Van life at Marjal

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We have arrived at Marjal Costa Brava, a 5-star campsite inland from Alicante where we will be staying for a month until after my step daughter’s wedding. Its hot when we arrive and by Sunday the temperature soars to 30 degrees. We are here for a few reasons; one, its close to Alicante airport so it makes it easy to fly back for the wedding; two, our friends have recommended the campsite as a great place to be if the weather isn’t good (which is entirely possible in March despite the current temperatures) and; three, John, is testing the water for a life of ‘over wintering ‘ in Spain for when I retire (his previous multiple recordings and secret viewings of ‘Winter Homes in the Sun’ have not been in vain!). Staying in one campsite for this long is not really ‘my cup of tea’, but it makes sense until the weather gets warmer in Northern Europe and we can start to travel, the real purpose of my ‘seniors gap year’.

I must admit, it is nice to finally be in one place with no particular plans, although the ‘no particular plans’ bit does make me nervous as I’m a girl who likes to be ‘doing’. I know that part of the journey for me on this trip is to learn to ‘go with the flow’ and to be happy just ‘being’, rather than needing to do all the time. We soon settle into van life, although there are challenges living in such a small (7.3m x2.1m) space. Everything we need has been packed into the van and it takes time to get to know where we have put it all. Jobs seem to naturally divide – I like to cook (it’s like cooking in a toy kitchen… perhaps a flashback from childhood!) and John likes to do the washing up, which seems to be a social event for the gents of an evening. Our idiosyncrasies become exaggerated – John’s need to do things in a certain way and my messiness when I cook are just a few. It’s easy to become irritated when there’s nowhere to escape to, so we try hard to and nip any niggles in the bud, after all we have another 7 months of living together in this small space!

Our first few days are busy. The site is huge (1200 pitches and hundreds of holiday chalets) and there are 3 swimming pools (one indoor), a spa, gym, supermarket, hairdressers, mini golf, tennis and péntanque pitches. There’s a Camping and Caravanning rally on (which is a kind of get together for members) and between the activities organised by the campsite and the rally there is something to do every morning, afternoon and evening if you want…..great if you are a do..er  We join in happy hour followed by entertainment (on a school night!) and go on a group cycle and walk. There’s a Saturday night quiz and sausage sizzle, a Sunday afternoon BBQ with Pims, and there’s plenty of opportunities to go for a ‘sundowner’ at the poolside bar.

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Being the more sociable of the two, John is in his element……. but on Monday as the weather cools, time starts to shift, and this is what I have been waiting for. There is no rush to do anything and I can take time to ‘just be’ …. I read, I learn a bit of Spanish (duolingo – https://www.duolingo.com/), something I have been meaning to do for a long time, I go to the gym and Pilates and I try a painting workshop. I am no longer Linda the physiotherapist, Linda the mother or Linda the daughter…. I get time to just be me. So, although on the face of it Marjal isn’t really my thing, I know that having this time will help me to reset my clock, reflect and to think about how I want to live the next chapter of my life.

There are so many different nationalities at the site; German, Dutch, Spanish, French, Italian, Belgian, Swiss and Swedish etc, etc. There are some permanent residents and at £5,000 a year for a pitch, and 1 euro for a coffee, it’s certainly cheaper than the UK. Some stay for the winter, some for a few weeks or months and some are just passing through. Some caravans and motorhomes are huge, 5th wheelers, and many have extended their living space by erecting awnings and creating mini outdoor gardens and patios. Most here are retired, and in their 60s, 70s or 80s, but at the weekends Spanish families arrive and the atmosphere changes. Everyone is active, most have bikes (although some have electric) and everybody walks and uses the gym regularly…. it’s a different way of life and the sunshine certainly helps.

I have met some inspiring people. There’s Betty, who’s in her mid-70s and crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and drove her motorhome singlehanded all the way from Merseyside to spend the Winter at the campsite. She joins us on a Sunday morning group walk in her rambling buggy. A regular rambler, she tells us of a time when she was half way up Snowdonia and the buggy started to slide down the scree path… but still made it to the top. We meet another couple in their 80’s, walking hand in hand. They have their own homes in the UK but spend every winter together at the campsite…. “I live every day like my last”, Dave beams. Another couple, in their 70’s, are on their way back from spending the winter in Morocco. Taking early retirement in their late 50s they gave up ‘conventional living’ many years ago, living on a barge first in middle England and then on the Canal de Midi in France. They settled in France, but soon became restless, bought a motorhome and have travelled around Europe ever since.

The people I meet remind me that life is too short to have all your hopes and dreams in the future.  We can all find reasons and excuses (time, money, guilt, fear) which stop us from doing what we want to do now. Meeting some of the people I have at Marjal has reinforced to me that if you really want to do something, for most of us, there is usually a way to make it happen, although often you have to be brave and step out of your comfort zone.  So, in the words of a well-known sports brand, if you really want to do something, ‘just do it!’ The only person that’s really stopping you is you!

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