Day 22, 25th Jan – Nearly lost, newly found

Waking up at Altea, we had another bout of ‘Camper-Smugness’.  

Ours was the only home-made van in the car park of maybe 10 vehicles set up overnight. Which meant that, because M had taken the trouble to reverse in to our slot, late after the flicks yesterday, we could open the back doors and have our own private window on a delicately hued sunrise reflecting onto turquoise seas, framed by lush new growth on the pine trees. 

While M slurped tea and slowly came back to consciousness, I walked Stan down to the beach and turned left.  We had to be in Calp (pronounced Calpey for those who don’t know – I didn’t) for 12:45 for M’s eye test to get new specs.  So, I was looking for a potential back road route that I could run from our spot. It looked like I could start on the coast and then move inland for a bit, before moving back out to the sea shore once more.  Should be gorgeous.

A little housekeeping later and I confidently jogged off into the distance. M was following the dual carriageway and then going to find somewhere to park up and wait for me.  I shouldn’t be far behind him.  The first route Google offered said it would be 7 miles, the second offering gave the mileage at 4 miles.  4 was a bit short, but better than 7, so I dropped the destination in Google maps and the opened up Sports tracker.  The former would tell me where to go and how far I had left, the latter how far I’d done and at what miniscule pace.  All good.

Ha!

Three annoying miles later, where I had twice run from the road down to the beach, looking pointlessly for a coastal route and then had to run back (up) to the road again and the dual carriageway was my only option.   I thought I’d just check the Map, in case…

Bummer – another 5 miles to go?  Really? 

I rang M, just to make sure I’d got the correct end point.  He sent me a new pin for where he was, some additional few hundred meters away from where I was heading.

Bummer again.  

It was now 11:30am and I was concerned that I’d be too late for M and risk him not getting to his appointment.  Google thinks it’s going to take me an hour and 24 minutes to walk it.  Obviously, I’m running, or trying to, but even so…

One of the things I admire about the Spanish is there absolute commitment to hills. They do loooooong ups, punctuated with short, sharp, interval-training-type-really?- ups, before they return to the looooong steep slopes.  They’re equally conscientious about coming down, there’s just as much ‘whooah’ pointing to the bottom of their not inconsiderable hummocks.  

It was after two more miles of these undulations when the path turned to rubble, which turned to a footpath through the bushes (oh-oh, watch out for the dark patches) and I, now at the mercy of a map-app, was running blind.  To my consolation, the postie on his yellow ‘Correos’ moped appeared round the corner of my foot trail.  At least one other human being must know about the route, perhaps I wasn’t completely lost.  

Hurrah! Tarmac!  Civilization!

And eventually, down a side street, was the camper.  Keys were where we’d arranged for them to be and I had, ooh, maybe an hour for the most leisurely shower of the trip.  Not lost, not longer sweaty, and getting ready to meet up with Gary and Lesley in a couple of hours time.

Have you ever known someone, a little, for a long time?  Circumstances mean that you don’t have the conversations you might like.  You get the sense of a person, but not the opportunity to properly connect.

I’ve known Gary, a bit, for 24 years and Lesley less well, for 23 of those.   

It was Gary, in January 1995, who arranged for M and I to meet.  He’d sold M to me on the basis of him being a copper, but not like a normal copper, he was a really nice bloke.  I’ve never known the details on which I was marketed.  It was Gary, who on my visit up North, met me and V from the station and extolled M’s virtues all the way home.  And three weeks later, it was M who accompanied Gary on an evening at the local club, where he met Lesley who was on a work’s night out and not on the market for a bloke at all.  

Our paths have crossed occasionally but through no fault of either side, we’ve never really had a ‘get to know you’ chat.   Today put that right.

And, it has been lovely.

Gary’s unchanged.  Funny, daft, warm, inviting, glad to have us there.  

Lesley’s a little more shy to start with, makes a lot of effort to ask questions, find out things.  

We met up in the town of Jalon (which has a car park where, for €3 you can exchange grey/black water for drinking H20, or for €5 you can also stay the night). Our group of 4 chatted on, Lesley and I gave Stan a quick trip round the park before picking up a few provisions from the local supermarket.  Then we followed them back to theirs for the evening, where, despite being vegetarian, Lesley’s prepared a meat feast for supper.

The route was maybe 10 miles.  It moves inland, past the village of Pinos, a tiny collection of houses and cottages , and then through a lost valley to their home set in its own almond and olive groves.  They have a slice of heaven.

