Putting Down Roots

02/01/18 – 06/01/18

It took some persuasion to move us away from our next stop, that and a very full toilet. The sun was shining and the wind had mostly dropped and we had found a perfect beachside stop mere paces from the sea.

We were at Playa el Playazo de Rodalquilar, a beautiful cove where overnight parking is (sometimes) tolerated in low season. The route down to the cove is along a good quality concrete track and ends in a sandy parking spot where there were maybe a dozen vans. To the north is a small fort, privately owned but creating an interesting feature, and the low cliffs are eroded into a series of platforms and caves. To the south the coastline rises sharply, a slope of desert like sandy rocks and scrubby plants. Along the valley road leading to the beach palm type shrubs are being grown in rows, another fort sits abandoned alongside the shell of a windmill and a handful of houses and holiday properties. 

An array of vans parked behind the beach.

We walked in both directions from here, two short walks that could be joined together to make one decent length walk. The weather was too good for long walks though and each day we were keen to get back, relax on the beach and refresh ourselves with a swim in the sea.

We took the kayak out on one day – the second time in a week – and explored the caves and coastline. The area is a marine reserve and while the sea was calm we could see the underwater vistas, sadly it didn’t stay calm for long. I’ve started to hanker after a glass bottomed kayak, I wonder if it’s possible to get an inflatable glass bottomed kayak?

Kayaking into one of the caves on the coast

A couple of times we snorkelled, the water was pretty cold and my ears were freezing, but it was worth it to see the wonderful underwater views up close; rocks covered in vibrant red and green weed, surrounded by shoals* of colourful fish, swathes of sea grass hiding yet more fish and sandy sea bed where the fishes were so well camouflaged they seemed almost transparent.

The fort of San Ramon in the rosy sunset light

The vans parked here were of all types, self build ‘hippy vans’, camper vans and white boxes like Bertie. At night we were lulled to sleep with the sound of bongos and the desultory strumming of a guitar, the waves a gentle accompaniment in the background. It was warm enough to sit outside at night watching the bright, clear stars before the moon rose. In the morning day trippers came down and set up their umbrellas and windbreaks on the sand, one chap towed a trailer tent onto the sand to create a shelter for his extended family (he had some problems getting it back off the beach, but a few rocks under the wheels helped to get some traction). Nudists got it all out on the beach, while other people were dressed to combat the wind in full length trousers and puffer jackets.

After three days we were meant to leave, but we just couldn’t, on the fourth day we had to leave or create a pollution problem. Tearing us away from this beach was difficult. We don’t dare come back in case we never leave.

Looking north along the coast at the caves we would later visit by kayak
Walking North

We decided to do a small circular route north and wanted to save the best (the coast) for last. So we started by heading up the valley towards the self catering properties past the Torre de los Alumbres, a ruined fort that had been built to defend the population from pirates. It didn’t do a great job, having been built in 1510 and then sacked by the pirates in 1520, but it was reused in the 18th century.

Walking inland, cultivated palms on the left, dry and dusty on the right, and the ruined fort in the background.

Just before we reached ‘La Ermita’ we followed a track to our right across the valley. When this met a narrow path at a t-junction we turned left and ascended up a gully between hills, past a white building that looked like a converted water tower and a collection of beehives. This path met the road and we turned immediately right to follow the dry river bed down to the Cala del Cuervo. Then we finally turned onto the coast, a very pleasant walk along the fantastically eroded cliffs that passed the 18th century Castillo de San Ramon before dropping back down to our parking spot.

Looking back down to the beach from the cliff top path
Walking South

We walked south from the parking area following the coast path’s white and green markings. When the path eventually crossed the tarmac road we followed it up switchbacks until we reached the lighthouse, the Torre de los Lobos, at the top. This tower was rebuilt in the 18th century on the site of an earlier lookout post, and is apparently the highest lighthouse in mainland Spain. The views are certainly spectacular.

