Spain

El Rocio

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Being back on the road again was a bit of a shock to the system. We drove to Seville in the hope of spending a couple of days exploring this city’s incredible architecture. However our hopes of staying over were thwarted by the blustery weather and the local annual marathon. We had to make do with a drive-by-viewing of the fine buildings, but we hope to come back to the beautiful town after our travels in Portugal.

We hustled on to El Rocio, a genuine spaghetti Western town. The streets are sand covered, as wide as those in Bulawayo (for non-Zimbos that means very wide), and each house has a tethering post outside to cater for the horse population. The horsey way of life even extends to the bars where you are able to enjoy a drink from atop your horse at extra high tables.

The town was almost deserted when we visited but apparently is a famous pilgrimage site with over a million visitors over one weekend each year after Easter. The main draw is to see a statue of Mary that moves of its own accord and party like there is no tomorrow. The church is ornate with a very glittery altar.

Nearby is the Donana National Park, Europe’s biggest wetland (Dad was thinking of you especially), and it provides a winter home to a vast bird population. The enterprising grey herons have decided to use the highest structure in the park to nest in, never mind that they are electricity pylons instead of trees! Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Iberian lynx, one of the animals we were keen to see on our European travels, I guess it was a bit ambitious to try and see it in one day!

Tiles on one of the El Rocio monuments

Spanglish mates

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We were feeling rather weary after our overly exuberant new year celebrations in Benalmadena and after a night of recuperation we drove southwards in search of sunnier climes. We decided to return to one of our favourite Spanish campsites, near to the Cabo de Trafalgar (where Nelson fought the Spaniards).

The area is famous in Spain for its pine trees. They were planted by Franco to stop the endless march of sand inland. The trees still produce pine kernels and in January provide a home to an apparently very poisonous caterpillar. We were told by other campers that said caterpillar was both attractive and fatal to dogs. Luckily we only saw a couple of dead specimens and Odie was not at all interested in them, so they can’t be such a delicious doggie delicacy.

There are some fantastic cycling routes which thread though the natural pine park. We were looking forward to using our bikes to discover more of the area. Unfortunately our ambitious plans were rudely interrupted by some enterprising bicycle thieves who nicked our bikes in the middle of the night. They kindly left our bike cover, which means we don’t have to replace it for a third time! After discovering our loss, I had to make a trip to Barbate police station to report it and during this tedious exercise found out that the campsite had been targeted the previous month and that eight other bikes had been nicked in one night not long before we arrived! Pity no one had mentioned this fact when we turned up or we would have locked them to our van instead of to a tree!

We did not let our loss detract from our stay in the lush Costa de Luz, there were plenty of walks to the beach, lighthouse and along the surrounding hills. We were blessed with sunshine for most of the month and this meant David could work outside, although he had to defend his laptop from the sunshine and his legs from mosquitoes!

We squeezed in a visit to Cadiz, Europe’s oldest city, with narrow streets, exotic plants and hardly any parking spaces. We replaced our bikes with some cheap mountain bikes from Decathalon, and David purchased a mound of new clothes to replace his crusty look with a smart sporty style.

The campsite was a very sociable place, which was a major draw for us to stay for a month. We participated in 2 quiz nights (one sober; one with a very random combination of drinks) and played bingo for the very first time (besht played when tipshy!)

We met Padget, a bearded collie, and his owners, Bill and Jane, who are on a traveling adventure like us. It was fantastic to have some mates about again. We went for long lunches, played some hectic tennis and table tennis, went for long walks and drank quite a few beers together. If you want to check out their blog go to: http://www.getjealous.com/Billandjayne

We also met another couple, Paul and Tracey, and all 6 of us played an interesting match of TT which involved running around the table and trying to hit one ball each before stepping out of play. It made me feel rather dizzy and David was complaining of stiff obliques the next day.  This was soon followed by a boozy curry night before we hit the road once again! Months of social deprivation were made up in just a few weeks. Keep in touch guys!

