‘Navidad, Navidad, hoy es Navidad’ (sung to the tune of Jingle Bells)
Yes, we’re in Spain for Christmas and this will be our fourth festive period in a different country in as many years. Last Christmas, we had six Pomeranians to look after in France; this year, pre-Christmas, we have five dogs and fifteen cats in Spain! Next year……………..?
Winter in southern Spain is not all sun, sea and sangria. Well, in fact until the last two weeks, it has been exactly that until not just the weather brought a depression to our idyllic lives. We left Scotland in June and, after a couple of weeks camping in France and Spain, we arrived at our first house sit and the start of another glorious summer and autumn in Spain, followed by a slightly damper stay in Portugal.
That changed after the first weekend in December, which saw an extended period of rain follow us on a four-day mad Quixotic (unrealistic & fateful yes, but ultimately successful) road trip across central Spain from Portugal, through the Extremadura and Castilla La Mancha regions to the Costa Blanca and then back down the Mediterranean coastal route to the Costa Del Sol and Gibraltar. Some towns in the Costa del Sol were designated disaster areas after the torrential rain caused flash flooding.
For only the second time in three years of travelling, we had to abandon the van and take shelter; this time in a B&B, Casa Oretani, in the Castilla La Mancha region. It was a modern cube-shaped building (built in a walled garden) that consisted of a kitchen/dining/sitting room and three bedrooms; all very nice, but John always feels a bit stressed when the Slowbus is left out on the street overnight.
As John had had the foresight to dig out his waterproofs, it was left to him to bring in our overnight bags. I was feeling slightly concerned that he seemed to be taking his time but it was too wet for me to worry enough to go out and check. Happily, it transpired he hadn’t drowned as feared but had been rescuing a runaway horse! She had escaped from the field opposite our parked van and was running, in a panic, up and down the street. Fortunately, she had a leading rein attached to her bridle, which John was able to grab (after a little bribery with a carrot from the van). We always say the Slowbus is equipped for every eventuality………….
The Slowbus may be fully prepared but it was soon to transpire that we weren’t. Later the next day, being the second of two long days on the road, we decided to take a break in a service station. We were tired, distracted by what passes for news on our phones, and generally not paying attention, when a guy approached the van. He opened my door on the pretext of asking directions and, amazingly quickly, snatched my hand bag from beneath my feet. He jumped in a car, parked behind us, engine revving, and sped off down the motorway. John managed to get the registration number but it naturally turned out to be false. There followed a series of attempts to report the crime: at the service station itself; a long, unproductive queue at the police station in Alicante; a verbally abusive (to me not by me!) phone call to the English speaking policia hotline; and a slow, repetitive process of form filling at the Guardia Civil in Calpe, with the help of our Spanish-speaking house owners, whom we had only just met that morning (a big thank you to them). The fourth attempt was successful despite the slapstick comedy of marching between offices and starting the procedure again and again with a different officer! We eventually got our Denuncia (crime report and temporary travel documents), which is still currently our only proof of identity. That’s what happens when you keep both passports, bank cards, driving licence and EHIC card in my bag instead of the van’s safe!
Denuncia clasped firmly in hand, we travelled to, and camped near, Alicante for a visit to the British Consulate and we are now waiting for the new passports to arrive at the Consulate in Malaga (if the HMPO deems it to be a safe and secure address for delivery; they’re still trying to decide – go figure!!) .
Despite the lowlife that robbed us, our memories will be of the many kind people (friends, officials and strangers) who have given and offered to give us help where needed. It’s an adventure we have no wish to repeat and so the doors are now locked whenever the van is stationery, even when we are inside!
Talking of the van, which is now almost 27 years old, during the last few weeks, it had developed a rather reeky problem. Smoke from the back end is always worrying (!) but, in the process of reaching our last sit in an urbanización (Spanish housing estate) at the top of a ‘mountain’ overlooking Malaga, it appeared we had blown the turbo and had now left a trail of thick white smoke all the way down the Mediterranean Highway to Sotogrande, near Gibraltar. John found a VW garage run by an English mechanic in Estepona and so the van is being repaired, even as I type, in time for our return to Jerez for our Christmas sit next week (we hope!).
Despite our frustrating end to 2016, we have had a lovely few months in Spain and Portugal, doing return sits for three of our favourite house owners/friends, three new sits to add to our CV and a couple of confirmed sits for next year. Two of our good friends from Cornwall came to visit us in August at the house we love in Periana (thanks to our very kind and generous friends who own the place) for an enjoyable week.
Whilst there, we had to quickly find a replacement assignment when one of our new house owners cancelled our stay at the last minute. John had visions of going off camping for three weeks instead – I had other ideas and started looking for last minute sits! Coincidentally, a couple near Granada had their sitter cancel for almost exactly the same dates so we were able to help each other out. To say John was slightly disappointed is an understatement but he got over it when he saw the magnificent views from their pool and villa.
I returned to Edinburgh for the October mid-term holiday to see my family and look after my gorgeous grandsons. Skype and the like are great but not the same as cuddles from two wee boys (and three bigger boys!).
We’ll be in Jerez for Christmas and New Year while our house owners are in Edinburgh celebrating Hogmanay, Scottish-style. These lovely people have apparently even left us a beautifully decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath. We are indeed lucky to have met so many friendly, kind and generous people on our house sitting adventures and travels and look forward to more of the same in 2017 (well… without the robbery of course).
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Guid New Year, and especially look forward to welcoming the forthcoming new arrival to our family next June.
Nancy and John