Saturday, 8 June 2013

Dear family and friends, bon dia from the sunny Algarve. Those of you paying attention will remember that, when last we blogged we were in Spain, however, we have crossed and re-crossed several borders since then and have started on the Portugal leg of our sojourn......but more of that in while.

First,  to catch up, we go back to beautiful southern Spain and to a place called Cabo de Gata (Cape Gata). Set in one of the coastal national parks this was really just an overnight stop on our way west along the coast and nothing of particular interest, other than our visit to the light house and headland next morning. As you can see from the photos there is some stunning coast line

......and also a rather quaint seems that lovers take padlocks to the point and lock them to the railings to show their eternal love and devotion, throwing the lock key over the cliff afterwards. Those lovers not as well prepared for this show of affection tie their hair bands to the railing instead......well, quick as a flash my Fang has her hair band off, ties it to the railing and with her locks flowing in the breeze gazes at me with a look of tender devotion.  So impressed is the Frenchman who happens to be there at the same time (we all know what romantics the French are) that he asks if we would like him to take a photo, with our camera not his. ‘Oh yes please’, says Fang, in her best French, which sounds very much like her best English, and said photo is taken.  Afterwards, being the gallant Englishman that I am, or rather not wanting to be out manoeuvred in the romantic stakes by Monsieur Le Frog I turn to Madam Le Frog and ask if she would like me to take a photo of her with I don’t know if something got lost in the translation or if it was because she had short hair and therefore no hair band to tie to the railings, but she looked at me as though I had slapped her across the face with a wet scallop. Undeterred I whipped her camera from her grasp, set them up in a lover’s tangle and took the photo......however, as you can see Monsieur Le Frog was not taking things as seriously as perhaps he safe in the knowledge that Monsieur Le Frog will have got a good French slapping when he got back home, I was comfortable that the Anglo French balance of power had been restored to its rightful equilibrium and we set off on our way along the coast!  

I am so proud I could burst!

Hair blowing in the breeze....just like on the Titanic

M. Le Frog working his way into a French slapping
The next few days we spent trundling along the south coast of Spain stopping at various places we had been told were good overnight stops and which we wanted to check out for ourselves for future reference. Nothing much to report here as we were just on a fact finding mission for a couple of days really.

The next notable visit was to the Rock of Gibraltar. As neither of us had been here we decided it was worth a visit although we knew it was not really going to be our sort of place. And I suppose it is worth a look, if only to experience a little piece of Britain stuck on the end of the Iberian Peninsula. To get onto then Rock by road you have to cross over the runway and if there is a plan landing or taking traffic and pedestrians are held up until the plane has landed and taxed back to the airport....this must be fairly unique I would have thought?

Waiting to cross the runway
It’s a bizarre experience to be walking down what is essentially an English high street with M & S and Smiths and Boots and C & A and to hear British policemen speaking Spanish. Unfortunately there was a very strong wind the day we were there, and the cable car was not operating, so we didn't get to the top of the rock, however, the visit was well worth the effort, but with nothing to hold us there we bought our quota of duty free scotch and gin on the way out, and moved off along the coast to a little village called Bolonia.

Just before this they had greeted each other with a kiss on both that British?

Fang phone home
Now here was a lovely surprise. We managed to park on the beautiful deserted beach and spent a couple of days exploring.

First up a walk along the beach took us to an enormous sand dune which of course just had to be is over 75 meters high and great fun to be on.....especially as we were completely by ourselves on this early morning walk.

The lonely climber.....

Fang flaked out....
The next surprise this small village had in store for us is the remains of a large roman settlement, which was not only just down the road from where we were parked.... but completely free entry to both the site and museum for EU members......I’m all for the EU I am.

There is nothing we love more than a good Roman ruin and we spent a brilliant afternoon in this fantastic site wandering along the cobbled roads that were used by the Romans over 2000 years can actually feel the history come up through your feet......this is our sort of place!

Salt bins for preserving the Tuna in Roman times

Under floor heating for the Roman baths

After a lovely two days we set off west again and over the border into Portugal. Here we met up with some friends of ours from Congleton who were just on their way back to the UK after spending several months escaping the UK weather in Spain and Portugal. Rob & Brenda were very helpful to us when we first got our motorhome and were full of advice which made our first trip far more stress free that it would have otherwise been. We spent a pleasant couple of days shooting the breeze, exchanging stories and places to stay and learning a new card game which Fang has already forgotten how to play, just as well as we don’t have any playing cards anyway, and the only ones we can find around here are in Portuguese.....same goes for the Scrabble sets.

We sent Rob & Brenda on their way home and continued on to a little place we had visited on our last trip to Portugal.

