Saturday, 24 March 2018

First Sea Swim

Friday 24 March 2018 - Day 20

The wind gods were back with a vengeance last night!  From about 2200 off-shore storm force winds from the north-west battered the van.  It was extremely gusty and I could hear it running down the valley towards the sea before it slammed into the side of the van.  Although we were semi-protected by a large motorhome next to us, it felt like being back at sea.  We’re on solid ground, albeit on a cliff top and lifted up on one side on levelling blocks, so I knew we weren’t going anywhere, but it still didn’t stop me thinking it!  Motorhomes continued to come and go through the night; I think a few decided to leave to try and find some shelter.  It also didn’t help that I had a pot of coffee before bedtime - schoolboy error. So little sleep was had.

We woke to grey skies and a short but sharp heavy rain shower, but this soon disappeared.  The wind was still up although not as strong, so we walked through the village and up on to the top of the bigger of the ‘small’ islands that gives this village its name.  Great views from the top, before we walked up the hill to buy some bread.  As we reached the shop the bread van had just turned up, so to give him time unload we carried on up to the viewing platform at the top of the village.  There were some information boards about the surrounding area, in particular the two extinct (freudian) volcanoes across the bay and the alluvial plain leading down the the sea. 

Back at the van, we sat on the lee side in the sunshine, enjoying our breakfast of eggs and baguette.  Cathy had found a path up the side of the hill yesterday, so we followed that up, past many different plants, including orchids and birdsfoot trefoil.  There were a large number of big thyme bushes and loads of other bright flowers we didn’t recognise.  This local diversity brought with it plenty of insects, bees, moths and birds, so we enjoyed the walk. At the top of the hill we spotted a small cove and rocky beach. It looked lovely so we carefully made our way down the hillside, sliding down loose, dusty scree, past areas of ground grubbed up by wild boar (I think - glad they were long gone!).  We made it safely to the bottom and had this little beach all to ourselves.  The water looked so cool, blue and welcoming….we hadn’t bought any swimming gear with us, so there was only one thing for it…..skinny dip - or in our case chunky dunk!  Cathy went first and when I was reassured no sharks, crocodiles, snakes or other sea monsters had eaten her, I followed.  This was our first sea swim of the year; it was ‘refreshing’ and with the slippery boulders at the wave breaking line, there was little option but to just get straight in!  Our whoops of delight no doubt echoed around the hills and it was just as well we didn’t have an audience - no idea what we’ve had done if anyone had turned up!  We dried off in the sun, enjoying the after-affects of our revitalising sea-swim.  The path back took us a different (and safer!) route along a well-marked track, past some lovely old eucalyptus and palm trees.

We’d decided to have lunch out today, only our second meal out since leaving UK.  It was still very windy, although the sun was shining brightly in a deep blue sky. We sat outside and let the waiter explain to us what tapas and fish was available today.  We opted for a mix of tapas plus a shared plate of calamari.  Our beers came with a complimentary tapa of migas, the local speciality of breadcrumbs fried in olive oil and garlic.  I suspect it wasn’t the best example as it was a bit soggy and we had expected the breadcrumbs to be crisp.  We enjoyed our lunch (we have a monthly ‘fun money’ budget for eating out, drinks, site entry tickets etc), although the cats and little puppy sat expectantly under our table waiting for titbits were less impressed, and soon moved on to look up hungrily at other customers!

We both enjoyed a snooze in a now very warm van, again buffeted by strong winds. Looking online, I suspect this is part of Cyclone Hugo that’s currently battering the Bay of Biscay and some parts of northern Spain.  The clocks go forward here tonight - as well as the UK - and I’ve already done ours so we’re enjoying an extra hour of sunshine this evening….if only this wind would b*gger off!  We’re moving on tomorrow.  The inside of the van is coated with a fine dust blown in by the wind and as for the outside - poor Nido is looking very grubby but, like a cub scout who returns from camp with a dry towel and flannel, I suspect he’s enjoying being a bit dirty behind the ears!  There’s no point worrying about it while the wind continues to blow and we’re parked on dusty ground.

Today would have been my lovely Dad’s 77th Birthday; can’t believe it’s ten years since he died.  Him and mum would have loved this little village.  My mum was known to enjoy a skinny-dip too and they both loved their seafood; perhaps they were sat at the table next to us….feeding the cats and puppy!

Nido - last (little) van on the right

Extinct volcanoes

Waiting patiently for the fishermen to return

Only our second breakfast sat outside

The swimming cove

Almost there.....

Just a few more minutes

Yee haa!!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Chilling at La Isleta

Friday 23 March 2018 - Day 19

Last night’s rant seems to have worked.  We woke this morning to blue sky and no wind!  I was a bit concerned my last blog would get some people’s heckles up, but had some supportive comments, particularly from those who have visited the greenhouse hell and agreed with much of what I said.  A few also provided some great tips of areas to visit, which I’ve noted for the next couple of weeks.  

After breakfast, I topped us up to the brim with fresh water, as we’re planning to wild camp tonight. The drive took us past a lot more plastic greenhouses before we turned off and followed the road down to the coast.  We’re parked up in a gravel car park on the cliffs above the sea in the small village of La Isleta del Moro.  There’s no ‘aire’ facilities, but I did find somewhere to top up water if needed (the old outside laundry in the village square).  It’s a small resort, with some nice looking apartments and it’s clearly a dive site in the season, with at least four dive shops. There’s a small supermarket and several bars and restaurants.  We parked in a spot on the edge, with eucalyptus trees behind us, overlooking the sea and the small island from which this place gets its name and enjoyed a cuppa, with the van door open looking at and listening to the sea.

