. If they’re alone their eyes remain glued, if they’re travelling in groups they make sure the other members of the group have noticed, with an obvious nudge or grabbing of the arm. Once they’re at optimal gawping position they will more often than not stop and stare straight in. If you catch their eye, either by accident or on purpose, they will not look away in shame. I’ve often entered into a staring competition, but being British I could never win, self awareness over takes me and eventually I cave. It’s like staring into an empty shell – if it wasn’t so annoying it would be quite impressive. Then once they’ve satisfied their incessant curiosity, their legs will start moving but their gaze will remain unbroken. Only when their necks have reached full extension, and they can’t strain any further, will they eventually continue on their original path. Some have been known to then pause and have a second look to check they’re not missing anything from their new vantage point.

Not knowing the culture well enough, I’ve been unable to read into the purpose of the gawp – whether it’s disapproval, curiosity, amazement, or just instinctual like a dog that’s just noticed a squirrel. I have only come across a milder form of this once before – in the elderly French population that are often found occupying benches or stationary at the end of their drives, but I understand this. I know that they look upon me in disapproval – “Why are you in my country, you silly roast beefs”.

The French come across as mere amateurs, now that I have seen the professionals in action, but I would love to find out the reason behind it, and maybe one day discover a cure. Until that time comes I will just have to sit proudly in my van, casually ignore them and continue about my day.

 

North West Galician Coast

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The north west area of the Galician coast has a love it or hate it feel. You can also sit on both sides of the fence, as there’s disparity between the area on a nice sunny day compared to a cold wet day. Unfortunately this area doesn’t have the wealth of the east coast, and you really notice this when you look around the towns. The majority of the buildings are low cost and of concrete construction giving a less than aesthetic appearance. In contrast the natural landscape is simply stunning, you have it all here – beaches, forests, rivers, mountains, and on a sunny day these are the features that stand out. When the weather turns, you do get dragged back down to the grim reality that this area is struggling, and particularly with the older generations here – there’s a lot of hard faces that give that slightly depressing small town feel that the people run away from in their youth.

As we’ve driven around the coast it’s hard to get an accurate picture of the place, as we’re out of peak tourist season, so similarly to Cornwall, some of the areas we’ve parked up in seem a little baron. With weathered old men shuffling around the towns, and shops that don’t seem to bother opening you can get the urge to just skip large sections. Then on a sunny day, the same place can feel completely different. All of a sudden people start arriving with their surfboards and the beach transforms from a bleak oil painting and becomes alive again.

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There’s a small pocket of the Galician coastline that I really love, between Muros and Fisterra, but travel just a little more north of this area and you can quickly start feeling as though the locals still chase people with pitch forks. I think you would need to know the area well to find the good spots, and if you’re just trucking around you may get increasingly frustrated as you aim for a place name on a map only to find another lifeless town where people just stare at you. I’ve found with most travel you can go to the most stunning places in the world but its the people and the buzz that you remember and the experiences that you take away with you. So you may need to dig a little deeper here to find what you’re looking for, and possibly this could be why this area hasn’t quite taken off yet.

Here’s some info on the places we’ve seen, but each area will be hit or miss dependant on the weather, time of year or other varying factors that I don’t know about.

Muxia  – Great lighthouse/viewpoint. You can park up overnight here, and wake up to the most stunning view. You may be a little battered by wind over night but I would say it’s worth it. You have to drive through the narrow town roads to get here, so some larger motorhomes may struggle. Town’s a little dead, but there are the essentials.

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From Muxia we could see another lighthouse flashing away in the distance so we thought we would take a drive over there too.

Faro de Cabo Vilan – Nice lighthouse, decent viewpoint, and there’s a little informative display in the building next to the lighthouse showing old photos, lamps and maps etc. You can’t park up overnight here, but there’s plenty of coastline near by. I wouldn’t go out of you way to get here though.

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Praia de Traba – This was a very scenic beach, with good facilities. There’s a cold beach shower and toilets that get some abuse but are cleaned daily. There’s some off road parking near the beach, and it’s slightly off the beaten track, so not many vehicles passing through. This area transformed half way through the day as the sea mist set in late afternoon and stayed all evening and into the night. There’s very little lighting out there, which combined with the mist gave quite an eerie feeling. This beach is possibly better for a windy walk with your dog rather than getting your speedos and sun lotion on.

Praia de Caion – This was a nice little park up for a night. The beach is a little more populated than most in this area, and as always the landscape is stunning. There’s a beach shower that will test your resolve but you can recover from the ice cold water temperatures with a nice Earl Grey while looking out over the ocean. The car park is slightly above the beach, so you can watch the surfers below. Again the town is dead, for example on a Saturday morning the local Panaderia didn’t open until 9:45Am. We were outraged, and in protest we searched out another bakery that was two miles away. We found Panaderia carracedo in Arteixo, this was great little find and with such friendly service. The bread was lovely but the Spanish just can’t get pastries like the French.

A Coruna – This whole area is very industrial and this gave noticeably poor air quality. It’s just a modern industrial city, I’m sure there’s nice bits, but we just couldn’t get over the close proximity of these huge stacks kicking out plumes of smoke that you could taste for miles. I would skip this whole area.

