Monday 9th March 2016 Week 194 Spain.
Just another day on the road.
We left Pinar around nine. I would have preferred to leave under the cover of darkness as I hate goodbyes but I guess they can't be avoided. Saying hello is much more fun.
I was a tad excited as I climbed into the cab as I was going to use my new Tablet in Sat-Nav mode with its whopping full-fat ten inch screen. It comes with a rather cool young lady. She says stuff like: 'You wanna' take the next left', and 'right-on at the roundabout'. None of this, 'At the next round-a-bout take the third exit', from a women who sounds like her last job was with the speaking clock. The only feature it lacked was the ability to type in my name. That would be so cool. She'd say, Yo Phil, hang-a-right dude. You could then programme it with the name 'twat-features' and loan it to your granny. Honestly, hours of fun in the offing. Imagine it. I am, and it's making me giggle.
I quickly discover however there's a danger in using a Sat-Nav with such a large screen. You can, if you're not careful, find yourself driving it, and not the actual road in front of you, much like you might a computer game. Can be a bit disconcerting.
The drive was uneventful. The only drama was that of our own making. This, with a Spanish articulated lorry who insisted on travelling 2mph faster than us. Consequently, much like the Steven Spielberg film 'Duel', he was either up my arse or I up his. We leapfrogged for a hundred miles. He'd crawl up hills and we'd pass him. He'd then barrel down them and zoom, annoyingly, past us.
Duel Spilbergs version
I pulled out for the twentieth time to overtake him. Now I don't know if by now he thought it had become a contest, but as I drew alongside he managed to increase his revs by a factor of 0.05% and pick up a little speed. He started to edge forward. Traffic was behind me in the fast lane. He loomed large in my offside mirror. I put my welly on the loud pedal and gunned Betsy's engine. Unfortunately she prefers to move at a more leisurely pace than I would like her to. She's lugging around four tons, and Italian ladies of that weight don't do anything quick, you've seen Italian lady opera singers I'm guessing. We were now parallel. He was slowly gaining, inch by inch. Bugger. I fixed my stare at the speedo. Instead of climbing it was falling. I looked up, we'd hit a gradual incline. Ah! the truckers Achilles heel. I laughed ever so slightly maniacally. I toyed with the idea of dropping a gear, hitting the red line and putting her into warp drive, or Fiat's equivalent. But I reasoned that that momentary loss of forward momentum could cost me my position. The truck would have the jump on Betsy, gain a few extra metres and I'd have to slip in behind him.
I wasn't having any of it. As any bloke knows when you're at this point -and we've all been there right?-. it's not about my meagre 128 HP verses his 650, it's about skill, tenacity, and judgement. My gladiatorial driving skills were honed on the British roads. The M25 has seen many grown men quake in fear. I wasn't about to bottle it.
There was only three things left to do.
One, cut a hole out in the chunky carpet, which I'm sure was stopping me from getting the maximum travel out of the throttle pedal.
Two, Order Hazel to start lobbing out ballast, much like a balloonist trying to gain height.
Or Three, shout words of encouragement.
So we went for three. We both shouted like demented loons 'come on Betsy you can do it!' - I swear, so help me God, neither of us had touched a drop- She responded. The incline grew. The truck started to puff and wheeze. Betsy lifted her skirts and showed him how it should be done.
Oh yeah! I kicked his sorry ass.
Tuesday 10th March 2014 Week 194. Spain
Okay so where was I? Ah yes. As I sit down to write this morning, I can't help feeling a tad nervous. I did yesterday too. Why you ask? (Not sure anyone does but carry on. Ed) Well I've met a few people lately who read this, my Diary. And they've all been jolly complimentary about it. Thing is, in doing so, they've quite unintentionally raised the literary bar. Granted it's a totally illusionary one, and exists only in my head, but before, I could knock out any old twaddle. If you've read this often enough you'll know what I mean.
I knew I had a select and very discerning small audience, but knowing so many of them now, makes it a little unnerving. I wondered..... am I up to the job? Then I realised. Feck yeah! Considering I left school with only one educational certificate which certified I was more than capable of saving my own life should I fall into a swimming pool while wearing my PJ'S, I'm not doing so bad am I?
