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Published: March 16th 2012
Motorhome News from Europe 49
March 2012 Return from Morocco: Tangier Med, Algeciras, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, El Torcal, Nerja Caverns, Alpujarras, Cabo de Gata ‘Life begins at Seventy’
OK. Hands up. It's time to put it on the line. At 76, going on 60, I'm looking back on a mis-spent youth and a quadruple heart by-pass. That's how it was and that’s how it is. There’s no turning back, so let’s make the most of what’s left and live the joy of travel.
I guess I'm not your average blogger. I seem to remember I did my last days work when I was 69 and self employed and very shortly afterwards set off with the lovely wife, Janice, on a three year non-stop journey by motorhome around Europe and North America. (Janice is the one who winds me up every morning, points me in the right general direction and takes the hand-brake off)
But the wander-lust probably started for me at the tender age of fourteen when I took off from my boyhood home in Wembley, near London, to cycle to Lands End and back
Our home on wheels
with Brian Cooper, a pal from school. Then, somewhere around 1956 I guess, I set off from Norfolk with my old Royal Air Force mate, Stewart Ramsey, on my 1949, 500cc Triumph SpeedTwin motorbike complete with Swift sidecar, over the French Alps and into Geneva, down to Milan and around the corner through Cannes and Nice and back up to Paris - all in two weeks. There are still a hundred fond memories of those journeys locked up in this brain. I guess that's what started it all - that and all those tantalizing images in National Geographic.
Sorry. I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes. Returning from Morocco to Spain, France ...and home once again (where is home?). Morag and Kit, our friends from Norfolk, were planning to turn left at the port on arrival back in Spain, on their way to a month in the sun in Portugal. Kathryn and Brian from Australia decided to follow us eastwards, along the coast of Spain, into the mountains and down to the desert east of Almeria – for as long as it takes. There was no rush to return to Blighty. The internet suggested that snow was about to
hit the shores of Britain any day and freezing temperatures were already causing havoc on the roads. The same website confirmed what we already knew; it was 18C on the Spanish south coast, climbing to 22C during the coming week! No contest.
Arriving at the smart new Moroccan port of Tangier Med official looking types were waiting to help us, converting our tickets to 'confirmed sailings', and then asking for €5 for the service, hand held out and nose in the passenger window. "For my children," he said. It would not be possible to leave Morocco without someone having one final try and blame it on the kids.
Moroccan customs clearance entailed the usual song-and-dance of checking passports three times, vanishing each time in the process, to reappear five minutes later; a nod of the head, a wave of the arm. Then, off to the huge XRay truck for the motorhome to be scanned for illegal immigrants (we could pack quite a few in the motorhome) - and check the passports and disappear without explanation yet once more - with only five minutes before our ferry was due to sail and our finger-nails by now bitten down to
the quick. We needn't have worried, the 10am ferry sails at 10am Moroccan time; that's sometime around 11.30am.
It was an equally frustrating business two and a half hours later sitting in a long queue at Customs on entering Spain at Algeciras.
Our present Road Atlas was purchased back in 2004 and it's already out of date. Even Jane, our SatNav, doesn't know about many of today's roads and roundabouts hereabouts! That said, our previous routes are highlighted in the Atlas, there are tracks we plan to retrace and new ones to be explored. So let's get under way; loose items securely stowed, electricity unplugged, levelling blocks removed and stored, roof-lights shut, electric-step up, gas off, fridge switched to 12v and door locked (to stop it swinging open going round corners), side door locked, ignition, mirror, signal, hand-brake off.........
First stop gave us an opportunity to return to the nature reserve, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, for another birding extravaganza. It had changed very little since 2004; the flamingos were still there in their best pink outfits (a few broods on no doubt), a hundred common cranes took flight above our heads and across the
...nature’s answer to Mount Rushmore.
fields leaving us wide eyed and breathless - and they're planting even more olive trees on distant hills. We took a look back at the photos from our last visit that night and checked out the blog. Motorhome News from Europe 10 Yes. Little had changed, and it was still a delight to touch the heart with another fragment of raw nature and wildlife.
