Thursday 17th October – Palencia to Valdemaqueda (138 Miles)
For those of you who have watched the film ‘Forrest Gump’ you must remember that immortal line “life is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what your going to get until you bite into one“. The most important word in our blog title is ‘Adventure’ because although I may have read a lot of other blogs, and books, by those who have gone before, and the majority of them were truly inspirational, there is just no substitute to getting out and experiencing it for yourself. You can read all the things written, you can have all the guide books and the technology and you can plan until you can plan no more. But what happens to you, or what decisions you may make, can rarely be foreseen and so, whilst we had so far had a gentle introduction to our new nomadic lifestyle our brush with reality was about to start. Life now was like that box of chocolates, we didn’t know what each day would bring until we experienced it !
Palencia, as I have said previously, was a nice place to stop for a couple of nights but that was about it, time to move on. We had still not ruled out crossing into Portugal, hopefully South of the Weather front, so we were attempting to continue to move Southwards but keeping West of Madrid. We needed to be away from the ‘Aire’ by no later than nine-thirty to make sure that we could get out of the car park and around a tightish corner where the car’s would soon all start to arrive. I had taken a look at it yesterday and thought that I could make it even with cars parked in the bays but I didn’t want to chance making a fool of myself with so many onlookers, most importantly though, now that we had spent time and money getting ‘Big Momma’ fit for purpose I didn’t want to risk any unnecessary damage. We had selected yet another ‘Free’ Aire with full facilities for our next stop, although I had already emptied the chemical toilet cassette I had been unable to get to the Service Point to empty the ‘Grey Waste’ or to fill the ‘Fresh Water’ tank but was hoping that I could conduct these tasks at our next location, position of the service point and accessibility permitting.
Our guide book stated that ‘Olmedo’ was an old walled town, vehicles were not permitted to enter but fortunately the ‘Aire’ was located within a dedicated Motorhome parking area right outside the walls of the town. Inside the walled town were shops, bars, cafe’s and restaurants so this sounded as if it could be rather nice. ‘Snoopy’ was programmed again to take us via normal roads and not Motorways and the route display showed a reasonable travelling distance of just 58 miles, sufficient distance to ensure the batteries remained fully charged and then supplemented by the Solar panels. We had not had any mains electricity since putting ‘Big Momma’ on the ferry on the Sunday afternoon and the combination of driving and the Solar Panels were providing more than sufficient on-board energy to meet all our needs which included charging of our mobile phones, iPads and Laptops. We had invested in a small portable 300w Inverter which had a cigarette lighter style plug which fitted nicely into a 12v plug in the bedroom. There was a place in the bedroom for a wall mounted TV but we didn’t see the need to have an extra TV so the wall sockets came in handy for these other purposes. As we didn’t need to use lights during the daytime and the fridge and cooking were all done via the gas, we could use the solar energy during the day to charge all our gadgets and still have more than sufficient to use in the evenings so, so far so good.
I was awake at the ‘crack of sparrows’, we had another unwelcome visitor last night and the ‘Demon Mozzie Dispatcher’ elected to hide under the covers rather than hunt down the ‘trespasser’ so I was kept awake by the continuous ‘whine’ as this horrible little thing ‘buzzed’ around my ears !! But Shazza obviously looked more appetising than me as she woke up with at least fourteen bites !! whilst I came away unscathed ! There is an old wives tale that say’s that if you eat plenty of spiced food, garlic, salami etc that this seeps out of your pores when you sweat and that mosquito’s do not like it. Well as we both like and eat garlic and Salami does that prove that old wives tale wrong ? Or perhaps it’s because men ‘sweat’ and women merely ‘perspire’ ? Anyway, I was up at 7am, much to Shazza’s displeasure, she doesn’t do mornings very well. I conducted the usual morning ritual but conscious that we needed to make a hasty departure I was soon back out of bed after drinking my coffee, shaved, washed and dressed and then I started the ‘ready to move’ procedures whilst an unhappy Shazza dragged herself out of bed and got herself ready. From what I had seen, those who were moving on usually did so between 8am and 9.30am so we should arrive at our next stop just as spaces were becoming available.
