Last time I said we weren’t feeling quite as positive about Marjal Costa Blanca as we had the last time we were here. We’ve been here over a week now and we’ve cheered up enough to remember how much it has going for it.
Almost every day we jump on our trusty bikes and pedal to Catral – the small town nearest to the site. It’s about two miles away if you go over the motorway bridge or four if you take the flat route. We’ve chosen the shorter bridge route most of the time in an attempt to restore our fitness a bit by going uphill. The climb up the bridge is an effort but the ride back down tempts us to stick our legs out and shout “Wheeee!”. But we don’t – just in case a truck overtakes. We still have self-propelled bikes, although the call of the electric variety is getting stronger. The vast majority of the other campers on this massive 1200 pitch site use the electric variety so we are making the most of our feeling of superiority until we get home and buy the electric ones we’ve been dreaming of.
Catral is a funny little place. It has a few supermarkets, a fantastic Chinese Bazaar shop, some good cafés and restaurants and a wonderful Saturday market where we go and indulge in a fruit and veg spree every week. We have a favourite stall, one that is also the favourite of all the Spanish Mamas where you have to take a ticket and wait in the queue for your number to be called. This is challenge number one as we haven’t mastered all of the Spanish numbers yet. Challenge number two is making it clear what we want to buy. We’ve learned some of the Spanish terms for fruit and vegetables but such things as leeks and plums aren’t in the vocabulary yet. The staff on the stall are brilliant. We point and then they point at things and look at us with a question mark and we say ‘Si!’ or ‘No!’ and so it goes on. All the produce is wonderfully fresh and tasty and somehow it feels even more special when you’ve cycled there to get it, struggled with the language, shared a bit of humour with the stall holder, wrestled your way back through the Spanish Mamas and cycled home again. There’s a good supermarket on the site with prices that are a pleasant surprise but we enjoy the whole experience of cycling to Catral and sometimes the excuse to have a coffee and a toasted teacake at Café Uno.
We usually take our Burley Travoy bike shopping trolley and then we can get loads of shopping back to the van without much additional effort. Loads of people ask us about it, some of them with some silly questions like, “Can you put the dogs in there?”. Errr no.
The great thing about the trailer is that you can flip the handle that links it to the bike and it becomes an ordinary handheld trailer so you can take it around the shops. It’s an awful lot smarter than your average shopping trolley and then, when you’ve finished using it you can collapse it completely, pop its wheels off and put it inside its own shopping bag.
We love it. After five years of accompanying us around Europe it’s still going strong.
We are enjoying ourselves at Marjal. We’ve played Padel with the lovely Carlos who is on the staff here and is the cheeriest, campest, funniest fitness trainer I’ve ever met. Although to be fair I haven’t met many as they usually scare me. He remembered us from our visit more than a year ago and straight away started teasing me because I lose concentration when we’re playing and start thinking about what we’ll have for tea, or what’s going to happen next in the book I’m reading and forget to look out for the ball.
We both love playing games, indoor and outdoor but unlike Shirley, who is fiercely competitive, I tend to forget about things like counting scores. And that is my best excuse for losing most of the time.
We went off the other morning in search of the pool table. Last time we were here it was in the teenagers fun room but as there were no teenagers on site we felt safe enough to play on them. There was no chalk last time so we came equipped this time with a packet of 12 chalks – the smallest number we could find on sale in the Chinese Bazaar. We were disappointed to find that the teenager’s fun room now contained electronic games and the pool tables had disappeared so we went to reception to be told that they had been moved to an area outside the bar. This didn’t sound strange until we realised that they meant outside literally. In all weathers, two pool tables, admittedly with covers on, live outside.That’s another thing you wouldn’t find in Scotland. So we asked at the bar if we could play and the barman gave us two cues, took us outside, lifted the covers and left us to it. On the first table the coin mechanism didn’t work so we went back in and asked for help. The barman came out, told us that the tables didn’t belong to them and the owners weren’t interested in maintaining them. He gave us our 2€ back and put a coin in the other table for us. Out came the balls and off went the barman. It was only then that we discovered that two balls were missing and one of these was the white ball. We proceeded to play a strange game of pool with the yellow ball as the white ball. Adding to the confusion, if you pot the white ball it always comes back. Not so if you’re using the yellow ball. As soon as Shirley potted the cue ball it disappeared forever so we started to use the black ball. In the midst of this weird and wonderful apology for a game of pool, the wind got up and started to move the balls without any help from us. Marjal, you need to sort out the pool tables. We had to console ourselves with a coffee but we managed to deny ourselves the cakes.
