Festive period 2018 part 1

XMas – it is Málaga!  We discussed and ummed and ahhed about Cordoba, but in the end although we had a lot of things we wanted to see in Cordoba, the one municipal campsite is a ripoff at 32€ per day – no discounts, no off season rate, so towards Málaga it is!  Cordoba will wait until they have some competition for the campsite!

We should say at this point that Marbella, Torremolinos, Málaga etc have never really appealed to either of us – we are not beach holiday people – but this works well for a festivus break and there are lots of things in Malaga which are not beach related!  Malaga is considered more Spanish than Marbella too.

We arrived in Málaga around midday.  First thing on the agenda was to refill the food and drink mines which have been getting bare.

We hotfooted it to the nearest Carrefour to the motorway and this was the big one – the xmas shop!  We are talking double trolley. Every nook, cranny, cupboard and mine is now stuffed with scoff and booze. Nom nom.

We arrived at the site at about 4 PM and immediately were surprised at how full it is.  It’s a pretty new location – we learned about it from another site not from our special apps – it’s a cross between a motor-home stopover and a campsite – it’s motor-home only but does have some onsite facilities such as a shop, small bar, showers, laundry and loos,  But the price is great at only around 12€ per night with water and electric.

The pitches are a good size, but even so, it’s been many weeks since we have been on a busy site and it feels a little odd to have so many motor-homes and people around us.  By the following day, the site was completely full – no room at the inn!

The site is right on the sea front and is to the east of Málaga in a village called Rincon de la Victoria.  This part of the Spanish coast is pretty much a conurbation, so it’s pretty much hotels, bars and shops the whole way.  The site we are is in a rare gap in the hotels and apartments created by a nearby motorway and an aggregate quarry. We had a good 10KM ride along the coast – the evening was mild – coats not required.  It was after dark when we get back and bread, cold meats and cheese for dinner with Vino tinto plus a terrible George Clooney film (The Descendants).

Day two, we decided to spend the whole day on a ‘spring’ clean and maintenance.  The MS has got a little mucky after four months on the road, even allowing for frequent cleaning.  So it’s a full day emptying everything out, washing down and replacing everything and it’s a job we should not put off for four months next time around!

Day three was into Málaga town – there are cycle paths for most of the journey, but three or four km are shared with pedestrians and it’s busy, so it took a while to get into the town.  We pick up a tourist map, wander around for a couple of hours and then a massive steak and ships lunch on the harbour-side. Argentinian beef – lovely! Back to the mothership to finish off the cleaning and plan out a couple of days of tourist stuff before xmas.

Xmas eve and it was more chilling out.  T had wanted a nice drone shot of the coastline, but the Spanish drone system has areas called ‘PRZ’ where you may not fly camera/video drones.  We are slap bang in the middle of one of them! So instead we stroll the immediate area of the site and go looking for a possible xmas lunch restaurant.  One of the expat community websites tell us that we are unlikely to get a traditional turkey dinner in Málaga, which is a shame, but we are not that bothered!   Quick trip to Carrefour to top up on fresh stuff.

Caminito Del Rey

We poshed it up in a proper campsite for a couple of days while we visited the Caminito Del Rey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caminito_del_Rey).  This is one of the oldest entries on the ‘must-do’ list and since we put it on the list it has changed a lot! The King’s Little Path is a walkway along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro. The walkway dates back to around 1900, when it was originally built to get supplies up the mountain to two fledgling hydroelectric projects and a railway. The walkway eventually fell into disrepair and was very precipitous with all the railings gone and quite a few 6 foot plus gaps!  We put it on the things to do list about five years ago at which time it was definitely a death trap and was known as “the world’s most dangerous walkway”. But in the last four years, it’s been turned into a proper tourist attraction and the pathway largely replaced.

There is a 2km hike to the start of the Caminito and at the end a 2km hike to a bus stop for a trip back.  It’s still a bit dangerous. No kids, no pets, no smoking. Hardhats at all times etc. The views down into the gorge are quite breathtaking and as per normal, the photos don’t really do it justice.  Definitely one for the to-do list folks, but not if you are squeamish about heights!

A high point was T spotting some footprints and being convinced they were bear tracks followed by an hour of being very skittish (Toby not the bear).  Later research suggests that they are badger prints 😉 Photo included – you can decide for yourself! Toby said he had to take the photo just in case the camera was the only part of him recovered.

We had a fantastic meal at the restaurant at the start of the Caminito, and enjoyed the solitude at the campsite: there were two other ‘vans with us, but otherwise the site was empty.  Pretty eerie for a huge campsite.

A quick flight with the drone at the campsite just a quick vertical ascent due to surrounding national park and accidentally spotted the moon while looking out for a goat.

