Thursday 2rd October 2014. Week 174. Spain
Last night we left the van and, aided by my smart phone which makes for an excellent, if not hugely expensive torch, walked away from the camp light pollution and into the darkness. Perhaps stumbling around in the dark when you're perched 400 hundred meters above a valley floor, when one wrong footstep could send you crashing to the bottom, is not the brightest thing to do but I wanted a particular photo.
I set my camera down, selected a 15 second exposure and took a photo of the night sky. It's easy to forget all this is above our heads and that’s a shame because I find the night sky pretty amazing. I could never tire of looking up, chiefly because I always revert to a child like state of wonderment.
You just dont see this at home.
Imagine, some of the starlight I captured in the photograph left those stars tens of millions of years ago, before mankind even existed! After an epic journey across our solar system I took a snap of it, just last night. That's mind boggling, right? Looking up, you only see history.
The moment was somewhat lost to me when Hazel said, without putting her brain in gear: “Because we're like, seven hundred meters above sea level, d'you think that’s why we can see them so well? (duh! Sorry everyone. Ed) I pointed out they're all billions of miles away, so I seriously doubted being 700 metres closer made a scrap of difference but if she thought it did I'd be happy to find her a ladder to stand on. (Smart arse. Ed)
A long drive today, almost two hundred miles.
On the move we generally aim to bunny hop about a hundred and twenty miles between camp-sites. Drive much more than that and I think you're in danger of sailing past stuff you later wished you'd stopped and seen. It's only very occasionally this hasn't worked out and we've ended up in some less than salubrious place. Oddly, practically all the camp sites I thought looked woeful and miles from anything interesting, -I view most of them via Google earth first- have generally turned out to be the most surprising, like this one. On paper it's not worth a visit and yet there's always something, you just need to look.
Such as this.
During the drive we passed by no major cities and only a couple of big towns. The land was gently undulating, burnt sepia red and contained almost exclusively vineyards in all directions. Spain is big and empty. I like that. It means you have space. I'm convinced it's why the Spanish appear such an affable bunch. They're not all crammed together living in each others pockets. It's proven this has a positive psychological effect on people.
Eight out of ten Spaniards live on the coast. This leaves a country, which is over twice the size of Britain pretty empty in the middle. And that leaves them plenty of room to do what they do best and that’s make some of the best wines in the world.
Wednesday 22nd October 2014. Week 174. Spain.
From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Well I was right, this camp site doesn’t have wifi. I also can't get a data phone signal. Camp here and you really are cut off from humanity. However an internet connection isn't the only thing this camp-site lacks.
We pulled off the motorway into a one horse town called Villagorda. What anyone does here to earn a living or have fun is anyone guess. This is the back of the beyond. The collection of thirty odd streets or Calles were abandoned and had it not been for a couple of old chaps standing in the sun reminiscing -like old folk do the world over- you'd think the town was deserted. They watched us drive by, probably the high point of their day. We skirted the village and then dropped dramatically down into a rock strewn grim looking valley.
“Looks, ermm interesting” Haze said as I steadily negotiated the steep decent. Being no stranger to sarcasm I spotted the thinly veiled barb in that comment.
“The sites got a swimming pool I said defensively. Having chosen the site I felt obliged to big it up in some way.
Could just as easy be the bad lands of Arazona
On arrival I parked and made my way to reception. Hazel went off for a nose. Inside, behind a counter, a chap was busy finishing off a task. I waited, so did the air around me. Nothing moved. It was hot, low thirties. The heat made worse by the absence of even a faint breeze. Outside our radiator fan, cooling our silent engine, was the only sound to be heard.
Hazel came back from her recky, 'the sites empty' she reported. Which immediately had me wondering what, in a completely empty camp-site, the manager had found to do? Being empty I would've expected him to be a tad more excited at seeing two new faces. Make a fuss. Welcome us. Offer me his wife. He seemed quite unimpressed he had guest.