It was still dark when we pulled out of the ‘Aire’ at eight-thirty, a little earlier than intended but we could always stop and put the kettle on somewhere along the route, another good plan that didn’t materialise !! These ‘N’ roads are fantastic, so empty and even at a sedate pace we found ourselves arriving at Olmedo and yet again ‘Snoopy’ brought us right to the front door. There was the very nice looking walled town, there was the Motorhome service point, easy to spot as their was absolutely nothing in the designated Motorhome parking bays, coming to that, there was nothing in the car park whatsoever other than us !! Something should have jumped out and slapped me in the face screaming ‘something isn’t right about this’. Instead I just thought how fortunate we were to be able to manoeuvre to the Service Point with ease and then have the pick of the parking bays. We jumped out of the van and looked to see where everything was, we could see the taps for the water, we could see a drain for the ‘Grey Waste’ but we couldn’t find any sign of a place to empty the toilet cassette. No matter as I had already emptied that at the previous ‘Aire’, it just seemed odd as they are all usually positioned in close proximity to each other. We couldn’t quite get right over the drain for the ‘Grey Waste’ so I needed to use a couple of the extension hoses that I carried. That was a good job done, although we still had a good 50% tank of fresh water we thought that whilst we had the opportunity that we would top the tank up. Looking at the thread on the tap I realised that out of the vast array of tap and hose fittings that I carried, there was not one large enough for this tap. No worries says I, we have a couple of those rubber ended multi-purpose tap fittings, one of them will do the job, and it did, just !! Shazza held one held of the hose in place at the van water filling point and I made ready to turn on the tap, holding on to the rubber fitment in case the water power was too strong and blew the tap connector off. Shazza told me she was ready and I turned on the tap and……….nothing !! Now either this is the quietest flow of water I have ever seen or there is no water coming out ? I tried again and still nothing. I checked the other tap and again no sign of water, damn !! I knew that some ‘Aires’ turned off their water in the winter but there was no mention of this in the guide book !! Oh well, at least we still had half of a tank that would do us. Perhaps that is why the ‘Aire’ was empty ? Or perhaps it was because the ‘Aire’ was right next to the main ‘N’ road and could have been noisy in the night with passing trucks. While I had a cigarette, Shazza went for a nosey around the wall of the town to find an entry point and to see if it was worth staying, she came back and announced that it would cost Four and a Half Euro each to get in……no bloody chance I said, let’s move on. Life is like a box of chocolates and this was one of those praline fudge one’s that I didn’t much care for……………
So ‘Snoopy’ and I had a consultation and after a bit of route and distance checking we elected for an ‘Aire’ on the outskirts of a town called ‘Alviva’, it looked from the map like a fairly large town, probably a bit bigger than ‘Palencia’ and it was also still taking us South. The ‘Aire’ was ‘Parking Only’ so no facilities but we had an empty ‘Grey’ tank now, an empty Toilet Cassette and 50% fresh water so this was not a big issue. The only irritation was that it meant a drive of another 47 miles which is further than we had wanted to do on a daily basis, but needs must as they say and so we once again set off on the near empty road.
We arrived at Alviva, you may well get sick of me keep saying this but ‘Snoopy’ took us to exactly where we needed to be. The only problem that neither ‘Snoopy’ or I could have possibly foreseen was that the place where we should have been able to park up was occupied by a bloody big travelling fairground !! Shazza did suggest that we enquire as to whether we could park up amongst them and in return she would work the ‘Waltzers’ for them !! I think she is having one of those moments again, the thought of the Gypsy lifestyle, the sparks from the campfire flickering in the star filled night sky, whilst she danced around to the merry tunes I was playing on the Spanish Guitar……..?
This was not going well and time was knocking on ! We decided that instead of looking for another ‘Aire’, not knowing what we would find when we arrived or even if there would be a space large enough to accommodate us, that we would check the pre-loaded ACSI Campsite software on ‘Snoopy’. We did not want to travel too far so I set the search for within a radius of 30 miles of our current position. It came up with several options but the majority would have involved taken us back North and we didn’t want to do that. The only other options were both heading towards Madrid, not something we had intended to do, however, when needs must as they say, again !! We selected ‘Camping El Canto La Gallina’ on the outskirts of the small village of ‘Valdemaqueda’ in the mountains only 60 miles from Madrid. It is not that we are adverse to Madrid but we have already done the Madrid Tourist bit a few years ago when we did a month’s summer tour of Spain in our previous Motorhome.
As we left ‘Alviva’ we could see that it was a very large town indeed, the town was behind what I can only describe as fortress style walls with turrets all along it’s length and it stretched for an eternity. The exit back to the main road took us through some of the outer suburbs and it looked very nice so we were a little disappointed that our stop here had been thwarted. We did for a brief moment consider looking for a spot to just park up but we didn’t see anywhere before we hit the main road out of town, oh well, another town for another day on another trip perhaps ?
The drive into the mountains was truly spectacular, the roads wide, well surfaced and the views were to die for. I have to rely on Shazza, as the ‘co-pilot’, to have the camera ready for such moments, unfortunately Shazza enjoys looking and isn’t much into taking pictures which is why I cannot share these fantastic vistas with you !! It is a good job that Europe is experiencing a very mild Winter at present as the snow pole height markers on the side of the road were a reminder of just how bad the conditions can get up here. But at the moment we were extremely fortunate as the temperatures in Madrid are currently 26(c) degrees and even as high up as we were, it was still clear blue skies, sunny and 20(c) degrees. We had to come off the main ‘N’ road onto a smaller road, over a cattle grid and into a forest. Now had we been a little bit braver, there were some absolutely brilliant places to have parked up for the night amongst clearings in the trees, but that was just one step too far for us ‘wimps’ at this stage.
‘Snoopy’ brought us to the front door of the campsite and although an ‘Open All Year’ it looked pretty much deserted and comprised mainly of statics. However, we were here and we would have an Electric Hook Up and would be able to top up our fresh water. We knew that we need only stay for the night if it wasn’t desirable. Under normal circumstances the low season cost per night would have been €22 but with the ACSI discount card this reduced to €16 for the pitch, EHU, two adults, fresh water connection at the pitch and ‘Free’ WiFi. No payment was required until the day we left, a bit different to UK sites where it is ‘pay up front’ upon arrival ! We were shown to our pitch, and wow ! generous proportions or what, shown where our EHU and water points were and then left to settle in. We may be in the mountains but it was time to get out of the jeans and short-sleeved shirts and change into shorts and sleeveless tops, it was scorching !! We met our nearest neighbour ‘Hoje’, he owned a static just below us on the next pitch and had been painting it when we arrived. He again pointed out to us where all the facilities were, him no English and me no Spanish, but we understood by his gesticulations and animations exactly what he was telling us. We did the usual ‘reconnaissance’ of the site facilities which were very good, the open air swimming pool was closed as it was out of season as was the on site Restaurant, the toilet/shower block was dated but exceptionally clean an we began to warm to this place already, perhaps we may just stay for a day or three !!
I set about sorting the outside of the van, EHU connected, Silver Screen on, Awning out, Camping table and Chairs out, Gas BBQ set up and connected, whilst Shazza turned the inside from ‘on the road’ mode to ‘home’ mode. We had just made a cup of Coffee when ‘Hoje’ popped his head around the corner and held up a can of Beer, first pointing a finger at the can and then pointing to me. We held up our mugs of ‘Kaffee’ and he understood but we said ‘Gracias’ nonetheless. We were nearly out of our own supply of beer, plenty of ‘Vino’ though, so I said to Shazza that tomorrow we would need to visit the small village store and buy some as I would like to share a beer with our friendly neighbour at some point. Suitably refreshed it was time to light the BBQ, the first one that we would have had since getting off the boat in Santander. We noticed that when the sun dropped in the evening the temperature dropped quite suddenly for about an hour, forcing us to put our jeans back on and a thin sweater. However, and strangely enough, after the initial temperature drop it appeared to warm up again and became very mild. Inside the van the temperature remained at a steady 20c degrees and that was with both ‘Heki’ skylights fully open, the sliding kitchen window and the slide down window in the habitation door !!
Although I did not hope too much for a signal on the satellite TV system we gave it a go anyway. We have something like eight different Satelites that we can try to lock onto, our normal one for the UK and France, Germany, Belgium etc. was ‘Astra2S’ and although it ‘locked on’ we were unable to pick up any pictures or sound. We tried the rest and were able to ‘Lock On’ to three other Satelites with sound and pictures, even BBC World, CNN and an English music/video programme. We were not that bothered about watching TV on a regular basis but being able to keep up with some News was always nice. Although we had free WiFi we had to go down to the Restaurant Terrace area to connect but this was no hardship, two minutes walk and it had tables and chairs so a nice place to go and ‘chillax’, check the BBC UK on-line NEWS, check Emails or post my latest blog posts and take regular updates on the weather in Portugal and here in Spain. Sharon was able to ‘Skype’ her mum but none of my family were on-line, how dare they be doing something else, don’t they sit next to their PC’s or Laptops or iPads just waiting for the moment when I may or may not call !! We both enjoyed the luxury of the piping hot water in the showers, just to be able to stand under a continuous flow of water was a little bit of luxury. And so the end of our fourth day (it feels much longer but in a pleasant way) which started off a little frustratingly but perhaps ‘Fate’ had intended to bring us to this wonderfully tranquil site up in the Spanish mountains ?
We both slept well and even with the large bedroom ‘Heki’ window open, with fly screen across of course, there were no uninvited and unwelcome visitors. Morning ritual was conducted as usual and it was nice to lay in bed, with our mugs of coffee, gazing up at the already blue and nearly cloudless sky. We had made the decision to stay here until Sunday, Shazza would use the opportunity to do some laundry but mainly so that we could just spend some time relaxing in our sun chairs under the awning listening to music, reading or me updating my latest novel (yes, another war and peace blog post). Our experience of ‘Aires’ in Spain has been good, certainly very cheap as it has not cost us a penny (or should that be Euro) and as overnight stops go they fulfill a purpose. However, the one’s that we have used cannot be used for camping, so no tables, chairs etc permitted outside the van so a ‘Wild Camping’ location or a ‘Campsite’ is a must as an alternative to just using ‘Aires’.
Before sitting in the morning sunshine eating a late breakfast of bacon and egg butties, I had removed the electric bicycles from the rear cycle carrier and set up the laundry rack ready for Shazza to hang out the washing, when it had been done that is. The machine at the utilities building only took ‘tokens’ so she made the short trek to the reception to obtain some. She wanted to do the bedding as well as the normal laundry items and was amazed to find that each wash would only cost €2.20. When the receptionist (site owner) saw the amount of bites Shazza had she took her to a medical room and applied some antiseptic liquid, Shazza didn’t have the heart to tell her, even if she could have spoken Spanish, that she had already applied the exact same stuff herself this morning !! But the lady owner also gave her a ‘medicated’ antiseptic wipe to use tomorrow and may I add that there was no charge for this !! Whilst Shazza had been away getting ‘personal private healthcare’ ! I had set about seeking out a drainage point for the ‘Grey Waste’. Although the pitch was what in UK we would call a ‘serviced pitch’ it seemed to lack somewhere to place the external waste hose. ‘Hoje’ was on hand to provide the answer, attach hose to external waste outlet, place end of hose into bushes on pitch and drain water into the greenery, Shock ! Horror ! Gasp ! this would have been enough on a UK club site to have had me marched in front of the Senior Warden and had my Caravan Club Membership Cards ripped up in front of my face and then escorted from the site with the instruction to never darken their doors again !! So this is ‘Mañana, Mañana’ and I like this relaxed approach, well let’s face it, it is only washing up water after all is said and done.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was just a day to potter around. Shazza liked to clean the van, Hoover carpets, shake rugs that sort of thing. I decided that the outside of the van needed a bit of a wash, the waste water outlet had got mud on it and looked unsightly so that was the first job, then you know what it is like once you clean one bit, you find another bit and so I ended up cleaning the external areas of the cab, cleaning dead flies off the wing mirrors, bonnet, grill etc. After that had got ‘Big Momma’ looking presentable again I asked Shazza what the level of the fresh water was and at 25% it was time to top up. We had fresh water on the pitch but no tap just a piece of rigid pipe so it was into ‘Eric’s Shed’, well in the absence of a garden shed this was an external storage locker where I kept all my bits and pieces, sealants, screwdrivers and other small tools and my array of hose attachments and fittings. I found one that looked as if it would do the job, attached it to the rigid pipe, placed the other end of the hose into the water filler point and then went back and turned on the lever located in a ground level sort of manhole. I could see the water pressure build in the hose and then heard the water start to fill the tank for all of about 30 seconds, then the connector at the rigid pipe end blew off with the pressure and water was now cascading all over the pitch !! ‘Hoje’ was bemused by this and with a chuckle said something to me in Spanish which I didn’t understand, probably something like “You bloody stupid English person, that connector was never going to hold”. So to ‘Plan B’, try another connector, this time it did feel a lot more secure and I turned the lever again, I could hear the gush as the pressure pushed the water up and through the hose and this time the connector held firm. However, perhaps I should not have turned the lever full on as this time, with the sudden boost of pressure it made the end of the hose, that was in the van filling point, jump out, spraying high pressure water all over ‘Hoje’ and his nice freshly painted van !! I was horrified and raced to turn off the water flow and then looked around to offer my sincerest of apologies to ‘Hoje’ who was dripping from head to toe and was stood in shocked silence !! I must have apologised at least ten times but once he had recovered from the initial shock of this unexpected dowsing he smiled and said something like “no problemo, it is a hot day and it cooled me down as well as saving me washing my clothes” or, with my lack of understanding of most of what he said at any point in our numerous conversations to date, he may actually have said “You bloody stupid Englander, why don’t you go back to your own country and try to drown someone else” !! Once he had dried himself down I attempted to make light of the situation and said “Hoje, you are lucky that I like you, otherwise instead of trying to drown you I may just have set you on fire”, well it was like a joke, just not funny !!
Later in the afternoon we sauntered down to the restaurant terrace to connect to the free WiFi, Sharon ‘Skyped’ her mum and I took a check on the latest weather forecast for our present location and to see if the damp weather front in Portugal was clearing. I unexpectedly received a Skype video call from Paul (who we had wild camped with in UK a few weeks earlier) and ‘chewed the fat’, it was good to see and speak with him again. This modern technology is such a wonderful thing. We waited unti ‘Siesta’ was over then strolled into the small village and bought a couple of items from the small, but well stocked, ‘Super Mercado’. Back at the campsite and after yet another BBQ, ‘Hoje’ and I indulged in a beer together and although My Spanish is still awful, and in the grand scheme of things relatively non-existent, it was just sufficient for us to talk about our respective wider families.
In total contrast to yesterday we awoke on Saturday morning to grey cloudy skies and with no sunshine it was definitely a little chillier, so no Shorts and Tee-Shirts today, jeans and a sweater would be the order of the day. It would be another ‘chillax’ day today, a nosey around the campsite to practice saying ‘Buenos Dias’ to as many people as we could, irrespective of what Nationality they may actually be ! We were surprised on our wanderings around the site at just how sprawling it was. We knew that it was built on the side of the mountain and therefore terraced amongst a variety of different types of trees including some mighty fir trees that shed some truly awesome fir cones. We collected as many as we could carry so that at some point in our wanderings, when we were brave enough to find an isolated beach location and experience some ‘Wild Camping’, we could use them on our ‘smokey joe’ BBQ as kindling. From the top of the site we were rewarded with 360 degree mountain views with small villages clinging on to the sides of some them and in the distance a town we had not found the time to visit. This is a truly magnificent location and a place that I would willingly come back to, what a treasure ! Then it was down to the restaurant terrace to receive a pre-arranged ‘Skype video call’ from my daughter Stacey in England and then some early prep to get the van ready to move on with our journey tomorrow when, hopefully, we would come upon even more hidden gems like this.
It has been very nice over, the last few days, to be able to be in full camping mode, something we have been unable to do whilst using the ‘Aires’. As we come to the end of our first week in Spain (has it really only been a week ?) I can say that it has so far been a fantastic experience, the places we have stopped have been wonderful, the people we have met, whether they be our International community of fellow Motorhomers or the local Spanish people, they have all been really freindly and helpful and at no point, so far in this journey have we felt unsafe or unwelcome.
Fresh Water tank 100% full! Grey Waste empty, Toilet Cassette empty, ‘Big Momma’s Great Adventure’ continues…….