Breaking Down In France (Part 1)

When you are travelling in a van, let’s face it, you are bound to break down. It’s part of the journey and the adventure. We had our first (and I am sure it won’t be the last) major van fail on our journey from Saint Savin to Poitiers.

We were happily driving along a busy road when the engine temperature spiked to over 100 degrees and Ross quickly pulled over. Without really thinking, he opened the coolant tank (which is supposed to only contain water and antifreeze) and immediately had to jump out of the way as a jet of hot oily gunk spurted out of it… That was a baaaad sign.

We cleaned up the gunk and limped along the road to a town called Chauvigny, hoping to find a place there with water and parking for us while we tried to fix the van. We’d already been on the look out for a camping car “aire”, which are fairly common places in Europe to fill up on water and dispose of toilet waste. We were running out of water and needed a refill, but Chauvigny turned out to be devoid of aires and had one shut-for-winter camp site. Typical.

We managed to find a flat car park anyway and ordered a new part for the coolant system from the local Ford garage. In the meantime, we had to do something about our dwindling water supply. Google told us there was an aire half an hour away and the van could still be driven so we decided to risk it.

It took us an hour and a half to get there, with all the stopping and starting due to the temperature spikes. Eventually we arrived and the water tap there was switched off. Typical. After trying to remain positive through the van troubles, this hit us especially hard. We both retreated into ourselves and I felt utterly exhausted by trying to remain chipper so we ended up taking a big nap (because sleep is a great healer, ha!).

When I woke up, I could hear a woman shouting “Come here, Wally!”. Our first English voice of the trip (other than each other)! We got out the van to be jumped on by the beautiful hound Wally and had a chat with his owner, which greatly improved our spirits. We decided to limp back to Chauvigny as that’s where the parts were being delivered to and it had a supermarket.

The part arrived a couple of days later, during which time we’d explored the quaint medieval town Chauvigny and bought bottled water from the supermarket which was half an hours walk away. Much more expensive than using an aire but we had little choice in the end…

We then set to fixing the van, but to clean out the gunk, we needed running water. The oil in our coolant system was thick and didn’t care that it wasn’t supposed to be there. We asked the Ford garage if we could pay them a few euros to use their hose but were instantly told no. Typical.

We then went to Plan B, which we didn’t have much faith in: asking at a house if we could use their water. We knocked on the door of the house next to where we’d parked, and to our surprise, they agreed!

The French family whose door we knocked on completely changed our experience of France. They were so so kind, and went above and beyond to help us while we battled with the van’s engine. They invited us in for showers during the days we were there, cooked us a gorgeous meal and despite our language barriers, we became friends.

The van breaking down was awful and dirty and hard work, but proved to us that kindness is universal.

Ross was amazing during the entire experience too. He’s taught himself how the van works and always impresses me with his new mechanic skills, whilst remaining cool and collected. I was so proud of him for getting us moving again after the long days of cleaning the coolant system out.

We were finally moving again and we made it to La Rochelle and the Isle of Oléron! But that’s when we realised our troubles were only just beginning…

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