Setenil De Las Bodegas, Spain

Although it’s only 14km from Ronda to out next stop it was a generally horrible Journey! For the first time we run through a village with length limits and not height or width limits.  It turns out it is bloody narrow but and the passing spaces are short – we guess they wanted to mix it up a bit with length limits! A couple of bits are bloody steep too and the various electronic doodads in the mothership beep and complain as it disables traction control and hill hold, and hill descent (yoo-oou left me just when I needed you most).  Any campervans out there, watch out for the village of Arriate if you go north from Ronda on the MA-7403! But we make it through ok. The on-board footage is here (https://youtu.be/6SeThqSXE-s), but you probably won’t find it very exciting: the camera has a wide lens so the road looks wider, and all you’ll really get is Toby panicking and swearing.

Setanil De Las Bodegas (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setenil_de_las_Bodegas) looks great.  Initially it seems to be another lovely hill-top town.  But wait, there’s more! The Río Guadalporcún that cuts through the town and has created the gorge that the town sits in/on has worked it’s magic and some huge undercuts have formed and the ingenious locals have built caves homes under the protection of the rocks themselves.  This has happened many times as some of the cuts are fifty feet above the current river bed. Over the years, tourism has also played a large part in the evolution of the town and many of the quaint cave homes are now very nice restaurants.

We wander the town for a couple of hours and then back to the parking area for mothership as the olive presses are running at the co-operative over the road from our parking space and we go and check out how olive pressing works!  Don’t know how many ‘extra’ are required in front of extra virgin olive oil when it’s still warm from the presses!  We pick up a litre for about €4.50

We move the mothership to the top of a hill with a great view out away from the town and Selina comments that it could be an English summer evening.  Omelette, beer and ‘Independence Day’.

We can still hear the co-operative running and the the presses run late into the night, they are still going as we turn in at one AM. 

Ronda, Spain

Ronda (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronda)  is one of the places that has been on the list for ages. It ticks the ‘hilltop town’ box that Toby loves so much.  Hilltop town does not do it justice. It sits on a sandstone outcrop with an almost sheer drop of 100 meters one side.  The old town is joined to the new by the photogenic Puente Nuevo bridge. The town can be traced back to the early Celts, so that’s 600 years BCE.  

The camperstop is on the edge of the ‘new’ town about 2km from the Puente Nueveo.  So we get the bikes down and cycle to see the sights. We are at nearly 3000 feet and the temperature in the afternoon of the first day is 7 degrees, so for the first time we are cycling with jumpers, coats, hats and gloves.  Winter even comes to Spain! We only visit the bridge and grab a tourist map and have a short walk.

The next day, we hit all the tourist sights. It’s a lot warmer than the previous day so gloves and hats are optional. For a change we actually pay to see the inside of a church, the Parroquia Santa María la Mayor.  It is worth it as the church has installed large balconies on the roof and the views over Ronda are amazing. We probably spend half an hour just looking out over the city (not lookin’ out a dirty old window, nor are the cars rushing by).

We lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Puente Nueveo and to work it off we walk all the way down the valley to grab a picture of the same bridge from from below.  Selina manages to acquire a new friend. Leading up to Xmas, and it’s Saturday, the town is bustling, so we sit and do some people watching and even picked up and ornament for the mothership – this is rare!

Back to the van late afternoon and planning for the next days trip further north and installing a couple of xmas decorations. Next we are off  to a town that is pretty much the opposite of Ronda – it’s built under a cliff not on top of one!


Linea de la conception, Spain

Our stop for Gibraltar is actually in Spain.  The general consensus is that you would have to be more than slightly mad to take a campervan into Gibraltar. Parking is a complete arse, clamping and towing is the norm, overnight stopping is not permitted, the streets are narrow, there are low tunnels everywhere.  TLDR: don’t even try it. So we pitch up at the Linea de la Conception Marina.

This is a great location although it is expensive and the facilities are rudimentary. But just for a moment – with the mothership parked overlooking the yachts and mega-yachts, you feel like one of the jetset. Of course we come down with a bump.  All the doors around the place are locked – we are not allowed into the services buildings. Apparently being in a motorhome does not count as being a client of the Marina – even though we are paying €12.50 a night. So no showers, posh loos or wifi for us plebs.

The weather is wonderful for five days, but then takes a turn for the windy and rainy.

In the four of five good weather days, we do most of the tourist things on the rock but sadly, there is not very much to do and see on the Spanish side of the border.

On Gib, after more than three months, we actually enjoy traffic lights, bobbies, M&S, Waitrose,  Debenhams & bacon nearly as much as the tourist spots!

We stock up on duty frees – it’s only alcohol and cigs that are actually good value.  Although the territory is VAT free, the prices of highstreet goods seem to be inflated to cover the VAT saving and most things except booze and fags actually seem dearer than back at home.

There are a few cons going on too – the tour bus/taxi business seems to be a bit cut-throat.  They chug from a few locations around town but in the middle of the aptly named High Street they will say anything to try and make sure you don’t make it to the cable car: Day 1 they told us it was in a different direction.  Day 2 they told us it was much more expensive that it actually was. We met a few people with the same story but added they they had also been told it was closed for the winter and closed because it was too windy.

