Waves come in sets and if you catch a good one, you can ride it all the way to heaven.
Today we travelled up through Spain to Ampolla. It was clear that our plans of a slow journey, taking in some of the country’s best wildlife areas, was in jeopardy because of the CoronaVirus.
Our first morning, and we knew we would have to make a decision whether to dash for home, or hang on and hope for the best. The Spanish President was to make a speech at 4pm and the rumour was that the country would be going into lockdown. He had issued a warning the day before. A great idea as it caused the mass exodus of people who rushed off to their second homes, or out shopping for all the things they might need for month of house arrest, or both. I cannot imagine what they were stocking up on, as shelves had been empty for days. Not a single loo roll could be found throughout the land. Sadly that was not the case for the virus which had undoubtably been spread further by the 24 hour forewarning.
We decided that we would spend the day riding our mountain bikes around the salt marshes and paddy fields of the area, taking in the wildlife and the stunning scenery. Why not? Then we would see what the great man had to say.
This morning the campsite asked everyone to leave. They had to close down as they were not a ‘long term’ site. Spain is now in Lockdown.
So, what to do?
Italy locked down seven days ago and France was also teetering. France would lockdown within the week, with the UK within two weeks. That was our guess. We needed to get a squirt on.
We decided to head up through France and switch our ferry from Bilbao, Spain, to Caen, France. We had no guarantee that our Spanish ferry would be sailing in a weeks time. We did not want to get there and find we were stranded, with no ferry and the borders to France shut. As wonderful as the north Spanish coast is, we didn’t want to be wild camping, in winter there. Barri does not enjoy the cold.
Then we started to hear reports from our friends and the BBC that France was closing their borders at some point between midnight and 8am. I do not want to be too pedantic here, but schengen has meant the removal of all border paraphernalia throughout inland Europe. France has no ‘borders’ to close, apart from it’s coastal ports, but it can put up road blocks, and the police have guns. I wont argue.
The ever shifting news was that all hospitality in Spain was closed. France was enforcing the lockdown the following day, although both countries had made their pronouncements on the 17th of March. We had a tiny window of opportunity to get over the border, after which there were no guarantees. Ampolla’s local Spar had everything we might need to eat for four or five days. There was no hint of a panic buying here. It was surreal; no shortages, no empty shelves, no queues.
We set off on a steady drive along the stunning Mediterranean Sea. We had to shun Barcelona and it’s environs as it was a CoronaVirus hotspot. Garages had no loos open and we did not want to handle pumps without good hand washing facilities. Yes, we do carry sanitiser, always, but there is no substitute for good hand washing. We were reminded, trapped as we were, between the sea on one side and a wall of death on the other, of a journey we made up through California. Somehow we managed to get trapped in a forest fire and had to outrun it. As it thundered north west, the fire finally caught us, forcing us along the 101 coast road. We had the fire behind us and alongside us, with the sea as a potential escape route. At least with the fire, we could see, feel and taste how close it was. Worryingly, none of that applies to this invisible killer.
California forest fire, we only just managed to outrun it, it took us 8 hours!
It was just after midnight when we crossed the Spanish French border. We had ridden the Spanish wave and come skimming down it’s gorgeous green face plummeting into France, jubilant that we had not dropped off once.
The French customs officials massed at the motorway services. We counted at least 50 of them. We guessed they were being deployed to the borders.
We headed to the first town over the border, Le Boulou, with campervan parking, an aire, and found it completely packed. Road after road of vans of all descriptions, parked in every possible location. Hundreds of them had washed up here on the crest of that wave. It was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen. We found a small space with a scrubby woodland just outside the door, need I go into detail?
In the morning we headed off. The little town was awash with motorhomes travelling in every direction and seemingly, coming and going up and down every street. It was probably the world’s most valuable ever gridlock.
We managed to get away and drove north towards Bordeaux, hoping our chosen campsite would take us in. The news, as it came in was dire. France was locking down, we were on that wave again and running coast to coast, rolling up and down the hilly landscape and carving around sweeping rivers. What a delight this route is.
Carcassone came and went and our destination was soon hoving into view. And there it was, our campsite. We booked in and found a perfect lakeside pitch.
We have transferred our ferry ticket and will be leaving from Caen tomorrow morning, unless they can fit us in tonight. Off we went, determined to get to the port before tonight’s sailing, just in case they can squeeze us onto the boat and take us to the UK. France is locking down tightly. In the services vending machine drinks and loos are available for the weary traveller.
At last the sea appeared in front of us, along with migrants, dashing along the roads looking for a lift to a new life. All of them, young, fit men, some little more than boys, living their groundhog days in this unforgiving climate. There was no boat out of town for us, so we headed for the aire a short walk from the ferry terminal and it’s loos and hot water.
This evening as we sat in our van twiddling our thumbs, the van shook noticeably. And again. And again. We investigated and found a lovely young guy, thin, kindly and gentle, hiding behind our trailer. I asked him to leave. No. I told him to leave. No. He kept pointing at something and trying to walk between our van and our neighbours. Our side door was open and he could have popped in and locked the door behind him. I held him back, telling him that he must leave by the other route, but no, he would not do that. Wally caught a glimpse of something dark, on the tarmac, under the neighbours van. It was the lads winter jacket. We helped him put it on and wished him good luck as he left. I felt so sorry for him and his predicament.
We are on the ferry bright and early. Happy day. We have made it.
On the ferry, our neighbour from the night before stopped me for a chat. He was a rather curmudgeonly chap, but pleasant enough, so I stayed on my feet as he talked away. He had a shock this morning because his motorhome had been checked by the immigration team at the ferry port and they had found the lad from the night before hiding in his spare wheel hanger, under the chassis. The sweet kid had almost made it.
Today the UK went into lockdown. We had ridden that wave all the way home and it is heaven.