When I tell Lesley how lovely I think it is, she’s genuinely surprised and I seems, pleased.  They have had less enthusiastic visitors.  It’s easy to understand how the relative distance of the cottage from a town or village might appear isolated, but that’s not their experience. I remember reading about life in the Scottish Highlands; homes are separated by valleys and mountains, but because of this, the community ties are stronger.   Gary and Lesley have received more invitations and care and concern than any of us might expect from city dwelling.  And they clearly love it.

So, without being slushy or overly sentimental, I want to say ‘Hello’’ to a pair of kindred spirits, who love the great outdoors and want a simpler, soul-friendly lifestyle.  It’s been lovely to meet them properly at last, I feel like we’ve found ‘new’, ‘old friends’.

Day 21, 24th Jan – Demons (not to be read at mealtimes…)

We all have them: some big, small, noisy, quiet.  But I’m yet to meet anyone/thing that doesn’t have a weakness.

Stan’s weakness (sorry, but this is actually really relevant if you’re camper-vanning in Europe with a Labrador), is human poo.

“Why?” You understandably wonder, am I talking about such a revolting subject?  Because sadly, it’s become horribly relevant.

Take last night’s stop, Guadalest.  This tiny tourist spot has three car parks.  The nearest to the centre of town is for locals only and houses the very well kept public loos.  The next-closest is also only for locals and is across the road from the WCs.  The third car parking opportunity is down a steep hill, on two levels and contains public bins, circular skid marks where the locals have shaved off layers of tyre rubber and gives access to one set of climbing routes that rise out of the bushes.  It does not contain a public loo.

“Seriously, you’re complaining about walking up hill to get to the loo?”

Nope. Not at all.  I’m commenting on the effects of all the other people who don’t walk up the hill to find the loo.  Instead they’ve nestled in said bushes, and left deposits sometimes covered with leaves, often not covered at all, for unsuspecting human feet and eagerly searching Labrador noses to find.

It’s not nice!  And Stan is super sneaky.  He’ll pick up his ball, ask you to throw it a couple of times and on maybe the third or fourth go (never the first or second, he’s far too canny for that) he’ll go to retrieve the ball but not come back.  Just as I turn my head to say “Yes, a cuppa sounds like a great idea”  or “Hang on, I think it’s in the front cab”  the little sod disappears, through a break in the car park wall, onto a sure thing.  

The clue to what he’s found is when he comes back licking his chops, in the way that you would if you’d just eaten a large mouthful of peanut butter.  His breath is unbearable and he’s then confined and leashed outdoors for a period of time.  Thankfully, we have a green-tea additive for his water that helps keep his teeth clean and eventually helps clean him up.  

The dog is now on the lead for ALL walks and only when we’re on a beach and are absolutely certain that he’s not going to make a discovery do we let him run free. 

It’s not his only demon, Stan’s, I mean, but it is a particularly stomach-churning one and I’ve never encountered quite so much human “debris” as here in Spain. So… if you’re climbing/walking/hiking/or own a Labrador…

My demon’s came out unbidden this morning.

The weather started out very cold and windy.  Then for a brief spell, the wind pushed aside the clouds meaning that although it was still blowy, and below 100C, it really seemed worth picking our careful way through the undergrowth to do some of the shorter climbing routes nearby.

They were a gift.  Bolts in the rock (that you attach carabineers and your rope to as you ascend) were less sparsely placed than often in Spain, the hand and foot holds were abundant; sharp and unforgiving on soft skin, but plentiful none-the-less.  

First clip (8’ off the ground) was fine.  Second clip (another 6 feet away), similarly good.  Moving beyond this, I’m 18 or so feet off the ground, but I’m on secure foot placements and I can see where the next hand holds might be.  The third bolt is another 3’ beyond my reach, but no matter.  

The wind picks up.  Clouds have already covered the sunny patches and the area is dark and cool.  The air temperature drops and with it goes my confidence.  I reach up, find places from which to move , clip and secure my rope, but I’m unsettled.  

The fourth clip is further apart from the rest.  The handholds are less generous and as my fingers quickly tap the rock’s surface, hunting for a place from which to make the next push upwards, a particularly strong gust pushes me sideways.  I hold on, fingers and feet secure, but it’s not a good feeling. The rock itself is cold.  The frigid stone pulls the strength from my fingers that seem cloggy and slow to respond to commands.  More to the point, I no longer trust them.  

