So the last three weeks had been somewhat stressful, and more than a little frustrating. Our plan had been been to share some of our time down here between enjoying the comforts and location of our ‘bolt hole’ but also taking the van out on several short trips, perhaps just two or three days at a time, but the fuel incident had seen to it that that didn’t happen. Having got the van back, with only one week before we needed to be back up in Bilbao on the North Coast of Spain, to catch our UK bound ferry, we intended to do it in two stages. To stay and enjoy the sunshine a bit longer and not leave the bolt hole until the Tuesday Morning, do an eight hour drive to ‘Segovia‘, which is North of Madrid, then the next day spend a day of sightseeing, followed by an early start the following morning to catch our afternoon departure, or option two, a long drive to ‘Salamanca’, a two night stop, with a full day of sightseeing in the City, followed by an early start up to Bilbao on the Thursday. The weather had not been the best for the last few days, it was warm enough and no rain, but each day had been filled with cloudy overcast sky and exceptionally strong winds so we had not taken the van out, not even to our little beach park up just a few miles away, however, we went and started it up every day, just for peace of mind that it would !!
As is now a habitual occurrence with the majority of our advance planning arrangements, we decided to take neither of the two options in respect of our travels back up to Bilbao, but that was probably more due to the weather than anything else, our Mediteranean coastline was being battered by very strong Easterly winds whilst the Atlantic coas on the Western side was due to have extremely hot and sunny days, so, and we were both in total agreement on this, “Let’s Finish What We Started !!” we thought, and for no other reason than we could !!It did actually make a modicum of sense though, as the van really needed to be tested on a long trip, but also, we did not want to miss out on the last of the sunshine and warmth of Southern Spain, once we get North of Madrid the temperatures drop considerably, especially at night where they are currently forecasting it to be between minus 1-3 degrees(c), whereas down here, on the Cadiz side, the daytime temperature over the weekend is forecast to be between 22-24 degrees(c) and 15 degrees(c) at night. So the new plan that we conived jointly was to leave here on the Saturday morning and head across to the Atlantic Coast, to the Seaside town of Chiclana, only around a two hour drive, where we could spend the weekend wildcamping on or near the beach. On the Monday we would then drive North to the inland town of ‘Merida‘, which would be about a four hour drive, to a Motorhome Aire with full service facilities, including Electric Hook Up (EHU), if you want or need it and positioned within a ten-minute walk from the town centre, which meant we could have lunch then spend the afternoon sightseeing. The following morning another four hour drive to a Park Up in Salamanca, although with no services this time, but we would not need them as we would do the necessay on-board stuff before departing Merida. Then, the following day, we could go sightseeing into, what our research has advised us, is a large and vibrant University City with not one, but two, Cathedrals and with lots of other things to do and see. Then we would leave the following morning and head for our ferry at Bilbao.
We could have left a day earlier, except that it would have been too much of a rush to get everything done in the bolt hole, this time around we had other exciting plans for our ‘Winter’ break when we finished work at the end of September, but more about that in a later post. So that meant that the ‘bolt hole’ would be left empty this time around for a very much longer period than its usual six months, which meant that we needed to ensure that we gave it a thorough departure deep clean. The other consideration was that our Community Annual General Meeting, which, if we are here, is always worth attending so that we can hear, or much more importantly, vote, on any ‘proposed’ increases in our Communal Charges or any new ‘projects’ that the current Committee decide to implement which involves spending our Community Funds. It is as if they see the money as being their personal pot of cash that needs to be spent on something, rather than perhaps leaving the cash balance alone so that it can be used at a later date for more urgent requirements if, or when, they arise. To be honest though, our small private community has been very well maintained over the years, however, in the five years that we have owned a property there, we have, with our fellow residents, had to vote ‘Against’ a couple of unnecessary expenditures. Now this years AGM was to be on the Friday and they do tend to drag on, and on, and on…… a bit like these blog ramblings !! So we could not really leave before the Saturday morning. Normally Shazza and I attend such meetings together, but I did not want to go last year as the current President has let the ‘position’ go to her head and I find her rude and somewhat aggressive and so I knew that it would end up in a heated debate, which is unusual for me, so Shazza attended on her own. Well this year it was the same President, although she had not put herself up for re-election, but Shazza did not want to attend so it was my turn to go. There have been a number of new residents in our small community during the last year, and as luck would have it they became the mouth pieces at the meeting, making the outgoing President accountable for her budget proposals for the follwing year, as a consequence, the next Annual Communal fees were not going to be increased, in fact they are being reduced by €80, a consequence of having a healthy end of year balance and going some way in return for the previous two year’s expenditure on what had been sold to us, at the time, as project work that would provide annual financial savings, but for which, until now, we had not seen. Strange how a pre-meeting letter from ‘Madame President‘ had indicated that there would be no reduction in our Communal fees ? Anyway, for once I was able to sit back quietly and just vote, accordingly, on the points that were raised.
