I wrote recently about visiting The Open Air Theatre Project in Laroles, which is ‘across the border’ in Granada. It’s a great project, and if you haven’t seen the post you can read it by clicking here. Rather than detract from what the project is about, I thought I’d write a little about the trip itself separately.
As many reading this might know, before coming to the peninsula we lived in Lanzarote getting on for six years. We both loved Lanzarote and miss our friends there very much, but for me especially an island of its size can get very small after so long. I’m by nature a bit of a traveller and whilst there avoided ‘cabin fever’ through regular working trips to the Middle East. When they came to an end I was getting seriously itchy feet. And, here we are now in Almeria. A big motivator for me, more so than Elle, was to ‘get out more’ and the mainland offers more options to do just that. Here I don’t have to consider planes or boats and the related hassles and increased costs of travelling purely for fun. I can just jump in the car, and away I go.
However, almost a year on and, apart from the odd bit of wandering when I’ve been out to other nearby towns, I haven’t got out much at all. It’s been a busy year with one thing and another as it turns out! So when I was invited ‘over the border’ to Granada, I jumped at the chance to make a weekend of it!
With my ambitions to do a bit of travelling in mind, over the last couple of months I’ve been gathering some camping gear together. I love camping, but haven’t done any in a long time, not since my kids were, well, kids. I’d left all my original kit back in the UK as when we moved to Lanzarote there’s not much use for it on an island that’s, give or take, 50km as the crow flies tip to tip and on which camping is restricted. An even bigger reason being that in Elle’s view asking her to spend a night camping is akin to asking her to spend a night sleeping in a snake pit. Perhaps she’s just watched ‘I’m a Celebrity’ once too often. Nothing I can say or do will ever convince her!
So, I set off last Friday with my tent and suitably organised camping box in the back of the car. I’d pondered dragging a dog along with me as some form of child substitute. It’s always nice to have ‘someone’ with you who appreciates the novelty and change of scene. I haven’t taken them out before, but the excitement and fascination for them of occasionally being chucked in the back of the car, even just for a trip into town, tells me that when I do eventually get to take them it’s going to be like taking my kids camping for the first time (far more fun than taking Elle). I decided against it though as there would be other people I’d be meeting and having a dog along would mean asking others to tolerate them being around which isn’t fair. Next time boys!
The drive up to Baza and the motorway towards Granada I’ve done a number of times, it’s pretty unremarkable. But after a bit of confusion between me and the satnav as to where to leave to head in the general direction of Guadix, I began to open my eyes a little. From thereon it’s heading toward the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada and the landscape becomes more interesting. On hitting a town called Calahorra (more on this place later) you know you’re in for a treat when you see the stunning castle built on a hill just outside the town against a mountainous backdrop, one of which had traces of snow even in August. From there the A337 leads up and up providing spectacular views as you round every hairy bend. This is one of those roads not for the faint-hearted with its almost single track feel, ice warning signs, and the signs instructing you to blow your horn as you round many of its twists and turns. I’d been saying to Elle that I quite fancied going up into the Sierra Nevada come winter, by the time I approached the top and began to observe the snow poles that extended for quite some time, I was revising my winter plans. At the highest point I noticed the sign said 2000 metres (6,651 ft), by far the highest I have been since visiting Teide on Tenerife last year. Just over the top I stopped to take in the view of the road as it wound down towards my final destination, whilst listening to the bells of dozens of goats wandering on the other side of the valley.
Whilst I there took a screen grab of the altimeter on my phone to send Elle to reiterate a point. I’d been swearing (not an uncommon event) at the TV a couple of days before watching and American reality show called ‘Capture’ (with that name I don’t think I need to describe the premise) where some woman had got caught, and was claiming altitude sickness was the cause for her being useless because they were at 6,500 ft. I’d been voicing the opinion that this altitude shouldn’t affect most healthy people and the reason she’d got caught was she had a fat ar*e and ran like a girl. Not much of a point I know but I, in my warped way, felt vindicated that my breath and general health was unaffected (as I knew it would) by being at a comparable attitude. ‘It’s not the altitude sweetheart’, I thought to myself, ‘it’s the excess of burgers that’s your problem’.
