Day 112 – Hey Magdalena…

Saturday 3rd November 2018

The Spanish traditionally eat small sweet, light and fluffy cakes called Magdalenas for breakfast.

Since Mrs P and I feel duty bound to uphold all traditions that involve the word “cake” we regularly partake of this tasty little Spanish treat.

Thing is, I’m not sure if I love Magdalenas or hate them.

True, they are sweet and sticky and lovely. However, every time I see a Magdalena , eat one or even think about one there is an annoying little voice in my head that sings;

Hey Magdalena. Ay Ay!

This is the last line of the chorus of a surprisingly popular and annoyingly catchy dance music song of the 1990s by the Spanish Flamenco pop duo Los del Rio.

The little voice is however just getting into its stride as the chorus of the song now starts going round and round in my head. You must understand that the chorus is in Spanish. I have no idea what the real words are but the voice my head definitely sings:

One makka two makka three a Macarena

One makka two makka three a Macarena

One makka two makka three a Macarena

Hey Macarena

Ay Yai.

Over and over and over for most of the rest of the day.

Hey Magdalena. Ay Yai!

This is, as I’m sure you can imagine, more than jus a little vexing. It is not only spoiling my daily cake but it is in danger of becoming the tune that, my future self considers synonymous with our 4 month adventure. So, do I love ’em or hate ’em? Is the earworm simply the price worth paying in order that I can continue to consume this Spanish sweet treat or must I go back to eating pain au chocolat for the sake of my sanity?

Incidentally, Wikipedia states that the Macarena…

“…continues to be a popular dance at weddings, parties, and sporting events. [It is] One of the most iconic examples of 1990s dance music.”

If I remember correctly John Major’s Conservative party made it law in 1995 that this song had to be played at all parties, weddings, funerals and in fact at any event where 3 or more people were gathered for longer than 3 minutes and 49 seconds (he was forced to resign over this very issue in June of the same year). Is it any wonder it is an earworm just begging to be heard even after 23 years.

Mr P. Not sure if it’s worth the risk

There is a dance that accompanies the song called, you guessed it, the Macarena. I thank my lucky stars (Dean Friedman) that I only start singing in my head. Imagine if, on seeing or eating a Magdalena, I were to spontaneously burst into both song and dance! They’d drag me off in a straight jacket.

I think I was supposed to tell you what we did today (climbing). I think I got sidetracked. Tune in tomorrow to find out if I get back on track with this blog.

Days 109 – 111 – Danger, Assimilation

Wednesday 31st October – Friday 2nd November 2018

Is it possible that we will be assimilated into the Altea chapter of the retired overwinter, Great White (huge motorhomes) dwellers? Perhaps the word I meant to use though is not ‘assimilated‘ but ‘indoctrinated‘?

It was ok being down on the coast and even sharing a campsite with Great Whites, when we went off climbing every day but it’s been a week of very mixed weather here in the not as sunny as you might think Costa Blanca. We’ve had high winds, rain and pretty low temperatures. Not entirely conducive to climbing. In fact we have not climbed for almost a whole week.

Let me précis the last few days in a series of photos and I will leave it to you dear reader, to decide just how close we are to swapping Gandalf for a Great White, buying electric bikes and spending each and every day sitting 2 feet from our neighbour in a sun lounger from which we only venture in order to move our position to better face the sun or fetch more beer/cake.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on where Mrs P and I currently sit based on the following scale. The scale grades risk of assimilation from 1 – 5. You’ve heard of the Beaufort Scale. Well this is the Great White Risk Scale:

1. SAFE – You are unlikely to ever succumb to coastal, great white, long stay habits. You are way too young, fit and active to fit in. You are still deeply in love with Gandalf.

2. MODERATE – Very unlikely but, certain traits may become apparent such as finding any excuse to head to the coffee shop. (I think this may have already happened!) Gandalf is still the best campervan ever.

3. WARNING – You are spending too much time sitting in bars frequented by UK expats and have befriended a lovely couple called Gaz and Shazzer. You only ever talk about climbing in the past tense and have attached an awning to Gandalf that is twice his size.

4. DANGER – Keep living in Gandalf but subscribe to Behemoth Monthly. Visit campsite neighbours with a bottle of wine and discuss the merits of towing a small car over buying a motor scooter. You have put down a deposit on 2 electric bikes.

5. ABANDON HOPE – Put Gandalf up for sale immediately as you can’t possibly invite the Johansons, and the Van den Bergs and that lovely Welsh couple with the chihuahua round for cocktails unless you have a great white Behemoth of your own.

