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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kaminski

Overlanding from Andalusia to Wales: I buy a car.

One June morning, I post the following on Competa Social, the FB page for the expats in our village:

"Wanted: an inexpensive used car, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. They don't have to be from the same place. [smiley face]."

Amidst quips from various people, ranging from "there is no such thing as an inexpensive used car" and "I've got a few of both on my bottom shelf [sarcastic face]", a woman called Liz pipes up to say that she's got an old Volkswagen for sale, and would be happy to throw in a straw hat to go with it.

As the pandemic progresses, and shows no sign of vacating our planet anytime soon, I begin to worry about finances. More to the point: the portion of my finances that I have no control over. My landlady is lovely and has agreed to reduce my rent; my bills are included. Since I currently pay two sets of taxes, I'm getting some support both from British and Spanish governments. But the cost of car rental in Malaga is a wildcard. Before the pandemic, Malaga airport had the cheapest car rental I've ever encountered, and for €40-50 per month I could swan around in a Fiat 500 or similar. But now that the prices have quadrupled, it made me realise that I had to find some wheels of my own, and fast. That's the downside of living in a remote mountain village.

My immediate need for wheeled transportation aside, Lonely Planet had just announced that they wanted to go ahead with summer research of several books that had been put on hold. One of them is the guide to Wales that I'm supposed to be working on, and we've been given until early August to decide whether to do the work. I immediately said yes, because fear or no fear, pandemic or no pandemic, I need the work. Part of me wonders why the research hasn't been postponed for a year, for reasons of pandemic and Brexit (because so much info will be out of date as early as next year), but my friend Rob pointed out that this guide to Wales will be a historic copy with collectors' value that people will hold onto.

How to get there, though? Flying during a pandemic, with no testing of passengers, is essentially Russia roulette. While my sister has quoted the story of a long-haul flight where one passenger had Covid-19 and no one else got sick, I don't know enough about how recycled air in planes works and whether or not flying with potentially diseased passengers is a) mildly risky or b) insanely suicidal for someone with my plethora of health conditions.

Slowly, I went from "Gee, maybe I should just buy a cheap old car and drive across Spain and France to Wales" to idly browsing the used car market of Malaga and its environs, to actually going to have a look at Liz's VW and taking it for a test drive.

It's a mighty fine beast. Black - my favourite colour. Mildly scuffed, because it's virtually impossible to squeeze into tight parking spaces in Spanish car parks without scraping yourself or getting scraped by passing drivers. Two careful retiree owners. Only 92,000km on the clock, which is very good for a 17-year-old car. Diesel - not ideal due to pollutants emitted but very fuel-efficient. The only catch is, it's a British car, and while I'm equally happy to drive on either side of the road, it's a pain in the arse to have the wheel on the wrong side. In the Turks and Caicos islands people drive on the right (because much of their tourism comes from the States) but the cars are British. It messes with your head. Then there's the inconvenience of having to get out of the car to pay road tolls or take tickets from ticket machines. Maybe I can buy a litter picker grabby mechanical hand thingy to help me reach out the opposite window...

Little by little, I warm to the idea of owning Rory (I'd already christened the car in my head). The owner is a nice and helpful person, the car has been well looked after, and after my friend Mike takes it for a test drive spin with me and looks it over, checking under the bonnet and lying next to the car to look for any dangly bits, he pronounces it to be a reliable old vehicle. We both like the way it accelerates nicely on the motorway. (I've only become a bit of a petrolhead late in life, but I do love the purr of a powerful engine, and Rory's 1.9l engine dwarfs those belonging to the button-sized cars that I normally rent. Never again would I have to face the humiliation of slowly creeping uphill, riding something with about as much vroom as a lawnmower, while being overtaken by every other car on the road, while people point and laugh).

So that's how I've come to own Rory the Plaguemobile. Cash exchanged hands, Rory was dispatched to the village mechanic for a thorough check and oil change before the long journey, and I hiked in the arid mountains of the Sierra de Almijara, mentally bidding farewell for now to the silent dawns over Competa...

...and circling raptors, and foxes, and mountain goats...

...and the occasional surprise mist over the valley...

...and the vineyards, and the so-called goat track with no goats...

...and the curious village cats...

To be honest, I'm pretty terrified. Not by the long drive: I'm used to those. But uncertainty and winging it is pretty scary when you're someone who thrives on meticulous planning and pouring over maps, and I have no idea whether I'll be able to complete my research and get to Wales and back in one piece, or whether I'd have to flee the UK at a day's notice because countries decide to close their borders again. Stay tuned...

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