Motorhome News from Spain I


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February 4th 2014
Published: February 6th 2014
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Motorhome News from Spain I

19th December 2013 - 21st January 2014



Ruta de los Piratas - The Route of the Pirates



Hola Sunshine!

Christmas might be coming, but the very thought of another dark and cold British winter is making our feet itch. With dazzling blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine almost guaranteed, we're beginning to think a couple of months in Spain might be a good idea. En route we'll pay a brief visit to Limoges in France to see daughter Sonia and grandson Frederick, now six and eleven twelfths, for Christmas. We've not done that before. Maybe we should take some mince pies and a Christmas pudding.



We all know that Christmas is for kids and that's where the real fun begins, but we're all kids at heart and Janice and I both love the thought of giving and receiving, the family, the Christmas tree and the lights, cards all in a long line over the hearth, the turkey, holly, crackers, paper hats and silly jokes. But there's no happiness as great as the light in the eyes of a six year old at the sight of all those parcels left by Santa under the tree.



The excitement over, we finally left for the motorway to Bordeaux and Bayonne and our campsite for the night at Larouletta just to the south of St Jean de Luz on the Spanish border. The French sure know how to rack up the tolls! Once in Spain we followed the road south through the Pyrenean foothills to Pamplona and across the windswept desert sierras on the Autovia del Mudezar, The Route of the Moors, to Zaragoza and our stop for the night at Navajas, 60km NW of Valencia. There was a nativity scene in the centre of Navajas and decorative Santas and the Three Kings were climbing over balconies on the narrow, neatly cobbled streets of three and four storey houses leading up to the tall bell-tower and blue-tiled dome of the church. Above the town we discovered some great walking on the Via Verde de Ojos Negros, an old disused railway track, which gave us our first gentle hiking opportunity to work off the Christmas binge.



Our long drive south took us finally to The Cabo de Gata Natural Park, a few miles to the east of Almeria, to the wild and arid hills and empty beaches of Europe's only classified desert. We have learned to ignore the plastic greenhouses scattered around Almeria, now white and quite smart rather than the old black we knew of old; miles of it, sheltering tomatoes and peppers mostly at the moment. Other than that, the small town of Cabo de Gata shows little sign of commercialism save the few small friendly bars on the foreshore and a number of holiday homes for the Spanish who might want to escape the crowds in summer. Cabo survives on a little inshore fishing fleet, a modicum of tourism, and salt production on the Salinas, a practice pursued here since Roman times for preserving fish and meat. The area around Cabo de Gata gives us the freedom we seek from all things commercial, over vast stretches of desert dunes and walking along the high hills, deserted beaches and rolling cliffs to the east. It also gives us the opportunity to sharpen our birding skills. White-headed ducks and flamingos share a rare stretch of fresh water near our campsite and stone curlews and black bellied sand grouse squabble over the desert sands. Janice spotted an enormous snake on one of our many walks, which we later identified as a harmless ladder snake - but at four feet long, sufficient to put the frighteners up your granny.



We left home in December prepared for winter in France; thick socks, roll-neck sweaters, long sleeved shirts and corduroy trousers - totally forgetting it might be warmer once we set foot on Spain's southerly shores. You'd think we might have learned by now wouldn't you? We should be wise enough to know we don't need a rain jacket in Almeria. This is desert country and rain is an occasion for rejoicing. That's one of the many reasons we come to this remote spot away from the towering hotels and apartment buildings of the Costas that stretch way out across those blue tiled pools, sandy beaches and gold-chained bronzed bodies to the west and north.



Here we can play golf at Alboran in Retamar for 20 Euros on 'Pensioner's Day' each Tuesday. We were joined over the weeks by Jan, from Scotland, here with her husband, Kerry, whilst they wait for daylight to return to the west coast in spring. An ebullient Spanish gent playing on his own caught us up and we invited him to join us. Pepe danced his way along the fairways, laughing and joking in pigeon English. "Bravo!" "Fantastico" "Magnifico!" he'd shout at every shot however good or bad. He holed a wedge from 75 metres for a birdie on a tough par five and insisted on having his picture taken sitting astride the hole like an excited six year old! He also seemed rather intrigued that I should have two wives. I didn't bother to explain.



