We’re approaching the end of our second week here at Marjal Costa Blanca Camping Resort. Chatting to people we’ve met at the dog walk and in the bar it has gradually dawned on us that a lot of British people live here all the year round. A pitch for a whole year is very inexpensive and the all inclusive price includes electricity, water, full use of the facilities, the spa, sauna, gym, indoor pool and a massive range of activities. You can have Spanish lessons, yoga, pilates, latin dancing, zumba, padel, petanque and live entertainment several nights a week in the bar. There are international markets and car boot sales at the weekends and a range of children’s activities. This is a place where you would find it difficult to be bored. Last year we heard about the full time residents and thought it was a bit of a strange choice, given that it’s basically a campsite. This year we’ve met some of them and we’re beginning to understand – this is like a very friendly village with loads to do and the sun shines 300 days a year. We can definitely see the appeal. If we weren’t so keen on touring in the motorhome we might well have been tempted to spend chunks of every winter here.
We bought two Padel bats on our way south. We had heard that it is great fun and we knew it was part of the entertainment programme on offer here so we popped into one of the hundreds of Decathlons we saw on our route and bought them. Last Tuesday we finally plucked up courage and turned up at the courts for the planned Padel activity. We cycled down in high spirits with the bats in a rucksack and met our first obstacle – we couldn’t work out how to get on to the courts. Feeling a bit silly we had to jump up and down and mime to the staff member that was running it and he mimed the route through the gate (duh) and onto the courts. We found ourselves joining a group of four Germans and Carlos the team member consigned, for his sins, to teaching us how to play. It’s actually a game normally played in a foursome and the German group were already smashing the ball around the court with great gusto. This left the two of us and the lovely, rather camp, Carlos. He only spoke about ten words of English and so the instructions were largely mimed. We started off playing as a pair against him. He spent most of the time giggling but he did it in a very engaging way so we weren’t offended. This game is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a cross between tennis and squash. The court has plastic walls at either end and if the ball hits the wall it can be smashed back into it in the hopes of sending the ball over your head and back across the net. Ours went into the car park, out of the gate, through Carlos’s legs in a way that caused him to stop giggling for a few tense moments and indeed anywhere except neatly across the net. We laughed until we cried, we ran round like loonies and we had a thoroughly fabulous time. At the end Carlos shook our hands solemnly and told us we were pretty good for beginners. By the end of that evening we had pains in places we’d forgotten existed but it was worth it… I think.
There is a happy hour in the site pub twice a week. We went along on Thursday evening and met up with a couple of women, one of whom I’d met out dog walking. They are retired friends who have pooled some of their resources to buy a large caravan on site and are staying here semi permanently. They were here for a holiday in the summer and liked it so much they decided to buy a second hand van, let out their houses and try the expat life. We were mucho impressed by the speed at which they’d made the decision and the way they are throwing themselves into the lifestyle. Happy hour is well named. All drinks are half price and the measures are scary. Someone told me that, instead of using measures like we do in the UK, they just count to eight while they pour the spirits. My G&T was of anaesthetic proportions, having a similar effect to gas and air except I wasn’t in labour so I could just float in a giggly haze and feel incredibly enthusiastic about everything. Shirley, very sensibly, bought me a strong coffee before she suggested we cycled back to the van. Our new found friends told us that the rosé for sale in the shop for 65 cents a litre is very good. At the time I thought seriously that we should buy some. Now in the sober light of day we fear for the lining of our stomachs so might give it a miss. Drinking seems to be a fairly big feature of life for the full timers. Clearly I haven’t got the right metabolism for it but it does make me a cheap date.
We decided, after some thought, to hire a car for a week. Reception here organises it and it’s simple and quite reasonably priced. Our little Fiesta was delivered to reception on Friday morning by the expat owner of the car hire business, He handed the keys to Shirley, pointed at the car and said “That’s yours. See you next Friday,” and was gone. It’s my guess he was a Yorkshireman. Why use ten words when one will do? Driving in towns in Spain is not much fun. There seems to be no Highway Code here and people drive, walk or cycle in front of you with no warning at all. We were a bit frazzled by the time we found the market at Crevillente but we were determined to go and see it. We’d been told it was huge and that turned out to be true but the stalls all seemed to be selling jumpers, thick pyjamas, heavy bed covers and furry slippers. Unlike the locals who were buttoned up in thick jackets we were in T shirts and found the sight of all that heavy clothing enough to bring us out in a sweat. Back in the car with the air con on full blast we marvelled at the ability of the human body to acclimatise to different weather conditions. The locals think its cold – we find 28c warm and pleasant and Shirley is grieving because they’ve closed the outdoor pool.
