We loved our three nights up in the hills and, as always, we felt a little sad when we drove away and crossed the bridge over the river Guadiana into Spain. It’s not that we don’t love Spain – just that we’ve loved Portugal so much that it was hard to leave it. Travelling slowly gives us time to grow to love places and choosing to have very few plans gives us the opportunity to ask every day, will we stay or will we go? Travelling has given us an unexpected gift – a better understanding of what nourishes our spirits. When we started out doing these long trips we tended to seek out coastal places because we love the sight and sound of the sea. On this trip, we discovered that although we love the sea we’re not so keen on the crowds that gravitate towards it. We love making friends with like-minded people and sharing chat, laughter, wine, food and the odd game of cards but we don’t really like crowds. When we found ourselves in places where a whole bunch of motorhomers park up close to one another we became aware that this version of motorhoming is not for us. The gradual dawning of this realisation came when we felt exhausted after being in a couple of big motorhome parks along the coast and then felt refreshed and rested after our trip up into the hills at Almada D’Ouro. None of this is to say that we won’t still go to the big coastal resorts occasionally but it has encouraged us to be a bit more adventurous and yet to do it quietly. It took us a few more days for these thoughts to finally come home to roost and this is how it happened …
Our first stop in Spain was an unusual one. Camper Contact informed us that a restaurant in a little town called La Palma del Condado offered free overnight parking to motorhomes. Many restaurants make this offer in exchange for buying a meal but this one made no demands at all. We were welcome just to park. Of course, this generosity inspired us to go and have lunch in the restaurant so perhaps it was good marketing but we liked the way it was done. The town is simple and so was the parking. We had to drive through an imposing looking archway that would have been more at home on a wide elegant street. This one, however, was up a lane behind a garage and, as we discovered later in the evening, next door to a band hall where a marching drum band practised until late into the evening. We had a pleasant lunch in front of a log fire. Strange to us as it was about 19c outside but the Spanish feel the cold. We stripped down to our underwear … ok … we stripped off our fleeces and were glad we had short sleeved t-shirts underneath. The waitress spoke no English so we ordered what we could understand and pronounce from the menu. Beer, fried fish, bread and olives and a lovely dessert with coffee. it was traditional Spanish food, for which we were truly grateful. When the Spaniards try to cook what they think is British food I’m always disappointed, just as I’m sure they would be if they tried to get a paella in a café in the UK.
We wandered through the streets in the afternoon and realised we had stopped too soon. There was nothing to do and no shops were open. We couldn’t move on because we’d been drinking beer so we just had to accept an afternoon of doing almost nothing. I realise we deserve no sympathy at all for this. Doing nothing is a dying art and it does you good. Remember that when it becomes a new health craze – you heard it here first.
We decided the next day to pass Seville and go on to a seaside place called Rota in the bay of Cadiz and close to the wonderfully named town of Chipiona. We went to Rota because lots of motorhomers had told us about it. Next to the sea, free parking, free services, bikes lanes everywhere … it sounded idyllic. When we arrived we quickly came to a conclusion – we didn’t like it. First of all, it was crowded. The motorhomes had spilt over into a big carpark and that was full too.
Everyone was parked within a metre of one another – just enough room for you to open your door without walking into the next door motorhome. The only space available to us was close to the service point where we were treated to the aroma of a steady stream of chemical loos being emptied all day. Some great bruiser of a motorhome had hit the water point when it was trying to turn the tight circuit at the services and so these dozens of motorhomers were collecting water from a battered standpipe. To be honest, it felt a bit like an upmarket refugee camp and we could not understand why all these well-heeled motorhomers were living like that. Yes the town is nice, the beach is lovely and there are good cycle lanes but people were getting ratty with one another because they had to wait to collect water from one solitary standpipe that was all bent and twisted and it squirted water in random directions. It was very warm and so it was smelly near the services and to add to our discomfort, our neighbours were feeding stray cats and we were surrounded by twenty of them. That couple had kind hearts but male cats who haven’t been neutered make a dreadful niff when they pee and they were surrounding our van. We managed one night and then we drove away but not before a man in a van came along selling his wares and we got two huge cakes. Every cloud and all that …
We decided then to drive inland, making that decision in favour of driving down the coast to see Melanie and Biz, our pals from the start of our Iberian adventure. We were sad not to see them but we knew that what we needed most was to find some more of that wonderful peace we felt in Almada. We motored across Andalucia in the direction of Antequera with an idea in our heads. There is a wildfowl sanctuary at Fuente de Piedra near Humilladero where we had visited in Autumn 2015 in search of flamingos. We had been told that spring is the flamingo season so to come back another time. We often get mixed up about which season we are in this far south, so it took us a few minutes to realise that this indeed is Spring in the Iberian Peninsula and it might be worth going back for another visit.
