Day 38, Saturday 9th Feb – Tarifa part 2

The last few days have been a slow meander through swimming and running for V, suppers in Tarifa and general wanderings.  It turns out that there’s a limit to the number of ways you can make “and then we went for coffee” sound interesting…

V’s swimming is better.  On Thursday, she appeared, wetsuit in bag again, announcing that Adele’s song of “Rolling in the Deep’ is a cover of an Aretha Franklin song.  

“What?”

“Yes” she says, playing the vocals her phone  Wow – Adele’s cover is exactly the same as the original…

“It might be older you know” says M to V, “Older than Aretha”

“You think so?”  

Out comes Google and the two of them hunt for information on-line.  

“Wait a minute!” exclaims M…

He holds up his phone for the pair of us to examine.  

“No!”

Aretha Franklin has done the copy, an Exact copy of Adele’s song, beat for beat, tone for tone, the same song with just a different voice.  

I guess that’s how you know you’ve made it, when Aretha Franklin does a cover version of your material…

After which, V took to the water again, in strong surf.  She managed to body surf some of the 8’ rollers, but after the second wipeout she came back to shore.  Using Google Maps M sees that Tarifa has a large port and a sheltered harbour.

Relocating finds us a bay, beside a port for the large ships and ferries that move  in and out of Tarifa’s waters.  We choose a safe route, well away from motorized boats.  In the preferred zone, there are just a couple of snorkellers, pootling around in the seabeds, looking for long-lost treasures.  

It’s half a mile from where M and I sit, to the furthest shore of the bay and back again. So, she’ll need to do this twice to bag her mile.  The first lap is uneventful.  As she starts the second, a speedboat zooms out of the harbor, into the bay where V and the two snorkel pipes are making their peaceful ways around the shore. There appear to be two young men in the craft.  Distracted by something, both are heading for the same ‘safe corner’ we’ve identified for Vicks.  As the boat’s speed increases, the two inhabitants are engaged with something on the boat’s floor, their backs to the wheel and the direction in which the boat is hurtling, unmanaged.  

I stand helplessly on the harbor wall, watching V’s rhythm of: ‘3-strokes and breathe’, ‘3-stroke’s as the boat speeds onwards.  As I stand about to start shouting and waving, the man nearest the wheel looks up, still oblivious of the swimmers and casually turns their potential death trap in a wide loop out to sea and then back even at an faster pace heading inside the port walls, just for kicks.  

As the boat disappears, I can finally breathe.  All three swimmers are safe.  Now, I cannot afford only to keep my eyes pinned to V, I’m also anxiously glancing over at the harbor, scrutinizing for movements, just in case.  

Vicks is making good time.  Lap 1 was 18 minutes for the ½ mile, potentially knocking a whapping 12minutes of her previous speed if she can maintain this pace.  She’s slightly off course, as she heads to the further shore, arcing her way seaward toward that destination rather than going in a straight line.

Which is precisely when the thoughtless buggers in the boat appear again.  This time, I’m jumping up and down on the harbor wall, gesticulating madly as these buffoons behind the wheel speed with their super-sharp propellers toward my one and only daughter.  I’ve no idea if they see me.  One of the idiots does indeed look up and by this time I’m alternating between crazy waving and pointing to the sea where V and one of the snorkellers are very close.  The boat deviates in its course, does a crazy sharp turn sending waves of wake bashing against the harbor wall below me, but it goes, thankfully,  back into the port where it belongs.

I want to run and shout at them, punch them, but V’s now approaching the other side of the bay.  It takes me the same time to run round to this beach as it does for Vicks to reach it. She heard rather than saw the speedboat and felt it’s watery-impact.  I suggest an alternative course back to M, hugging the line of the wall, where the worst that can happen is that she comes close to the waving fronds of rust-coloured seaweed.  

And, ten minutes later, we’re wrapping a towel round her shoulders, gathering her stuff and getting her out of the water, onto dry, safe land.  V’s training is a nerve-wracking experience, it’s exhausting!.

/——————————————————/

Friday deviated from the routine of:  ‘get up – do/watch some form of training –  realize its now mid afternoon – find food’.  

If you face the shoreline from where we’re camped at Tarifa and follow it West, there’s a curious, enormous lump of sand, perhaps 1/4 a mile wide.  It’s as if a narrow band of wind has swept up from the North African shore, visible over a short sea break, and dumped its load onto the Spanish shore. It stands proud, by as much as fifty feet from the trees that surround it. Literally, a lump of sand, incongruously deadweight in the first that contains it. It’s held our attention for the last few days but we’ve never ventured out toward it.  So, on our last full day here, with Google announcing directions, that’s where we point the car.  

We find the Playa Bolonia, an archeological site, not as big as Herculaneum, but sizeable none-the-less.  And slap beside the ruins, separated from us by a hedge of wild geraniums about to burst into glorious poppy-red blooms, is a café for lunch, specializing in fresh fish. Then we follow a road that we think might take us to the enormous sand dune, but which, instead carries us upward.  

Upward and upward.

There’s rock.  Lots of rock. But nowhere, despite my scrutiny is there a single bolt or scarp of evidence of climbing.  Strange.  If I love climbing, the Spaniards are addicted.  Every face of granite that you can get a bolt or bit of gear in, generally has evidence of climbing activity.  Here though: none.

