Kiri and


Pilgrims, fuses and more waves

February 27th, 2014 (by Steve)

As we saw our first “Camino de Santiago” sign along by the road and launched into a rendition of “Is this the way to Santiago?” (to the tune of “Is this the way to Amarillo?”) we began to ponder on the theme of pilgrimages. The Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela is the endpoint for many pilgrimages; people travel along different routes, for different reasons to reach this destination. Because there are many different routes, all leading to one point, the scallop shell is the symbol for the pilgrimage (as its lines lead to one point).


As it happened, our time in Santiago de Compostela was very brief due to some rather inclement weather, which didn’t make it the ideal time for wandering. However we did visit the cathedral and saw several pilgrims arriving; some looking a little worse for wear from their journey… we could only wonder what their stories were.


As we reflected, we realised that our trip is a kind of pilgrimage.
The Oxford English dictionary defines a pilgrimage as:

a journey to a place of particular interest or significance

It’s about the journey. Now we’re not sure that we’ve got any one place that we would count as the endpoint of our pilgrimage. In fact it could be argued that even though our journey is physical, our destination isn’t; it’s more that we’ve grown on this journey. But anyway, back to the story!

Having had our wander, we had a choice as to whether to pay an extra 12 Euros to stay in the car park overnight, or drive to the coast where we could stay for free at an aire there. Easy decision. As we left the city and headed towards Fisterra (an optional extra to the traditional pilgrimage), the rain cleared and we had a beautiful sunset drive along the coast.


The following day we drove around to Fisterra, only to find that it wasn’t that motorhome friendly… so we turned back to the last beach before it, parked up, had some lunch, then went in search of some scallop shells. It’s traditional to wear a scallop shell in some form as you do the pilgrimage and as it’s possible that we might walk a route one day, so we thought it would be appropriate to find one from near Fisterra. We like collecting shells!


Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed from our timeline that around the time of our trip to Santiago we’ve had a couple of blown fuses (well, Bertha has), leading to all of the lights going off. That’s partly the fault of a dodgy laptop charger and partly my fault for choosing to have our 12v charging points on the same circuit as the lights. When we removed the old spotlights above the bench seat, that left a couple of wires dangling… which I then attached to a 12v charger. Bad call.


After two blown fuses (we replaced the first one, only to have the replacement go too), I decided to move the charging points to different circuits; one to the solar panel controller load output, and one to a brand new circuit with its own fuse. So far, so good… but then it’s only been a few days, and we haven’t tried the dodgy laptop charger again. One job we definitely need to do in March is move the fuse box so it’s more accessible; at the moment it’s inside the control unit (again, my fault when we were doing a bit of re-wiring) and at the same time we might add an inverter… but that’s stuff to think about when we’re back in the UK.

After that, it was only a short few days of driving (compared to what we’ve done so far!) along the coast to Santander where we end our first loop. As with our journey through most of Spain, we hugged the coast, spending evenings in little villages near some stunning waves. Have we ever mentioned that we like the sea? I think the pictures speak for themselves:


So we’re nearly home from the first loop! Hasn’t Bertha done well!

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Stormy seas and myriad motorhomers

February 18th, 2014 (by Steve)

The last place we wanted to visit in southern Spain was Cadiz… as in it being our final stop rather than not imagining anywhere worse! We’d realised that we would be too early for the annual carnival, but we still fancied wandering around the old town, so we found a campsite in nearby El Puerto de Santa Maria where we could leave Bertha whilst we explored Cadiz. In hindsight we probably could have wild-camped just around the corner, but instead we joined what appeared to be a mobile retirement village in the campsite. Having only met other motorhomers on aires, or wild-camping, this opened our eyes to yet another way of motorhoming; some of the vans there were the size of coaches! We were the youngest guests by far and obviously quite a novelty, as lots of the dressing-gown-clad occupants were keen to give us advice about all things to do with El Puerto. However, we were more interested in Cadiz, so were excited to get the catamaran across the bay.


Now with Cadiz we were expecting a beautiful city with narrows streets and exciting little shops. Which we found. What we weren’t expecting was an awesome heavy sea out by the castle. Which we also found. There have to be some advantages of high winds and persistent rain and this is an obvious one. We happily soaked in the power and beauty of the huge waves (as well as a little bit of sea water too… not as happily!) before we had to return to the campsite.