Suddenly it’s Summer
Two days ago in the evening, we started to feel the heat. We looked at the thermometer in the van and at 10 p.m. it read 25c. ‘What’s going on?’ we asked ourselves as we took the comforter off the bed and opened the skylights to let some air in so that we could sleep. The next morning the temperatures were up to 24c outside before we’d finished breakfast and by mid-afternoon, we were wilting in the heat. Here at Marjal, they have recently built a second, smart new pool complex, so we did the only sensible thing. We left the dogs in the van with all the blinds down and the windows open and set off to the pool.
Relaxing under thoughtfully provided sun shades in our swimmies on the loungers, we seriously considered going into the water. Absolutely no-one else was in there and people were looking at one another with that, ‘Go on I dare you’ look. Eventually, someone leapt up and dived in. He stayed for about thirty seconds. Then another bloke, who appeared to take it as something of a challenge did the same thing and came out looking as though he feared his heart might stop beating. One by one people gave it a go, some screaming as they hit the water, and quickly dashing out again. We decided that the only sensible solution to the need to cool down was to saunter along to the children’s end and paddle. Shirley stayed in for around three seconds and I just put my toe in the water. That water was refrigerated, I swear it. So our swimmies were returned to the van as dry as they left and we went for a cool shower.
The Saga of the Haircut
There’s a hairdresser here. In desperation, due to my inability to see where I was going, I booked an appointment. To put it as politely as possible, he did not look like any hairdresser I have ever known. As I approached for my appointment he was leaning on the wall outside smoking. He was a very big bloke with a hangdog expression, a noticeable tremor and a twenty a day rasping voice. He spoke almost no English and similarly, I speak virtually no Spanish, despite my attempts with Duolingo – I think there the similarity ended. He asked me what I wanted, I said ‘Short’ and then waved my hands around in an attempt to show something of the direction I hoped it would fall in. This is pointless at the best of times as my hair falls where it damn well wants to and takes no notice of my attempts to keep it in check. So he went to work and to my relief did rather a good, if much shorter than I envisaged, job. It will grow. In the mornings I look like a coconut. After a bike ride with my helmet on I graduate to pineapple. Actually, it’s a good cut, very neat and tidy and he was extremely careful – it’s just very, very short. Perhaps I went to the men’s hairdresser by mistake. In the meantime, Shirley is smugly still loving her hair cut from salon Pam.
You are what you eat – tomato anyone?
We’ve been reading Michael Mosley’s book The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet. It’s been recommended to us by a few people and we like his no-nonsense approach. We’re not reading it for pure entertainment you understand, although it is quite an inspiring read. A few years ago I failed a glucose tolerance test and got a proper talking to by my GP who started his approach with “Do you want to see 70?”. When I gulped and said I was hoping so, he told me to sort out my love affair with carbohydrates and lose some weight. His approach lacked a certain something in the compassion department but it shocked me into action and I started a healthy living campaign that has kept me just under the wire where Type 2 Diabetes is concerned. This is a lifelong struggle because I love carbs – a huge bowl of pasta is more appealing to me than a bottle of champagne any day.
Every now and again we grab the bull by the horns and try to get a few more pounds off in as painless a way as we can manage. As you will have no doubt discovered, painless and weight loss don’t really go in the same sentence, but we keep trying. Michael Mosley suggests that the Mediterranean diet, along with a drastic reduction in carbohydrates is the way forward. This was a bit of a disappointment as I’d always imagined that the Mediterranean diet was the same as the Italian diet – yummy pasta. It isn’t – at least not his version of it. He also suggests that periods of several hours without eating are helpful (remember the 5:2 diet?). Since we left Scotland we’ve been trying to wait to start eating until later in the day and eating more protein and vegetables and a lot less carbs. We’ve drastically reduced our sugar intake too. We have no scales with us but we’ve taken some before and after pictures.
We’ve also taken a picture of today’s dinner. We did cheat by buying a rotisserie chicken, marinated in orange and rosemary but the salad was prepared by our own fair hands. Looks good eh?