When I got back to the apartment, after 6 long hours, Shazza had worked like a crazy person and the whole apartment had been cleaned, laundry completed and apart from a few last minute jobs like the furniture all being protected with dustcovers, including the balcony furniture which we would bring inside before going to bed, all appliances unplugged, mains electric and water turned off, we were virtually ready to ‘lock and leave‘ first thing in the morning. Over the last couple of days we had been transferring things down to the van so that too was also ready to just drive away.
Saturday morning arrived, Shazza had been up since the ‘crack of sparrows’, once the ‘bolt hole’ is in close down mode, and no longer looks like a comfortable home, Shazza just wants to get away, but she let me sleep until 08:00am and woke me up with a nice hot mug of coffee. We were on the road by 09:30am, our first stop would be at a Repsol station, one that we had often used, not our local one, which was in the wrong direction, but one that was about twenty miles or so along our chosen route, but we knew that it also sold GPL, as we had filled up there on several previous occasions, although we probably did not need to refill, but by doing so now meant that we would not have to refill again until we were back in the UK. We also topped up with ‘Premium’ grade diesel again, just so that it would give the Injectors and engine a good clean and would provide us with a bit more confidence. We can hold 44 Litres of GPL but the pump stopped dispensing after only providing us with 14 Litres so since our last re-fill, just before Murcia, on our ill fated mini-adventure, we had not used that much over the last eight days of the trip, well below the 2.5 Litres a day we had used during the first five days.
I knew before I even turned the key in the ignition that it would not be a relaxing care-free drive, It was one thing to drive the van a few short miles, as we had been doing, a bit cautious of driving too far away from rescue if it were required, but this one would now be a true test of the repair, requiring the engine to work much harder as we climbed several steep gradients and on a route that twisted and turned. As it was, everything was as it should be, and the ‘Little Fokker’ performed well giving us no reasons to worry, but I knew that those ‘Dark Forces’ were still out there, lurking somewhere, waiting for their opportunity, I was not going to allow myself to get caught into their snare of complacency, not just yet anyway !!
It was not long before we were pulling in to our night stop, and provided we had no issues with the local Police or Guardia Civil, we were hoping to perhaps spend a a second night here too. We were in a car park, the beach and sea no more than fifty metres from our van, and the only thing separating us was a quite wonderful promenade. It was quite windy, the white topped waves, as they fell with their surf unfolding, before breaking onto the beach, whipped up a spray of water and what a colour display the sea was putting on for us, deep blue and turquoise, and with the powder white sand stretching along this wide expansive beach, this could have been a scene taken from any number of Carribean locations. We were both very happy and were already quickly falling back into the ‘van life’ relaxation and sense of freedom that we love about this lifestyle, just a pity that, for now at least, there was still an impending end date. We were not alone in our park up location, their were three other vans already parked up, along with a handful of cars, but the car park was quite large so it still looked pretty empty. It was only 11:30am and, as we had not eaten before we departed our bolt hole, we were both a little hungry, so we had a late breakfast of Oats and mixed fruit and nuts and a mug of coffee before venturing out to explore our latest new environment.
