Day 39, Sunday 10th Feb – God Bless Technology

It’s been a technology-rich day.  

Using WhatsApp, V dropped a pin for the café she thought we might like for breakfast. Google Maps kindly obliged, bringing us to her Airb’n’b so we could pick her up and then on to the café itself.  The waiters in the café had mobile phones on which they recorded our table number and orders, then delivered our ham and cheese croissants with smooth Spanish coffee.  Likewise, the bill, contactless payment for it’s settlement, all tech enabled.

We took V to the station where she’s travelling up to Madrid, working for a company that delivers parcels all over the world using the latest hard and software available.

You get the picture.

But the most fun we had with technology today, was the battery-powered scooters around Malaga.  By downloading the scooter app, you register (with bank details, obviously) scan the QR-code on each scooter, which unlocks it and then whoosh, you’re away.  You end your rental (charged at €1.15 per minute) by taking a picture on your phone that acts as a date-time stamp.  

Zooooom!

Malaga is beautiful.  The Castle is set in parkland, overlooking the port beside which unfold the granite-lined streets of the city centre.  Rich in heritage, pre-dating the Romans with Phonecian foundations, it has a mellow, gracious feel.  

As we wander back down from the fortress, a busker plays classical guitar and I imagine wide crinoline skirts rustling against the flowerbeds and hedgerows of rosemary.  You’d hope they had good shoes though – not kind on the tootsie pegs these pathways!

We need to plot a route home.  With just under 4 weeks now by which to be back at Calais.  Straight up North, or East before North, or West and then North? Either way, eventually, it’s gotta be North.  We’ve got about 1300 miles to cover, route dependent.  

Heading out of Malaga, we start with North, up into the mountains.  We’ll probably stop off at Cordoba and then head for Mid-Pyrenees, get to Lourdes (for M) and then chug across France, west-ish, arcing left of Paris.  

Today, the poo-box needs attending to.  There’s an dearth of appropriate facilities, but we find a campsite.  The manager won’t let us pay to use the chemical site without paying for all of us to come in – so two adults, a camper and a dog all get charged for separately.  Charm might be in short supply, but his technology efficiently relieves us of our euros.  We find our allotted space, next to other parked vans, all neatly stacked like sardines in a can.  

M does the nasty bit, I recycle and empty rubbish, we take on as much water as we’ve got containers for.  Then we sit, for at least 3 minutes, before M says: 

“Shall we just bite the bullet?”

I’m not sure what he means.

“There was a beautiful spot back there, on the Park4Night app, overlooking the lake – described as stunning, quiet and peaceful” he explains, “shall we just go?”

“Great idea”

Neither of us can bear being confined in an area that has more rules than its 217 pitches. It’s wooded but not beautifully clean, the dog needs to be on a lead all times, we need to be on leads at all times and the boundary for our spot gives us, at most, 3’ on all sides.

So, like kids bunking off school, we gleefully escape, delighted when the barriers open automatically and our exit is unimpeded.  It’s been an expensive water exchange but the relief to be out is so enormous, we simply don’t care.

A few minutes up the hill sees a track, reasonably flat if you drive round the craters. It takes us out to a spit of land, maybe 100m above the reservoir which envelopes us on 3 sides.  Imagine the lake district, Ullswater probably, tree packed islands emerge from its depths, it’s blue reflects the azure of the cloudless sky and in the distance the sierra mountains wrap their arms around us, in an all-encompassing embrace.  

M and I pick our very own angle at which to park, unrestricted by any regulations.  We get set and take the dog out for a wander. Both of us have spotted the ominous lumps of tissue paper beneath bushes, so Stan will stay on his leash even if we’re glad to be off ours.  A couple drives part-way up the track and we exchange “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” as we pass.  But, we return too soon for them. She’s wiping her hands with a piece of tissue that she discards to the breeze.

No…. 

She hasn’t….

She bloody well has.  

The steaming evidence is just round the nearest bush to where we’re parked and the pong is all the proof you need.

For God’s Sake – don’t these people have toilets to go to?

We relocate slightly, away from the offending ‘mound’ and settle to enjoy the rest of the evening,  it’s stunning sunset and supper.  This is a qualified beauty spot, you just need to watch where you step and keep the dog under close scrutiny, something that sadly, technology has not yet developed an app for.

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.