Mr P with full English breakfast and the first toast he has seen for nearly 4 months (Great White level 2)
Gandalf (Great White level 1) and…
… the Behemoths (Great White level 5)
Mrs P near the summit of Penon de Ifach (332m – Great White level 1)
Mrs P 332 metres above the nearest coffee shop (Great White level 1)
Mrs P, never happier than when lunching on the edge of a cliff – Penon de Ifach (Great White level 1)
View from the summit of Serra Gelada (438 m – Great White level 1) with Penon de Ifach in the distance

Oh, there was an incident with some pesky pigeons that may amuse you. It certainly amused Mrs P.

Mr P went pigeon huntin’ with his water pistol. Far from scaring the annoying, disease ridden, winged rats off, they absolutely loved being sprayed with water. Every time they were squirted they would waddle towards the jet of water and look at Mr P as if to say, “More, more. Do it again.” B****y pigeons!

No pigeons were harmed in the taking of the photo

The weather is set fair for at least the next 5 days. So hopefully we will be able to get back to the climbing. Tune in to see what happens next…

Day 108 – The Cartagena tourist mis-information centre

Tuesday 30th October

The weather is grim. Cold, wet and windy, somewhat reminisce of summers in Buxton, Derbyshire (England). So, Mrs P and I decide to inject a little culture into our Spanish trip and visit Cartagena since climbing is not viewed with much enthusiasm.

The following treatise on the failings of Cartagena is perhaps unfair. It was wet, we were grumpy, short of time and the tourist information was, well, inadequate.

Cartagena should be great as the link (left) outlines it has…

one of the most fascinating histories in all of Spain, being inhabited by a number of great civilizations and cultures. Founded around 220 BC by the Carthaginians, Cartagena was later taken over by the Romans, the Vandals, the Visigoths, the Byzantines, the Moors, and finally the Spanish Christian monarchs.

The vandals incidentally have been back. Both in the form of the bombardments during the civil war and 20th, and now 21st, Century vandals in the form of builders, town planners, developers etc. (collectively I believe, known as ‘a travesty’) and the usual destructive litter, damage, mindless graffiti etc.

The view from the Roman Theatre – Lovely!?

The town is popular. Cruise ships dock here, disgorging inmates, sorry, cattle, no, erm customers (got it!) in their hundreds. With just a few hours parole from these prison hulks the inmates rush to take in the historic town before returning to what I would consider hard jankers. So, in short, the place is heaving with cruise ship tourists.

Spotting this opportunity to entice such hordes the local council has really gone to town with their tourist information office.

The entrance is a poorly signposted side door of the the Palacio Consistorial. Once inside this nondescript door the visitor is not taken into one of the many ornate rooms this French architecture inspired, marble clad building is famous for. Instead a space at the bottom of some stairs has been taped off and a couple of benches and display boards with sad looking leaflets greet the budding tourist. Two keen but ill informed officials are on hand to dispense the same map to all who dared approach.

Our remit was pretty simple. We have one day and are interested in the history of Cartagena. A map is thrust at us. So far, so good. We love a good map. Then a series of circles are drawn around the various historic sites and museums. Particular emphasis is placed on the Roman theatre (our main reason for visiting) and the castle. Great stuff.

So, remind me good Tourist Information person, where is the Roman Theatre? For that, my good lady, is where we shall begin our immersion in your historic past.

A second circle is drawn over the first indicating precisely its location. Great, just a couple of streets away. Thank you.

We found the theatre despite the total lack of signposts anywhere around town (we only found the tourist information with the aid of Google Maps) but were totally unable to discover an entrance. We could see people inside we just couldn’t join them.

We eventually did find the Barrio del Foro Romano/The Roman Forum District. Once again, no signposts to aid the weary traveller. It is really rather excellent when you finally get there. Highly informative videos, plaques giving information in both Spanish & English and all very well presented.

The really rather excellent Roman Forum District museum saves the day
Preserved Roman street circa 1st Century AD
Mock up amphorae
The remains of a 2,000 year old Roman mural.

This is what we came for. Even if it did take an age to find.

I also found the following 20th Century wall paintings not far from the museum.

Very cool modern day murals on very dilapidated building’s

We did finally find the entrance to the Roman Theatre by the way. Just as we were heading back to Gandalf’s parking spot. It is a couple of streets away from the edifice itself, cleverly accessed through a very popular informative museum and a series of tunnels. Perhaps therefore we can forgive our tourist information person. Hmmm. I don’t think so. The location of this hallowed entrance to Cartagena’s most iconic tourist venue is, would you believe, directly opposite the b****y Tourist Information Office!

It was due to close in a hour so we paid our money and quickly ran round.

