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  • Writer's pictureemma beckett

A Journey to Orgiva - off grid desert survival

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

An Early Start and Airport Adventures with Mobility Assistance

Hey guys, It’s now Monday and we have been in Orgiva since Tuesday night.

Emma is cheerfully grinning, wearing glasses with an additional layer of pink sunglasses and a yellow cardigan. Her hair is neatly pulled back, as she is seated in the front of a car. In the backseat, River appears weary, clad in a pink t-shirt.
On the way!

The journey to the airport was much earlier than the last attempt and we sailed through, getting a little bit lost trying to find the South terminal at Gatwick, but ultimately ending up with disability assistance, where we needed to be.

With this airline, when you book ability assistance, you are allowed one piece of carry on luggage – a godsend because it meant I could take more medication including the blood thinning injections the doctors had insisted that I take on a daily basis for two weeks in order to minimise my risk of getting a clot in the middle of nowhere after tearing my calf muscle.

The assistance to the plane was probably the worst assistance we have ever had and because of us and six of the passengers that were relying on the mobility assistance, the plane was actually 30 minutes late leaving.

"Close-up view of Emma's legs adorned with tattoos, featuring brightly colored backpacks and a crutch in the frame."
Waiting for mobility assistance

At this point, I was still entirely unable to put any weight on my left leg so I had a rucksack on my back, my crutches in my arms, River had a rucksack on his back and was pulling the cabin luggage - when they put me in the wheelchair I was able to put the hand luggage underneath. River just had his rucksack.

They lifted us up to the plane on a platform because I couldn’t manage the stairs and we settled into our flight.

"River, with his lengthy blonde hair, offering a subtle smile beside an airplane window, is pictured with Emma. Emma is sporting glasses, eyebrows colored in red, and a white dress, all while wearing a bright smile."
On the plane - lets go!

Exhausted, having absolutely no idea what lay ahead of us on that day....

The Flight and First Impressions of the Heat

The flight was fine but when we landed it was very clear that there was no mobility assistance coming in any hurry to come and collect us.

"A view of Granada as seen from the airplane, with River's silhouette reflected in the window."
Granada incoming!

Being that I had very limited knowledge of the bus systems and I knew we had to get on a bus at a certain time in order to get a lift at the other end in Orgiva, I made the decision to step off the plane with River, past a male member of presumably cabin crew who physically tried to stop me.

I’m sure somewhere he had good intentions, but the way he conducted himself was terrible for someone working in a position of customer service. I explained that River and I had a bus to catch and we couldn’t wait indefinitely for someone to perhaps come and get us. At this point I was already three stairs down the flight and I wasn’t stopping.

You read memes every day about dreaming for that moment where the plane door is open and the heat wave hits you and you know you’re on holiday and I knew there was something very different about this heat. Very slowly I managed to hobble my way along the airfield into the building and then we were helped through passport control and then left to our own devices. We soon found out that there wasn’t a bus to Orgiva as we had planned, we needed instead to get a bus to Granada bus station and then wait for the next bus to Orgiva.

Unexpected Travel Plans

The delays had meant we had missed our connection and instead of arriving into Orgiva at 4 o’clock we were going to arrive into Orgiva at 6 o’clock.

The bus driver on the way to Granada bus station was extremely helpful and helped me get up the stairs to the bus and place our baggage, and as we drove through the town of Granada, I had a combination of awe for the beautiful city and nervousness at the complete unknown that lay ahead of us.

"A table laden with Takis, a can of Coca-Cola, and Spanish sweets, with River in the backdrop, standing in front of a small kiosk."
Granada bus station

At Granada bus station, there were no English-speaking people and the three months of Spanish learning I'd done on Duolingo did not serve me very well. I did not need to tell someone that I eat apples! Yo como manzana! I managed to find some inside seating that was much cooler than the 43° outside and River and I sat down, took out our water sprays and fans and kept ourselves cool while I figured out online how to book a bus from Granada to Orgiva.

We also found a shop selling snacks and cold drinks and the next hour and a half was spent amusing River, and feeling slightly overwhelmed that I couldn’t freely move around without leaving either all of the baggage and River or carting everything in unmanageable heat.

River wearing a bright pink space pistols tee shirt pushed his sunglasses onto his face with the shop kiosk in the background
River is too cool...