Finally, I find one handhold that suffices and a second that’s shallow, spiky and puts me out of balance.  The wind pushes at my frame again, fingers feel like they’re going to peel off of their own volition… and I’m done.

Not happening.

A route that ordinarily I would have cruised as a warm up, and I’ve backed off it. I’m on the ground feeling shamed and foolish.  Stupid for trying in these conditions.  More stupid for not just pushing through and finishing the route.  My demons are mocking and taunting me.  M’s relieved, he had quickly started to get really cold and isn’t used to me being so reticent.  If I ever back off something he’s normally only encouraging, this time he just got me down as quickly as he could.

Not sure if common sense or my demons won this morning.  I need to get back on rock and try again.  The route today should have been a breeze, instead, I’ve been undone by one.

This afternoon we parked up at the most stunning camper spot we’ve ever visited (and there have been a few beauties), just North East of Altea.  It’s on Park4Night and is near a grand villa, right by the beach.  From here its 20 minutes, South and inland to L’Alfas del Pi where Vice, as promised, is showing in English.

I won’t give anything about the film away – Christian Bale deserves his plaudits for the role and all supporting actors are just as convincing.  If ever you wanted to see demons in action, then see this movie and follow its reflections for modern politics in the US and beyond.  

Tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll get M an eye test and eventually a new pair of specs, then we catch up with the local residents of Benisa.  Hopefully a less troubled day.

Day 20, 23rd Jan – To rock or not…

I did! I did!  I did see climbing bolts!  

Then I saw the UK Climbing logs for the area (tons of baby-easy stuff for me which is incredibly rare in a country that counts bolts in the rock as being there for wimps).  

Then I looked out of the window to see pine trees bent almost horizontal in the prevailing gale, sweeping its way through the valley.  

Oh well.

So, we walked down to the lake, which is very beautiful, sat by the roadside to have our picnic, and walked back.  M stopped to take a lovely picture, it’s very good, really captures the sense of the area. He achieved this with the use of his expensive variofoculs.  Just as he was thinking that he should be careful not to loose those essential glasses the wind whipped them away.

Up, up, up they went.  Over the Dam wall, down the other side, lodged somewhere on the scrub cliffs of the reservoir.  I saw roughly where they went.  Then I noted how impossible it would be to reach them, even if I did want to risk life and limb in the attempt.

It put a damper of the day.  He still managed to see the climbers on the various outcrops of rock though, we observed which climbing areas were protected from gusts.  Which was great, because for tomorrow, we know where to go now! M can’t wait…!

The nearest town with a cinema is L’Alfas del Pi. We’d done a death-defying drive down 270 degree road bends to get there in time to eat before the 7:15 showing of “Vice”, which M has really wanted to see all week.  The cinema owner was very accommodating.  He took us to the notice on his door that showed us that films are played in English on a Thursday, Sunday and Monday.  Today, of course, is Wednesday.

All was not lost, however.  We’d read the trip advisor reviews of the “Deja View” café.  Once inside we discovered the owner had a broad Geordie accent, and was serving braised steak with mash and veg.  

Ordinarily, you understand, we wouldn’t countenance eating English food in an English bar, in Spain.  But we were sat down by the time we realized.  And the upside of being there (apart from the very tender braised beef in onions) was the local knowledge that there were two opticians, one in Benidorm, the other in Calp where we could get M an eye test and replacement specs. 

There was also an interesting contrast between Guadaleste and L’Alfas.  Mac, of Irish descent, has absolutely ‘gone native’. His English accent is barely recognizable from the bullet-fire Spanish that he shares with the locals.  His fiancé is a local girl; he is enmeshed, ensconced in Spain and it’s difficult to see him going back to the UK.  

Trish, however, from the ‘Déjà vu’ has been in Spain 16 years, run a bar and then a thriving restaurant here, lives in a caravan in her son’s garden and decided long ago that the Spanish language wasn’t for her.  She left because of immigration into Newcastle (today running at <1% of the population), she’s considering returning for the grandkids and her Italian husband’s access to British health care.

Mac’s bar was full of Spanish, Trish’s café serves anyone but.  Two different ways of being in one part of the world…

Tomorrow I’ll start back on my ‘Learn Spanish with Paul Noble’ audio book and get better at communicating with the locals.