So driving from Zahora, which is tucked away in the bottom left hand corner of Spain and heading 425 kilometres north to Caceres which is almost in the middle of Spain, is a five hour journey through quite forgettable scenery. It's flat farmland almost the whole way. Which at this time of year resembles a petrified forest only without the trees. Almost the whole route is lined with fields of gnarled twisted twigs, poking out of the soil in neat regimented rows for as far as the eye can see. These will produce this years wine crop. Looking at them now, that's tough to believe. This is not one of Spain's most pleasurable routes.
What did surprise us was the temperature when we arrived at Caceres, well over 60 degrees. I expected, after such a drive north, it might have cooled down a few degrees, instead it's risen. At the weekend the temperature climbed into the mid seventies and with no breeze if felt a lot hotter.
You can see it just above the football pitch but don't let that put you off.
At first sight Caceres camping looks like the kinda place you'd get sent to rather than visit voluntarily. (See photo) It's next to a football stadium and opposite a large industrial park. The welcome you receive in reception doesn't do much to improve your first impressions. I remember this lass from our last visit. She's officious more than pleasant. It didn't help she spotted that my ACSI discount card was out of date. This even though I'd practised keeping my thumb over the bit where it said 2014 on the drive up. When she pointed it out, I waffled on like Colonel Blimp. Ahh.. yes... right... well then... funny story and all that, don't you know?.... Hazel just looked toward the heavens.
Luckily they had an offer running, which meant I paid no more than had it been in date. So she was making a point which, in my book, didn't need to be made.
The site is terraced with flat pitches, and trees just beginning to bud. It's not what you'd call attractive. However what makes this camp-site unique amongst almost all others we have even visited, is that in 2006 they built on all 129 pitches wet rooms. It's like having your own outdoor privy, only with a shower. It brings back happy memories of having to brave the night air to take a whiz as a kid. The only downside is that they also installed large mirrors. I've long since given up wanting to see myself butt naked as I shower. My rippling six pack has now, with the onset of advancing years, turned more into a party four. I can live without such reminders. I'm sure the same can be said for many. However if you feel so inclined, and you want to regain your youthful shape, they do have a very well equipped gym and spa bath, all free. The pool is closed at this time of the year but they do have free WiFi which zips along at a fair old rate. And if that doesn't tempt you to stop off here, then across the road is a massive Chinese Grand Bazaar. The building is vast, on three levels. It contains the entire range of junk China has to offer. It's all totally naff junk that won't last five minutes, but for some mysterious reason I feel compelled to buy lots of it. I walk around wanting to spend and that's not just not me. Ask those that know me or have read my diary for any length of time!. It's all ridiculously cheap. We walked out laden down with bags having spent just £15.
I love bloody luv 'em.
Wednesday 11th March 2015. Week 194. Spain
What's at steak?.
The other reason to visit Caceres of course, is the city itself. It's a world UNESCO heritage site and in our book one of the nicest cities we've visited in Spain. It's small for a city, only 90,000 souls live here. It does have some remarkable architectural features and history. Not least the walled city which is still very much lived in and at its heart.
It was here, two years ago, we gate crashed a civil ceremony held in the ancient San Francisco Javier church. We'd innocently breezed in to have a quick shufty, as you do, only to discover the place was crawling with overly dressed dignitaries. We, not wanting to draw any more attention to ourselves, stood at the back. Once it had finished, which thankfully wasn't too long, the assembled throng, police, politicians and those at top of the food chain around here, all filed out behind a gaggle of clergymen followed by a bunch of nervous choirs boys. We tacked onto the end. Outside we were met by a small appreciative crowd. I waved to them. Well you would wouldn't you?
This time we cycled in on the bikes and headed for the main plaza. When we arrived it was near full of hundreds of women poured into Lycra dancing to music in the sunshine. Why they were dancing I couldn't tell you. I have to say Spanish señoritas wear Lycra like no other nation. Hazel gently ushered me away before I could get my camera out.
We strolled around the old walled town before returning to the plaza to get some lunch/dinner. By then the dancing had ended and, even though the massive square is surrounded by restaurants, finding a empty table was a task in itself. Eventually we did. We both ordered this..
The two spuds where there to make you feel good I think.
Seriously, this photo doesn't do it justice. I promise you. I really needed something in the picture for you to get an idea of size, a small child would have been ideal, I did look around for a likely candidate but none were available.
