Carpets of sunflowers for mile upon mile
Caballeros rounding up cattle on horseback
Goats ambling down the dusty roads
Ruddy-cheeked gents drinking beer in the shade
It’s not often these days that we detach ourselves from technology. Many of us don’t even go a few hours without logging onto email, face-space and all that jazz. Even on holiday iPhones are being waved around on the beach, in bars, and at places of interest. Families head off on road trips plugged into games consoles, movie-pads and personal music players. A whole generation of children are growing up without I-spy or ever witnessing their parents argue over the map.
So what happens when you turn off your mobile phone, shut down your computer and take a summer-long trip with very little access to wifi or electricity? There’s enough power on our campervan’s temperamental leisure battery to keep beer and milk just below air temperature, but other than being able to charge our cameras and phones when we’re on the move, we’re effectively offline. That is until we pass a McDonalds (or other wifi café) and indulge in a two-minute flurry of online banter until the kids have scoffed their Happy Meals and got bored of Ronald’s PlayZone.
Admittedly, not being permanently connected to the cyber-zone initially induced mild panic. Surely my work, friends and the rest of my life will founder from an 8-week absence online? But two weeks in, I’m fast adjusting to life offline. As well as having to communicate face-to-face with strangers and dredge my brain for basic phrases in French and Spanish, most importantly, I’m spending each and every day entertaining my children without nursery or CBeebies. With varying levels of success: after all it’s exhausting trying to be Floella Benjamin one minute (try making monsters out of drink cartons and straws whilst driving along), ordering food and drink in a foreign language the next (while trying to keep the two wild things under control), and attempting to be a domestic goddess in the campervan and pull a paella out the pan for tea.
Life on the free-camping road isn’t always smooth and easy, but unhindered by the constant nag of having to be online, it certainly feels more ‘real’. By that I mean that the events, the milestones, the everyday occurrences aren’t ones traded and marked on a computer screen. Watching an elderly gent try to put my two year-old on the back his donkey in a dusty Spanish village, whilst exchanging unintelligible conversation, is much funnier than any movie clip you share with friends online. Walking the length of the beach to a mineral pool and caking yourself into mud-monsters is far more relaxing (and beneficial) than taking time off in front of a computer screen. We spend our days learning the alphabet in the sand, making up stories and hunting treasure from the beach. My four year-old has just learnt how to swim in the sea, whilst surrounded by a school of beautiful fish.
Everything in our day takes longer without the luxuries and laptops of home life – we can lose half a day just stocking up with food and water. Yet without the interference of my cyber-self, there’s a lot more time to be had and life is vivid and tangible once again.