Cathy had a wander down to the beach while I went to explore the village.  It’s pretty quiet and relaxing here - it must be very nice in the height of summer.  I had a look at the cafes and restaurants, a couple looked promising for tapas and seafood.  I wandered up the hill and bought a few groceries from the little shop - quite expensive compared to most but they have a captive audience.  With my purchases stowed away, I found Cathy down at the beach by the small island.  By now it was a little cloudy, so we explored the village a little more before heading back to the van to chill out.  Tonight’s dinner was a chicken tagine, enjoyed with a full view of the sea.

There were a quite a few vans here when we arrived but about half have left now so we have the sea view all to ourselves.  We’ve decided to stay another day; the forecast for tomorrow is sunny (but windy!!) and we’d like to explore the coastal path, plus walk up to the top of the small island.  It’s time for our weekly eating out treat so we’re really looking forward to a tapas or seafood lunch tomorrow.  I’ve just made a pot of coffee (me) and a pot of tea (Cathy) and I’m going to step out with my cup and watch the waves for a while.  But what I’m really looking forward to tonight is falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

View from the van door

Still waiting for BT to come and fix it!

Tagine with a view

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Costa del Dodo

Thursday 22 March 2018 - Day 18

Is it us?  We’ve come to a conclusion…and not everyone will like it.  But I don’t write for a newspaper, travel magazine or any other publication, so we can only upset our blog readers.  This part of Spain is badly broken - in fact the whole of southern Spain is broken. It’s about as authentically Spanish as Disneyworld.  We’ve tried to give it the benefit of the doubt.  We’ve tried to see beyond the rubbish dumped everywhere, the destruction of the land and the soil, the exploitation of the migrant workers, the blinkered view of those in massive motorhomes who park here for months on end.  But, we really can’t see the attraction.  The inland areas are different - cleaner, better-managed, a sense of community - we’ve already seen and enjoyed this.  But tourism and commercialism have killed the south coast. - it should be called the Costa del Dodo. 

It hasn’t helped that we walked down into the village this evening to find something to eat and everywhere was shut - proper shut.  It hasn’t helped that the wind has blown constantly at gale force, day and night and the wind is cold, really cold.  I spoke to the British couple ‘guarding’ this ‘aire’ - they’re here for three months - three frigging months!  They say they love it and the views are great.  There’s nothing for miles except plastic and beaches full of builders’ rubble that’s been dumped over the years.  They think it’s wonderful - I think they’re mad!   It feels like there’s a real impression of “The Emperor’s New Clothes’ here - if I don’t say it as it is, nobody will see it. 

This part of the trip is getting us down.  I guess it started yesterday, driving past huge plastic-covered fields and stopping off at a small shop run by a migrant, who could not have been more helpful and charming.  It really got us thinking about how the migrant workers in this area have been used and abused to provide us with fruit and veg all year round.  My sister-in-law sent us a link to an article that pretty much sums it up: Europe’s Dirty Little Secret - Moroccan Slaves and a sea of Plastic.  I tried to put a positive spin on this place yesterday, but I wasn’t being truthful to myself…or you.  

I went for a bike ride this morning. It was chilly in the wind, so I wore my UK cycling kit, including a warm jacket.  I followed the coastal road, into a strong headwind.  I thought perhaps I could escape the plastic, but it wasn’t to be.  As I pedalled, the smell of plastic and chemicals just grew stronger. The vast farms are an amalgamation of plastic, metal and concrete.  There was hardly a soul to be seen but I’m sure the migrant workers were toiling in this plastic hell - we heard the 0730 ‘air raid’ siren call to start work this morning; I cannot imagine what the working conditions must be like in the height of summer.  As I cycled, the plastic never stopped. Even the areas of soil not covered were just piles of dead dust, blowing away in the strong wind.  The soil here is dead - brain-stem dead.  It’s on a life-support system of chemicals and sparse water, now being drained from the ever-diminishing underground aquifers.  It’s only a matter of time until this area becomes a poisoned desert.  As I cycled along, the roadside was littered with tons of abandoned plastic sheeting, bottles (plastic and glass) and tin cans.  In my two hours on the road, I only came across one small grocery store. 

Back at the aire, I looked around at the massive motorhomes, some the size of single-decker coaches, generators humming and satellite dishes all pointing in the same direction so they could watch their soaps, or football, or the lottery.  I’m sorry, but this is not why we travel.  We travel to experience the life of the locals, to embrace the diversity of language and culture, to try out our language skills, with much pointing and a smile.  This area reminds me of the many places I’ve seen around the world - tourists in ‘all-inclusive’ resorts, cosseted, locked away, ‘protected’ from the country they’re in, spending not a single dollar/peso/euro in the local community, just feeding the hungry corporates who own these modern day holiday prison camps. I feel desperately sad for those toiling this doomed land, but no empathy with the owner who drove past me at speed in his new black Range Rover.

We move on tomorrow, following the coast.  After this experience, if we don’t like what we see, we’ll keep on moving until we find somewhere that feels real and authentic, where we can move amongst the local people, share a smile and a wave (even if it means we’ll be back in Anglesey in a couple of weeks).  I’m not sure any part of southern Spain can give us this, but hopefully the northern areas of Portugal and Spain will restore our faith.   But would we over-winter in Spain - no, never.

That’s it, I’ve stepped off my soap box.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed tomorrow.  I’ve put the kettle on now to make a cup of tea to warm up!  In the meantime, waiting for the incoming abuse about this post......

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Plastic fields and sunny beaches

Tuesday 21 March 2018 - Day 17

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 Granada 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 - Day 16

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.