Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Plastic fields and sunny beaches

Tuesday 21 March 2018

Nido’s back by the sea, on an aire called Taray Camper Park, just across the road from the beach in Puntas de Calnegre.   Taray Camper Park’s a posh name for what is basically a large gravel and stone car park with a service point, at €6 per night. 

It was another windy and very cold night in Ricote (although cold is relative when I look at the temperatures back home) - clear skies and sunny when I got up, but only 5’C.  Watered up and waste dumped. we drove back down the hairpins and were soon on the motorway, heading for our next stop.  I took a wrong lane coming off at the slip road, but this was fortuitous, as I came across a fuel station with diesel at only €1.089 per litre. Back in the right direction, we again soon turned off onto narrower roads, passing through miles and miles of agricultural land.  It was really depressing to plastic covering the land as far as the eye could see, both in the form of poly tunnels and cloches - all because we want to eat exotic fruits and salads out of season.  It was evident a large migrant population provide the labour force and I would imagine their living and working conditions aren’t great.  We needed some groceries, but were far from the land of the supermarket, but eventually came across a small shop in a hamlet.  It was run by a delightful man (I guess from the Middle East), who helpfully pointed out all the items we asked for - another shop that sold all we needed. We asked if he had any fresh chicken, upon which he opened a fridge door to show two freshly killed, still whole and complete with head.  Some may find this squeamish, but after living in Pakistan, where we used to select the live chicken we wanted and leave the butcher to ‘prepare’ it, this felt really normal to us.  He kindly chopped it into small portions, bones and all.  It was lovely to practice our Spanish (I guess not his first language either) in a calm, slow and relaxing fashion.  We much prefer these kinds of shops to the large supermarkets.  As I thanked him he said ‘you’re welcome’ back to me in Urdu, so I thanked him again and said goodbye in Urdu too - it made our day to be helped by such a lovely man.

As we reached the coast we followed the beach road, past a small village with a few bars and restaurants, before turning off into the aire. There was a chain barrier across the entrance and Cathy got out to move it so we could drive in.  A British lady in a large motorhome ran across to take our money and explain where we could and could not park; it’s a basic gravel motorhome park with no marked bays, so I nodded and then parked where I wanted to!  Nido is again the smallest van in the park, with some real monsters around us; I would not want to try and navigate them around some of the small villages and steep hairpin bends.  Lunch was enjoyed outside in the sunshine,  although we still had to shelter from what was a strong and chilly offshore wind.  We took a walk along the beach, which was stony in some parts but mostly comprised of tiny stones (or large grains of sand - take your pick!).  Further down one end by the cliffs we were sheltered from the wind, so I had a snooze in the warm sunshine while Cathy mooched up and down the beach looking for treasure (sea glass and pottery).  It was our first warm day on the beach and we soaked up the sunshine.  On the way down we noticed a few panel vans like ours were wild camping right by the beach.  In future I think we’ll drive past our intended stop and check out the area beforehand, as they really did have a prime spot to enjoy the sea view and sunset.  We took the footpath along the cliff to a small cove, then turned back to walk up to the other end towards the small village.  The couple of restaurants were still serving later lunch diners, plus the little ‘locals’ bar across the road still had a few old chaps sat outside, chatting loudly and nursing a beer.

Dinner tonight was a concoction of the chicken, a scrumped lemon, fried sliced potatoes, onion, garlic and pepper, plus one of the dried smoked peppers I bought in Ricote, with some of the wild herbs picked on our walk.  It came together well into a (sort of ) tagine, washed down with a glass of the local ‘brick’ of wine (1L for €0.89).  It’s very quiet and dark here so we should sleep well.  I’d emailed a campsite near Granada earlier to book a couple of nights next week, as we wanted to visit the Alhambra Palace and Gardens in Granada.  They confirmed almost by return, so I tried to book the Alhambra tickets.  The first attempt showed all tickets booked up until the end of April. On a second attempt (on an incognito web page), our selected date of 27 March was available.  I filled in all the details online and at the end it told me I’d already bought my allocated number of tickets this month!  Someone is telling us we not visiting Alhambra this trip; as much as we’d like to see it, we’re not that fussed and they’ll always be somewhere else to go.  Perhaps someone is trying to tell us the crowds and noise of the city of Grenada are not for us.  We’re staying here for another night tomorrow, so I can get out for a long bike ride and Cathy can explore more of the beach.  Now Granada’s off the agenda, we’ll continue to make our way down the coast, popping inland if somewhere takes our fancy.  

Lunch in the sunshine

Only two people in this massive unit!

A depressing sea of plastic as far as the eye can see

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Hill walking at its best

Tuesday 20 March 2018

The rain and hail continued until the early hours and the very strong winds carried on all night and through today.  But we woke to clear blue skies, although it felt chilly in that wind. We remain for a second day and night at the large are in the village of Ricote.

We needed some groceries so walked into the village, stopping first at Pepe’s Panaderia to buy some bread and a couple of cakes, then up to the ‘only supermarket in the village’. This was an Aladdin’s cave of hardware and foodstuffs and was clearly a social meeting point for villagers.  We spent some time checking out the goods, including buying some bags of dried chillies, herbs and paprika.  We found all we needed except for fresh milk.  The array of frozen and tinned seafood was amazing.

