A Pandemic Problem…
The last few weeks, we’ve been dealing with a pandemic problem much like everyone else in the world! I don’t want to write too much about this, as we do our daily virus crisis updates on Facebook. Still, it’s definitely worth at least one blog post…
Like probably all of us, we’ve been following the news on Coronavirus or Covid-19 since late December, when this started to become a problem in China. We thought it was bad but it was also a very long way away. Certainly, throughout December and January, we didn’t really give it very much thought.
The run up
In February, we started to take a bit more note. It was clear this was coming closer and closer to home as things in Italy were getting worse. We were starting to look forward as we had planned to start travelling again early to mid March and our route, roughly, would include Spanish Med coast, Southern France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Holland, and back to the UK through Calais…
So in February, we started thinking that maybe, we shouldn’t drive through Italy… It’s funny, but even when it was that bad already in Italy, we still underestimated the seriousness of the situation.
We watched the numbers grow across more and more countries. It was becoming clear that we couldn’t outrun this virus, like we sometimes do with rain and bad weather…
Naïvely, we decided that we would try to ride out the storm in Spain. The weather was good and we had our home on wheels. We might just have to find a place to stay put for a while, but that would be fine.
The 1st Lock Down
As we’ve seen in many countries, things suddenly started to change very quickly indeed! One minute we’re in beautiful Algodonales on a nice aire. The next minute we’re told to leave. Places stopped taking new arrivals so finding a place was getting harder. With all the uncertainty, we decided to head towards Murcia as we had a Habitation Check booked there in 4 days time. We figured we might still be able to do that.
We got as far as Antequera when the Spanish Lock Down got announced. On Friday, people were out walking and things seemed normal in most places except for the supermarket. In the supermarket, the shelves seemed bare… No meat available at all, very little vegetables and fresh food and obviously no toilet roll… I have to admit that I started to feel a little bit panicked at the sight of the empty shelves.
We decided to stock up on some frozen veg, some tins and some jars and long life food. Still, we didn’t think we would leave. We had a spot on the free aire in Antequera, we had water and disposal. Things could be worse.
Saturday morning came and with it came the full Lock Down. In the morning, the streets were noticeably quieter. At 9am, there was a huge rush on the Mercadona and it was plundered almost instantly. Weirdly, the butcher two doors down had plenty of meat yet no customers…? We decided to walk into town for a coffee while we still could. It’s difficult to describe how we felt but we knew something was imminent. I definitely had an underlying sense of panic.
As the town transformed into a ghost town around midday, the police were coming out to close down public spaces. I started to think it might be time to leave. I started to realise that maybe we were still underestimating the severity of the situation.
Stuart was keen to stay. I wanted to go home – even though I didn’t know what I meant by that. I wanted to see my family in Holland and I wanted to go to the UK. Confused doesn’t begin to cover it! We spoke to our neighbours on the Aire. They had no worries. They invited us to a game of Jeu de Boules that afternoon. I told them we wouldn’t be allowed… They said of course we’re allowed..! 5 minutes later the police was there taping off the Boules court. It’s very easy to underestimate the seriousness of something that has never happened before.
Journey across Europe
My sense of panic won out in the end, and we set off late that Saturday afternoon. We drove from Antequera to Valdepeñas. We wanted to be out of Spain by Sunday night as talk had started about closing borders. So we did, we drove from Valdepañas to Capbreton on Sunday. It was the most surreal experience. The roads were empty! Literally no traffic, anywhere! It felt like something from a movie. We just drove. We used all the tolls.
As we arrived in France that evening, things were strange again. People were just walking around, cars on the road, like nothing was going on. By this point, we were keen to keep our distance from just about everyone. We were parked up next to Julie and Jason (ourtour.co.uk) who we’d normally spend some time with, but on this occasion we stayed in our own vans, both fully focused simply on getting rest, driving and getting back to the UK.
The next day we drove to Le Mans. We had to rearrange our tunnel and we had to get Luna to a vet. Luckily we found a vet in Le Mans who would see Luna late that afternoon. We didn’t even check the price or if we could use our own worming tablet, but luckily it was a fairly standard rate and we could.
