We woke up on our final morning in Portugal to a beautiful dawn over our hidden village in the Alentejo.
Overnight two new lambs had been born, and the shepherd separated them out so they could stay in the protection of the pen for the day, until they were at least a day old and not so vulnerable.
A wonderful lady gave us fresh eggs for our breakfast, and refused to accept any money for them. We came back with a tin of the best sardines as a gift and pressed them into her hands. The eggs were delicious.
The road beckoned and we headed back towards the main road south towards the Algarve and the Spanish border, through countryside covered in olive groves and storks nests, which crowned every electrical post, rooftop, tree and pylon.
In Mertola, we stopped off to see a beautiful church which started life as a mosque during Arab rule, and which still contains a mihrab hidden behind the altar.
We enjoyed our last Portuguese coffees in the sunshine, explored the alleyways that tumble down to the river Guadiana. Mertola offers a snapshot into the turbulent history of Portugal with remnants of Roman, Arabic and Medieaval Catholic architecture piled up in layers one upon the other.
And then to the Spanish border to continue our journey west into Andalucia and to Huelva to visit relatives in Punta Umbria.
There we were spoiled as ever with wonderful food and the warm company of Carlos' uncle and aunt. We went to feed the chickens and pick citrus fruit at their place in the country, and they sent us on our way with full bellies and carrier bags filled with oranges and mandarins.
We motored east, stopping off at one of the great roadside restaurants that litter Spain's highways - this one, the Venta Pinto served the best breakfasts in Spain, epic tostadas de Jamon, served with orange juice and great coffee.
Passing Tarifa we glimpsed the African coast across the straits through the haze, while vast tankers passed through on their way from Suez towards the Atlantic.
Around this point Sam's mileometer hit the 85,000 mark. We're not sure how many times this thing has gone round and started from zero again since 1966. Probably a few. We started this journey with just over 80,000 on the clock. Nearly 5000 miles, several breakdowns, tears, laughter, new friends, good days and bad days we're still going in our search for a place to call home. We have no regrets, our life in our van isn't always a picnic but it's certainly never boring.
A good friend asked us over dinner at Christmas what we'd learned about each other being together 24/7 travelling in an old van. Initially I couldn't think of anything. Carlos talked a lot about things he'd learned himself, like a bit more patience, and not getting stressed out when things go wrong, because they might and occasionally they do and you can't let it ruin your day. Finally it came to me, I had learned that my husband was an arachnophobe during one particularly amusing incident in the south of France (he was driving at the time). And also that he was just as funny, delightful, adorable as I'd always thought, only now I got to enjoy it A LOT more, indeed every minute of the day whether I like it or not. I'm sure he feels the same.
It's at this point that I need to make a confession; we've seen a house that we really like. It's in a beautiful, special place, with mountains, the sea, big skies and nature in abundance. It has solar panels, a well, and a place to grow things we like to eat. It is much like this journey may seem from the outside, pretty idyllic, and for me the consummation of a dream that I have guarded in my heart secretly for years, repeated like a prayer in the night for only myself to hear: to live in the country, in a house filled with love and laughter, with dawns, bright sunshine, sunsets, stars and the full moon, make some babies, spend time with friends, be happy, weather whatever life throws at us. For that home to be a solid little boat on the sea of life, a sanctuary from which to build our dreams into reality.
Leaving London, my friends, family, social life and my corporate job is one of the scariest things I've ever done. Carlos left to work along the journey, and that didn't quite work out as planned, and that wasn't and isn't easy. But I wouldn't change a thing. Life is for living, time is short, love is all. These things I have learned. I only wish to make the journey an interesting one, and leave only joy and happiness in my wake.
With much love, from Spain, and anticipating the next adventure.