by Karen Davies | Apr 7, 2018 | Personal Insights, Travel Blog, UK
Here we are half way through our trip back to Blighty and I felt inspired to write down my thoughts as we navigate our way through this strange period of our nomadic lives.
Operation UK, as we have lovingly called it, has been a journey full of the usual texture and colour that we have come to expect from our adventurous lives. Although I must admit as we prepared for our temporary homecoming, it had an odd hue of grey around the edges as I struggled to get my head – and my heart around going back.
As I reflect back to December, when our plans became more real, I remember the deep sense of dread which seems to be a recurring pattern when we consider a trip back to UK. It’s a really strange sensation as I picture ‘the return’ which fills me with uncertainty and anxiety. I’ve never been quite sure what has driven this feeling for my homeland. Although I embrace it, as I have every other emotional response we’ve had since we hit the road two years ago.
Our first trip back was Christmas 2016 for a mere three weeks and it was a whirlwind visit to spend precious time with friends and family. As I recall, this ‘return’ had a more intense fear to it, as we had only intended to travel for a gap-year whilst we sold some property, although such was our love for our new lives that we decided to keep going. So this trip was filled with an anxiety that played out some very strange scenarios for me;
Would we want to stay?
Would we harbour deep-seated regrets for all we had left behind?
Would there be a surprising desire to return to our roots and bricks and mortar?
I think it was the anticipation of these questions and doubts that nibbled away on the inside of my ego. Although thankfully none of them came to fruition and with a fervour in our heels, we hopped, skipped and jumped our way back to our new European homeland to seek out more life-enriching experiences. Our trip had been affirming, comforting and full of lovely reconnections, yet nothing held us back from the happiness we have found as nomads.
So you could be forgiven for thinking that having done it once I could come back to UK with a certain degree of confidence in my soul. Although this latest trip was for longer…. This could be up to three months! How would I cope with that and what unexpected nuances would influence our travelling landscape?
Just before we set out on our epic route back through France, to quote the famed Mr King, ‘I had a dream’… Said dream gave me an absolute clarity about our trip to UK and the role it played in our lives today and tomorrow. It wasn’t so much a ‘going back’ as an opportunity to consolidate a base on which more years of travel could be built on. That realisation brought me a resounding peace and in a flash of that waking moment, I said goodbye to dread and hello to positive purpose.
So often during the course of the last two years I have been reminded of my work as a life coach and the insights that clients and I create to heal their suffering. And here was yet another lovely lesson from my own story book… When things look difficult or tricky, hard or upsetting, then explore whether, within its fabric, is a positive purpose – a reason that that situation, interaction or person is in your life. Once we see this perspective, it makes our handling of it so much easier.
Added to this, an important conversation with a friend gave me the ‘ah-ha’ I sought to the source of my ‘RETURNING’ fear. Because we decided to swap our corporate stress for a more fulfilling sense of happiness, adventure and simplicity, coming back had the shadow of historical ghosts that lined up ready to suck me back into the nightmare of our previous lives. My fear was more about what the UK represented for me; a place where for too many years we struggled with stress, mental fatigue and people-pleasing traits that called the shots and that sent our lives into a seemingly uncontrollable spiral. A place that we chose to leave behind and one that we never want to return to, having found the enriching life of nomads.
With clarity of heart and mind we stepped on snowy UK shores with a determination that continues to drive us even into our second month. What was more interesting was that our arrival was exactly two years to the day that we had left for European shores. Was that a strange twist of fate or merely a co-incidence? I’ll leave this to your own imagination, as to ponder on its significance seems futile for us at this point. Perhaps it will become clearer at another junction of our lives, although for now we’ll put it down to co-incidence.
Intent on meaningful connections, productive selling, even more positive purchasing and a little milestone Birthday, we initiated our operation with the strategic character of a battle-field. A busy month has had our feet not even touching the ground and our to-do-list reducing day by day.
