Taking A Break From The Motorhome In San Jose - How Familiar Places Have Provided New Directions

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Wednesday 6 January 2016

Taking A Break From The Motorhome In San Jose - How Familiar Places Have Provided New Directions

When we left the UK last May it was with very few plans in mind, but the definite idea that we would resist the pull of returning to the familiar (amazing) areas we had visited during the previous year. We'd read online it was good to challenge ourselves and to us that meant going to new places, and so we told ourselves we would only be seeking out pastures new when we boarded the ferry in Harwich.....but somehow exactly the opposite has happened! Instead our journey this year has found us threading our way through many of the same geographical areas we relished during the previous year and, even more so than last year, staying put for much longer in specific parts of those areas....a fact that really dawned on us today as we collected the keys for a 4 week apartment stay in San Jose, Cabo de Gata where we spent more than 2 months of winter last year as well! Yet for all the apparent similarities in our destinations, our adventure has been so staggeringly different and challenging in other, unexpected ways that we thought it was worth reflecting on just how our adventure conspired to guide us back to the familiar and the freedom it has given us in other parts of our journey.

The first time that 'life' stepped in to push us back to the familiar was almost as soon as we drove south from Holland in early June bound for Austria. We had loved the Alps in France and Switzerland last year and had decided we wanted more Alpine experiences. But since we were looking to 'challenge' ourselves we decided that it had to be somewhere new and had picked Austria primarily because it wasn't France or Switzerland....but a terrible weather forecast for the rest of June, ongoing health problems for Esther and the realisation that by the time the weather cleared, as there are very few motorhome aires in the Austrian Alps, all of the ACSI discounted campings we'd planned to use would be charging full, high season rates made us reconsider. If we wanted to avoid paying a small fortune to feel poorly beneath cloud covered summits we would have to change our plans and so, where better than France we thought. Plenty of free places to stay, the prospect of much better weather and abundant organic food saw us driving through Switzerland in a single day and reaching Annecy beneath a cloudless sky.

Of course France is a big place, but once we had arrived back in the French Alps it proved much too hard to leave. We did then try to explore different parts of the Alps at least, starting with the Queyras Regional Natural Park that we had bypassed the previous year, with plans to head onwards to the Vanoise as well. We had even planned to tick off several multi-day hiking tours following the previous year's theme of getting some really big 'impressive' hikes in the bag. But as luck would have it, food poisoning, an aborted Tour du Queyras and a chance friendship that emerged on a market stall turned the Queyras into a real home from home as the weeks flowed together. Stumbling upon the fantastic, welcoming community of farmers and artisan producers that saw us WWOOFing for almost 2 months near to Guillestre and making excursions to the familiar Ecrins National Park and Briancon was a real stroke of luck. It was here that we really learned that moving from place to place is only one way to 'travel' in the sense of broadening our horizons. The people we met, the things we learned and the experiences that were offered to us really rocked our world-view - to be so immersed in a culture of giving, happiness and generosity that completely overturned the 'priorities' we had been used to was incredible.

When we did finally depart the farm and drifted onto the fringes of the Provence we were once more fortunate in meeting several inspirational and generous people en route. During our fortnight here we also contemplated our winter options at length as the nights grew ever colder. We considered Italy, Portugal, Greece......so many options for 'new' places, but again life stepped in with family factors winning out and taking us on a 2000km detour to Holland for the next 5 weeks before being back on the road again and heading towards Spain after all. By now it was pretty clear that our intention to seek out only pastures new had gone quite out of the window, but something else had happened that was proving much more challenging. Somewhere in our journey, with less distractions to chase and fewer days spent driving, we had embarked on a very different type of journey altogether - a journey much more about personal growth. We've reflected in previous posts about how living in a plastic box had proved a real catalyst for some big changes in our relationship and communication, but our summer in the Queyras and working on the farm had given us a lot of space to read and listen to some very moving writers that had allowed us to go a lot further along that same path, especially starting to understand ourselves, including our hopes, fears, difficulties, strengths and weaknesses, against the backdrop of our lives and the environment we'd lived in.

And so, by the time we got to Holland, although our daily routine was the familiar one we had adopted during previous visits, our journey of personal exploration didn't really stop at all, even if it sometimes felt like it had. In hindsight, we have started to realise that throughout most of our adventure this year that 'life' just seems to keep throwing up the 'right' circumstances  and giving us exactly what we need to continue that path....even if it doesn't feel like it at first. In fact, much of this year we've spent feeling a little lost and wondering why everything feels so difficult when we really 'should' be having a great time, only to realise a short while later that we had learned yet another valuable lesson or insight about ourselves and each other.

