Catching Up – Starting 2019 In Spain

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Sunday 3 February 2019

Catching Up – Starting 2019 In Spain

Hello again. It’s been some time since we last posted an update and so much has happened in the past two months that it’s hard to know where to start. We left France and arrived in Spain in mid-December, moving swiftly to reach the Devesa Natural Park a little south of Valencia with just one overnight stop along the way. This is an area we’ve visited three or four times over the years and one which we always like to return to both for the fantastic beach and the many peaceful beachside parking options for motorhomes.

On our first visit in 2014 we stayed first on a camping and then a secure motorhome park in El Saler, which were both lovely, but since then have joined the dozens of other motorhomes who settle in one of the various car parks for anything from a night to several weeks overlooking the sea. Each morning an official car from the Ayuntamiento drives around noting number plates, but provided everyone is neat and tidy and doesn’t start acting like it’s a camping, they seem content for us to be there. This time we stayed for two lovely weeks, falling asleep each night to the sound of the sea and spending our days cycling on the fantastic, flat roads nearby or walking/jogging on the beach with the gang. We also day-tripped by bike into nearby Valencia, which has a lovely park stretched right through the centre which used to be the course of a large river. We also visited the harbour.

With the New Year approaching, both in terms of the shortest day (winter solstice) and the conventional calendar one, our intention was to use our time by the sea to reflect on 2018, what had worked, what hadn’t, what we’d enjoyed, what goals we might want to set for the year ahead etc. It just felt like the right thing to do. Increasingly over the years, the more settled we’ve become into the rhythms of the day and the seasons, we’ve noticed that different times of year lend themselves to either more physical/busy or more reflective activities, which is obvious really when you think about it. Of course, modern life being what it is, with constant demands at work, bright lights at the flick of a switch, always warm temperatures indoors, TV, broadband etc. it’s not always possible to wind down in winter, which is one of the things we feel very grateful for with our lifestyle. As I’m sure we’ve mentioned before, living in a motorhome is a wonderful way to reconnect with the outdoors while still having just enough creature comforts to stay stable compared to, for example, a tent.

That said, I can’t say that we’ve really ever listened to that urge. With thirty-odd years of practice at being busy, typically what we’d do is start to get cold in France, arrive in Spain, get warm again and then go crazy on our bikes so that by mid-February/early-March we were physically worn out. But not this year we promised ourselves and indeed, we were peaceful in the run up to the New Year which turned out to be very fortunate given what happened in January.

My dad had arrived in Los Alcazares, a little north of Cartagena, for a holiday in mid-December so we headed down to meet up with him for a few days before he left. Unfortunately, no sooner had we arrived in Los Alcazares late one night when Esther got the news her 101 year old Oma (grandma) had had a minor stroke, had been unconscious all day and that the prognosis for her recovery wasn’t looking good. Less than 12 hours later and Esther was on a flight to Holland. What neither of us could ever have guessed at the time was that Esther would be away for three weeks.

Oma’s life story is incredible. She is a living history lesson. Born during the First World War and a young adult in occupied Holland in the Second World War, it’s hard to imagine the changes that have occurred in her lifetime. I certainly can’t even begin to summarise them here. During Esther’s childhood, with her suffering with eczema all over her body, Esther’s grandparents, Oma and Opa, were a major part of her life and they had always remained incredibly close. Oma’s wisdom, calm presence and appreciation of nature in particular were wonderful to be close to. I know it’s something Esther wants to write more about.

It was a huge relief when Oma recovered incredibly quickly for the six days of Esther’s visit, allowing her to spend quality time with all of the family to such an extent that she seemed to have made enough of a recovery to be considered stable. It meant that Esther could see in the New Year with Oma, enjoying the fireworks (the ones set off for the children in the early evening anyway) and watch the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, a family tradition for many years. The anniversary of what would have been Esther’s grandad’s birthday also took place. It was a very close time for Esther and Oma, often sitting quietly together, holding hands and looking out of the window to appreciate the birds in the trees.


Esther then left Holland with her mum for a short trip to see her dad back in the UK, who hadn’t been able to come to Holland, with a plan to fly straight back to Spain from Britain only to get the news 24 hours later that Oma had had a terminal stroke. Esther went straight back to Holland where, along with the rest of the family, they took turns to sit with Oma who was now in a coma until, three days later, she passed away.

For my part, living with the gang in the motorhome, spending time with my dad in Los Alcazares and then on my own, while all of this was happening was a peculiar, almost unreal sensation. We all agreed that it wasn’t sensible for me to drive 25 hours north for the funeral, or try and find places to leave 5 dogs, although in hindsight maybe it could have worked. I’ve never fully understood the value of a funeral to say goodbye until now. Oma had also been big part of my life for 17 years and it was hard not to be there.