The language might be different but Spain and France have much in common. They are both huge in comparison with the UK with the space to get lost, to find peace, and so incredibly diverse in culture and landscape that it’s impossible to ever see it all, though we keep trying. New to us on this trip was El Torcal just south of Antequera, a magnificent display of limestone karst pinnacles offering strong-boot scrambling at 4,000ft amongst the gnarled remnants of an ancient sea-bed, stark white outlines shaped like ghosts and ghouls, the heads of eagles, witches faces – make of them what you will; nature’s answer to Mount Rushmore. Ibex watched us from rocky outcrops with wary eyes as we hiked over rough ground for two hours to be finally rewarded
with the most amazing views over fertile valleys towards the mountains as we left. Way out to the northeast there’s a mirror image of El Torcal; in France, amongst the white karst pinnacles of Cirque de Moureze Motorhome News from Europe 38. How could we possibly have missed this one on our last visit to Spain?
Just to prove the point that you can’t see it all, we found yet another gem along the coast for the tourist with a little more time to spare. We missed this one last time too, but Dorothy and the lion were there to greet us when we arrived, which sort of made up for that. It seems our timing was out by a week or two – or was it an hour or three, for the Nerja Caverns were heaving with noisy young school children on pre-spring break outings and the huge open arena at the centre of the limestone caves was host to a rendering of The Wizard of Oz in the hope of keeping the kids occupied, educated and out of mischief for a brief moment. These caverns are indeed impressive. “The biggest caves I’ve ever witnessed,’ Brian
Keeping a wary eye on us.
commented, snapping away with his smart camera amongst the truly wonderful ‘mites and ‘tites. Thankfully we were the last to enter the caves before the compulsory three-hour Spanish lunch break, and the last to leave – in the tranquillity of a childless cavern! We find it hard to come to terms with these long midday (non-commercial) breaks which might have been appropriate ‘once upon a time,’ as Dorothy might have said, to keep from the oppressive heat of summer. But it flies in the face of efficiency today, surely.
Despite bright sunny days and blue skies it gets awfully cold at night high in the mountains, prompting us to make a move back to the coast after a couple of days. It was 22C when we finally arrived at the rather tired and over-priced campsite a short walk from the long sandy beach at Almunecar. Wintering British, German, Dutch and Swedish caravanners were enjoying a few months of sunshine, sea and good eating at the many bars along the promenade. If I remember rightly, Laurie Lee came here on his wanderings too. But we’re not ‘beachy’ people and we’ve always avoided the Costas for that reason. Our choice of
coast includes good walking country - and we know just the place - Cabo de Gata, and we would be heading that way quite soon.
We returned to the town of Orgiva up in the Alpujarras, recognising the bend at the bottom of the main street where we hunted for a space to park on market day when we last came. I remember a score of textbook English people reading the Times and Telegraph at sunny cafe tables and groups of hippies hanging around dark corners of the square trying to flog second-hand books and petty crafts. But things have clearly changed as it all appeared different somehow. The square and main street have been spruced up, the hippies were still there though older and greyer now, outnumbering the drinkers and druggies in the square, conversations in English could still be overheard on every street corner but the lady reading the Times has gone and on the street it’s too cold, even for hardy Brits, to be seen sitting, drinking their morning coffee at the pavement cafes. 'Se Vende' signs were everywhere in town; on apartment balconies, on restaurant shutters and in shop doorways. Times are hard here in
Spain. They have their fine Euro-funded roads and motorways but empty and unfinished buildings stand on the edge of almost every town, windowless, door-less and moneyless. But the good news is there's a great campsite, 'Camping Orgiva', just south of town where locals outnumber the campers in the restaurant. Now, that’s always a good sign.
From Orgiva we took a short drive up the steep winding road to Bubion, one of those glorious little white villages we often still dream of, perched precariously on the hillside at the top of the valley where the merest whisper floats across the poplar clad slopes on the crisp morning air. It’s a stiff walk, up and over the hills to Capileira, the next village, its tiny flat-roofed houses on narrow alleys dazzling white, the church standing proudly in its midst and wood-smoke spiralling serenely from a host of conical chimneys. If it’s peace and tranquillity you’re looking for, you’re sure to find it here in the magical hills and valleys of the Alpujarras. There were ibex roaming the rocky hills where we hiked for hours, a blue rock thrush on every skyline and little owls to keep us awake each night on
the campsite. The terraced hills were awash with pink almond blossom, bright yellow gorse in flower and broom in waiting, above us yet another cerulean sky and beneath our feet the ever-present sweet perfume of mixed herbs, ripe for Sunday's roast pork. A winter sun brought mellow light to our hike, brightening the dusky-blue rosemary, the purple thyme, the deep blue lavender, winter's poplars standing tall like white sentries guarding the silent valley and the gleaming outline of Valeta amongst the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the north.
