Where do you go to let your ego die?
It was a rough week, unmoored and frantic, as I faced some tough decisions. On Sunday morning, I pulled back the curtain that hangs next to the bed above the driver’s cabin, and the rail fell down, exposing a set of rusted nails.
I’m so used to Betty’s leaking and creaking by now, I took little notice and stuck to my plan to head to the beach. The beach was glorious, an azure sky with faint mist in the distance, sun-light dancing on gentle waves, water rolling onto shore in lazy rhythmic tumbles.
I walked along the shoreline, and later, after taking photos, my flip-flops disappeared. I’m sure they were nicked. When I approached a couple sitting near where I last saw them, the girl offered me her shoes as a replacement. No one without a guilty conscience is that kind.
I headed back to the van, barefoot, side-stepping sharp rocks, my skin burning in the midday sun. By four that afternoon, I couldn’t take anymore. The van was abuzz with flies. I had no water left, no substantial food. I needed a shower. I snuck back to my old house, and revelled in some home comforts.
BREAK FOR FREEDOM
Living in Betty is reminding me how lucky I am to have a home. On Monday morning, back in the van, I woke to a handful of Moroccans refugees hiding in the bushes around the sandy nook where I was parked. Bits of broken boats litter this part of the beach, one of many drop-off points on the Cadiz coastline.
Two Guardia Civil cars were corralling a bunch of teenaged Moroccans outside the campsite, as I drove away later that morning. On the main road, I spotted two more young immigrants, no more than twenty years old, crouched by the curb, their bodies deflated, carved out. I wanted to pick them up but where would I take them?
On Tuesday, I saw an elderly woman walking away from the supermarket, carrying a heavy bag in the afternoon heat. She’s a fellow expat whose face I recognised. I stopped the van and offered her a lift. She was dressed in hippie-chic clothes that masked her years.
She managed, as ungracefully as she could, to haul her bulk into the van’s passenger seat. As she spoke, I remembered meeting her once before many years ago. She told me the same stories, word for word. Nearer her house, she admired a broken washing machine discarded on the side of the road by some bins.
When we got to her place, one of her dozen yappy dogs ran out of the garden to greet her and growl at me. They’re all she has – that ramshackle house, those dogs. We’ve things in common, she and I. As I drove away, she gave me a joyful wave. Strong woman. Pure wild.
On Wednesday, I embraced van-life, parking up in the car park with the rest of the van people where I bumped into some friendly Dutch who shared their homemade cannabis oil with me. It was a full-baked attempt to be social. But all it did was remind me how much I love solitude.
BREAK FOR HOME
By Thursday, Betty was in the mechanics, and I, reluctantly, ended up back at my old house, my first night to stay there in nine months. I’d put off the return for as long as possible and with good reason. The tenants who lived there over winter left the windows closed in the rain sprouting black mould on the ceiling.
Peace at home leads to peace of mind. For a few years now, my home and hence, my mind, have been disturbed, at sea. New neighbours moved in a couple of years ago determined to make my life hell, and they succeeded.
It took time but eventually l accepted the upset as an omen, a good one. They were a problem but not the real one. I, too, was harboring hatred. I’d grown to loath the town I’d lived in for almost fifteen years.
Instead of the golden sand dunes and Moorish architecture that the tourists came for, I only saw its cash-strapped residents and burst sewer pipes polluting the beach. But I love the little house where I lived for thirteen years.
It’s a small studio with a mezzanine bed along with a cubby bathroom and kitchen tiled in primary colours. I painted the beams on the high ceiling chocolate brown, the furniture pink and cream.
Inside, it’s a serene cave, two hundred years old but with mod cons and teaming with charm – a writer’s paradise. I lost years in that house. I keep trying to leave but the house keeps dragging me back.
I spent three nights in my old house, and was thrilled to escape. We came back to the little mountain village I’ve lived in for the last nine months, parking up in front of the house of an elderly man, one of my old neighbours. He offered water. I accepted.
I filled Betty’s water-tank, and later that evening, walked up the hill to the take-away for chicken and chips. Ate them sitting under an olive tree outside the van. Then, adjusting the dining table to make a mattress for the first time, I made the bed, and filled it with cushions. For the first time, Betty felt like a bedroom.
I lay on the bed with the door open, smoking a jay, gazing out at nature and a star-filled sky, the dog on her new bed, on the floor beside me. She doesn’t sleep well if I’m not in her eye-line. Last night was the first night in two weeks she got into bed and wagged her tail.
What I know now is that my old home is no longer my home, or rather the person I was when I lived there no longer exists. The week was a rough because I had a decision to make. But here in the countryside, the sounds of leaves rustling, dogs barking and frogs croaking around me, the decision is a no-brainer.
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What big decision are you facing in your life? What can you do to make the decision easier? What can you let go of?
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