Here we can people watch. We often wonder why all these people come here in their caravans and motorhomes, year on year; some have been coming every year for the past fifteen years and more. But we all share some things in common. There are Brits by the dozen with their big motorhomes and caravans with enormous awnings, sitting out in their shorts in the sunshine all day and wrapped in coats and hats as the cool wind picks up in the evening - ever trotting back and forth to visit old friends with boxes of cakes and bottles of wine as the aroma of sizzling bacon and bubbling paella wafts across the campsite. Our Dutch neighbour was a birder, out in the morning hunting down the local flock of stone curlew, the Sardinian warblers, the flamingos, the black-bellied sand grouse and white-headed ducks. There's also a special treat for the non-birder - when a robin or two and our friend the blackbird treats us with a surprise appearance. There are the ladies doing yoga by the pool each day, the walkers, the bikers, the Saturday crowd in the local bar for tapas, the friendly lot at each other's throats on Wednesday's quiz night, the rug maker, the ladies knitting for new-born grandchildren. Henk, my friend from Holland here again with his lovely wife, Mini, summed it up for me. "There are people here from ordinary houses on ordinary streets, apartments in towns and cities where they rarely speak to the neighbours or have few friends. They come here each year for the familiar faces; those people with similar interests whatever their language: English, Dutch, German, French and even Spanish. Here there are people smiling in the sunshine, passing the time of day as they visit the showers, fill their water bottles at the tap or empty their waste water." he said. "Good Morning," they all cry as we pass. "Gut Morgen," "Bonjour," "Hola" or "Hello." - even when it's cold and windy. It is indeed a place for friends, their extended family.



It would be misleading to say the sun shines here every day. We tend to take that literally don't we? It does shine every day of course, but occasionally it's hiding behind a cloud or two or hidden in the morning sea mist rising lethargically as warmth returns to the land. Rain comes but occasionally to this desert region of Europe, rivers shown as blue rambling lines on our maps are now grey-green with sage, giant grasses and brush; ramblas they're known as, dry river beds. Looking for birds that favour water, we took a drive up the narrow snaking road into the mountains to visit Embalse de Isabel II, a reservoir shown in blue on our map above Nija. The dam was built in the mid- eighteen hundreds to create a desalination reservoir and we drove the bumpy unsurfaced track for a mile or so but there was no sign of the water we expected, just the sound of silence to
Olive groves at Valle de RodalquillaOlive groves at Valle de RodalquillaOlive groves at Valle de Rodalquilla

One of our many delightful walks
remind us how much we love the wilderness wherever we might find it. The dam is now abandoned. You will have gathered over the years that, unlike many of the snow-birds who come south here for the winter sun, we have never found the need for towing a Smart Car or having a motorbike on the back of our motorhome. Our choice of vehicle comes with the experience of many years of drifting across Continents with few places beyond our reach, whether high in the mountains or on wild country roads. It helps a bit if you're mad. Motorhoming can get you like that after a while.



I guess we stayed around Cabo de Gata waiting for the Festival of Our Lady of Almeria at Torre Garcia on the beach near Retamar, postponed for a week this year as the first Sunday in January, its traditional date, coincided with the day for children to receive their presents, delivered here by the Three Kings of course - though Santa is clearly making early inroads into the Christmas programme for many! We first discovered this special day of celebration and merrymaking when we passed this way, back in 2005 if I remember rightly, and it seems as popular as ever for all the locals. It's a religious festival of course and many are there to watch the arrival of the gold-clad figure of Mary carried shoulder high behind the brass band from the church in Retamar a mile or two to the west to the small chapel on the beach at Torre Garcia. There's a two-hour service to celebrate the vision of Mary coming up the shingly beach - or something like that. But huge numbers of locals come just for a fun day out; to picnic and barbecue; families throng to the market stalls, the candy-floss tent, the tapas stand with its rising smoke and scrumptious smells and the spectacle of the true Spanish horse riders, dressed to impress in traditional dress, their prancing steeds displaying the mastery of their craft in true style.