I’d noticed a sign for a circular walk that ran from the aire, so with a rucksack and some water we set off.  The first part was through the lemon groves and kitchen gardens of the village, following a well-signposted trail.  There were literally thousands and thousands of lemons; we were tempted to pick one or two, but only picked up a few that had fallen on to the path, which we thought were fair game!  The track soon started to ascend steeply past fincas large and small.  Further on we came across the old  ‘dhoby shack’ where the ladies would have gathered to do the washing.  It was quite high up and we weren’t sure if it was for the use of those who lived up in the hills, or for the ladies of the village who would have had a long walk uphill (and back down) to do their dhobying.  The concrete path was really steep near the top, before it joined a wide gravelled track. At this point there was a map showing the whole walking route of about 8km, so we continued on.  The wind was very strong and quite cool, so we were glad of our warm tops and kept up a good pace, stopping occasionally to admire the amazing views; the route is very well marked and easy to follow.  The views down to the lemon groves and fincas in the valley of Ricote village (and the aire) were breathtaking.  The track took us around the sides of the mountains, looking down on small hamlets and larger villages.  It was very quiet (aside from the wind) and we only came across one other couple during the whole walk.  There was an abundance of pine trees and fresh herbs, particularly rosemary and thyme.  We even came across a pink peppercorn tree (we remembered the pepper trees as we had some in our garden in Pakistan).  Samples of all these herbs joined the ‘scrumped’ windfall lemons in the rucksack!

There wasn’t a great deal of wildlife, although a few birds were heard later in the walk, including a couple of birds of prey high on the mountain top (heard but not seen) as we approached the village.  Further around, the views were even more spectacular - a cross between Utah and the mountains of the Afghan/Pakistan border.  There was more evidence of water though; we saw a large river running through a town that fed into a large lake.  It was a truly beautiful and peaceful walk and I recommend it all those who visit the lovely Ricote Valley.

We walked back through the quiet of village (siesta time!) and enjoyed a well-earned cuppa in the van - plus one of Pepe’s lemon buns each.  Despite the strong, chilly wind, we walked mainly in bright sun and we’re feeling the afterglow.  It’s been a truly relaxing day, walking in the hills and seeing some of the best of Murcia’s countryside.  I think we’ll sleep well tonight….so far no sign of last night’s rain, hail and stormy winds.  Only the village’s single church bell tolling every 15 minutes breaks the silence.

An outdoor oven - I'd love one of these

The village 'dhoby shack'

Just chillin' enjoying the peace and views

Rosemary everywhere

The 8km circular walk is well marked

Checking out some juniper bushes - sadly none were good enough to add to gin!

Yellow pigeons - I kid you not!  We also saw blue and purple ones.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Onwards to Murcia

Monday 19 March 2018

We’re parked up in a large aire in the village of Ricote, up in the hills in the Province of Murcia.  Actually, it’s a large area of packed earth with service facilities.  We’re surrounded by lemon groves and jagged mountains on three sides, with the village filling the fourth.  There’s plenty of room for more vans if they turn up.

We didn’t sleep well last night.  The fiesta drums banged all night, along with the very loud explosions of what sounded like IEDs and gunfire.  They were still going full pelt and no-stop when I finally got up at 0730 this morning; only later did I find out it was both Father’s Day and St Joseph’s Day in Spain, hence all the shops and supermarkets being shut today.  I wandered off to the showers and endured a very cold dunking; the water is heated by a solar panel and at that time of the morning, there wasn’t much solar!  

We made a decision today.  The Costa Blanca doesn’t do it for us.  Its over-developed, high-rise hotels and apartments, scruffiness, noise and graffiti are not what we want out of this trip.  Plus the aires seem to be stuck out on the periphery on the edge of industrial estates and half-built urbanisations. So we decided to give it a miss and head for the quieter and wilder province of Murcia.  I filled up with LPG on the way out. This was the first time I’d filled outside the UK, using the adaptor for Spanish pumps.  It took me a couple of attempts to get it hooked up but eventually I successfully filled our tanks. I was pleased to see that, over 2 weeks, we’d only used just of £5 worth of LPG, despite only being on electric for 2 nights.  So, when it comes to a cost/benefit analysis, not paying for electric hook up (which can be up to €4 per night) is a wise choice.

The sun shone as we drove along the coast, past the ugly skyline of Benidorm (*shudder*) and Alicante, before turning off towards Murcia.  The landscape was dry and barren. We’d noticed the river beds were still dry, even at the end of winter and a bit of online research showed Spain was suffering its worst drought since records began over 150 years ago - it’s going to be a tough year (and many more to come if things don’t change).  Having said that, as I type, the rain is torrential and I’m thinking outside will be a muddy quagmire by the morning if this keeps up!  

We’d planned a stop in the town of Archena, to stretch our legs and take a look around; it was supposed to have some interesting Roman architecture. The aire was quite full but, after a short walk, we turned back; the broken glass on the pavements and graffiti everywhere put us off.  As the UK has a litter epidemic, so Spain is suffering similar with graffiti, even all over some of their ancient monuments.

We drove up the hairpins bends, past some lovely green, oasis-like areas of fruit and palm trees, before arriving in Ricote.  After a cuppa we had a walk around the village; plenty of our favourite narrow streets, plant-strewn balconies and courtyard gardens to nosy at.  Families were in the restaurants and sat outside the bars (in thick coats and scarves of course, as we wandered past in shorts and t-shirts!), making the most of the public holiday.  After a few days of one night stops and a long drive today to leave behind the (in our view) over-rated Costa Blanca, we hope to spend a couple of nights here.  If it’s dry enough I may get out for a bike ride, plus we want to walk around the lemon groves that surround us.

In the meantime, the rain is mainly where we are in Spain…..but at least there’s no snow and ice like at home.

Tonight's stop

I think this might be the equivalent of the village drunk tank!

The aire in the middle of the photo

"Compact and bijou. Would benefit from some modernisation"

View from my galley door!

Loads of lemons - just need some gin and tonic to go with it