The Torre de los Lobos with the remains of the volcanic cone of El Fraile in the distance

From the faro we descended the switchbacks again until we could break off onto a path that descended straight down the hill, cutting off the last switchback, we skirted around the southern edge of the small conical peak to our left and ended up at the parking for the Cala de El Carnaje. This terraced parking was quite extensive, but the dirt track to it was heavily eroded and would have been impossible to drive in anything other than a 4×4.

From the parking we followed the dirt track inland to the same road that led to the lighthouse, this time following it inland until a track led to the right. We followed the track around a house and then down to the small collection of holiday properties  on the road back to our parking spot.  

while I was writing this I had to check whether I should be using shoals or schools to describe groups of fish. Did you know that a shoal is schooling if the group of fish are all moving in the same direction in a coordinated manner? ‘How interesting’ as Paul would say.

Do you know the way?

31/12/17 – 01/01/18

We walked the coast path out of San Jose towards the east, working our way up through the streets of the town until we found the path leading out of the end of the Calle las Olas.

Looking over San Jose from the path

The path started with promise, worn and rocky with a fence on one side that stopped us from slipping down into the properties below. There were great views of the harbour from on high. As we rounded the headland we dropped down over worn chalky white cliffs into Cala Higuera, past the café and pebbly beach and up the other side of the bay where the path joined a wide track which took an inland route to avoid inlets and rocky outcrops. We walked on this track past the quarry but were not very inspired by the rather easy path with distant views of the sea.

Looking down over the quarry – the road down to the bottom was closed with the usual safety notices, but this didn’t stop fishermen from driving down here to get to the Cala Tomate (or ‘artists’ evidently)

We needed to liven things up a bit so we followed a path that took us down to the sea at Cala Cortada. This was a bit more like it, the pock marked cliffs loomed over the tiny pebbly beach, there was an abandoned village and two brick pillars painted bright white on one side to guide boats in through the rocks. From this level we could see along the coast where there was a rock arch like the eye of a needle. We could also see a faint track that followed the coastline.

Pockmarked rocks are everywhere, I don’t know what forces of erosion create so many small indentations but I assume it may be volcanic in origin

We followed this faint path along the sloping coastline, it only took us as far as Cala Tomate when we had to cut inland and join the track again, but it had been enough to liven up the walk.

The wide track avoided the ups and downs of the landscape but made for quite dull walking

That afternoon we needed to empty the toilet and headed to a camper stop inland. We’d only intended to ‘carga y descarga’, but the wind had picked up and the possibility of a nice level parking space, a hot and powerful shower and free wifi tempted us to spend the extra €5 to stay overnight. It was a quiet way to spend New Year’s Eve but it allowed us to do a few jobs before moving on again.

 

The Kayak makes an Appearance

30/12/17

The drive to the Playa de los Genoveses involved a long and dusty dirty track which we might have avoided if it wasnt for our bike ride the previous day. It was the type of track that involved driving slowly and carefully and we were glad not be doing it in the dark. Having said that there was a chance we would be moved on, most beaches in the Cabo de Gata do not allow overnight parking. We crossed our fingers and hoped that the ‘out-of-season’ fairy would be working her magic and causing any officials to turn a blind eye.

The dry and dusty drive back from the beach

Having moved onto Playa de los Genoveses we had to make the most of being close to the beach and get the kayak off the roof. The more we do this the more we consider getting inflatable kayaks. The faff of climbing up on the roof, especially the packing away when tired is quite off-putting, and that’s just for me – the person who does little apart from offer encouragement and a slight heave to help the kayak up.

But it didn’t put us off this time, we explored the coastline to the west of the beach, rounding the headland and hugging the coast, past pretty beaches and stopping at Playa Barronal which was incredibly scenic with it’s volcanic rocky outcrops. As we kayaked around the coast we passed a group of walkers who were walking along the base of the cliffs where they formed a natural shelf, it looked almost impossible to walk around but on closer inspection it was quite feasible and looked like great fun. They were the reason I didn’t end up taking any photos as they made quite a crowd and detracted from the ‘deserted beach’ atmosphere. 