Journey to Granada and my Bus Ticket mistake

We figured out the bus to Granada, and we figured out where we needed to wait for it. When the bus arrived, the bus driver was quite grumpy, something that is obvious across all languages.

Emmas left leg is shown in the black medical boot with her thighs showing and colourful tattoos sat on the seat of the bus
On the Spanish bus with my bad leg

The bus driver spoke zero English and my Spanish is sketchy at best!

It turned out I had booked tickets for tomorrow’s bus and the bus driver was clearly furious about the situation, offered us no help to get up the stairs to the seats, left it to me and River but ultimately agreed that we could pay again for new tickets.

"River looking out the bus window, with a picturesque backdrop of verdant fields and sun-baked mountains visible behind him."
View from the Spanish bus

Things seemed to get easier at this point when I was able to get a partial refund online for the tickets I'd bought for the next day. I spent the next hour and 20 minutes relaxing in air conditioning, watching the beautiful, desert, Spanish countryside roll by.

Arrival at Orgiva and Meeting Danny

We started messaging with someone called Danny who we had been put in touch with before we left who had been arranged to collect us and bring us up the mountain to Ciggy.

Luckily, Danny was extremely down to earth and very helpful and is an English-speaking freethinker.

Winding round the road from Lanjaron down to Orgiva the roads are hairpin turns with sheer 500 foot drops and the bus didn’t seem in any hurry to slow down at all.

River and I have done many mountain roads on snowboarding trips and I’ve never felt quite so nervous or exposed - I think it’s probably because I felt so disabled - only having one leg and the day had already been very long and very hard work so I was extremely sensitive and slightly delirious!!

We worked out where we needed to get off the bus and I could see Danni walking towards us right away and then things took a turn for the easier for the next few hours. Danni helped us put our luggage in his car/van and we went into the Consum, which is the biggest supermarket here in Orgiva.

We bought some food having with zero idea what to expect when we get up the mountain. Hoping I had got the amount of dried food and perishable food correct...

Danni asked if we would like to go to his place and swim in his pool for a few hours because 6 o’clock was an awful time to go up to Ciggie in this heat, I politely declined - the British came out in me but thank God Danni knew better and completely ignored me and took us to his place anyway. LOL!

We got to his place, put our most perishable food in his fridge and freezer, went out by the pool and enjoyed an ice cold drink. Having no swimwear available to me because it was in our luggage I took off my dress and swam in my underwear.

I had to remove my ginormous medical boot to get in the water, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back out again - the heat is not something that you can explain to someone that has not experienced it and my body NEEDED to be in that water.

River was massively relieved to be in the pool. We spent a few hours eating fresh, cold watermelon, drinking ice cold drinks, having a lovely conversation and swimming in the pool, looking at the mountains in the distance all around us. Really having absolutely no idea of what we were going into.

"River, clad only in his swimming shorts, crouches by the dazzling blue pool at Danny's, seemingly intrigued by something on the floor. A stunning graffiti wall serves as the background, adding an artistic flair to the scene."
By the pool

First Impressions of Our New Home

The time came to make our way up to Ciggie and Danni helped us get our things in his van and we drove out of a keeper. We came to a small village called Tablonnes and we took a left into Mad Max territory. There really is no other way to describe this “system“ - it is a dusty bed of tracks next to a dried up river that you can also drive across. I still have no idea of the route because I haven’t driven it yet myself.

We wound our way scrambling over dusty ledges, through dried river ditches and we started to see a van here and an empty caravan there - some wooden sheds painted beautifully, sitting amongst a jungle of cacti.

"Dramatic dark clouds pepper the sky, framing the imposing mountains in the distance. A dusty track weaves through quaint wooden shacks, with verdant trees bordering each side of the image, creating a rustic and atmospheric landscape."

As we drove into where we are staying, we saw one of our only closest neighbours, Tim, and we paused to talk to him briefly as he welcomed us in.

As we drove up onto Vanessa‘s land and I got out of the van to try and take in the beautiful handmade building that was the school and t

emple, the drop composting toilet that had been built up high with beautiful graffiti over all the wooden panels, the huge unused yurt covered in dust, and random wooden buildings with old tires and old chairs and bits of carpet strewn everywhere. I began to realise how unprepared I was for this experience with one leg.

