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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

I see my memories and feel their warmth and know that they are good

Carol's 50th birthday! It was fantastic to find you have not forgotten us and to have so many cards and presents from friends and family was wonderful; thank you all very, very much and individual cards will be on their way. As you can see we had a lovely day in the sunshine.

We have spent some of the last eight months trying to listen to all of our music, reviewing it, enjoying the memories some of it holds and deciding what to ditch. This exercise has made us realise at least three things; just how many Waterboys tracks we have, how many songs we have that only Anthony knows and that there is no band that can hold a candle to Black Sabbath.

You may (or may not) have noticed that the last three blogs and this one have had a Black Sabbath lyric as the title. This has been deliberate, as we felt we weren't referring to the masters of rock often enough. Many people have a view on Black Sabbath based on their knowledge of Ozzy Osbourne and 'Paranoid'; from our experience at Sabbath concerts in the 70s, Ozzy was more likely to share rose petals and declarations of love with the crowd than the remains of a dead bat. Their concerts were exciting and inspiring events that we feel privileged to have experienced; the bass riffs of Geezer Butler still echo in rock music today, Bill Ward was inspired on the drums, Tony Iommi produced a glorious guitar sound and Ozzy was a star front-man; together they created magic; Green Day, Muse and many others would be nothing without the influence of this band.

Please indulge the rants of a 50 year old after a bottle of fizzy wine, normal service may be resumed on the next post!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Let the winter sun shine on

We have worn our waterproofs more times this week than we have during the last eight months; it has rained and thundered and rained some more. Fortunately, we are warm and snug in Sheila and Jack's house and have only ventured out for damp walks along the quiet lanes, among the orange and olive trees, for an hour or so every day.

On Christmas Eve we needed to buy some supplies and set off in the van. We got less than 1 km along the road into Orgiva and had to turn back, the normal trickle of a river was flowing fiercely over the road, bringing branches and rocks with it. We returned to the house to review our food options for the next couple of days; we have lentils and onions so won't starve but it will be a more frugal Christmas than some; although at least one thing we won't be short of around here are oranges.

Later in the afternoon, the sun came out and we walked back up the road, joining the locals taking photographs of the swollen river, as it seems this is an unusual sight. The photograph shows it was not as deep as the morning and cars were getting through; unfortunately by then it was too late to find a shop open in Spain. Sheila and Jack tell us they usually eat out of doors in the sunshine on Christmas Day. The sun certainly warms things up; we took a mug of tea outside and played with the self-timer on the camera. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

... casting his shadow, weaving his spell, funny clothes, tinkling bell

We didn’t realise Orgiva was Hebden Bridge and Findhorn rolled in to one small town; the first clue we got was the yurts, then we spotted an abnormal number of beat up VW vans and people with beards wearing baggy colourful trousers. The town has a health food shop and two health food stalls in the market and enough hippy shops to keep us happy; this is the place to buy amusing knitted hats, a new throw for the Blue Bus and have a massage to ease the neck. We had picked Orgiva because of its geographic position, but it suits us well.

Our first day here coincided with the eve of the winter solstice. We have long felt this event is well worth celebrating, as it marks the point in the year when the days start to get longer, whereas the summer solstice marks the start of the shortening of the days. In previous years we have lit lots and lots of candles, sent letters to prisoners of conscience for Amnesty International or got up to see the sunrise. This year was a more subdued festival; we limited ourselves to one candle and had our first glasses of gin and tonic for eight months. In Spain there is a tradition of leaping over bonfires for the winter solstice; unfortunately Orgiva was a bit too wet for such frolics.

Since we arrived in Orgiva it has rained, so we are very glad to be in a house rather than a campsite. Sheila and Jack have made us very welcome and even provided a carton of soya milk in the fridge for our arrival, the house is warm and we have spent an hour or so in a hectic Spanish hypermarket joining the throngs in the traditional buy-more-than-you-can-ever-eat Christmas shop, so we've no need to go far at all.