On Tuesday, France also went on shutdown. It just fuelled our sense of urgency. Once more the supermarkets were empty of fresh food and toilet roll. There were long queues at some of the petrol stations. It was time to get going! We drove from Le Mans to Wissant. Within hours of announcing the lock down, the Gendarmerie was out in force! They were on every roundabout, asking people about the purpose of their travel and sending people home. It was very efficiently done!
Near Calais, we came off the toll road and ended up finding a Friterie still open by the side of the road. It felt like winning the lottery. It was about 1pm, so lunchtime and Stuart loves a Merguez sausage. The friterie truck had a sign up to say ‘take out only’ which made us laugh as we couldn’t see an ‘eat in’ option. We took our lunch and had a rest as we were so close now.
Now that Luna had been signed off by the vet, we knew we could travel from about 6pm on Tuesday so we rearranged the tunnel again. The staff at Eurotunnel were really helpful! When we needed them the most, to help get us home, they really stepped up and got us and many others home as quickly and smoothly as possible, waiving fees and simply focusing on getting the job done. Just absolutely great service! Thank you Eurotunnel! Our train would now depart at 3:25 am on Wednesday morning.
As we arrived at Wissant, the Aire was closed. This wasn’t a surprise but we had hoped to find a place to stay and use services. Next to the Auchan near the tunnel but there was a lot of migrant activity, so we didn’t want to be there after dark. We aimed for the aire at Sangatte but our satnav decided to take us into the tunnel check in so we went to the Pet Reception instead, got luna checked in and decided to wait for our train there as it looked like many others had done the same.
Some food, a rest and a short sleep later and we were getting onto the tunnel. From Antequera to Calais in 72 hours. That journey would normally take us at least 3 to 4 weeks.
Back home with nowhere to go
Our focus had been on getting back to the UK only. It was clear to us, from looking at the number of infections, that lock down in the UK was only a matter of time. As we arrived in the middle of the night, we decided to stop at the Stop 24 outside folkestone. We didn’t want to travel any further, it was time for sleep.
The next morning, the bleak reality hit home. Instead of a sense of relief at being back in the UK, we felt a new worry. We had nowhere to go. We normally stay with family, but due to the risk we would pose to them, that wasn’t an option. We’re also anticipating this to take a few months, in which case it’s probably more comfortable to have our own space. So now what…
As we sat in the Stop 24, where we’d paid for 24 hours so we could stay till about 3am, we were in no rush to leave. Just as we were having a coffee, a friend got in touch. ‘Hey!’, she said, ‘We have a field you can stay in.’ And just like that, there was a little ray of light for us.
We were a bit apprehensive as we weren’t sure we’d fit through the field entrance plus we know it has rained a lot so we were worried about getting stuck. But with no other options on the day, and not being keen on getting settled on a campsite when we felt sure they’d be closed soon (which they did), we set off.
We got through the entrance, just. Ritzie got stuck in the mud almost instantly. Everything was wonky. But we were safe, in a beautiful field with 4 sheep and our good friends nearby. We were very grateful. The next day or so passed in a blur as we mostly rested after the manic journey.
A place to stay
In the background, we were having a number of conversations with people who had so very kindly responded to our call for help on Facebook. We had asked if anyone had a static caravan for rent, ideally on private land. Several of you got in touch with solutions, and again we are so grateful.
One option was a house that was about to become empty. Would we be interested? Well… yes but as many motorhome travellers know, this lifestyle is often made possible by not having the bills that come with living in a house. Still, this is a time where solutions were needed quickly so we made the decision to go for it.
The thought of moving back into a house, combined with the stress of the last week or so and the prospect of the UK lock down once again instilled a sense of panic. I think the general rollercoaster of these crazy times was affecting me.
Home is where you park it
Yesterday we moved into the house. It’s a lovely house with a very big garden. Our motorhome can be parked off-road here. There is furniture and we have all our own things with us that make our home.
Today we’ve been cleaning and tidying and making things home. As we settle in, we both feel a HUGE sense of relief. At last. We have arrived. We’ve been walking around with big smiles today, doing chores, washing doors down, hoovering, doing laundry, getting utilities sorted. All the things that wouldn’t normally put a smile on our face.
We’re happy, relieved and ready to wait out this crazy situation. Many of our motorhoming friends are also now in safe places. All of us moving back into fixed property for the time being.
Once more a great big THANK YOU to our all wonderful friends who have helped us out so immensely and have provided safe haven, you know who you are. Thank you so much. It really means a lot!