You can run, but you can't hide

We’re on the run, no longer welcome in Spain. It’s nothing personal, but that does little to ease the sting of rejection. Reports are flooding in from all over the country: campsites are shutting down; the Guardia are clearing out the Aires; police now have the authority to remove people from public spaces at their discretion; tourists are advised to return home. The trouble is, we sold ours. Our best bet is to lay low.
We exit the motorway near Jaén with around thirty kilometres ahead of us; the satnav says one hour remaining. Driving time indications are best taken with a handful of salt for a house as slow as ours—we usually add on around fifteen minutes per hour, though sometimes the satnav gets muddled and an hour’s drive only takes fifteen minutes. An hour for thirty kilometres seems excessive, but it’s not long before we see why. Our chosen destination seems to be in the midst of a mountain range. We should probably start using a topographic map when we plan routes. Mind you, I love mountain driving, but our spluttering sidekick never seems quite as enthusiastic.

This route lives up to my expectations: steep climbs, tight corners and stunning scenery. Jagged cliffs stained red with iron oxide rise around us, a stark contrast to the lush greenery in the valley. The sound of bells puts Chaos on high-alert—sheep, grazing the hillside somewhere below. There’s not much else to be heard up here, save for the straining engine and the gentle rattle of cutlery from the kitchen, punctuated by the occasional groan from the suspension and the seat next to me when I overlook a pothole. There is no other traffic on the road, and no room for it either.

Sixty minutes was an optimistic estimate, and we have an hour or two of daylight left when we pull up to a sturdy metal gate. It’s open, but the municipal sign next to it indicates that it will be closing in an hour. Our chosen spot is 500 meters ahead—or was. Our trusty camping app Park4Night shows nothing in the area. Nowhere to go but back. We spotted a lay-by on the way up; we can take a break from driving there while we figure out what to do.
Our options are limited. Driving back to the Netherlands is pretty much out of the question. Most of Europe is starting to lock down national borders. A Dutch camper driving back to the Netherlands would probably be allowed through, but then what? The Netherlands is too small and too populated for camper dwelling. Staying with friends or family is not a risk we’re willing to take, coming from one of Europe’s coronavirus hotspots. With our usual water sources shut down, wild camping in Spain would only be delaying the same dilemma. Anne’s sister-in-law has offered to ask her family in France about us staying on their land, but that’s a long way away and a lot to ask of people we don’t know, especially if this situation lasts longer than two weeks, which is not unlikely.

An ideal solution would be a place where we could help out instead of just being in the way. A dog rescue, perhaps! Anne has a contact in Spain who points us in the direction of Pat’s Rescue Retreat. We send Pat a message explaining our predicament; there’s nothing to do now but wait for her reply. It’s not a long wait, fortunately. Pat understands the situation and is happy to help. She has a spot where we can park out of the way, and we’ll figure the rest out when we get there. The rescue is in Álora, near Malaga, a three-hour drive back south. The lockdown goes into effect at 08:00 tomorrow, and we’d rather not risk getting stopped by the police and having to explain the situation through Google Translate. We’ll drive part of the way tonight, stop midway to rest for a few hours and arrive there early in the morning.

It’s 22:00 by the time we pull out of the lay-by. Unfamiliar mountain roads are not nearly as enjoyable in the dark, but the satnav provides a good indication of the sharpness of the corners. Our route takes us right through the centre of Jaén to get to the A-316. The streets are narrow, the intersections unclear; it feels like the city has evolved without much interference by city planners. Parking within the lines seems to be mostly optional here and getting through is quite a squeeze, even with our small camper. Even the satnav is struggling, trying to send us down one-way streets from the wrong side and spitefully taking just too long to recalculate the route when we ignore it. Driving a camper here on a busy day is the stuff of nightmares. Tonight, it’s mostly surreal. The streets are all but empty; it’s just us and what appears to be the entire Spanish police force. Marked cars are everywhere, waiting at intersections and patrolling slowly up and down the main streets. The atmosphere feels tense; people are scared; the few masked pedestrians still on the streets are all in a hurry to get off them. We leave the city just thirty minutes after arriving, passing what appears to be a roadblock in the making on the road out; my TripAdvisor rating is not looking great.