With a bit of an April respite as we housesit back on home turf in Taunton, a place that we proudly called home for four years, we smile at the way we have reacted to being back on the farm where it all started. Our old house next-door is now occupied by new tenants and as they make it their home, our memories strangely don’t feature in any wistful recollections. We simply feel grateful for all that was and all that is right now. Having this stationery sojourn feels comforting and known as we complete the next set of tasks from our list.
One month on, we are making excellent progress on the financial foundation and the social reconnections are being beautifully restored and whilst we sit here on a wet and grey UK day feeling just a bit jaded from our exploits, we know that we are doing well and navigating our intense journey with teamwork. We must though during this next phase of housesitting, allow our bodies (and our livers if we’re honest), take a rest and whilst it is important to see all our lovely friends and family, we must not to fall foul to the old people-pleasing beasts that lurk in the wings of our life’s stage. We must ensure that we continue to put our well-being first so that we may live our lives with the same energy we have up until this point.
And don’t get me wrong, my wanderlust is rising up from my feet with the eagerness of wild horses ready to run through wilderness, although for now this is not where we are meant to be. Our travels will resume soon and in fact there is plenty of adventure to be had in this phase of our lives. It is just shaped by a purposeful need to get our house in order so that we may move forward with greater certainty and confidence.
What will the next chapter bring? That we don’t know, although what we do realise is that with our partnership, love and resilience we can navigate it all with the deftness of a coursing river.
by Karen Davies | Jan 13, 2018 | Personal Insights, Spain, Travel Blog
Conquering my fear at El Caminito Del Rey, Spain
Integrity is so important when you write about your travel experiences; and even more so when you proclaim the importance of living life beyond fear – as we do. So when I had the chance to walk my talk I took up the challenge!
El Caminito del Rey in the Malaga region of southern Spain is a notorious gorge walk, which is famous for perhaps all the wrong reasons. Once crowned one of the most dangerous walks in the world, with death-defying climbs, 100m + impenetrable gorge walls and narrow, suspended boardwalks with only a small piece of concrete and a few planks of wood supporting you. It all sounded pretty frightening to me as a girl who loves to feel safe and not take un-calculated risks. Although, you know the sensation you can get when, however scary something is, there is a perverse desire to do it irrespective of what is going on in your stomach? Call it ego, call it foolhardiness, call it what you wish, although there is something inside of us all that just wants to conquer and accomplish. Perhaps it’s just that insane human trait that needs to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones to feel alive.
On first viewing, from the safety of the road, you can look up to the famous Eugenio Ribera’s Aqueduct and get a sense of what the walk would be like. And from afar the boardwalk paths that hug the magnificent rock faces of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes – Gorge of the Throat, look too incredible for words. Tiny lines that seem to decorate the rock, with ant-like images of walkers who have taken up the challenge of hiking El Caminito del Rey.
I felt a mixture of ‘OMG I couldn’t possibly’ to ‘Yes, come on! I’ll have me some of that’. In truth I’m not sure which one came first, the fear or the anticipation, although one thing is for sure, my desire to try the walk was greater than my fear – at that point!
Later that night I started to do some research to identify what was involved and whether I was fit enough to do it. I found this great website which is full of information, images and a place to book up your tickets. The pictures looked incredible although strangely they started to engage my fear with their terrifying suspension, boardwalks seemingly hanging in mid air, without any visible anchors! Except I rationalised that hundreds of people do this walk every day, so surely it must be safe.
Still there was something inside of me that still wanted to do it. So I pitched it into my hubby who took one look at the website and fuelled by his vertigo said, ‘Not a chance in Nelly’ or words to that effect. So there was my dilemma – I could do it, although I’d be doing it alone. When my mum offered to buy it as part of my 50th Birthday, I jumped at the chance. We love to buy experiences and not gifts that will hide away in a cupboard unused. So what a perfect present.