Paderne is a lovely little village that has a font and wash house fed by a natural spring and is nestled in amongst the orange groves. I don’t know if it’s because there is natural spring water running all around the site that sets off the positive ions, but this place just seems to insist you chill out and relax.....and that’s exactly what we did for three days. The other advantage of this visit is that we can fill our water tanks with natural spring water and Fang can go native and do the washing like a Portugese washerwoman.....I do love a photo opportunity!

This is the only Portuguese man I could get to pose with Fang.....I  took his stony silence to mean he agreed!

Fang gone native

It’s a smashing place to be, more so because it’s not a tourist attraction but somewhere the locals actually use in their day to day lives.....the farmers come every day to fill their big water tanks, the locals come to fill their water bottles and some come to do big loads of washing and some come to have bush showers!     

Proper load of washing!

Having a bush shower......left the bottle out in the  sun to warm up but didn't leave it long enough and ended up having  cold shower anyway!*&"
So we eventually tear ourselves away from our font and onto a gas station just down the road that we discovered on our last trip will fill our gas bottles for us. Keeping your gas supply topped up is a bit of an issue for motorhomers around the EU as there is a different system and different  types of gas bottle in each country and it’s not just a case of swapping an empty one for a full like we do in the UK......a disjointed EU, who would have thought it?!!**

Our next destination is the Algarve. Now, had you asked me a couple of weeks ago about the Algarve I would have said it’s package holiday country with wall to wall Brits. and ‘all day breakfasts’. And to a certain extent this is true, but there is also an absolutely beautiful unspoiled dramatic coat line and wonderful white sandy beaches to be enjoyed away from the tourist traps. The local authorities seem to have kept the holiday apartments and hotels back from dominating the shore front with the result that there is a sort of green belt buffer zone that retains the natural beauty of the coastline.  We managed to find some great places to spend the night and some wonderful cliff top walks to enjoy in solitude, despite it being the half term holidays in the UK. As usual the photos don’t do the scenery justice.

Fang definitely NOT posing....

Fang with her new bike

We met Bruce and Carol on one of our cliff top walks. They both live in the US, Bruce is an Aussie from Tasmania and Carol is from the States. They had got off the plane at Lisbon and were cycling around the coast to Gibraltar!  The bikes they have are specially made to fold up and go on a plane as luggage.....really smart. As you can see from the photo they are both fit as a butcher’s dog.

At one of our overnight stops we met Tony his wife Maria and their daughter Anna.

Now here’s a thing.....about 30 years ago Tony was travelling through Europe in an old BT lorry that he had converted, you know the sort, you would see them all over the place putting up and repairing telegraph poles, not the lorries, the people inside the lorries.

 Anyway, Tony comes into this village we are staying in, roles up and parks on the beach....out of money, out of diesel, out of food, broke as a badger. So he sort of hangs around doing odd jobs to earn a crust until one morning he wakes up to find a food parcel on his step, a couple of mornings later the same thing and then again after that, never a word from the person who is doing this. After a couple of weeks Tony decides he better try and find out who this good Samaritan is and one morning he gets up early, hides in the bushes and when his good Samaritan comes along follows him discover that he and his wife run the local newsagent and laundry and they are both fact they still run the same business to this day!

As Tony got to know these two, the chap introduced him to a local who was trying to raise an old fishing boat that had sunk in the local harbour. This guy needed a hand to do this and Tony and a couple of other guys worked for him. This guy had the idea that at low tide they could get to the boat and they would fix old tyres to the boat so that eventually when they had enough tyres the tide would come in and the boat would float!

Blow me down if after a month of fixing tyres to this boat the thing floats to the surface on the next high tide. This guy went onto bigger and better things and now runs pleasure boats out of Lagos, a resort just down the coast. So, Tony now has a bit of cash and he can move on.

During his time here Tony has made friends with a group of gypsies ( Fang wants me to give the correct term Travellers) who were also staying in the village. Just before he sets off the gypsy chaps come over and want to buy old bits and pieces that Tony has around his van, like an old broken clock and an old broken radio and other useless bits and pieces that Tony has collected along the way. Tony, thinking that they will sell it on and needing the cash anyway, sells them this stuff. The next day Tony takes his rubbish to the bin before setting off and finds all the stuff that the gypsy chaps had bought from him stuffed in the bin......what these guys wanted to do was give Tony a leg up with a bit of cash, but rather than just give him cash, which might have hurt his pride, they buy his junk! Good people eh?