Eventually arriving at Laroles, the tent went up at the camp-site I’d booked – Alpujarras Camping. This was my first experience of a Spanish camp-site. I’d had a look around the internet at camp-sites and, from what I’ve seen of what’s available, this place was fairly typical. Back in the UK I was pretty much used to a field with a toilet block, but from what I’ve seen here the norm seems to be a mix of cabins and camping, nearly all with bars, restaurants and a pool with pretensions to being more along the ‘Haven’ style affairs than a farmers field. Being greeted from the roadside by what appears to be the old, and derelict, reception was a bit disconcerting; but to be fair, once past that, the place was, well, okay. Sure it had seen better days. Where hasn’t in this climate. The pool and bar area were fine, and to the credit of the owners the pool looked incredibly well maintained and spotlessly clean, as was the tent pitches.
Both Friday and Saturday night in the bar there was a BBQ going with a free tapa with every beer. Result! You could realistically, if you like your drink, stay there and eat and drink your fill for just the price of a beer, with the bar open each night until about 1am (or later), I didn’t stay that late, but could hear it. Equally the camping pitches were not necessarily quiet. Unlike the UK where there’s generally an unwritten law to quieten down (for the kids) about ten or eleven, it would seem in Spain noise, as everywhere else, on camp site is wholly acceptable. Would I go there again? Yes. If I have one complaint it was that in the toilet block, out of the four cubicles three had no toilet seats, that shows a serious lack of maintenance, which given the fact that the toilets themselves and even more so the showers were immaculately clean.
On Saturday morning, following some advice on what to see from the locals I had a drive out to Embalse Benínar, a nearby reservoir (actually just back over the border in Almeria). I was promised that it was a ‘strange place’ (right up my street). As the story I was told goes, this was built in the 80’s and a number of houses and small village were compulsorily purchased, but a percentage of the residents, on receiving their money moved back in and squatted their own houses and because of this the lake had never been flooded as per the original plan and rarely reaches a level above half full. I also got the impression seeing the tiny streams feeding the dammed lake simply weren’t enough to make it possible!
I’ll brush over the rest of the weekend, as I’ve said my reasons for being in Laroles (which is a lovely village by the way) was to see The Open-Air Theatre Project which you can read about elsewhere. As well as spending time with Anna and her family, I very much enjoyed chewing the fat over beer and coffee at the two main bars (on a number of occasions) near the garage which is the main point of reference on the road through the village, with the lovely Sue who writes The Hidden Spain Blog. Sue had come over all the way from Extremadura. Lovely lady and, even better than that, she came bearing gifts of jam and flapjacks. I wonder what the locals may have thought watching our jam exchange on a Sunday morning whilst swapping empty jars for full ones. Setting off I’d suggested to Sue that we were taking the same route over the open pass and if she had any problems to give me a call as I’d only be a few minutes away. Oh the irony! After us both safely negotiating the roads, avoiding the horses and donkey wandering wild, and descending back down the other side we briefly reconnected as I stopped when I saw Sue at the side of the road, only to find out she had stopped to take some photographs. We said our “Goodbye”s and both headed on our way. Sue passed me moments later as I stopped to take the picture of the castle at Calahorra above in this post. Then the drama started.
Don’t believe the expat urban myths!
Myth number one dispelled…
Whilst heading down the hill toward the A-92 as I passed through a junction I saw a Guardia car flash. I thought it was at me, but decided to keep going in the hope my suspicions were wrong. They weren’t. I looked in the mirror and saw them tearing down behind me lights flashing. I wasn’t, in all honesty sure why. I slowed and pulled over to be told I’d run a stop sign. I’m sure they were right, I must have let my attention drift whilst admiring once again the castle. In my time in Spain I have had two tickets.