View of the Roman Theatre which we finally managed to find the entrance to

For your Information and in defence of Cartagena there are multiple good museums available to the discerning tourist but you need more time than we decided to allow. We should have probably visited for 2 days.

ASIDE: I spotted this in the harbour at Cartagena (couldn’t really miss it)…

Super Yacht A‘ dwarfs a cruse ship in Cartagena harbour

It’s called Sailing Yacht A and is owned by a Russian Oligarch. Some facts about it can be found via the following link.

I shall try to be less grumpy tomorrow. All Hallows’ Night.

Days 106 & 107 – To be the man who walked a thousand miles…

Sunday 28th & Monday 29th October

I would just like you to compare the following 2 photos and kindly explain to me, “What in the name of tarnation happened!?”

Good thermometer, nice thermometer
Bad thermometer, naughty thermometer

Did you spot the difference? Did you? Exactly! A drop in temperatures of more than 26 degrees centigrade (43 degrees Fahrenheit for our US readers)!

These photos were taken just 3 days apart. The second, as if to add insult to injury, was taken at a more southerly latitude!

Yes, we have moved further south for climbing. It is however, colder here, in the Murcia region of Spain than it was on most of our early morning starts in the Alps at high altitude, on glaciers, wearing crampons!

If you read the link for Murcia, you will see that…

This region boast[s] over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, and its coastline is bathed by the warm waters of two seas. In fact, its coast is known as the Costa Cálida (the balmy coast)…

Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Sounds toasty warm. Sounds like climbing weather…

Well, not today it ain’t. Today it’s like a bloomin’ fridge. Why am I complaining? I hear you ask…

I would like to refer you to the following average annual temperatures for Murcia

Check out October, or even November. It says nothing about temperatures of 6 degrees centigrade with a maximum daytime temperature of 10 degrees.

Mrs P had to have a hot water bottle!

Ok, so I may be over egging it and I may be overusing the exclamation mark a tad but, jeepers. We’re freezing to death here! (Look, there’s another one.)

On Monday we brave the elements and go for a walk. The photos may look sunny but, I tell you, it was hell out there. Our sandwiches nearly blew away, we couldn’t wear shorts… need I list more hardships? The locals are pretty close to declaring a state of emergency. We may need the army to airdrop blankets and chicken soup.

Colder than it looks

We joined up 2 local walks from the campsite we are staying at in El Berro. One of 10km, the other of 7km.

The walk is unfortunately pretty disappointing. No great views, not much in the way of up and down, scrappy paths. Certainly nothing to write home about… erm… Oops!

The best part about the walk is perhaps the comma vs decimal point anomaly. Let me explain; In the UK we use a period as a decimal point i.e. 5.4km. In much of Europe however, they use a comma i.e. 5,4km. Generally speaking this goes pretty much unnoticed. Round these parts however, and some would say with typical Spanish carefree abandon, they like to add some entirely unnecessary zeros. So, you get signs like this…

This could take a while

This is great because it looks like we walked one heck of a long way.

As the walk lacked views of note my eye was drawn to the minutiae of my surroundings. So, for want of photos of stunning vistas, I will leave you with the following images…

This tunnel used to be part of an ancient irrigation system
Acorns on a Holm Oak tree
Olives and olive tree (what else?)
As M.C. Hammer would say, “Can’t touch this”
5,400 km later…
I like to think we deserved this after more than 17,000 km

Days 104 & 105 – Gorgeous Gorge & Film night

Friday 26th & Saturday 27th October 2018

Friday morning we woke all set to go off climbing again but, as I explained yesterday, this campsite, far from the tourist factories on the coast, far from the great whites, is home to a different breed of over-winterer (did I just make a word up?).

As we idly munched on our muesli and contemplated the sunny day ahead we are visited by a chap from England who is staying here till March. He and his wife are the vanguard of a group of like minded folk who spend the winter here. Let’s stick with convention and call him Mr S.

Mr S says (I do hope he will forgive me for paraphrasing): “Would you like to join me for a walk?”

Mr P: Oh, yes please. Where’re we going?

Mr S goes on to explain a 27km circuit taking in a visit to some donkeys (Mrs P is immediately sold on the idea), a look down a big hole, a visit to a Refugio (refuge/hut/elaborate garden shed. Call it what you will) and a scramble down a gorge.

He then says: “How fast do you walk?”

Mr P: “Eh?”

Mr S: “How fit are you?”

Mr P (thinking, ‘This man is 12 years older than me!’) stifles a derisive laugh and says; “Well, we just spent 3 months in the Alps.”

“Good.” Says Mr S, “See you at 10.”