Little did we know that the heavy seas would become a feature of the next few days for us. There’s something about the coast that draws both of us, so once we were in Portugal, it was no surprise that we ended up staying on the cliffs at Sagres. Once again there was a heavy sea, with huge waves crashing against the headland; this time though there were surfers making the most of it. Guess what Kiri wants to learn how to do now?!


Further up the coast (near Sines) we had planned to stop by the sea once again for the night, but this time were foiled by “no motorhome” signs in one spot and high seas in another (with waves that Kiri reckons were the size of a house!), so we ventured inland to get a bit of shelter; staying at an official aire. There, we completed our bingo hand of types of motorhomer when we saw a mobility scooter on a bike rack on the back of a motorhome. It’s interesting how the motorhoming community is so united, yet so diverse. We all have something in common, but you have all types of people on the road. In Sagres we saw a couple with a young baby in a monster-truck of a motorhome. The following morning I had a lovely chat with a Norwegian guy who spends 6 months of every year away from Norway to get away from the cold weather. 10 minutes earlier I’d been chatting with a British guy who was complaining that he could no longer get satellite TV in his van as the signals have apparently been tightened down to broadcast to a smaller area. It seems that we motorhomers celebrate the commonality rather than focussing on our differences… a good life lesson.

And then there are just the surreal moments at motorhome service points:


Yes, that is a 1 horse power vehicle… but I guess they need to empty waste and top up with water too!

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The joy of networking

February 12th, 2014 (by Steve)

Where in Spain can you play Settlers of Catan, watch some great 90s videos (yes, videos, not DVDs!) such as Cool Runnings and Home Alone, eat great food and share stories with fellow travellers? Well, for the last week or so, we’ve been at the final planned stop of our first European loop; Villa Isabel near Malaga. It would probably best be described as both a Christian community and a way-point for travellers, so it was a perfect place for us to stop off and see where we could help out.


Well, as soon as we mentioned that I know a little about computers and Kiri likes to do outdoor work, we were asked (with no expectations) to look at their computer network and garden (not at the same time!). Kiri set to work in the sunshine (incidentally, since mentioning the surprising levels of Spanish wind in a previous blog post, we’ve learned that the Costa del Sol (coast of the sun) used to be called Costa del Viento (coast of the wind), but the name was changed to make it more attractive to tourists! The wind is nothing compared to the extreme weather there has been back in the UK though… I should probably finish this brief aside and continue the sentence), tackling a huge rose bush, strimming knee-high weeds in places and saving a tree from being swallowed by brambles.


Now I haven’t really done much networking since my first job out of uni (telephone technical support for a bespoke business network gateway device… sounds grander than it is!), but I dusted off the relevant grey cells and got to work on the spaghetti junction of cables. The first job was to remove all of the wires that weren’t plugged into anything at all(!), then work out the topography (and document it), before neatening up the remaining cables to make future management easier. Oh, and I flashed a wireless access point that wasn’t working, bricked it (it wasn’t even responding to a ping), then shorted the electronics to bring it back to life. All in a day’s work!


Onto a different type of networking now; we’ve met some really great people whilst we’ve been here. Jacob + Bev are basically the Mum + Dad of the place and they’ve made us feel so at home, as have all of the other staff. Sharing food with new people is always a really special experience and it’s even better when you can share stories of adventure and travel. Some people we met were just at the start of their travels; others were near the end, but all had inspiring stories that encouraged us and that we can learn from. And as we’re quite close to Africa, some North African influences can be found in the food, so we’ve eaten some great stuff. I know several people have said in response to previous blog posts that we should take Bertha over to Morocco… having had a taste of their food we really wish we could!


But sadly our time on this loop is limited and it looks like the next food we’ll be tasting is British fish and chips. Here we come Gibraltar!

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Mountains and mud

February 4th, 2014 (by Steve)

Who would have guessed that the highest altitude of our trip so far would not be Switzerland or Austria, but Spain?! Yup, the mountain range to the east of Granada took us to an altitude of 1372 metres according to our GPS tracker (or 1429 metres according to our paper map). It would be lying to say that Bertha sailed up the slopes, because it was engine power that pulled her to the top, but it didn’t seem to be too much of a struggle. We experienced quite a contrast in weather though; two days previously we’d been basking in temperatures in the mid twenties, but in the mountain pass we drove through sleet and spied snow ploughs at the ready on the slip roads.

