From Gijon to Quarantine – Part One – The Covid Diaries
It’s Saturday the 21st of March and I have woken reluctantly from a sleep that was broken by coughing. It is day four of our self isolation in Iggy the Hymer motorhome. It is possible I may have the Covid-19 virus.
A lot has happened since my last post from Gijon in Spain – thirteen days and a lifetime ago. But anyone who follows our Facebook page will know that we finally arrived back in Scotland in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning. Our plans of Jay getting back to work after our social distancing on the way home had been thrown out of the water by the government announcement that “vulnerable people” should self isolate for twelve weeks.
Jay is a type one diabetic, and as such is about ten times more likely to die from the Covid-19 virus than the average person. We’d spoken about the risk to him on our way home. I’d suggested that he should maybe just keep himself safe. But – like most healthcare workers – he didn’t even see that as an option.
I didn’t argue. If I was still working with homeless people I would be exactly the same. We humans tend to be like that. It’s not that we don’t get scared. It’s not that we don’t want to run away to someplace safe. It’s just that when it falls on us to be the ones who need to help… well then help is what most people tend to do.
If I could run away today and save him from this virus then I would. But as he says, if I have it, then so does he. And so we will sit here and wait, and hope, and see. And while we wait we’ll watch Netflix and YouTube. We’ll laugh at comedians. We’ll walk Marley Dog on the empty farm track where we’re staying. We’ll smile, we’ll hug.
I will try not to notice the niggling ache in between my shoulder blades. The place that the hot, harsh sounding cough is coming from. I will try and not worry about it. Remind myself that I will most likely be fine. Remind myself that worrying helps nothing.
Jay might write some tunes. And I will tell you the story of our journey here from Gijon – thirteen days and a lifetime ago.
There’s only so much I can remember of that journey home now. Mostly it was a blur of driving – and trying to keep abreast of the news – so we could make the best decisions as we travelled. That first day driving from Gijon though, our spirits were still high. We knew it was a serious situation, and we knew that we had to make good time.
But we also knew that we were doing what we could, and that we could do no more. And that just trying to enjoy the journey, and each other, was the best way we could now spend our time.
Enjoying the journey wasn’t difficult as the road took us past the beautiful Picos mountain range. The curving bridges of the day before carried on spinning us over gorges, and the sun shone bright from a beautiful blue sky. It was a grand day to be alive, and out for a long drive.
I’d picked a “nowhere spot” for the night’s stopover. Just a parking spot across the bay from the town of Islares – not far from Bilbao. The news from Italy was that sixteen million people were being put on lockdown. It was a sobering thing to hear as we drove across the continent alone and far from home.
Suddenly our decisions to wander around Lugo and Gijon over the past couple of days seemed foolish. We realised that we needed to start self isolating as much as possible – not just for ourselves but for Jay going back to work when we got home. What we’d thought was us being sensible just hadn’t been anywhere near sensible enough.
Hindsight is a great thing if put to good use. It’s an absolutely rubbish time machine though. Or it is if you want to go backwards. No amount of “I should haves” ever changed the past one tiny little bit.
But that old hindsight time machine can change the future greatly. If we can only stop whipping ourselves long enough to realise that it’s okay. Lessons don’t end when school does, and life is the ultimate teacher.
Plus we don’t stay in campsites, and it was a while since we’d had much in the way of close contact. If we’d caught the virus already we couldn’t change it. If we hadn’t then we would reduce our chances as much as we could in the coming days. Hand wash after every trip outside the van. Try not to touch things if we didn’t have to. Don’t wander around more than was necessary to exercise Marley.
And lots and lots of movies and giggle time!
After a cosy night lulled by the sound of the waves we were soon up and back out on the road again. I’d given satnav details for a stop just over the border into France. It would take most of the day if we stayed off the toll roads as normal. We were hurrying, but not hurrying too much. A steady five hours drive a day would see us make good time for home without turning it into a stressful “flight from danger”.
We hadn’t spent much time on Facebook or checking the news in the past twenty four hours. So after we got underway I thought maybe I should have a quick peek to see if there had been any more developments. And it only took a minute online before I turned to Jay and said
“I’m re-routing us onto the toll roads. The whole of Italy has gone into lockdown.”
Jay threw me a look from the driver’s seat.
“Okay.” he said. “Okay.”
With the news from Italy I figured we could cut an extra day or two of our trip home, and still not have to exhaust ourselves, by jumping on the toll road to the other side of Bordeaux. That stretch from San Sebastian to there was notoriously slower on the normal roads. Not an issue on a regular trip. This was one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of Spain, and always worth a dawdle.
Well… almost always. In the current situation a little less dawdling was definitely worth a few Euros in the toll booths. I ducked my head back to my phone and started looking for a suitable stop for the night near Bordeaux. Somewhere small and quiet with a suitable Aire where we could pick up some water. All this handwashing was taking it’s toll on our water tank!
