Saturday 31 March 2018

Enjoying the light on the Costa De La Luz

Saturday 31 March 2018 - Day 27

There wasn’t much to write about yesterday as it rained mostly, so it was mainly an ‘in van’ day, spent tidying up.  We did manage a walk into town later, ducking under cover to avoid the heavy showers and buying some bread and another couple of delicious cakes!  The wind was up again in the night, the gusts shaking the van and this kept us awake into the early hours, when it suddenly dropped and allowed me to get some sleep (but not Cathy unfortunately).  

The day dawned still and sunny and we left Tarifa, heading west.  On the Campercontact app on my phone, I noticed a garage in town that had a motorhome service point, plus it appeared on the MyLPG app.  I filled up with LPG - 10 litres used in 12 days. The nozzle clearly didn’t connect well to the Spanish adaptor as when I when to unhook it after filling, there was a long streak of frozen gas down the side of the van.  With the loo emptied and tank brimming with fresh water, I thought I’d give the van a wash, as he’s looking decidedly grubby after almost a month on the road.  However, the hot soapy wash and cold rinse via the pressure hose (used at distance as they’re not good for campervan windows and fridge grilles) did little to remove the grime, so that was a couple of Euros wasted - lesson learned.

I’d dialled in the coordinates for an aire at Barbate up the coast, but on the way we noticed some lovely looking resorts along the way, so turned off to explore one of them - Zahara de los Atunes on the Costa de la Luz - which is were Nido’s parked up now, wild camping on the car park behind the dunes and beach.  Plonked in the middle of nothing except a broad 12km white sandy beach, this village is low-key and quiet at the moment, although it’s a fashionable resort with some great looking restaurants and beach bars that spring up in the summer, when the mainly Spanish holidaymakers arrive.  We had a good long walk on the beach, enjoying watching the wild Atlantic waves, great for the surfers out there but a bit too wild for swimming, although the water didn’t feel too cold.  After a lazy lunch we took our chairs and kindles back to the beach and spent the afternoon reading, walking and just chilling out.  This village reminds me a lot of some of the quieter, chic resorts in France, particularly along the Cotentin Peninsular in Normandy or the hamlets of Isle de Re.  Cathy cooked a delicious risotto, using some of the wild herbs we picked and the last of the scrumped lemons, the peel of which also made its way into her G&T - she’s enjoying the duty free litre of Tanqueray we bought in Gib!  It’s now 2030 and the sun is still shining over the dunes; I can see the outline of the wooden lifeguard tower silhouetted against the deepening sky.  This part of Spain certainly lives up to it name as the Coast of Light. It feels warm through the van windows, but the breeze is cool as I sit on the van step and brush the sand and shell fragments from my feet.  Between us and the dunes is a band of greenery, left alone due to the wooden boardwalks that take us to the beach. The skylarks must nest there as I can still hear them in the sky and it’s also full of insects, which the low-swooping swallows are enjoying.  It should be quiet tonight and, with just a gentle breeze now, I hope we’ll catch up on some sleep.

Dunes and wooden lifeguard tower

The Coast of Light 

Blogging with a view

Thursday 29 March 2018

Down with the Surfing Dudes in Tarifa

Thursday 29 March 2018 - Day 25

Nido’s surrounded by his mates and he likes it (as do we) - lots of panel vans, selfies (self-conversions) and vintage classic camper vans.  We’re in an aire in the town of Tarifa, the kite surfing capital of Spain, the equivalent of Cornwall’s Fistral Beach.  I had the co-ordinates for a wild camping spot by the beach a few miles west of Tarifa, but on the way through we left the main road to have a drive through the town.  Over the past 15 years Tarifa’s become a bit of a surfing/hippie magnet; it’s very laid back, with some great graffiti along the seafront and some cool beach bars and hippie shops.  We found this aire by accident; it doesn’t appear in any of our aires books or apps. There were plenty of spaces when we arrived but now (2130) it’s absolutely rammed, with vans still coming in and looking for a space.  With it being the night before Good Friday, and with Easter being such a big deal in Spain, everyone’s looking for somewhere to spend the long weekend and party.