My fears were three-fold; was I fit enough, was I courageous enough and how would I fare alone? Myles and I have been travelling Europe in our camper full-time for two years now and it has been an incredibly enriching experience for this little Miss Safety girl who used to like her roots. In that time I’ve learned the basics of seven languages, toured through US on the back of a Harley Davidson, driven up and down mountain passes and kayaked down rapids. Surely my confidence was great enough that I could tackle this walk – which is after all only 7.7km (that’s about 5 miles in UK money).
Although having made a commitment to myself – and my mum, I was determined to give it a go, as life is just too short not to have amazing experiences. So I tentatively pressed the send button on my €18 online ticket purchase and preparations for my walk began. As always, I knew that the journey would be so much more than treading the boards – it was about overcoming my fears.
The day arrived and we found a great wild spot to camp for the night, only 10 minutes drive away. So with my body strapped and wrapped as if I was about to climb Kilimanjaro, Myles dropped me off at the entrance for the walk. Not being completely clear as to where I would meet my group, I set off to the anticipated rendezvous point. It was strangely emotional as I saw our camper drive off, leaving me there. I was so used to doing things together – being alone left my inner child feeling vulnerable, although in truth I had little time to indulge her as my first challenge was slap bang in front of me. A low and seemingly long tunnel with no lights and a no Torch App on my phone. It felt so symbolic. I was in the dark, not knowing where I was going and with a long path ahead of me. And yet contrary to that, the pinhole light some 1/2km away really was ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’; hope that my darkness would soon end! With affirmations running in my head about how ‘I am strong, confident and capable’, I forged ahead, talking nervously into my GoPro that would record my journey.
With the tunnel nailed, it took just another 10 minutes to find my rendezvous point at the main Control Centre. I’d chosen to go for a 10.00am Guided Walk, so that I was guaranteed to be with others and have the relative safety and humanity of like-minded souls. Donned with safety hats, which I must admit didn’t fuel my confidence, and a Ref-Link radio and ear phones, we were ready to start our journey. Now there was no going back. With Marcelo, our Spanish Guide who translated into English for me, we were on our way, into the depths of this little known Caminito, whose soil had been blessed by a King almost 100 years ago.
The boardwalks – of which there are two sections both of which are about 1.5km each and have been skilfully reconstructed after the death of five people. A complete refurbishment of the walk took place between 2000-2015 making it a safer place to walk. Whilst the height is breathtaking and the views beyond adjectives, the catwalks are very secure, wider and more robust than I imagined. The wire fencing and cables keep the suspended paths secure and there is simply no way you can fall or wobble. The website photographs certainly conjure up a walkway from hell in your imagination, which is simply not the reality. With each step I grew in confidence and my nervous chatter into the GoPro subsided into a mindful silence as the scenery in front of me took my breath away.
Hundreds of vultures circle overhead, gliding on the thermals and the sound of the river coursing its way thunderously through the narrow gorges makes the walk an orchestral symphony for your senses. My fears simply didn’t have any space to control me.
With a glass viewing platform to test your nerve, tales of 19th Century sailors who worked in the gorge to satiate your inner historian and the sight of 23 million year old fossils – your anxieties soon disappear. The blend of ancient and modern Caminito stories are mesmerising and make your efforts to tackle this walk, so worth it.
And what of my fears? They evaporated within 30 minutes when I saw how easy the walk was both in terms of safety and my fitness. The most strenuous part of the hike is actually the 2km after leaving the gorge to El Chorro. And given that even with a few stops along the way for drinks and photos, it’s no more than a two hour walk from one Control Centre to another. And I would add, this is done at a gentle amble rather than a Rambler’s purposeful stride.
Then there is a strange sense of disappointment when I reached the final bridge as I realised it was over and that my return from the hidden canyons of Narnia meant I was back in the real world. And then I reflected on my feat – not my feet that had trodden the boards with the deftness of a gazelle – no the feat of my achievement and completing this incredible walk whilst learning about its secrets.
