Sunday 12th January 2014 – Cangas de Onis to Cabarceno (117 miles)
We were both tired and not in bed late, we thought that it was going to be another one of those sleepless nights when we heard the sound of the refuse collection lorry as it arrived to empty the ‘several’ re-cycling bins, it just seemed to go on forever !! I am not sure if I have mentioned this before but in Spain & Portugal ‘the bin men’ come at night ! There is probably a very good and practical reason for this, like no large, stopping and starting vehicles jamming up the busy flow of daytime traffic ! However, once it had finished its duties all went quiet and we had a peaceful nights sleep. So much so that the following morning I was awake a little earlier than recent days, at 08:15am. I had expected to wake up to freezing conditions, icicles on the van roof, internally !! and perhaps even frozen water pipes ! But no, the internal temperature showed a relatively comfortable 12.2 degress(c), although externally it was only 5 degrees ! I did notice however, when I took a peek out of the galley window, that the car park looked extremely busy and there appeared to be a few people standing around cars. I made the coffee and was just about to crawl back under the ‘duvet’ when there was a knock on the door ! I put on my dressing gown and pulled the blind on the door window down to half way, I could see a man dressed in a Green Jacket and Green Trousers, he was sort of military looking. I pulled down the window and said “Hola” to which the man replied “Police, you cannot sleep here”, I asked him to wait a moment and went back inside and quite literally threw on some clothes. When I re-emerged and went outside I could see the ‘Guardia Civil’ jeep vehicle with another man inside. I asked what the problem was and he again told me that we could not sleep here and then he asked for our Passports. I told him that the sign had said that we were permitted to stay for 48 hours and our ‘Aires Book’ had stated the same but he just said “Park Yes ! Sleep No ! Passports”, this totally dumbfounded me, the sign said that Motorhomes were permitted to stay for a maximum of 48 hours with the usual ‘proviso’ that nothing should be placed outside the van e.g. awnings, tables, chairs etc, which we obviously hadn’t. The ‘Officer’ wasn’t aggressive or rude just ‘matter of fact’ and so I did as he requested and produced our passports. Whilst he was photographing them I started to have a general chat with the ‘Officer’ who was sat in the vehicle, I asked about the busy car park, he told me it was the ‘Hunters’, this was their meeting place before going into the wooded hillside in search of wild boar. Officialdom over, I was handed back the passports and then I asked whether we were to be fined, the Officer said ‘No, but no sleeping in the van”. I told him that we would be leaving this morning and he smiled ‘knowingly’, I guess he already knew that we had stayed overnight, albeit that the dressing gown was a bit of a giveaway as well I suppose !! But I guess they could, if they had felt so inclined, have knocked on the door at a rather less ‘sociable hour’ ! They then went to the ‘Belgian’ registered van parked next to us and went through the same routine with them.
So, up and dressed a little earlier than scheduled, the plan for today was to just top up the water we had used and spend two days either at Wildcamping locations or on ‘Aires’, and then for our last two days we would park at a ‘Official Aire’, outside of a Nature Park/Elephant Sanctuary just South of Santander. This ‘Aire’, the guide stated, had full services so we would be able to depart for the ferry at Bilbao on Thursday morning with ‘Full and Empty’ on-board facilities as appropriate. Today though we were headed 36 miles back to the slightly warmer Coastal town of ‘Llanes‘ where there was, according to our guide-book, a ‘Tolerated Parking’ place opposite the beach, that will do very nicely thank you !
First things first though, water topped up we then headed just across the road to a handy Fuel Service Station, although we did not need fuel just yet it had good access to a vehicle ‘valeting’ point, with just what we needed, namely a ‘Air Line’. Ever since I had that flat tyre when we were parked up on our drive in Swindon I have become a little ‘paranoid’ about checking my tyre pressures, with the punishment that they have taken on this trip, I avail myself of every opportunity to do a ‘peace of mind’ check, but they were fine !! Now if I thought that the views were breathtaking on our drive into the ‘Picos Europa’ yesterday, well today I can only describe them as utterly ‘spectacular’. I asked my Co-Pilot, Stand-by Navigator and occasional Duty Photographer to get some photographs on the iPad, which she did, but only after a few choice ‘Tuts’ !! “You only want them for the blog” she said, “And your point is ?” I replied !! We had heard News reports of ‘Snow’ on the ‘Pyrenees’ but on our drive out of the ‘Picos Europa’ we got our first glimpse of snow on top of them !