Day 18 and 19, Jan 21st– 22nd – The best laid plans

Monday, Day 18– We’ve had some sad news in the past week.  Two ladies that had played a significant part in M’s life and early memories, have passed away.  We got a phone call from Pat Coyle’s daughter to say that her mum, aged 90, had passed away peacefully in her sleep a few weeks after suffering a stroke.  Margaret Purdy, the lady who’d been trip ‘Mum’ when taking handicapped children to Lourdes each year as part of HCCPT trips also passed on Sunday.  I won’t replicate M’s gentle and well-written words about them here, but did want to acknowledge both of these lovely people, who gave him encouragement in becoming the person we know and cherish today.

None of our plans for Monday materialized.

Driving round Valencia city in a small car, and more importantly getting parked up, must be pretty miserable.  Attempting this in a 21’ van is utterly impossible.  After an hour and a half of:

“red light, crawl forward, big ramp, crawl forward, big ramp, busy junction, red light…”

and we gave up.  I’m sure that Valencia is lovely, and one day we’ll hopefully return.  Which, of course, meant where to next?

Guests had pointed us towards Xativer, which we duly visited.  It’s a very pretty, small but bustling town, equidistant between Valencia and Alicante, on some good roads and then lots of picturesque ones with hairpin bends snaking like a cattle trails up and down hill sides.  It also boasts a prodigious number of tiny crowded streets and more road ramps, red lights, heavy traffic.  Driving through, we acknowledged the pretty parks and the tiny compacted parking spaces.  But in the absence of anywhere to stop, we moved on once more.

Beginning to feel like we’d never find somewhere to rest, we headed back up into to hills.  

Finally, in the middle of nowhere, near the tiniest settlement called Bellus, was a campervan stop, with 3 types of water, beautifully kept, nestled below the dam wall of the reservoir.  There’s not much to tell you, except that it was clean, and that in 1788 (that’s not a typo, it was 1788) there were a set of baths that were ranked as one of the best spa facilities in the whole of Valencia.  Sadly, these now reside under said reservoir, but hey – good to know none-the-less!

Tuesday, Day 19– Bellus is a great place to sleep, it’s not a bad place for a run.  It’s one café is probably a lovely place to eat come April when it re-opens.  

We packed up…

“Where are we going?”  I asked

“Not telling,” was the answer “Surprise.”

Which it definitely was.  Looking up at the snow-dusted mountains around us, I mused on how chilly they looked as we started to drive.  A short time later I mused on how they seemed to be getting closer.  No, really, they were a lot closer.

I looked at M. 

“Where are we going?”

“Honestly,” he said “I can’t remember what I typed in the sat nav, but it looked great on the reviews.”

I put the map book down, noting instead how I could see the crevices in the snow now… 

An hour up and then down the mountainside and we arrived at “El Castille de Guadaleste”, a tiny but thriving village, beside a LOT OF ROCK.  Like Morella, it too has an impressive set of turrets perched implausibly on a tiny outcrop of mountain, along with three churches and medieval settlements up there too.  

This “blink and you’ll miss it’ dot on the map also gets to crow about some seriously good eateries and a bar, run by Mac and his (only now, after 10 years) fiancé.  The bar is very popular in winter with the locals, not least because the “European directive against smoking in public places” mysteriously doesn’t apply within its walls. We didn’t much care about the smoking, the wood burner was blazing, the chat and the wine were good, as were the tapas and the Nachos Picante.  

As I gave the dog a walk later, I was sure I saw climbing bolts on various parts of the rock wall, glinting in the street lighting…

Day 17, Jan 20th, Street Life?

Like a leaf on that gust of warm air, we were off, blown down the coast towards Valencia and sights new in the drizzly remains of an overnight downpour.  The plan had been to go to the pictures at 5pm (the only time for showings) after having seen the sights of Valencia City. Neither happened.

What we saw instead, was much more interesting.  

The city is split by a long riverbed, some 200m wide, broader in some spots. Encased on one side by medieval city walls, the elongated enclave of activity has runners, cyclists, rugby players, scooter-riders and roller-bladers of all ages. 

In the flower beds and bushes were cat shelters and trays of food.  We looked for human habitations, like you’d find in London’s parks: bedding and boxes set out for the coming night, insubstantial and rain-absorbent, we found none.  Wherever the homeless rest, we’ve seen almost no evidence of their dwelling on any Spanish public streets.  It must be there; in England, Belgium and France its growing incidence is uncomfortably visible.  Here, we’ve failed to see it.  

