Age Defying Dreams

Age Defying Dreams

So, we went for a walk one morning and we started talking, as we do, somehow always finding something to talk about together after all these years and with almost every hour of every day spent in each other’s presence. We ended up on the subject of whether there is any one right time, or age, for moving to a new country, doing some serious travelling or making a big life change, and how age can have an impact on the experience.

 

The inspiration for this conversation came from the past few weeks where we’ve met a number of new people who are all here in Portugal for the short or long term and who are all from different decades in their lives. Travellers and residents from their 20s up into 60s and beyond all turn up on these shores and have crossed our paths. Obviously, age does not entirely determine how someone will behave: we all know risk-averse youngsters and wild, crazy elders, but from our experiences these would be exceptions. We pondered where we fit in the scheme of things.

 

In comparison to the other foreigners living immediately around our neighbourhood, who arrived here in retirement in their 60s and upwards, we are the youngsters, roughing it and foolishly cycling up hills in the midday sun. They lead a life of lunches, golf and quiet pursuits, often choosing fellow English speakers for pals and often grumbling about the natives who, they live in proximity to but in total isolation from. The bulk of their lives were spent in their home countries and this life is a welcome retreat funded by pensions and a life of hard work. They live in lovely villas and don’t want to garden or decorate: someone else can be paid to do that. Eventually, many of them will return home due to health, finance or sheer boredom. There is only so much the sun can entertain.

 

Last week we met two women travelling who were in their 20s. One of them had rolled into town alone on the Solstice and immediately hooked up with some other young folks who were organising a party and spent a few days with them. It sounded like this kind of thing happens to her almost every day. No big deal. That all stops when you get older: other 40 somethings just don’t invite you to hang out with them; they/we are all too busy/sensible/fearful of doing such a thing with strangers. These women are happy to share a dorm room and live with basic comforts, whereas although we live a simple life, we shudder at the idea of being kept awake by noisy strangers in a hostel. They have no plans or cares in the world about health, mortgages or how to survive; everything seems possible and it can wait until they’ve finished hanging out here for a while. What’s the hurry? They are low on resources but long on time.

Age Defying Dreams – 02

We belong in a different gang to either of these, which is perhaps less typical. Most of the world’s wanderers are either young and yet to be worn down by the world, or older and enjoying the fruits of their labours. We are still in our working years, requiring income, but wanting to spend our working life doing it our way. Our requirements also differ from those both younger and older. We want more than a hostel and less than a villa. We desire a slightly more luxurious than basic lifestyle; to run a car and to drink good coffee to name but a few. We are neither mobile nor static: we want to put down roots, but we might dig them up and replant them elsewhere in years to come. We don’t want to seek solely English speaking interactions, we want to learn a new language and feel somewhat brave and willing to engage with our community, however long and faltering the steps to do so might be. We want to grow food, create a home and appreciate many joyful sunsets over our hills. We don’t have the casual encounters that our new young friends are having nor seek the ex-pat pals of our older neighbours, but we do try to meet people through voluntary work exchanges where we work on their land and with their animals in exchange for meals and vegetables. Our relative youth and physicality enables us to forge these relationships with like-minded souls in a way that wouldn’t be available to us if we had less physical well-being. We visit our local bar with frequency in order to show our faces, support the place and find rare opportunities to inflict our Portuguese on the captive audience. We are somewhere in the middle in age, courage, energy and aspirations.

Age Defying Dreams – 03

The correlation between risk taking and age seems to be inversely proportionate. Speaking to people casually, I hear that their priorities change as their lives move on. Conversation topics involve concerns about health, safety and financial security which feature less when talking with the young. The older we are, we appear more cautious and fearful of new people and new experiences, despite life being no more or less dangerous than it is at any age. I would like to say that it’s all in the mind, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. I think it is partly in the body. Whilst, Keith and I feel young, able and reckless in comparison to some of our neighbours, we feel old, achy and sensible next to these much younger travellers. For us, approaching 50, mortality bites and our increasing physical limitations are apparent to us, if not debilitating. We already know people of our age who are debilitated. We become scared at the prospect. As our bodies begin to show signs of fatigue and fragility, we become naturally more physically cautious, and perhaps more mentally cautious by default. We increasingly say No to the world, instead of Yes. No creates certainty, predictability and safety, but can also foster fear, boredom and a closed mind. Yes brings risk, possibility and new encounters. Instead of our awareness of time being limited making us braver and intent on making the most of the time and health we have, we try to preserve and protect our minds and our bodies by wrapping them up in cotton wool. This, I feel, is a big mistake.