A view from the Kayak – along the base of this cliff was a shelf that allowed people to walk between beaches

As we kayaked we could see a bank of fog out to sea and kept an eye on it. There is nothing more disconcerting than being caught in fog at sea. Thin strands of fog occasionally wrapped themselves around the headland ahead of us and we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we should head back to the beach . We enjoyed sun and relaxation on the beach for the rest of the afternoon with not a wisp of fog to be seen – typical.

Relaxing on the beach – ok so maybe there is a slight hint of fog on the horizon

That evening we decided to move on to San Jose as we were interested to see what the town was like in the off-season. Quiet was the verdict, there were a few people wandering the streets and walking the beach, but it seemed that most of the resorts energy was focussed on daytimes in the low season.

 

 

 

Cycling in Cabo de Gata

28/12/17 – 29/12/17

We were looking forward to visiting the Natural Park of Cabo de Gata, somewhere that we had seen on blogs and forums and imagined we would enjoy.

We started at the western end of the park, driving (via supermarkets) to the town of San Miguel de Cabo de Gata where there is a large area of hard standing behind the beach. Motorhomes were parked in neat rows looking out to sea and we started a third row, peering through the ranks in front of us to see a sea that was still wild and foamy from the winds of the days before.

Clouds at sunset, looking out to sea from our parking spot

There was a tap here, which was lucky as the water we had taken on board at the campsite in Balerma had a very strong chemical taste that was really unpleasant. A lot of people prefer to drink bottled water and use their water tank for cleaning and washing, but because we’re in the motorhome full time we are flushing water through the tank quickly so feel quite happy using it for drinking too, usually, but with the horrid taste of the water from the campsite we decided to fill our emergency water containers up here for drinking until the water in the tank had been flushed out.   

On the way to the parking spot we had passed the end of the salt pans that run behind the coast here. We had spotted a hide for viewing the birds and wildlife of the area so took a short walk alongside the road back to the hide so that we could do a bit of flamingo watching. This is the third place we have seen flamingos and they have not lost their appeal, with their bizarrely rubbery necks, great scooping beaks and the intense flash of dark pink as they raise their wings.   

Flamingos – taken through our approximation of a telephoto lens – a iPhone and a monocular

The following day we got the bikes out and cycled along the road eastwards in front of the salt flats. Here we got the answer to one of our questions from the previous day – what were all the lorries doing going past the carpark? At the eastern end of the salt flats was a salt production operation with great mounds of salt and lorries going to and fro all day.

Mounds of salt ready for distribution

Soon after this the road started to go uphill and we huffed and puffed from the shock of steep roads after our days of lethargy at Christmas. Luckily the uphill was rewarded with a downhill section towards the lighthouse, where we were able to take a few offroad paths. Then more uphill, steeper and higher this time as we went past a barrier (the coast road is not a through road, unless you are the type of person who will drive their family hatchback anywhere – and there are a few of them round here!), we climbed up this road, up and up the tarmac to the Torre de la Vela Blanca.

Our view along the Cabo de Gata coast from the highest point on the bike ride

Then down the other side, this time the tarmac had disappeared and we were on rough dirt track. Paul whizzed down over rocks as I picked my way more carefully, using my brakes nearly the whole way.

Looking up the dirt track we would have to climb on the way back to Bertie

Down on this side we went past several possible motorhome parking spots and beaches until we got to the beautiful Playa de los Genoveses where we stopped for some lunch. This looked ideal for overnighting in Bertie and we agreed we would head here for the night.

Playa de los Genoveses, we fancied spending some time here

On the way back we pretty much retraced our steps until we got to the salt flats where we went a bit further inland to follow a sandy track which ran closer to the lakes, there were three further hides along here which we visited in succession, watching yet more flamingos and other wading birds.