It turns out that Valencia does have/has had an issue with homelessness.  It started to tackle this by sending out hundreds of volunteers one evening in 2015 to walk the streets, to actually ‘see’ how many were sleeping rough.  Of 400+ found, 250 were surveyed for mental and physical health issues and a strategy was devised.  From then, they’ve had a number of projects to increase social housing and get people off the streets (one championed by Richard Gere in 2016).  They also have police patrolling the park in panda cars so that the itinerant population can’t disturb the peaceful rest of the city’s kittens or musings of visiting tourists.  

After a mile or so, we turned away from the verdant riverbed of health, into the city. The streets cobble and tarmac their way between tall apartment buildings, Parisienne in style, some of these towering edifices are elegant, beautifully maintained with long shuttered french-doors, their juliet balconies, overlooking the park.  Other blocks are decrepit , crumbling, uninhabited, unsafe.  The juxtaposition of sound and unsound, felt like a plan for the city was half executed.  Perhaps, there are many property owners waiting for the next round of EU grants…?

During our wanderings, we found the smart and shiny theatre building, all glass and steel framing, not exactly what we’d set out looking for.  But by burrowing further, we found even smaller streets with café tables and chairs and the great and the good sipping, not café-con-leche, but a dark red liquid in large glasses, served on ice with an orange slice.

As magnets gravitate to the pole, M and I had “naturally” been drawn to the cool and trendy part of town “El Carmen” (The buzzing old town district of the city – according to trip advisor).  We were sat amongst the beautiful, and as such chose to hide our unqualified selves in the corner of one bar, from whence we could watch those who belonged, unchallenged.  

From Vall d’Uixo, where we almost exclusively saw svelte runners and cyclists heading out into the hills, to here, wandering through this valley, we had firmly come to the conclusion that Spain must have a zero obesity problem. The entire population appears fit, trim and athletic by nature.  Bar culture put our minds at ease, a more rounded perspective of the population showed that although there are lots of skinny fit people in Spain, there are more ‘normal’ body shapes too alongside them.

The liquid I’d spied was Vermouth. I smiled into my glass, thinking of Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter in Cinzano Rosso adverts of the 1970’s, as I sipped. Vermouth is apparently very trendy in Spain right now.  It’s also very delicious, I needed a second glass, just to be sure 😀   

By the time we got back to the van, walked Stan and had a little post-aperitif snooze, we’d missed the flicks.  

Tomorrow we’ll go to the renowned Central Market and stock up on fresh fruit and veg, and get M to the pictures.  Then we’re away again, down towards Alicante…

Day 16, 19thJan, Lazy Saturday Mornings….

It’s interesting, that despite our being away from the working-week routine, today felt like a weekend morning; it had that ‘slow start, nothing to rush for’ atmosphere.

I was a bit hormonally discombobulated today.  We were talking about what we’d do (stay in-situ or move on towards Valencia). I set off for a half-hearted jog in the hope that it would balance me out, returning with less energy rather than more cheer.  M, who always tries to make everything good was thrown off by my emotional oscillations. He went to the loo block and I made coffee in a hope that this would be the solution.

Which it kind of was, because on his way he met the inhabitants of the latest van to arrive, with a GB plate, and he sent them in my direction.

Hannah and Matt (late 20’s, both vets) came to say ‘Hello’.  They’d been very brave and enterprising, chucking in jobs from home and taking out a year to do much of Europe.  120-something days in and France, Portugal and Spain were thoroughly covered.  Which leaves them Italy, Coroatia, Slovenia, and up to Norway to do before July.  Stan was given an impromptu ear exam, as he’s been worrying at his ears and we got a lesson on how to treat his ear canals, if required.  

They stayed for coffee and we sat in the sunshine until M suggested it was ‘beer-o’clock’.  Whereupon we sat some more, swapping stories and histories; adventures and mishaps; journeys of learning the art of camper-vanning in countries where you don’t speak the language as well as you’d like.  By 4pm, the only food we’d had was Hannah and Matt’s bag of crisps.  

Our new chums offered to host for supper over at their van (some 30 meters away), since that spot wasn’t tree-shaded.  Matt like M does much of the food and we chomped a picnic of bread, chorizo, cheese, apple and cucumber, which kept us chatting till 6ish.  Stan had a lovely time.  Having all agreed that no dogs should be given human food, he surreptitiously got cheese rind from each of us.  Then we were back in the van, me reading and trying to ignore the endless radio debate on a solution to the Brexit problem.