12 Grapes

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Our new friends in France gave us a great tip about where to spend New Years Eve, so we hurtled down the coast of Spain to Benalmadena.  David had picked up another bug from the kiddies in Manses so he spent two days in the back of the van suffering with ‘man flu’ whilst I drove endlessly southwards.

Benalmadena, like most towns on the Costa del Sol, is full of British (and Irish) pubs, betting shops, greasy cafes and the usual seaside shops we try to avoid at all costs.  However, unlike other towns on the Costa del Sol, it is not inundated with high rise apartment blocks and still has a pleasant holiday feel.  We parked the van near to the main drag and, in preparation for our hangovers-to-be, stocked up on groceries.  We went for a very reasonably priced Chinese restaurant for dinner, followed by complimentary shots – a warm up for what was to come!  After dinner we headed to the Alien bar where we met a great crowd, mostly made up of pub owners, and partied into 2011.

It is a Spanish tradition to consume 12 grapes, one for each chime at midnight. We chose instead to down some ‘herbal’ tasting shots recommended by our fellow pubbers and to let off some massive party poppers.  At 1am we celebrated new year all over again on British time.  It was a great night and we’d thoroughly recommend the bar and its crowd.

La España

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The days were sticky and hot (I have since been told that Europe was immersed in a heat wave) so we did our best to awaken early and make the most of the day, before the heat could make us too irritable.  Today we retrieved the bikes from the bike rack (it has been a while) and cycled along an undulating coastal path.  The sea was stunning, oscillating from aquamarine to deep blue and back again.  A quick dip cooled us down so we could ride back to camp. The rocks here almost look like petrified wood.

El Porto De La Selva boasts restaurants designed by Dali and a statue of liberty with two flames, showing up those proud New Yorkers. We saw an odd sign that seemed to say that kids playing football in the street have priority over cars. Traffic must be slow here.

Football final night saw us venture into town early to ensure we had good seats.  Every eatery was clearly trying to cash in on the event. At our chosen venue the owners’ home television system was mounted onto two very rickety tables to ensure that everyone could see.   Early on it was clear that the satellite connection was intermittent (the picture kept warping like a bad acid trip) and we were switched over to terrestrial, with accompanying Spanish dialogue.   Our corner was mostly orange and a lot of the Frenchies around us were secretly supporting the Dutch.  There was much betting on the final result, but none of us could predict what finally happened!  Viva L’España!

The celebrations were, of course, quite intense with hooters and fireworks going on for hours. What a way to spend our final night in Spain. Tomorrow we leave for France.

What we’ll miss about Spain:

  • saying “Ola”
  • paella, choritzo and sangria, mmmm
  • a constant supply of sunshine
  • the low cost of living

What we won’t miss:

  • the crazy driving, especially on the narrow mountain roads
  • being baked at mid-30s temperatures
  • TomTom’s appalling service in Spain
  • the often grumpy, surly attitude of the Spanish

Daliesque

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A trip into an extraordinary mind was on the agenda. We were in Figueres to visit the Dali Teatre Muse, home to a large portion of the works of Salvador Dali. It’s well worth a visit; I particularly liked his large installations. He was a master of working in all different genres and clearly loved experimenting. It is amazing to see what one person’s imagination could come up with.

Nothing else in Figures looked vaguely enticing so we adjourned to Cadaques, a little fishing town along the coast. We were hoping to freecamp at a tolerated spot but after navigating along the winding road found motorhomes were no longer welcome in this particular car park. Additionally the only parking spot available to us was amongst piles of dirt and diggers. These facts, coupled with frequent motorhome-prohibited signs along the roads, discouraged us from spending more than an hour in the town walking its streets. We decamped up the road to a much quieter town called El Port De La Selva.

Tomorrow we will watch Spain play Holland in the World Cup Final, anticipating much liveliness and support for the home team.

Wave surfing by kayak

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We wanted to get out onto the water instead of being under it the whole time so decided to rent a kayak (€40 / half day) from Montgo in L’escala. The vendor warned us that our outward journey could be a bit rough, but followed with the encouraging idea that the homeward bound stretch would be easy.