Here are a few of the views taken by ‘Shazza’:
Now, for the loyal followers of these, my seemingly endless ramblings, you may recall a word that I have often used throughout these current travels, that word being ‘Flexibility’ !! Today would be a day to test both our ‘Flexibility’ and our ‘Patience’ as you will discover !! As we moved out of the ‘Picos’, and the mist shrouded forests, the external temperature rose to a very pleasant 12 degrees(c) and the sun was attempting to burn its way through the low cloud that had been clinging desperately to the tree tops. On the near empty roads it did not take long for ‘Snoopy’ to guide us to our next destination, yes there was the beach, yes there was the car parking area, the guide-book had stated that this was a ‘Tolerated’ parking area, well it appears that the ‘Tolerance’ has gone and been replaced with ‘Height Barriers’, we were most certainly no longer welcome here !! No problems, revert to Plan ‘B’, we will head for another ‘Tolerated’ parking place at ‘Sao Vicente de la Barguera’, so ‘Snoopy’ re-programmed, off we went. As we approached, this looked a beautiful place, a picturesque sheltered harbour with sail boats moored up, harbour side houses and a nice looking town. But ‘Snoopy’ guided ‘Big Momma’ away from this idyllic looking place, across the bay and up a hill, then down again to a very nice looking beach where surf boarders were already out playing in the waves. We pulled in to the ‘Tolerated’ parking place to find a ‘newish’ looking sign that clearly stated ‘Overnight Parking Prohibited, No Camping“, another place where ‘Motorhomers’ it would appear are no longer welcome to rest their weary heads !! Okay, no problems we did have a Plan ‘C’, we would head a little further along the Coast, still in the right direction, to a place called ‘Comillas‘. Okay, I won’t bore you, we get there only to find that this is yet another place where we are no longer welcome. We didn’t have a Plan ‘D’ so, the sign didn’t say anything about stopping for lunch !! Shazza made some hot Cheese and Bacon Baguettes whilst I consulted the map and the ‘Aires’ guide and contemplated our options. Lunch gratefully consumed we now had our Plan ‘D’ and just in case, I also made a Plan ‘E’ !!
Before we could implement either of our new contingencies we now needed to implement another ‘Plan’, one that should not have been implemented just yet ! Our original schedule was to have stopped for two nights at one, or both, of the former ‘Tolerated’ locations, then, on our way to our last two-night destination at the ‘Nature Park’, we would top up our tanks with ‘cheap’ LPG and Diesel so that we would be ready for the ferry and no need to stop for fuel once we disembarked back in the UK. However, the extra mileage we were now putting on was not envisaged in our calculations. Because we had to drive to alternative locations this would involve passing the ‘re-fuelling’ stop, we had no intentions of backtracking. Oh well, we will just have to top up sooner than anticipated, when needs must as they say.
The ‘Repsol‘ service station was located quite conveniently just off the Motorway Junction between ‘Comillas‘ and ‘Suances‘. I suddenly realised that I had not re-filled with LPG in Spain, only whilst in Portugal, and I wondered what type of ‘Adaptor’ would be required ? The LPG pump was clearly marked on the left hand side as we entered the very large forecourt and again, conveniently, it was located on the right side for my filler point so no need for any reversing antics here. It also stated ‘Attendant Service Only’ so we parked up and waited. When the ‘Attendant’ arrived I showed him the ‘Adaptor’ I had used in Portugal, he ‘wagged’ his finger from side to side and then turned to go and get the correct fitting. I called after him and showed him my handful of ‘Adaptors’, he pointed to the correct one and away we went. Whilst we both patiently waited for the rather slow LPG dispenser to fill my cylinder, I still had a full one, we engaged in some ‘Spanglish‘ conversation, during which I told him that I also needed ‘Diesel’ and asked him which would be the best pump to use to permit an easy exit, or words vaguely similar to that in my bestest ‘Spanglish’ !! Once the LPG cylinder was full he directed me to the ‘best’ positioned pump, even though there was a small motorcycle already parked up, the rider having obviously gone to pay for his fuel, the ‘Attendant’ guided me onto the pump and whilst he dealt with another customer, he was quite obviously working as many tips as he could, he beckoned me to start using the fuel pump !! This is not very polite, I thought to myself, not only had I blocked in this smallish motorcycle with a long Thirty Foot vehicle, but if I started to refuel, the fuel hose would make the riders exit difficult to say the least. I knew the ‘Attendant’ was trying to be helpful but I took the ‘Inglese’ course of action, I waited for the rider to mount his steed and exit the pumps !!
