This last week has seen unprecedented decisions being made around the world in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We came to the decision on Sunday 22nd March that our time was fast running out in Spain as it was finally confirmed that all short term accommodation, including campsites, had to close by 26th March. We were still on the aire at Úbeda in north eastern Andalucía mulling over our options.
We were down to just two vans by this stage, us and the French. The German, Belgian and Spanish vans had decided to call it a day and repatriate themselves to their homes. I suspect we’d have done the same at the time they had if we’d had a home to go back to. As we’re ‘full-timing’ in our van and our house is currently rented out this wasn’t an option for us. When we return to the UK to see family and friends we normally stay on a campsite but by this time all the campsites in the UK were closed as well. Mmm, what to do? So we chewed over our options. And chewed a bit more. Finally we came up with a Plan A, B, C and D. Fortunately for us Plan A came through so we didn’t have to get the ball rolling on B, C or D.
We sent an email to Jenny and David at Chateau de Jalesnes in France where we have volunteered through Helpx twice before to see if they needed any help and would be willing to take us. Our reasoning was that they have plenty of space where we would still be able to work in exchange for our keep, we would be completely out of the way from other people to self isolate and it would be likely we could stay long term. We had an email back the same day to confirm that we were welcome as we could self isolate there without any problem and, due to the current situation, there were only Jenny and David and two other helpers there.
So, on Monday we packed up, filled up with diesel, went to Lidl to do a shop to tide us over for our two weeks of isolation and hit the road. We were stopped by the police in Spain going through a small town south of Ávila. After my attempt at speaking Portunol (a mangled version of Portuguese and Spanish) the officer called over his colleague to deal with the ‘Inglés’. The officer was exceptionally polite referring to us all the time as Timothy and Jane and after a passport and driving licence check and a few questions about why we were travelling, where we had come from and where we were going etc we were on our way again with firm advice to get a move on.
A five kilometre queue of traffic greeted us coming up to the border with France at Irun in Northern Spain. From what I’d read we needed an ‘attestation’ form stating why we were travelling to be able to cross the border into France. As we had no access to a printer, and I didn’t know if we would be able to pick up the forms at the border, I’d written two forms out by hand which was apparently acceptable. I was sooo glad I had written them out as the first word the officer said to me as we went over the border was ‘attestation’. I hadn’t filled them in though as the five valid reasons for travel didn’t include ‘repatriating to home country’ (which we weren’t going to do but he didn’t need to know that). He just accepted that we had the forms and told us to fill them in on route.
The whole route would have been pretty much stress free had I not had a nagging anxiety that if we were stopped in France and quizzed about where we were going we would be prevented from going there and directed to go straight to Calais. I had decided that if we were stopped then I would be honest as I know I would unravel under even the mildest of interrogations. I’m a hopeless liar and they would see through me straight away.
Sticking to the autoroute added an extra sixty kilometres to our journey but when we finally came off it we only had twelve kilometres to do on a minor road which didn’t go through any towns or villages to get us to the chateau so the likelihood of being stopped was considerably less. Ironically the exit off the autoroute for the final stretch went right past the Gendarmerie National and we were expecting the game to be up, to be stopped, fined and sent packing back to Calais but there was not a single police car in sight. We arrived at the chateau and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
We’re now in isolation for two weeks and have, very generously, been put up in one of the apartments in the chateau with our own entrance so as to keep us separated. We have been working in the garden for the last few days which has been just brilliant after nearly two weeks of being ‘van-bound’.
We are so grateful to be here and know that we are super lucky to be able to be outside in the grounds without the restrictions that everybody else is going through.
Nobody knows how long this situation is going to go on for.
France has just announced a further two weeks of lock-down until 15th April.
It looks like we’ll be here for some time.
Keep safe, keep washing those hands and keep optimistic.
À trés vite!