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Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

“It’s Okay if I Die Out Here”

This is going to be hard to write. Admitting these thoughts “out loud” feels too raw, too open, too embarrassing. But the event that triggered these feelings is one I want to share because I can say “house sitting is life-changing,” but this story illustrates exactly how. This story shows how getting pushed to the edge of extreme fear causes a body to come up with solutions. My solution was to resign to death. Only then could I relax. Only then could I function.

house sitting travel

Here’s what happened.

Conrad and I accepted a six-week house sitting assignment in southern Spain – an extremely remote off-the-grid location. We landed in Spain for the first time in our lives, drove to the home and proceeded learning all the ins-and-outs from the homeowner before he left on a plane less than twenty four hours later. There was much to learn – about solar power and a very unconventional water system – and the homeowner was not an organized man. He jumped from subject to subject erratically, left us no maps or information about the location of grocery stores or post office or emergency support. (Actually, he did leave emergency information, but we later found it to be incorrect.) He left no food in the house and no spare propane bottles which we needed to power the refrigerator, stove and hot water heater.

house sitting travel

The 350 year old renovated home sat on the side of a mountain with no other homes in sight. The house had no address and the dangerous cliff roads leading up to the home had no names.

house sitting travel

As the homeowner left, he mentioned in passing – in passing! – that the reason he needed house sitters for this second home was because it had  been vandalized by drug dealers and didn’t want to leave it unlived in again.

“Oh, really?” I said.

And then the homeowner was gone.

I realize now that Conrad and I were in shock those first days. I realize that our brains nearly exploded with all the change, all the newness, all the adjustment. All the stress of figuring stuff out. And my fear.

Fear grabbed my throat and tightened its grip with each passing day – paralyzing me and robbing my sleep.

Here are things I couldn’t do on that Spanish hillside:

  1. I can’t call 911.
  2. I can’t call 911 and speak the same language as the person on the other end of the line.
  3. I can’t call 911 and give them an address to come to.
  4. I can’t call a neighbor or friend or relative.
  5. I can’t get in my car and know where a hospital or police station is, (not to mention a grocery store and gas station.)
  6. I don’t know what to expect from the local people.
  7. I don’t know the level of crime in the area.
  8. I can’t drive on the road without fear of falling off the edge.

I need to say here that I’m not a fearful person. Conrad either. We wanted this adventure. We’ve both been active and daring with journeys, like weeks-long remote canoe trips or hiking in uncharted territory, but you don’t realize what really remote means until you’re out there. We were truly alone.

And then there was this notion of drug dealers vandalizing the place. I kept wondering if they were still around or worse yet, if they would come back. I had nasty visions of rape and murder running rampant in my overcrowded weary brain.

House sitting in remote Spain

Even the sounds on the mountain scared me. One night while I lay awake, I heard the screaming of an animal getting ripped to shreds by a predator. It sounded so close. Our bed was about three feet from the huge screen window and I had visions of the animals crashing into our room in a scramble of disembowelment.

On other nights, I knew those drug dealers – or some other hill-dwelling mad man – would push through that screen and slit our throats. It was irrational I know, but knowing there was no support or help made my mind get pretty irrational.

The stress heightened when we got lost driving to find a grocery store then couldn’t find our way back home. It was going to be dark soon and then all hope of navigating would be lost. Out there away from the city were no street lights – no lights anywhere. Conrad drove on the crazy narrow roads while I kept lookout. After what seemed like hours driving in circles, I was hysterical, breaking out in a cold sweat and crying when at long last, I spotted a huge familiar agave plant at an intersection where we needed to turn. I had made a mental note of the big plant earlier on our way out. We made it home just as day’s light faded. I was still shaking as we carried our groceries up the steps to the house and we both fell into bed that night too stressed to eat.

Immersion travel while house sitting in remote Spain

That night, the refrigerator stopped working because the propane ran out. And the next day Conrad fell down a hillside and landed on what I swear was the only soft spot on that mountain, narrowly averting disaster. We held each other and stared at the spot where he’d fallen, marveling at his good fortune at still being alive.