By the time we left Holland we had reached a point where we were much more accepting that 'life' seemed to be guiding us and even though the familiar frustration of indecision still reared its head often, we tried to relax and wait for the right decision to reveal itself...and that's exactly what seemed to keep happening. For example, charging through France with no idea where in Spain we were going saw us dithering on the French/Spanish border for a week, which was frustrating at first, but meant that we were in exactly that right place to meet some amazing people, including one inspiring British couple who were also just setting out on their own adventure and who we really clicked with and went on to learn a lot of valuable lessons from, not just about motorhome touring but about outlook on life as well. Then just a couple of weeks later, having drifted towards Valencia as we couldn't think of anywhere we really 'wanted' to visit in Spain we stumbled upon a fantastic, impromptu gathering of motorhomes that saw us spending Christmas and New Year around one of the most natural and festive groups of people, made up only of strangers that all just happened to all be passing and showing is that real communication is about far more than language and background. Even beyond feeling blessed with the group of people around us, we also found ourselves for several days with a neighbour on his own personal journey in addition to his motorhome travels and whose wisdom, questioning and again a new perspective was challenging but necessary for us. In fact, alongside having a great Christmas and New Year, there were also some really dark moments as well but which bought out some very miraculous insights.

Life even stepped in with a guiding hand just this Monday morning when we were readying to drive south, probably towards Mojacar which we'd been told by several people was a good place to consider an apartment for a few weeks. We'd had a great recommendation from fellow travellers Paul and Elaine from NB The Manly Ferry and we had even emailed once or twice with the agent they'd suggested who had been helpful in sending some links but had been closing for Christmas. Our plan therefore had been to head towards the agency now they were open again and see what they had....when an unexpected email popped up offering us an apartment in familiar San Jose. It just seemed too coincidental to turn down, there would be no hassle, no viewings, it was bang on our budget..... so without dithering for a change we went for it. Journeying south we did swing by Mojacar to see if we might visit in future and also to see a friend we had made the previous year, who we enjoyed a very relaxed and natural evening with even though we hadn't seen them for more than a year. Waking up along a very pretty beach front just outside of Mojacar this morning (coincidentally almost directly opposite the agency we had been emailing with), we did wonder for a time if we'd been right to have made such an uncharacteristic snap decision about the San Jose apartment after all. Mojacar was indeed beautiful and although a little bigger than we were used to, seemed a beautiful place with long sandy beaches, good cycling prospects, mountains nearby etc.. But then we also realised that would have been the problem for us - a new and beautiful area with tempting hikes to tackle and cycles to discover would have probably seen us getting back into full, mad crazy explorer mode when what we really need right now is a more stable environment to allow some of the insights we've been having to crystallise and guide our long term direction.

Before our adventure began the direction our life was taking had come about without too much involvement from us: school to university to work.....mostly taking the path of least resistance based on what seemed normal and conventional at the time. Each step pigeon holed us further into a narrower and narrower place in the world, without us ever stepping back to question it. Yet now we feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity, the space to step back and ask ourselves how we might instead use what skills and talents we have in a direction we feel much more passionate about, instead of feeling like we need to spend our days getting by and living for the promise of something better.....in the future. We've learnt so much about ourselves and about topics that really move us in the past 6 months especially that we have a growing feeling that many of the ingredients to set out on a new direction are coming together, we just need to listen.

We could have used the break after my illness as a discrete 'gap' to patch ourselves up, recover our energies and then slot back in where we had left off. Maybe this is what we were unconsciously doing last year when we were in our mad, crazy explorer mode. Life felt too short and all we wanted to do was see more things thinking this would make us happy, which it did for a while. But having had the chance to continue travelling, and having gotten feelings of restriction out of our system last year, we've been becoming increasingly aware that we need to find direction once more, but a direction aligned with what really moves us. We used to be jealous and cynical of people who claimed they loved their work and couldn't understand why they would 'work' for apparently so little (if any) financial return. We've heard it said, your ideal job is the one you'd pay to do which was just too far outside of our scope of experience. Work was for money, which we then used to do the things which made us happy like sport, holidays, even volunteering etc. but on our terms.

This year we were fortunate to meet many people, working in ways that truly fulfilled them because they felt they were giving back to their community, many of them leaving much more lucrative and prestigious careers behind to do so. What they were now 'getting in return' was priceless. This guided us, but more than seeing other people living this way, it's been awakening a deep calling within us as well to try and find our new direction. Coupled with some inspirational moments and other timely meetings and signposts we're starting to create and explore our new directions. That's not to say we have any regrets either because were it not for the first 30 odd years being the way they were, we wouldn't have either a contrast to help us see the signposts and also have the means to explore other life directions in the way we are.

And so this apartment in the familiar surroundings of San Jose, without the hard to resist lure of untrodden paths nearby, is exactly what we feel we need and just so happened to fall into our lap (or our inbox at least) first thing on Monday morning and now here we are. We have a ceramic toilet, a bed we can walk around and even a roof terrace overlooking the sea and it's all wonderful. Of course, motorhome life is wonderful as well, but it is also true that with the limited space and the necessary practical, daily tasks of life taking longer (emptying the loo, filling the water tank, building the bed etc.) there is often less energy left to put into other pursuits. This necessary slower pace of life has been what we have needed at times in the past, but right now we want to have the space around us to free up the energy to work on shaping a new direction.

This is still a challenge of course, but a challenge of a completely different kind to touring and one which we might not have encountered if events hadn't guided us back to familiar places after all.

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