Fear paralyses us in so many ways with its deep-seated presence somewhere in our guts. It holds us back from living our life to its full potential and from doing things that could bring us joy, happiness and untold riches. Fear is only a figment of our imagination, developed into scenes of horror by our minds and is so rarely the reality. When we push beyond our fearful voice we can experience beauty beyond words. What is life, if not to embrace all of its faces and to learn about the extraordinary story that the world has to offer. Movies and encyclopaedias have their place, although they cannot begin to replace our participation in all that this magnificent place has to offer.
El Caminito del Rey? Come! It’s amazing.
Recommendations for your trip based on my experiences
- My visit was in January 2018 and it was cold although quite sunny. You are in gorges for 2/3rds of the walk, which don’t get much sunlight, so do wrap up in layers. The paths were dry, although if there has been rain, ensure you wear robust footwear.
- I suggest that you book your tickets on-line through this website rather than buying at the Control Centre, as you may risk not getting the time slot you want, as it does get booked up. Then you’re having to wait around.
- You can choose half-an-hour slots, from 9.30am up until 3.00pm.
- The earlier times are good, as you can park more easily and get a quieter experience, although the trips are scheduled in 15 minute slots so you are never on-top of one another.
- Only take a small rucksack with water and snack bars. You have a couple of short stops for refreshments, although there are no facilities (including toilets) once you are in the gorge. There are though toilets at the Control Centre office and again at the end of the route in El Chorro.
- Your phones have no signal in the gorge until you reach El Chorro, although there are plenty of people around if you decide to walk alone and you need help.
- If like me, you are walking alone, going with a group with your own Guide is great as you get to learn so much more and ask questions. It felt like a more rounded experience than just simply just doing the walking. Tickets for going alone are €10 and with a Group are €18.
- The walk is one way – north to south and not circular. It STARTS at Ardales – North Entrance and finishes in El Chorro – South Entrance.
- This North Entrance though is NOT where you meet up with your Group. You have two routes to take to get to the main entrance, where you present your ticket and rendezvous with your Group. You can either go the 1.5km route, which takes you 20 minutes where you go through a long tunnel of 1/2km. Alternatively you can go on the 40 minute route which is about 2.7km and it has a shorter tunnel. So if you dislike the dark and feel claustrophobic, then you will need to factor in the longer route or simply take a torch with you.
- You need to rendezvous with your Group at least 15 minutes before your scheduled slot, as you need to register and go through a safety briefing. So make sure you allow enough time to walk there and arrive in plenty of time.
- When you arrive at El Chorro there are scheduled buses that run throughout the day that will take you back up to your car, if you parked it at the North Entrance. Alternatively you can park at El Chorro and catch the bus up to the starting point. It costs an additional €1.55 for the bus.
- Your Guide will leave you at the bridge at the end of the Gaitanes Gorge and you will walk the final 2.1km back to the Control Centre alone. Strangely this is one of the more strenuous parts of the walk with lots of steps to negotiate. Refreshments and toilets are available at the end.
- And finally, if you’re in the area for a couple of days – I would strongly recommend doing it for a second time to really appreciate the walk. I was aware of my sense of awe and photograph taking and I think for a second trip, I would certainly have a more connected experience.
- If you travel with a camper, there are a number of spots you can stop for the night that are close by. There is an official campsite and a number of wild spots you can stop at safely for no cost:
- Ardales Camping – official campsite a few minutes south of the walk’s Northern Entrance. It didn’t look very open when we visited in January 2018. (36.919983 -4.80424)
- Wild camping for camper vans at Tajo de Encantada reservoir – Bobastro. 15 minutes away from the Northern Entrance (36.898139 -4.774677)
- Wild camping at El Chorro – Southern Entrance, beside the river and in shade. Requires either driving to Northern Entrance or getting the Shuttle Bus in El Chorro (36.906272 -4760189)
- Wild camping at the Guadalhorce Reservoir just 10 minutes away from the Northern Entrance – (36.945964 -4.789012)
Check out our bird’s eye view video of this stunning walk. Amazballs.
by Karen Davies | Jun 19, 2016 | Personal Insights
When Myles said, one Sunday morning in April 2015, “Shall we buy a motorhome and go travelling around Europe?” he was greeted with a combination of puppy-like excitement and deeply entrenched fear. We had just returned from an incredible six week trip in New Zealand in a hired motorhome, celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We knew that the trip might ignite the travel bug in our bellies, so his question had plenty of relevance.