As our car travels up the hillside, we leave scrub forest behind us, move toward roads that become rougher, pockmarked by rock falls.  There’s a plateau, a space to park awhile, gaze out across endless vista.  My eye is caught by a movement on the top of a ledge in the crag face.  The movement changes shape, opens enormous wings and floats, effort free on a thermal, circling with the breeze into the sky. Followed by another, a third, a fourth, fifth and sixth eagle.  Huge,  majestic creatures, encompassing stillness even when airborne as if their flight is of a cloud or a flower petal, carried aloft.  They turn and turn again. 

We found this place, this moment, by accident, but it’s veracity captures us, holds us still.  Shortly after, the road abruptly ends, barricaded where development has ceased, as if someone decided that humanity’s encroachment on nature had gone far enough. Which means that we have to descend. V and I have planned a run, 8 or so miles back toward Tarifa, contributing to her triathlon training.

So much has come out of these few days. Lessons about swimming and competing, so that V knows she can take part in this race of madness that she’s paid into. Learning about the size of eagles and why the many faces of the rock here, only hold evidence of nature, not of man’s insubstantial conquests.

Well done Tarifa.  Thank you.

Day 35, Feb 6th – Beach Adventures

V appears at the camper this morning, grinning with a paper bag in hand.  It contains the wetsuit she’s hired in town. Very smart, not as thick as we’d imagined and, being designed for surfers, it doesn’t have the more flexible shoulder fabric to aid swimming.  But… it’s a wetsuit and she’s going to use it today.

A little time later, there we are, witnessing her first proper sea-swim – half a mile in one direction, then turn around and back the way she came.  In the pool she knows she can do this in 40 minutes and in the sea she’s aiming to come in well under an hour.  

From the dry sand, we can see that the goggles V’s wearing are causing issues. She does a set of strokes, then she’s faffing on around her face.  The distance makes it difficult to work out precisely what the problem is, but its clearly distracting from the easy strokes she makes between interruptions. 

Stan finds friends, a piece of seaweed and a long stick to keep him entertained.  M records the moment with a video and lots of pics.  I can’t shake the memories of a nightmare I had when V was five.  

In the dream, we were on the pebbled Pevensey Bay beach; I was watching V play in the shallow surf.  Then my dream-self glanced away a second and when I looked back, she had completely disappeared.  I ran into the water and hunted, arms outstretched feeling the bottom of the sea-bed desperately hunting, trying to look through sea water as I went deeper and deeper… I woke up gasping for air from holding my breath underwater so long. In absolute panic I ran through to her room to find V, arms flung across her bed, lost in happier dreams of her own.

I’m not taking my eyes off her as she swims, I don’t care how old she is.

So we watch her, and eventually we trace our way back to the beginning and she’s running toward us, to the outstretched towel and hugs of congratulations.  48 minutes for a first go, we’ll sort out the goggles and try again tomorrow.  It takes 3 of us to get her out of the surfing wetsuit, not designed for a swift exit, and M kindly takes the spare stuff so that V and I can run.. well, jog, for a bit, before we meet M back at the van and go for coffee.

The rest of the day is easy-going.  Lunch at V’s, she and I wander out for more coffee, then a walk into town to find a place to eat.  

We’re hunting for local.  Taverna Grifa is stainless steel shuttering and bright-lit stone floors, crowded with Spanish (all men?) noisily finishing their day at 7pm.  V and I think this would be perfect.  M points out the sunset that we could be watching.  Old dynamics, step-family-tensions, threaten to resurface.  We all work at not going back there.  The debate of where to eat is at least, a lot less contentious than yesterday’s somewhat heated conversations around accommodation.  

M is adamant – we should go down to the beach.  V and I can’t find anything in the town, either beside the old castle, or nestled in it’s six-foot thick walls that is open yet, or inviting.  So just as the sky is starting to fill up with swathes of red, pink, gold and tango-orange, she and I relent.  Walking downhill and all three of us are struggling to see anything suitable.  

Ten minutes later, and finally, “Beach Bar Encuentro” offers us a seat in their tarpaulined conservatory.  

“See” points out M “African Sunset Skys…”  It’s impossible not to agree.  And then, V says, “That could be a good name for a blog.”

All tensions dissipate, over a bottle of wine and hamburgers that actually look like the pictures on the menu, we return again to the topic of my blog name.

Lots more laughter.  The themes include: adventure, not giving in to age, so being daring, but more than that, and there’s an hormone element…  We look at other blogs, admiring some of the clever plays on words and the ones we find less appealing “perimenopausal-woman”.

Then I play with the word Menopause – Meno –pause, paused.  And it strikes me…

Me-No-Pause 

– because I don’t want to. Not for age, not for fear, not for hormones or anything else.

Perfect. 

I follow V’s instructions, look it up on the domain checker and have purchased two years of the same all before taking the first bite of my goats cheese and walnut burger.  

So adventures of watery and wordy kinds on the beach today.  I grin to myself as I snuggle beneath the duvet, this evening. So wonderful, having V with M and I. Each time we navigate choppy family waters and come out unscathed I am washed over with relief.  Here we are, sharing the important stuff, big and small. Being blessed with the enormous luxury of time that we’ve taken/been granted and managing, despite a few ups and down, to be peaceful all at once.  

Day 34, Feb 5th – La Cala de Mijas to Tarifa

Le Cala de Mijas has served us well.  At ‘our end’ of the town, the boardwalks stretch and pull their way through and across the dune conservation area, wick with birdsong, flowers of all colours and prickled thorn bushes sprouting between the dune grasses.  The houses at this end are more local, less urbanization, sleepy in a ‘keep your coat and sunnies on’ while you drink your café con leche, watching the morning slip away.  