Looking across the salt lagoons from one of the bird hides

As an introduction to Gabo de Gata it rated pretty well and the rollercoaster ride had been a good re-introduction to exercise after our Christmas relaxation. With the beautiful surroundings of the coast and volcanic hills, and with improving weather, we looked set for a good few days.  

 

Christmas amongst the Polytunnels

23/12/17 – 27/12/17

After saying goodbye to Aaron and Katie we started heading further east, looking for somewhere to stay for Christmas. We used the ACSI book to try and identify possible campsites and as Paul drove I was reading reviews and trying to work out which would be the best.

Truth to tell, our most important criteria for a campsite these days is ample hot water and good water pressure. Anything else is just a bonus. As soon as we read reviews talking about cold water and dribbly showers we want to move on.

So we kept moving east until I found a campsite that seemed to meet our needs. This was Camping Mar Azul near the town of Balerma. The whole area from Motril to Almeria and beyond is devoted to growing out of season veg to meet the needs of supermarket shoppers throughout the whole of Europe. Tomatoes and peppers – and other veg too I’m sure – are grown under plastic shelters. They stretch for miles as far as the eye can see and although they are exceedingly ugly I cant object as I am an avid consumer of tomatoes at any time of year.

Camping Mar Azul was situated on a plot between these polytunnels and behind a long stretch of beach. The surroundings may not have been particularly scenic, but the campsite itself was exceedingly tidy, clean and had the all-important hot and powerful showers. It was also €15 euros with the ACSI card, a bargain.

We spent Christmas here, relaxing and chilling out amongst at least 150 other motorhomes (and a few caravans), mostly German but also a number of other nationalities, then we spent a couple of extra days while a storm blew over. It was tempting to stay for longer, lulled into campsite torpor, but we wrenched ourselves away finally with the promise of more scenic surroundings in the Cabo de Gata national park. 

A sea of plastic on the way to Camping Mar Azul.
Our attempt at Christmas decorations – there is less clutter if you can stick them to the windows. Note the many vans around us.
I found some mincemeat at an ‘English Supermarket’ in Cala de Mijas and made some mince pies – a proper taste of Christmas
The beach at Balerma – the sea was churned up from the storm, more froth than wave

Hairnets and Hardhats

20/12/17 – 22/12/17

After Ronda we made our way down to the coast to meet up with Aaron and his fiancée Katie who were joining us for a few pre-Christmas days in the sun. They had booked an apartment near Fuengirola in one of the sprawling white developments that characterise much of the Costa del Sol.

We spent the night before they arrived parked down at the Playa del Castillo, taking a quick walk into Fuengirola to depress ourselves in the shadows cast by the seafront tower blocks. The parking was definitely more pleasant than the town.

It was very odd moving ourselves into the spacious apartment, we’ve become so used to our little space and the way in which have organised it to work for us. The apartment felt very poorly designed and the space unproductive. We did enjoy the sofa though and a chance to sprawl.

We spent a lot of the time with Katie and Aaron doing holiday things, going out for meals, sitting in bars and cafes by the beach and generally catching up. However we did venture further afield on one of the days to visit the Caminito del Rey, the trail that runs the length of the El Chorro gorge, with it’s two sections of aerial walkways hanging halfway up the wall of the gorge.

We cant provide any insights into getting to the walk by Motorhome as Aaron drove us in his hire car, and so much has been written about this walk that I don’t intend to describe it again except to say that it is spectacular and well worth doing. 

So any pointers from us? Remember to ask if any of the party have a fear of heights (Katie hadn’t realised what she was letting herself in for), read this page when planning your visit so that you get to the arrival point at the time you have booked, don’t take walking poles or anything else that you cant fit into a rucksack (we saw one gentleman having his poles taken from him as they don’t allow them on the walk – they did offer to take them to the end point though) and leave your vanity at home – hairnets and hardhats are compulsory.  

