Ultimate Freedom Part II: The Road to Africa
In the last part, we gave you a small insight in our previous lives, the preparations of our trip and the ups and downs of living on the road in a twenty-year-old English car with your significant other.
I want to tell you a bit more about our journey towards Africa that brought us through the beautiful autumn embossed countrysides of France, Spain, and Portugal over the last two months. Returning from an amazing summer in Scandinavia we decided to do a short stopover in Germany for some car-maintenance which was urgently required after 15.000km on the road in around 3 months. So we headed back to Germany at the beginning of September, spent some time with our families and started to get the Land Rover ready for the next stage.
On the list were some minor improvements of the interior as well as a complete mechanical check up and the exchange of parts subjected to regular wear and tear like oils, filters, brakes, and shocks. The really cool thing about the Defender is, that you can change or repair almost everything on your own because there are almost no fault-prone electronics and many mechanical parts are well accessible and easy to maintain even in the desert. During the next days and a few nightshifts, our car got a first class service and check up – with a little help of a friend who is the best and most patient mechanic in the world.
Next morning we wanted to start the interior woodwork. As fate would have it the car broke down 5 minutes later with pretty bad noises from the engine while driving to a friends place – but as a Land Rover owner you learn to take things easy, so we stopped in the driveway of the next house, took the toolbox from the roof rack and started to search for the problem. After half an hour of troubleshooting, the very relaxed owner of the house came out and asked me if I need help. Meanwhile, we had a short technical conversation where he tried to convince me about the advantages of his brand new Porsche hybrid SUV: according to him a very comfortable and reliable rig. Finally, he accepted my objection that power plugs are pretty rare in the desert and that our trip requires a car which is repairable without a masters degree in rocket science. Nevertheless, our engine problem was located and fixed quite fast – Land Rover style.
Another big point on our list before leaving towards Africa was to clear out all the stuff we took with us on the first part of the trip – before we started to Scandinavia we took every piece in our hands twice and deliberated carefully if we would need it. We thought we only have the most necessary things with us. In the end, we haven´t used half of it and learned that you just need a very limited amount of things for a happy and fulfilled life. We have become experts in garage sales and the hotly contested second-hand markets. Reduce it, repair it and reuse it – in my eyes one of the most important lessons when you want to travel sustainable for a longer period.
At the beginning of October were hitting the road towards France – according to the surf forecast the first autumn swells were about to arrive soon which even increased the stoke level. We started our french surf-experience in Brittany (northern France) where we found perfect and consistent beach breaks, the best croissants and a pretty relaxed vibe because the main season was already over. The whole region has a very special and charming character – stunning nature, beautiful small villages, moody light, good food, epic waves and friendly people. Definitely, a place to enjoy life.
Next stop was the long, pine-forest edged coastline of the area around Lacanau, St.-Girons and Hossegor with its endless sandy beaches and surf breaks. Several great sessions later I got a super small fin-cut through the wetsuit on my elbow – normally nothing serious and of course I continued surfing. But during the next days, the elbow got swollen like a tennis ball with a serious infection which demanded a few days of recreation. Usually, it´s pretty hard to be close to the beach, watch surfers and not being able to surf – but not in France :-) The result was a whole week with cooking the craziest meals and many culinary explosions. A week well spent with deep insights into the French cuisine.
We left France with some epic waves in Hossegor and headed towards northern Spain with it´s high and rutted alpine mountain backdrops in front of these deep green hills and their smooth transition into stunning sandy beaches – a true paradise. The 4-wheel drive brought us to many remote, quiet and peaceful places where we spent nights on the cliffs and on beaches, including the daily early morning surf-check out of the car window.
The funniest and most exciting story in Spain we experienced was in the mountains called, Picos de Europa. After roaming through a small town with some hot springs we tried to get deeper in the mountains with up to 2.600m high peaks to visit a small village in the center of the park. We asked Google Maps for the way and got two options. One on a main road around the National Park – 89km, duration around 1,5 hours. The second one was a smaller road with almost airline distance – 18km, duration according to Google 3,5 hours. Challenge accepted, sounds like fun. 30 minutes later we were happy to have a serious 4×4 vehicle, high ground clearance, mud tires and serious offroad driving skills. It was a super narrow, rock interspersed and steep mountain trail with 500m deep abysses right next to the car completed by waist-deep snow-fields. Not a whiff of a chance with a normal car – but thanks Google for this great experience.
The ocean was calling again and we had some sunny days with perfect waves and empty lineups before hitting the road southbound towards Portugal. Thank you Spain for having us!
During the trip we are always trying not to plan too much and just to go with the flow. This approach brought us to the most interesting places and on our first day in northern Portugal to a remote and authentic mountain village called Soajo. We immediately fell in love with this place because it´s full of friendly people, just charming and unique. It´s a beautiful medieval old-town and there are animals everywhere on the streets because they have no fences in town or on the fields – a potpourri with dogs, cats, donkeys, cows, horses, sheep and many more. On our first day, we did an amazing hike and got invited to the small village festival where we have been the only non-locals. The story behind the happening: One of the farmers of the village was attacked by his bull and got hurt pretty bad. He spent a long time in the hospital and told his friends, “If I survive this accident we put the bull on the grill and make a huge barbeque for the whole village“ – and here we are. Saturday evening in a beautiful mountain village, surrounded by nice and friendly people, heaps of homemade red-wine, fresh meat, good vibes and accordion music. Couldn´t be better!
Fun fact about Soajo: Almost all residents, even the older ones, speak very good English because everybody has relatives who live and work in the United States or Canada. This made our night there even funnier because communication was pretty easy. I even got a private accordion-lesson after several glasses of red wine – epic!
Next Stop: Morocco! Stay tuned for our African adventures!
Words by Jens Scheibe. Follow Jens and Julia @jscbe