"A one-story handmade structure sits prominently in a desolate desert landscape, under an expressive, dramatic sky. Trees loom in the background, adding contrast, and a snippet of a yurt peeks into the right-hand side of the frame, hinting at the unconventional lifestyle embraced in these surroundings."
The Doula Temple in Ciggie

I was bitten the second I got out of the van and my ankle began to swell - something that within three days we became very used to. We open the doors to the school to let the heat out and every surface was thick with dust and cobwebs.

With my one leg and my crutches, I managed to get the five bags of shopping and our luggage inside, gratefully said goodbye to Danni and watched him drive away before realising I had left my phone on the dashboard of his van!

First Night Without My Phone

Having no way to do anything about it I started to unpack our things in the hope that maybe it would show up.

By the time I realised it would not show up, it was pitch black and there were no lights or torches or lamps to facilitate looking for it in the pitch black of the outside world. Thankfully,I had remembered to pay for River to have data roaming in the EU and I was able to link my iPad messenger to River‘s data and send a message to Danni asking about my phone and to Ivy, my daughter, to locate the phone for me. And between us we found that yes indeed, it was in Danny‘s van.

Not much help but at least I didn't need to waste time and energy looking for it.

There was no toilet roll. Something that I had not even considered that I might need to buy and bring up there and there was no lighter to light the fire in the cooker. Luckily, Danni had scrambled around the place and found an old lighter that just sparked and found an old roll of kitchen roll that we could use. So between that and the gas of the fire, River and I were able to boil the kettle, some water and make some tea.

Settling In

We managed to find an old black polystyrene box which I hoped might keep our fresh food for a day or two – I was wrong, the food spoiled within three hours. We set up the bed with the mosquito net - clearing out all pillows and all blankets, checking for spiders and bugs before we got in bed.

Wibbs had left us an old broken fan that has become one of our most prized possessions while we are here, and we managed to plug it into a socket that runs off the solar system.

Surviving the Heat and Bug Bites

Even with this fan directly on us, and constantly spraying water onto the two of us all night long, we lay in a bed of sweat until we pulled ourselves out of the bed at 10 o’clock in the morning, exhausted, dehydrated and discombobulated.

I lay there that night, wondering what I had done – what have I brought my son into, will we manage to survive or will we leave within a day?

Reflections and Doubts

I didn’t sleep that night because I didn’t have any information. I didn’t know where there were plug sockets that worked from the solar, I didn’t know where there were light switches, I didn’t know if there was a way to get any light in the absolute pitch black outdoors, and I had no idea how, with one leg, I was going to keep us alive with food that was spoiling within a few hours and no way to get fresh supplies.

Adjusting to New Normal

The next morning I woke up and hobbled my way into the kitchen without my boot because in 52° heat, there is no way I could facilitate wearing that and I felt that it would be detrimental to my health. So I decided instead to fully rely on my crutches and be careful, which is laughable trying to get around a mountainous terrain, covered in dust with no facilities - trying to make life acceptable. I managed to clear the mud and the cobwebs from the sink - that was task number one.

Where the water in the taps is fed by the acequia see separate blog post for details of this ancient water system) - when you first open the tap, naturally mud comes out too, so I cleared this away, cleared the spiders and cobwebs, and made an area that was acceptable to wash plates and cups and made us both a cup of tea before the milk was fully off.

I gave River cereal with his milk as fast as possible, because the heat was rising by several degrees every few minutes, and once we had eaten and drunk tea, I felt more capable of assessing my situation.

A Helping Hand from Debs

After a few hours Debs another neighbour and Vanessa's Doula colleague messaged me and came round to us and started the explanation of everything I’ve been needing to know and offered to bring us back some ice and basic provisions from town asa she was driving to there.

Her kindness was very calming. I began to slowly become comfortable in the heat and also realised that in the heat, you simply cannot do anything. You have to be completely still. Your brain literally boils...

Learning to Navigate the Heat

I’ve never been somewhere so hot where you cannot do anything, you can’t move, you can’t breathe fast - so I gave in to the heat and decided to move only when it was cooler and I would start the day early the next day so I could get more done before the heat hits. Looking back now, I cannot believe how naive I was to think that I could come to this place with one leg, and no real preparation for what we might face.

This is true off grid desert survival..

But I am so grateful to have been thrown into this experience and to have learned so much about myself and about survival in these conditions. And this was just the first 24 hours!

Love and Adventure Always,

Emma and River

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