The final stretch of the Caminito as it leaves the gorge, seen from the El Chorro end
Slight trepidation about stepping onto the glass platform. The bridge in the background looks solid, but it’s deceptive – the actual crossing is a suspension bridge just behind the remains of the aqueduct you can see.
The train line runs on the opposite side of the gorge, mostly in tunnels but every now and again it pops into the open. It would be a good way to get to El Chorro to do the walk.
The original caminito was built to service the workings of the hydraulic power stations in the gorge – every now and again you can see the aqueduct, and at one point  (between the two sections of aerial walkways) you walk along it.
You can see sections of the original caminito from the new path. Much of it is still in place, although the concrete is rotten and the steel girders rusted.
Railway bridge at El Chorro end of the walkways
Memorial to three of the climbers who died on the original walkway. Although it was closed, climbers and adrenaline seekers still accessed the dangerous walkways. Plenty of climbers still use the gorge for rock climbing and we saw a couple on our visit clinging to the cliffs far above the railway line.
Near the end of the first section of the walkways. From here you could see plenty of griffon vultures wheeling above.
Hairnets and hardhats are compulsory and are handed out at the start of the walk.

 On the way back from the Caminito we stopped at the Castillo del la Mota because we were intrigued by it. We’re still not sure what it is; a folly, a water tower or a house? Whatever it was intended to be, it doesn’t look like it was ever finished and the construction quality was poor. We climbed to the top to see the views.

Far reaching views from the top of the Castillo de la Mota

 

Ronda the Unexpected

19/12/17

Our trip to Ronda took us by surprise. When we headed out of the Grazalema mountains we thought we would go further south into Cadiz and have a day or two in Gibralter before hot-footing it to Malaga to meet up with Aaron. But as we drove south, across fairly flat farmland, Paul suddenly exclaimed  ‘what is that?’. And we could see the impressive escarpment that supports Ronda coming into view.

The city of Ronda sits atop an escarpment that can be seen for miles as you approach the city

As I described Ronda to him, using phrases from guidebooks as I’d never been there myself, we came to the conclusion that actually we would like to see this town that sits precariously over the El Tajo gorge of the Rio Guadalevin. It was a bit of a frantic investigation then, to see where we could park and stay for the night. It’s not the most motorhome friendly of towns but on park4night we found a possible spot on the side of a road near the old town but still accessible to motorhomes. Quickly the sat nav was updated and we followed it off the main road, down a rural lane to suddenly arrive on the outskirts of Ronda, making it just before twilight turned to full dark.

Despite the youngsters walking by and the waste-ground to our right we agreed that it seemed ok for a night, it’s odd how a place that can seem unprepossessing in print can actually ‘feel’ fine. It ended up being a quiet spot where the most frequent passers-by were joggers who I always feel are too knackered to think of doing anything untoward – at least that’s always how I felt when jogging.

Waking up in the morning we were greeted by cold air but blue skies, ideal for a day of sight-seeing. We had done some research in the evening and flagged a few places we wanted to see, but it’s such a compact town it felt really easy to just wander. We headed first of all for the Puente Viejo, the closest bridge over the gorge. We had fancied taking the steps down from near here to the bottom of the gorge but with the frosty morning they were closed. From here we wandered under the walls of the old town and then up through the Arco de Felipe V – at one point the main entrance to the town.

The narrow cobbled streets of Ronda old town, but still navigated by cars and bikes
The Puente Viejo or the Old Bridge, but not as old as the Arab Bridge, which isn’t Arabic. I suppose it’s too late to change the names?
Looking across the city walls of Ronda

Here we were able to climb up steps to the top of the wall where, at a certain height that someone must have calculated to be the ‘certain death if you fall’ height, there were barriers in place.