Much, much later, a message from my cousin in Sunderland told me that as a part of her 52ndbirthday celebrations she’d read my blog and inadvertently set up her own. I’ve put the link here (https://manypauses.blog/2019/01/19/) – it reads really well – like hearing her voice here in the camper 🙂  

Around midnight, I wandered in slippers over to the toilet block.  Padding back there was a strong gust of warm wind that rustled the palm tree leaves high above my head.  I gazed upwards, noticing how shiny the fronds looked reflecting back the streetlight.  

I wondered, what change was that wind blowing towards us?

Day 15, 18th Jan, Friends

As we packed up the van this morning, ready to move on, I noticed the same two Spanish gentlemen who have been in the car park each of our three days here.  

They met at 9am and sat at the picnic table benches in the corner.  On warm days, they were in shirtsleeves, today with the cloudy skies they were wrapped in warmer coats and hats with pull down flaps for their ears.  Each day they were rapt in conversation.  The taller gent in the black coat sat with his back to the rising sun, at one corner of the table.  His friend took the adjacent corner, listening with rapt attention, his short legs swinging several inches above the paved area.  From time to time, he roared with laughter at whatever tale he’d been told. 

They were engrossed in each other’s company, this duo.  Parting was no quick process.  At 11am, they stood to move in opposite directions.  But one remembered a thing that had just occurred, they walked together again, sharing the item that must not be forgot.  Slapping one another’s backs they moved as if to part, but then the other raised a hand and they moved closer once more.  Eventually, foot by foot, they grew more distant until at nearly 11:15, they finally turned their backs on each treasured friend and went their separate ways.

We’ve left the safety of our last stop and inched our way down the coast toward an eventual destination of Granada, seeing friends enroute. 

Park4Night directs us to a tree-shaded car park that’s empty save for two silent campers. We put ourselves equidistant to the others, positioned to maximize the sun’s glare and the energy that the solar panel can absorb.  A fourth camper, large, coach-built and British in origin pulls into the arena. It boasts a private plate and soon a couple emerges with their dog.  The gentleman looks tentative and glances in our direction.  I wave in response and they come to chat awhile.  

We learn of their journey, how they rejected the option of purchasing property in Spain over renting, which they then eschewed in favour of touring in a van. They’ve been doing this 8 weeks and happily share their knowledge of which regions have the friendliest governance regimes when it comes to motor homes.  We flip pages in our map book (gifted by my aunt and uncle) and trace our finger along Spain’s jagged edges.

As our English companions move away, the occupants of the third camper appear and come over to say hello.  A French couple who are happy and friendly, they proudly announce that they’re both 65.  My school-girl French gets us so far in the cheery exchange, her very good English makes up the distance.  The compliments for my grasp of the language are unearned. I realized a couple of years ago that if I (mis)pronounce foreign words with confidence then the owner of whatever language I have abused will happily correct me and take no offence at my bungled attempts at communication.  Consonant pronunciation is everything!

So we’ve had friends old and new today.  But also, I’ve had a few messages from friends in response to this blog, and I want to say thank you.  

Writing the blog, not dissimilar to sending out my book to agents, requires a push of hope and confidence that I often struggle to find.  All the likes, smiley faces and comments I receive are small salves to my flailing esteem.  Hormones aren’t helping, they send me on my menopausal rollercoaster. Even here, wandering round Europe, I dip from time to time.  But I want to acknowledge and send back appreciation for those reactions. 

Imagine, if you will, that I’ve pushed a stake in the ground; it has a flag attached. The cloth that flutters in the breeze reads “Friend” and it’s there for all who’ve taken the time to read this account or any of the other things I’ve sent into the open domain.  Your support counts as friendship, it’s precious and appreciated.

Day 14, 17th Jan, The things we (don’t) know

Another set of literary agents have been offered the opportunity to represent my work as of this morning.  And I got my first rejection, but as a refusal goes, it’s about as lovely as I could imagine (rarely have the academic equivalents been so encouraging).  It said: 

Dear Julie, 

Many thanks for giving me the chance to consider your work. I enjoyed the material you sent but I’m afraid this isn’t one for me. 

Please don’t be disheartened though, this is a subjective business and just because a book doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work for someone else. 

