Thursday 2 March 2006, Granada

This time we made it to Sierra Nevada. It is a ski resort right at the top of the mountains with at least 4 ski lifts. There were many skiers visible both on and off the slopes. There was a lot more snow than when we went in January. Some cars were embedded in the snow with sharp walls where the snow plough had gone around them.Sierra Nevada ski resort

We spent the night in the car park of Lidl. a German grocery chain




Friday 3 March 2006. Chimeneas

Granada for us is the Renault Service Centre. We spent most of the day in cold showroom while they checked a noise that Pieter was concerned about and discussed improving the power of the engine. They could not find what was causing the noise and assured Pieter it was nothing to really worry about. Apparently it is impossible to improve the power of the engine because it is an old model. We would need a new more modern engine. This is not on the cards after having the current engine fixed. We will just have to accept that trucks can overtake on the uphill.

Alora, white village with castle on the hillWe left the showroom after 5 pm and spent the night in a field just outside Chimeneas. It was idyllic

I am not yet used to the daylight hours. In December I had to put on double layers at 5pm because it became dark and cold soon after. Two months later the sun is still high in the sky at 5pm, currently setting about 7:30pm. Such a change from an hour difference in sunset times between mid winter and midsummer in Johannesburg. Our whole daily routine is changing because of the extending daylight hours. We get up later, eat all meals later, go to bed later. Eventually I suppose we will have to go to bed while it is still light.

NB: By the end of March the clock has been put forward by an hour for summer time and the sun sets at 9 pm.   

Saturday 4 to Sunday 5 March 2006, Torremolinos

Driving through the hills and mountains of Andalucia is lovely. There are magnificent views of lakes and hills with snowcapped mountains in the near distance. There were many cyclists out for the day. I don't envy them the hills though.

Our first view of Malaga was from the mountains showing thousands of high-rise buildings on the plain below. Malaga is built up through to Torremolinos.  Sunday was spent catching up on some washing and walking on the beach. The beach was dirty looking sand backed by high-rise buildings and once again snow-capped mountains from which blew a cold wind.

Monday 6 March 2006, Camping in an olive grove.View from our overnight stopan Olive Grove

Today took us up the Guadalhorce River Valley to Antequera. More  hills, mountains and valleys. They were all built on for some way out of Malaga with typical tourist developments, followed by farms. All the available land was used.

We spent the night in an olive grove south of Las Palomas. Spring is in the air, the almond trees are in blossom or starting to fruit, wild flowers abound.

Tuesday 7 to Wednesday 8 March 2006, Ronda

Ronda is located on a rocky platform divided in two by a deep gully made by the Guadalevin River. It is a typical spanish village with white houses, narrow streets and orange trees along the sidewalk. It is the city where bullfighting on foot was inaugurated in 1785. There is a large bull ring and several statues of bullfighters. There were also crocodile lines of tourists even though it is still winter.

We went into 2 museums, the Museo Lara and the Museo del Bandolero. The Museo Lara is a private collection covering a quixotic mixture of subjects such as watches, chronometers, typewriters, fans, and placards for movies. The section covering fantasy creatures had models of such creatures. The most interesting was a large spider with a bat head fixed on the front. It took me a while to work out exactly what it was. They also had a special exhibition of medieval torture instruments with comments that some of them were still used until recently!

The Museo del Bandolero contained wanted posters, warrants of arrest and descriptions of various bandits. They were basically thieves who worked in the hills and mountains, but they have been romanticised. It seems they had a short life though, dying in their early twenties.

One of the Ordonez dynasty of bull fighters  The bull outside the bull ring  Relaxing in the shade  This statue of the inquisition is at the entrance of the camp site.

Thursday 9 March, A375

Headed down to the coast through mountains where a lot of the land has been left in its natural state. Saw cows and pigs on the road for the first time in Europe also cork trees that have been harvested recently. It was a misty rainy day though so the views were hidden most of the time.

We found a very nice spot to camp on the A375. Unfortunately we went over a large rock which was hidden by mud and tore out the exhaust. More maintenance will be required on the van.

Friday 10 to Sunday 12 March 2006, Tarifa

Pieter tied up the exhaust to prevent more damage. The exhaust is rusted in places so it would have had to repaired soon in any case. The air was clear, then suddenly there was a lot of mist rising from the ground. It is the first time I have seen mist rising and clearing like that. We took the highway to Algeciras and arrived at the start of siesta. We took our own siesta and then started looking for a mechanic, eventually we were told to look for a coach mechanic. By this time it was late so we headed for Tarifa where there were campsites. We were very tired and fell into bed.