We’ve had three days in a car park by the sea, close to ‘amenities’ in which to wait for V to slowly recuperate from her London routines of ‘5am triathlon training sessions, followed by 14 hour days, and an hour’s commute before she eats.  Many of the planned activities have been abandoned in favour of watching the colour come back to her cheeks and the sparkle (that never actually goes) take less of an effort to appear.

Time to wander down the coast though and see what we can sea.  The aim, by the end of the week is to do a mini triathlon so V gets the experience of running out of water in a soggy wetsuit, ripping that off and climbing on a bike, before staggering of that and jogging up hill with her mother.  Surprisingly, the day on which we plan to do this keeps moving backwards!

We’ve had a right-old-chew finding somewhere else for V to stay.  The offer either to use an airbed in the space between the camper sofas or to have a sleeping bag beside us, received the briefest of of horrified glances.  The idea was then summarily dismissed.   The range of accommodation has been more expensive and less attractive here than we hoped, so we’ve looked further afield.  Eventually, with the help of an old-fashioned map-book and Google Satellites, we found somewhere reasonably rural but with things to do, further down the coast. Far enough, in fact to take us past Gibraltar, to the very tip of the Spanish mainland, to Tarifa.

A stop-off point for lunch sees us at a tiny port you’d never find by accident – we had a recommendation from a friend, Puerto de la Duquesa.  It’s Castille, is a proud, burnt-sandstone sentinel, central to the village, and set in lush lawns, surrounded by seafood restaurants to the left, and the beach on the right.  We opt for a beach picnic, English Style; M gets the table and chairs, V and I take down food, plates and cutlery. We forgot the napkins…

Stan is in his element, wandering around, picking up plastic bottles discarded at the edges, trotting into the shallow waves and then coming back to us in case there are crumbs or tidbits.  

He keeps returning to one spot at the corner of the beach.

There is a big, black, open-mouthed pipe pouring onto the sand’s edge…

Me: “Where’s the dog?”

M: “Over there… Stan, Stan”

V: “What’s he eating?”

Me: “Oh, no…”

M: “Stan! Come here, Now!”

V: “Oh God…”

M: “Stan!” Stan takes his time, then wanders back, licking his lips, making wide, happy sweeps of his tail – a canine equivalent of the cat that got the…

Me: “What’s he been eating?”  

I’m incredibly brave, I lean down and sniff.

“Oh No…”

There’s a chorus of “Urgh” as we leap to our feet as if to run away from him.

V: “That dog is DISGUSTING”

We pack up lunch and get off the beach, the dog is tied up in the van.  M wants to get out of the bright Spanish sun, so V and I wander off for coffee at one of the cafes.  Stan gets a bowl of water liberally laced with the green tea mixture – revolting animal – oblivious to his disgrace he’s still sweeping round his mouth with satisfied wipes of his tongue.  

Eugh.

When we set off again to Tarifa, V opts to change vehicles and comes in with me. Conversation hovers around a number of topics before resting on my blog – and it’s name – Dare2Say.  

When I started writing and blogging, ‘Dare2Say’ felt very appropriate.  You try writing down your innermost thoughts and then sending them out into the void for the world to admonish, snicker at, or ignore.  Daring in its truest form.  

We hunt together for adjectives so that V can explain in detail why the name is just – well – wrong.  As it turns out, I’m probably the only person who ever really liked it.  So, we play with ideas, V looks up the most popular travel blog titles (the worst being “Blonde in a van”) and we laugh at different sounds. Manchego Trails, Olive Wanders, Wonder Trails.  The possibilities are endless…

Tarifa looks like it’s doubling in size every time you glance out the window. There’s a lot of crane activity and concrete construction.  But if you turn your back to the mainland and follow white-gold sands out to where the cobalt sea is interrupted by vegitinous mountainsides that push up into the clear Mediterranean skies, then, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.  This is where we’ll be for a few days, for V to swim (there are at least 5 places to hire a wetsuit), she and I to run, and M to join us on hired bikes.  

There don’t appear to be any big black pipes leading out onto the sea and the land here is flat, limiting the opportunity for humans to give Stan an impromptu feast.  Even better. 

Day 30-31, Feb 2nd-3rd – The possessive noun

Saturday Feb 2nd

V’s coming…. 🙂

To fill in the morning M got himself scrubbed and dressed whilst I ran along the coast, finding signposted footpaths that took me on the seaward side of cliffs (no bolts for climbing, I checked, just in case).  Sorted and ready, an hour or so later, we trundled into Malaga, to pick up a car which which to travel more easily (there are no seatbelts in the back of the van).

Malaga airport facilities resemble all other airport facilities:  busy, designed to optimize parking charges and facilitate the through-flow of bodies.  But most of all: busy.  I abandoned M, leaving him floating round with all the other cars that didn’t want to get trapped in the financially lucrative parking buildings. I went in search of the Arrivals hall.

Standing in the corral alongside more patient ‘waiters’, I peer intently at and through the glass doors from whence other travellers emerge.

Where is My daughter?

