I’m writing from a motorhome park near Alicante, on the east coast of Spain. There’s a cool breeze and some shade beside the van, for now. But I did find a public area out near the road which has shade all day long so I will visit there when the van shade disappears. It’s a bit of a palaver following the shade but it keeps me sane – well worth it.
This area of Spain seems very fancy on the one hand with pretty beach-side promenades and a tram and expensive restaurants and on the other hand huge high rise apartment blocks. It’s also a bit more expensive for groceries. But the people in the campsite, the owners are lovely. They are also remarkable. To hear them speak three languages in a group of people is pretty amazing.
Yesterday I was outside writing in the sliver of shade and there was the strongest breeze blowing – perfect moment – when I heard a crash and looked up to see a neighbour’s awning blown into a crumpled mess. I’ll tell you our awning story another time but for now you need to know awnings are great and at the same time delicate in certain situations. Situations like wind. They need to be rolled up or tied down when the wind blows.
Now, the neighbour’s van looked deserted and locked up so I needed to do something. All around were French, Dutch and Germans and not knowing how to explain to them I went in search of the park owner. He was in the reception area and I was scrolling through my translate app for the word for awning but there were a lot of words to figure out so instead I said, I have to tell you something in English! It’s like something I’ve said to a friend when I was breaking bad news, there’s something I need to tell you… Anyway he was working on something under the desk but bright as a button he says, that’s ok I speak English.
I explained the problem with the awning and the wind and the missing neighbour, he locked up the office and off we went. The aforementioned French, Dutch and Germans were gathered around the awning by now. One more thing you need to know is there are a lot of different awning manufacturers and they each seem to have invented their own method for rolling up their awning so although each of these people had an awning and a pole for rolling it (or automatic rolling – imagine!) none of them had the right one for this awning. (Ironically, our awning pole would have worked but as our awning story will explain we no longer have an awning or an awning pole…)
The manager took in the situation straight away and started talking to each of these people (Note: he may not have spoken dutch but as I have mentioned before the dutch nation’s superpower is having the grasp of most languages on earth (slight exaggeration, only slight) so they understood everything.) Anyways, as he spoke to each one he looked at them and knew which language to use and each time someone said something he replied in their language. In this way he found someone with the right awing pole and he started to roll the distressed awning. And then he turned to me and said Thank you and he turned to each of the others and said thank you to them in their own language. If you don’t think that’s amazing, I’m not telling the story right.
Then we returned to our vans feeling like we had done a good job of being a human. And the people who own the van have no idea what happened around their home from home. I can imagine them saying, didn’t we leave the awning open this morning?
We arrived in a town called Bullas. We were following the sat nav and didn’t notice it was bringing us the direct route but not the best route. How would it know? It’s not real, it’s just a bit of software. Plus we humans didn’t know. Actually we don’t feel very human at the moment. We might have made a big mistake turning right instead of left leaving Portugal. East instead of West.
We were learning from the locals to drive in the morning and stop for lunch in the shade or better still in air conditioning and at to only park at a place with a tree or many trees and get out into the shade while the van sizzled in the heat. We had arrived from Antequera to the town of Vélez-Rubio (32℃) and made our way to the free parking on the edge of town under a tree. Perfect. I sat under that tree all afternoon. In the evening we walked to the town like everyone else and when the sun went down it started to get cooler. At 8am next morning it was already 17℃ and we set off down the road to Bullas and a campsite with trees, showers and a washing machine. The sat nav said it would take an hour. Easy.
Two hours later we arrived in Bullas. The sat nav took us the direct route through the mountains instead of the easy longer (but faster) route on the motorway. It was beautiful and frightening. Sorry, but there was no way we could stop to take photos, Ruby took up most of the windy narrow road. I will include a map to help you understand. This has happened before. with Our sat nav thinks we want to take short cuts – we don’t want to take short cuts! We know to check this before we set off. We didn’t check. We are off balance.
Right now my mind is doing somersaults with projections for how long more we will be in this heat. I wish I had a balanced mind available to do something useful about it. Should we go back to Portugal? Will it be any cooler there? How will I get the bookkeeping done? I cannot see a solution. It feels like this will continue for days and maybe even into France until we can get home at the end of June to cooler weather.