After the processing formalities he informed us we were on pitch 20, but I then think even he saw the ludicrousness of assigning us a pitch number in a completely empty camp-site, so he suggested we could move if we didn’t like it.
We camped and then went out to stretch our legs. We walked the mile to the bottom of the valley to see the lake we'd caught sight of on our way in. Embalse De Contreras is a fresh water lake covering some twenty square miles. It was like a sheet of glass, motionless, crystal clear and a turquoise blue. Quite stunning and very inviting.
The earth and rocks around us were multicoloured. Reds, golds, browns and yellows. A petrified tree lay half buried in rock. The whole area had a primeval feel to it. Apart from the half made track down here, it's remained unchanged for perhaps thousands of years. We'd stepped back in time. Around us, had we been able to tell from the clues, lay a history of the area in geological terms.
“Did I know this was here when I chose the site? Hazel asked.
“What?. ..Oh yeah sure, it's why I chose it.” I do fib quite convincingly. It was a gem. An oasis of solitary beauty and ours while we stood admiring it.
We'll move on tomorrow. I can do loneness and seclusion for about three days tops, after that I find myself talking to imaginary people in the next loo cubical.
Doh! She caught me mid movement. Now I just look daft.
The next site advertises free wifi, so back to civilisation.
Back on Friday.
Monday 20th October 2014. Week 174. Spain
Those wacky Germans
Okay well an early posting today as we're leaving this morning. The camp site is nice but too full for us. I like it quieter. Comically, ever morning the tannoy strikes up with ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! First time I heard it I thought the commandant was making his rounds. The announcer then lists the days events. Water aerobics in the swimming pool, bingo in the café and later Adolf Muller and his saxophone in the bar. It feels like I'm in a Carry-on film.
Yesterday a group of about ten Germans gathered on the next pitch to celebrate some ones birthday. I know this because one played Happy Birthday on his harmonica but oddly they didn't sing along.
We took off shopping. When we returned the party was in full swing. We had lunch and went for a cycle ride to see the Roman towers of which there are several in the area, built as look-outs for the frequent pirate raids here. I went along not so much for the towers, I'm maxed out with Roman history, but because the route took us between tangerine and pomegranate groves. I was hoping for some windfall fruit, no such luck, so it called for some creative scrumping to get my bounty.
We arrived back late afternoon. The party was getting louder as they were getting drunker. Around five our neighbour, having seen me step out the van, walked over. Well, he didn't so much walk over, as ricochet off various bits of camping equipment.
“You comen for der schapps ya!, he offered.”.
Being all Germans, all pissed, and all loud, I really couldn’t see how two sober Britishers were going to slot into the group dynamics, so I said: “Danker, but we are having our dinner”. He shuffled off and returned to his friends. I told Hazel who was about to pour us our evening gin and tonics, we like to sit outside and drink a toast to the setting sun. We now couldn't do that, not after turning down our neignbours drunken offer. He might feel offended. Hazel wanted a cigarette, so she fought her way around, and over, the crap we keep in the cab while parked up and climbed out the drivers door so as not to be seen by Heinz, while I made derisory chicken clucking noises.
When we retired to bed they were still at it. They'd been drinking for ten hours!
The campsite recycle bins, all full. This is serious drinking, not for the faint hearted.
We are heading across country. The next site is out in the sticks in the Castilla la Mancha region. There’s a slim chance it might not have wifi or Internet, so if you don't hear from me in the next couple of days it's not because I've driven off a mountain, although that’s always a possibility. (Well that's not temping fate!. Ed). It's because I can't get a connection.
Lastly: I don't want to be accused of adding to the wealth of confusion, so let me correct something I said last week. I questioned the wisdom of sitting next to a sneezing Ebola sufferer on a bus. I should point out the consensus of medical opinion is that it is possible to get infected that way, but, according to those that should know, it's also most unlikely.