In front of me, directly in my line of sight, blocking my view of that glass portal; obstructing the first possible indication of V, a woman leans on the railings. Her position obscures the view for several of us.  Doesn’t she know? Can’t she move?  My daughter is due to come through any moment.  I might have to wait…seconds… before I see her.  Finally, a guy wanders towards her and she gives him and tentative hug, then she’s gone.  Great…

A smart young woman, (in her late twenties?) comes through to meet an older couple, a greying Brit and a small woman whose thick makeup and long, black-dyed hair, make her ethnicity indiscernible.  Slightly anxious as this new arrival sees her audience, she increases her pace to almost a trot, hurrying in their direction.  Reaching them, she turned first toward the mature woman.  The greeting female held the girl’s arms, preventing her leaning forwards to kiss her cheek, trapping her in an awkward position of neither warm reception, nor whole rejection.

Somewhat flustered, a pink flush spreads across cheeks and neck, the young woman turns to the man.  He carefully manages to put his arms around her and simultaneously hold her apart. The girl holds his arm-tops firmly and rests her chin on his shoulder for a moment before the embrace is broken.  My mind fills in the blanks.  I hope the disapproving stepmother will warm up over the visit and that her father might make time to have proper chats and close embraces during her stay. 

Next, a man in his forties, with a huge trolley full of luggage comes into the arrivals arena and, without exiting that confined arena, stands at it’s centre, looking all around him.  Shortly after, a similarly laden female joins him.  They occupy the majority of the available space, looking aimlessly from left to right and shrugging.  My compassion is running thin.  Do they not know?  My daughter is due to come through.  I might have to wait… even more seconds… if they stand there gawping.  FINALLY, they move off too.  Right…  back to peering.

And I realize that none of them appreciate the weight of my possessive noun.  MY daughter is coming through.  MY light of my life, child of Mine.  I know she’s a grown up; she’s accomplished; far more widely travelled than I; independent; autonomous; frankly awe-inspiring in many ways; but she’s My daughter (other things to other people, but I’m her mother) and I want to know she’s safe.  Woe betide thoughtless passengers who stand in my way when I need to see her, collect her, know her safety.

And there she is.  Home, well, with me, which amounts to the same thing.  I can hug her, stand back so to take a good look, assess what might be needed.  She’s here. Possessive noun placated.

Sunday Feb 3rd

We’re running this morning, V and I.  M, ever the proficient and practical does the washing, which is very kind.  He’s planning to take advantage of the WiFi and wait the 45-60 minutes our route should take.  

During the miles we do, V plugs into something that makes her smile, I’m working my way though “Learn to speak Spanish with Paul Noble” (now on chapter 12 of 37).  As we pound the boardwalks parallel to the shore, I’m silently chanting repeated phrases: “Por que no quiere habla espanol?” (Why don’t you want to speak Spanish?), and “Por que no puedo tomarlo a la estacion?” Why can’t I take it to the station?).

Back at V’s Airb’n’b, M is onto drying our things (for which I’m immensely grateful. I hadn’t expected him to assume this single handedly, we juggle things on the airer).   V takes advantage of our presence to attempt her first open water swim, ready for her ½ Iron Man Competition in Greece this Easter.  We follow her down to the beech, speaking words of encouragement, neither of us commenting on precisely how cold those blue depths are likely to be.  

As V plucks up the courage to run through the surf and into the waves, a small gathering of disbelieving locals stare in wonder at this strange English female.  V’s been taking lessons in preparation for her sea-swim in the competition.  We see the benefit of this in the few strokes she’s able to make before the temperatures render her limbs inoperable and she has to retreat.

We all get it now, the advice of: “you’ll need a wetsuit”.  No more attempts till she buys one!

The rest of the day involves exploring Marbella.  V had imagined some ancient, terracotta-bricked fishing village.  The reality lives down to M and I’s expectations.  But we stop for a drink, I get an ice cream and V asks to cook tea this evening.  Lovely. 

Back at the van, M and I give Stan a walk. The sun has nearly set, the sky looks like it’s been spread thickly with orange tango water colour paint, then brush stroked upwards to fill up to the top of the page.

Tomorrow – Malaga to shop and find that wetsuit, then… well, I’m not sure what… I have my two most important people with me, so not much else matters really.

Day 28-29, 31st Jan-Feb 1st – Parking

Wednesday 31stJan

Second night done at the campsite, we’ve got 300 miles to Malaga Airport for V on Saturday.  In this van, that’s at least 6 hours driving.  Gotta move on.  

I went to pay.  When we parked up, I’d asked M about the prices, he wasn’t sure, the manager had been a bit vague.  There was an allusion to €7 a night, so we weren’t expecting it to cost too much.

If you rocked up to a Premier Inn, in the middle of gorgeous nowhere, for a room-only rate with amazing mountainous views, a reasonable restaurant and shared but beautifully clean bathroom facilities and they said, €18 a night for a double room, you’d probably shrug shoulders and get your wallet out.

But… 

Say to a camper-vanner who wild camps for Nada Euros, in perfect privacy (albeit without the luxury of a ceramic loo) that they have to pay THIRTY SIX EUROS for two nights stay and you’ll see the tears in their eyes as they try to stop coughing in distress.  

That’s probably why the manager didn’t tell us the price (which, let’s face it, is peanuts) – he’ll have known that all but most dependent of caravans would probably have driven on.  And we benefitted from the electric hook up, M got the batteries sorted (yes, sorted!) and the fridge got a steady 110 volts for a change.  I got three hot showers where I didn’t have to dry out the shower curtains or the shower tray before we trundled off… don’t be so tight… 

The AP7 took us from Sierra Espuna, to Murcia, and cross-country to Granada.  We wound our way through four different Sierra regions, the van chugging like a lazy salmon, swimming upstream in a wide dark river. 

