Archive for June, 2010

Snaking Walks

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Sierra Panorama

The view from the top of our walk, click for a full size version

We awoke to the wonderful view and continued our fight from the previous night with the gas for the fridge.  After dismantling half the van we worked out that the pilot light was dirty.  A good clean later means we can now free camp without worrying that all our supplies will go off.  Thank goodness it was not an issue with the gas pipes.

We wanted to make the most of the Sierra Nevada so turned back along the bumpy road and found a hill that looked like it needed to be climbed.  I forgot the water bottle in the van so our 3 hour journey up and up and up was a thirsty one.  We were rewarded with almost the same view we had from our freecamping site.  Turns out not so much sweat is needed only diesel is required.  On the way down my worst fears were realised, well almost worst as I nearly stood on a snake hiding in some pine needles.  It slithered off once my blood curdling scream awoke it from its slumber.

Orgiva

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We drove in a big anti-clockwise semicircle down to a run-down town called Orgiva, and set up camp in a campsite where almost nothing worked. Someone needs to tell the owners that it’s not a swimming pool if you can stand in the deep end without getting your elbows wet, and “aviary” is a more appropriate label for a toilet block where you can’t wash your face but can watch birds nesting in the showers.

A trip into the town for supplies opened our eyes to the scruffy side of Spain. The town is full of tramps and beggars.  We met a local shoeless inhabitant staggering up the road, taking one step back for every two forward in a bizarre drunk version of a salsa dance. After his eyes slowly managed to focus on Christine they lit up (or, more accurately, glazed over slightly less) in the hopes of a handout. When he noticed me glaring behind her he whimpered, clutched a railing and squeezed his eyes shut until we had passed. I must not look like the generous type.

Whilst in the shop we overheard a scruffy couple arguing over a packet of spaghetti. Apparently it’s best to buy big packets so that the long journey on foot to the supermarket doesn’t have to be made too often. On the way out of town we almost ran over another tramp dragging a plastic crate behind him on a string, like an arctic explorer on a very tight budget. I wonder if he buries a can of beans half way home so that he has food for the return journey?

Next to the campsite was an abandoned farm which we walked through, sampling figs and almonds from the trees. It seems a shame that such an abundance of fruit is left to waste.

After a noisy night at the campsite, with flip-flops firmly locked inside the van, we headed East along the southern side of the mountains, glad to have left Orgiva far behind us.

Rocks and stars

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The Alpujarra valleys have been home to some popular English writers, I had read ‘Driving over Lemons’ and wanted to visit the area that Chris Stewart calls home.  The scenery in these hills is diverse.  To the East there are wooded hills and rushing rivers, to the the West endless vistas of sky and rock.  The weather was hot and as David was tired we ended up driving through most of the

valleys on a very scenic mountainous road.  Numerous white villages stack themselves up on hillsides to provide a contrast to the roughly hewn, rocky terrain.  We had a welcome break in Trevelez, the home of Serrano ham and had to buy some samples to try out.  As usual

in Spain the shops are littered with pigs legs hanging from the ceiling by their the trotters’ for maximum visual effect.

That night we found the most magical free camping spot.  After a dicey journey along a bumpy pass in the Sierra Nevada we came upon an old mountain road that was clearly not used.  The large number of rocks littering the way indicated we wouldn’t be bothered by cars but we were sure to park away from anything that looked too precarious.  The view overlooked rolling hills and down on to an almost 180 degree vista of grass covered plains.  As night fell the stars came out above and below the huge wind farm started to twinkle in competition with the stars.

Grand Granada

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Granada is a fantastic city: amazing architecture, history and a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada.  As we have Odie we were limited with what we could see of the Alhambra. It is best to get there as early as possible especially if you want a ticket to visit the best bits. We took the bus and were horrified to discover that dogs are put into the luggage section. Poor Odie was terrified, being thrown around in the dark as the driver lurched the bus down steep winding mountain roads. No more bus rides for him, next time we will drive.

Gas can be a real problem for travellers and our dinky UK 4.5kg bottle has done us well, lasting over a month. However, as we want to free camp more, we went in search of another one in the village up the road. The lovely lady running the hardware and general store didn’t speak any English so some charades ensued. She was baffled by the adaptors that I took along but eventually understood what we were miming and we managed to purchase both the adaptor and bottle. The adaptor is completely different to the ones in the UK; a big clip-on thing, and the massive 12kg bottle should last us several months.

In the evening we went to watch the Flamenco (albeit a rather tourist oriented version) in the Albaycin. Although it’s not 100% authentic it is very entertaining.