We had passed several Cafe/Bars and Restaurants on our wanderings and could so easily have been tempted to have stopped and had a late afternoon lunch, but Shazza had spent a lot of time pre-preparing a tasty vegetable curry with home-made onion bahji’s and her own mango chutney, so we walked a little faster to get away from the tantalising aromas wafting passed our noses.
After we had eaten our meal and washed and dried the dishes, it was still a very warm evening and so we decided to go and explore along the seafront and the small local town in the opposite direction. There were lots of people out and about, on the beach and walking along the promenade, it felt like a Summer evening, not a Winter’s day in mid-February, and it was forecast to be more of the same the following day. As our next two stops were inland and far away from any coastline we were in no hurry to depart so provided we were not unceremoniously evicted, we would attempt to stay right here for a second day and night.
The sun does not set now until around 7:15pm, I went and stood on the beach and just patiently watched as the huge orange ball of burning fire slowly dropped from the sky, until it was extinguished from sight, sinking below the horizon, leaving behind its deep red, orange and salmon coloured cloak of light reflecting off the clouds, the colour of the sea also changed, from its earlier vivid blue and turquoise to a very deep shade of blue, almost black looking, and with the wind still whipping up the waves and sending them crashing to the shoreline, the heavy palm leaves thrashing above my head, it was both eerie, and magical, in equal measure and I could drink these sights and sounds in for ever, the call of the open road was getting ever louder.
Our ‘on the road’ expenditure for the day was €67 (Rounded Up) which comprised of €57 for 43 Litres of Premium Diesel and €10 for 14 Litres of GPL. Our journey her had been just a smidgen over 79 miles and the ‘Little Fokker’ averaged 28.2 mpg.
So after our relaxing day at the beach It was time to drive back to the ‘bolt hole’, the van started first time, ‘phew !!’, there is always that nervous apprehension, the “Will it or won’t it start ?” always a nervous apprehension at the forefront of my mind, followed by much relief when the engine starts first time. I was still concerned though, I still had nagging doubts, the garage had not drained the fuel tank and although I have no mechanical knowledge, the logical side of my brain kept asking the same question over and over again, “If the problem had been created by the low cetane diesel, then surely, continuing to drive, with still nearly three quarters of a tank of the stuff, is only going to cause a repeat of that initial problem ?“, but hey, what do I know, they are supposed to be the experts, right ? On the short drive back from our beach stop, which was only 6 miles, we talked about what we should do. Now if the garage was correct, we needed to burn off around 180 miles worth of fuel to get it down to a quarter of a tank before we could put the Injector cleaner in, then we would need to drive a further 50-60 miles before we could fill up with good quality diesel.
The weather was still forecast to be good, very sunny and hot, so we decided to pack the van with enough clothes and food to last perhaps betwen 3-5 days, enough time to do a circular loop down along the Southern Coast, across to the Atlantic coast and then cross-country back to the bolt hole. We really could not afford any more time, as this was a commodity that was now fast running out for us. We still had to make a start on getting the ‘bolt hole’ cleaned top to bottom, a last laundry day, cleaning the cooker, fridge and freezer, then the washing machine and the dish washer all cleaned and rinsed through, the clothes sorted and packed, one’s that would remain at the apartment and the one’s we needed to take with us and then finally everything unplugged from the electric sockets and dust covers put over the furnishings. A lot of these things could not be done too much in advance so if we were to get a way for a few days it really had to be now, even though I still had those ‘What If‘ thoughts !!