1. A parking ticket – I was parked illegally
2. A speeding ticket – I was speeding
On both occasions I deserved the tickets as I was in the wrong. So, I was fully expecting to receive (graciously) another in this instance. Whilst heading around the front of the car to get my papers I was called back around as one of the officers was looking inside. I’m thinking at this point, perhaps ‘unsecured load’ or some other additional misdemeanour’s might be about to be added to the ticket. No, the officer had seen a camera on the passenger seat and I suspect surmised I was either a tourist, or at least not local. No ticket, he smiled at me and told me to go on my way.
Despite all the expat second hand anecdotes about all Spanish Police being likened to ‘fascist bully boys’ I have yet to have any dealings with the Spanish Police that has not left me with the impression that they are anything but courteous (and this particular case generous) professionals just doing a job. I’m sure there are bad apples out there – I have yet to meet one! Don’t believe the bullsh*t until you see it first hand!
So, there I am feeling rather pleased I’ve not got a ticket, saved a few Euros and feeling like it’s my lucky day. I shouldn’t have.
I thanked and said my goodbyes to the Guardia and trundled off down toward the A-92 looking forward now to getting home. But, minutes later approaching a traffic island I went to change gear. Something was wrong. No clutch. None at all. Sh*t! I pulled over at the roundabout and looked for the grua (roadside recovery) number on my insurance but couldn’t find it. Calling Elle I asked her to find it online having to keep turning the phone off between calls to save what little battery life I had left.
At this point I became somewhat philosophical. It’s easy to get angry when these thing occur but hell it could have been much worse. Fifteen minute earlier I was coming down a very serious mountain road. Three minutes later and I’d have been on a motorway. If it had to go, this was the safest place. Also, I had a tent, water, food – including Sue’s jam and flapjacks, tea, sugar and milk. I smiled to myself at the thought that I could survive on this island for a number of days. It wasn’t necessary, Elle had called the grua and they were there about an hour later. After some debate and the phone being passed backwards and forward between the driver and myself the insurance company agreed to get me home. Why it took so long I don’t know. They kept saying they had to establish what had happened and that the car could not move. It seemed a bit odd as the driver agreed with me, based on the pool of fluid on the floor that it wasn’t going anywhere and had already had it loaded by the time the insurance company agreed.
After a short drive we pulled up at a garage/service station on the A-92, the base of the company. The insurance company now phoned to tell me that they were only prepared to take the car to Albox or another garage to get it fixed, and now not willing to get me all the way home with it (an additional 9km) . Eventually I gave up and said that I wanted the car taking to Albox, yet they were still prepared to get me home the additional 9km in the same grua, but without my car. How crazy is that? But, at least I’d get home!
Myth number two dispelled…
How many times I have heard expats say, “Don’t use Spanish businesses they’re only out to rip you off”, usually followed by some tale of woe, and often when they are trying to sell you something themselves. I hear this phrase nowadays and switch off. It seems to me to be the stock comment from the expat sharks.
After a few bemused glances, shrugged shoulders and short verbal exchanges the grua driver suggested that I pay the additional mileage (the 9km), it seemed a fair and priced reasonably, it made sense to part with €20 to save myself the additional hassle of recovering the car from Albox. The drivers swapped and I was on my way after a heated conversation (I had no idea who with) between the driver and whoever else was on the end of the phone. On completion it was established that my new driver was El Jefe (the boss) and I guess was on the phone to the insurance company. He gave me the €20 back when we got home with my car. He’d obviously had words! How easy would it have been for him to get that 9km paid for twice. He was a decent honest guy with no intention of making anything other than an honest living. I pushed €10 into his top pocket before he set off home and told him to buy a beer – he looked surprised and told me that it was at least four. “Have four” I said, “and thank you for your help!” Well done Gruas Martinez for once again proving the expat scaremongers wrong.!
My Gran used to have a saying “It’s not the dead you need to be afraid of, it’s the living.” How easily could that be rephrased to “It’s not the Spanish you need to be afraid of, it’s the expats”?
There are honest people and dishonest people of all nationalities, I personally can not trust anyone who points the finger at others so readily with massive generalisations.