Best wishes,

I mean, if someone’s gonna say ‘No’, that’s how to let you down gently, don’t you think? So, I am encouraged by this refusal. I store it with the other positive feedback for my book and it makes me send out another five missives of hope.  I know this is going to be a slow game…

Then we went up into the mountains.  We’ve used a great App called “Wikiloc” all over Europe.  The App aims to offer footpath route-finding across the globe. We’re glad we know how it works. It has three different sound categories: a happy beep to say you’re on the right route; an unhappy beep when it thinks you’re straying from the path; and a triumphant ‘TaDah’ when you’ve completed your set circuit.

We follow the app until common sense takes over.  When it wanted to send us over a precipice (with Stan, a keen but not invincible Labrador), we chose an alternative clearing.  Eventually, having reached the summit of an imposing mount, the route back towards ‘home’ was steep to say the least.  We commit to a number of drops, Stan complies either behind us or taking the lead until we find an 8’ down-climb that’s roped up as a via ferrata route might be.  

Hmm…

We encourage Stan to go first, but nothing doing.  

M climbs down and I encourage our intrepid dog to follow: not happening.  

I climb down too… eventually, the poor puppy, whining in distress, commits to the descent.  

M grabs him part way, to reduce his drop and soften his landing.  As he reaches the earth, the dog stands up and wags at us as if to way “well, what are you waiting for?” running on ahead.  We knew we could do via ferrata (equivalent to a grade 1 or 2 scramble).  Now we know the dog can too.  Not that we want to put this to the test again any time soon.

When we return, I spend a fruitless 15 minutes, smartphone in hand, walking round a palm tree and a rockery. I’m trying to get the app to acknowledge that we’ve completed the route and give me the concluding ‘TaDah’ I’ve been hoping for.  I’m unable to achieve this, I don’t know how to get the software to recognise that we’ve done its route in full.

Back at the van, we all collapse, eat, rehydrate and then M and I face the inevitable. At some point, were going to have to do the laundry.  Having spied a launderette on yesterday’s jaunt round the town, we’re soon set up with three machine loads on the go (our clothes; all Stan’s bedding; all our bedding). 

I didn’t’ know that unless you choose the program you want on the washing machines BEFORE you put the money in, it gives you the first programme and there’s nothing you can do to change it; you can’t cancel or get your money back.  I do know this now.  Thankfully, the default setting is a cool wash, but it’s not a mistake I’ll make twice.  

Our evening concluded with a visit to a local bar for bocadillos (sandwiches) and drinks.  My knowledge of Spanish combined with the goodwill of a couple of customers facilitated conversation. We’d got on sufficiently well that I was offered and provided with a complimentary ‘Café Rhumm’ – a cream-free version of a bombadillo in Italy (alcohol and sugar syrup, with coffee).  Whereas in Italy this is topped with cream, in Spain it get’s a top layer of cinnamon and lemon.  Soooooo tasty.

With a warm smile on my tipsy face, M steers me out of the cafe and we go back to our car park for the last evening before we move on.  I don’t know where we’re going tomorrow, but I’m so glad we know about this place, it’s been magic.  

Day 13, 16th Jan, Pushing back barriers

M woke me up at 3am this morning to tell me that he was delighted to have been accepted for RAF flight school.  

“Right, my love, two more paracetamol for you and no long walks; let’s get you well again first.”

So, I went for a run instead, setting off along one of the generally well signposted routes into the hills.  The dew lay as heavy as rain, my ginger running stumbled to a walk up a river bed, me thinking that I’d lose both ankles if I didn’t slow down.  The only flat surfaces were the largest rocks and they weren’t horizontal.  Then, the path turned into a covered waterway (a llevada), which gave me an 18” concrete corridor on which to continue.  

As the route twisted and turned through the valley, hills behind hills were obscured by low-lying mist, with forested peaks looming far above.  It was lovely.  It was isolated.

I am risk averse, as a rule.  I don’t like taking unnecessary chances.  Today, M and I had watched a whole host of people head up into the hills, (effortlessly) jogging along, so I was expecting more company than I found.  My thoughts turned to whether this was a fools’ errand and whether I should just have done a road run.  The tarmac surface above me was only a few meters away but there were 12 feet of thorn-thickets filling the distance and I didn’t fancy being torn to shreds. So, I plodded on, pulse rate higher than the exercise demanded.