 

‘But what if something terrible happens?’ you may say. ‘But what if something amazing happens?’ I reply.

 

There is no right time to travel, move or explore, but we must be mindful that the longer we leave it; perhaps the less likely we are to take that leap; if we are even capable of leaping by that time. We need to keep both our bodies and our minds open to all possibilities and recognise that some of our objections, excuses and self-imposed negativity really is all in our minds.

Age Defying Dreams – 04

Of course, we should take care and know our physical limitations, but at the same time continue to stretch our mental limitations. Age should be no barrier to an open mind, regardless of physical health. And if any 20 something wants to invite me to an all night Solstice party, then I’d be delighted. As long as there’s a flushing toilet and comfy chair, I’m there.

 

Do you think that we limit ourselves as we age? And if so, why do you think this is?

Day 17: Bilbao. Rest day.

Day 17: Bilbao. Rest day.

We’re having a lot of rest days. The trip was planned to leave leeway for breakdowns, disasters and general cock-ups so that we could still make it in time for our ferry home. So far, we haven’t had any and Spain hasn’t been so badly mountainous as we feared, so we have basically arrived early and are pootling along to Santander having meta-holidays along the way.

Photograph of satirical poster from Bilbao Festival written in Basque.

We have arrived in Bilbao on the eve of their week long festival, Aste Nagusia, which celebrates all things Basque. Presided over by Marijaia, the festival involves groups from areas around the city building bars along the riverfront which are decorated in mostly political artwork. These are all organised independently by communities and neighbourhoods and involve a huge amount of work.

Photograph of poster for Bilbao Festival showing papier mache model of a woman.

 

Even Scotland gets a look in as their Basque comrades identify with the fight for independence. The effort that is put into these pop up tavernas by local people is quite amazing. I can’t think of anything on this scale that happens in the UK.

Photograph of Basque bar sign depicting satirical political figures.

There must be 20 or more of these bars which sell the must-have drink at Basque festivals called Kalimotxo: red wine and coke. Have to say I’m glad not to be sticking round for that hangover. Jeez.

They also have a character called, Gargantua, who is an enormous figure of a villager with a slide hidden inside, so children are ‘swallowed’ into his mouth and emerge down the slide out of his bum. Who pays for the therapy?

Photograph of river in Bilbao with lit up festival stalls along each side.

 

We went off on the Metro during the day to the Eastbourne of Bilbao; a suburb called Getxo. It’s all gentile, full of big houses and elderly people on benches who don’t like to get too close.

Photograph of a large house in Bilbao.

Photograph of Sarah sitting alone on a line of benches only big enough for one person.

We found the Viscaya Bridge which you can walk across, 60m in the air. I may have considered this with extreme terror until seeing that the walkway is slatted – you can see through the gaps. Step too far for even my bravest self.

Photograph of bridge in Bilbao.

See the sky through those gaps. And you have to pay. Madness. Does not compute.
Photograph of the underside of bridge in Bilbao.

We’ve really enjoyed Bilbao. It’s been calm and easy going compared to the craziness of San Sebastian. Apart from the insanely fast pace of the joggers and cyclists along the riverside (hard-core, these Basques), it’s been a really laid back kind of place, although when the red wine/coke combo kicks in, that could be a very different story. Time to get the hell out of here before the party starts. Story of our lives.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Day 10: Arcachon – Mimizan. 65km.

Jess asked if I was enjoying myself and I found it hard to answer conclusively one way or the other. It varies literally from moment to moment. Some moments every rotation of my legs feels like too much effort and I just want to stop, cry and go home. A few seconds later, the sun comes out, we go past a pretty house, buy a cake, pick up speed down a hill and I feel like I could do this forever. And back and forth it goes minute by minute. Keith feels the same at different moments.

Today started as a bit more of a ‘please can I go home now?’ day. We were sluggish and took ages to leave the ‘non-smoking’ design hotel with ashtrays on the balconies so you can puff your fag smoke into your neighbour’s bedroom. Grumpy? Never. It was wet, grey and the joy of flat, straight roads turned into utter tedium a couple of days ago.

