We left England at the beginning of October (finally!) on the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, then drove all the way down to Dax in South West France. We are doing a thing called Workaway (www.workaway.info), where you volunteer to work building, gardening or something like that for about 30 hours a week in exchange for food and somewhere to stay.
We have been staying with a brilliant family here building a straw bale house (or trying to, as the planning permission and the local officials seem to be a problem, so we had to stop). They have 3 dogs, 2 horses and a goat and live in a pine forest. The weather has been amazing all of October, over 20C most days and sunny.
We went to Biarritz
We went to visit some people in the Corbiers mountains. Apparently in 2012 when the world ends some aliens will come here in a spaceship to save the worthy. From a mountain called Bugerach. Or something like that. We stayed with some fairly odd people in a cold stone building with a really strange atmosphere. It might have been a monastery several hundred years ago.
They tried to get us to pull 3 tonne trees with our van along the path. But we didn't like this idea at all when steam started to come out of the bonnet!
We ran away after 4 days!
We went to Rennes-les-bains and parked just outside the town. We went for lots of walks and ate lots of food!
If you look carefully you can just see the van!
Next we went to Brezilhac, near Carcassonne to stay with an English couple, who made us a roast dinner and everything! We have been helping them to put the floor in their barn conversion and lay some patio slabs round the swimming pool. Keef is enjoying mixing up cement. It is still quite warm, but starting to be a bit more like autumn.We have ended up watching T.V because the people here watch a lot. We have ended up watching the X factor by accident, so I think we should move on soon and find some more hippies to stay with!
Half the shops and restaurants were closed in the city and when I walked round the castle ramparts I felt a bit like a ghost as there was no-one else there (it is the middle of November).
Probably the highlight of the day was seeing a giant water rat in the river, under the pont vieux. It was chewing up a big stick and was still there when we came back again 4 hours later. We thought it was a beaver at first, then a giant otter, but when we saw its tail we decided on giant water rat. We were so excited!
Next we went to another workaway place in the pyrenees right on the French-Spanish border. It was completely in the middle of nowhere, 30 mins drive along a dirt track, but about 15km from Amelie-les-bains and st Laurent des cerdans. We were really excited about going there as their website said they were building a treehouse. It didn't turn out too well for us though, they expected us to work from 8.30 when it got light until 5 ish just before it got dark, digging out rocks from a ruined barn, burning brambles and weeding. The man in charge was a follower of Osho (some kind of religion I have not heard of), I thought this would mean he was calm and spiritual, but he turned out to be really angry all the time and we felt uncomfortable and decided to leave after a week and a bit.
Some good things did come from our stay though, we had some brilliant walks with views of the snow covered mountains of Andora.
The treehouse we never got to work on. It was amazing though.
We also met some fellow travellers who decided to escape with us and came in the van to Spain. They had been working there for several weeks after hitch hiking all the way from Latvia with no money at all.
We travelled through the North East part of Spain along the coast. It was really hard to find anywhere to park for the night, especially with our hitch hiking friends who had to pitch a tent every night.
We managed to park next to a closed camp site on the beach one night near to Malgrat de mar.
The next day we got lost in Barcelona for about 2 hours, and at night we all slept cramped in the van in Salou near Tarragona. It was horrible and the police turned up in the morning to see what we were up to. We decided that it was too hard to find places to stay on the coast, so we went to the mountains again, in the parc national dels ports near Tortosa. It was back to dirt tracks and mountains again. The only problem was that there was a heavy frost at night and it was bloody freezing. Our Latvian friends had to build a fire and heat up rocks in a hole in the ground and devise a cunning underfloor heating system for their tent so they didn't die. Ray Mears would have been proud.
It is amazing how a few days of travelling, being cold, not being able to wash clothes or have a shower sap your energy. We decided that we needed a break and we were going to drive down to Andalucia and find a hostal to stay in. We parted ways with our Latvian friends who had to get to Morocco by January. They were going to hitch hike along the coast and try to sneak across to Morocco on a boat. I wonder if they made it?
We cut across from Valencia through Albacete and all the way down to Malaga (we slept at a truck stop half way). We had never really heard of Malaga before, but a Polish hitch hiker told us it was cool and it was on the South coast and we needed a bit of a break, so that was where we ended up.
We abandoned the van in the outskirts and found a backpacker Hostal (Oasis) and stayed for 2 nights.
Malaga was lovely and warm after the mountains, and it was nice to meet other travellers, have a shower and go out for beer.
Keef caused quite a commotion by falling out of bed, nearly weeing on someone and then trying to climb into bed with a german girl's mum who was staying in the room with us! It is a good job he can't remember it. We wandered around for 2 days looking at churches and old walls, drinking beer and we even went out for Paella.
Since leaving the last workaway place in France we had been frantically emailing workaway hosts in Spain, trying to find somewhere to go next. Out of about 30 emails, 2 said no and the rest just didn't reply. We were starting to panic. Finally one said yes to us and we went there straight away!