Rounding the foothills, a sky-high bowl of rock peaks looms to our left, seemingly marshalling the storms, like a food-processor on a slow whisk, turning white, black, purple nebula over and over on themselves until they doubled in volume.  Like milk in a saucepan that unexpectedly reaches boiling point, the clouds suddenly frothed over the mountain edges, tumbling down steep edges, deluging everything in their path.  Including us. Suddenly we were in a waterfall of precipitation, deep cloud, grey obscurity.  Windscreen wipers ineffectual at clearance, we slowly crawled our way through the inclemency.  

I peered into the distance; sharp spikes of sunlight punctured the cloud to let the rainwater through.  Otherwise, the world was now dullness, obscured magnificence around us, cowering us to the tarmac.  Like a dogged snail we travelled, leaving tyre-track trails behind us in the rain. 

 Eventually, we descended to Granada.  It might have been magnificent, we were just glad to discern the 20 feet in front.  M tussled the van through grumpy rush hour drivers to a Park4Night spot on a hill. Supposedly, this was above the Alhambra. There was no way of knowing.

Thursday 1stFeb

It rained all afternoon, all-evening, when I stirred in the night, I heard the rain. So this morning…  yup.

Stan whimpers and it takes me 20 minutes to unearth waterproofs, boots, warm clothes. Finally ready, I open the door and step out, expecting Stan to do his normal of shooting past me into the outdoors. 

No Dog

Have you ever seen a Labrador wearing a look of utter horror?  He looked at me, glanced at the rain, then tried to lie back down in a tightly curled ball in the corner of his bed.  He hid his head, like Winnie the Pooh, if he couldn’t see me… The coward was miserably resisting leaving the comfort of his warm and snuggly pit. 

“Tough do-dah, Stan, I’m dressed now, you are definitely coming”

After very firm ‘persuasion’, dog and human stride through the drizzle.  We’re beside the city walls, 4 feet thick of stone in broken places.  Exploring through brick-built archway and in the distance, nestled in the valley, is the up-lit Alhambra.  Magnificent, enormous, enticing.

We all have bucket lists, and The Alhambra has long been on mine.  

I’m like an excited child by the time we’re at the 2pm slot for the palace.  It doesn’t disappoint.  Here is a world created by older, wiser civilisations: Moors, Muslims.  The city is festooned with water hydraulics, fountains, pools, gushing gullies to rival the Romans’ work, on whose remains the Alhambra rests.  This magnificent city laces its way through more than twenty centuries of European history.  I walk open mouthed, ear hooked into the €6 audio book that tells me of it’s past.  

I won’t wax lyrical, save to say that if you have chance to visit these gardens and palaces, gawping to the sound of bubbling waterways and lark-shy birdsong, then go.  It is worth it.

We’re now at the second site for the evening.  The first, was a gloomy and glowering sea-side spot.  It boasted public loos, apparently now employed for much more than their original intent.  I don’t know what you use a teaspoon for, but I tend to stir my hot drinks with mine.  I’m not often seen boiling up substances in one, like the poor scrap of a human being, down by the underpass was doing tonight.

Our second place sacrifices WCs for a tranquility.  It’s a flattish car park, largely populated with other campers, considerably more peaceful.  We’ll rest here before wandering over to get V tomorrow.  As I finish this latest epistle, the wind has picked up again and I can hear the familiar sound of rain battering the side of the van.  Hey-ho – It is still winter.

Day 27, 30th Jan – Filling station for the soul

The battery’s not happy.  M’s not happy.  Stan wants a walk, so he’s not super-chirpy either.  

Well, the only issue I can have any influence over is the dog.  I leave M on his tummy once more, feet sticking out of the van, up to his elbows in wiring.  I think I hear him utter a tight “Okay” as I leave, but I’m not sure. He’s fully engaged in (a) not electrocuting himself, (b) not buggering up the sad battery or (c) damaging the healthier one. 

Stan and I explore what I think is the back end of another footpath.  I love the European way of organizing country walks. In the UK you get a map and find your way by carefully trying to discern between one large copse of trees on the horizon or that smaller one, whilst holding your compass onto a wind-torn paper map that wants only to escape your frozen-fingered grasp.  What fun?

None of that nonsense in France, Spain or Italy.  The maps are horrendous if you want detail, but that’s because the paths are signposted (with actual signposts) and have markers all the way round.  A colour coding system tells you if youre on the correct route, a painted cross in that route’s colours indicates if you’ve gone the wrong way and then arrows on trees/rocks show where the route changes direction just to clear up any confusion.  It’s simple, effective and much, much more reassuring than finding yourself knee-deep in semi-frozen bog that (according to your OS map) should have been 300 yards to the left and not where you’re presently sinking.

So, when the puppy and I get back to find M listening to the radio, putting away all his electrical gubbins and generally smiling, I’m delighted.  Brill!  We make a flask of tea (just because it’s 22 degrees and sunny, that’s no reason not to have tea) I put together sandwiches and we set off for the walk that I’d given up of having time to do.

