The site we stayed in has beach front pitches, and as I write I can hear the very salty Mediterranean waves crashing onto the shore and a palm tree rustling in the breeze. The beach is pebbly for a change and I feel a pang of nostalgia for British beaches although I can’t say I miss the accompanying drizzle. It seems as though dogs are accepted as regular beach goers along with nudists. I discovered this on my early morning dog walk, nothing like the sight of a completely naked man to wake you up properly.
I did some research online about where to eat the best paella. Valencia lays claim to this typically Spanish dish and after deciding that we weren’t going to be staying in the city itself I settled on El Palmar, a little village just outside. This is where they grow the rice for Paella and surrounding the small village are paddy fields, a stark contrast to the dry, brown scrub we had seen for the last couple of days. The sound of frogs and sight of white herons was soothing in the muggy, oppressive heat.
Just as we arrived in this restaurant-riddled town we heard the sound of a band and had to investigate. A group of lads were playing samba tunes and setting off firecrackers to celebrate someone’s birthday and, probably, the Spain football match taking place later in the day. Like drunk boys everywhere they were up to mischief and some of them managed to set the grass alight. Luckily they had drunk enoughbeer to create a river of urine to put out the blaze.
We found a restaurant in the middle of the town facing a rice paddy and sat down to enjoy some local white wine. Once again I had forgotten our Spanish book and so wasn’t entirely sure what was included in Paella Valencia, but was sure it would be delicious. When it arrived David’s face fell. The yummy chicken, butter and green beans were accompanied by some very colourful snails! He was adventurous enough to try one but they were very green, fairly slimy and rather chewy. I think we must have been put off by their parasitic eating of prickly pears which we saw earlier on our trip. Ah well all the way to Valencia for some authentic (but in the end uneaten) snails.
We are now keen to head back towards France so some frantic driving has ensued. A long day with changing terrain saw us return to mountains with spectacular views. The Sierra Espuna is popular with climbers and there are some dramatic granite monoliths to traverse. We went for the easy option of navigating the hair pin bends by van to appreciate the view.
Wi-fi (or whiffy as the Spanish pronounce it) is intermittent and you can never be sure what the speed will be like at campsites. The campsite in El Berro was a very relaxed, family-run affair, but the facilities were a bit basic. This meant no TV in the bar so, in order to watch the footie and tennis, we turned to online sources. Much to our frustration we couldn’t even tune in to an internet radio station without many frequent pauses at critical moments. It’s not often I want to watch anything on TV but I am gutted to be missing out on all the sporting events this week.
There is a big Jesus statue that looks after El Berro and its residents, in Rio style which is lit up at night. After shielding our eyes against the massive spotlights we enjoyed a wonderful view of Murcia and its twinkling lights.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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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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!