Another day, another Gorge (Actually, it’s exactly the same Gorge as 2 days ago)

Now Mr S is a sexagenarian (late sexagenarian at that. Oh, ok, he’s 67. But don’t tell him I told you), dynamo powered, (like the Duracell Bunny), speed demon. He certainly isn’t powered in the conventional way. You know, food, water, that kind of thing. In 7.5 hrs I think I saw him eat 2 fig biscuits and drink a thimble full of water. Mrs P and I can’t go more than 3 hours without recourse to numerous snacks, a proper lounge by the trail lunch and, of course, something sweet to take the taste away.

We set off at a rate of knots little known in our stop every few minutes to take a photo, change layers, point at things, answer a call of nature, world.

Mr P briefly manages to get in front of Mr S to take a photo
Down at the bottom of the Gorge I assume Mr S will slow the pace as we are now facing a 300 metre climb over less than 1 km but no, if anything, he speeds up!

Along the way we whiz past some great views and visit a few interesting sights like a donkey sanctuary…

Donkey sanctuary interloper

I know, it’s a goat but, in my defence, he was way more photogenic than the donkeys.

We also got to look down into a 50 metre sinkhole called L’Avenc Ample, and watched some spelunkers (apparently they prefer the term cavers, but it’s not their blog so, tough!) climbing out.

The sinkhole L’Avenc Ample

The sinkhole apparently leads to a short series of squeeze tunnels and then into a huge underground cavern. The above link has some great photos.

“Which rope did you say I shouldn’t let go of?”

After the first ascent I develop a ploy to slow Mr S down, or at least arrange it so I don’t have to speak and walk at the same time. At the beginning of each climb I ask him questions like, ‘précis your last 6 holidays’ and ‘Name your 100 favourite films. In alphabetical order’.

Our journey along the Barranc de L’Infern was spectacular and we got in some great scrambling and general messing around.

Mrs P enters the Gorge
Mr S’s favourite bit
The only way is under…
… or over…
…or,… Oh, do stop messing around!

All in all the hike was 27k (16.2 miles), over 7 hours, with 1,457 metres (4,781 feet) of ascent and descent and all done at an average pace of 600 kph (373 mph). It was a great walk, a great day and great company. We cannot thank Mr S enough for dragging us along in his wake. All hail!

Saturday 27th and I was overjoyed to be visited by Mr S who popped by to tell us that his legs ached after our outing. Result!

We use the inclement weather (temperatures dropped by 10 degrees overnight and there are rain showers all day) as an excuse to relax for the whole day. We visit the coffee shop, the bakery, clean Gandalf and watch a film.

Before…

The previous and following photos are the Gandalf version of one of those before and after shots where the before shot shows an overweight, unsmiling, badly lit, unattractively posed person and the after shot shows exactly the same only they are better lit, smiling and have been allowed to wear underwear appropriate to their stature.

…and after

GRATUITOUS ADVERT: Use GLEAMO cleaning fluid for that sun shining through the window look!

Yes, you heard right by the way. We watch a film. Some DVDs have been left behind in the communal area of the campsite. The place where paperback books go to die. We fire up the laptop and watch our first film, tv or anything of that ilk for more than 3 months. Feels weird. The film is called Wakefield. A dark drama. Mrs P and I can recommend it.

Clocks go back tonight. Extra hour in bed. Tomorrow we drive South. Heading for warmer climes and climbs.

Days 102 & 103 – Cacti, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

Wednesday 24th – Thursday 25th October 2018

Cacti, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. Either a poorly named Simon & Garfunkel tribute band or an equally poorly named firm of solicitors.

A more probable explanation of the title of this blog is the Flora Mrs P and I are surrounded by as we continue with our climbing here in the extremely sunny Costa Blanca.

32 degrees. Pass the sunscreen

After climbing all day the temperature inside Gandalf in our return is a balmy…

Oh for air conditioning

Still, mustn’t grumble eh? Still not working, not commuting, not sitting staring at a computer screen all day as our muscles atrophy.

Despite the undeniable and somewhat depressing fact that all this must one day come to an end and we must ultimately return to the UK to figure out how to continue paying the bills, mortgage, pension etc. we struggle on, having a great time. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

The last 2 days we have been fulfilling our role as people who are having fun by climbing. Two different areas, both great, both sun traps.

At Font d’Axia the climbs are 20-25 metres high, very steep and there is no shade after about midday. So, it’s hot! It is very quiet here. Only 2 other climbers. The view over the terraced olive groves is stunning and the smell of sage, rosemary, lavender and thyme fill the air (I had to photograph them then look them up). There is a constant buzzing sound too as bees (I didn’t have to look these up) in their hundreds busily move around this wild herb garden heavy with flowers. It is a place to visit even if you don’t climb.