We wandered up through narrow streets which were open to cars and bikes although I’m not sure I would have driven through them. The next major sight was the Puente Nuevo, the most distinctive bridge over the gorge, where it is said that dissenters met their deaths during the Spanish Civil War. We wandered around this area looking for the best vantage point to see the bridge and the gorge, we particularly liked the terrace around the side of the Parador hotel where you could look back to the bridge and also out to the mountains. From here we could see that there was another point where we could descend further into the canyon, from the Plaza de Maria Auxlliadora so, after a bit more wandering through the streets and tourist shops of the new town, we ended up descending down to bring us closer to the foundations of the bridge.

The Puente Nuevo seen from the path down from the Plaza de Maria Auxiladora
We looked over the El Tajo gorge and wondered at the process of building so close to it’s edge. We particularly liked some of the balconies that had been built into the canyon walls.

We tried to remember that every step down would be a step back up, but it was tempting to continue to descend into the chasm. Finally our stomachs told us that we had to turn back to get some lunch, and we made our way back up and through the old town to find somewhere we could pick up a bocadillo taking in a few more sights as we went.

Iglesia Santa Maria la Mayor, built on the ruins of the mosque it’s a beautiful combination of architectural styles
This tower was once the minaret for a mosque and later a bell tower of the San Sebastien church

We were really glad we had stopped off at such a spectacular place, touristy but justifiably so. We could have stayed for a couple of days just meandering through the streets and wondering at the way the town is made of  so many layers, but we had a rendezvous to make so unfortunately had to move on.

As we walked back through the town to Bertie we saw lots of houses for sale with notices extolling their tourism potential, I wonder what it’s like living somewhere like this, very similar I imagine to living in some of the picturesque Cornish villages. Looks lovely, but full of second homes and difficult for the local population to afford.  

Mountain Summits and Vultures

18/12/17

Our last post was on New Year’s Day 2018, so we’re going back in time to catch up on the happenings of later December 2017.

We had stayed the night outside Grazalema village and been awakened, multiple times, by the sound of vehicles driving over rumble strips on the way into the village. Once we’d woken up properly and had our breakfasts, we drove back through Grazalema again, stopping for bread and cakes on the way. 

On today’s agenda was a longer walk. We parked outside the local campsite on a large flat parking area, the campsite seemed to be closed for the season and I’m sure we could have parked here overnight, but then we would have needed to drive to get bread anyway.

From this spot we were climbing up and turning right at the junction to meet the path we had walked the day before. Today we would be turning off behind the enclosure to go up into the mountains proper and we were full of excited anticipation as we would be climbing to a couple of summits for a change.

The start of the walk was even more frosty than the day before and we marvelled at the way the ice crystals had pushed the earth up, especially where the previous day’s frost hadn’t melted. It looked beautiful in the morning light and the going was easy underfoot over the solidified mud. To the west the cliffs held griffon vultures, large even from this distance, perched and waiting for the warm air currents to start rising. On the rocks to the east of us we startled a herd of Spanish Ibex who were minding their own business on the rocks.

Ibex looking down on us
Frosty meadow. near the animal enclosure at the beginning of the walk
Frost coats the plants on the way up the mountains of Grazalema
Frost crystals pushing through the soil

The path was easy and obvious to follow, although we were also following the walk via wikiloc. It skirted behind the enclosure heading up through the woods and out onto open mountainside, always pretty much south. Once out into the open we warmed up and were quickly down to t-shirts in the sun. We continued to head south following the path through a high meadow with the ridge of Simancon on our left, trying to decide at which point we should head up onto the ridge and back north to the summit. In the end we walked to the south end of the meadow to see the views before taking an easy line north-west onto the exposed backbone of the ridge.

The bare ridge of Simancon

From Simancon our route to the next peak was obvious, picking our way down steep slopes westwards to an obvious saddle leading to El Reloj (The Clock). Then less obvious route south from El Reloj, trying to find our way to the Charca Verde (green pond – more like a puddle, but still attractive to cows who had congregated there for a lie down) where the path became clear again.

 

Cows congregating on the way to the Green Pond

Following the path down was a delight, the forest was shaded and mossy with stark white rocky outcrops and occasional tiny grass clearings where the sunlight broke through. It would have made any Victorian garden designer weep with envy.