To be continued…

We’re on the run, no longer welcome in Spain. It’s nothing personal, but that does little to ease the sting of rejection. Reports are flooding in from all over the country: campsites are shutting down; the Guardia are clearing out the Aires; police now have the authority to remove people from public spaces at their discretion; tourists are advised to return home. The trouble is, we sold ours. Our best bet is to lay low.
We exit the motorway near Jaén with around thirty kilometres ahead of us; the satnav says one hour remaining. Driving time indications are best taken with a handful of salt for a house as slow as ours—we usually add on around fifteen minutes per hour, though sometimes the satnav gets muddled and an hour’s drive only takes fifteen minutes. An hour for thirty kilometres seems excessive, but it’s not long before we see why. Our chosen destination seems to be in the midst of a mountain range. We should probably start using a topographic map when we plan routes. Mind you, I love mountain driving, but our spluttering sidekick never seems quite as enthusiastic.

This route lives up to my expectations: steep climbs, tight corners and stunning scenery. Jagged cliffs stained red with iron oxide rise around us, a stark contrast to the lush greenery in the valley. The sound of bells puts Chaos on high-alert—sheep, grazing the hillside somewhere below. There’s not much else to be heard up here, save for the straining engine and the gentle rattle of cutlery from the kitchen, punctuated by the occasional groan from the suspension and the seat next to me when I overlook a pothole. There is no other traffic on the road, and no room for it either.

Sixty minutes was an optimistic estimate, and we have an hour or two of daylight left when we pull up to a sturdy metal gate. It’s open, but the municipal sign next to it indicates that it will be closing in an hour. Our chosen spot is 500 meters ahead—or was. Our trusty camping app Park4Night shows nothing in the area. Nowhere to go but back. We spotted a lay-by on the way up; we can take a break from driving there while we figure out what to do.
Our options are limited. Driving back to the Netherlands is pretty much out of the question. Most of Europe is starting to lock down national borders. A Dutch camper driving back to the Netherlands would probably be allowed through, but then what? The Netherlands is too small and too populated for camper dwelling. Staying with friends or family is not a risk we’re willing to take, coming from one of Europe’s coronavirus hotspots. With our usual water sources shut down, wild camping in Spain would only be delaying the same dilemma. Anne’s sister-in-law has offered to ask her family in France about us staying on their land, but that’s a long way away and a lot to ask of people we don’t know, especially if this situation lasts longer than two weeks, which is not unlikely.

An ideal solution would be a place where we could help out instead of just being in the way. A dog rescue, perhaps! Anne has a contact in Spain who points us in the direction of Pat’s Rescue Retreat. We send Pat a message explaining our predicament; there’s nothing to do now but wait for her reply. It’s not a long wait, fortunately. Pat understands the situation and is happy to help. She has a spot where we can park out of the way, and we’ll figure the rest out when we get there. The rescue is in Álora, near Malaga, a three-hour drive back south. The lockdown goes into effect at 08:00 tomorrow, and we’d rather not risk getting stopped by the police and having to explain the situation through Google Translate. We’ll drive part of the way tonight, stop midway to rest for a few hours and arrive there early in the morning.

It’s 22:00 by the time we pull out of the lay-by. Unfamiliar mountain roads are not nearly as enjoyable in the dark, but the satnav provides a good indication of the sharpness of the corners. Our route takes us right through the centre of Jaén to get to the A-316. The streets are narrow, the intersections unclear; it feels like the city has evolved without much interference by city planners. Parking within the lines seems to be mostly optional here and getting through is quite a squeeze, even with our small camper. Even the satnav is struggling, trying to send us down one-way streets from the wrong side and spitefully taking just too long to recalculate the route when we ignore it. Driving a camper here on a busy day is the stuff of nightmares. Tonight, it’s mostly surreal. The streets are all but empty; it’s just us and what appears to be the entire Spanish police force. Marked cars are everywhere, waiting at intersections and patrolling slowly up and down the main streets. The atmosphere feels tense; people are scared; the few masked pedestrians still on the streets are all in a hurry to get off them. We leave the city just thirty minutes after arriving, passing what appears to be a roadblock in the making on the road out; my TripAdvisor rating is not looking great.

To be continued…

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