In an unusual break from tradition, may I say…. Good Morning! I happen to be suffering from the world’s worst ever recorded case of man-flu at the moment, so unable to sleep for coughs and sniffles – I’m up, washed, dressed and watching the sunrise (that’s another first!) from Vince’s front window. And here it is…
Our updates have fallen a bit behind real time over the last few days, so grab your packed lunch and strap yourselves in, it could be a looong journey as we catch up with the last couple of hundred miles.
This missive is coming to you from Zahara de la Sierra, a jumble of whitewashed houses tumbling down a hill between a ruined castle and a large lake. It’s more of a reservoir really – I can see the dam from here, but lake sounds so much more picturesque. We’re not in a campsite, or even a motorhome aire just now; we’re parked just off the main road into town with Vince’s rather ample rear end almost dangling into the traffic. Fortunately there aren’t too many passing vehicles so I don’t think we’re causing any problems. Unlike – ahem – on our arrival here.
I did that thing. That thing where you count down the distance to your turn off on the satnav, 1km… 500m… 250m… 100m, turn NOW – what, now as in… now? Oops. Ah well, I thought, I’ll find somewhere to turn round up this ridiculously steep hill which seems to be narrowing alarmingly. Or maybe I won’t. Poor old Vince was getting some incredulous looks as we negotiated our way round ever-tightening corners and kerb-free cobbled lanes. I had to take two cuts at one corner to avoid a barrel outside a bar, and pause every so often to allow pedestrians to retreat into doorways. The streets were so narrow that we had to fold the mirrors in. I have been known to exaggerate a little on occasion in these pages – no really – but this time..? No. I don’t ever want to do a drive like that again – so hopefully you can forgive me for seeing this handy parking area and just stopping to let stress levels, and Vince’s clutch, cool down.
The streets which were such a nightmare to drive, were actually a delight to wander on foot. We stopped for a coffee in a shady square, “Wasn’t that where the elderly lady waved her walking stick rather threateningly at Vince?” “Yes that was the one…” We stuck our heads inside the cool, dark church for a quick look, then while Gill had a quiet afternoon reading, I cycled off to look at the dam and a nearby bar. Which sold rather refreshing beer as it happens.
This part of our journey is a deliberate strategy to avoid the built-up holiday areas on the coast – the Costas. I’m sure they have a lot to offer in the way of family seaside holidays, but we’ve heard they’re not really that motorhome-friendly. Understandably the local councils don’t want rows of camper vans parked along the prom, blocking the view for customers of the expensive hotels, so decent parking places are few and far between. We thought it best just to avoid the area and explore the Pueblos Blancos – Spain’s beautiful white villages, like this one – a short drive inland, and rejoin the coast a bit further east.
Our first taste of the Pueblos Blancos was a couple of days ago when we turned left at Estepona and started climbing higher and higher along twisty roads towards Ronda. Our planned overnight stop-off had been taken over by a funfair for the weekend so in one of those happy accidents which come along from time to time, we diverted to an alternative spot. Casares turned out to be a lucky find. The tourist office on the way into town allows overnight parking in their car park and even had a service point where we could fill and empty fresh & waste water. There was another ruined castle at the top of the hill, another church, another bar – in fact it was very like Zahara but without the mistake of navigating the big fella through streets designed for horses & carts! The lovely thing about the Casares parking spot was that the town was hidden from us round a series of bends. That meant there was very little light pollution after dark, rewarding us with a spectacular display of stars on a moonless night.
Ronda itself was a little bit of a disappointment. It’s probably the most commercialised of the local towns, in fact it was more city-like than anywhere we’ve visited since Cadiz. We can hardly complain about the number of tourists when we’re tourists ourselves, but visiting at the weekend meant that the town was full of Spanish families on weekend breaks as well as the ‘normal’ tourists. The one thing we had come to see certainly didn’t disappoint, and that was the Puente Nuevo, the ancient, solid-looking bridge over the gorge leading into the city. Finished in 1793, it’s 98m high and has an unusual feature – a chamber above the central arch which was used as a prison. During the Spanish Civil War both sides allegedly used the prison for torturing opponents, throwing some unlucky individuals on to the rocks below. I must confess it made me quite dizzy looking over the edge.