Saturday morning we again tried to find a mechanic but they were all closed so we decided to go into Gibraltar. There is a long queue of cars going onto the island because the Spanish insist on checking passports and vehicle contents. The British took one look at the Dutch and Australian passports and waved us on without even opening them. Some say that Gibraltar is one of the pillars of Hercules. There is a monument on Europa point celebrating this. The other pillar on the African continent can be seen quite easily as it is about 30 kilometers away. There is also a lighthouse and relatively modern mosque. The island has a long history of guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean.

The town has narrow winding streets and the centre is pedestrianised. The van had difficulty negotiating the sharp bends so we parked and walked through the town. Of course there are tours of the island available and we allowed ourselves to be talked into going on one. This turned out to be a good decision as we would never have been able to see everything on our own plus the guide added a lot of information. We did see one or two private individuals but 99% were on a tour. The mini buses lined up behind each other, dropped their passengers at a site and by the time the passengers were ready to get back in, the minibus had arrived at the pick up point. There was no real place to park. There are 3 sites of interest. Michael's Cave is a group of caves with large limestone formations. It was to be used as an emergency hospital during WW2 but was not needed. It is now used as a theatre. The siege tunnels were constructed in the 1790s when Spain tried to force the British off the island. The tunnels were supposed to be for defense from the sea. They were started on the landward side and expected to go through to the sea side of the island. However at one point a hole was needed to provide air for the tunnels and one was punched through. This made a great place to defend the island from the land and so more such holes were made. The men who moved the cannons in and carried cannon balls from the store to the guns must have been very fit. The tunnels all slope so you are either going up hill or downhill. Then of course there is the top of the island where there are monkeys from Macassar. There were originally two troops. There are now seven. The island government feeds them to ensure they remain as there is a legend which states that if the monkeys leave the island the British will lose it.

Our guide was born on Gibralta and 25,000 of the 30,000 inhabitants are Gibraltans. He is proud of his heritage and would not like to see a change in sovereignty. There are problems with Spain though. The airport has been built on reclaimed land and Spain disputes ownership of this land. The main road also goes through the middle of the runway, when a plane takes off, traffic must stop and wait.

       Monument to the Pillars of Hercules at Europa Point.     The mountain in Africa that is supposed to be the other pillar     The mosque and the top of Gibralta 

       Limestone formation in Michael's Cave     The old harbour where Nelson's body was brought after Trafalgar     A monkey at the second highest point looking at the highest point.

Sunday was housework day

Monday 13 to Tuesday 14 March 2006, Algeciras

We had the exhaust checked at a workshop but unfortunately the damage was more than the mechanic could cope with. This meant finding Renault Service. We asked and followed directions and asked again and found the address on an advertising board and found the street and drove up and down and started to despair. We decided to sop and ask again. While Pieter was asking I looked up and there in front of us was Renault. There was a flag but it was not very well marked. Of course it was siesta time. After siesta we went into the service area. Eventually a mechanic looked at the exhaust and indicated that the whole exhaust system  needed renewing. Then they wanted to know the weight of the van, After much deliberation they decided they could not handle the weight with their lifts and we would have to go to Renault Trucks. Great, where is it - around the corner and down the road. Are you sure? Eventually one of the staff said we could follow him as he had to go nearby on his way home. Just as well, we would never have found it otherwise. When we arrived it was almost closing time and we were told it was not possible to do the job. It took a few minutes to establish that it was not possible today! Tomorrow would be OK. We did not want to go all the way to Tarifa so we parked at Lidl for the night. Tuesday we returned, the mechanic at Renault Trucks looked at the exhaust and said he would have to order the parts from Madrid but they would be there Wednesday morning. Again we parked at Lidl. Two of the three parts arrived on time, the third part was not available. Peter was not going to wait any longer and told them to fit the parts they had and forget about the last part. It happened to be the last part of the exhaust anyway and could be fitted later, even by himself. After it was done the noise was definitely a lot less.

Description of the Battle of TrafalgarWednesday 15 March 2006, El Palma

I had not realized that the Battle of Trafalgar happened so close to the Mediterranean. I knew it was in the Atlantic but always though it was close to England. Mind you, at school I was not all that interested either. In any case we went via the Point of Trafalgar which is about half way between Gibralta and Cadiz. The battle was fought on the 21 October 1805 with 27 English ships against a combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships (15 were Spanish).  There was an English information board on the battle but no explanation of what the war was about. No doubt commerce was behind it somewhere. The camp ground at nearby El Palmer was expensive with barely adequate facilities. I would hate to be there in summer. The pitches are small, though not as small as in Tarifa

Thursday 16 March 2006, Jerez

Passed through Cadiz, the step stone to the new world as Columbus sailed from here. The city has been around since the Phoenicians and is considered Europe's oldest inhabited city. There is really not much left except for the Castle of Santa Catalina which is being reconstructed, the 18th century cathedral and many churches.

