Finally free from the English winter, semi-permeated with grey but not entirely swallowed, I [we] fled south. Snow storms descended on northern Europe, clutching after Burt's* exhaust as he valiantly chugged through France; down past the ancient wood-striped houses south of Le Harve, missing a baby boar on the road and all the way to Basque country without even a drop of rain. In the small village Garmarthe, perched low on Pyrenean slopes, we bought cheese from the loft of a sheep barn; bread from bakeries and vegetables from green-grocers, we were determined not to just be a drain on the places we visited this time.
*Burt is the name of our van.
More confident now [Dan], we made good progress, only eating away a couple of days until we could pause for breath on the lofty plateaus of central Spain. Ploughing on past the snow-chain signs, I held my stomach tight under my ribs, hoping we wouldn't have a repeat of the last time we had to use them. With the impenetrable mountains of Sierra de Ayllon barring our most direct route, thick with glinting snow, we clung to lower ground. Swathes of shallow hills, thinly green with new shoots and red soil spread around us, vultures glided overhead. Everywhere we went, the streets seemed strangely empty.
There were still few cars on the road as we climbed higher into the Sierra de Ávila and soon, there was snow on the plains. We passed several snow ploughs, but Burt never slipped.
Further south and now west, we descended through terraced farmland of the Valle del Jerte. There they grow cherries, make jam and liqueur.
Our destination, for this was one journey we were focused on the end of, was Sagres - the most south/westerly point of Portugal and therefore our continent itself. We arrived at the same time as two great storms; tornadoes hit the south coast, wind tore down street signs and ripped out shallow sun-loving plants by the roots. The intermittent rain had enough power to turn a flat, dry expanse of tarmac into above shoe sole level torrents in a matter of minutes. Though it wasn't the best time for using our semi-outside kitchen, we were very thankful not to be in a tent. At over 15°C, an improvement of at least ten compared to the UK, we were not perturbed.
We saw out the worst of the weather at Cordoama, a dramatic expanse of sand and cliffs. It was exposed, but subsequently empty and far enough away from high ground to avoid being struck by lightning.
Black rocks spiked diagonally from the sand, a piranha's under-bite, suggesting through their stance that they, like icebergs, kept much more of their bodies underneath. On special occasions, when the tide swept down with the sun, a thin, silky wetness reflected the clouds.
In-between showers, I tried to clear up some of the immeasurable confusion of plastic washed up on the tide line. A few others were doing the same, but it needed hundreds more. Without falling into neurotic meltdown, it was impossible to collect everything and I scaled back the impulsion after finding myself manically arranging mountains of coloured bottle-caps and trying to chew up spongy balls of polystyrene in my dreams.
Though the waves were enormous at the beaches we'd enjoyed last year, Dan nearly always found somewhere to bodyboard. I watched him with varying degrees of nervousness or sat in the van, pretending to learn Icelandic; raindrops' endlessly expanding concentric circles in muddy puddles out of the window.
As the swell began to die down, I made a concerted effort to get myself in the water. Though a horrible student, Dan tried to teach me to duck dive broken waves, to catch them, turn and get out of the way. I found a little confidence.
We were one of far too many vans and campervans in the area. We collectively clogged up carparks, traipsed into supermarkets just to use their toilets (or even worse, don't) and generally got in the way of people trying to get along with their lives. Last time we were here, we contributed nothing. There is something innately wrong about coming to Portugal, bringing money earned in a stronger economy and then shopping entirely in a German supermarket. Never having looked for them before, we were surprised and pleased to find daily farmers' markets in both Vila do Bispo and Sagres. Here, packaging free, we found locally grown avocados; juicy oranges; fat, unwrinkled passion fruit and dozens of varieties of vegetable. I could take my old jars to be filled with olives, we bought walnuts, a big jar of honey, olive oil, oats and rice. The giant pink tomatoes, sweet and ridged like pumpkins, made having salad for lunch an unusual treat. I felt stupid not to have done it before.
Our final few days were filled with sunshine...
Plastic washed into a cave on Beliche; fish boxes make good collection containers.