The footpath signs take us almost immediately into pine forest.  We climb steeply up rocky slopes that might double for riverbed when it rains.  The light differs here to that in deciduous woods.  At home, the wafting leaves give intense patches pure gold on the dark earth below the canopy.  In winter it’s only the skeletons of branches and tree trunks that break up weak yellow daylight.  More of the sun’s rays settle their way down to the leaf-mulch carpet underfoot and birds flit in plain sight.

The pine forests that wrap themselves around us here have no canopy as such. We walk through foliage clearings but from little more than head-height the branches intertwine so that the sunshine is diffused, gentler, filtered by many feet of finely meshed pine needles. The air is full of their scent, warmth caresses my cheek.  I can hear but have no chance of spying the fauna that invisibly shake branches around me.  

Breathing hard from climbing 500m in one long swoop of the mountainside, we can finally raise our eyes from the rumbly terrain to look at the majestic craggy spires, bidding for freedom from their tree-clad roots.  I cannot talk.  My vocabulary is utterly inadequate for capturing the verdant green set against grey and rust towering rock, set against the crisp cloud-free heavens.  I can only drink in this loveliness, try to sate my thirst for such wonder.  Perhaps if I gaze intently enough I can greedily keep this soul-food within me, be nourished by it when we must eventually return home.  

In this singular space, this moment before the second hand moves onward, I am enchanted. My heart may never have been so full. I look across at M who’s similarly still.  Even Stan pauses, raises his snout to test the air and offers a languid wave of his tail. 

Gratitude, blessings, fortune has favoured us, does that mean we’re bold?

Day 26, 29th Jan – Idle conversations; idling batteries

We woke to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks and Stan whimpering to go out.  

It’s M’s turn. 

I lie there, immobile, wondering if I’ll be permanently disabled or if, in fact, the use of my limbs will return. Instead, M returns and offers me tea and biscuits in bed.  

This has a remarkable effect on my paralysis.  I am suddenly able to sit up, rearrange my pillows and stretch out my arm to receive nourishment.  Modern miracles…!

Yesterday, when M had suggested going to the supermarket for bread, eggs, potatoes, more biscuits, I had shot down the idea.  After a long day, I couldn’t face retail.  Which meant that this morning, we literally had three Gallette biscuits between us and nothing else that would substitute for the first meal of the day.  

Giving M some space for his ablutions, I wandered along the beach and saw a cafe, open, people sitting outside and at least one black-clad waitress busily weaving her way between tables.  Hurrah – breakfast!

Twenty minutes later and we leap to the only free table at this oasis of food, me, M and Stan.  The adjacent customers also have a dog, a chihuahua who is utterly resistant to Stan’s charms.  Nothing doing.  No matter the wags, sniffs and licks offered by our puppy, theirs isn’t playing ball; six inches off the ground and it is ferocious.  Which is ok, it offers a conversation point and I pull Stan back to a position of safety.

Anya and Francis are regulars in Spain, this is their first ‘long’ trip (a month) in a campervan, but they look like they were born to do nothing else.  Over our cafes-con-leche and toasties, we exchange stories, favourite sites, long-term ambitions.  The conversation lasts an hour or so, it’s good-natured, easy going, happy and idle chit chat.  

They’ve just come from an area that I’d hoped to visit before we’d detoured back to the coast: Sierra Espuna.  So, after settling the bill, we wander back to the camper, set the co-ordinates and ready for off.

Before we fire up the engine, M checks the batteries, again.  M installed the solar power system, a fact of which I’m terrifically proud.  There are as many ways to do this, as there are instructional YouTube videos on the subject.  It took weeks of investigation, questioning of experts and seeking advice.  In the end, I came home one afternoon to find M, mobile phone in hand, monitoring by Bluetooth the performance of our very own, magical, solar powered system.

Since then, we’ve had a few hiccups.   The batteries seem to charge quickly either from solar power or the split power relay from the engine.  But at night, their charge dwindles alarmingly fast.  Is it the wiring, the inverter, the fridge or that our expectations are too high?  There’s been low-level anxiety all trip; are they ok (the batteries)?  Will they last?  Should we find different ones?

We don’t have answers, but we do have a destination.  And, we still don’t have groceries…

Driving off into a new unknown, the route takes us past various towns and cities, but avoids all retail opportunities or open cafes.  By 3pm, the toasties are wearing thin, we could do with more to eat. Our general view of the world is that you’re never more than 20 seconds away from a food opportunity.  In Spain, at Siesta time, the theory doesn’t hold true. I’m hungry, but kind-of pleased the Spanish haven’t relinquished their culture in favour of western slavery to retail opportunities.

Eventually, we find our way into the national park of Sierra de Espuna.  It’s stunning, not dissimilar to El Vall De Jalon; lush landscapes from which towering banks of rock fight their way up into the cobalt skies.  We wend our way upwards, the widths of roads decreasing in proportion to our altitude. Café after café is closed, looking like it will be many months until they open again.  

Eventually we happen upon the village of El Berro.  It boasts two (closed) panderia, one (closed) supermarket and two (closed) cafes.  Losing hope of eating more than raw onions and red cabbage for our supper, we finally spy an open café opposite a car park.  Parking and food in close proximity is a rare and wonderful combination, we’re truly grateful.

El Menu del Dia (meal of the day) is a generous offering: drink, salad, bread, starter, main, pudding and coffee for €10 each.  We can’t make it past the main course.  The lovely food is plentiful.  Our waiter takes my attempts at Spanish on face value and fires off incomprehensible menu choices.  Seeing my confusion, he quickly reverts to English and indulges my mispronunciation of his mother tongue.  An hour later, sated with food, we walk Stan up to explore a campsite that’s got great reviews.