Eventually we re-joined the path back down to the campsite, the ground was still frosty even on such a sunny afternoon, but the air was warm and we sat and watched many vultures carrying nest building material to the cliffs. We pondered over the collective noun for vultures, and when we got back to Bertie we found that they have three. We had definitely seen a Kettle of Vultures (in the sky), and possibly a Committee of Vultures (sitting), but not a Wake of Vultures (feeding) on this walk.

Vultures wheel overhead

Back at Bertie we knew we would have to get moving before we succumbed to exhaustion. It had been a great day but we were leaving the mountains on our way to meet up with Aaron. The Sierra de Grazalema  Natural Park is another place that we’ll definitely return to.

 

Thank you 2017. Come On 2018

So 2017 is now over and we are in the south of Spain basking in the sunshine on the first day of the new year. Last night we drank the remainder of our drinks cabinet from home – an inch or so of gin and vodka, a smidge of white port and a couple of beers and ciders. Not enough to give us a hangover but enough to generate an impressive looking recycling collection.

We’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions so I’m afraid they are rather thin on the ground, but we have spent a bit of time looking back over 2017 and forward to 2018. How different life is from the beginning of the year when we were both in full time jobs, jobs with stresses and frustrations but also with certainty, accomplishments and purpose. 

Of course at the start of the year we did already know that our lives were due to change, my redundancy was a long a drawn out affair giving plenty of time for planning and preparation. So it was that in April we’d had all the leaving parties and  finally shucked off the bonds of employment and by early May we had packed up our belongings, let our house and embarked on our travelling life.

Since then we have spent time touring the UK, mostly in Wales and Scotland before moving onto mainland Europe in October. Bertie has taken us over 10,000km though Britain, France, Portugal and Spain. We have walked 661 km and cycled 1218 km (and that’s just the tracked walks/bike rides), we have used the kayak a paltry 4 times (we may have to revisit whether it’s worth lugging it around with us) and Paul has caught very few fish. We have explored places familiar and those we’ve never even heard of before; from mountains to coast and everything in between.  

We watched with pride as our son graduated at RAF Cranwell, we passed our 10th wedding anniversary unremarked (we’re not very good at remembering things like that and thought it was next year – doh!), we have learned what it’s like to rent out our ‘home’ and the frustration of dealing with issues from a distance (why the issues with drains now?), we have seen the lives or our friends and family change and evolve, even if only from a distance. Social media may have it’s downside, eating data and time, but for us it’s a communications lifeline, the ability to share snippets of life on a constant basis rather than as bundled downloads makes us feel more connected.

Gradually we have settled into this travelling life. It has been an odd transition that I have compared to the point when Aaron stopped needing us to ferry him around to his various activities. Suddenly our weekends had no purpose and we drifted for a while before we established a new rhythm, what would we do with all our free time? In a similar way we are only just finding a new structure to our lives, we are starting to understand the right balance between activities, sight seeing and ‘rest’ days where we don’t really rest but spend time doing more domestic things like baking cakes, cleaning and maintenance – we’re having one of those days right now. We have got used to spending hours in each other’s company in a box that’s less than 7 meters long and 2.2 wide but conversely we know we have to work harder at ‘bursting the bubble’ of the two of us in Bertie and push ourselves into interacting with people however transitory the relationships. We’re also putting some effort into acquiring languages, although I think there needs to be some sort of ‘foreign languages for the socially awkward’ guide to help not just with the learning part, but with the confidence to use it and not just end up falling back on English.            

What will 2018 bring? We hope to do some skiing and test how well Bertie is winterised, and we’ve got tickets to watch a six nations match in Italy. After that we’re not sure whether we’ll head down to see the south of Italy, or go north to Norway. There are some important birthdays in summer which will take us back to the UK and we are considering whether we get some temporary employment while we’re back for a couple of months, we’re also looking at volunteering opportunities in other countries. We’ll carry on trying to improve our language skills and interact more with people as we travel.