Praia de Doninos – Near to Ferrol, this seemed to be a very popular beach. When the sun’s shining the huge carpark will be full. This isn’t always great when you want to get your table and chairs out and have lunch. The beach is really nice, showers, toilets etc, etc and quite nice cliff walks leading from the beach. You can easily camp here, and I’m sure mid week it will be quieter. By this point we had started moving through places a bit more quickly and in general we’re getting a bit bored of this area.

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Valdovino – Stunning beach, slightly odd people. There’s a decent car park with toilets, and a nice board walk, but again the town was dull.

Cedeira – Head towards Rua Area Longa. There’s a carpark area on the river front. This seems to be an unofficial motorhome park up. There’s no facilities, but it’s a nice change from beach carparks. Waking up to the river mouth in the morning is quite relaxing and it’s a very safe area, so we left the van in search of a nice restaurant in the evening.

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We discovered there’s very little in the town other than nice restaurants, but this suited us, as we were just passing by. We tried the Pizzeria Lanus, as it was very busy, but finding ourselves in that awkward situation where the waiter was so nice that we couldn’t really say anything negative. The restaurant and service was exceptional, but they get away with using cheap ingredients which doesn’t sit right with us, and the result is the food tasted like a supermarket bought pizza.

Praia de Estiero – Ending on a high, this is a great spot. It’s like a free campsite, just set back from the beach there’s shade and a cold shower in the wooded area between the beach and the park up. You will often have the beach to yourself, and when the suns out this place is a secret paradise. A bakery van turns up a little after 10am each day, but stock up and stay here for at least two days. This area is a little wilder than your usual beach car park, and with this you get a few extra insects and it is pitch black at night, so stepping out to take an old man pee in the middle of the night is interesting. I would only recommend it here if there’s other motorhomes or vans around, as it’s a bit creepy on your own, but definitely give it a go. Head towards the right hand side (east) of the river to find the right place.

I’m feeling bad about grouping all of these places together, but maybe this symbolises our thoughts here. It’s nice but we’re starting to hurry through rather than savouring every moment.

 

Fisterra – El Camino de Santiago

On our drive along the coast we picked out Fisterra as our next destination. I’m really happy we did, I love this odd little place. We were only going to park here for lunch but we stayed for three days. Driving in, on your left is a car park (campervan park up) charging 5 Euros per day. There are no facilities, but the view is stunning, and the guy who runs it is great too.

We had stumbled across the end of the El Camino de Santiago. As the name suggests the official end is in Santiago, but then history dictates that you should continue on to Fisterra, to the lighthouse and burn your clothes as part of a pagan ritual, as this was once considered to be the end of the world. For those of you still in the dark the El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage to the final resting place of St James. It was quite common to make this pilgrimage to worship St James and people from all over the world were known to walk here from hundreds of miles away. This tradition was resurrected in the 1970s when a few people charted the old trails used, and wrote about their experience. Once again, people from all over the world now take this pilgrimage of between 100-500 miles, and sometimes even further than that. The purpose of the trip isn’t so much to worship St James any longer but for many it’s still a spiritual experience. It’s a physical test, but you may just discover a little more about yourself along the way. Some people use this experience to move past hard times in their lives or even to quash some demons in their heads. Everyone has a different reason to be treading these well-worn paths, but you won’t be alone. One other aspect of the Camino is meeting people from all over the world. I think in this modern digital world it’s a powerful experience to separate yourself, to detox from the constant pressures and distractions of everyday life.

You can find out all the info on this experience online, but as a guide it will take around 31-35 days, you need to cover on average about 30kms per day, and it will cost in the region of 15 Euros per day. There’s albergues (hostels) along the whole route, usually charging 5 Euros per person, and it’s considered best to start in May, or in early September. Check out the film “The Way” if you need some inspiration, this will give you an insight into what it’s all about. I would be open to taking on this challenge at some point in my life, and we even talked about doing it to finish this leg of our trip, but we didn’t feel like it was the right path at this time. It’s the kind of thing you actively search out, instead of just coming across randomly, but also I think in a way we’re already doing our own journey, it’s just a little easier on the feet this way.

There is a big hippy community in Fisterra, and it’s hard not to get caught up in their happy vibes. We strayed into the World Familya cafe/commune that actually offers great food, and the menu of the day is 7 Euros – bargain. You see all sorts of people here while you sit and eat your lunch, and we found it to be a really entertaining place to be. Come back in the evening and they offer a communal style dinner at 9pm open to everyone, and you just offer a donation as payment. If you had asked me beforehand if I would like to have lunch and dinner at a hippy commune and then party into the night with random people on a spiritual quest – I would likely say – No, I’ll give that one a miss thanks, but it was so much fun and I would highly recommend both Fisterra and the hippy cafe.

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Take a walk up to the lighthouse, and also discover the secret cove at the north of the harbour. These are two stunning places to see while you’re there, but also hunt down the Panaderia German, it’s a small bakery – pretty much run from an old lady’s front room, and she specialises in sourdough. There’s a market on certain days near the harbour and  some really great little shops tucked away. You also meet so many shaggy dogs just lying out in the sun as you walk around the town, I think this place attracts hippy dogs too, if there’s such a thing.

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We met some great people that had been walking the Camino (Matt from Sydney & Lyn from Atlanta), and some lovely Germans and Dutch that were camping next to us in their vans and motorhomes. This town  has a real atmosphere that seems to attract some  interesting people, treat yourself to at least two days here, and you will have a completely random experience – guaranteed.