The castle is polygonal and was built as a consequence of the failed Anglo-Dutch attack in 1596. Work actually started in 1598 and finished in 1621. It is intended as a cultural centre after the renovations have been completed. There was an exhibition on early sea explorations including Phoenicians. It looked interesting but was all in Spanish. The castle is built on a rocky outcrop at the end of a long spit of sand ( at least 2 kilometers). Unfortunately the cathedral was closed for siesta but we could go up to the bell tower for a magnificent view over Cadiz. The original narrow circular steps have been closed and you walk up a ramp going around the original steps. This is much easier on the knees but still takes a lot of energy.

Part of the Independence Memorial - womanon horse back  feeding baby.The only photo we took was part of the Independence Memorial. This is set in a tranquil park with very little parking. We ended up parking in a zone for VIP cars, all swanky with chauffeurs. We didn't stay long though. Parking in Cadiz and most Spanish towns is a nightmare. The inner streets are all very narrow and often pedestrianized. Outside there are always cars looking for parking. Pieter is now used to the long wheelbase of the van and can park in the most restricted of places, not always legally!

After Cadiz we headed for Jerez on the way to Portugal. We did not see any camp signs so decided to bed down in the Carrefour parking lot. We were woken at 1 am and told this was not allowed, please move on. Pieter drove around and found some street parking with lots of loud music. Deciding this would stop soon we went back to sleep. Next morning we discovered that we had parked in front of a night club! We will be more circumspect next time.

The bridge into Portugal before the sun came out.Friday 17 March 2006, Punta Umbra

Today we traveled from Jerez, past Seville and its traffic jams, through Huelva to the Spanish Algarve with its long, long sandy beaches

Saturday 18 March 2006, Casta Miram

And so into Portugal. Last time we came through (early 1990s) there was a ferry across the river and it took 3 to 4 hours to waiting before boarding. Now there is a bridge and it takes a minute or so. Just as we passed into Portugal the sun came out, great after the sporadic rain of the last few days.

Sun glinting on the waves at Casta Miram

We decided to stop early in a parking area right on the beach. There were about a dozen other mobile homes already there and obviously staying for a day or so. The beach was long, sandy and windy. Even so, we went for a walk and came back with lots of shells. We now have 3 shells decorating our van inside. House in Lagos covered in tiles.

Portuguese are friendlier than the Spanish and there is much more English spoken. There are also a lot of English in the Algarve though no more than in Spain. The buildings tend to be relatively low only going to about 5 stories in the towns and they are not ALL white. There is a lot of tiling used as the external finish on the front of the houses. Others are white with large strips of colour, mainly blue, around the windows, doors and along the corners. The garbage is placed in large communal bins by the people living nearby. There does not seem to be any individual house refuse collection. They also tend to be more untidy.

 Sunday 19 to Tuesday 21 March 2006, Alvor, Portugal

Pieter cooking in the van and THE GLASSAlvor is a lovely little village that has retained some of the flavour of a small fishing village. The streets are narrow with low, one or two story, buildings. The houses are all freshly painted, some with marble or tiled door and window frames. The harbour is on a lagoon full of fishing boats and there is a fish market early in the mornings. We had dinner at a cozy little restaurant. The waiter had the most gorgeous smile and deep dimples on his cheeks. He never stopped smiling. The guests spoke to each other and most had to share a table with another party. Lovely atmosphere.

The campgrounds in Spain are organized with designated pitches set out in rows, and electricity boxes, water points and trees at regular intervals. Portuguese camp sites have a few electricity poles here and there with 5 to 10 sockets. Trees are where they happened to grow and the pitch is where you decide to put your vehicle or tent with agreement from the other campers nearby.

Unfortunately it rained most of the time, even so I managed to dry the washing using the heater in the bathroom and the occasional dry spell.

Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 March 2006, Beja, Portugal

Today we first went into Lagos where we had feasted last time with the boys. It has grown larger but the centre is almost as we remember. We then headed north and west for Spain. We drove through a softly undulating landscape and under arches of gum trees. There were plenty of white houses with blue trim under grey skies that deepened the strong colours. Old barns with faded, moss covered clay tiles spotted the landscape. Sheep were driven over the road from field to field. Millions of wild flowers were out in red, yellow, orange, white and shades of purple. The wild flowers filled the spaves between the olive trees and tried to stand above the crops.  It was an idyllic pastoral scene.  

