July 12th is an important day in our family calendar: it’s the date we arrived in Galicia in 2018 to begin our new life. The 13th is another. That is when our cat and dog arrived, to complete the family.
Having to leave them behind in Australia would have been a deal-breaker. Their transportation was one of our first considerations. There was no way we were going to dump them at an animal shelter in Sydney and say: “Ciao and good luck. Hope you get a nice new family. Thanks for all the love and loyalty.”
It was a hell of a journey for them, but we used an excellent pet transport company, and coughed up more for the animals’ flights than for our own (they pretty much flew Business while we flew Cattle Class!)
The day we arrived, some kind people we had stayed in Air B&B with while we bought our house picked us up from the airport in Santiago. We’d been couch surfing for a week, after finalizing the sale of our home in Penrith NSW, and had we been on the road for over 30 hours. So, we were done. Our new mates had cleaned our house and kindly made our bed up for us. They also left us a little box of supplies. So, after they dropped us off, we had some supper and fell into a jet-lagged coma.
The pets arrived at 2am the following morning, after a rough drive from Madrid, where they had to clear customs and vet-checks after a long haul from Dubai, all organized by Jet-Pets. The driver got lost, and we had to walk into the village in our pajamas, carrying torches, to flag down the van containing our beloved fur-friends. We carried their boxes into the kitchen and released them: first the cat, who sniffed around a bit, found her litter tray, ate herself silly, then trotted upstairs, where she curled up in a prime spot. The dog was out of his skin with excitement, and nearly turned himself inside-out. The look of relief and joy on his little face when I looked into the van was something I shall never forget. He shot out of the box like a greased greyhound, then spent the next four hours curled up inside my dressing gown sighing.
We had to hit the ground running like the dog: getting quotes for the renovations, creating a time-line compatible with tradesmen’s other commitments, ordering materials, clearing out the previous owners’ old furniture – which we found good homes for – and rallying Workaway volunteers, who arrived on the third day, to help us get into garden clearance. All this had to happen within the first week!
The first year was a tough one. We lived in a building site, on our savings, which had to stretch, because the budget blew out on works that we did not figure into the original project plan, but which made a lot of sense once we had got the feel of the house. Knocking down a wall upstairs created one large bedroom at the rear, gutting the dark and dusty alpendre turned it into an airy utility room, then building a retaining wall in the garden, and concreting in the weed and snake-infested rockery, gave us a car-park.
I lost our first summer in Galicia, because I had to travel to Belfast for six weeks, to stay with my elderly, very frail mother. The garden landscaping just couldn’t happen. I returned home for eight weeks, played catch-up with the builders, then returned to the UK again for a further three weeks in November, when my mother’s health deteriorated further. I received an urgent ‘phone call from her carers on 26th December, flew to Belfast to be with her on the 28th. My mother passed away on the 31st. So, our third Christmas here will be a sad one, and my first without my mother.
There have been other challenges. The B&B business we planned and set up meticulously was kicked to touch by the Xunta, who ruled in January this year that, henceforth, renting rooms is illegal!
We always had a Plan B to provide us with an income, thus it has fallen to Sarah to become the main bread-winner with her freelance work. We have also rented out the apartment we so lovingly renovated and designed for tourists, on a month-to-month basis to a tenant, which is actually less work, and the rent covers most of our monthly expenses.
Having returned from my mother’s funeral to the news that our business was not going to be viable, it would have been easy to become dejected and to lose heart, but we are resilient people, and have both had plenty of practise learning to roll with the sucker punches life sometimes throws. Last year life knocked us down, then put the boot in! But here we are, having just celebrated our second anniversary in our beautiful home.
The garden has given us a glut of blackcurrants, potatoes, zucchini, spinach and onions. The apples are very promising this year, and we planted six fruit trees for future harvests: two kinds of apple, peach, cherry, pear and plum. Each tree represents someone close to us whom we have lost over the years. I have also landscaped a little sandy Mediterranean grove, consisting of olive trees, lavender, grasses and large granite boulders. Some of the fantastic tree stumps that were dug out of the garden are used decoratively or have become part of a “stumpery”, planted with bulbs and thyme. A wildflower patch is the next project, and a pergola with grape vines climbing all over it.
To anyone who is reading this and contemplating an adventure or a final fling, I would say only this: you can lay down plans, and string up a financial safety net, but you can never be prepared for the emotional impact of some of the challenges that you will, inevitably, face. Bear in mind that you will be a long way from home, without the support of family and old friends. You must have the confidence to back yourself to win. You must never give up easily, and you must be flexible.
We have survived the six-week lock-down, and we are preparing for another, should it happen. We remain buoyant, optimistic, and content in our little corner of this sacred ground.