After parking up we had a walk along the promenade and beach.  At that time there were only a few kite surfers out.  We had a paddle - the Atlantic was surprisingly warm.  We then noticed lots (and lots) of Portuguese Man o War washed up on the beach.  These are relatively small in size, with a large inflated sail (with which they use the wind to travel over the sea) and they have long, deep-blue tentacles.  Despite being small, you really don’t want to mess with them - they have an enormously painful sting for their size, so we steered well clear. We popped back to the van for a sandwich and a brew, then took a walk into town.  With it being the first day of a long and important holiday weekend, the tapas bars and restaurants were buzzing.  Not much is written about Tarifa, but it has an old town with lots of narrow streets and an ‘island’ with a fortress, joined with the mainland by a narrow strip of road which no doubt takes a battering in the Atlantic storms.  We felt like a bite to eat so stopped for some falafel and croquetas, with a beer. Onwards we bought some bread from a small shop and I queued (or jostled) in a very popular pasteleria that was selling the most elaborate and wonderful looking cakes - I think these are part of the Easter celebrations.  I bought a few small pieces of baklava.  

We dropped our purchases off at the van and returned to wander down the beach as, by now, hundreds were out kite surfing.  It was a great spectacle, although the wind of course whipped up the fine white sand - not so great.  But everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves out on the water.  Back in Nido, we sat inside in the warm, with a pot of tea (Cathy) and coffee (me) and our cakes.  The rest of the evening was spent people and van watching, in particular seeing the vans enter and circle around looking for a space, trying to guess where they’d try to squeeze in.  They’re now starting to double park and, although I think we’ll be able to squeeze out in our small van, some of our larger and much longer neighbours certainly won’t be able to - tomorrow could be entertaining if they want to leave early!  We’re planning to stay another night as I think there’s a Good Friday procession through the town and we may wander down to take a look, although if it’s too crowded (or they do that thing of throwing around very loud fireworks) we may stay local to the van or move on.  The forecast for tomorrow is for heavy rain, so we may need to stay another night just to get out of what is just a square of land comprised of what is (currently) dried out mud!

A very busy aire, even with no facilities

These little critters really pack a punch

Great graffiti along the promenade

Wednesday 28 March 2018


Wednesday 28 March 2018 - Day 24


Cannon shell damage after 21 May attacks
We slept well at the high aire before descending through some lovely green countryside and small villages before reaching the main road.  The drive into La Lina was through a fairly run-down part of town, before we turned off to park in the marina, with a view of Gibraltar behind us and some very sleek floating gin palaces in front.  It was a hot, still day. Cathy spent a couple of hours in getting the washing done and dried (or semi-dried) in the marina laundry,  The dryer was rubbish so Nido ended up looking like Widow Twanky’s parlour, with washing hanging from every available space.  We took a walk into town, showing our passports at the border into Gib and walking across the runway.  Gib has changed beyond all recognition, with land being reclaimed from the sea and then built upon - lots of high rise apartments and office buildings, occupied by online gambling companies trying to avoid UK tax and others providing offshore financial and legal services.  It’s a really busy, noisy, over-populated place, but it still has a sentimental hold on us.  Cathy lived here for short periods when her sister’s husband was in the RAF out here.  During my time in the Royal Navy, Gib was pivotal in some important aspects of my life.  It was my first ever foreign ‘run ashore’ at the tender age of 17 and later that year I celebrated my 18th birthday here, starting at 0600 with the Rock Race - a running race to the top of the Rock starting at the Clock Tower in the Naval Dockyard - and finishing very messily in Loopy’s Bar (which is long gone).  I also sailed from here to the Falklands War (more of that below) and spent several months in and out of Gib when the Logistics Officer in HMS WESTMINSTER in 2003, then we protected shipping passing through the Strait of Gibraltar on the way to support Gulf War 2. So despite its tackiness, Gib holds a special place in our heart. We had a wander down main street, stopping for a beer at The Horseshoe pub (affectionally known in ‘jack speak’ as ’The Donkey’s Flip Flop’) before eating at one of the restaurants in Casemates Square.  We did some grocery shopping on the way back to the van, ready to move on tomorrow - Gibraltar done. 