A pile of parcels and cards were at the house when we arrived. We opened the Christmas cards and put the birthday presents under the decorated tree that Sheila and Jack had provided and set to enjoy Carol's last week of being in her 40s!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

If you want a better place to live in spread the words today

Torre del Mar is a pleasant enough resort, with 3 kms of promenade as well as the usual cafes and inevitable Oriental Bazaar; it is also lively enough to have an Indian restaurant for our monthly meal out. Buses run from here into Malaga and we caught a packed one full of Christmas shopper. We had a good day looking around this energetic Spanish city, had a marvellous lunch in a cosy veggie cafe, explored the Alcazabar laid out over the hillside and admired the extravagant Christmas decorations. We love walking in the countryside and hills, but we do also get a buzz from vibrant city life.

The campsite at Torre del Mar is typical; the other campers are mainly retired, mainly northern European and are staying here for six months. It is a novelty to meet some younger people and we feel especially lucky when we meet someone who is on the same wave length as us. This week we met a young couple who are ten months in to their own gap year and we enjoyed sharing experiences and stories with them.

You might think that being on a long holiday and so far from home would encourage people to be more accepting of others; they do say that travel broadens the mind. However, it has to be said that we have met the people with small-minded views you meet anywhere; their prejudices seem even more difficult to grasp when we are all visitors in another country. The man who expressed genuine distaste when we said we came from Manchester and considered Reading a big step up from that fine north west city was one example. Another was the couple from Preston, whose first question when we told them we had moved from Preston to Salford was, 'aren't there just as many of those Asians in Salford?', then went on to add, 'it's really rough in Salford, isn't it?' We made an effort to politely demonstrate that there is another way of seeing things, but you quickly realise these are neighbours you will only talk to about the weather.

By way of balance, Mike and Doreen, the retired couple we met in the French Alps will remain an inspiration to us, they were open-minded, keen to explore new places and friendly. We hope we will be like them when we reach our 70s.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

May your days be merry and bright

We chose a breezy day on the Granada region coastline in Andalucia to produce our seasonal message to you all. We hope the sound of the wind and the waves will give you a sense of the weather and you can enjoy the scenery, if not our performance! The out takes will be available on the special DVD.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

And his money he was counting

We'd like to say a very big thank you to all of you for taking the time to read our blog and keep up to date with our travels. Anthony added a counter for the number of visitors to the blog two days ago and we are astounded to see that we have had 215 visitors in the past 48 hours. We hadn't realised we were reaching so many people.

Unlike the Government we have not had to bail out anyone and so we have managed to keep within budget while we have been away; despite all manner of unexpected expenditure as things have needed replacing and repairing we don't expect to have to make any cuts in our spending forecast. Slovenia and Austria proved to be the most expensive countries we have visited and France was the cheapest; our spending there was an average of 310 Euro a week. In Spain, we have had so much extra expenditure (new camera, tyres, bike wheels etc) it is hard to analyse the spending, but it seems to be around 350 Euro each week.

We have closely monitored the cost of soya milk across Europe and it seems to have become cheaper as we move from country to country; here in Spain it is only around 1 Euro a litre. Other items become unavailable as we cross borders; tubes of tomato puree disappear from the shelves of Carrefour as you move from France to Spain, hummus can occasionally be found in France, but they add cream cheese, so it is no longer vegan; we have also found hummus in one supermarket chain in Spain.

In the photographs we have tried to demonstrate the scale of the salad vegetable production in southern Spain by showing typical views in this area. The campsite in Carchuna, near Motril, is a narrow oasis of green among these huge greenhouses which cover almost every square metre of ground where it is flat and are also perched on terraces on the hillside.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A day in December, picture this, freezing cold weather

As the weather in Spain gets cooler, we start to wonder if we have made the right decision to travel all year with a campervan, rather than a motorhome. Having a small van with no bathroom means that we rely on campsite facilities. As we have mentioned in previous posts, the variety of these is endless and in no way relates to price or category of the site.

