Week 1 - Northern Spain

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

8th & 9th October - The day has finally arrived, the van is not even completed and we’re off on our 2 month adventure around Spain and Portugal. We haven’t tested the gas, we have no running water, the shower is not complete, we have no electric hook up, a leaky fridge and no gas safety alarm wired, but hey, that’s vanlife! We hadn’t even weighed the van to see if we were overweight! Classic Goddard style!

With the van fully packed, we made our way to our local recycling centre to weigh the van before heading off. With a maximum total gross weight allowance of 3500kg we came in close with a weight of 3320kg, whoops! But with a certificate to say we we’re underweight, one very happy wife and two smiley dogs, we began our 5 hour journey to Plymouth to catch the overnight ferry. A quick stop off at ScrewFix along the way to get some essentials for finishing the van, we checked in and found out ‘due to a medical evacuation’ we were delayed by 3 hours.

Boarding the ferry was pretty chaotic with no instructions as to where to take the dogs as they we’re staying in the on board kennels and we had no idea how to get to our room. After getting told off by the crew for going the wrong way with the dogs, we finally made it to the kennels which we we’re not prepared for. They were not wheelchair accessible, were rows upon rows of cold metal crates on top of each other, no beds, no water, no one to watch over them and right next to the loud ships chimneys. The “exercise” area was a tiny 4m x 4m gated square on the top deck, which was supposed to provide space for nearly 50 dogs! No artificial grass area in sight which meant both Bobbi and Arla would not be going to the toilet for 24 hours as for some strange reason, they can only toilet on grass. Not spoilt I promise! We had one large kennel booked for both of them although I think Bobbi would have preferred her own kennel.

After leaving them and promising to see them every hour we found our room and headed straight to see what fine dining options the restaurant had to offer. The answer, Zero! We both couldn’t eat as the sea was so rocky, so we headed straight for bed and had the worst nights sleep ever, rocking backwards and forwards, side to side feeling like you could fall out of bed at any time. It felt like we were part of an episode of worlds most dangerous cruises, although the crew assured us it had been a smooth sailing.

We visited the dogs as much as we could but were really just counting down the hours before we could get off.

It had to be one of the worst experiences we’ve had together, so much so, we cancelled our return ferry crossing and have decided to drive from Spain to Calais, France to catch the Eurotunnel home! But full credit to the dogs, they didn’t bat an eye lid. Surrounded by 48 non stop barking dogs, they were so excited to see us when we came to visit but when it was time to go back in the kennel, Arla who is normally the anxious one, snuggled up asleep whilst Bobbi just led down staring at the door waiting for our return. We couldn’t have been prouder of them both! Hearing the words, please make your way to your vehicle never sounded so good. We grabbed the dogs, loaded up and drove into Santander. Straight to the petrol station for diesel and then onto our first park up of the journey. It seemed to be the place where anyone with a motor home heads to after getting off the ferry for a good nights sleep!

10th Oct - We awoke to a very hot and sunny Santander and realised what a nice spot we had parked up in. Opposite us was a large conservation park with paths running for miles. Great as the the pups had so much energy to burn after their traumatic ferry experience! A 10 minute walk away was a local supermarket and a McDonald’s, always a good sign of a good park up in my eyes. We grabbed some food from the local supermarket and I spent the day relaxing whilst Jade started working on a few of the unfinished van jobs!

11th Oct - Whilst on the ferry we received an email from our vets about the dogs. Before we left, they both had to have blood tests, to prepare for the worst if Brexit is to ever happen! The results came back and what a surprise, Arla had failed! As if she hadn’t been through enough over the past 2 years we’ve had her, she now doesn’t have enough antibodies in her system to fight the rabies disease, even after vaccinations. So we left our park up and visited the local Spanish vets who spoke very minimal English to get her a rabies vaccination. This is where Google translate comes in very handy!

All done and it was off to a petrol station to do our first gas fill up. Pretty daunting when you’ve never done it before and have no idea if you’ve got the correct adapter and if it’ll even work. Luck was on our side, the station we arrived at had a lady helping fill up all the pumps, she came straight over sensing our stress and showed us the correct adapter and filled us up, everyone is so helpful here! With a quick stop at the local Carrefour we headed to our next park up for the evening in Parque De La Naturaleza De Cabàrceno. On arrival we parked up next to a lake with beautiful mountain views and we found we were right next door to Parque De Cabàrceno. An incredible zoo set on 750 hectares of a former open mining pit, home to nearly 120 species of animals from 5 different continents. On top of that you can drive through the park in your motor home and it’s dog friendly! So that was our plans sorted for tomorrow!