Out in the ocean proper we discovered some rather large waves for our rather small kayak and both Odie and I had an attack of nerves. I insisted that David paddle us back towards the shore but he was adamant that it would be easier to drift back towards the bay if we were further out. An argument ensued and he was finally convinced to head towards shore after I let out a small (to my mind) shriek. David enjoyed surfing the waves with the kayak which I now have to admit may have helped the journey home.

Accidental discoveries

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Book ahead if you want to visit Iles Medes for snorkeling in peak season by boat trip . We missed out as not a seat was to be had. Luckily we found a quiet dirt road along the land portion of the nature reserve and, after a bumpy drive and walk down some steep cliffs, found some excellent snorkeling opportunities instead. The best locations are often discovered by accident!

Swimmingly

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We snaked along the coastal road to L’estartit, a typical beachside resort with the exception of the Iles Medes (a marine park and nature reserve). We looked at snorkel trips by boat but decided that, as the island was only about a kilometre offshore, we would try to swim it. It seemed simple enough with the help of flippers to power us along. About a third of the way across I heard the sound of an engine and popped my head above the water to see a couple of boats in our vicinity. The skippers were gesturing frantically at us and I stopped to tread water. David was ploughing on obliviously so I started yelling. Finally he came to a stop and we got the idea that swimmers were not welcome on what now appeared to be a regularly frequented boat path. We decided to give up on our swimming adventure and snorkeled the area around the marina which proved to be good too.

We free-camped that night in a beachside car park only to be woken up by some other campervanners who arrived at 3 am. We don’t mind late arrivals, but cooking dinner and playing fetch with the dog at that hour is a bit offsides. Many coffees were needed the next morning to get going!

Snorkels at the ready

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The coastline around Begur and Tamiru consists of beaches with azure blue, clear water, grey pebbles and cliffs tumbling into coves ready made for snorkeling. We snorkeled for hours watching shoals of fish in varying sizes swim amongst the coral. The Mediterranean water had seemed very warm up until now, but after an hour or so I really felt the cold and had to retreat to the warmth of the black sandy beach. What a contrast in temperature!

We checked into an ACSI campsite, it was full of Dutchies which made the semi-final football match very rowdy. On checking out the next day we found out it cost a horrendous €47/night and that didn’t include Odie (they actually didn’t allow dogs on site but we didn’t know). Another lesson learnt; always ask for the price before booking in, especially at peak season!

Roadside views

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Our first night in a tolerated Spanish free camping spot was at a beachside parking lot in Saint Carles de La Rapita. It is clearly a bit of a party town as it was not quiet until at least 2am. Teenagers drift around the parking lot in cheap cars equipped with expensive stereos which are somehow incapable of playing more than one tune over and over.  The beach here is artificial and you have to walk a good 50m out to sea just to get your knees wet.

On the way out we drove through the nearby natural park; a good place to view flamingos. None were to be seen by us, but the area does have beautiful little houses with lovely gardens sitting amongst the rice paddies. The locals plant flowers along the edges of the canals, adding bright splashes of colour to an otherwise very green landscape.

Today we saw our first roadside prostitute – a bleached blond wearing only her underwear; well bottoms anyway. We have since seen many of them in the Barcelona area where the population is more dense. They advertise their wares by erecting (haha) bright coloured umbrellas like domed billboards. They must be tolerated by the local Policia as they couldn’t stand out more without waving a big flag signed “get it here”.

After driving in squircles to circumnavigate Barcelona (and a massive accident on the motorway) we took a rugged dirt road up to a lovely rustic campsite at the peak of one of the Montseny mountains. It is located on a farm. Hardly anyone else was on-site and we had wonderful, quiet views of wooded hills. On arrival the owner questioned our origin and when it was discovered we had British passports the word was passed around the bar, as if some rare species of animal had been spotted far from its normal habitat.

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