I hadn’t slept in days. I barely escaped losing my husband on the side of a mountain in a country I had never been to and had no idea how to get help. The food was going bad and I was sure the drug dealers were coming any minute.

Sleep-deprived and ever fearful, it just happened. It was as if the thought was injected into my head. There was no warning or build-up. In a flash, I said to myself, “It’s okay if I die here.” I remember actually saying it out loud and surprising myself with the words – the extreme thought of it. But I also knew it made sense. So I kept on talking. “I’ve raised my kids. They’re on their way and don’t need me. I’ve done a lot of things in my life and had great times – many things I’m proud of. It’s okay if I die out here.”

I remember standing outside under a pretty lemon tree when I said it. I kind of laughed then and looked around. The rocky hills and undulating valleys with their slate-covered cliffs were so beautiful. The abundant pink jasmine hanging over an ancient rocky wall waved in the dry breeze. The swimming pool invited me with its fresh aqua water surrounded by lemon trees drooping with fruit.

I was stunned by the immense beauty. Not until this very moment had I seen it. How could I have been here for a week and not seen this? The relief brought tears to my eyes. Knowing it was okay to die released all the fear from my body. I was able to enjoy myself then.

Remote house sitting in southern Spain

For the next five weeks, Conrad and I learned about the townspeople of Totana, a sizeable city 10 miles away. They are sweet, family oriented Spaniards with music in their souls. Between us and Totana were scattered vineyards and citrus orchards owned by friendly farmers who waved when we walked or drove by. We purchased fresh local food at the weekly street market and ate all of our meals outside on the sunny veranda overlooking our mountain. When I cooked, I could walk outside and pick bay leaves, rosemary, fennel, lemons, prickly pear fruit, pomegranates and almonds. We skinny-dipped in the pool most days and dried in the sun on chaise lounges. The serenity crept into our souls to the point I never wanted to leave.

Remote living near Sierra Espuna

We still have anger towards the disorganized and careless homeowner, and kick ourselves for not requiring adequate information up front, but when we were able to relax, we fell in love with that mountain – fell deeply in love – knowing that mere words would never be able to capture the incredible feelings we had there – good and bad.

Europe 2010 058 - Copy

I have no fear of death now. It’s really hard to explain, but it’s a peace that gives my life a solid foundation. Whatever it was that happened out there on that scrubby mountainside, I’m thankful for it.

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I started this website to help others discover and succeed at this really fun low-cost way to travel the world. You’ll find many more tips and hopefully some inspiration to begin on your own journey. Click here for a list of house sitting articles.

 

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5 Responses to ““It’s Okay if I Die Out Here””

  1. Josie, this is an amazing post – I cannot imagine the adrenaline, and then the peace, that you found. And the house is in a BEAUTIFUL location, though the remoteness would be very intimidating to me as well. What a great piece.
    Julia recently posted..When should politics and ethics enter into your travel plans?My Profile

    October 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm Reply
    • Hey Julia,
      You know, Conrad and I talk about that crazy mountain soooo much! Just can’t get it out of our blood! Thanks for your kind words.
      ~Josie

      October 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm Reply
  2. very compelling story Josie. I love the way your experience shifted. Although nothing this dramatic has come about in our travels, I can definitely relate to that kind of surrender. Thank you for sharing your heart and for your candor.
    Laurie Sequana recently posted..Visiting La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa RicaMy Profile

    March 26, 2017 at 12:10 pm Reply
    • Thanks Laurie,
      It’s still the house sit we talk about most. The experience tightly bonded us and gave us lots of insight into ourselves — and the natural world. Isn’t house sitting the greatest?!!!!!
      Wishing you safe and happy travels,
      Josie

      March 26, 2017 at 4:59 pm Reply
  3. Sveinn Gretar Jonsson #

    Great to follow you and your adventures

    October 9, 2017 at 3:09 pm Reply

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