As we shifted on to the toll roads the kilometres flew by under Iggy’s wheels. It was a strange feeling to be leaving the country this way. Everything seemed so normal. And yet nothing was. My mind kept flicking into a strange space of mindfulness. There wasn’t much option but to be in the moment. What would be coming in the weeks ahead was beyond my ability to imagine. We could look at the numbers rising and imagine difficulties ahead. But what that would look like in everyday life was impossible to know
Luckily I had plenty to keep myself occupied in the here and now. I wanted to book a ferry home, but we needed to get Marley to a vet first. There was one up ahead – a couple of minutes off our route. Just a few minutes before the border. I contemplated stopping, but we decided we’d just keep going. Try and find a vet in the morning.
The toll booths kept taking my attention too. The first few had contactless card readers which was great. A quick germ free “beep” and we were through and out the other side. Before we could even think of a goodbye to Spain we were through the last booth. The imaginary line we call “Borders” swam into view – lined with French toll booths. And we were through. Two more countries till home.
We made good time up the toll roads towards Bordeaux. We very rarely use the tolls these days and we chatted and laughed as we drove. Remembering our first long trip in our old Toyota Yaris back in 2016. It was fun to look back on our old rookie selves. Always taking the toll roads. Nervous of the traffic. Never guessing that trip would change our lives completely – inspiring us to buy Iggy a year later and set off on our adventure together.
And then, about thirty miles or so south of Bordeaux we were flagged to a stop by French customs as we came out a toll gate. We were using the centre gate, and obediently pulled in to the side – right in the middle of the road – as the officer came to the window.
“Where have you been?” he wanted to know.
“Spain. Portugal.” we answered politely.
“Bring the dog.” he said. Waving to the door and gesturing to Jay to start opening lockers as we climbed out of the van.
Everything went okay until he found our bucket of dirty laundry. Now… I don’t know about you but I’m a bit funny about my laundry. I don’t like anyone touching my dirty laundry – especially not if there’s week old underwear in there! And this bucket definitely had quite a lot of our dirty smalls in it. And not only was the customs man rifling through them all – he was doing it in the middle of the road.
The few minutes that follow will probably always be known as “That time Fi almost got strip searched on the road to Bordeaux.” The head Customs officer and I had what is normally referred to as a “very lively debate” on the normality and acceptability of rifling through a ladies knickers in the middle of the highway.
Jay and the other customs men wisely kept their heads down and got on with traipsing through our van and digging into cupboards. I couldn’t see if they were wearing disposable gloves. The tension between me and “The High Head Yin” (as we call bosses in Scotland) was palpable.
And then we were done. The sneering official stood pointedly a few inches from my window as we climbed back into Iggy. Staring at me with a massive grin on his face as we prepared to drive away. I steadfastly organised the satnav, spoke to Jay, petted Marley, and refused to so much as glance in his direction.
My only regret was that I hadn’t taken photos of them for the blog. But that probably would have got me strip searched!
A few minutes later and we ran into the, almost inevitable, traffic jam on the approach to Bordeaux. It’s just one of those places where these things happen. I’d been checking it on the traffic updates throughout the day, and it was down to about twenty minutes slow down now. So we decided to just go with the flow and keep to our route.
And sure enough a half hour or so of me ranting about dirty underpants and Customs Officers later and we were out the other side. Thirty minutes easy drive, and the pretty little village of Saint-Christoly-de-Blaye swung into view just as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.
The blue skies of the morning in Spain were far behind us. Rain alternated between a drizzle and an emphatic “I don’t want to go out in that.” With every passing day it looked like this pandemic really was going to be the one the epidemiologists had been warning us about for years.
And for tonight we had a welcoming space in a free French motorhome stopover. We had Marley Dog. We had the fresh, clean, village air as we walked her round the small green area beside the parking. And we had each other. To share a glass of wine. To watch a movie. To curl up in Iggy’s cosy drop down bed, pull the curtains, and count ourselves blessed as we fell asleep.
And tomorrow I will tell the rest of our journey up to where we are now. Jay isn’t coughing – quite. But he keeps doing a little clearing noise in his throat. A half cough. An almost cough. And a couple of hours ago we both had a bit of a temperature rise. Only a little – half an hour and it was gone. Though it feels like it’s lingering a little, just on the edges, thinking that it may come back.
And for now I too am going. I will leave you to whatever place your life has taken you this night. I pray it is to light places, manageable places, places with laughter and love.
I do not know what tomorrow will bring us. But for now there is a shaggy Greek mountain Dog waiting for a little walk. A man I love to the moon and back waiting to be hugged. And blessings aplenty to be counted.