It was with real reluctance that we left Trafalgar. Only the knowledge that we had to be in Italy by July got us moving and the fact that we are meant to be motor homing/exploring.
But before we left we visited the sites excellent motor-home cleaning bay, the only one we have come across so far. With a power-wash and full-length ladder so we could clean the roof, it was a must as we knew the pine trees we had been parked under had dripped sap not just onto us but onto our roof and most importantly the solar panel. The instruction book was quite clear – the roof would not take over 70kg so Kate shinned up and spent a wet hour cleaning down while Danny did the toilet, grey waste etc. An educational experience that made us consider cluttering our garage even further with an extendable ladder. The purchase of grippy but soft beach shoes are also now on the list as barefoot is bit slippery.
We headed off through Barbate to pick up the A7 towards Tarifa. Saw our first speed-trap with van-driver victim and passed our first rice paddies outside Asia! Paella rice? From fields of sunflowers, the scenery changed as we drove down onto the huge floodplain of the Rio Almodavar. Wind farms scattered across the plain, with cattle pasture and huge wheat fields beneath them. Turbines as far as the eye could see, so tall that birds of prey soared below their turning blades. We crossed the plain to the distant hills and even here there were still wind-farms, including some really ancient-looking ones on the ridges.
At the the southern-most point of Spain, near the wind-surfing mecca of Tarifa (our original destination for the start of our trip where we expected to see the migration of raptors from Africa to Europe in April) we had spectacular views of the African coast and the towering Atlas mountains. We didn’t expect them to look so close, although the African coast is only 9 miles at the narrowest point of the Straits of Gibraltar.
As we moved from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean we started heading north-east to the spectacularly unattractive and industrialised city of Algeciras, apparently developed by General Franco following his closure of the border between Spain and Gibraltar. Not a pretty sight but is does provide a lot of jobs (youth unemployment 39%). We wondered whether this was the place eating the power from the wind-turbines. Our route took us parallel to the coast, past the rock of Gibraltar then the conurbations of Estepona, Marbella, Fuengirola, Torremolinos and Malaga. The views did not inspire us with any desire to visit them – they seemed too big for our taste.
By this time we wondered what Nerja would be like but it was a really pleasant surprise. A low-rise, traditional-style town backed by beautiful mountains with lovely sea views. Touristy but sympathetically developed and it also seemed to be a real working town. We followed the signs out of Nerja to the tiny village of Maro and, just beyond, to our campsite up in the foothills. Camping Nerja has maybe 50 pitches, largely empty on our arrival (one motorhome and 2 caravans, obviously long-term) but with a good number of reserved signs on the pitches. After an interesting ascent to the site and an even more interesting set of manoeuvres to get onto the only pitch we could fit on, we cracked open a couple of cold beers and surveyed our new home with approval. A view through the trees of the sea below and no-one else in sight. The wind had gone. Perfect.
The only thing marring the perfection was the fact that we now had satellite TV and were able to pick up and watch the Corbyn and May interviews on Sky News. After a blissful time away from it all it was a bit of a shock to the system, made slightly better by seeing May perform so badly. Thankfully still no other British channels to distract us. We are trying very hard to wean ourselves off the news.
We had intended to stay 2-3 nights but quickly amended our plans. The campsite is backed by the hills of the Sierra de Tejeda, set in rural landscape and not far from a nice, peaceful beach – not what we expected of the Costa del Sol – so we remained in beach-bum mode. The site owners are a Dubliner who moved out here 40 years ago and his wife from the Basque country with auburn hair and an interesting Spanish-Irish accent. Very nice and helpful.
The more accessible of the 2 nearby beaches is reached by a leisurely walk down through the small village of Maro – which has wonderful views along the coast to nearby Nerja – where a small shop will provide beach-goers and farm labourers alike with bocadillos for lunch. In a remarkably small space they sell everything from bleach to beachmats, with ripe local fruits and vegetables delivered daily. From the village the road winds downhill through avocado groves and plots filled with irrigation tubes and poly-tunnels. Onions, peppers, courgettes, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes all being grown either in the open or under plastic. At this time of year men wielding mattocks and wearing straw hats and shorts work their plots, weeding and harvesting.