So, now with full LPG and Diesel tanks, and the external temperature gauge now showing a heady 19 degrees(c), we headed for what I hoped would be our parking place for the night, my eyes were getting very tired now, it’s amazing how much you have to concentrate when driving on both the Portuguese and the Spanish roads, not only are the ‘cambers’ of the roads quite literally all over the place, but they have a weird system of traffic lights to control speeding vehicles, as well as the very large speed humps at pedestrian crossings and then you have to second-guess what the ‘other’ drivers are going to do !! At least the guide book had stated ‘Parking at Lighthouse’, we like Lighthouses, having already parked up overnight at a couple. This Lighthouse was at ‘Suances‘ just a few miles away, I was already visualising, wide open spaces, vast Ocean views, and once any day visitors and sunset watchers had gone home we would have the place to ourselves, or perhaps have to share it with any other Motorhomes. Well that will teach me for pre-empting ! Yes there was a lighthouse, one that was built into the side of the cliff rather than standing on it ! it wasn’t just a local ‘beauty spot’ it was a whole damn tourist village with Apartments, Hotels, Bars and Restaurants all over the flipping place. But ! at last, here we were not unwelcome, if only we could have parked in the already chokker block, car filled, car sized parking bays !! I think that perhaps the guide book should state when these locations cannot accommodate Motorhomes over a certain size !! So it was a good job we had made another contingency, yes we are now at Plan ‘E’, but this one stated that although there were no services there was a charge for parking, €2 for 24 hours, right now I would pay €10, I just needed a place to park up and rest my very weary eyes !! So, luckily, just 6 miles from ‘Suances’ was this place called ‘Santillana‘, would this finally prove to be our ‘Sanctuary’ for the night ? In the words of a very old, but popular song “The answer my friends is blowing in the wind.…….”, a very strong wind as it happens that brought with it some very heavy rain and caused the external temperature to drop, almost instantaneously, to 14 degrees(c) !! We arrived at said €2 for 24 hours parking location, and would happily have paid it, had we have been able to park !! These bays were set off at angles, to the rear a ten feet high stone wall, to the front, the main road !! Oh yes and two other small details, they were all car sized parking bays and already full of cars !! So, we have now discovered the depth of our flexibility, we are now completely out of all ‘Flexibility, with a Capital ‘OUT’ !
We re-programmed ‘Snoopy’ to take us, via the ‘Quickest’ route, to ‘Caberceno‘, this is the location of the Nature Park/Elephant Sanctuary, it has full services, according to our guide book, and we had been told that there was ample parking. Fortunately, it was a good road all the way and we arrived at our destination very tired, our intended trip for today of a mere 36 miles ended up being just short of 120 miles !! But, yes there were full services, and although there were four other ‘UK’ registered Motorhomes parked up, there was still more than enough room for ‘Big Momma’, Hallelujah !! This Aire was in a beautiful location, it was Hardstanding, the surroundings were akin to being in a park with a small lake containing the obligatory mix of ducks but the views……. we were surrounded by mountains, on our doorstep within a couple of minutes walk was the beautiful small but picturesque village of ‘Caberceno‘. This was a small village and it basically served the summer tourists because there were at least five Cafe/Bars/Restaurants and their was a small general purpose grocery shop which supplied, amongst other things the daily freshly baked baguettes and milk, what more could one need ? Well perhaps WiFi would have been nice, oh yes ! One of the Cafe/Bar/Restaurants provided a WiFi zone as well !!