After a week we really wished that we had arrived here a week later and we would have loved to have stayed for Xmas, but it was not to be.  If we stop for a week everywhere that we love it, we will never get around Europe in a decade, never mind a year.

High points for us were the views from the upper rock, the Barbary Macaques and the tunnels.

From Gib we are heading inland for a few days.

Jerez, Spain

We couldn’t really come by this neck of the woods without visiting a corner of the Sherry triangle, now could we?  And what better place than Jerez itself – it gave it’s name to Sherry after all? We fit in some exploring and a tour and tasting of the Sandeman vintage sherry and tapas.  What could be better?

At Jerez, we also had our first taste in a while of ‘wild camping’ – we on on street in a location where campervans and caravans are permitted (perhaps unofficially!)  We stop here for a few nights and have no issues. We also visited the zoo – our first Spanish zoo!

As we leave Jerez, we also top up the LPG and Diesel tanks and start off towards Gibraltar.  We have a couple of potential stops but in the end we just make straight for the rock.

Three months by the numbers

So here we are three months in and we’ve not yet even toured three countries!

In case you are interested, here are some details by the numbers: We have travelled 4500 kilometers visiting over 50 towns and cities. We’ve put 580 litres of diesel and 35 litres of LPG in the tanks. That LPG usage will increase over the winter as we need to start using the heating at night to stop us turning into Selina and Toby popsicles!

We’ve spent around £5000 – of which the largest spend is on groceries, then site fees and then diesel.  These three categories account for about £3.5K

Sel commented that we have saved a lot of money over our expenditure at home as there have been no spur of the moment toy/hobby purchases.  We are surprised Amazon have been able to cope with the loss of revenue!  

A typical town visit plan

Here is a quick post showing what one of our city plans looks like.  This is the Google map for Evora – we intended this to be a one night stopover, so it’s a simple plan, but the town was great so it was two.  In orange we have the potential stopovers. We have a few sources of info and so typically we get a few versions of the truth about good places to stop and sometimes we don’t decide until we arrive which it will be.  

The light blue pins are the things we want to do – we may have researched them heavily over the last few years, discovered them the previous day or perhaps people recommended them to us, but light blue is where they end up.  The purple colour are the utilities and facilities: high on the agenda for Evora was washing, so we checked out the Lavandaria and popped them on the google map, but sometimes it’s tourist information, garages, supermarkets or LPG gas stations.  You get the idea!

Merida, Spain

Merida is a ‘medium’ sized town on the Toby Town Scale System™.  This means that we have all the facilities that we might need local to us, and we can still get mothership into town and close to the ‘Things to Do’ and still (legally) park the beast somewhere.  Legally in this case means a proper vehicle parking pound with a dedicated area for camper-vans.

So far, the electrical system has taken everything we have thrown at it and we have not yet had a flat (or even low) hab battery the whole time we have been away.  So we will experiment with more days without mains juice and see how we get on. So we opt not to have the electric hookup for the 4 days we spend here and save ourselves €20.

Merida (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9rida,_Spain) was founded by the Romans in 25 BCE as Emerita Augusta.  The modern name Merida has evolved from that Roman name. It was important to the Romans as it lay at an important pass on a strategic route to the Spanish gold mines.  

By about the year 500 CE the Roman buildings were all abandoned and stayed that way for about 1200 years with only a few features visible sticking out of the dirt.  Around 1910, serious archeological excavations were started and they quickly uncovered the theatre, amphitheatre, circus and forum with many others to follow. To get an idea there are around 20 different UNESCO World Heritage sites in and around Merida.

So, Merida is wonderful: we spent four days exploring the ruins.  Many have been excavated and the theatre for example has been sympathetically reconstructed.  Other sites that are not yet open are protected from the elements and it seems that further excavations will be undertaken. The vacant derelict space next to the camping stop seems to be a site that will be fully investigated when time and funds allow.

One amazing building is the Crypt of Santa Eulalia.  It’s especially interesting because it’s still a church, but the basement has been excavated to show the whole evolution of the building over more than a thousand years.  The church floor is a steel platform so it’s possible to see both the modern church and the ancient buildings that made it up. It’s odd clanging around crypts and foundations on steel walkways trying hard to be quiet because above your head a baptism is going on!

We spend half a day at the National Museum of Roman Art, which is pretty new and massive – and – typically – the building has it’s own roman history.

There are a couple of things we need to buy so the only bummer was on the day we left, noticing an Amazon Locker right at the parking location.  We’ve now checked and there don’t seem to be any more on our imminent route. Typical!

After four wonderful days in Merida, it’s motorway down to Seville.  It’s been possible to measure the distance to Seville by looking at the mount of citrus trees in the various towns and villages! We are accelerating the pace a bit.