The morning arrived, we had both had a very much better sleep than we had had over the last couple of nights, it was reassuring to know that the ‘Little Fokker’ was back outside in our car park rather than being locked up in a dark garage workshop. We got our stuff ready and after locking up the apartment, between us, we carried the several bags down to the van. I feel sure that I may have said this on several previous occasions, but foresight is always much better than hindsight, but in hindsight perhaps I should have had the foresight to have tried starting the van engine first !! But instead we got the internal storage stuff done first, food items stored into their respective cupboards and fridge/freezer, although the few clothes could remain in our rucksacks until we got to our first nightstop, which we had agreed would be ‘Campervan City‘ in Tarifa, just short of around fifty miles away. We buckled up, Sat Nav programmed and then put the key into the ignition, it started, idled for all of around two seconds then stalled, I tried again, twice, three times and a few more, bugger !! bugger !! and even more buggers !! but it refused to hold its engine revs and kept stalling. The air was blue inside the van, and for good measure even Shazza joined in with me, then she threw everything back into the bags from the cupboards which she had, just moments earlier, packed them into, she was not happy so that made two of us. First call was to France, the European Breakdown people, the second call was to the garage telling them to expect me back with my van later that morning with the it, once again on the back of a breakdown truck, I think ‘Pepe’ could judge from my tone that I was probably not in the happiest frame of mind and about to do a ‘Mount Etna’ and erupt.
Now the garage is part of a Suzuki car dealership, the smart looking showroom and associated offices being where the owner’s office is situated, so once we had pulled up, and whilst the recovery chap and the garage mechanics got my van off the back, I by-passed Pepi in the garage workshop and headed straight for the reception desk in the showroom where I knew, after paying the bill on the previous day, that ‘Frank’ was located, and he spoke very good English. Whilst I was explaining to him, in quite an agitated manner, my displeasure and frustration, the owner came out. Frank interpreted what I was saying and the garage owner agreed with me that the fuel should have been drained, he was, to be honest, extremely apologetic that my vehicle had not been fixed properly and he told me to leave the matter with him. The owner offered to run us back to our apartment, and we were grateful for his offer, but we said that we would walk back in to the town and get something to eat as it was nearly lunch time then catch the bus back.
I was quite surprised when later that same afternoon, once we had returned from Estepona on the bus, I received a phone call from Frank telling me the van was fixed !! He told me that the problem had been with the mechanic, who had forgotten to reset the vehicle’s on-board computer. I asked if the fuel tank had been drained but he told me that he would need to go and check with the workshop. I told him that I would prefer them to keep my van over the weekend, that way they could leave it overnight for a couple of days and then try to start it again on the Monday morning. Later that evening I went on to my Security Tracker App on my iPad, I could see four different ‘trips’ recorded for that day, the first had been a short ‘test drive’ of a couple of miles, the second was the owner taking it to his home during Siesta, I only know this because he told me where he lived when he had offered to drive us home, the third was the owner driving back to the garage after the Siesta period , but then I noticed a fourth very short trip, just 0.01 of a mile, not starting at the garage but from a street behind where the workshop was located ? I had assumed that they had a facility there for perhaps the draining of the excess fuel, otherwise that short journey did not make sense.
This last trip though had been nagging me for some reason, something about it just didn’t appear right, the trip showed the journey back to the garage but it did not show the trip before, the one that got my van to that particular point ? So, the following morning I went back to the Security Tracker App and looked a bit closer at the previous days trips. Then it became obvious to me what had happened, on the third journey, the one with the owner returning to the garage after Siesta, on zooming in to much more detail on the map display, it revealed that the van had suddenly come to a ‘stop’ on a roundabout, probably three or four hundred metres from the garage, and unusually that is where the journey had ended for that trip ? But then the fourth and last trip of that day, which was an hour or so later, showed the journey starting about two hundred metres further on from where the last trip had ended, then going the short distance back to the garage. My former Police investigative assumptions, based on the circumstantial evidence that was presented before me, led me to a theory, the vehicle had broken down on the roundabout, clearly shown by the end of trip record on the map, but obviously the vehicle could not be left there and it needed pushing off the main road, no ignition on, therefore no recorded trip on the Tracker App. So it must have been pushed into the side street behind the garage workshop. Once the mechanics had returned from Siesta they will have been told to go and recover the vehicle, they must have managed to start the vehicle and drive it the short distance back into the garage workshop. These Security Tracker Apps have more uses than you would first imagine but I have to say that my theory is somewhat confirmed as I received a text message from my Tracker Service asking me to call them. Now remember that I had switched my ‘Theft Alert’ off whilst it was in the garage, but they informed me that the tracker is still active and it also alerts when the vehicle is being moved without the ignition on, which from the timing of the alert to them, was during the short period it had broken down on the roundabout to when it was being manually manouvered into the side street.