After a well deserved Coffee we decided to do a ‘reconnaissance’ to try and establish the location of the Animal Park/Elephant Sanctuary, it wasn’t a very long walk !! There is a road from the ‘Aire’ that leads directly to the entrance to the ‘Park’, all of a two minute drive ! there is no charge for vehicles just for people, on weekends it is €15 each and on weekdays it reduces to €11 each. We enquired as to whether it is possible to go on foot, the young girl at the entrance kiosk simply stated “it is 30km !!”, I guess that answered our question ! Next question, “We have a Grande Camping Car”, reply, “No problems, buses come into the park”, so, on a day yet to be nominated whilst here, ‘Snoopy’ will get a day off and ‘Big Momma’ can get to feel like a lightweight compared to the ‘Jumbo’s’ !! I was going to ask how much it would cost for entry for our ‘Tufted Capuchin’ but Shazza gave me a swift kick on the shins !!
The ‘Park’ surrounding the ‘Aire’ had been fairly busy with ‘locals’ out for their Sunday late afternoon, early evening family stroll, but as darkness fell they gradually disappeared from whence they came and the only noise we could hear was from the gas burner on the fridge in the van !! Shazza happened to mention that this would probably be one of those rare occasions when there would be no restless night due to dogs constantly barking, although I just happened to remind her that we were parked within ten metres of a duck filled lake and if they started it may just drive her ‘quackers’, okay, okay, I know……like a joke just not funny eh ! As we lay in bed with our mugs of coffee, Shazza reading her Kindle, whilst I updated my latest ‘War & Peace’ Chapter Thirty Nine, we heard the light ‘tip tapping’ of rain on the roof.
Why is it that when you have a chance to sleep in that you wake up feeling fully refreshed !! I was expecting that after the day from hell yesterday that I would have slept through until at least lunch !! But no, 08:15am and eyes fully open, I had heard one of the Motorhomes depart but I don’t think it was their departure that had woken me as I was fully awake by then. I got up to do the now routine morning ritual and stood in awe as I looked out at the magical scene before my eyes. It wasn’t raining, the sky was virtually cloudless, the sun still hadn’t peeped over the tops of the mountains, there was barely a ripple on the lake and their was a fine mist creeping over the top of the grass and their was absolutely no sounds whatsoever, no birds chirping, no ducks quacking, no sound of vehicle engines or road noise, no people talking, absolute silence and it felt absolutely wonderful until this sheer bliss was broken by the sound of the ‘whistle’ on the boiling kettle !
We did not lay in bed long, so once up and dressed I made a second coffee and went outside to savour the tranquility of my surroundings. I walked across to the lake and said good morning to the ducks and as I turned to walk back I couldn’t help but admire the view once more, utterly incredible. Why oh why are we heading back to the UK, we are not ready to return just yet, the thought did enter my head to just ring up ‘Dee’ in the Caravan Club, Human Resource Department and tell her that we had changed our minds, but I knew that I wouldn’t !!
Later that morning we met our Motorhome neighbours as it were, although they did not know each other they had both travelled on the ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Santander, where they had arrived the previous day. Morris and Jean, up until two and a half years ago had never owned either a Caravan or a Motorhome. Morris had served a full career in the British Army and then retired and taken up employment, still with military, as a civilian employee until he was made redundant. I am not sure what occupation Jean had but she worked fulltime, but like so many similar stories we have heard, on this trip, her employers had cut the workforce due to the ‘recession’ and those that were ‘lucky’ enough to have remained employed, had to take on more and more work, longer hours and with ‘pay freezes’, she had had enough. They rented out their house and were travelling on the funds from the rental income, Morris’s pension being used as ‘their nest egg’ for later life. In their short fulltiming lifestyle change they had been to Spain and Portugal on previous occasions as well as Morroco and Greece, however, their house had not had tenants for the last four months so they had gone back to live in it rather than leave it empty, they were now considering selling up altogether. They were quite interested in our story, more so our philosophy on not having ‘Bricks & Mortar’ or a stick of furniture !! By the time we had finished our deep and meaningful conversation they had made their minds up, they were putting the house on the market and selling up completely !! Oh dear, we could be guilty of starting a trend here !! We did of course explain about our financial back-up plan, the Assistant Wardens jobs, however they said that they were mortgage free so the proceeds of the house sale would be their financial back-up, can’t fault it really !! We did also meet the other couple but my memory really is appalling when it comes to trying to remember the names of everyone we meet !! They had both planned to continue their journeys South today, however, the sun was now well and truly up, it was nice and warm and so as they said, “There is no hurry, we can always move on tomorrow”, damn, I wish we too were heading South with them !!
