ALMERIA AND ANDALUCIA

Family selfie!
Family selfie!

I’m writing this as we are parked overlooking a lake in Andalucia. Birdsong is the loudest noise around. It’s been a very relaxed and enjoyable few weeks and we’ve even had a bit of social life too. In Alicante we met Paul and Tracy from Shropshire in their Carthago motorhome. They were similar ages to us and Paul had retired from the same line of work as Tim, so they had plenty to talk about. Tracy loves dogs and joined me on a couple of dog walks which was nice company. They needed to stay on in the area to do some bits and bobs to do with the van. We were tempted to stay on too, but we’d spent 11 days in the same camper area which is the longest we’ve ever stayed anywhere in the Elf, so we wanted to continue on our journey. We swapped contact details though and I hope we bump into them again on our travels.

Our next stop took us over the marshland and salt flats south to La Marina, a small town with a camper area. The main draw was a beautiful sandy beach just down the road. The weather was sunny, although with a chilly wind and we went and sat on the beach each day for a bit, which the dogs thought was brilliant. We took them there in the Bodgemobile and although reluctant the first time, once they realised it was a short hop to the beach, they began getting into it without even being asked.

Even Charlie had a swim on El Pinet beach!
Even Charlie had a swim on El Pinet beach!

 

Tennis ball-obsessed Labrador...
Tennis ball-obsessed Labrador…

 

Charlie has a new spiky hair-do and a sandy muzzle
Charlie has a new spiky hair-do and a sandy muzzle

On the Saturday night we wanted to go out but there wasn’t much going on in in town. We ended up having a couple of drinks in a mostly empty bar, then going back to eat in the van. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was a quiet place or if we were too early. We haven’t yet adjusted to the late nights of the Spanish evening schedule – when no one ventures out till 9 or 10pm at the earliest. It’s a little disappointing when you get geared up for a night out and it comes to nothing, so I may have been a little grumpy on our return.

Our next stop was Aguilas, another seaside town where for €5 we parked up in the almost empty marina car park. I love marinas as I like to be near the boats and the water. I love the sound of the stanchions flapping in the wind. As in almost all Spanish coastal towns, there is a promenade running the length of the beach and all of daily life seemed to take place there, from women doing their morning power walk (you see more walkers than joggers in Spain), to the old men gossiping and walking their little dogs.  A man on the beach was building sand sculptures and seemed to live there in a crumpled old sleeping bag. He looked Northern European not Spanish and was to be seen at any time of day scouting the beach for accessories for his creation. The locals didn’t seem to bat an eyelid so he’d probably been there a while. Towards the old town, a lady was tending to the stray cats that resided in the gardens. Charlie vented his outrage at their presence needless to say. When I stopped to read an information sign, a British lady who was on holiday stopped to chat about Charlie as she had a Cavi back at home. We get this a lot,  so many holidaymakers miss their dogs and can’t resist greeting Bodger and Charlie. Once time in France, we stopped for an American man to bend down to Bodger and pour love and affection on him for a few minutes, before he continued on his way without even acknowledging our presence!

Aguilas Marina
Aguilas Marina

Apparently in Spain you usually get two to three weeks of rainy weather in February. But the lady I met said that this year the bad weather had come in January and so it was going to be nice again. Imagine having a winter that lasts a couple of weeks! It’s hard not to start daydreaming about buying a small place here so we can experience this non-winter every year. Everywhere we go we see ‘Se Vende’ (for sale) signs on apartments and houses. There is a serious glut of seemingly unoccupied apartments all along the entire Spanish coast and although many must be holiday homes, there must be loads simply unused.  

We drove on to Agua Amarga, a little whitewashed village on the coast set in the Cabo de Gata national park. It was very pretty and quiet. Some restaurants were open in the day but when we ventured out that night, not a single place was open. I’m learning this is the pattern in smaller places off-season here, restaurants open for lunch but not dinner. The camper park was smart and new with attractive plantings of palms, cacti and other plants around.

I was looking at the map that evening and spotted a beach name from a long time ago that I immediately recognised. Tim and I had spent a happy day there when we had come to Almeria on our first ever holiday together – almost 20 years ago. I had been looking for it but hadn’t been able to find it and now it was just around the corner from where we were. The Playa de los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) is a stunning beach and sure enough it was possible to park in the car park overlooking it overnight. Like many of the best beaches, you have to walk for 10 minutes or so to get there. The beauty and drama of the place has always stayed in my memory so I was really happy to return here – especially with Bodger and Charlie who loved it too. Back in the van at the top car park, it was enough to sit and take in the view. Although it was at that point I spotted another Processionary Caterpillar nest in a pine tree – this time with live caterpillars crawling all over it – scary !!