Now you may find this a strange thing to say, but this latest van breakdown came as a bit of relief to me. You see, from the time of the call from ‘Frank’ to myself, which was at 15:30, telling me that the van was fixed and ready for collection, from the trip timings on my App, there must have been a call from the owner, whilst he was at home, having arrived there without incident in my van, telling Frank to call me, because the return trip, when the van broke down, was two hours after I had received that call from Frank !! So at least now the owner knows that my van was not fixed, he was driving when it had broken down in the middle of a main road roundabout, not a pleasant experience for anyone, but moreso for an owner of a garage who had been told by ‘his’ mechanics that they had sorted the issue, so, if the computer had been reset properly this time, as I, and he, had been told, then it was obvious that the fault did not lay with an on-board computer error ? Now I can only imagine what the owner may have said to his workshop manager and mechanics once he had walked back to the garage, but it did give me a sort of assurance that my van would, this time at least, get the right kind of attention !! I was just pleased that we had not managed to get away on our road trip, otherwise we may have been left stranded somewhere and the breakdown people may not have been willing to take the van all the way back to the garage at Estepona, but to another much nearer garage, where I would have had to pay them for the repairs, again !!
So Monday morning arrived and I rang ‘Frank’ at the garage once again, I made no mention of what my Security Tracker App had told me, I simply asked if my van had been fixed, and whether the fuel tank had been drained. He told me it had, they had put in twenty Euros worth of correct grade diesel and had taken it for a test run that morning, which my Tracker had already shown me, and that the van was ready for collection. Once again Shazza and I caught the bus and walked from the town to the garage, at least we were getting our daily exercise completed at the same time. The owner was sat in his office when I went to speak with Frank, I had told him previously on the phone that I would pay for any diesel they put into the van so I settled the bill, €27 Euro, I noticed that there was no attempt to charge me for the time it took to drain the tank or a charge for the disposal of the old fuel, which I guess they could have done, but it was a gesture that I appreciated. The owner came out and oplogised profusely again for them having not repaired the van correctly the first time and for the inconvenience that this had caused me, I had resumed my more normal calm and polite demeanour by this time and told him that I was just very happy that this time it had been fixed. I made no mention of what I knew about his unfortunate incident in my van, that in itself, for him, was embarrasment enough. I just enquired with him as to whether, now that the van had good fuel in it, if there was any need to still flush through with the Injector Cleaner, he confirmed that this was no longer necessary. I went through to see ‘Pepi’ to get my vehicle keys, who again, did not know what I knew, and so I smiled when he told me the problem was simply that the mechanic had not reset the computer and that is what the problem had been, but he informed me, they had also drained the old diesel and road tested it and it was fixed. Once in my van, I checked the level of the diesel and it showed a quarter of a tank, which appeared right for what I had just paid. I started the van up and then turned it off again, I did this two or three times, just to make sure !!
We decided that first we would drive to our regular ‘Repsol’ fuel station and put in €50 Euros worth of higher grade Diesel, then we went to the Supermarket to do a bit of shopping before returning to the apartment. It was a gloriously sunny day, already 23 degrees(c) with just a hint of a breeze so we decided to grab a few things, something for lunch and evening meal and we headed for the same beach we were at a few days earlier, as we parked up, overlooking the beach, Shazza turned to me and said “I think we have been here before” then she smiled, but it was one of those, ‘and you know what happened last time ?‘ sort of smiles !! So we would just have to wait until the morning, to see if the van starts ?