We’ve eschewed campsites so far.  But M is bothered by the batteries and I’m bothered by his concern.  So, we find a slot in the clean and militarily managed site and I exercise Stan whilst M is face down in the bowels of the van, wiring, rewiring and wrestling with our power source.  

I return an hour later to find him deep in thought.  He’s problem solved, researched, contacted the suppliers (who are keen to both baffle and avoid any liability that might make them uphold their 1-year guarantee). M’s worked out what to do whilst we take advantage of the electric hook up that’s included in the undefined price of staying here.  

We settle and get ready for bed.  One battery appears well and chirpy; the other is unwell and unhappy at taking charge. We’ll leave the poorly battery on hook-up and see what power it’ll absorb overnight.  I’m hoping M will sleep…

Day 25, 28th Jan – Farewells and a flamboyance of flamingos

V is coming to join us on Saturday.  She’s flying into Malaga, which gives us five easy days of travelling to cover the 400+ miles between here and there.  We don’t want to leave Pinos and G&L; we don’t want to rush along the distance between here and Malaga.

So it’s with lots of repeated hugs that we make our farewells.  Stan will miss Daisy and Holly’s company as much as we will miss their owners. We get an open invitation to come back their way when finally homeward bound.  It’s very tempting.

We stop off at Calp to pick up M’s specs.  They’re not ready on time, so we discover a lake and put the kettle on.  We give Stan a wander and find that the lake is home to lots and lots of flamingos.  Pale pink in body with darker wing tips and then deep blue ends to their beaks.  They wade, mostly heads down, lost in the lake, sifting for lunch.  

Today’s discovery was the collective noun for flamingos.  There are several to choose from (a stand, a colony, a regiment) but my favourite is ‘A Flamboyance’ because, set against the distant mountain tops and the huge rock of Calp dominating the skyline, nothing but such flamboyant beauties could compete.  We stand gawping until we realize that we haven’t seen Stan in a while and we’re in shady, bush territory – there’s a tell-tell tale trail of loo paper.  

“Stan, Stan, where are you?”  He languorously trots toward us, we anxiously check his facial movements – is he licking his lips?  I think not, but am too chicken to lean down and take a sniff.

M is the passenger today, I want him to have the chance to see sparkling views of sun and sea as we head out of the Jalon Valley and back towards Costa Blanca, Alicante and then Cartagena.  On our right are drier sierras, they’re dustier mountain realms than we’ve been used to. To our left, ‘urbanizations’ (purpose-built satellite housing estates) merge to form an endless vista of homogenous roof tiles.  

After the sense of space and tranquility of the last few days, I feel overwhelmed by the crushing populace of the cities that we pass in the van.  People are everywhere…

Two warm driving hours (230C today), and M finds another example of Park4Night brilliance.  A small town called Pilar de la Horadada boasts an unspoilt beach.  This conurbation seamlessly blends into the towns North and South of it.  But there’s a parking area that’s free, where the police don’t apparently try to move campers on.  

We choose our spot and start getting sorted.  A voice calls from outside.  M and I pop our heads round the open side door to see a very fit British guy on his pedal bike.

“I’ve been following you round for days,” he says.  “You were at Calp, Altea” and he rattles off other places we’ve stopped at.

We smile, unsure if this is a good thing.

“And I’ve been following you on Overnight Camping.”  

“Oh, ok” I resist the temptation to ask: is that alright?

“Oh well, at least you know who we are now!”  I cheerfully respond and there are a few more exchanges between us.  He’s parked up further down the coast.  A regular campervanner on the Spanish Riviera he reports how much busier it’s become in recent seasons.

“There are campers everywhere now, where there used to be just two or three.”

“Yes” I commiserate and recount our experience of tailing long lines of motorhomes around Scotland.

Then he takes a slug from his water bottle and is gone, leaving us to get food ready.  

Supper done, M walks Stan.  Pilar appears to be a purpose-built holiday town, full of uniform dwellings.  All but six seem empty, the town is uninhabited, dormant; like sleeping beauty waiting for her visitors’ kisses before she can wake up for the summer.  

Which is great for us, it’s quiet and nothing interrupts the sound of waves crashing against the pink and gold limestone rocks, except for the occasional call of a sea bird or Stan snuffling in his dreams.  

Day 24, 27th Jan – Easy like Sunday Morning…

Well, easy like everything really, with G&L, they do unhurried cheer to an Olympic standard and then when it’s time to kick into action, then “Boing!” they’re up and ready.

So we went from:

“Oh yeah, look at the time…” to “Right then, I’ll turn the car round and we’ll be off!”

Which we did, because this was the ‘look, see” day.  Three hours of sight-seeing-with-a-purpose followed by a late lunch at the locally famous ‘Maria’s’ restaurant in the village.  

Up hill, and down olive and almond-blossom sprinkled dale.  Weaving around the faces of the mountain in ever-tighter hairpin turns. I gaze through the car windows, wondering at the terraces, neat, maintained, industrious, for mile after mile.  

There’s a small cassitta (cottage) in Pinos village, you can almost see it from G&L’s terrace.  It’s rented now but they’re looking to sell.  Comes with different options in terms of land available.  Beguiling, authentic, terracotta-tiled with an open fire. A homestead of whitewashed loveliness.

