Tuesday, August 12, 2014

you have to become water...

- Un(t)raveling through a rainy month of July -

We’ve been un(t)raveling for nine months now and we’ve shared most of it in these pages, which you maybe followed. Or didn’t. Or maybe will, now we try and write them in English too. It’s been unexpectedly easy and rewarding: Oh, the places we’ve seen, the treasures we’ve hunted, the friends we’ve met, the friends we’ve made, the lives we’ve shared, the things we’ve learnt every single day! The list is too long and we hope this blog has been able in its own way to express our gratefulness to all these moments and to transmit how thankful we feel for all we’ve received, and keep receiving, along the way. Living on the road is a beautiful thing to do and an amazing gift.  We’ve had more trees, lakes, mountains, rivers, seas, cliffs, castles, churches, rocks, flowers and birds’ whistles in our van’s backyard in nine months than one can dream of seeing through their home’s windows in a lifetime! Needless to mention the starry skies, electric storms in the night and full moons over the horizon. We’ve had breakfasts, lunches and dinners in front of the most beautiful and unique scenic views one can imagine, and we’ll keep having them for much longer, there is no doubt.

just a short selection of night views from the TRANSITion!, beaches, mountains, moons and more (full) moons...
But living on the road also has its downsides, obviously. Let’s call them challenges, since downsides may sound like a complaint, which it isn’t. Living two people in six square-meters for nine months can become a subtle art – and anybody who’s car-camped for more than four consecutive days will understand quite exactly what I’m talking about: an over-packed, open-space, super-small place, where doing anything often means an average three-step process of reallocating stuff, with no concern about your being tired, sleepy or – incongruously - in a hurry. We didn’t talk much about this other side of Un(t)raveling so far. We tried not to, because we believe the people following this blog like to know about us and we want it to be as positive and (at least we try) entertaining as possible.

So obviously yes: some aspects are more complicated than simply enjoying the gift of waking up on a new morning every day. One of the little daily challenges is inherent to being in motion and to the blessing of the ever-changing landscape lying in the backyard. The bathroom actually IS in the backyard, literally speaking. 
just one of the many versions of the ever-changing backyard... 
And that’s where most of the routine activities take place too, even though only partially. So, one wants a clear flat ground with trees, bushes or a shrubbery, a water source and a view, shelter from heavy winds and from inquisitive neighbours… all different everyday and coming to life spontaneously at the appropriate time by the side of the van. That’s already more than the regular three wishes. Showering or using the bathroom outside is not always easy or pleasant. It can be absolutely gorgeous, though. And when it’s not, there are still cafés, pubs or McDonald’s to go for a coffee or a glass of wine with the occasional snack or fwench fwies. Just below on the wish list are fast wi-fi and free clean public bathrooms. The latter are a must, if not a myth. Public swimming pools are cool to get a good hot shower.

… and bedroom views by nap-time.
They are great to get a swim, too. Public libraries aren’t the best for the shower, but can provide a good load of amazing material to read while using the restrooms. Campsites come last on our list, because it all seems too easy, ready-to-use and kind of postmodern to us: pay and get everything neatly set up for you to use. No fun (I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there, sang The boxer).

So obviously yes: in these columns, we complained a little bit about the rain. Because it’s certainly the first and main daily challenge one has to face. And Ford, did we face it! Honestly, six square-meters if you cannot open doors and windows is a pretty amazingly small surface when it comes to cooking, working, sleeping, tidying, cleaning, doing the dishes and keeping personal hygiene. Then comes dealing with garbage, dirty clothes, wet shoes and towels, soaked raincoats and such. Cold is not such a big issue as long as it keeps dry. True thing. We’ve both hiked and camped enough in our respective teenage summers to know this for sure: moist is the enemy. One can learn a lot, but one cannot learn the power to dry stuff. No ninja move, no secret mantra, no lucky charm, no forbidden word, no forgotten song can change something wet into something dry. There’s even this infamous Archimedes’ second law: "a body immersed in a liquid comes out wet". After a rainy winter and a rainy spring, we entered Belgium only to be given a cold welcome by the rainiest summer ever – which has been terrible for many and only mildly uncomfortable for us in comparison. We met the sun for a generous six hours in Antwerp, then for a delicious couple of days in Amsterdam and in family (read it here, in Spanish). And that was it. Everything else was rain.