When we reached Beja it was time to stop. It was then that I discovered I had left Pieter's passport in reception at Alvor. What a stupid, stupid thing to do. In Spain and Portugal you must show a passport or other identification when booking into a campground. The receptionist, who spoke excellent English phoned through but the staff at Alvor could not find it and the woman who had been at reception was not on shift. Next morning we phoned again and this time she was on shift and found it on the chair where I had left it.  We had already received many letters successfully from England and decided to trust the postal service rather than drive back. I must admit though I was on tenterhooks until it arrived on Monday morning.

The castle tower. The grey stones are part of the reconstructionThe Royal Monastery of Our Lady of ConceptionThe days were dry and this allowed us to shop, wash and find an Internet connection at the library. The service was free and the setup was very fast. I also walked around the town looking at some of the historic monuments. Beja is one of a series of towns with castles to protect the realm. It is in the middle of a fertile plain which goes from Lisbon to the Spanish border. The castle is built on the highest piece of ground and has been much restored. The Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Conception from the Holy Order of St. Clara has also been much restored. It was founded in 1495 under Franciscan jurisdiction by the first Duke of Beja. Favored by royal patronage it became one of the richest convents of the time. It has now been turned into a museum. The old church has several altars from other churches from the 17th and 18th century. The walls are covered in carved wood that used to be covered in gold leaf although there is little remaining. It must have glittered magnificently at the time. The convent was decorated with blue and yellow patterned Portuguese tiles and marble. The museum also houses some of the roman remains uncovered at Beja.


Monday 27 March 2006, near Cordoba

We drove through gentle green cultivated hills to a camp ground about 20k from Cordoba. There were many stork nests on the top of telephone poles and wild flowers everywhere. We decided to skip Seville as we have been there before and we have never been to Cordoba. We also wanted to be in Roquetas before some Dutch friends left.

Tuesday 28 March to Tuesday 11 April 2006 2006, Roquetas

Cordoba is also magnificent with remnants of Spain's ancient Islamic, Jewish and Catholic heritage intermingling. We parked below part of the old city wall and started walking. The Royal stables which were used in the 18th century. The horses had plenty of space in their stall. We kept on walking and came across an information office where we were able to obtain a map of Cordoba and some information in German. We are not the type of people who can spend all day looking at buildings and museums so we decided to only visit the Mezquita Cathedral. This started as a mosque and later a cathedral was built inside. To quote the brochure 'The building is a unique embodiment of over 8 centuries of architectural and artistic change containing elements representing the peak of Hispanic-Moslem style alongside Hispano-Flemish vaults and arches, Renaissance cupolas, early baroque elements and other treasures from the predominant Christian styles of the 16 and 17 centuries.'

Abd al-Rahman l (756-788) began the construction of the first mosque over the Christian Basilica of San Vincente. Abd al-Rahman ll (821-852) added 50% of the original floor space. Alhaken ll (961-976) almost doubled the size of the mosque. Almanzor added the largest part about 80% of the existing mosque. The building is huge, you cannot see from one side to another. We had not yet read the brochure and did not realize there was a cathedral inside until we came across it. The cathedral was built in the centre and started in 1523. We could not take it all in, there is just too much to see. It is definitely worth a second visit as is Cordoba itself.

16 / 17 century tower. The remains of the old minaret are inside.   Moorish arches inside  Moorish arches inside  Moorish arches   Moorish cupola

Christian side chapel   Christian side chapel   Christian ceiling detail   Mahogany choir stalls carved by Pedro Duque Cornejo from Seville Short side of the mosque   Roman bridge                                                         

We arrived in Roquetas to find the campground virtually empty. The English and the Germans had all packed up and gone home. Our Dutch friends were still there though. Carlos, our Spanish neighbor was also still around. This was expected though as he has two caravans which he and his family use them as weekend homes. They have really set them up well with many, many plants including an arch over which they are training jasmine. The perfume is heavenly. The weather is lovely and warm and the beaches are in use.

Averages Rand Euro Back to Spain

Next to France

Cost per litre diesel 7.64 0.98    
Kilometers per litre 7.8      
Camping per night  163.80 21.00  NB: Portugal was around 15 euro  
     NB: longer stays in Spain can reduce the tariff by 50%  
Kilometers traveled 2,466      
Days in country 26