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.