As a precautionary measure, I held my water bottle securely in such a way that if the situation demanded, I could use it to butt the temples of a would-be assailant. It might, or might not have been an effective measure, but made me feel more secure.  

So, why do I continue to make myself vulnerable in this way?  Because if I don’t, then soon I won’t be able to.  Fear is a powerful demotivator; its walls come silently sliding in until we’re boxed and unable to move.  I don’t think this is particularly a gender issue, but I do know lots of women who feel the same way.  Only by putting my back against one such barrier and pushing the opposite away with the soles of both feet, do I manage to keep going, to run, to climb, to walk.  The alternative would be crushing.

And the route was uneventful.  I eventually passed a few women (always in pairs…) coming back towards me and then the path abruptly ended.  I found my way back to the road, discovered the beautiful new cycling path that’s being laid and ran on that until it too disappeared.    

The rest of the day was pottering around the town with M.  It’s a place of two extremes – either beautiful and well kept, or unfinished and slightly unkempt.  One side of a street has beautiful block paving, the other has no paving at all, only rubble and signs that warn of workmen in roads which have no men and no work on going.  

Our car park is still great, we’re undisturbed and don’t appear to be causing any disturbance.  The occasional police patrol car circles the area but doesn’t stop or look for long.  

The sunshine is glorious, it’s a cool 7 degrees in the shade, but if you stay under the bright yellow glow, it feels lovely.  Coming back from my jog this morning, I heard familiar birdsong including pigeons, and the air felt like an early summer’s day at home.  Yet here I am, living the unsuspected dream, camper-vanning in Europe and becoming accustomed to the differences that each town brings.  Two weeks down tomorrow, “only”eight left to go.  I am loving every day of this adventure. 

Day 12, Tuesday 15thJan. Minor adjustments

Turns out Teruel has a lovely old town, a great pedestrian bridge over the river and lots of good cafes.  

First thing was spent sorting bits – trying to get more data for my phone deal so that I can upload the blog without visiting McDonalds; M talking to the roadside assistance insurance company about last week’s incident, checking bookings for the rest of the year, finding out when V might be coming out to visit.  

Then we went wandering, and purchased little things that we wanted, having spent nearly a fortnight in the van.  These included: a curtain to separate front and back living spaces, which means that whoever is having a slow start doesn’t get blinded by the light from opening the door, or blasted with a cold inrush of mountain air.  I have super-deluxe, down filled slippers that have no heat protection in the soles, so am now toasty with a pair of insoles.  I hate the dishcloths we bought with us, they’re too papery and not absorbent enough.  We’ve dealt lots of small but significant things.

Just before we finished pottering around the town M asked if I wanted to stay any longer.  

“No, thank you, I think we’re done.  What do you think?”

“I think we should go too.  But are you sure, or are you just saying that?”

Biting back a giggle, I replied “No, I’m sure, but thank you for clarifying.”  

Lessons learned.

We have headed back towards the coast.  Morella and Teruel are both great places, but are an additional 1000m above sea level. The overnight temperatures there are generally -5 or -6, whereas closer to the coast they’re +5 or +6.  M’s fever has picked back up and he’s coughing again. As much as we love the mountainous regions, they’ll have to wait until his body’s fully recovered from this bug or the continent gets a bit warmer.

M feeling under the weather meant that I got a rare experience of sitting behind the steering wheel.  Whilst I drove, M route-found and we both lost patience with British news, there being the ‘meaningful vote’ this evening.  A number of radio shows spent the entire day broadcasting endless hours of callers ringing up to express their discordant views.  Eventually, we changed radio channel and listened to Culture Club and Madonna, which felt like a ‘meaningful’ substitution.  

We’re in a small area called ‘La Val D’Uixo’.  It boasts a number of caves, glorious routes into the hills for walks (one tomorrow if M is feeling up to it) a town with a number of good restaurants and bars and a large, flat, free car park with the 3 types of water provision – all clean and well serviced.

The air was warm enough that we spent the afternoon with the side door open and pottered on getting the various jobs done that had been waiting for a good day. The hope is that we’ll spend a couple of days here before committing to Valencia and the coast.  Friends live near Alicante and we’re looking forward to catching up with them soon.   

This evening, we have the fire is on in our U-shaped lounge (that will later become our bedroom), the dog is in his bed in front of said fire and has just repositioned himself so that his face is getting the maximum heat.  Contentment reigns.