View from Bertha - stunning light and snowy mountains

So were we in Granada to visit the famous palace? Nope (although given the number of people that have recommended that we go there, we probably should at some point in the future!). Were we there to go to a luxury spa built over one of the hot springs? Nope (budget constraints… plus we’re not really spa people!). Our quest was to find the hot springs near Santa Fe that haven’t been commercialised yet. Unlike the hot springs we visited near Lamia, Greece, these are not sign-posted; in fact it took a little bit of research to find the GPS co-ordinates of them. The latitude and longitude were accompanied by a warning about mud, but we hadn’t seen that much rain, so thought that we would be fine in Bertha.

Now Kiri has quite a bit of experience in driving off-road vehicles (tractors, landrovers, quad bikes, etc) in mud. I have none… but then again Bertha isn’t really an off-road vehicle… well, she hadn’t been up until this point, but I reckon you can teach an old dog new tricks! As we headed down a muddy track through the middle of an olive grove, Kiri started to warn me that we should probably go back. I wouldn’t say that I ignored her, but… ok, I ignored her. We reached an impassable puddle (ooh, that would make a good band name!) and I conceded defeat… for this route. We reversed and I plotted another route on the satnav. This route had even softer mud, but with the promise of hot springs at the end, I was keen to persevere… especially as at this point we’d been washing out of a bucket for the previous 2.5 weeks. I’m not willing to give up on something until I’ve exhausted every avenue… but after finding a lake blocking this route and performing a 17 point turn in soft mud I reluctantly agreed that all routes would probably be the same. Having almost doubled Bertha’s weight with additional mud, we returned to terra firma, re-planned our route and headed for the coast instead.


What followed was a lovely couple of days beside the beach along the Costa del Sol. We’re not talking about the touristy areas with pristine beaches; we’re talking about places where learner drivers practise their manoeuvres; where all of the local joggers go. Going to sleep with the sound of the sea is something that has been a real privilege on this trip. People pay good money to have a sea view on their holidays; this is the sea right on your doorstep.


Mountains, mud, sea; we love Spain!

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The rain in Spain…

January 30th, 2014 (by Steve)

…falls mainly… well, you know the rest. What about the wind in Spain though, eh? No rhyme there to help you out, is there? We’ll give you a clue. The wind is following us; that’s where it is and we’ve experienced a fair old bit of it in Spain.

The first bit of serious wind we encountered was on the drive to a nature reserve between Barcelona and Valencia. As we were driving along, the crosswinds were so strong that they blew two of our vents open (well, Bertha’s vents actually… you get what I mean!). After hastily rigging up some string to tie them down, we arrived safely at our destination, but the wind didn’t die down, so we faced Bertha into it, battened down the hatches, replaced the string with guylines and slept in the lower bed to keep our centre of gravity down. We thought that might be the end of the story, but as we drove across the mountains towards Granada we again were subject to wind; this time swirling, so there was nowhere to hide. Now my fluid mechanics isn’t particularly good and we’re quite new to this motorhoming malarkey, so we experimented with parking in different positions, before sidling up to a large French motorhome (that arrived after us) and sheltering in its shadow!


It may have been windy, but aside from that, it’s been gorgeous weather with some absolutely awesome sunsets. We’ve noticed that they’ve been getting later too; driving west within a time zone and south towards the equator has made quite a noticeable difference to the time of sunsets (as well as the days getting longer anyway now). We’ve also seen some stunning scenery; beautiful beaches, incredible mountains and stunning wetlands with some very exciting birds; who knew that Spain had so much to offer?! It has also given us our first dodgy-tasting water of the trip. When we filled up at the nature reserve, we noticed the water tasted a bit like the water that you get at the Pump Rooms in Bath; a little salty… which probably means it’s full of great minerals! However, it was too salty for us, so we bought a 6.5 litre container of water for drinking from a petrol station, which we polished off within a day, using the rest of the salty water for washing.


Spain has also been the place where we’ve started spotting other British motorhomes. It’s interesting; we go for 82 days of our trip without seeing a single British motorhome, then 3 come along within the space of a week! After our polite conversation with the British couple near Carcassonne (yeah, ok, we realise that’s France… but it’s near Spain!), the next couple we got chatting to were at the nature reserve. Di + Pete have been involved in the motorhome world for quite a while, including reviewing motorhomes and writing articles for MMM. Our chat with them gave us a glimpse into a different way of motorhoming; driving 500 miles in a day (I’m not sure Bertha would even make 500 miles in a day!), then staying in areas for slightly longer. Maybe a motorhome magazine would be interested in us reviewing a motorhome on a long-term test drive…? Maybe up to the top of Norway? We can but dream!