Every time we talk about what we’re doing we think about how lucky we were to have this opportunity and how fortunate it is that we decided to take it. It has bought us many amazing experiences and opportunities.

For everyone out there we hope for a positive and rewarding 2018. 

Cheers x

The Grazalema Mountains

16/12/17 – 17/12/17

From Seville we travelled south east to the Sierra de Grazalema natural park where we hoped to get our mountain fix. Our first stop was El Bosque, a town on the outskirts of the natural park with a tourist information centre and motorhome services.

Mountain views as we approach El Bosque

Our arrival in El Bosque was complicated by a trail running event a sport I half wish I was capable of, and half think is completely nuts. The start and finish point was on the road with the motorhome services so it was closed and barriers were up. We did a slow drive by before turning round and finding some temporary parking up near the petrol station. I went in to the town to find out when it would be over and to get some information about walks. It was just before two so tourist information was just about to close, they did provide a map of walks (free this time), told me I would have no problem getting permits for the walks that need them and said that the trail running festival was finishing at 2 and so we should be able to get into the motorhome service point by 2:30. They did all of this without letting me fully through the door while jangling their keys – a sure sign it was lunch time – but I couldn’t fault the information they’d provided. True to their prediction the barriers were down and the tape removed in short order and we could park near the services.

As it was still pretty early we took a short bike ride out of El Bosque to the village of Prado del Rey, we had found a really good booklet of mountain biking routes online here. This was another rural circuit, but we could see bare topped mountains in the distance as we traversed muddy, rutted, farm tracks. When we stopped on one track for a quick snack I heard a slurping sound in my ear that definitely wasn’t Paul – a huge dog had come up behind me (it’s head was about level with the bottom of my ribcage when I stood up). Luckily it was a big softie and just wanted some fuss, with the size of it’s jaws it could have taken my throat out!

 

Roman Salt Pans on the way back to El Bosque
Wide farm tracks and views of mountains

We stayed at El Bosque that evening and researched a few walks. As well as the information from the tourist office we found a very good website here. We wanted to do the Salto de Cabrero walk, but when we got to the car park (at the Mirador ‘Puerto del Boyar’) we found that the walk was closed. Instead we took the walking route from the same car park that went over a pass in the mountains to Grazalema village – the ‘Puerto del las Presillas’. It was a frosty morning and the route started on the north side of the hills, the limestone rocks were slippery underfoot with the frost and even more slippery when the frost had started to melt. We climbed through woodland and past a spring before the trees started to disappear and we were on open mountainside. This was more like it and the strong sun in cloudless skies quickly warmed us up as we strode across the grass.

Lime Kilns on the lower slopes of the mountains
Looking down towards an enclosure at the Grazalema end of the walk
Grazalema cattle – sharp horns but friendly faces

The pass took us between a ridge and hills before descending down the other side where the melting frost had left the path mushy underfoot. On the way down we passed a large group coming up from Grazalema, one boy of 10 or so was particularly excited but my Spanish and his English didn’t extend beyond exchanging greetings and names before he gave me a hug – much to my surprise as I’m not really the most cuddly person. On the way back as we retraced our steps we saw the whole group taking mass on the mountainside against a backdrop of rocky slopes. A table had been laid out as the altar and two priests must have carried their pristine surplices up with them – I couldn’t see any mud on the hems. We could only conjecture what was happening, but wondered if the young lad was being confirmed.

Mass on the mountainside

When we got back to Bertie we decided to move onto Grazalema village to park for the night. This would allow us to pick up some lunch items from the shops and was closer to the start of the walk. We tried a couple of spots on our side (south) of the village but they were pretty sloping, so ended up moving onto the other side of the village where some level parking had good views across rooftops to the mountains beyond. The only downside were the rumble strips on the road which were our early morning alarm.