Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Happily celebrating 4 years un(t)raveling!

Four years ago, in November 2013, we started this blog and wrote its About un(t)raveling page, as an intent to explain the reasons why we decided to leave Barcelona behind and hit the road on the TRANSITion!, our (first) home-made camper-van. We were mostly done with working Monday-to-Friday jobs to afford living in a big city, paying high rents, living in a manner that we considered less and less sustainable for us - where "us" means as "individuals", "a couple", "human kind" and even "the planet".

drone view of the "Apero-trapero" giveaway party before leaving!
We used to spend our weekends and holidays outside hiking or climbing and thought it would be nice to do that on weekdays, too. At some point, living in a city was making little or no sense at all (for us). The down-sizing had started a year before, moving into 28 square meters (which is already quite a luxury, let's be honest) and selling/giving away most of our stuff. We also progressively switched to new job options less and less location-dependent, reduced our expenses and general need for money (still a long way to go!), so we would get more free time to do "our" stuff while saving for later whenever possible.

- From that point (November 2013), we've been travelling in our van through Spain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Italy for 15 months. We worked our freelance and distance-jobs from the road (mainly technical translation and project management), wwoofed and helpxed along the way, and visited some friends and family. We wanted to see places and understand how people lived there, in order to - hopefully - get some inspiration. Aaand...

sunny freezy breakfast time before climbing in Mallos de Riglos, Spain.
it was also an excellent excuse to go and climb around! Most of the adventure is documented in this blog, including (read or scroll down the about un(t)raveling section) a comprehensive summary of our living expenses during that time; among other reasons because we got tired to hear: "yeah, living the dream is easy when you're rich", all the time back then, while (it was our decision, of course!) sharing a 5 square-meters living-space on wheels, cooking on a small camping-gaz stove 7 days a week and showering outside with a 1-gallon bucket of warm-ish water during the winter months. So, in the end, no: it's not for rich people as long as you're willing to live a simple life, to work an odd average half-time schedule, to chase free wi-fi and power sockets around, and to resist going to a hostel or café every time you feel cold, wet or your hair is getting unacceptably greasy...

- After 15 months on the road (and a first anniversary), we stopped in the Ariège. It was February 2015 when we found that small and sunny apartment with garden for rent (for 350 euros a month). Our plan was to live there for a year or so – maybe more, maybe less – in order to explore the area and see if it was a place where we'd like to stay longer. We also wanted to see if we could hunt local jobs, make friends and generally find a place we could call home. In a word: building a sustainable and coherent life there. Un(t)raveling places with the TRANSITion! had given us insights and criteria to help us pick an ideal location. So, being both rational and romantic, here's what we found out to make the decision:

1- the Ariège is 1 hour south of Toulouse, in case we need to look for a major scientific or university research pole for work. It's 1,5 hour from most of Futuna's family. In the opposite direction, Barcelona  – with many friends of ours and Wallis' mother – is about 3 hours by car. In case driving is not an option, there's a straight train line linking Toulouse and Barcelona just cruising through the valley and across the Pyrenees, as well as several car-sharing rides every week both South- and Northbound. Quite remote, yet totally connected, isn't it?

the Ariège in spring: "Oh, look! the Pyrenees are white!"
2- the valley is on the North side of the Pyrenees: it receives a lot of rainwater (average 700-1000 mm/year), snow every winter and it's a very green area. Even with the worst predictions for climate change over the next 30 years, there will still be water here! The Mediterranean influence makes the winters milder and the overall amount of sun throughout the year lovely, without raising concerns about the area becoming a desert (unlike most of Languedoc-Roussillon or Spain). The forest coverage is massive: critical resource and moisture magnet.

3- it's a rural area with mostly extensive agriculture and cattle-breeding, with a lot of small, family-run farms: local markets, local food, local currency, resilient communities. While being wild and preserved, the Ariège is moderately touristic: there's plenty of nature to explore hiking or cycling and more climbing in a 40 km radius than we could possibly climb in a lifetime. The sector of “green” (a.k.a “active”) tourism provides opportunities to work (especially speaking foreign languages) and a touristic accommodation business is another long-term option we can consider. Since 2009, about 40% of the province's surface has been declared a Natural Park and is protected as such.

4- last but not least, living is generally cheap and the price of real estate in particular is surprisingly low when compared to other places in France and to Catalunya. Of course, some would reasonably say there's nothing worth high prices, just this big green shithole. But for us, that's pretty much what we're looking for... In the end, if there's a place where we may afford to buy an old ruin and renovate it as our home, it's here and nowhere else!

So, yes: taking into account all the critical factors we had identified, it looked like a highly strategic decision and we really felt like giving it a try! Together with the pleasure to open the windows everyday to see this green, raw and gorgeous place on earth, it was a perfect match!

straight from the garden: 'bull's heart', cherry and 'tiny pear' tomatoes, beetroot, pepper, purple onion and squash.

We did this, and we saw it was good! We first changed the big TRANSITion! camper-van for the 2c15: a tiny, crappy old car, so as to move less and cheaper. We then indulged into a routine of gardening, hiking, climbing, everydaylife-ing and such: Ariège-ing for a year and a half, growing local roots and connections, meeting local initiatives, exploring the villages around in search for an old barn to renovate, discovering local crags and making a nice happy bunch of climbing expat friends. At some point, upon finishing a long-term partnership for remote project management, we felt like doing a reset. We knew we liked it in the Ariège but needed fresh air and healing after tough times (health issues, chronic pain, loss and grieving). We decided to go and un(t)ravel again for a while.

somewhere in Siberia east of Baikal lake, on the mythical Россия train.
So, we down-sized again, packed stuff again, left the appartment again and in July 2016 we left on foot and public transportation, with only two (huge) backpacks and the goal to make it to the end of the world, whatever that meant... Long story made short, we bus-ed and train-ed to Berlin, Varsaw and Riga. Then hopped on a third-class hard-seater Transsiberian train in Moscow and eventually got to Vladivostok, 9.400 km further East. Took a ferryboat to South Korea, then another ferryboat to Japan and kept looking for the end of the world over there... until we found it (check it here)! This is a very nice series on this blog, a beautiful adventure and an amazing 6 months of our lives, starting here.

We came back to France early 2017, only to work seasonal jobs here and there, before returning to our beloved Ariège, dedicated fulltime to look for a place to settle and unpack; which we pretty much found, as you can see in this latest section called home(t)raveling, starting on the very last days of June 2017 and taking us full throttle to this fourth anniversary: November 1st, 2017. Four years ago, we left Barcelona searching for something else, somewhere else. Four years and many many kilometres later, here we are! Interestingly not so far away from where it all started... Happy to be living all this together, enjoying, celebrating everyday and celebrating even more some special days like today. Also learning and growing as a team, day after day after day. And we're very happy we can share all that with you - as much as we manage to keep up with the blog...

the keys to home(t)raveling ; our backyard view from the window for a few years now ; first necessity item: the swing.

everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home!
For many more years of un(t)raveling,
Peace, love and warm hugs to you all!
E. & A. (a.k.a. Wallis and Futuna)

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