The other British couple that we met, reminded us of the strong community that we are part of as motorhome owners. Before they even knew our names, we had been invited around to Paul + Jane’s motorhome for the evening. They’re relatively new to motorhoming (last 3 years or so) and this is their first adventure with a dog. Not just any dog though; a gorgeous 8 month old black cocker spaniel called Peggy. Rather unsurprisingly, their blog is named in her honour: Peggy does Portugal. It was great to swap stories with them, talk about adventure, share tips on places to go, but most of all, it was lovely to be welcomed into their home – a most enjoyable evening.

Our plan now is to continue to head south within Spain before we begin to turn back towards home. It seems like the wind might be a constant theme in Spain though… anyone got any tips for motorhoming in gales?

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Such a beautiful horizon

January 26th, 2014 (by Steve)

You’ve got to love Catalunya. It’s a bit like Wales. Fiercely proud of their nationality, with their own flag, language and share of mountains. So, we crossed over the Pyrenees and stopped off in Figueres. I was a little wary about our stopping place for the night, outside the castle, as there was a big sign saying “NO VIGILAT”, so I wasn’t sure if we would be able to stay there. Turns out that this means that it’s not a monitored car park though… which local dog walkers, joggers, boy racers and… ummm… let’s say “lovers” seemed to take advantage of. It is a lovely place to wander though, with beautiful views all around.


Figueres gets a certain amount of its fame from Dali, so it would have been rude not to visit the Dali museum whilst we were there. At 12 Euros a ticket, it seemed a bit steep, but Kiri persuaded me that it would be worth that. Gosh, she wasn’t wrong. It’s incredible how you can have a whole museum filled with work by one artist that is so diverse. I have come to the conclusion that Dali was a total genius. From a pixelated painting that is designed to be seen properly by taking a photo of it, through to incredible photo-realistic painted drops of water, through to stereoscopic paintings, the evidence of a brilliant mind is clear to see. Now we’ve seen his take on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, we almost don’t need to see the real thing! What makes him even more of a genius in my eyes though is his utter weirdness. Who else would get away with a painting titled “Bed and two bedside tables ferociously attacking a cello”? Kiri’s take? Well, she’s always been a fan of his tight detail in paintings and took plenty of reference photos, but also she learned about some of his looser, freer work. Kiri’s not massively inspired by Dali’s installation art though… I’m inclined to agree!


From Dali to Gaudi (with a little encouragement from Freddie Mercury and Montserrat CaballĂ©). Yes, Barcelona was our next destination. Leaving Bertha in a guarded car park a few blocks away from Sagrada Familia (thanks Jason + Julie!) we wandered through the rainy streets. Now we’ve both been to Barcelona before, so it was interesting to see how it has changed and how Sagrada Familia has grown. Kiri was there 4 years ago on a family holiday, whilst my previous experience was altogether a little different. Talk about surreal…I was last there 10 years ago with my university barbershop group, where we spent 3 or 4 days wandering around in dinner suits (+ masks), busking in various spots around the city. It was good to revisit these “familia” spots (sorry) as we wandered, but it was even better to get inside a cafe and treat ourselves to a beautiful silky, thick, Spanish hot chocolate with churros. Heaven in a cup!


The following day we headed up to Parc Guell (the Gaudi park) to start our day of wandering and I was outraged that you now have to pay to visit parts of it. Deciding that it wasn’t worth 7 Euros each, we admired the mosaics, organic stone structures and guards from afar. Wonder what Gaudi would make of it? After being spectators of a game of boules, we ate our packed lunch on a bench, then headed for La Rambla once again. It’s strange how the weather can turn it from a deserted street to one packed with people… so we headed off-piste to find some exciting alleyways. There’s only so much walking that you can do in a day though, so in order to keep Kiri occupied I told her tales of the giant gorilla that there is in Barcelona. She didn’t believe me… and after half an hour of walking to try to find it, I was beginning to not believe me. When we finally arrived at the place I thought it was, it turned out to be a giant mammoth, not a gorilla. It’s strange how your memory can play tricks on you!


Only one thing could make up for such a misleading detour. But sadly, we couldn’t find any cake, so we opted for seafood paella instead. Good call. It was crammed with mussels, languistines, little squid, calamari and what we think was cuttlefish… in any case, it was fresh, tasty and beautiful. Wowsers!


We caught another glimpse of Sagrada Familia as we headed back to Bertha and pondered what state it will be in when we next come to Barcelona… maybe next time we’ll fork out to go inside? After another night in the guarded car park, it was time to hit the road again… maybe aiming for a stop a little less urban next time?

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