INTERESTING FACT No 1: Rosemary was used as a herbal medicine to relive wind, toothache, headache and even baldness.

INTERESTING FACT No 2: I can safely say that it doesn’t work on baldness… or wind. Pardon me!

Font de Axia – Hot!

The following day we climbed at Murla. Not quite sure why it’s called Murla since it is a good few miles from there but, possibly better than calling it Crag above some houses neither in Alcalalí or Murla.

Mr P donning his Rosemary packed helmet at Murla

Short climbs here, just 15 metres but great quality and a lovely aspect. Once again the scent of lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary fill the air. The same as Font d’Axia, only in a different order.

Wild something
Wild Rosemary – utterly useless at curing baldies

We also spotted a pair of peregrine falcons. I have a photo of a patch of blue sky that utterly fails to prove this sighting.

INTERESTING FACT No 3: I was reading – when I say ‘reading’ I really mean looking at the pictures – a Spanish climbing guide book and I found out that Climbing shoes In Spanish is, Pies de Gato. Literally translated this is Feet of the cat or Cats feet. Brilliant! So much more interesting than boring old climbing shoes (dull!) and considerably more descriptive.

Mrs P putting her cat feet to good use at Font d’Axia

As I mentioned yesterday, we are staying at the incomparable Camping Vall de Laguar where we are very happy to report that we have found a very different and considerably more active type of snow bird (retired people who move South for the winter) from those we encountered on the coast. More about that tomorrow…

Day 101 – An upside down sort of a walk & The man who paints the stripeys

Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Most of our walks are mountain or hill walks. They start in the down position, go up and, via multiple downs and ups, finally end with a down.

Unlike the zigzag conundrum (i.e. which is a zig and which a zag?) ups and downs cannot be confused. Gravity will always assist with the definition.

Today’s walk was that rarest of beasts, an upside down walk. It started in a high place, went down and, via a few ups and downs, ended with an up.

I can tell I have your attention. Let me explain…

We are staying at the really rather excellent campsite Camping Vall De Laguar. In the Xaló Valley, part of the mountainous interior of the Costa Brava.

The town of Campell and the coast from the campsite

This area is predominantly limestone. Limestone is a porous rock which is always good for forming interesting geography , given a millennia or two, such as; sinkholes; caves and gorges (or, in Spanish, barranco). Our walk today takes us into the Barranc de l’Infern. (I am unreliably informed that there is one called the Barranc O’barma in Ireland.)

Not Moor steps? (‘Moor’ instead of ‘More). I know, the joke is wearing thin now.

This 14.5 km hike follows the original bridle path built by the Moors some 6-800 years ago. It visits 3 separate barrancos and has more than 6,500 steps (eat your heart out StairMaster®) with around 1,000 metres of descent and ascent. Just our kind of bimble.

This does not conform to the popular image of the Costa Brava which is a shame. The place is beautiful, the walks are well sign posted and, best of all, the place is empty. We saw only 6 people during the first 4 hours. 3 people repairing the path, two other walkers and this man:

The man who paints the stripeys

I can’t tell you how excited Mrs P and I were to see this man. He is as elusive as the snow leopard, as mysterious as the yeti and as slippery as a politician. He is, non-other than The man who paints the stripeys!

This was a great moment… what? What do you mean by “what the hell are you babbling on about?” It’s the man who paints the stripeys for Petes sake! Do I have to explain everything?

Across the whole of Europe mountain trails are identified by stripeys. Well, at least that’s what Mrs P and I call them.

They are painted stripes on rocks to direct the weary traveller on his (or her) path. In the Alps they are red & white, in Spain they are yellow and white. It is a well known fact that all stripeys in both The Alps and Spain are painted by just one man (at least that is the case in my deluded cartoon world) and we now have a photo of him.

Look, the paint is still wet! I wonder if it’s signed?

Mrs P and I have been travelling in the mountains of Europe for many, many years and have never seen the man who paints the stripeys. This is a truly momentous occasion. It’s like meeting Van Gogh in a field full of sunflowers, Leonardo da Vinci at a slightly grumpy lady convention or Michelangelo at the physiotherapists.

We are so awe struck we fail to get an autograph.

What we did get are some great photos that might just entice those walkers amongst you to head for the Costa Brava hills.

Handy trail side spring
Getting all artsy
Delightful walking with a delightful walker
A well or an early Neolithic Dalek design. You decide.

And finally, here’s an interior shot of what Gandalf looks like at dinner time if your washing doesn’t dry while you are out during the day…

Pass the salt…