Tuesday morning announced its arrival with the sound of heavy rain on the roof, this was certainly going to be coffee and a long lay in day !! I looked to see if our Company had departed but there ‘Silver Screens’ were still in place ! Well that is the good thing about this life, there is no rush to actually be anywhere, unless you have a ferry to catch that is !!
When the rain eased we took a stroll into the village to get a freshly baked ‘baguette’ and a carton of milk. We also had taken the iPads so that we could maybe grab a coffee and utilise the WiFi from the Cafe/Bar, unfortunately it was shut !! We walked backed to the van, hung up our wet coats on the hanging rail in the shower room and settled down for what was going to be a day ‘confined to Barracks’ !! Shazza, not being one to sit still for more than two minutes, decided that today was the day to hunt down her ‘missing’ purse !! It had been missing since the day we got on the ferry at Plymouth, she had hidden it in a secret place, so secret that not even she could find it again !! Each cupboard, drawer, wardrobe, under-seat storage, under- bed storage was systematically emptied to no avail !! I guess the only good thing was that each nook and cranny got a good sort out and the dust she hadn’t managed to Hoover or sweep up over the last twelve weeks at least today got re-arranged !! My guess is that her secret hiding place was in a floor mounted cupboard, some have cavities that go into the false floor and I reckon that one day I shall be driving and will hear one of those irritating noises that you cannot fathom what it is or where it is coming from, it will be Sharon’s purse skateboarding around under the floor cavity !!
Our two companions departed just before lunch, we said our farewells and then we were alone once more. It stopped raining just after tea time, we had some new overnight company, a ‘British’ registered Hymer, we waved as they drove past our window, they parked a good distance away, they must have heard about Shazza’s late night ‘Vino Tinto and Crisp eating sessions’ !! We saw them go out, looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat no doubt, we decided that we would try the WiFi Cafe/Bar again but we could tell as we approached that we would have no success as it was all in darkness. There was another Bar open so we decided to pop in and have a glass of ‘Vino Tinto’ before returning to ‘Big Momma’ for an early night. There was nobody else in the bar except for the man behind the bar who, until we walked in, was watching the TV screen perched high up in one corner of the room and yes ! It was football !! I ordered our two glasses of the ‘falling over juice’ and tentatively enquired as to whether there was any WiFi. I was mightily happy when he said “Yes, Gratis, No Code”, we sat at a table in the corner of the room and out came the iPad, it was a good fast connection and so this would give me a chance to do all my blog stuff, download my photographs, which usually took forever if the signal was weak, and check Emails etc. Shazza knew that I would now be totally engrossed for a good couple of hours so she finished her drink and returned to the van to read her book and have a game of ‘Candy Crush’ on her iPad. A few people came and went, after a quick drink, and then the barman disappeared across the road to a house, I assumed it was his and he had gone for his evening meal, he left an elderly chap in charge who was quite engrossed in the football, although he didn’t seem to mind when I needed my glass to be re-filled on a couple of occasions. Blog stuff completed, Emails checked, BBC News downloaded to read later, Bank accounts checked and with the speed of the connection I was even able to ‘back-up’ my iPad then back to ‘Big Momma’ and Shazza.
Wednesday arrived, no rain and our last full ‘proper’ day of our ‘Initial Retirement Trip’. We had planned to do a visit to the Nature Parque today so was really pleased that the weather was in our favour, it wouldn’t have been very good trying to take photographs out of windows that were steaming up or with raindrops continuously pouring onto them. At least now we could get out and walk where possible.
It took us 5 hours to drive around the Parque, if we had been in a car it would have taken longer but there were some roads that ‘Big Momma’ was not allowed to go down !! Even so, it was nice to finish this trip on a WOW !! There was just too much to mention in this post, yes even for me ! so I have decided to publish a separate ‘Post’ of photographs, I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them.