Life is funny. Seriously funny. Not humorous funny but unexpected, strange, throw things at you and see how you go funny. Just when you think it is going to happen one way, it happens another. I think in my routine life back home I subconsciously fight to keep things the same. But on the road things change constantly and upon reflection that is what creates the real memories. The thing that gives birth to stories. It’s always the way. The unknown always feels hard at the time but in hindsight it is always the best.
So it happens that a last check of some routine clerical visa matters has upended our world.
You see Mel and the girls all have UK passports so they can gleefully roam Europe (or even live here) for as long as they please. But I am on the standard tourist visa. It’s pretty generous for Europe – the Schengen visa zone. No application needed for Australians and a generous 90 days out of 180 allowed in any of the European countries. We set everything in motion having done our research. We set dates, checked and rechecked visa requirements and planned to the day our entry and exit from Europe so that we could maximise time here with me doing one quick “visa run” at the end of the 180 day period to renew the Schengen Visa.
Sitting in a tent on the Spanish coast I thought I should just re-check everything before I booked and paid for a flight out of the European zone and back. And then the discovery. The slight change to the visa regulations a year or so ago. Still 90 days out of 180 days allowed – but the 180 day period is “moving”. It is not calculated from the first entry date as we had banked on but from when you exit OR enter. One slight change in technicality and suddenly the whole plan crumbles. We can’t actually stay in Europe until December, sell the car and then fly home. We only have 66 days left. We either get out of the European zone for a month (Morocca, Croatia, Turkey) or get back to the UK early and fly home by mid November.
It was a surreal feeling to have our nice little plan evaporate before our eyes, in a tent, in a deserted camp ground on the Spanish coast. Everythign all neat and planned suddenly didn’t work.
Mel and I were a little shocked at first. A little dumb struck. Thoughts of what we would miss dominated our minds – my cousins wedding in Ireland in late December (the worst aspect of it all), weeks in Portugal, snowy European mountains. Then we were overwhelmed by this incredible, palpable, tingling sense of possibility. In a flash this jolt had altered everything and instead of dread, worry and anxiety there was this unmistakable rising excitement. Ideas started tumbling out. We realised that we didn’t actually NEED to spend so much time in Spain and Portugal. We wanted to move on more. We suddenly realised that we may need to go to Morocca – and that the sheer mention of being hurled into a wildly different culture with its tastes, smells, colours and intensity was what we craved.
Then the shackles really fell off and anything seemed possible. A month in Morocco? The car insurance was fine there so that was actually on the cards. Maybe return to the UK and hole up in the snowy far North of Scotland for a month before we return home? Maybe bust across to Croatia and Turkey before returning back to the UK express in mid December.
But then again – why stay in Europe? Maybe we just bug out in December and go somewhere else?
We let it settle into our heads and decided that a planning session was needed. We drove away from the coast, over the rain lashed mountains and camped on the side of the road somewhere North of Leon. Perched inside our little van in the dark, the girls watching a movie on the laptop, rain and lightning cracking around us – we drank Spanish wine and talked. As the wine went down the ideas flowed. We laid out options, we talked through plans, we weighed up what we wanted, needed, felt, thought.
Then we landed on it.
We will use up our 66 days now. Move through Spain, Portugal and Italy a little quicker than we planned and return to the UK by mid November. We sell the car, ship everything home, then pack the lightest, leanest, meanest, most travel hardened bags we can. We are talking 3 pairs of undies each, a t-shirt, shorts and jumper. Then we fly to India.
One month. The madness, chaos, sights, colour, smells and sheer cork poppingness. Then we go home. Hopefully aching for normality, quiet, buses that work, food we can identify and water you can drink straight from taps.
Life is funny. Very, very funny.
If you let it be.