Both of our minds had been consumed with worry over the last few weeks, and it really was a worry for us, it had been three weeks since we first started suffering with the loss of use of the van. The first bit of concern was the financial aspect, ‘How much is this repair going to cost us ?’ we had vivid memories of the last bill, then our thoughts turned to, ‘What if it is something really major and they cannot fix it in time before we are due to catch our ferry ?‘, remembering that our van was not just a mode of transport, it was our fulltime home, especially in the UK where we did not have a bolt hole, after those thoughts it was then just sheer and utter frustration, ‘Why did they not drain the diesel tank in the first place like we had asked them to do ?’ had they have done so we would not have had this extended period of concern. Our minds had really been in overdrive, even though we tried on several occasions to rationalise each potential scenario, neither of us could lift our moods even though we both kept telling each other several times that there was nothing that we could actually do about it, which, although true, didn’t make either of us feel any better. We were still going out for our daily exercise walks, but even then our minds were only on the one thing, the van, in the evenings we tried to watch the TV, but although we were both sat in silence neither of us was really paying much attention to what was on the screen in front of us, even when we got alerts telling us that there were newly published travel Vlog posts on ‘You Tube’, the last thing we actually wanted to do was to watch other people enjoying their ‘Vanlife Adventures’, or ‘Sailing around the World’ exploring new places, I guess it was envy, combined with disappointment and frustration, which was all rolled up into one big green-eyed monster called ‘Jealousy’, or perhaps even our own ‘Self Pity’, we were both just generally pissed off with our current situation.
Strangely enough I slept quite well, I had expected not to, as the evening before, in my mind I had already been replaying the scenario of going down to the van and it not working again, having to call up the Breakdown people again, then calling the garage, again. Where all this negativity was coming from I just do not know, I am generally the ‘optimist’ and Shazza is the ‘pessemist’, and the van had sounded so much better this time around, even Shazza commented that it sounded, and felt, much smoother than the first time we had driven it away from the garage, just a few days earlier. Perhaps it was my ‘Dark Forces’ defence strategy kicking in, which is to worry about something enough that in the end it does not happen because you had prepared yourself for the worst, the ‘Dark Forces’ prefer to strike the unwary, the unprepared so they go elsewhere to seek out a different victim.
I made my way to the ‘Little Fokker’ and opened the door, I have to admit that I had a bit of a knot in my stomach, but it had to be done, I needed to know, I turned the key and watched all the dashboard lights come on, then listened to the faint hum of the on-board computer running through its systems checks, and then I turned the key in the ignition……………the engine bust into life at the first time of asking, all the dashboard lights went out, but probably even more importantly, the amber EML light, the only red light that stayed on was the handbrake warning light and then I just sat listening to the engine sat idling over at a smooth level. I risked it again, ignition off, ignition on and then again the engine burst back into life. There are no words that can explain my utter relief, it was a massive ‘punching of the air‘ moment, the ‘Little Fokker’ had come through the two surgical procedures and was back in the recovery room. I tempered my celebrations, I was obviously very happy, but there was still a certain anxiousness, it would take a lot more miles of me nervously listening to the sound of the engine on a much longer trip, waiting to see if I felt any judder, a cough or a loss of power before I could get back to the kind of relaxed confident driving that I had been used to. Not once, before this, had I even doubted the ‘Little Fokkers’ reliability. I knew that I was solely to blame for the whole thing, it was not an unexpected mechanical fault on behalf of the FIAT engine, just me putting ‘convenience’ over and above ‘good sense’, in life you sometimes have to learn from your mistakes, but just so that there is no doubt, rest assured that I have certainly learnt my lesson and, if our experience serves as a deterrant to anyone else finding themselves in the same position, then perhaps some good will have come out of this whole unfortunate incident.