As a brutal paradox, water is an actual issue while living as a nomad (or two nomads). And it’s no less true under a pouring rain. Our water tank is twenty-five litres only and has to supply for drinking and cooking, to do the dishes, for the coffee and tea, to brush teeth and for the shower. We came to master the art of spotting springs and fountains at sports facilities and gyms, in public squares and parks, by the churches and the city halls, next to the statues and along the secondary roads. But Spain, France, Portugal and Italy somehow trained us to a culture that happens to be but a paradisiac exception. Un doux mirage. From the moment we crossed the Ardennes, public water – understood as drinking water available in the public space – disappeared. Woosh! It simply vanished. Not a spring in Belgium or the Netherlands. Not a single one in three and a half weeks. The old fountains? Dry. The countryside century-old stone-carved spring? Covered by years of leaves and soil. The taps along the football grounds or behind the log-cabins in the parks? Closed, locked and screwed tight. Period. We eventually confirmed the last places with running fountains were the cemeteries and found the water to be refreshing, but had to recognize the whole thing tasted a bit awkward. From a spiritual point of view, it has to be quite a healthy and nutritive process for the soul, though. I read recently that the president of one Latin-American country (blame my poor memory for remembering neither his name nor his country’s) had struggled so hard to get the U.N. write down the access to clean water in the list of universal human rights. Do not misunderstand me: I am conscious that mine is not an issue when compared to the one a good 70% of the population faces everyday. Of course, where this does not exist, it should. I just thought and meant to say that where it existed not so long ago, it should not disappear. Talking about access to clean water, but also to education, to health and to the right to happiness.
the average scenic view of the Rhine Valley (Fever Virus?)
Anyway... On a smooth highway we entered Germany, only to discover the same situation: a fountain every too many villages, even in the lush green countryside and fertile valleys. And at a very specific campsite by the Rhine (whose name I was hard on me not to give here), along the gorgeous scenic road from Koblenz to Mainz, we met the most discouragingly small-minded souls trapped in the bodies of a family of camping owners. They cold-bloodedly charged for the spot (a dirt parking lot with no trees nor grass, where the packed campervans could hardly open doors), for the power (fair enough; only they didn’t provide the exotic socket to actually plug-in to it), for the shower (not even warm and five-minute long) and for all the tap water you’d care to use. Which practically meant following you, tracking your movements inside the campsite, searching your clothes for any kind of liquid-container when you intended to enter the bathroom, chasing you off the dish-washing room and insulting you in German for basically being about half the age and slightly more southern-looking than the rest of their guests.

This raises a first question: what is it they charged us for in the first place when everything comes as an extra? Then a second one: how do they expect me to brush my teeth and flush my poop? Then a third one: if I happen to swallow a little bit accidentally while washing my teeth, is it a sin? Then a fourth one: how come they still have guests? Then a fith one: I am the one who got something wrong? Then a sixth one: who am I? Then a seventh one: why are we here? Only to begin with…
traffic jam on the road and under the rain: Germany!
traffic jam on the road and under the rain: Austria!
Trying hard not to make a general rule out of a small group of genetically-related individuals, we left Germany the next day, tired and thirsty in spite of the never-ending rainstorm along the way. We managed to convince ourselves this was but a poor sample of the wonders the country had to offer. Moreover, the campsite owners were not the only ones to blame: our French phone company (which missuses the word “free” to sell glittering lies, a surprisingly poor coverage and very creative ways to overcharge your bills) suddenly suspended our line due to “a 100+ euros worth in long-distance calls” we never made and they themselves admit having no record of… After two weeks of (paying) calls to their customers’ service from abroad, the line is still locked, the calls are still nowhere to be found and they keep advising us to “pay the amount now to get the line back, we’ll refund you afterwards when it is solved”. At more or less the same time, we received some freelance job offers that urgently needed to be answered, accepted and treated. Rain, moist, no internet on-board, no phone service, no place to park the van, no water available. Nothing but the soccer world champions in their most frenetic representation of “the control freaks rule da world” (what do you call a cliché?). We gave up.

getting bored? put some Tyrol in your life!
We surrendered to the water. We melted to and became water. We followed the flow, southbound again. The highways are free up there; it sure is a good thing. Just, when you need to go to the bathroom on a service area, you are asked to pay 0,70 euro, of which 0,50 is refunded in the form of a discount ticket to buy a coffee at a machine. An instant coffee costs 2,50 euros. So, with a smile, they explain the bathroom is only 0,20 euro as long as you buy a coffee worth 2,50 euros but that technically costs you 2,00. Brilliant: the 0,50 euro you just paid never existed and you hardly can understand why it’s not I your pocket anymore! I myself understand the bathroom still costs 0,70 euro and the coffee 2,50 since I didn’t buy it. And this half euro is lost. Not the end of the world, for sure. Fuck it. We drifted to Austria. On the other side, things were more or less the same. Same same, but different. There stood the Alps! Gorgeous, beautiful, magnificent Alps and their fifty shades of green. And the purest water at the first fountain we finally found, not too far from the Italian border. We met the local version of rain and a two-hours traffic jam on a tiny secondary road, due to a collision between a couple of vehicles and a train, with local police officers tagging bright graffiti with sprays and no less than five ambulances. Blame it on the weather, but all these brand new Mercedes and SUVs definitely drive too fast... When we got off it was dark so we camped close to Innsbruck. The next morning, we went window-licking for some sexy-but-trendy Tyrolese cosatumes before entering Italy. There lied in the sun the cradle of latin culture: the tiny chapel surrounded by cypresses, olive trees and stone benches.

an austrian panorama featuring the TRANSITion! and some of the fifty shades of green...
We’ve been in Italy for two weeks now and there will be posts about our time here soon, so I don’t want to spoil a single thing now. Just wish to conclude with more positive notes than today’s average: Un(t)raveling has its challenges, but re-read the first part of this post if you need to convince yourself they are nothing compared to what we are treated with every day! First, learning the price of a single cup of water is priceless, even where water is free. Then, experiencing home almost anywhere you choose to park the van and open the doors is of the nicest gifts ever. After the German adventures, it is also a beautiful thing to realise how much the Mediterranean is what the two of us are made of. What bread, olive oil and tomato taste like when eaten in the sun in front of the sea or a mountain lake. Plus, here are two of our backyard views of the last few days:
our backyards-for-a-day in Val Serenaia and Lago di Gramolazzo (Alpe Apuane, Toscana).

So, if not Un(t)raveling, then what else?


  1. Magical backyard views!
    Unlike us you hace been very unlucky with the weather but... Hey! pictures are nicer with cloudy skies!
    Always look at the bright sa-a-ide of life!

    1. (whistling...) thank you Bryan for following us and cheering us up! :)