We move on. “Se Vende” appears form time to time. But more importantly, we get the feel for this corner of the world that our hosts love dearly.  They are evangelical, proud, and still bewitched. It’s not hard to see why.

At Maria’s Restaurant, we’re served by a weary but charming son of Maria, who corrects (instead of wincing at) my Spanish, followed up by Gary who explains my error.  We chomp and chatter as fellow Brits turn up to say hello.  

Chris and Chrissy, who first dated as teenagers and then thirty plus years later finally rediscovered each other and have been inseparable since.  

Gareth (renting “my” cassita in the village) who’s been to the medieval market that we didn’t make, there being too much catching up with G&L to do.  Gareth smiles warmly and says that he’ll happily help up house-hunt in the next town down the mountain, he loves his current location.  

On our way out after an endless set of tasty delights, we’re called in by Jo, another Pinos resident and part time journalist for the local Bendorm Paper. She insists that we meet her dogs and see the new sofa.  

For each conversation of: ”How long?  Why? and Was this the right decision?” we learn not only of personal histories but what made a move successful, and the reasons for that fearless leap.  Each person we quiz states firmly and cheerfully that this was the best thing they’ve ever done.

There was a lot of wobble juice.  I turned out to be the only person drinking red wine until Gareth came along and he felt bad about drinking mine, so insisted I help him finish off his additional bottle.  Bottles of white and rose came to the table along with beer.  Then Jo had wine, which was supplemented by further supplies.  

So, it was a woozy pair of Wilsons that unsteadily wobbled their way to the van last night.  

Brain-full, I stood and looked up at the velvet night, pinpricked with shards of brilliance.  I wonder, I wonder…

Day 23, 26th Jan – Throwing down the gauntlet

My heart flutters with hope, like wings of a fledgling bird on the edge of it’s nest.

I can see a vision.  It’s so clear, I can almost taste it, palpable enough to hear the rhythms of a new life and touch it’s fabric.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

There is something magical, gazing up through muted-green, olive tree foliage, to spy dawn’s pomegranate glow reflected on the shanks of Mount Bernia, It offers tranquility to early day musings, lets the mind wander slowly down dapple-shaded avenues toward wakefulness.

Our stress-free hosts invite us to sit on their balcony as we drink tea, coffee, share stories and let the day rouse us properly.  As the sun’s rays gain power we move down to the porch, chatting, laughing. It’s an easy start to Saturday. Mundanities (washing, emails, uploading) are taken care of with more tea and more quiet chuckles.  

M’s asking lots of questions, Gary and Lesley (G&L) are endlessly patient as we root through the details of their existence here and how it came to be. Decision trees, route maps, little challenges, big ones.  Things they would do again, or differently.  We are utterly enchanted with what we see here and try to remember that a sunny Spanish weekend in January is not a new kind of existence.

After the slowest of starts, it’s gone noon before M and I rattle the camper up to the mountain’s footings for a walk.  We’re on our own (Stan stayed on paw-gentler terrain with G&L) and in ‘our’ type of territory.  From the pathways, some of which extend 5 or 6 hours of walking over to local towns, we have rock behind us, a view of the sea ahead.  

M throws down the gauntlet.

“I don’t want a new life to be something that I drive, that I source and find.”

Ok. 

I keep my eyes on the sand-coloured soil of the footpath and wait for whatever’s coming.

“You do it this time.  You find it.”

Ok.

OK!  

I suppress a grin and manage not to Whoop and Cheer.  Eek!  

M’s comment is fair enough. I wanted to do a camper, which meant he sourced the vehicle, the parts, built the internals, did the plumbing, most of the electricals. Did it all, in short, except the soft furnishings. And that’s the same for much of how life runs: I have the blue sky ideas, M makes them happen. Fair do’s; it’s my turn.

We get back to base and I report the conversation to Lesley.  She raises her eyebrows, beams, and pulls out her IPad. We set to, looking at estate agents’ offerings online.  

There’s not much in: (a) our price range, (b) preferred locations or (c) the size/type of property that we’d be interested in.  It’s not going to be an instant find, but that’s a good thing. Tempering the keenness is a good thing.

The plan for the evening is to celebrate the birthday of builder Kevin (a friend of G&L) down in a local town with his wife Sally, and another couple.  It’s a great Chinese restaurant that has pre-prepared dishes but also cook a range of fresh fish, poultry, red meat to order. There’s lots of laughter and funny exchanges. M and I get to ask more questions. Kev and Sally have been here for just less than 5 years, Tina and Darren about 10 months.  They’ve all found work, faced challenges, struggled with the heat in August.  

We ask, what for us is the key question: Was moving here the right decision?  The answer is unanimous and unequivocal: Yes.

Kev, a DJ at heart was up for hitting downtown Bernissa, drinking and dancing. To my immense relief, no-one else had the energy.  I drift in and out of sleep on the back seat during the 45 minute drive home.  It was immensely kind of Gary and Lesley to include us with their friends.  Generosity has been the by-word of our visit.

Stan is having a brilliant time.  He’s trying to make friends with G&L’s dogs, they’re less keen.  But he’s getting spoilt rotten by G&L.  He has been awarded free access to all of their dog toys and has been given a sleeping bag to supplement the rugs, dog’s bed and other spots that he can choose to lie down.  As the day warms up he moves in and out of the sun’s glare, a rotating set of toys in his mouth and a slow wag of contentment in his tail.