Oh that was good. Good to get those scary thoughts on the outside where they can float off. Right so… here’s the situation. It’s hot at the moment. The forecast says it will continue to be hot. So that’s given – a situation that’s true. But just because the forecast says there will be hot weather doesn’t mean there will be. But there might be. So deal with it when it comes. Already we have learned some things: 1. It’s cooler in the morning – go out in the morning. It’s cooler in the shade – find shade and sit in it. Dehydration pushes me off balance – drink liquids. My mid drives me crazy – practice meditation.
We have always loved the spontaneous nature of travelling in a motorhome. The making it up as you go along planning. The ease of changing your mind at the last minute. Yes, so wonderful… hmmm. So we looked at the weather forecasting app and it showed us two cool zones – one to the west via Lisbon and Porto and on towards northern Spain. One to the east along the Mediterranean Coast towards Malaga and the mountains to Granada and then towards Madrid and the cool north. But… the weather forecasting app was incorrect. There was no cool in the mountains or anywhere else, sadly.
We left Portugal on Saturday morning having our last nata at a motorway services. Which in hindsight was probably a bad omen. It was the least lovely nata of the trip. Then we drove across the border into Spain and along the motorway to Seville. Here we stopped on the outskirts for fast food and groceries. It was 30℃ in the shade. And there wasn’t a lot of shade. We kept going. By 5.30pm it was 36 in the van and we had arrived at a town called Antequera to spend the night parked outside the sports ground. We had travelled nearly 400km. We did our best to cool ourselves and the van down and then I lay on the bed quietly contemplating the situation. Denis meanwhile googled air conditioners. His contemplation has always been more action based while mine is just quiet desperation. I was remembering the tunnel under the town of Béjar. Do you remember? I would gladly sit in that scary tunnel now… Cave dwelling? Yes. Yes, that too. Underground? Yes, please! Wet, windy, cold Ireland? I am so sorry I misunderstood you!
A couple of hours of that and we were both ready to venture outside where it was cooing down. We found a park with benches and sat watching a couple throw a ball to their dog, children playing tag and a lady sitting under a tree. It always puzzled me to see the Spanish students in Greystones sitting together on the damp grass in the middle of winter chatting. I understand now. It’s what works here. It’s what you need to do and the Spanish system plans for it. They put park benches everywhere and in the cool of the evening people sit and meet their friends. We were recovering, so we went to the cafe for a drink. Denis had a cold beer. I wanted a hot tea, an Avoca pear and almond scone and a little light rain so I had an iced tea. I can’t for the life of me remember what was so bad about a rainy day in Ireland…
Next morning I went for a walk early while it was still cool. The town was buzzing. Everyone was out walking or visiting the bar, there were groups of men drinking beer at 8am. At least I think they were drinking beer I was trying not to stare. This town has a lot of interesting attractions but it was already too hot to walk around by 9am.
Spain, you are absolutely magnificent but I feel we’re going about you the wrong way. Is there a manual, a user guide for those of us unaccustomed to your heat?
It’s 6.45pm and I’m staring out the window a the flags in the breeze. It’s funny how the heat changes your day. Normally I am starving for my dinner by this time but here I can’t think of eating or cooking. (Full disclaimer I had an ice cream at 4.30) It does leave a big gap in the day where I can get things done, like writing or waiting for the goats. That was my job today to wait for the goats to turn up and get photos for the blog. They never turned up. And you can’t really miss them, their bells announce their arrival. I’ve been doing bookkeeping while I wait. The breeze is amazing by the way, exactly what we need as there’s only a sliver of shade.
I saw a graph recently of the times the different nations of Europe eat dinner and I could not understand why the Spanish and Portuguese eat so late (the graph said 9.30 to 10pm.) I understand now. We had been eating at 6 or 7pm but now we are embracing the late dinner. We are also embracing the little siesta. We have not yet embraced the rising with the sun but I am still hopeful.