After the market we took ourselves and the dogs to La Marina, a lovely coastal resort near Elche. Normally dogs are not allowed on Spanish beaches but in winter they turn a blind eye. Poppy and Boo enjoyed belting around and we squished our way through the white soft sand and looked out at the blue Mediterranean twinkling in the sunshine. We can’t quite believe that it’s mid November.
Small things make us very happy. One of them is the discovery of an insect repellent called Halley. It works! You spray it on exposed skin and forget about it. it smells pleasant, it isn’t made of some ghastly poisonous chemical and, joy of joys, I am no longer the mosquito’s favourite meal – fabulous.
Update on the online shopping
We took delivery of our utility tent from Decathlon. It was delivered pronto to reception two days after ordering and we followed the instructions in the post room to go to security after 4.30 p.m. and collect it. Arriving there on our bikes with our bike shopping trolley attached we were a bit stunned to see the size of the box. Fortunately, kind man on security duty saw our dilemma and offered to deliver it to our pitch. Five minutes later he appeared on his wee golf trolley and brought it to our door. Service here is second to none.
Putting the thing up was quite a different story as the wind had taken to occasional random gusts rather than the previous continuous 15 mile an hour WNW we had endured for 48 hours. First of all we went to the site shop to get some more ground sheet material. We reckoned we needed 3 x 5 metres but it turns out they were clean out of that size and only had 6 x 5. This is a pretty large piece of material and just opening it out almost caused us to take off. Eventually, with a lot of jumping on it and frantically placing every heavy object within reach on it we grappled it to the ground and pegged it down. Then we turned our attention to the tent. We got the frame up easily but every time we considered opening the tent material another gust whistled down the mountains and we chickened out. Eventually we came up with a plan – we went to the pub and waited for the wind to die down. Within a couple of hours our second living area was up and ready to use. Of course nothing is simple and we realised immediately, it being dark and all, that we had no light in there. The next morning we were back at our favourite Chinese Market that sells everything and anything and bought a battery operated light bulb on a rope that now hangs in pride of place over the table. No lampshade I’m afraid but you can’t have everything.
Today is Sunday so we decided on a day out along the coast. Shirley wanted to find the flamingos and take some photos of them. A quick glance at the pictures on this post will reveal that this part of the plan failed, however, we ended up having a grand wee tour of local seaside towns. Mr Google informed us that the flamingos can be seen on the approach to Torrevieja from our direction. We saw the lakes and the salt flats and I even imagined that I saw the pink glow on the water – a telltale sign of flamingos in residence. The pink glow turned out to be the effect of the tint on my sunglasses and there were no flamingos to be seen. Not put off we walked the dogs next to the lake and they pronounced the idea a fine one as they flung themselves around, free of their leads for a while. After that we found a shady parking place near the beach and left them to sleep off their exertions while we sought out a coffee shop. Actually the truth of the matter was that I needed a pee and a coffee shop seemed like the only possible solution to the matter. Of course the problem with that is that I duly replaced one lot of liquid with another. This is one of the more mundane reasons I love the motorhome – you take your toilet with you. A hire car might be more manoeuvrable but it has no facilities on board. The marina at Torrevieja is very pretty and the coffee shop was right on the sands there so we considered our €2.90 well spent.
Onwards down the coast we went to take a look at Playa Flamenca and here we found the perfect lunch spot. A British owned restaurant that served a three course Sunday roast meal for less than €10 a head. Roast turkey, Yorkshire pudding and six veg is quite a challenge on a warm Sunday sitting out in the sunshine but we gave it our best effort.
Back at the camp, thoroughly mellowed and full of good food we’re still trying to believe that we’re actually doing this. In two weeks we’ll have been away for three months. We feel fit and well, we’re sleeping like logs and all is well with the world. The only thing that would make it perfect? Being able to pop home and see friends and family.