The weather had changed considerably from what it had been over the last week, from waking up to sunshine and blue sky and having temperatures up into the low twenties with only the slightest of breezes, this morning we awoke to mist, grey sky with lots of cloud and the ‘Works of Fiction’ were forecasting no sun, not even sunny intervals and a temperature of only 17 degrees(c) with 15mph wind, which let’s be honest, is not cold in the grand scheme of things and the devastating storms currently effecting a lot of Northern Europe were nowhere near us. So we decided to once again take advantage of being re-united with our van, although not confident enough to take it out anywhere too far, so we would just drive back down to the same beach park-up we had frequented the day before and just enjoy being back in the van. Even ‘Dave’ joined us this time, resuming his more accustomed position back in the van, all of our travelling family were once again back together and looking forward to many more adventures……………….. and okay, perhaps I will allow myself just one more celebratory ‘punch of the air‘ whilst the ‘Dark Forces’ are not looking !!
So, as you will already know, if you have been following our recent Mini-adventure, after several days of attempting to stay one step ahead of ‘Storm Gloria’, we eventually took the somewhat reluctant decision to return to the comfort and protection of our ‘bolt hole’ and that, as it turned out, ended up being an extremely wise decision !!
But that was not intended to be the end of our mini-tour, just a bit of a respite whilst Gloria got over her strop, which, according to the ‘Works of Fiction’ was not going to be for another six days. So whilst we waited we would spend a period of time just enjoying some of the much welcomed luxuries that our ‘bolt hole’ provides us with, you know, the little things like unrestricted piping hot water, the luxury of being able to stand under a shower, with the water continuously running, for as long as we liked without having to worry about how much water we were using, or how many times we would have to keep manually filling up the fresh water tank. Little things like not having to keep emptying the ‘grey waste’ tank once we had taken our showers, having a proper flushing toilet that was far enough away to enable a little more privacy and also a toilet that didn’t require a cassette to be emptied every three or four days. Little things like not having to hunt down a ‘Lavadria’ to enable us to use a washing machine and dryer, the advantages of having unrestricted electricity, not having to worry about charging all of our devices simultaneously or the worry about having to rely on Solar to provide all of our on-board requirements or the risk of running down the leisure batteries. Having unrestricted access to WiFi, the comfort of a bed that didn’t require the use of a ladder to get in and out of, and then of course, just the luxury of having generally a lot more than six metres of space to mooch around in.
Keeping a ‘bolt hole’ to run to was a good decision, but it would not always be this convenient, there will be times when we are much further away, somewhere else in Europe, when diverting down this far would not make practical or economical sense, so for now, this was a nice luxury to have. I think that when you are on the road for extended periods, without a ‘Bolt Hole’ to conveniently run to, then you have a different physcology, you know you are going to spend a lot of time in a confined space and so you mentally prepare yourself for it, you get yourself organised and into routines and so it is a different experience altogether, whilst we were in the van we did not miss the luxuries of a more permanent residence, but when you get access to them you tend to appreciate them just that little bit more. But having such luxuries does, believe it or not, also have it’s negative aspects, like getting used to having all of these home comforts at your fingertips and then falling back, oh too easily, into a ‘Conventional’ sort of lifestyle, which then ultimately leads to that even scarier word……’Routines‘ !! Fortunately for us, Shazza and I both suffer with ‘Itchy Feet Syndrome‘, so even having home comforts like these that we are currently enjoying, that ‘novelty’ does actually tend to wear off pretty quickly and so we find ourselves needing to be on the move again, so the advantage of having access to both our ‘Bolt hole’ and having the ‘Little Fokker’ with us this time around actually suits our particular requirements quite well. A bit of ‘on the road’ travelling, some home comforts, a bit more travelling, some more home comforts and so on and so forth, until our time down here comes to a reluctant end and we have to make our way back to the UK.
