Well, here we are, a week into our campervan road trip and so far it’s been, um – challenging! After many, many obstacles, delays and literal spanners in the works in the UK, we finally set off last Wednesday a month later than planned, barely able to believe we were at last on our way to Dover. A couple of hours later and we were stationary in a layby of the M25 at evening rush hour, with two key parts of the engine hanging off their sheared-off bolts ominously (alternator and power steering pump for those who like such details!). At this point despair set in and we were almost ready to admit defeat and head back to Coventry – was the universe trying to tell us something?!
But, Chris had put far too much love and time into the transformation of Moksha, our 811D Mercedes ‘classic’ from a rusty, neglected van to a still-rusty but now beautifully converted mobile home to give up so easily. Moksha needed to be given another chance… So Chris utilised the power of the ratchet strap to secure the rogue engine parts as an emergency fix. (By the way, Moksha is a yogi Sanskrit term roughly translating to the elusive ‘state of liberation’ – the irony of this seemed profound but, indeed, eventually we were liberated from our M25 layby prison thanks to the traffic police, who did some radio magic and closed a lane for us to get back on the road!)
So, 800 odd miles through Europe passed easily enough, including a beautiful stint through the snowy Swiss Alps, and all seemed well with the world. That is until we crossed the Swiss border into Italy and again heard ominous noises, this time from the front passenger side wheel. My ultimate nightmare finally came true when we ground to a hideously screeching halt in a dark motorway tunnel, again at rush hour, but this time Italian rush hour, which is M25 rush hour to the power of ten.
Chris diagnosed a collapsed wheel bearing and we managed to noisily limp to the next motorway junction, hazard lights on, and pull off into a bleak-looking industrial suburb of the town of Como. Fortunately the universe decided to cut us some slack at that point as we spied a campsite just ahead. We pulled up to the gates – closed for winter and no one around, doh – except for a lonely looking dog who barked at us through the gates half-heartedly. Still, the beauty of campervan life means that home is wherever you stop, and we had indeed very much stopped. Moksha wasn’t moving another inch now, not until she had a new wheel bearing.
And so here we still are, five days later. Our view since then has been the never-ending traffic of a busy motorway intersection and our backdrop has been the haunting howl of sirens thanks to the proximity of a major hospital. We’ve befriended the poor dog, which seems to only be fed every few days, and we’ve exhausted the sights of the local area, the pinnacle of which has been finding a ‘health food’ store within walking distance – yogi heaven. I’ve possibly almost caused a few crashes at the roundabout by managing some yoga next to the van whenever the sun comes out and we’ve discovered the joys of owning a ‘classic’ vehicle – i.e. it’s nigh impossible to obtain spare parts outside of a major city. As an extra little jab from the universe, on our first walkabout we were delighted to discover a huge Mercedes dealers just round the corner – however, said dealers closed down a month ago and, despite all the vehicles still being in the yard and the odd person still lurking about the offices, no one would have anything to do with us. Como will forever be imprinted on our minds as the town of almost realised dreams…
Still, it’s not all been bad. We have a beautiful view of sunset each evening, and we can glimpse the snow-peaked alps in the distance, like a little sign of hope. The spring flowers are just emerging along the roadside verges and it’s been t-shirt weather on a couple of occasions. We’ve not had any trouble being parked up in full view of the road, despite it seeming a little ‘unsavoury’ in our new neighbourhood. And… we’ve had lots of time. Admittedly most of this time has been spent trying to work out what the hell to do, but we’ve also had time to make some rather lovely curtains for the van, and had lots of time to meditate on the meaning of it all.
I’ve been trying to use the challenge to appreciate the gifts of the present moment and to stay zen when it would be very easy to unravel into hysterical despair. It’s been challenging but worth it, as the difficult times provide the best grist for the mill for any kind of self-development work. As such, my attitude towards such blips is increasingly more ‘bring it on’ than ‘woe is me’, as now I appreciate how much they can help me to grow. Of course, we’ve both had our melt-down moments – we are but human. But we’ve pulled ourselves and each other through and, fingers crossed, we’re out the other side now – stronger, wiser, with a newfound paltry knowledge of the beautiful Italian language (mostly confined to vehicle parts) and an intimate knowledge of this stretch of road, one which I would be very happy never to see again.
As I write this, Chris is just installing the new bearing, which we finally picked up from Milan early this morning, having rented a car for a couple of days to sort it all out at the main Mercedes truck dealers there – we’re regulars at the toll booths on that stretch of road now. (Apparently delivery of the parts to Como, an hour away, was not an option?!)
So, in conclusion, I feel it’s been a ‘character-building’ start to the trip (that most dubious of accolades) and, although we’re still not sure if the universe is giving us a multitude of clear messages to turn tail and head back to Blighty, we’re still fit and well (although in desperate need of a laundrette and a hot shower since our water tank ran dry!) and ready to give Moksha one more chance. Will that be the motto of the trip I wonder?!
So, the kettle is on (in true British style we have been helped through the last week by an inordinate amount of tea – no wonder our water tank ran dry) and we are about to discuss our next move – onwards to Greece as planned or back the way we came? It’s a good reminder to always make your plans in a light pencil stroke and not be too attached to them – this trip is already teaching me acute lessons on being in the present moment and going with the flow, which, surely, is what this kind of travel is really all about… 😉
But, regardless, I can’t wait to be on the road again, whichever direction we decide to go… J
Here are some pics of van life below – from top left, clockwise: curtain-sewing (for family and friends who know how much I detest sewing: this is NOT an illusion/camera-trickery!); our home for the last five days, firmly locked outside the campsite; Chris fixing the wheel bearing at last; the sad campsite dog in his prison – we knew how he felt; and last but not least, our beautiful, cosy Moksha, now with fern curtains… 🙂