I was fascinated by my reaction to his romantic vision of packing everything into storage, buying a motorhome and setting off into the European sunset. It seemed so simple, until my ego and scared inner child got involved in the conversation.
After what seems a lifetime of fear dominating my experiences, this moment felt poignant as hubby’s question had unveiled a deeply-seated anxiety that needed tackling. As coach, I often see the role fear plays in our lives, and how it impacts on holding us back from our dreams. Perhaps this was the time for me to banish it and release my inner adventurer.
Having been in the corporate world for over 25 years, I remember creating a strap line for my coaching business;
‘Make every day an adventure and each moment count.’
Its purpose was to inspire clients to seize the day and find that indomitable ‘happiness’ within, leaving their fears aside. On the surface, it seemed like great advice, yet the one person not truly embodying that philosophy – was me. In truth, from that moment until now, we have been blessed with so many adventures and life-changing decisions, that I must give some credit to my fearless self. Although as I come back to my husband’s invitation to walk the path of adventure and exploration, I found myself recoiling to the frightened little girl whose best friends were Scary, Fearful and Doubtful!
Naturally, there were plenty of discussions over the following months and, despite my discomfort, we did our research and travelled the length and breadth of the country searching for our perfect motorhome. It was as much a symbolic journey as it was physical, with plenty of roundabouts, diversions, traffic lights, dead-ends and one-way streets. Paradoxically, my fear was being fuelled by this journey; I think it was creating a malevolent battle between itself and my desire for freedom. It was just biding its time to attack and render me helpless to its power.
We found the van, the model, our ideal layout and the decision was made – then boom! Fear threw his black cloak of doom over me – suddenly, decision unmade! Now I was holding us back from turning our dream into reality.
Skirting around fear was no longer an option. I had wasted far too much time being scared, worried and anxious – now it was time for change. After weeks of revisiting our decision, fear’s dance with my inner adventurer became more of a battle than an artistic performance. Its orchestra flirting between the echoes of “Do it now, do it whilst you can, because life is too short’ and “No I can’t, I’m scared. What if….”
This whole journey really made me examine my fear and its impact on both our lives. I found the courage to get to the heart of its hold over me and discovered that it was anxiety about a lack of roots, insecurity and uncertainty. And yet as I stared fear in the face and understood its personality, I saw it for what it was – simply a self-created construct of False Expectation Appearing Real – and nothing more.
Some of this realisation came after a conversation with my dear mum, who told me about how she and dad had the same opportunity to sell up and travel the world, decades earlier. She too ran scared because of similar worries. Whilst she said she didn’t regret the decision, I was left with a huge sense that having lost my dad in 2007, there was a grain of sadness at what could have been, if only she had said ‘yes’. And so that cathartic moment triggered me into action – the Battle over Fear had begun.
I returned home feeling determined. After an empowering discussion, together Myles and I threw caution to the wind and paid our deposit on ‘Scooby’ the motorhome, who would carry us on our magical mystery tour. We talked about how to deal with my uncertainties so I could feel safe, although I felt so positive about my new-found freedom, that I trusted all will be well.
This moment will undoubtedly be a turning point in our lives. The most interesting thing for me, is that now my personally designed fear has been removed, I am left with the most joyous feelings of excitement, anticipation and happiness that fill its space. Whilst I recognise that life is unlikely to unfold perfectly, I am ready for the journey. After all these years, I am now prepared to turn my own coaching strap line into an authentic philosophy that will colour our life’s tapestry. And as we head towards that sunset, we now carry these words in our heart:
‘Make every day an adventure and each moment count.’