Our final fortnight in Portugal was a blur of surf, fishing, barbeques, bonfires, good company and good bottles of wine, all crowned by three days of modest drives through Spain via the medieval university town of Salamanca to stormy Bilbao to await passage home aboard ‘The Pride of Bilbao’.
The five-metre seas were tossing the ship’s incumbent passengers around the show bar, violently delaying their arrival (and thus our departure) by eight hours, all the while filling the ship’s bowels with vomit ballast. Had we not met and talked to some of these mini-cruisers, we would never have believed that at least half of our fellow passengers had been hoodwinked by unscrupulous Welsh and Liverpudlian travel agencies into using this RORO transport ferry as a three-day pleasure vessel.
On our first night about this luxury cruise liner we were forced to beat a hasty retreat back to our cabin by the unrelenting ShowTune entertainment, and two rounds of cold 37p a slice toast and butter to the good the following morning an early stroll revealed pockets of Scouse fun-seekers dotted around the ship’s duty-free shops, huddled around hastily torn-open 24 packs of Strongbow and Stella desperately slurping their hangovers away, compelling the fun to begin once more.
The days travelling back to England and awaiting our onward connection to India provided time for reflection on the previous eight weeks of 9ft by 5ft van life. The peaks, the troughs, the countries and the people. For a couple to live in such close-quarters is challenging, rewarding and a journey of discovery… Discovering those traits, those foibles, those personality ‘ticks’ that we tend to cover up in our normal spacious living. But we survived… mostly.
Learning to live as one organism – Sofie, Neil and I – was tough. Having to do everything either together or in complete sympathy is a necessity of close-quarter living. We had to sleep and wake at the same time, eat, sit, stand, move, wash and breathe together. Everything takes five times as long to do in the van because the stowafe system is constantly being re-arranged. To use the pan you move the coffee-pot to the side, the spices back in the cupboard, the water bottle to the seating area, the ash-tray to the side table, the washing-up bowl to the back step, the lighter from the front to the stove, and so on and so on… The constant search for water, toilets and camp spots meant an unrelenting round of moving this, packing that, stowing this, folding that, re-packing, removing, unwrapping. These trials obviously irked on some more sensitive days, but were no great hardships and living in such a basic, simple way was a great life-lesson in terms of the difference between needs and wants. Whatever, these complications were more than outweighed by the luxuries of mobile living. We dined on an Algarve moonlit terrace watching sliver-crested waves wash onto fine, pale sand only yards from our feet as we ate smoky, sweet paprika tinged squid, breakfasted on cliffs high above wild rocky ocean ravaged bays, romantically celebrated on the sunset drenched dunes of Galicia and socialised at the World Surf Tour’s Portuguese headquarters.
Luxury is available to all if you’re prepared to rough it and to search beyond the well-trodden path. In fact it only seems to be available at either end of the scale – the ultra-rich can pay through the nose to stay in the most beautiful and exclusive locations, but the curious, mobile and independent traveller can find amazing places without the cost. It’s the majority in the middle ground who are caught in the mire of packaged, developed, managed mediocrity.