Soon we turn for home. I mean we start the journey back to Ireland. But which route? West along the Atlantic coast of Portugal? Or east to the Mediterranean coast of Spain? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. One is known and the other is unknown… to us. One is probably cooler (in degrees) than the other but who knows? One has plenty of motorhome stops and the other… might have also.
We are taking the unknown route. Of course we are. We want to see something new, we want to stay open to the possibilities. We are taking a chance and hoping it’ll be alright.
Like the day we drove in to meet our friends in Albufeira and we couldn’t find a parking spot and the stress was high. But of course we did find a parking spot and the stress went away when we sat drinking coffee and reminiscing.
And that lady on the zebra crossing probably didn’t even notice the noise of every dish in the cupboards sliding towards their end when we braked suddenly. Of course she thought it was me because I was sitting on the driver’s side. Maybe one of us should be looking at the road while the other is looking for parking?
It was the peace of the place that caught my attention first. We are getting closer to the Portuguese border, we’ll probably cross in a couple of days… but for now we are on the outskirts of a town called VillaBlanca (Whitetown) and it’s well named as all the houses are painted white. The park up is owned and run by a couple from the Basque Country in norther Spain. They opened five months ago having sold up everything up north. (He used to be in a heavy metal band touring Spain, she played classical guitar.) His mother was also with them for the winter, she’d be returning north next week. They all worked hard to turn these fields into a place where you could get everything you need in your motorhome. There’s water at every parking spot, toilets and showers and a little terrace bar. Everyone who arrives gets offered a welcome drink and that’s how Denis ended up drinking cervesa (beer) at 10 am on Sunday morning…
They continue to work hard, while we sit sipping and chatting with other campers, they were cleaning the toilets – every dream includes a dollop of work. This place attracts people who are curious and we’ve heard some interesting life stories.
In the late afternoon we investigate the town. It isn’t too hot. We made a mistake and took the main road which didn’t have a path but joy, oh joy we found the back roads for the return journey. There was a shepherd with a small heard of goats and sheep. The animals were confused by our arrival and turned in many directions. I remembered my Spanish for I’m sorry and used it with my “very, very sorry” facial expression and it was like a key. A key to connecting with another human. Some day I will be able to speak Spanish better than the one or two phrases I can manage now but in the few moments with the shepherd we were all speaking human. He could have been a farmer in the west of Ireland who’s accent was just a little too fast for me to understand. Where in spite of that the essence comes through. He might have been saying, There’s no need to be sorry sure they’ll come back when they realise you’re just passing through. Buen Viaje!
We had been invited to another drink around the fire in the evening and so we trotted over to find the owners, some of their friends and a French couple out on the patio (the promised fire not necessary because it’s warm tonight.) One of their friends had brought their dogs and one reminded me of my sister’s daughter’s dog and somehow I located the Spanish for my sister (mi hermana) and daughter (una hija) and dog (un perro) and then I ran out of words but I showed willing. For the rest of the night the lovely woman, who’s dream this place was, translated every word and every joke for us. And one of the things she explained was that in this part of Spain slowing down is part of the culture. We are very grateful to be here.
It’s Saturday, the rain has stopped but it is still quite a grey day. We travelled up into the hills of Andalusia this morning to a town called Valverde de Camino. It’s on the Camino de Santiago as the name hints. The park up is on the edge of town beside a little vegetable garden. The sun is coming out and the smells of soil and vegetation is just glorious. It is striking the difference between a city park up and a country park in terms of the senses.
First of all I notice the smells. Then the visuals, here there’s a lot of green growing things and a few red tiled roofs. Then soon after i notice a feeling. Very hard to describe, like a slowness in my belly for the country location and a speediness in my veins for the city.
We didn’t realise how big this town was until we went walking because we are on the edge and there is nothing but nature all around and the feeling is slow. I love slow feelings.
When we were packing the van to come away I think I mentioned I was less overwhelmed this time than previous times. I think that’s because I had a little chat with myself. I told myself I wanted to be more intentional in how I was preparing this time. It was a long talk but at the end of it my intention was to Simply Be and Do Gently and Slowly. And to a greater or lesser degree that is how I prepared. Now that we are here that is also how I want to be.
