This is the 5th article in our Ventham saga as they made their journey from the UK to the Pyrenees in northern Spain – on foot with the help of their horse Maggie. today, the arrival in Spain!
This is another of Julia’s letters back to friends:
We are here!! Our wheels finally stopped turning almost 3 months to the day of setting off!
The feelings of satisfaction and elation in our sense of achievement were huge, I think we were half expecting a ´fiesta´ reception as we strode into the tiny hamlet of Borrastre, our home for the foreseeable future. But no band playing or flags flying, only a few strange looks from the locals, we quickly realised that the sense of achievement was all ours and we didn´t need it to be recognised by anyone but ourselves!
The journey up and over the mountains was long, steep and at times almost too much for all of us – of course the real heroin of the story is Maggie – she pulled our house up 6,500ft, rising to the challenge when we felt we might need to call in the troops (in the form of a tractor)!
The only way to do it was to take small steps, our daily average of 20kms per day was halved, but there was no hurry and Maggie´s well-being was paramount.
Our border crossing was chosen carefully by expert map reader, Tom, who has done an amazing job of navigating us through France following the Meridian line, as closely as we could. We took what we thought would be the least arduous crossing, avoiding all the main tunnels through the mountains. But whichever way we were to go, a huge mountain range had to be crossed!
The enthusiasm of passers by, with words of encouragement helped a great deal and as we stepped our hooves, paws and feet across the Spanish border, we congratulated ourselves with a ´group hug´- a passing Spanish group asked what we were celebrating, when I explained, they responded with cheers and claps, it was a lovely welcome into the country!
We spent the first night at the peak, camped behind a discount shop – yes truly, there are many up there, all selling Spanish/French food and cheap´tack´, in a terrain that resembles the surface of the moon – most bizarre experience. We faced the vardo away from the 21st century consumerist arena and there the views were breathtaking! We felt on top of the world, with eagles overhead and the high peaks stretching far, far into the distance.
It was a good breather before the decent because we hadn´t anticipated how difficult it would be, our focus had been just getting to the top!
Keeping the weight of the vardo off Maggie´s back end meant that one of us girls needed to hold our foot hard down on the brake, the metal plate of the brake just got hotter and hotter by the km, so we needed to stop regularly. It was stressful at times but what a great lesson in patience – we were not to rush this last bit, that was a clear message!
To add to the stress, within 5kms of setting off from the border, our feet just getting used to Spanish terrain and the Guardia Civil (Police), pulled us off the road and demanded to see all our documents. Our first such stop since setting off on the journey. I even remarked about this to the stern faced man, standing in all his shiny uniform, gun glinting in the sunlight, trying to lighten the situation but he was quick in his response “Inglaterra es Inglaterra, Francia es Francia, este es España”. No jokes allowed, nothing was going to soften him, not even Maggie!! We were ordered to put the dogs inside the vardo and only Tom was allowed to walk on the road, wearing a florescent yellow jacket, much to his horror!
We complied for a while but the rebel in Tom got the better and as soon as the police car was out of sight, we returned to our tried and tested old ways, keeping an eye out for their return. We had no more trouble!
Our mood changed as we came down the mountain and the closer we got to our destination, the more introspective we all became, reflecting on our journey and not wanting it to end. We found some lovely spots to camp on our way, taking time to adjust.
Now, a month into being here and we are getting a rhythm to our days, it wasn´t easy to begin with and we each felt the loss of our nomadic lifestyle in our own individual ways. Even the animals would look at us with searching eyes, asking ´when are we off again?´ But familiarity is always a good thing and we have been made to feel so welcome by many people in the village.
We started camping on the land that I rented but saw a 2 bedroom ´cassita´ nearby that we could rent, with land. The winters are cold and we all felt that our camping days could take a breather for a few months, and hot showers and flushing loo lured us in!
We move next week when the electricity and water have been connected (it is a new conversion of a very old shepherds house), very cosy, with a wood burner, we are most excited about this, as it has been a long time since we had a ´real´fire! We can rent the house and 2 hectares of land for upto 1 year, so it is perfect. We have plenty of space for the horses (we have an old rescue horse from Ainsa, as a companion for Maggie) and space for those that want to visit and camp!
We have moved our camp to just outside the house, close to the river.
Our days are filled with chopping wood and carrying water, interspersed with walking/riding in the mountains, learning Spanish, cooking, reading. Tom is helping the builders, just to speed things up. It is also a good immersion into Spanish for him.
Molly has already made some friends in the village and has herself a babysitting job twice a week, her Spanish is improving everyday.
Me and the dogs are getting to know the lay of the land, I love walking in the mountains and they are feeling more and more at home here. My Spanish is getting us by but I am studying the grammar and having conversations with people most days, it´s all about having the confidence to just have a go and not mind making mistakes!
Summer feels as if it is slipping away here, my travel companions, the swallows have now left and T. shirt and shorts have been replaced by jeans and jumpers! But the days can still be warm and there is lots of sunshine, so I can´t complain. The summer of 2012 has been one to remember, just a crazy idea a year ago, now hard to believe that we have done it! We have met so many amazing people and seen so much beauty – how lucky we have been, I encourage anyone to do a similar thing!
So now the new life begins – we let the chapters write themselves, while we just live and experience it!
If you missed the other parts of the series, you can check on them here: