Sunday 20th October – Valdemaqueda to Wild Camping location on River Arbillas, nr Candeleda (96 miles)
GPS: N40d 5m 30.2s. W5d 12m 44.9s
It is a little after 3pm on a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon, the sky is a vivid blue and it is 20(c) degrees and as I start to write my next war and peace blog post I am sat in my reclining sun chair with a cold beer, within arm stretch of a moderately flowing river. When we had our dreams of ‘living this dream’ such a long time ago, this was one of the images we had……….
There was no rush to get up and away from our gem of a campsite up in the mountains, not least because I had a bit of a late night after drinking beer and chatting to some new-found friends. My apologies to ‘Hoje’ who isn’t actually ‘Hoje’ at all !! His real name is ‘Gregory’ but he is known as ‘Goye’, an easy mistake to make for an Englishmen who hasn’t learnt enough ‘Espanol’ before undertaking the trip !! Anyway his wife ‘Vicki’ (Victoria) had arrived from Madrid to join him for the weekend and he must have told her all about us, well me nearly drowning him, as that was one of the main topics of conversation during the evening. Added to this growing new-found friendship was ‘David’ and ‘Soli’ (Solidad) also from Madrid? They had recently purchased a Motorhome and had brought it away for the weekend to try it all out and were parked next to us. David fortunately spoke ‘English’ like a native and so was the interpreter, although it really is quite amazing how you can pick up odd words, or the gesticulations during a sentence, that enable you to pick up on what is being said. Anyway, it was a good night and we were given lots of tips on places to go in the region and David, who knew the area well, marked our map with some key places that were worth a visit. The four of them asked if they could look inside ‘Big Momma’ before we left in the morning and of course that would be no problem.
We awoke at twenty past eight and started to drink our coffee’s in bed, however, we both got up before finishing them and whilst Sharon went to use the on-site showers I finished my coffee, with a cigarette, outside the van looking at the mist shrouded mountains. There is just no way of explaining the view, it is one of those ‘have to be here to appreciate it’ moments because it was just breathtakingly stunning.
Ablutions duly completed, in van storage almost completed, we then showed our new-found friends around ‘our home’. Now I in no way consider myself to be anywhere near being an expert on Motorhomes but I was quite impressed at the amount of ‘practical’ knowledge that I was able to impart to David, all of which he gratefully took on board. We finished all our tasks, the toilet cassette was empty, the grey waste tank was empty and the fresh water tank was full. We had, before meeting David, intended to make our way to an Aire at ‘Lagartera’, another ‘freebie’ with full facilities. However, David’s descriptions of some of the places that were not far off our route sounded too good to miss so we decided to follow his advice and see where we ended up for the night !!
At the risk of boring you I just have to say that the roads we are driving along are fantastic. Never mind the ’emptiness’ but we were now on ‘Yellow’ roads on our map, probably equivalent to English ‘B’ roads, but these were far superior and created no problems for our thirty-foot and five tonne vehicle. We first descended the mountain, around hairpin bends that offered tremendous views on every corner, then we climbed the mountain again then descended again until at last we were at the bottom. The temperature at the mountain campsite when we departed was 13(c) degrees and we watched the temperature rise steadily until it peaked at 21(c). We were following David’s suggested route and planned, if possible, to wild camp at a Reservoir where he told us that we could Kayak. David also had an inflatable Kayak and had used it on this Reservoir many times. So that was it, ‘Kevin’ (the kayak) had not seen he light of day so far on this trip but it looked as if we may get the opportunity to ‘wet his bottom’ so to speak ! We had left the campsite without eating breakfast so decided that we would stop somewhere en-route.
We had not re-fuelled ‘Big Momma’ since departing Plymouth and although there was still enough fuel to do a good hundred miles, knowing that we may end up off the beaten track, i decided to refuel at the first opportunity, which as it happened was only thirty-eight miles into the trip. Shazza took the opportunity of using the short respite to purchase a fresh baguette for our lunchtime snack then we were back on the road again and passing through numerous very picturesque villages and small towns. This was not the Spain that I had experienced on our previous trip, my memories of that journey were of barren countryside, red scorched earth, non- descript villages and towns that we drove through to race to our campsites on the beach. No, this was a beautiful Spain, a green and lush Spain, a very Picturesque Spain and we felt so fortunate that our dream, so far, was living up to all our expectations.
It was time for lunch so we found a suitable place to pull off the road and with a nice fresh baguette and a tin of tuna, with some freshly chopped onion, we sat admiring the view we had from the window of the van whilst we ate our lunch. It was whilst viewing our surroundings that I noticed several trees were completely stripped of their bark, from floor level to about five feet up the length of the trunk. I was intrigued, so after baguette was devoured I went to investigate and discovered that they were ‘cork’ trees !!
Back on the road and our next stop, the Reservoir and perhaps a night of wild camping on the shores. We needed to turn off our ‘B’ type road onto what was a small white coloured road on the map. Snoopy hadn’t protested so I took that as a vote of confidence that it was suitable for ‘Big Momma’. Don’t let me down ‘Snoops’ I thought to myself ! We found our stretch of water and very nice it looked too. First disappointment was nowhere to park a vehicle our size, no car parks, no lay-bys although there were ‘off the road’ places suitable for cars. Next disappointment, a sign that basically interpreted said ‘Camping Prohibited’ !! So we couldn’t even stop to take a closer look at the water let alone wet Kevin’s bottom !! I think that as David had only just purchased his Motorhome he must have brought his Kayak here in the car. Right, back to ‘Plan A’ the Aire at ‘Lagartera’. So Snoopy re-programmed, I only hoped we hadn’t left it too late to get a pitch.
The road hugged the banks of the River Arbillas, David had talked about these rivers, they flowed from the mountains and had over a period of time washed down boulders of all shapes and sizes, some as big as a bus !! These stretches of River were great tourist attractions and aided the economies of the local villages that were located near these boulder formations. Now, “When one door closes another one opens……”, we were just taking a slow drive following the winding road that followed the winding river when we saw a clearing next to the river bank, a clearing that was large enough to accommodate ‘Big Momma’ !! We parked up and took the short walk from van to water, the view in the glorious sunshine, up and down river, was fantastic and with the mountains as a backdrop this was the very ‘first’ time that I needed to pinch myself to make sure that this idyllic setting was not just a dream, this would do very nicely for an overnight stay !
Monday 21st October – River Arbillas to Lagartera (55 miles)
I initially awoke in darkness, checked the clock to find that it was still only 06:30 so went back to bed. The next time I opened my eyes it was nearly 9am and time to make a coffee. Whereas I had slept, with a minor interruption, for nearly ten hours, Shazza had not slept so well, still suffering from the itchyness of her mosquito bites. There was no rush as our next destination was an ‘Aire’ at ‘Lagartera’, a journey of just 18 miles.
Our intention was to get to Lagartera, park up and then search out a shop to purchase a baguette and some milk and then enjoy a late breakfast. We pulled away, still smiling from our bravery at our first Wild Camping experience on foreign soil and what good fortune we had in just happening across the truly wonderful location. This is what our particular ‘adventure’ was all about. We were still travelling more miles in a day than we had intended but a lot of that was down to finding places to stop that we felt comfortable with. We would have plenty of time to get to the sun, sea and sand in the South but first we wanted to experience the real Spain and we certainly felt as if we were achieving that by staying off the Motorways and exploring some of the country roads. We pulled away from our tranquil night halt and wound our way along the deserted ‘B’ road that would take us to our next destination. Well it would have done had we not encountered the road block !!
There was no way that we were going to be able to turn ‘Big Momma’ around, it was a case of reversing, very slowly, back along the road until we came upon an entrance to a farmers track. Shazza guided me slowly into the very narrow entrance, on either side a steep drop and had I have got this wrong we could have had another unscheduled stop until we could have raised tha alarm and been rescued. But that was not required, we made the manoeuvre and were now heading in the opposite direction to where we wanted to be. Shazza got the map and found some ‘roads’, of the small white coloured variety, and worked out a detour to get us back in the general direction, at least until ‘Snoopy’ had got over a ‘panic’ attack and come back to it’s senses. The small dots on the map, highlighting places encountered along these small ‘white’ roads were a bit deceiving. They looked like small hamlets until you arrived at them. ‘Navalcan’ was a small town, not a hamlet, and it looked a very pretty place, we passed the square that was hosting the weekly market and tried in vain to find somewhere suitable to park. Now this town had roads that were well surfaced, however they lacked a little width !! But we trusted in ‘Snoopy’, who had finished having a mild fit and got her bearings again. By the time we had weaved our way through the narrow, but accessible, roads we decided not to bother trying to find anywhere to park and carried on, there would be other markets in other towns on other days I am sure. Photo opportunities come along when you least expect them, so if the camera is not at hand then the moment is lost such as the one with the ninety year old man ‘driving’ his cart with a donkey, We were probably more out of place than him !!
With ‘Snoopy’ back in control of the navigation we were soon arriving at the ‘Aire’ at Lagartera, although our intended short journey of just 18 miles had turned into 55 miles ! There were only 3 parking places available on this particular ‘Aire’ and we had the choice of all three !! Unlike the deserted ‘Aire’ earlier on this trip we did not feel uneasy about this location. As it was still only eleven-thirty, too early for ‘Siesta’ we went in search of a shop where we could purchase a Baguette and some Milk. Now these small ‘urbanisations’ are not like small towns in the UK where shops are generally to be found along one high street, no, these small towns are full of Alleys and sometimes up these alleys you will find a “Tabac’, up another a ‘Butcher’ and up another a ‘Pharmacy’ well I guess you get the picture. It took a little while but after asking a few of the local’s for directions, in our bestest Espanol of course, we came upon the smallest of ‘General Stores’, no big sign above the shop frontage because there was no shop frontage, no big glazed window displaying posters or produce that would indicate what it was no this was nothing more than a house amongst houses, you entered through the front door and only then, upon entering did it resemble a shop with it’s shelves of produce. The middle-aged ‘Señora’ was very pleasant, we spoke in Spanish but for some reason she thought we were ‘German’ and started to speak to us in ‘Deutsche’ ! We bought two baguettes, a litre and a half carton of milk, two large plump tomatoes, three bananas and a bottle of Spanish Red Wine all for the princely sum of six Euro. As we left she said ‘Thank You’ to us in perfect English !!
Late breakfast turned into lunch, and we were just sitting enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and eating our baguette and enjoying how peaceful these Spanish towns are. By the time we had finished it was time to do some more Spanish homework, I liked my Spanish homework, today we are again practicing the cultural side of the ‘Siesta’, we still require much more practice as we can only manage a one hour power nap and not the full four hours !! Ah well, practice makes perfect as they say and we have plenty of time to practice. After our brief ‘Siesta’ Shazza was re-invigorated and now wanted to do the walking exercises. This particular one involved a walk to the neighboring town of ‘Orepesa’, only slightly larger than Lagareta but this one, David had told us, had a rather fine castle !! We do not normally do ‘Castles’ but we did see this one high on the hill as we made our approach this morning and It did look a rather fine castle so perhaps it was worth the walk. Now on previous recent days the sun dropped from the sky at around 5.30pm, when it did the temperature dropped considerably as well and got rather chilly. We decided therefore to keep in our jeans and tee-shirts but take a sweaters in our back-packs for the return journey. We had forgotten that we were no longer in the mountains, we had forgotten that we were now much further South and therefore the sun didn’t drop at 5.30pm and it didn’t get chilly and even with tee-shirts it was quite hot !! Neither did it help that we got almost a mile into our journey when I realised that I had come out without my wallet !! No this really wasn’t a cunning plan on my behalf, no honest it wasn’t !! The options were, carry on regardless, as I did remember to bring a bottle of Lucozade so we wouldn’t die of thirst, or return to the van and collect wallet. We decided on Option 2 or rather Shazza did !!
When we eventually got to ‘Orepesa’ it was still ‘Siesta’, fortunately there were a couple of Cafe/Bars open so we sat and had a very nice coffee in the small but very nice town square. Once refreshed we went in search of the castle, not a difficult task as it is not hard to find a bloody big ancient relic with turrets that stands majestically at the top of a hill !! This was no mass of rubble, this in fact looked, from the outside at least, in a pretty good state of repair and part of it had been restored to accommodate a hotel, not just any old hotel but the ‘Parador’ chain of hotels. We walked around the outside of what would at one time have been the battlements and which were now rather nicely landscaped terraced gardens complete with seating areas for the public to use, tourists and locals alike. We took a few photographs, as you do, and then made our way back down the hill towards the town. It was still ‘Siesta’ and as there was nothing else to see we made our way back to ‘Laragatera’. As we made our way through the streets we passed some really beautiful houses, not large villas but small houses, one’s that had small little terraced gardens behind walls or fences. What captured my attention was that in a lot of these postage sized terraced gardens stood a lone fruit tree, one with a tree that had ‘Limes’, another with ‘Olives’, another with ‘Pomegranates’ and another with ‘Oranges’. I know that there is nothing special about fruit tree’s in people’s gardens but I always pictured them in orchards and not as a single tree growing in a postage stamp bit of terrace, I had also never seen a ‘Pomegranate’ actually on a tree, only on a fruit and veg display in a supermarket !! Well I suppose little things please little minds as they say ?
We returned to ‘Big Momma’ at a quarter past six after another one of Shazza’s little six mile hikes, the sun was still shining and it was still very warm. We decided that we would have something to eat and then go and see what the after ‘Siesta’ ambience was like in this small town. We also decided that we would sample the bottle of red wine we had bought earlier in the day at just €2.40. I wasn’t holding out much hope that it would be that palatable at that price. I am no wine connosaure, to me, if I take the first sip and screw up my face in disgust then it goes in the next beef casserole to make a ‘jus’. This bottle was not going into any casserole, it was so smooth, in fact it was so palatable that it deserved having a second glass !! Once we had finished eating and had washed the dishes it was time for our evening stroll, we could actually have both well done without another uphill walk as we were pretty well all done in from our earlier little stroll, however, we had decided to move on tomorrow as their was little else to see or do here. Although the sun had since gone it was still quite a warm and balmy evening and so it would have been a shame to miss out on the ambience of sitting outside a cafe in a people filled square. Well the idea was romantic enough, it was a warm and balmy evening but the essential elements were missing, cafe’s that were open and people !! Whether they had heard that we were coming or whether it was early closing day or simply because it is ‘Winter’ here and they only do that sort if thing in the ‘Summer’ months I really do not know. So we made our way back to ‘Big Momma’, closed our door and the blinds, both had showers and a coffee. Shazza then decided on an early night whilst I finished updating my blog post which brought an end to yet another great day.
We awoke to the sound of rain beating down on the roof of ‘Big Momma’, not the gentle patter of a small shower, this was full on rain. It was still warm just very wet ! I remember somewhere in the dim and distant past talking about when we had days like this, we could just stay in bed and that is exactly what we did, after I had fulfilled the morning rituals that is. We had intended on moving on today to another small town and ‘Free’ Aire at Logrosan but that is the beauty of this adventure, there are no hard and fast itineries to follow, we had access to a ‘Grey Waste’ drain if we needed and to ‘Fresh Water’ so no problems on those fronts. The only thing that this ‘Aire’ did lack was a ‘Chemical Toilet’ waste but we were not desperate for that yet !
After a second coffee we decided to take a trip to the local shops, we did need a fresh baguette as we had used yesterday’s to make a sandwich for lunch and Shazza made some Garlic butter so that we could have some nice crispy garlic baguette with our Bolognese and Pasta evening meal. We still had plenty of stock in our ASDA surplus warehouse store but were now running low on the fresh meat so a stop at the small local butcher was in order. Now I do not intend to list everything that we buy every time that we shop but it is I think worthy of mention that we are finding that buying from the local shops are actually quite cheap. We have passed several of the large supermarkets on our journey so far but apart from the much larger towns there are no giant retail food stores in the places that we have so far visited, that includes Aldi or Lidl. Shopping here is like the UK was ‘in the old days’ (makes me sound a bit archaic) but readers of a certain age will relate to what I am talking about. The days when the local town comprised of a general store, a green grocer, a butcher, a baker (not many candlestick makers though !!) etc. Well that is what it is like here and it is a lovely shopping experience. We first called into the butcher, there were not tray fulls of meat but we decided to see what they had. We bought ‘Uno Picante Chorizo’ (One Paprika Chorizo – one being a link of 3 sausages, uncooked)’, Cuatro (4) Seasoned Pork Steaks and the Spanish lady butcher explained to us, in Spanish, how to cook them and made a point of telling us that we should not add anything even salt or pepper as they were already seasoned and ready to cook, even providing each with what looked like Duck Fat. And finally Dos (2) home made and seasoned herb beef burgers. And the cost of all this was €5.18 (£4.50). Next port of call was the General Store and Greengrocer that we had called into yesterday. We purchased Uno (1) Baguette, which was still hot from the oven, a whole globe of Garlic and Dos (2) Pomegranate for the princely sum of €1.20 (£1.04). Now we have not yet got down to the Spanish Costa’s or the tourist areas of the Portuguese Algarve so do not know if local prices will be ‘hiked’ up. However, from our experience of being in local small Spanish towns I have to say that it is not expensive to buy normal everyday groceries and as long as you are willing to eat the local produce there is no reason why you cannot eat well. We have not eaten out at a restaurant yet but have looked at menu boards as we have passed by, as in France there is a choice of ‘Menu of the Day’, varying between €10-€12 (£8-£10) for 3 courses or the normal menu where you can choose how many courses you want, but even a 3 courses from the normal menu would probably cost no more than €20 (£17) per person. It is also worthy of note that apart from the ‘teenagers’, everyone speaks as you walk past, either ‘Hola’ (Hello), Buenos Dias (Good Day)’ Buenos Tardes (Good Evening) or Buenos Noches (Good Night). Apart from ‘Hola’ the others are very formal and we have found that they usually just drop the ‘Buenos’ and just say ‘Dias’, ‘Tardes’ or ‘Noches’ dependent on the time of day. You can say ‘Hola’ at any time of day and it will still illicit a cheery response.
If you are forming the opinion that we are now, after just eight days, feeling relaxed and comfortable in our Spanish environments then you would be spot on and that is with literally not speaking or understanding any Spanish at all.
The rain is still lashing down outside, Shazza is keeping herself busy by ‘pottering’, interpret that as cleaning, whilst I am now about to finish this post and get my Spanish ‘Berlitz’ course on my iPad to try and get my brain to absorb a few more words of the local lingo.
It finally stopped raining at about 4.30pm and the sun came out ending the evening, and visit to this particular small and friendly town, on a high. Our destination tomorrow would be another ‘Aire’ in another small Spanish town and then on to the larger town of ‘Caceres’ where we would indulge ourselves once again in a few nights on a campsite, emplacements permitting ! But our thoughts began to turn again to whether we would then head over the border into Portugal and make our way South to the Algarve or stay in Spain and head South to ‘Sevilla’, decisions, decisions…………