I should point out the photo on the menu way undersold this. It looked like your average steak dinner. It was also, misleadingly in my book, simply called Iberian steak. Had it been called say: The massive Texas Rodeo Dead Cow Steak, with the English description in Italics underneath saying: Finish this bad boy and it's on the house!, warning bells may have sounded, but it didn't.
As we sat chatting I saw our waiter approach ladened down with these two. I just thought 'OMG!' -I can go all Essex at times- I so hope that's not ours. Hazel heard and looked worried. As he weaved his way around the other diners to get to us, they all gasped. Small dogs darted under tables.
One was placed in front of Hazel the other in front of me. Now as some of you know, those that have met Hazel, you'll know she's quite a slight lady. This thing dwarfed her. Put it this way, in a fight, the steak would win. Hands down.
That wasn't all. When I placed the order the waiter returned a moment later to ask 'how we liked our steaks cooked, Medium, well done or rare?' We said medium. On reflection I should have said dead. There was so much blood coming out of mine that an A&E doctor, armed with those paddle jobbies, could, once he'd shouted 'CLEAR', brought it back to life. I was tempted to ask if I could see it's death certificate.
Hazel sent hers back to be cooked a little longer. I soldiered on, vampire like.
I can honestly say I've never eaten so much meat in one sitting. And I'll add, I did feel a tad guilty. It's one thing eating a lamb chop, or a couple of rashers, or a few slices off the Sunday joint, but eating half a cow seemed, even for me, a hardened carnivore, a tad embarrassing. (It was delicious by the way! Ed).
On the move tomorrow so back Friday with more jibberish.
Friday 13th March 2015 Week 193. Spain.
What's on my mind today? (Or, who you going to pee off today. Ed)
If you listen to Militarists, you'd think Britain would have trouble staving off an attack from the Luxembourg army, yep, all 680 of them. Downsizing is weakening our ability to protect ourselves, they say. Well that's bollocks. Here's why.
When I was a kid, the world map that I sat under in class was covered in swathes of pink. The pink denoted the commonwealth, the mighty British Empire. For over a century the British upper classes held sway over one-fifth of the world's population. To enable us to do that we had, in 1900, 416 thousand trained soldiers who helped, not only amass an empire, but keep it.
Today, we have more. Half a million professional solders. That's not including reservists and the TA's. The 28th largest army on the planet. Around the world we have some 31 thousand troops deployed in over eighty counties. This includes the fifty military chaps sunning themselves and playing cricket on the tiny island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
It doesn't end there. We also have the second largest Navy in the world. And we own 255, handsome, pointy, and very expensive nuclear weapons. We spend more on arms than Canada, Australia, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Sweden, all put together. (Measured in actual cash terms, not as a portion of GDP). So it's fair to say then, we're ready to kick some serious arse. Whose arse? Who are we about to unleash the dogs of war on at a moments notice? Who's out there? There's no one in Europe. We're all chums now. So who exactly? The middle east?. Iran maybe? If you think Iran would, or could, declare war on Britain then you're either mad or Tony Blair. Today the worlds moved on which is something that can't be said for the British military mind. The world's changed dramatically in the last fifty years. And gone, thank God, are the warring monarchs of Europe who caused most of the trouble in the last century. If we could only stop our politicians interfering in other countries problems and concentrate on our own, we'd all sleep a little better in our beds at night and have more money in our pockets.
Last year the Defence chief warned against downsizing the armed forces. He believes the welfare budget should be cut instead. Bullets before benefits is his motto. Here's his shopping list.
£160 billion on new vehicles.
£35.8 billion for replacement for the Trident nuclear system.
£18.5 billion on war planes and drones'
£17.4 billion for surface ships, including new aircraft carriers.
£8 billion to cover any overspends.
Now I have to ask, does he know something we don't? Because as far as I know the British Empire ended almost a hundred years ago. The cold war ended forty years ago. We no longer own great swathes of the globe. We're no longer a super power nor are we a colonial power. We stopped gunship diplomacy eighty years ago. We have, dotted around the world, some thirteen islands that are British protectorates, mostly inhabited by Penguins, so I'm left wondering why we still need such a massive force. Isn't it about time we cut the cloth to fit the suit? Perhaps then the cash strapped NHS could afford to provide us with the health care we all want and they know they could supply.
Strikes me the message is a clear one: Britain will protect its citizens at almost any cost, just not care for them. I rest my case...
Have a good weekend
Sources: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:MOD: Wikipeadia: History of the British Army: Common sense.