For Esther and her mum Oma’s passing was the start of a very hectic and emotional time, not only having lost Oma but unfortunately the conditions of Oma’s care home only gave them 6 days to clear her room while also organising the funeral and taking care of lots of other paperwork. Esther was very grateful to be there to support her mum and, while it was maybe all a little too quick, it ensured that not too much attachment got transferred to the material things. Esther also stayed a few days after the funeral to support her mum and dad.

It was three weeks after her hasty departure that Esther flew back into Alicante airport We found a lovely spot on a nearby beach, at Gran Alicant, to park up and recover from what had been an especially busy time. The parking space we found was, quite literally, metres from the sea and with no artificial lights nearby the night-times in particular were amazing. This was the time of the ‘Wolf-Blood’ moon (lunar eclipse) and we got an incredible view from our bedroom window. As with Valencia, we walked and jogged on the beach with the team, took a few bike rides and enjoyed watching the sun rise out of the Mediterranean each morning. The beach was spectacular, miles and miles of golden sand with hardly anyone on it, except at weekends.


One day, just four days after Esther got back, we were sitting down for lunch when a Dutch friend we’d met travelling three years earlier quite literally cycled past our window! He came in for tea and a short while later Esther had the idea, with me not being able to go to Oma’s funeral and also not having seen my own family for so long, that perhaps it was time for me to take a trip myself. I had actually booked a flight to the UK in early January, before Esther had to go to Holland and which obviously I’d missed, but with my own grandma’s birthday coming up Esther encouraged me to take the trip. I was reluctant to leave her on her own so soon after coming back, but our friend was happy to park nearby and help out with the dogs and anything that came up while I was away, so just 36 hours later I was on a plane myself for a fantastic 5-day visit to Nottingham.

Getting to see my brother Chris, nephew Dexter, niece Nova (who hasn’t been very well since she was born last year), grandparents and parents was wonderful, joining in with the otherwise mundane tasks of daily life like a trip to Sainsbury’s, a gym visit and drinking tea in front of a television. Thankfully modern technology allows us all to keep in touch fairly well from month-to-month, but the value of a big hug can’t be overstated, especially with nana and grandad. It’s one of those things we have to accept as part of our travelling lifestyle, that we can’t just be down the road any more. However, as Esther said, it was something she wouldn’t be able to do again and she wanted me to go and give my own nana a hug on her birthday and I was incredibly grateful for that encouragement.

And then, all of sudden, it was over. January was at an end and we found ourselves back alongside the beach a little to the south of Alicante. The previous month had been a whirlwind of activities that neither of us ever even imagined would occur during our peaceful fortnight in the run-up to the New Year, but one that, luckily, we had been able to stay strong for thanks to that quiet time. All the lessons we had learned during that reflection about what had and hadn’t worked in 2018, either about ourselves, old habits that were not serving us, new ones that replaced them and practical and healthy ideas for saving time, all of a sudden had been really necessary in order not only to survive the busy time but be able to support not only ourselves but also the people around us.

During that busy month our mantra had been “be the change you want to see”, so instead of writing all of these (New Year) ‘resolutions’ in a journal or planning how we were going to be different, suddenly there were major life events that gave us the opportunity to put it all into practice straight away. I’m not saying we were perfect and there are still things we’d have refined and worked on, but we wouldn’t have been able to cope with events like these so well even a year ago. It must be our apprenticeship living with the dogs which is teaching us so much about learning to be more loving, compassionate and patient thanks to the furry gurus.

Which brings us to the start of February and time to pick up on that reflection, goal-setting and considering what 2019 might have in store for us. It’s already a year with some uncertainty, particularly with Brexit now less than 2 months away, but whatever arises I believe we will be able to roll with it, something we’ve gotten better at in the past year or so thanks again in no small part to the presence of our five furry travel companions. When we first set off in 2014 everything was new and, as a result, everything was wonderful. We just enjoyed whatever and wherever we found ourselves. Then, in the years that followed, we sometimes started to make comparisons and get stressed if things weren’t as good as something else we remembered. We sometimes had a tendency to focus on the small parts of our lives that didn’t feel good, rather than the many gifts we had, and we got worried as a result, trying to get back what we remembered or set even higher goals to outdo the past. But now we’ve seen it for what it was, we make sure we try and take time every day to be thankful for the many gifts already in our lives. I’m not saying that we’re perfect at this, far from it. We’re just at the stage where we can catch ourselves from time to time, and then try and presence ourselves to appreciate what we have in the now, a lesson that Oma, in her wisdom, had been showing us for years. That there is amazing joy to be found in appreciating the simplest things.

We’ve now moved a little further north of Alicante, into the Jalon Valley north of Benidorm, where the almond blossom is just starting to bloom and the sun is shining on some fine cycling roads and many, many hiking signs.

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