We picked the little town of Campillos for our overnight stay. Here there is a new motorhome parking area with water and waste services provided by the local council. We arrived late in the afternoon and parked up on a lovely flat space marked with a picture of a motorhome so that we knew for sure we were in the right spot. We walked into town along a wide pedestrian street and found that something was going on … a few fairground rides, a large marquee, crowds of revellers in a big café bar. We weren’t surprised. The Spaniards are good at having fun so we smiled and enjoyed the atmosphere and thought nothing more about it. Later that evening, just as we were getting sleepy, we heard a couple of random bangs and looked out of the window. Walking along the road was a young man in uniform, carrying a drum and giving it an occasional bash just for the fun of it. I remember idly thinking that it was something of a coincidence that we had landed in yet another town with a marching drum band and once again thought no more of it. It was in that sleepy, cosy, delicious first half hour of slumber that we heard the drumming start. Did I say that Spaniards are good at partying? That night they really partied. The noise went on until 4.00 a.m. with the marching drummers, presumably finally exhausted, handing over to loud dance music in the early hours. The walls of the motorhome shook and we pondered the extraordinary joie de vivre of the Spanish who seem to shun the need for sleep and care not one jot who they keep awake in the process. Ever wondered why they have a siesta? Here is your answer. It has nothing to do with the heat of the afternoon, it’s the love of late night partying.
We weren’t in the best of conditions for visiting flamingos and, although it was only about ten miles away and we’d been there before, we still managed to get lost on the way. Finally driving into the car park we were treated to the sight of a flock of flamingos in a small pond beside the road. They were here!
All thoughts of sleep deprivation left us as we walked along taking pictures of anything with feathers on. We found an unusual duck and so far we haven’t managed to identify it using Mr Google so if anyone knows what it is please let us know. Be patient with us though – we know absolutely nothing about ducks except that you shouldn’t feed them bread.
Many Spanish families were walking along the tracks and enjoying the fresh air and none of them looked as sleep deprived as we were.
We sat in the van in the carpark and drank some reviving coffee before setting off for Antequera. There is a good motorhome parking place there and it’s a lovely town but we’ve discovered, after an embarrassing event on our last visit and reports from other motorhomers, that there is a strange electronic peculiarity caused by its proximity to the police headquarters. Motorhomes with certain types of alarm and immobiliser systems find that their immobilisers stick in the ‘you’re going nowhere’ position and then the alarms go off and won’t stop. I’m not kidding honestly. It recently happened to our friends Steve and Judy and I’ve since read of other people who had the same experience as us. This being the case, we decided not to go to that motorhome parking but to head for El Torcal where limestone rocks have formed into interesting shapes and formations over centuries. You can park there overnight and walk about in the natural park – in our case after a hopefully good night’s sleep. Our satnav wasn’t up for behaving sensibly however and instead of taking us the reasonable route around the town we were suddenly and inexplicably thrust deep into the maze of tiny streets in Antequera old town. We didn’t even see it coming – suddenly we were faced with hundreds of Sunday afternoon locals milling through tiny streets and sitting in the sun in pavement cafés. Our faces said it all …
We didn’t even try to find a better route, getting out of the town as quickly as possible and retracing our steps to Campillos where we assumed, rightly thank goodness, that the town would be ready for an early night. We got take away pizza, drank some beer and fell into bed where we had ten hours of blissful sleep.
And so it was that we decided to seek out some silence and drove up into the hills near Malaga to a little campsite called Presa la Vinuela. It’s lovely here … more on that the next time.