The road out of Orgiva twists and turns in spectacular fashion as it corkscrews across the Sierra de la Contraviesa, winding through great swathes of pink almond blossom on terraced hillsides stretching to the foot of the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada to our left - and way down to the Mediterranean to our right, sparkling with tiny stars in the morning sun. We were truly staggered by the beauty of this spectacle, sufficient to stop us in our tracks many times for photo after photo. But this all comes to an abrupt halt as the road nears the coast and white plastic greenhouses line the landscape for
The Little Owl
...keeping us awake at night.
the next thirty miles to Almaria! This is the productivity heart of the ‘out of season’ produce we now demand by the ton; peppers, cucumbers, lettuces, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes........... en route to Europe’s supermarkets. Spain has found the way to profit from this desert landscape and it shows. Back in 2004 much of the plastic was black and the whole area had a look of neglect. Today it’s still plastic, but it is remarkably tidy and expansion has been explosive along with investment. The next hurdle will doubtless be water.
And finally we reached Cabo de Gata, a tiny headland with a lighthouse where desert meets the sea, where the sun rises early and goes to bed late, the sky is dazzling blue, voluptuous volcanic hills rise and fall, statuesque cliffs white as Dover, grey as clay and black as a Spaniard's hat, drop vertically into a silver sea with idyllic deserted bays and pristine beaches to die for. We were camped nearby at Los Escullos for two weeks, unusual for us nomads, teasing our legs each day on strenuous coastal walks, to San Jose, Genoveses and Las Negras on tracks alive with wild fennel, lavender, thyme, palmetta and
Superb walking country
around Rodalquilar Minas
agave, prickly pear cactus and wild garlic. This was our second visit to this area. We were reluctant to leave then and we would be hard pressed to explain why lest too many people get to know. This is not the Spain that most people see. In this little lost corner of Spaghetti Western fame there’s not a high-rise in sight, discrete hotels and Casa Rurales are tucked away beyond fluttering flags waving a welcome on the breeze; red-white-and blue, black red and yellow; there are more Brits, Dutch, Germans and a few French here in this part of Spain than Spanish. Perhaps that’s why.
Amongst these arid, volcanic hills, there is still wild open space, empty roads, the sound of silence. Houses huddle like little gatherings of square white boxes sprinkled across the hillsides, their owners away in some city far away, eagles circle overhead and wild boar till the soil along the multitude of well-marked hiking trails. Picture, if you will, the English Lakes; without the crowds, without unfriendly and overcharged car-parks, without lakes and without trees, and there you have it - freedom. Perhaps that’s why.
I’m known to take a sly peek at Janice’s
diary from time-to-time, primarily to try to establish the day of the week or where we were yesterday, and couldn’t help but notice the first few words on a page headed, Los Escullos. Sunday 26th
February. ‘Another hot and sunny day in Paradise,’ it said (but it might be unwise to come here in summer temperatures unless it’s the sea and sand you’re after).
I made a new friend on the campsite. Henk hails from Holland. “I love Spain," he told me whilst we chatted one evening putting the world to right. "We keep coming back. Were I not Dutch I should want to be Spanish." He's right you know. There is something truly magical about Spain and its people. We can come away from Spain feeling we have seen it all, but little diamonds just keep dropping from the sky on each and every visit.
From Cabo de Gata we pointed the compass northwards, towards home, up through Murcia, up over the mountains - there's another mountain range and another and another, and yet another; the sierras, beyond every horizon, beyond every valley. We’ll be back.
And now, home at last after 6,829 miles travelled this
trip! We have but six weeks to knock the garden into shape for the summer and research our next minor excursion in the motorhome - to the Baltic States: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Wind me up again, Janice, and point me to the east!
David and Janice
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