The road gets steeper towards the beach and we were very glad that on our first visit we did not cycle – its a long, steep mile uphill. Below a steep promontory topped by a tower- windmill without sails? ancient watch-tower? – is the coarse sand and pebble beach. We have always avoided this type of beach but have now learnt that when mats are used it is surprisingly comfortable and as a bonus does not involve sand in every conceivable part.
We found it surprising how cold the Med was compared to our dips in the Atlantic off Trafalgar, but we loved it all the same particularly because while the temperature under the parasol was lovely, once in the sun (only ever before 12 or after 3pm) we were boiling within minutes and plunging into the cold waters was a relief. We spent happy hours reading our books, people-watching and dipping in and out of the sea, and no matter what time we arrived we never left before 6.30pm.
We saw a young german family on the beach with 6 children, the oldest looked about 12 -13yrs and the youngest was still breast-feeding (although toddling). Mum looked around 30 and dad had a ponytail like his 12yr old son. The kids were delightful and clearly used to beach-life. They looked after each other, built ineffective rafts from reeds, and played sword-fights without any disturbance to the people around them. Memories came back of our childhood holidays. Not a smartphone in sight.
On the recommendation of our hosts, one day we cycled down into Nerja and found an electrics shop to get our aerial connections and 1-amp fuse, and then located the ‘British’ shop we had seen on our drive through. We wouldn’t normally go in but the drive for those English staples of chilli powder and Chinese noodles was too strong. Wow – got everything we needed plus some. Luckily, and ironically, the British shop was run by Chinese and they also had some chilli bean sauce and spoke great english. The shelves were filled with items such as gravy salt, ritz crackers, Fray Bentos pies and anything else you want from the 20th century including Smash and Angel Delight. Amazing.
The ‘Old Town’ was a nice surprise. The Balcon de Europa was a lovely promenade with balconies giving amazing views of the coastline. Full of tourists, cafes and buskers but still surprisingly nice.
Went shopping for a waterproof watch for Kate – got lucky and got one in a sale – and a sleeveless T-shirt for Danny in his favourite colour. By now it was 2pm and time for lunch – octopus, anchovies and white wine sorted us out before we cycled home via a Mercadona. It was uphill all the way and we were thankful for the batteries.
Another morning we walked up the to Cuevo de Nerja, the Caves of Nerja. The lady at our site told us the authorities had built a bridge from the village to the site for a huge sum – she quoted 2 million euros – which she disapproved of as only a couple of people crossed it each day. This had led us to believe that the caves would be quiet, and we were expecting something like the Great Orme in North Wales. We ambled up in the mid-day sun, crossed the bridge populated with house martin nests, and walked into a heaving mass of people. The little tourist ‘train’ from Nerja apparently takes people there and the bridge we used crosses the main N7 which deposits coach loads of tourists. Even at this time of year we had a 15 minute queue for tickets and a 45 minute wait for entrance. We were stunned, but luckily there is a bar where we settled for ‘dos cerveza por favor’ – pretty much the extent of our Spanish.
The caves were worth waiting for. A 10 minute presentation, an audio guide and a real guide took us round the caverns over 50 minutes which seemed to fly by. Very impressive. The stalactites and stalagmites came in all shapes and sizes and the lighting was subtle and effective.
Caves of cathedral-like proportions with huge stalactites hanging from their roof in complex shapes, spirals, folds , some meeting the stalagmites that grow from the ground to create structures reminiscent of church organs. We could feel the moisture and the occasional drip of sediment-rich water which build these structures – mind-boggling the time over which they formed. They have been used by humans for thousands of years and skeletal remains, pottery and other artefacts are held in the Nerja museum. One level – not open to visitors- has ancient wall paintings of mountain goats and other local animals. The caverns were so big that any sense of claustrophobia could not take hold and the temperature was nice, not at all cold. It was easy, given the outside temperatures, to see why humans would live here despite their limited access to light (we were told they used pine sap to make a fuel that would stay lit for hours).
Our last day at the beach we celebrated by having a seafood lunch at the only beach bar, a rustic affair that is a bread-winner for someone. A plate of clams, some marinated octopus and a bottle of white wine ensured a good snooze in the sun.
Did we want to leave -no!