Our drive through the Pyrenees was part of a wider journey that took us from our house in Santo Isidoro in Portugal to Nice, and back again – 3,700 kilometres or thereabouts in a Land Rover. We had worked on the car during the pandemic and I had designed an interior with a folding platform that creates a bed deck that a local carpenter installed for me. I’m like a little boy when it comes to camping; getting together all the gear, organising it, making sure we had window blinds, a folding camp fire, good sleeping bags.
Anyway, we had been driving through Spain for a few days – wild camping and taking whatever route felt right at the time – when we began our approach to the Pyrenees. It was an absolutely roasting day. It must have been nearly 40 degrees. The Land Rover is from 2006, the year before they installed air conditioning. I’ve always driven a car without AC and just had the windows open so when we did the renovation, we opted to keep it that way. Mostly it was fine, but that day I was so drenched in sweat that I had to drive shirtless. We’d been on the road for a few hours when we came through this desert pass and we could see in the distance this great wall of rock with a natural opening in the middle of it, like a gate, and we knew we were at the foothills to the pyramids. The skies were completely blue as we drove towards it but then from nowhere this flash thunderstorm blew in. I instinctively pulled to the side of the road so we could jump out and get completely soaked. Standing there in the driving rain, our faces turned up to the sky, was one of those joyous moments, the kind that has you giggling like a child.
Because of this, we were very soggy as we made our approach up the Pyrenees, but that was in keeping with the whole trip, which was all about winging it as we went along. Because we were sleeping in the Land Rover, we didn’t have to stay in big municipal family campsites and instead we used an app called Park4Night to find lay-bys or off-road tracks where we could park up for the night.
The drives up and down the Pyrenees were complete contrasts. The drive up on the Spanish side was very raw, barren and craggy, but the way down into France was much more rolling and picturesque, a kind of fairytale landscape with rivers trickling through long grasses. Both were incredibly beautiful in their own way. But the real joy of travelling like this though, is you wake early so you’re always there, sitting in your chair by the side of the car, often in the middle of nowhere, a cup of ground coffee in your hand, just in time for the sunrise.
Which is pretty spectacular from the top of the Pyrenees.
Josh Olins is a London-born photographer living in New York. josholins.com