Don’t know about anyone else but this is the first time we have ever seen seagull chicks.....they were just sitting on the edge of a cliff as we walked past

A Welsh leek amongst the thistles...
Portugal is Stork country and we are here at breeding time with the huge nests inhabited by parents and normally two chicks. The locals encourage the birds to nest in the towns by building platforms for them so we often got really close to the nests.....a real treat. Here are just a couple of the 1,348 photos that Fang has taken of storks, storks flying into nests, storks flying out of nests, chicks in nests, chicks and parents in nests, parents in nests, just nests....blood and sand if I have to stop for another ruddy stork photo I am going to catch one, stick in a pan, sauté it in butter and finish it off with some red wine and champignons....that should make a proper photo.

This nest is sitting on the roof of the local supermarket...

And so on we go to another bay which Fang has named Hippy Bay, not because most of the people there need hip replacements, no not that sort of hippy. The lets make love not war and ban the bomb and not wear any clothes type of hippie that I thought had died out in the 60’s. But no, here they are alive and well in Portugal, the guys are wandering around with their fishing tackle out of the box, and the girls with their jugs out of the cupboard......oh my this is proper laid back let it all hang out territory! So I'm now in the process of growing dreadlocks for my babe, and want to adopt a mongrel bitch attached to a piece of string......

Hippies in action......covert photography by Fang Paparazzi

Another hippie on the beach
Next is Hidden Gem Bay......we came here 2 years ago and loved it so much we just had to do a return did not disappoint....

Fang definitely NOT posing AGAIN

Days end at Remote Bay
And now we are staying in a campsite just across the river from Lisbon. Tomorrow we will catch a ferry and go and explore this beautiful city. So until next we blog dear family and friends we bid you adieu from sunny Lisbon.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Dear family and friends; hola, hola, hola from the beautiful sunny & warm you really don’t want to be stuck here Spanish Mediterranean. Now there is a lot of opinion from a lot of experts who will tell you to avoid the Spanish Med like the plague because it’s been completely taken over by the package holiday mob and is now wall to wall high rise holiday flats, English breakfast, ‘roast dinner just like mum makes’ and evening cocktails that make you throw up; and to an extent this is true, but if you take some time and trouble, and get a bit of help and advice from the Brothers (The International Fraternity of the Brotherhood of Motorhomers, known colloquially as ‘brothers’. It costs nothing to join but as you would expect there is a secret initiation ceremony which, for obvious reasons, I can’t tell you too much about; other than it involves a full moon, some bloodletting, lots of chanting and the wearing of a bear skin loin cloth....and take it from me.... dead bear doesn’t half take the shine off the crown jewels after an evening’s chanting and bloodletting!), then there is a completely unspoiled Spanish Med just waiting to be discovered. Once you get south of the ‘beyond belief ugly’ Benidorm and Alicante, the package holiday mob have run out of steam and what is left is what nature intended.....deserted beaches with just a couple of motor homes!

Benidorm high rise hell
So, after our dash down the snowy mountain from Morella we landed at Javia, a non descript seaside town between Barcelona and Valencia. Even though there were no other brothers there, it did look as though we could park on the edge of the pebbly beach, or at least there wasn’t a sign saying we couldn’t, so we did. The Spanish rozzers did a couple of drive-bys but didn’t bother us so we settled down for the night, although Fang did wake up at periodic intervals during the night because she was on rozzer watch......don’t ask me I just drive the bus! The master plan was to turn back north along the coast to visit Barcelona, however, the weather was still a bit on the chill/wet side so the next morning we decided to leave Barcelona for another trip and head south to find some warmth and comfort. 
It took us the best part of 4 hours to clear the bad weather, by that time we had skirted inland around the dreaded Benidorm and Alicante and headed for a town called Mula, just 20 miles outside Murcia and in the middle of Apricot growing country.
On route to Mula we made a detour into the mountains to visit a beautiful medieval mountain top village called Guadalest. It’s one of those places where you just walk around with your mouth open like a lunatic; I leave the photos to tell the story, although they don’t really do justice......

On the way back down the mountain we called in to visit what were supposed to be some spectacular waterfalls, but turned out to be a contrived tourist attraction with a 3 eur entrance we took a picture from the outside and left! But not before we’d forked out 5 eur for car parking .....they saw us coming down the ruddy mountain.

Mula itself has nothing of significance other than it is a normal Spanish working town with no knick knacks for tourists. Sadly it was also a town which reflected the state of the Spanish recession, nearly every shop or business premises had closed, redevelopment projects remained unfinished, we saw a crane and a lorry abandoned in the middle of a half built housing complex, even the municipal swimming baths which opened six years ago, had closed, with stagnant water still in the pool. However, we had a couple of relaxing days in the sunshine just wandering around the area, visiting the town square which came to life with families and the locals every afternoon.......and believe it or not, all the open public plazas had free Wi-Fi!