We went to stay with Linda and her son Noah, who were originally from England, but living in Medina Sidonia. On the day we arrived there was a nativity parade (Belen) going on in the town and we were very confused. There were donkeys and geese in the streets and people wearing head scarves and drinking and singing.
We stayed there for about 3 weeks and had a great time looking after the horses and dogs and doing a bit of gardening. The dogs were a rare ancient breed. Alano espanol I think it is.
The area around Tarifa was really cool, we ended up going twice to park up with other vans and watch the kite surfers. We met loads of interesting van people. It is a bit weird waking up in the van and realising you can see Africa out of the window! We also visited El Palmar for a bit of body boarding (on boxing day!), Capo de Trafalgar where Nelson fought his big sea battle, and Cadiz.
When we left Spain we decided that we were going to go to Portugal on our way back to France. We allowed ourselves a week to get to a place in the Northern mountains of Portugal (near to Pampilhosa da serra) via the Algarve.
We spent a few days getting to the South and west corner of Portugal and then found that we couldn't leave! Some of the best places that we stayed at are Boca de rio, Amado, Monte Clerigo, Odeceixe, Cabo Sardao, Almograve. There are so many beaches and cliff top parking places that are perfect for a van that we only just started to discover them. If we had known how brilliant Portugal is we would have allowed at least 1 month to travel, and we are already thinking about coming back for 3 months next winter! It is by far the best place to be in a camper-van in the winter that we have found. We met loads of other people in vans and made friends with all sorts of different nationalities and types of people (not just hippy types, also retired posh motorhomers!). The police don't seem too bothered unless you hang your washing out or form big groups. Water is easy to find as there are fontes by the beaches or taps in the surf shacks. We even managed to swim in the sea a few times to get clean. The weather in January was really warm, 25C most days and not too cold at night (we didn't need the fire on). We did struggle to find the internet though, but it is probably a good thing not to have it for a while.
Boca de rio
By the lighthouse at Cabo Sardao
We saw storks nesting on the cliff edge and just as we were leaving we saw a mega pod of dolphins with at least 100! Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of them as they were mostly in the sea.
We visited a castle, I think it was in Portel
We eventually left to go to our next workaway place, casa de linho, a permaculture farm about 35 mins drive from Pampilhosa da serra, hoping to find a shower and a washing machine, but unfortunately it was not to be! We had to wash clothes the old fashioned way, but we did finally manage to get a shower at the swimming pool in Pampilhosa (after 5 weeks without a proper shower!).
The farm we worked on was brilliant, the day we arrived we helped to kill and cut up 2 ducks. What a good way to decide if you really want to eat meat. There were between 3 and 6 other volunteers staying with us at all times, but they didn't have any heating in their caravans and we felt a bit guilty about having our lovely wood burner in the van. If we had any doubts about putting in the burner they have definitely gone now, it has been below freezing every night (a bit of a shock after being in the south where it was warm) and it is so wonderful to be able to keep warm and boil water for tea!
The work we did was mainly gardening, but also looking after the goats, chickens and rabbits. Keef milked the goat and we made a small cheese. We learned lots about re-using materials like tyres and wine bottles to make a garden.
Building a hoogle bed with the help of the puppies
Keef found a new friend to get drunk with!
Collecting goat food in the forest
Washing up with the help of the puppies
Bottles and tyres make a good garden
We were glad to have our van as the other accommodation was fairly basic!
Learning how to milk a goat
Cheese making, and also strengthening the immune system?
After spending a few weeks at Casa linho in Portugal we found out the Cedric (the workaway host at the first place we visited in France) had fallen off a ladder and broken his arm, so hadn't finished the straw bale house. We decided to go back and help him immediately!
It took us 2 days to travel across Portugal, thorough a bit of Spain and back to France. We didn't have many adventures unless you count accidentally going on the Electronic toll motorway in Portugal and not being able to pay because there were no real people anywhere. (It is actually impossible to pay unless you do it in advance, so I'm not sure what you do if you go on it by accident like we did- just hope they don't catch you and run away to Spain?)
Anyway, we made it back to France just as Spring arrived and helped finish putting straw bales inside the wooden frame, plastering with Cement mix, then lime or mud, covering the pine boards with acacia, building a wood fired bread oven and swapping the engines over in Cedrics two cars.
Finishing the last few bales, it was hard to squeeze them in!
I had to put this one of Keef posing with the nail gun
Cedric being very serious and doing some mud plastering
My first attempt at lime plastering for the bathroom. It is difficult!
Bottles for insulation under the floor
And more mud! It took about 4 weeks to dry.
Then time for Pizza!
We put the windows and doors in and spent ages doing the lime plaster on the outside. It cracked a bit and we did 2 layers in the end. It looks good from here though!
It was nearly finished when we had to go back to England in May.
A day at the beach when it finally stopped raining
His friends rocket stove
A beautiful bed built from Acacia
The man who built this got away with it because it is a"nature observatory". Clever.
Now we are back in England. Time to get a job, or join WWOOF and do more volunteering instead?
At least it is time to start a new page on the blog!