 

Charlie and Bodger enjoying the Playa de los Muertos
Charlie and Bodger enjoying the Playa de los Muertos

 

View of the beach from the car park
View of the beach from the car park

 

Views either side - nice
Views either side – nice

By this time we hadn’t been out for ages and it was Valentine’s day the next day so I was hoping we’d find a place to eat out at last. We were in luck, there was a restaurant half a mile down the road and it had rave Google reviews. I emailed to see if it was going to be open, and so was slightly disbelieving when they said they were open for lunch AND dinner every day. We parked up and asked if we could reserve a table and stay overnight. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time.

Amazing smoked, grilled mussels with aioli
Amazing smoked, grilled mussels with aioli

We headed South towards the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alpujarras. There is a town called Orgiva and we were due to meet my Mother there as she was doing a course nearby and had a spare day before it started. I had high hopes for the nearby campsite as the pictures made it look very eden-like. The reality was a little different. Although the surroundings were beautiful the site was very cramped and difficult to manouevre in. There were also some semi-permanent residents who seemed to claim ownership of the nicest area by playing loud music. In the end we got a pitch near the entrance and a childrens play area, where later we would be driven potty by the noise and footballs hitting the van. Taking the dogs for a walk was not easy as I had to walk down a main road with no pavement to get to the river. Bodger refused to go on the gravel with his sore paws and insisted on walking on the tarmac so it was not ideal with oncoming traffic avoiding us.

Snowy tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains
Snowy tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains

 

The road to Orgiva
The road to Orgiva

 

Almond blossom
Almond blossom

We had a nice meal out together in Orgiva on the Friday evening. The next day we found a parking spot for  the Elf in Orgiva (no mean feat in mountain towns) and together in a hire car we drove up into the mountains as recommended by a friend who lives there. There are some very pretty villages in the Alpujarras – Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira – all perched high up on the side of the mountain and all whitewashed. They used to be very isolated and poor, but now are on the tourist map and have become a bit wealthier. In Pampaneira we had a wander around the pretty lanes and then found a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the valley and enjoyed a great meal with some typical Alpujarran dishes, many of which involve sausage. Even the dogs were allowed in the restaurant, a first for us in Spain. The sun was hot with not a breath of wind, and it was hard to believe it was February.

Mum and Tim
Mum and Tim

 

An alleyway in Pampaneira
An alleyway in Pampaneira

 

Pampaneira
Pampaneira

Drawn to water again, we spotted a highly rated parking spot next to a lake and headed there. It was ideal for Bodger to have a swim and we ended up there for three days. The spaces large and were separated by trees and each one had a lakeside view. We made some new friends the third day as two Germans turned up in their self-converted VW van and we’d bonded over our shared love for our Labradors. Kathi’s dog Nala was the largest Labrador I’d ever met and also had the sweetest nature. Kathi’s love for her was evident. Kathi had spent eighteen months travelling with Nala in Canada and Alaska so was already a travel veteran. This time she was travelling for three weeks and her friend Christine had joined her for a short holiday.

Our spacious parking on Lake Beznar
Our spacious parking on Lake Beznar

 

Our view towards Beznar dam
Our view towards Beznar dam

Beznar Dam
Beznar Dam

 

Labrador swimming and fetching sticks time !
Labrador swimming and fetching sticks time !

 

Lovely Nala
Lovely Nala

 

Sunbathing by the lake
Sunbathing by the lake

We were congratulating ourselves as we had not plugged in to electricity for twelve consecutive days, getting all our power from our trusty solar panel as it was sunny every day. With our newly replaced leisure batteries from last year, we had all the power we needed to power our habitation functions like lights, charging our phones and watching telly. When we came to start the van to leave though, nothing happened. The vehicle battery had died. We suspected it had been depleted by using the inverter to charge the laptops and because we hadn’t travelled that far for the past few days to charge it up much. However it was most likely because the battery just needed replacing by now as the van was six years old.

We had breakdown cover but Kathi insisted on driving Tim to the nearest car battery shop thirteen miles away to get a new one. I protested that she and Christina should get to the Alhambra in Granada where they were headed, as they had to meet friends in Malaga the next day, but she wouldn’t have any of it. A short while later they were back with a brand new Varta battery. Such is the kindness of the motorhome community. To say thank you we got Kathi some chocolates and I dug out a pack of Rodeos for Nala, it didn’t seem like enough. But the engine started perfectly with the new battery and after exchanging email addresses we were soon on our separate ways again, us heading off back to the coast and they to the Alhambra in Granada.