When I told people from work that I was planning to spend a large part of my summer making a 4000 km drive down to Portugal and back with a 3 month old baby, most of them assumed that I was either mad or had lost a bet. However, travelling with a baby is a piece of cake! My completely and utterly bias opinion is due, in part, to the cheerfully chilled out nature of the 3 month old who we were fortunate enough to be travelling with.
Baby Joanie managed to sleep her way through most of the car journeys and spent her waking hours drinking in every detail that we passed, her large blue eyes flickering from one dazzling distraction to the next. Often, she would babble intently as she watched the sunlight shimmer through the leaves of trees, or watch whilst dappled shadows danced on the ground. There’s something entirely captivating about watching a baby notice things for the first time, they create a little aura of wonder around them that just makes the world seem more magical.
The other reason why I can make such a positive assumption about travelling with a baby is because I ended up having no direct role in the changing or feeding experience (although being accidentally squirted with rogue breast milk, straight from the source, could definitely be described as an experience in itself). Fortunately, Joanie was able to let us know when she would like to be changed or fed and it was our job, as the responsible care-givers, to make sure that her needs were met as swiftly and safely as possible. Quite often, we managed to time this with stops to fill up with fuel and snacks. Although, there was that one time that we ended up at the ‘crack den’. Allow me to explain…
Tom had done a tremendous job of driving us down through the sweltering heat of Spain and our convoy was quickly approaching the Portuguese border. I was watching intently as Tom changed gear and trying my best to figure out how the gearshift worked in a 2CV. To my completely novice, untrained eye the gear stick appeared to either be pushed firmly all the way in or pulled sharply all the way out. The only logical conclusion that I could draw was that as part of the initiation ceremony of owning a 2CV, you must cut your hand with an oil stained knife, allow your blood to drip on to the engine and mutter the magical incantation “Deux Chevaux” three times. Once you’ve done all of this, the car will then respond to your commands (most of the time).
Joanie let out a small whine and fidgeted a little in her car seat and I was suddenly snapped back to reality as Kate confirmed that she would have to feed her soon. We all agreed that we would cross the Portuguese border and then find somewhere to stop. Looking up the road ahead, we noticed that the traffic was slowing down and some cars were being directed towards the side of the road. We crept forward, following the car in front. Our lead car was directed through border control with no issue and we prepared to follow in their tracks. A stern-faced, uniformed man stepped out in front of our car and firmly directed us towards a group of more stern-faced, uniformed people.
“This is border control. Do you have anything to declare?”
“No.” I smiled, which definitely did not help the situation. I was being honest, it’s just that I have a very guilty looking smile.
“Any contraband items? Weapons? Flick knives, tasers, pepper sprays?”
“Nope.” His uniform made me nervous but as I genuinely had nothing to be nervous about, I was overcompensating and trying to appear calm and as innocent as I actually was. It wasn’t working.
“Any illegal drugs?”
“None at all.” I hysterically flashed him my wisdom teeth, making myself look as high as a kite in the process.
“Open the door and step out of the car.”
“Okay!” I replied with embarrassing and ill-placed enthusiasm. I fumbled with the door mechanism, my finger slipped and I flung the door open. Somehow, I then managed to trip over my own skirt before I’d even begun to stand up. In doing this, I kicked my insulated water bottle at the scary man and it rolled onto his feet. “Whoops! That’s my water bottle!” I declared, managing to bite down on my tongue before I added, “And definitely not my drugs!” I bent down to pick up my bottle, my skirt now completely twisted round my thighs and everyone got a good look at my pasty white knees. I believe that it was at this moment, he realised that I was not a cocky smuggler but was in fact a f*cking imbecile.
“It’s fine. You can go.” He pointed us back to the road and then turned his attention to the next car. It was the third and final car in our small convoy. We drove on a little bit and then waited alongside the others from our group, the midday sun quickly heating up the still air. Joanie whined a little louder. The uniformed man seemed to be going through the same routine that he had done with us. Our stationary car had become uncomfortably hot and Joanie began to cry. We made a joint decision to find some shade and wait for Harry and Frankie where it was cooler. There would surely be some form of shade just around the corner and they weren’t going to be much longer. Then we could all carry on together to the next campsite. As we turned the corner, I looked back in the wing mirror and watched as uniformed men led Harry away and across the road.
We carried on driving in the hope of finding some shade, then we could formulate a proper plan. If we went back now, we’d only make matters worse and we’d all end up in prison (we collectively decided whilst making massively uninformed assumptions about the judicial system of our host country). The road wound its way through open farmland and fields. With no shade in sight, we continued to drive further and further away. We needed to stop somewhere. Suddenly, through the shimmering heat, we saw a small building and so pulled up along side it.
Broken glass bottles littered a sheltered stone bench and a smashed porcelain toilet added extra decoration to the west-facing wall. To the left of the shelter was a doorless concrete hovel, the inside of which was currently full of burnt tyres, bags of rubbish and more broken glass bottles. It looked like a crack den-cum-bus shelter. Dave immediately whipped a dustpan and brush out of his car and set to work, sweeping away as much glass as he could. Angie got on the phone to figure out what was happening, Tom started making sandwiches for everyone, Kate fed Joanie and I attempted, without success, to stop Dave and Angie’s dogs from eating nasty looking grime off the ground.
Eventually, Angie discovered that Harry and Frankie were fine. They’d got through the check point without much more fuss and were well on their way to the next campsite to meet up with the rest of the 2CV tribe. We finished our sandwiches, put the location in the SatNav and set off to meet them all. 300 meters down the road from the ‘crack den’, we drove past a designated rest stop with a shop, proper toilets and plenty of shade….
Then again, ‘Spain to Portugal (via the Designated Rest Stop)’ really wouldn’t have been as good a title!