Actually when I say that the Puente Nuevo was the one thing we wanted to see in Ronda, it’s not quite true. We wanted to visit the shop where Gill came with our children and her family in 1998. I was a thrusting young executive at the time and had to stay at home working. Gill’s sis and our youngest got into trouble with the shop owner for trying on lots of hats and giggling, without actually buying anything. The shop was still there, and yes – I had the waggy finger from the owner for trying on hats and giggling too. It had to be done!
There’s not too much to be said about our overnight stop in Ronda; as is often the case in the big towns, it was €10 including services, it was clean and tidy and it had wifi. Despite the wifi being ridiculously slow – it usually is – we just left one of the phones in a corner, quietly downloading movies from Amazon Prime for us to watch on rainy days. Very handy as it didn’t affect our own data. We’re both with different service providers but we await the dreaded text to say we’ve been abroad too long for free roaming to continue. It hasn’t happened yet but we’ve read of other travellers who have had the service withdrawn. Fingers crossed for the next four-ish weeks.
We’re still going back in time here, two more stops in Vince DeLorean and we can shoot forwards again to today. You may remember the photo of the muddy, soggy field where we endured non-stop rain and wind in our last post. We arrived there from Barbate – a very nondescript town whose main claim to fame is its tuna-fishing museum whose charms we just about managed to resist. Karma caught up with us there. After laughing at a French couple on a previous trip for letting the car park barrier descend on them while they were arguing… Yes – we did exactly the same thing. We weren’t arguing, but we’d both gone to the ticket machine to pay, so when the barrier lifted I foolishly assumed it had a sensor and sauntered back to Vince to drive him through. I started the engine and – surprise! The barrier closed before I’d even released the handbrake. I’d been a Good Samaritan to the French couple; a helpful Spanish lady made a phone call for us in return to get the barrier lifted again. I like Karma.
From the muddy field stop, we went on to a camp site near Tarifa, Spain’s most southerly point. We needed to get some washing done so it made sense to let it dry in the sun while we took Vince into town. We don’t usually take Vince into the towns and villages (see above!) but there was no bus service available, the main road was a bit dodgy for the bikes and taxis were the price of a small apartment. We had the sense to scout parking areas online before we left and slotted Vince painlessly into a space behind the police station, which had the bonus of making a break-in unlikely.
Tarifa is a port town; port as in ships rather than a tasty beverage. We wanted to see some maritime action so before lunch we walked along a causeway where we could see the ferry to Morocco easing away from its mooring. That causeway also leads to Spain’s most southerly point. We stood with the Atlantic on our right, the Mediterranean on our left, and the Strait of Gibraltar er… strait in front of us. We had a quiet pause before crossing back into town for a fishy feast as we realised that from this point we’re heading home – albeit over four more weeks. We had a wistful gaze across the water to the Rif Mountains of Morocco – but they will have to wait for another day.
The only other place I’ve failed to mention in this War & Peace post is Bolonia, a small, untidy windswept village on the way to Barbate. We stopped there for a bite of lunch, then walked up the hill to have a look at Baelo Claudia, the remains of a Roman settlement from the second & third centuries AD. Even back then, the tuna industry was A Big Thing, and the remains of salting pits and seasonal workers’ accommodation can be seen. There is a partially restored amphitheatre, and the columns of the forum are still standing, or perhaps they’ve fallen down and been resurrected. It’s always a strange feeling to walk on cobbles polished by the soles of Roman sandals two thousand years ago. This visit was made more interesting by watching a team of archaeologists still excavating a roped off section. I kept expecting Baldric to pop up with a cunning plan for restoration; perhaps all this cheese is affecting my brain.
And that completes our lightning tour! We’re all up to date and ready for more adventures. Let’s hope none of them involve narrow village streets and tight corners, but somehow, I rather suspect they will.
We look forward to flying with you again soon 😉