One of our many favourite areas for walks is a short distance along the coast at Los Escullos where we stayed a few days at another friendly campsite. This was our third visit to Los Escullos over the years, a special piece of coastline where rolling hills fall steeply to the sea on rocky shores with sandy coves and the sun rises each day in a blaze of rainbow hues. A Natural Park protects this delightful stretch of coast today; for thirty miles or so north along the 'Route of the Pirates' where Berber pirates once rampaged and numerous forts were built along the cliff-tops to provide shelter. It's a wild natural coastline devoid of any sign of things commercial but rich in flora and fauna. There was room to fly our kite on deserted beaches, and coastal walks from Cabo de Gata all the way to San Jose, Los Escullos, La Isleta, Las Negras, El Playazo and beyond, delightful walks into the arid hills and along deserted beaches and rocky shores. One warm and balmy day we sat on a deserted beach, resting a while whilst having a picnick lunch and dreaming of desert islands and Robinson Crusoe. A broken wooden palette was washed up on the rocks along with a coil of strong rope, a plastic bottle (there's always one lying around somewhere here in Spain) a tangled ball of green fishing net, a tree branch, bare and white for a mast and a small but adequate sheet of
Kite flying!Kite flying!Kite flying!

El Playazo
plastic for a makeshift sail. But why should we want to leave these shores?



Some years ago when we passed this way before, Janice gave me a small pin for my hiking hat and this year it was my turn to repay that small debt. The pin depicts a small figure, that of the Indalo Man, taken from a prehistoric cave painting in Velez Blanco in the Province of Almeria. The figure is said to provide protection from evil when attached to the front of a house, or good luck if given as a gift. Today the figure is the Official symbol of the Province of Almeria, displayed with pride on many houses and buildings in the region - as well as on my hat and now on Janice's fleece. Suffice to say, we continue to enjoy the fruits of good luck and good fortune as the years roll gently by.



A brief mention of Las Negras would not go amiss. Las Negras with its ancient windmill sparkling white, now sadly marooned amidst new development, the town still a delight to behold, though showing some signs of growth since our earlier visit; smart white flat-roofed houses sprouting bougainvillea and new money from the towns and cities, a posh shop or two, but little else to spoil the splendid ambience amongst the few modest villas. Well-heeled locals and a few ex-pats were downing their beers and tapas at street-side tables in the sun across from the bar when we joined them at mid-day. There was a grey bearded guy in a Stetson with a small dog that clearly speaks English and a group of well-dressed Spanish ladies chattering away, drinking coffee with their pinkies aloft in true English fashion, learned no doubt from those other locals, the Brits. We're slowly beginning to understand the mysteries of Tapas and Menu del dia, eating as the Romans do (as we say) here in Spain.



The clock on our motorhome touched 43000 miles this week. That's around the same mileage as we covered on our tour of Europe in 2004/5 and the same again as we made our way around North America in 2005/6. I make that getting on for 130,000 miles - or five times around the World. But there's still much to see and plenty to learn before we're done.



David and Janice

The grey haired nomads

Motorhome News from Spain II will follow in a few weeks

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6th February 2014

Hummmmmmmm, the French rack up the tolls? And how do you think they manage to have the best road network in the world? Looking at the pot holes here at the moment with all the rain, the UK feels like a third world country. All above said with a smile of course but still true. So pleased you are having a great time and I can see sunshine too. Come and stay with us when you are back. you are always welcome. Love XX
6th February 2014

Sounds idyllic...
such a wonderful way to spend a winter away from the Isles with like-minded friends from many countries.

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