We are currently on a Category 1 site; despite this it only offers 5 amps, insufficient for either the electric hotplate or the water heater and the site showers are only protected from the elements by one half door. Tonight these elements are making a good attempt at trying to blow over a 3 ton van and so, as you wander in to your centrally heated bathroom, you can only imagine the joy of showering with a gale blowing around your ankles and will not be surprised to read that we decided to be grubby.

Unusually, there is plenty of hot water for washing up at this site, although the sinks are still open to the elements; in tonight's gale Anthony was the only person using this facility, with no one to share the joy of watching soap suds whipped by the wind and flying over his shoulder as he washes the evening's pots.

Fortunately, our lovely van is snug and warm once the heating is on, we've got wi fi and chocolate and we don't intend to go outside again until the wind calms down.

Daytime temperatures are still around 16 - 19 C, but at night it can dip to anything from 6C to 10C. This is really only like camping in the UK in Spring or Autumn, but, although the sites are open all year, often the facilities have been designed with only summer in mind, with no exterior doors and no heating.

Friday, 11 December 2009

It's not about you joggers who go round and round and round

We like Decathlon shops and wonder why this type of large sports store is not more popular in the UK: under one roof you can buy all the gear you need for all manner of different sports; you go in for a new inner tube and come out with a kayak. We went in search of our nearest Decathlon for bike parts, having realised that the repair carried out by the bike shop would not do. We had used a bike shop to avoid having to buy the tools and then find room for them in the van; we left Decathlon another 100 Euro poorer, but with all the parts and tools we needed and Anthony returned Carol's bike to mint condition. We had an afternoon spin on the bikes to try out the new wheel and cassette; the hills of Cabo de Gata ensuring Carol used all 24 of the gears she once again had at her disposal. We stopped at a small village to enjoy the sunshine, as the photograph shows.

We have wondered if the Spanish have an equivalent of Munro bagging or Wainwright collecting. To us it is strange that footpaths often do not go up to the top of hills, they may contour around the top or pass over the ridge. The hill across the bay in the photo is the highest point in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park and there are no footpaths up it at all.

On the way to Roquetas de Mar, our next stop, we visited Los Millares; a site of a large and thriving village 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists have uncovered a walled village, houses and at least 80 burial cairns, which are dotted over the landscape. The photograph shows part of the village and the view from there over the now dry river; 5,000 years ago the river would have been flowing all year and the landscape would have been woods, rather than scrub.

If this landscape looks at all familiar, it is because many Spaghetti Westerns were filmed in this area. We intend to sit down and watch 'The Good, the bad and the ugly' this weekend; all together now, de de de de dum, ooh aah ...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Things that the everyday folks leave behind

We were not sure if Andy Goldsworthy had got here before us and is branching out into metal work as well as stone, or if this is an elaborate Spanish way to stop litter blowing away; the car filled with stones was an interesting find by the footpath into the caldera of an extinct volcano in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park near Almeria.

The walk to the caldera was beautiful, through cultivated Agave, Prickly Pear and occasional olive trees, with thyme smelling sweetly under our feet. The Agave with their tall flower stalks might look like cactus, but they are closer relatives to lilies and are grown for making ropes, for the sweet syrup and the flower stalks also make a didgeridoo when dried out.

We considered walking up to the ridge around the caldera, although there was no footpath marked on the map (yes, we had a map). However, it was the weekend and first we heard gunshots and then Anthony spotted two figures with shotguns on the ridge, so we decided to stay lower down and tried to be as conspicuous as we possibly could.

Spanish road sides are littered with plastic bottles, cans and other packaging that has been slung from passing cars. An attractive stretch of coastline can on closer inspection be covered in shards of broken glass; we presume the remnants of summer evenings watching the sunset and drinking beer. Whilst not in the same league as southern Italy, there certainly is a disregard for tidiness, even in attractive and protected landscapes. The other ubiquitous roadside sight are the sex workers; dressed for the disco, these women have anything but glamorous lives, spending eight hours each day sat on a plastic chair by a main road in an effort to earn a living. Brothels are tolerated in Spain and it surprises us that roadside sex workers continue to exist.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Think of what you're saying. You can get it wrong and still you think that it's all right