We left Mula and headed again for the coast and a small fishing village called La Azohia......what a find this place is for the likes of us. La Azohia is just west of Cartagena and just around the headland in the Gulf of Mazarron. The Gulf of Mazarron is known for its temperate climate; it very rarely drops below 18 degrees at anytime of the year. When we were there in early May, the temperature was around 25 each day with a gentle sea breeze that seemed to come in every afternoon to cool things down a bit. We spent 6 glorious days parked up near the quay watching the daily comings and goings of the fishing boats. As an added bonus the snorkelling was brilliant, like swimming in an aquarium and cycling along the beach front was brill as well.

Bringing in the Tuna

Jacques Cousteau and I were like brothers
We made many new best friends during our stay, perhaps one of the more remarkable would be Mick and his wife Mary;

Now here’s a story for you; Mick is an Irishman who had a building business in London, pretty successful it would seem as he had 8 vans and 25 lads running round Kensington. About 9 years ago Mary developed Dementia which meant Mick had to give up his business to look after Mick puts it ‘after 56 years of marriage what else was I going to do’. But being Mick, he decides that rather than them both sit at home staring at four walls he would buy a motorhome and go travelling with Mary! And that’s what they have been doing for the past 7 years, Mick gets to meet lots of people, Mary seems to be happy sitting in the van watching the world go by and they spend their winters in the sunshine. Nice story if that was the end of it.....but it’s not. Last November, in the very same fishing village, parked up in the very same place, Mick has a stroke! As luck would have it that there were a couple of English vans parked up with them, so one of the chaps took Mick off to hospital while their wives looked after Mary. Now I’m not sure how this happens, but Mick wakes up in hospital with Mary and their two daughters from London at his bedside. So, Mick makes a recovery, has nothing but praise for the treatment he received in a Spanish hospital (which cost him nothing), his son comes out from London to drive the van and they all go home happy and healthy. Then blow me down here we are in May, 5 months later, and Mick and Mary are back on the road and have returned to the self same spot! Mick is 77 and Mary is 80......there is hope for us all! 

The Trundlebus mixing it with the big boys

Days end
Sunset at La Ahozia
Ever been to a bingo night? Not like this Spanish version you haven’t. This was on a Saturday evening and all the locals turned out bringing their plates of food and vino colapso. There was bingo, which was taken very seriously and a dramatic hush descended over the whole village during the calling, there was music and there was dancing......lots of dancing and....oh yes.... and a bit of dressing up by the señoritas.

Little Señorita

Grown up Señorita

Some of each

Anyone can do it with a fancy dress

You don't even need a fancy dress.....just a glass of vino colapso

Big and small young and tall
Fang, who likes to make it like the locals, was up for flamenco herself

Fang practising for the night of dancing

Fang waiting for a Senor to ask her for a got dark and they all went home.... 
I was standing on the quayside one day watching the fishing boat unload when one of the fishermen stepped off the boat and just handed me a bag of fresh mackerel! What a dinner we had that night......after I had gutted and cleaned and gutted the ruddy things that is!

Taking the toilet cassette.......good idea to bring the bikes!

Our bay at La Azohia

Gulf of Mazarron
Now here’s a know our Fang, well she just loves taking pictures, especially of people......she has this way of sidling up to people and doing a sort of pointy thing with her camera and then points at them and then before they know what is happening she is arranging them into a nice group for her shot, and then she sort of bounces up and down with excitement, blows them a kiss and off she goes....leaving her victims scratching their heads in Spanish/Portuguese/French and I  have to say, in fits of laughter! So we are sitting there one afternoon and a diver comes out of the sea with his harpoon gun and an octopus that he’s caught (well shot actually!). Fang jumps up cooing like an excited school girl on her first date and runs over doing her pointing thingy with her camera.....blow me barnacles if the diver, who must have seen all this pointy thing before, turns the tables on Fang, gives her the harpoon gun & the octopus and takes the camera! So there she is in her Pringle cardigan and shorts trying to look as if she does this sort of thing all the time..... posing with an octopus nearly as big as her.......nice one Diver Dan!

Sadly we had to depart our haven which has now been renamed Magic Bay by Fang who likes to give her own name to places, things and people to help her remember.....she called me Herbert for the first 10 years.

In a planning meeting with Isabella & Francisco

Me Isabella & husband Albert from Belgium
And then it was onto our next stop which was only about 10 miles around the bay

Pleasant Bay......Fang's name not the map 

Until we meet again dear family and friends, we bid you adios from the Mediterranean sunshine.