Exactly 36 years ago, I sailed from Gibraltar in HMS BRILLIANT.  On this day 36 years ago, as we enjoyed the pubs and bars in town, our Commanding Officer - Captain John Coward - was summoned to the Admiral’s Office. He was informed that intelligence had been received that the Argentinians were planning to invade the Falkland Islands.  He was tasked to sail as soon as possible and make all speed to the Ascension Island in the south Atlantic and to wait until a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) to catch up to supply us with fuel, food and ammunition.  We now know a Swiftsure Class submarine had just left Gibraltar and was already on its way.  A shore patrol from the shore base - HMS ROOKE - was sent around all the bars and clubs…”Are you off the BRILLIANT?” “In that case get your arses back onboard, you’re under sailing orders.”  We just thought this was part of the Exercise SPRINGTRAIN we’d just completed, or perhaps it was punishment for the trouble caused in town by some of our more ‘boisterous’ shipmates!  It was only later on the 29th, after quietly sailing (having first taken part in the Rock Race) and when we were well at sea and steaming south, did the CO come on the main broadcast and tell us what was happening.  This made us the first warship to sail to the Falklands War, the first to spend more than 100 days continuously at sea since WW2, the first to fire missiles in anger.  The rest is history.

It’s been a day of memories. Stood at the bar of the Donkey’s Flip Flop today, looking at all the RN caps, badges and crests, brought it all back.  The subsequent weeks and months changed my life forever and still now I think of those I drank with in Gib over those few days in late March 1982, who never returned and forever remain on patrol.  RIP Shipmates.

The Donkey's Flip Flop - it's not changed much in 26 years!

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Olives, white-washed villages and views of another continent

Tuesday 27 March 2018 - Day 23

The stars were indeed amazing last night and the moon shone brightly, creating a wonderful glitter on the lake.  Once the music from the car stopped at about 10pm, silence descended. But it was cold, really cold.  We’d put an extra throw on the bed and needed it.  When I woke up I thought, by the light level and the temperature, that it was about 0730 - I looked at the clock and it was 0945!  Cathy had said last night she thought we would sleep well - she wasn’t wrong.  When I opened the van door the sun had risen behind us and there was a slight mist on the lake; it was quiet and very beautiful.  My bare feet were absolutely freezing, but a few minutes stood in the early sun warmed me up a bit.  We had breakfast in the van, enjoying the view.  Shortly after our little friend - Gabi - came out to say ‘bonjour’.  He had another play in the van and, when I got out the brush to clean up the step and cab floor, he quickly took over.  We paid him in a few British coins which we stashed away in his little jacket zip pocket!  We said our goodbyes to him and his mum and dad.  It was a true delight to meet them and share ideas on permaculture and other such things; we wish them all the best on their journey, such a lovely family.

The drive out took us over the hills, with views of the snowy mountains, passing thousands of olive trees. We drove through a few small villages and their olive oil co-operatives.   It wasn’t long before we reached the motorway and headed West.  The traffic around Malaga was very busy and we kept going past all the tourist resorts of Fuengirola, Torremelinos and Marbella - we didn’t like the look of any of them.  Around Estepona we turned off and started to climb the hairpin bends into the hills once more.  It only took about 30 minutes to reach our destination - the white-washed village of Caseres.  The aire is in the car park of the Tourist Information Office, about 1.5km out of the main village, with views over the hills and plains and out to sea. From the viewpoint above, we could see Gibraltar and the mountains of Morocco.  There were also several Griffon vultures circling around.  We’d spent most of the day driving so after a quick lunch of fruit, we walked around the road into the village.  It was siesta time but, being on the tourist trail, several of the shops, bars and restaurants were still open. We wandered through the narrow streets, working our way up towards the old castle ruins at the high point, with excellent views all around.  Back down, we stopped in the square for a much welcomed cold beer, before buying some bread (and a couple of doughnuts!) and walking back to the van for a brew.  It was time for new bedding - or Fresh Hay!  Cathy had the unenviable job of stripping and remaking the double bed in the hot van, never easy in such a confined space.  I gave the rugs a good beating and between us we had the van looking a lot cleaner on the inside, but he still looks very grubby on the outside.  After a lovely refreshing shower and dinner, we walked back up to the viewpoint to see the final glow of the sunset to the west and look out on the village lights and the coast beyond. The frogs and cicadas were singing their hearts out down in the valley.  The sky was full of stars and we even saw the International Space Station pass overhead.  The aire is quite full now and the nearby road is quieter.  The dogs have (almost) stopped barking, including the one that was replying to its own echo!  It’s cooled down and we’re ready for a read of our kindles before sleep.  We now have two bags of washing so finding a launderette is a priority; we plan to stay at the marina in La Linea tomorrow, which I think has washing machines and dryers.  We’re visiting Gib tomorrow, a place we both know well.  I have a date with history and some remembering to do over the next couple of days…..more of that later. 

Snow covered Sierra Nevada in the distance

Nido parked up in the aire


Gib in the middle, beyond the windmills

Looking back at the aire from the village

That was welcome!