We ended up in Gastes, which is on the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route and seemed a popular place to pass through. We had lunch in the rain under a tree by the lake.

Photograph of lake beach at Hourtin, France.

Photograph of Sarah sitting under a tree next to a lake and two bicycles in France.

This lake had the two most bored looking, female lifeguards I have ever seen. Someone must have sold them the idea of California, surfers, Baywatch, and they got the short straw of an empty, rainy lake in France. Although, the dead-looking woman having a nap could have given then something to do. I am at least tidy when I sleep.

Photograph of Sarah lying asleep on the ground next to a lake and bicycles.

We headed to Mimizan and ate cake. Realised we are rubbish food bloggers as we keep eating things before we photograph them. Not today. Ta dah! Cake:

Photograph of two French patisserie cakes in a box

They were so good. I once tried to blag my way on to a Level 4 Patisserie course at college as I just wanted to know how to make this kind of thing without learning the boring cooking stuff. Surprisingly, my claim that I had had a student vegetarian cookery book published (true – check link) didn’t cut it. Another scheme bites the dust and I have to pay for cakes like everyone else. Bugger.

Photograph of Sarah eating cake with a plastic spoon.

We stopped after 65km today which was weird because we could still walk and function, unlike every previous day. Stayed at a chambres d’hotes, La Renardiere, run by an Irish family. Gorgeous place in the countryside. The style of the house shows that we are now in Basque country, where the roofs are flatter and the buildings timbered.

Photograph of Aquitaine France country house

Photograph of French country house in Aquitaine France

It was nice to have a whole evening to just sit, even if it was spent, like so many others, in the frantic and frustrating search for mobile data signal and then accommodation for the next few days. Both are proving time consuming and difficult to find.

The business of life takes up a lot of time when everything has to be carried and there are no cookers, fridge or spare clothes. We have settled into a daily evening routine where I sort the food and plan the next day’s route and bed, whilst Keith has taken on the clothes washing with gusto, fashioning a washing line in every place we stay like some kind of industrial laundry. Makes you realise how little stuff you need. But then everyone knows that. It’s been a least a week since I’ve used my waffle maker, and I’m surviving. Sometimes you just have to be brave.

We steal soap, sugar and washing-up liquid to fill our little pots. In only 10 days this is what we have turned into. Come Armageddon, we will be ready. Keith will be a non-anti semetic Mel Gibson. I will be Tina Turner. I shall paint my bike matt black in preparation. Oh… my bike is already matt black. I am ready… I have washing-up liquid. Let the games begin.

 

This is happening

This is happening

It’s strange how big changes in life come about.

There you are dreaming, planning, wishing for years and years about how things might be different, but never really able to fully comprehend what it would feel like when they actually were different because it always felt so far away; like for most people, it was  always ‘one day’, always ‘not today’. A bit more off the mortgage, a bit more in the bank (we’ve only owned our own house together for a year). For us, it was always about the money; the perceived security, rarely about the quality. We were apart from weeks on end, often miserable.

Within the past 3 months, its all changed. I have a genetic kidney disease that I didn’t know I had and which might not allow me to be riding my bike and eating KFC until I’m 103 like I had planned, my youngest child turns 18 years of age, Keith has taken voluntary redundancy and is, as from this week, unemployed for the first time in 30 years.

It’s fair to say that Keith and I are quite different people (despite sharing an autism diagnosis). Keith is what you might call ‘risk averse’. ‘I’m an engineer’, he says, ‘ I have to look for the reasons that something might not work’. And he does, frequently. I, on the other hand, am a kind of low attention span Dill the Dog, always diving with 100% enthusiasm into some new, short-lived and often ill-conceived passion. Keith has mainly led a solitary life, doing the same job. I have had over 30 jobs, 2 kids, 2 marriages and a whole string of ‘life events’ (polite phrase for ‘poor choices’). We believe that somewhere in between the pair of us is a perfectly functioning human being.

So, we find ourselves in this new position. Overnight our income has halved, our time together has multiplied from sometimes zero hours a week to 24/7 and our sense of security has vanished.

And today we’re off on an 800 mile bike trip which we planned way before we knew that any of this was going to happen.

We have two choices here. Panic. Or just shut up and get on with it. We’ll start with the latter and reserve the right to shift to the former if we feel like it.