12th Oct - After a pretty rubbish nights sleep and a morning of learning what vanlife is really all about when it comes to toileting and bad stomachs (it involves a kitchen utensil but I’ll leave it there!) We were on our way to the zoo, not really knowing what to expect as we drove through but we were amazed. Our first stop were the giraffes and ostriches. All the animals had huge fenced off enclosures, you could park up and get out of your vehicle at each one. Bobbi and Arlas first impressions of ostriches were not good so we were straight back into the van and then onto the Grizzly bears where I think they were both terrified of the size of them. We drove on a bit, parked up and boarded the Gondolas which travelled high above the park for an amazing view. All it needed was the Jurassic Park soundtrack playing in the background and you would of thought you were there!

As it was a Spanish bank holiday, after a few hours, it started to get busy, so we packed up and headed to the nights park up. An hour later, and ascending over 1100 meters in the van through the hilly Spanish landscape, didn’t do Pepper any favours. We had to pull over for 10 minutes to give her a rest as it felt like she could die at any minute. Not the best of ideas in a van that is only a few kilos off its maximum weight limit!

Embalse Del Ebro was our park up for the night, one of the largest reservoirs in Spain with an amazing landscape. With so much space and being parked next to the reservoir, we can let Arla off the lead and run around like a crazy nut bag as she’ll always come back when called. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Bobbi. As soon as she sees freedom, ducks, another dog, leaves, pine cones, space, this list is endless, and is off the lead, she’s off and good luck getting her back! So it means unless she’s out with Jade, Bobs is on a super long extendable lead meaning we always know where she is. Normally sunbathing or asleep under the van. She does forget she’s on it sometimes though and clothes lines herself trying to get those pesky pigeons. Dinner was a standard van meal of burgers and chips. Now we just need to find a way of keeping out these mosquitoes!

13th Oct - After a very windy nights sleep by the reservoir, it was time to head off to our first destination of the day, Ojo Guareña and Ermita De San Bernabé. One of the largest cave systems in the world with over 90km of tunnels and passages. We did a bit of research and found out that the visitor section was wheelchair accessible but as we’re pretty well travelled, we know that’s not always the case. The term ‘wheelchair accessible’ means something different in every language. We arrived and saw the ramp to the entrance, which was definitely not accessible for a quadraplegic. So for me meant falling asleep on the bed with the dogs whilst Jade booked herself onto a 45 minute tour.

After Jade had finished exploring, we decided to head back towards the coast and drove the 3 hour drive to Bilbao for our nights park up. The first one was closed, the second one just didn’t feel right and third time lucky we found a good one until we realised we were under the landing flight path for Bilbao airport and next to the village clock tower which chimes every half an hour! Bobbi has been a bit off the past few days, not her normal self. We don’t know whether she misses home, she doesn’t like the new van, misses her normal routine and not being able to run around freely, but today was the first time she attempted to hump her favourite orangutan toy so hopefully she’s on her way back to her cheeky self!

14th Oct - Luckily the village clock tower stopped chiming at 10pm last night and didn’t start again until 9am, we managed to get a decent nights sleep. A beautiful sunny morning meant doing all the van chores, emptying the waste, filling up with water and a quick tidy up. Everything has a place in the van and in such a small area, even 2/3 items can out of place can feel like the van is such a mess!

A second trip to the Carrefour in torrential rain for some all important supplies, mainly biscuits and then on to our next location. A very windy journey with the van getting blown from side to side before arriving at our spot for the night, an Eco Camping site in Arbizu. A nice little motorhome park with all the essential facilities, showers, toilets and washing machines, all completely wheelchair accessible but even more impressive, is the campsites surroundings. The site lay in the shadow of a beautiful mountain range and lies directly next to a mountain peak. Jade was in her element watching the birds soaring around, there was sooo many! Now to plan the week ahead so we’re not just driving from campsite to campsite. Time to schedule in some activities!

15th - A really chilly night in the van meant we got to try out our heater for the first time since it was installed properly. Jade was the early riser this morning, ready to use the drone to catch the sunrise over the mountains but was a bit cloudy so couldn’t get the footage she wanted. Straight back to bed for ‘just 10 more minutes’ which turned into 3 hours! A quick morning van spring clean and off to the city of Pamplona, the city well known for the running of the bulls. We walked 7 miles around the city but more impressively Bobbi walked 6.9 miles but had to sit on my lap for the last 100 metres. Her little legs just couldn’t do anymore but after a quick nap and some Din Dins (dinner) she was back to her bouncy self. A dinner of cornetto ice cream and crisps for us and a chance to go through our terrible attempts of a family photo with the dogs! 🙈

Keep posted for our adventures next week as we work our way across Northern Spain!

Stay Tuned, D.

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