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El Chorro

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After the hustle and bustle of Ronda we experienced a very contrasting quietness at the lakes near El Churro, and wild-camped for the first time. We found a spot under a tree just off the road. We were a bit nervous at first having read stories about people getting into trouble for wild camping. Our fears were put to rest when a police car drove past us, just before sunset, but took no notice of us.

I found plenty of things to photograph, including some giant dandelions which left Chris panting like a marathon runner having gotten a few seeds into the air. Now we know what pixies go through when they blow the little ones.

A nearby recreation center offers kayaking and peddle boating which we took advantage of. €10 gets you an hour on the lake. For free entertainment you can swim in the bright blue water or pull into one of the many stopping areas along the lakeside roads for a picnic.

“Gorge”ous Ronda

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Ronda manages to combine kitsch tourist shops with dramatic views. The town is built on the edges of very steep and high cliffs, and was one of the last Muslim strongholds in their war with the Christians. It is the busiest tourist area we have visited so far, this due to the fact that it makes a good day trip from the Costa Del Sol. The center of the town has beautiful old buildings well preserved. You can also visit the old bull fighting ring, for a reasonable entry fee.

The odd moment of the day was watching an Afrikaans mother and daughter fight over a camera in harsh guttural tones while a busker played sweet harp music in the background.

It is definitely worth a visit, just get there early. Parking is easier on the southern side of the town.

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Very Sherry Merry

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We wanted to explore a sherry bodega and chose Terry as there is no need to book. It turned out we were the only people on the tour. Unlike the sweet stuff sold in the UK authentic sherry is quite savoury. It’s an acquired taste, and I have yet to acquire it! Terry also makes the brand Bristol Cream which they export – the locals won’t touch the stuff.

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We drove on to Ronda with a very quick stop for lunch in Arcos de La Frontera, another town precariously perched on a mountain slope. Our picnic spot was next to a horse. Dave fed it an apple, after which it was keen to stay close to us. Bad move – horses are buzzing with flies and before we knew it we had around twenty of the annoying critters racing around the inside of the van. A fly swot went straight onto the shopping list!

Padel

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Spain has educated us, we have learnt a new sport whilst we have been here. Popular in Spain and Latin America Padel is a cross between tennis and squash. Played with smaller raquets, on a smaller court and with a smaller bouncy ball than tennis. The court has a wall to the back and side of the court which you can play off just like squash. It is easy to get the hang of and is less intensive than playing tennis.

Here’s a little snippet of how the pros play, unfortunately we don’t look like that!

All the campsites in the South of Spain that we have stayed in have Padel courts. Most don’t charge for use of the courts. The bats (cheap wooden cut, probably meant for the beach) cost us €5 for a pair and you can play with a tennis ball if you have one handy.

Spanish Feasts

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We have gotten hooked on Calamares Fritos, how good it is does depend on how fresh the Calamari is. Wonderful out in a bar or restaurant, I wouldn’t advise making it in the van as it will stink you out.

Generally Spanish seafood is incredible and very reasonably priced. I am not very keen on prawns but this recipe has converted me.

Chili Prawn Salad

  • 12 Large Prawns unshelled
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot chilli or pepper oil (make your own, see below)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon

Heat oil in heavy based frying pan till hot. Add prawns, along with pepper oil, garlic and lemon juice. Cook for roughly 10 minutes turning once or twice. The prawns should blacken slightly which gives them a lovely smokey flavour. Serve it up with a salad of your choice.

Chili Oil

We bought a bottle of infused chili and pepper oil, it is easy make your own.  Find a suitable bottle and add as many dried chilies and peppercorns as desired.  Add extra virgin olive oil and place in cupboard to infuse for at least a month.  Beware – very hot!!

Chorizo is a Spanish favourite and we have found the flavour varies depending on which bit of Spain you are in. I prefer to use the cooking chorizo in recipes.

Easy Pasta with Chorizo

  • 250g pasta
  • Can of tomato frito (or just plain old tin toms)
  • As much garlic as you like
  • Ditto chilli
  • 1 chorizo medium sausage or a few small ones

Cook up your pasta as per packet. Fry chorizo in pan turning once, no need to add oil as it should release enough on its own. Once slightly browned add garlic and chilli. Mix in tomatoes to heat and add to cooked pasta.

Battles

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Staying in Zahora we have discovered a wonderful beach and the cabo de Trafalgar. The Lighthouse pays tribute to the strategically fought battle of Trafalgar which happened close to this coast.

At the lighthouse we saw flock of flamingoes pink against the sky. They are almost the same colour as our sunburn – must stick to factor 30 from now on.

We also discovered small burrowing beetles which we raced on the sand (with a little guidance from a blade of grass) and snails that love to eat the prickly pear cactuses growing all over the area. On our homeward trek we encountered the local equivalent of a can recycling bin – a shelf with holes in it for beer cans and bottles.

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