Our lack of a wide Spanish vocabulary is not a problem at camp sites and cafes. However, when Carol’s bike needed a new back wheel our inability to communicate what we required was frustrating. After many return trips to the bike shop in Mazarron we left with a new back wheel which is not a quick release, is the maximum width for the bike, causing problems with the brakes and has only six sprockets on the cassette, rather than eight. When Anthony put the wheel back on the bike, he was able to adjust the mechanism to accommodate the difference, but was further frustrated to find that one of the sprockets on the cassette slips; leaving the bike with only 15 usable gears, rather than 24. It seemed we had paid 48 Euro for a less than perfect replacement and a visit to a different bike shop is expected in the near future.

On the positive side, we did get the opportunity to chat to the shop owner’s mother about non-technical matters, children, the weather and the expense of Christmas. She constantly corrected our poor pronunciation, but chivalrously complimented our poor Spanish.

We left Mazarron for the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, driving through very contrasting landscapes; beautiful mountains covered in low scrub, with ruined farmhouses and small villages where groups of three or four were harvesting olives, neglected towns surrounded by hundreds of poly tunnels, each the size of a football pitch, all fulfilling our need for year round tomatoes and providing minimum wages for immigrant workers, urbanizacions of rows of identical new villas, each with a white balustrade and a swimming pool.

The photograph shows the spectacular coast at Los Escullos where we are camped for the Spanish holiday weekend.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

He rocks in the tree tops all day long

Anthony is rarely seen these days without his binoculars, that and a few things recently have made Carol realise that he is morphing into a proper twitcher: he has been ticking off birds we have seen in his Birds in Europe book; he has been looking at bird watching forums on the internet and we were walking along the beautiful, rocky coast near Bolnuevo, Anthony picked up his binoculars to get a better look at a nearby bird and commented that it was another Sardinian Warbler.

Our Blue Bus is also a useful mobile hide. When we stop for lunch in a quiet layby, we can watch the birds as we eat, they don’t seem to notice the large blue VW in the same way they do a human being. The photograph shows a typical stop.

As well as many new species of birds, we also see the usual suspects, such as Robins, Buzzards and Sparrows in Spain. We have been wondering if all the Sparrows we see have migrated to Spain from the UK for the warmer weather and improved life style; including the easy availability of crumbs from the very crusty bread.

The coast at Bolnuevo has rocks eroded into splendid shapes, the photograph shows some of these. However, as the camp site lacked the atmosphere we are looking and we had to stay in the area while we waited for a bike wheel to be repaired, we took the opportunity to spend a night inland in the Sierra Espuna National Park. It was cold in the mountains at night, but as you can see from Anthony’s attire, it was still T-shirt weather during the daytime. This detour also meant we met Neil and Catherine, a lovely and friendly couple who are travelling overland from the UK to Cape Town

Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?

The camp site at Bolnuevo is a large and highly organised camp site and makes us wonder why we left the comfort and ambience of Fortuna. The site is mostly long-term campers who come to the same pitch every year and has regular social activities; Sardine and Sangria evenings, bingo, a Christmas fair etc. We can see that the sense of community would be appealing, but the site is a bit of a car park and our Blue Bus sticks out as much as our youthfulness does (honest!)

It is pleasant to walk around the site at night and admire the Christmas decorations on many of the vans; climbing santa clauses, coloured lights, glowing Christmas trees are all here. It’s just like being in Salford.

We are approaching two Spanish public holidays; the 6 December is Constitution Day and the 8 December is Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Catholics celebrate the conception of the Virgin Mary, as a woman free from all sin. In Spain this is generally a time of fiestas.

The library at the site in Bolnuevo is one of those examples of too much bureaucracy: many camp sites have a few shelves of books to swop; you leave what you have read and take away a new Catherine Cookson, Ken Follett or whatever is available. This library is run by a Swiss camper and has shelves full of books in every European language. Each book has a number and the Librarian has a lap top to record borrowing. We won’t be on the site long enough to finish the book we borrowed, but we left two new ones in exchange, along with a false name.