Here on the edge of Valverde de Camino with the smells of the wet earth and the man in his vegetable garden waving to me I am reminded to simply be.
My favourite way to visit a town or city is not in the rain but it’s also not in the blazing sun. One is a little uncomfortable and the other is even more uncomfortable – the hot one! I blame the moderate climate I grew up with and then came to believe was the only weather. Seriously the weather in Ireland is actually great… mainly. Anyways that results in my having a very small zone of comfort with regards to weather.
Funnily enough I have also a small zone of comfort in other areas… which leads me to complaining. Recently I heard of a great way to decrease complaining. From a book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen. The idea is you stop complaining for 21 days to break the habit. And you use a wrist band or your watch and each time you notice yourself complaining you switch the wrist band or watch to the other wrist. Easy! It increases awareness and hopefully will break the pattern.
Anyway, the whole weather thing has been on my mind for a few years now especially the first year we travelled to Portugal and it was January… and it was cold and wet! I thought it was always warm and dry in Portugal and in Spain and in France. It’s not. Then in March 2020 when the world stopped and we stayed home and Eilish came to dig the garden and the sun shone for five months – in Ireland – it became clearer that my thinking had to change around my concept of weather.
Then for my big birthday last year I asked for a rain coat, rain hat, rain trousers, rain shoes and I promised myself I would no longer be afraid to walk in the rain.
So the city of Zafra was my first real test. The rain wasn’t light, it was torrential! I was preparing myself to go out in it when it eased up. And for a moment I remembered – nothing lasts forever. Not the bad and not the good. And I walked in the not too bad rain and I took pictures of the not too grey sky and I remembered the good blue skies and really we are not here just for the sunshine and heat. We are here now for every little and large experience.
I’m sitting in the van with a quilt on my knees. Outside the rain is lashing down and the forecast says it will continue until tomorrow evening. Meanwhile the sun is shining in Greystones. But we are here now and because we’ve had lots of days of heat we are starting to be grateful for a day of cool rain… that gratitude never happened at home. Maybe you have to travel far from home to appreciate what is right beside you.
We are in the city of Zafra. We arrived this morning from the town of Villafranca de los Torres. We knew the rain was coming and decided it might be better to be in a bigger city. Plus the park up in Villafranca has a lot of sandy areas that could get very muddy in the rain. It also has what looked like a dry river bed or maybe canal. I have searched the internet to discover what its purpose is but have had no success. When we arrived yesterday I could see a team of workers clearing some dust and leaves down there. I mimed asking if it was okay for me to be walking in the river/canal and they mimed back, yes, no problem.
I walked down into it. It’s a strange experience, not unlike my experience in the tunnel. Except the fear here is based on death by torrent of water whereas the tunnel was more like death by collapse of roof. It seems like the plot of an action movie. I am not a big action movie lover but must have accidentally seen a few collapsing building or dam exploding ones because my mind is very specific. Yesterday it showed me a huge wave of water coming around the bend in the distance. I didn’t stay long.
The other unusual thing in Villafranca de los Torres is the weigh bridge. It was in the car park right in front of the motorhome parking area. All day long trucks arrived and weighed their load. I was really interested in finding out our weight. So I convinced Denis to drive up. It costs just €1 to discover we were under our limit of 3,500kg. Phew! We had full water and a full tank of diesel making this the heaviest we would ever be and therefore not a problem but it got me wondering what we might be able to get rid of to lessen the load. Water is the obvious answer, we have a water tank that holds 100 litres and the same size grey water tank. I looked it up and that’s 75kg capacity for each tank. We tend to fill the water tank up to the top when we take in water just in case we run out before we locate the next water source. But if we trust that water will be available when we need it and only fill it three quarters up and if we empty the grey waste water at every opportunity… that will keep our weight down. There’s very little else we can do as we don’t have unnecessary stuff. And then it hit me, there were a few kilos we could get rid of – from ourselves.
Oh. Maybe we’ll only half fill the water tank, then?