I remember the days when Vanlife was still just a dream for us, when Shazza and I used to discuss selling up lock stock and barrel and getting into our motorhome and driving away into the wild blue yonder. I used to read travel blogs like this one, and numerous other one’s that were readily accessible on the Internet, and I could have been forgiven if, from some of them, I had been led to believe that this nomadic existence was always a trouble free and care free existence. Fortunately, in my former profession I was constantly assessing risks, asking those ‘What If‘ questions and so I had at least given some thought to potential ‘worst case’ scenarios. However, for other’s, that may not be the case and as some blog authors, not all you understand, tend to only write about the good times, and show wonderous photographs of places they have visited, or scenic locations that they have wildcamped at it is no surprise that some dreamers, planning their own escapes, forget to take off the rose-tinted glasses. For the majority of the time though, the good times will of course hopefully be the normal experience but, as we discovered on our Morocco trip five years ago, on our way back to mainland Spain and virtually on our last couple of days in the Country, on our very last fuel stop, we got water contaminated diesel and the vehicle broke down. We documented this in our blog at the time, just to highlight that unexpected things like this can, and do happen, but also to show that when such things do happen, whilst it can be worrying or at best, frustrating, it is not the end of the world and even though you may not speak the language, you can get assistance and get to a garage and get the vehicle fixed. The Moroccans we found to be lovely people, very friendly and only too willing to try and help, generally without any expectation of being rewarded, in fact most would be insulted or offended if you offered them money, their culture is all about helping other’s, especially foreign travellers and this culture dates back centuries when the only transport was Camels, Donkeys, Horses or just travelling on foot. But, my advice would be that you should always build in to your ‘on the road’ budgets, contingencies for unexpected emergencies or repairs.
Now, I made a promise to myself that when I first actually started documenting our very own adventures, back in 2013 at (www.ericandshazza.wordpress.com) that whatever happened on our new lifestyle adventures, I would always be honest in my written accounts. Although I have to say that the majority of our adventures over the last six years or so have been pretty good and without any real major incidents, and even though our particular adventures have taken several changes in direction a couple of times, or as I call them, ‘Swerves in the road’, sometimes things just happen, without any warning, and when they do, you really have no option but to get on and deal with whatever they may be. I always tend to blame the ‘Dark Forces‘, always just looking for the most inappropriate or inconvenient time to strike. Well they have bloody well gone and struck us again haven’t they ? So what now follows, should you have the fortitude to keep reading these exceptionally long ramblings, is probably a good example to show that, even when you are not ‘out in the sticks‘, but in a location with modern everyday facilities all around you, that getting things done is not always as easy as you may imagine !!
When we first arrived back at our ‘Bolt Hole’, the ‘Works of Fiction’ had forecast a six day period of very cold, wet, windy and overcast weather, which, if that quite unusual period of unseasonal cold weather did materialise, would actually once again also suit our immediate purpose, so for once it would be perfect timing. The van certainly needed a good clean, both inside and out, although dependent on the wet stuff the outside may have to wait. I also had a shed load of pre-drafted blogs, that I had written off-line during our trip but which now needed to be edited and spell checked, although I noted, on reading them back once I had published them, that I had not made a very good job of the spell checking, sorry about that. Memories did come flooding back of my school days “More effort required Eric“, yes I can still hear my Teacher’s words ringing in my ears to this very day !!
So bear with me whilst I just rewind the clock back, just a little. You may recall that we had left ‘Almeria’ and were driving back in lovely sunshine, beautiful blue sky but fighting against strong gale force winds. We were heading first for a garage in a small town along our route, just off the main highway, which we had found using the P4N App, so that we could empty our toilet cassette and ‘grey’ waste tank. We had just under a quarter of a tank of diesel left, which would have been sufficient to get us back to the ‘bolt hole’, although we would probably have been close to running on fumes by then so we would have needed to refuel as a matter of urgency before heading out on any further mini-adventurest. So, the P4N App had highlighted that this service station had one of the cheapest diesel prices around at €1.15 per litre, whereas it is normally around €1.25 for the premium stuff, so I decided that we may as well refuel whilst we were there, that way we would not have to stop again and we could just drive straight to the ‘bolt hole’.
The ‘Works of Fiction’ had unfortunately got their weather predictions correct, we spent the following six days in extremely cold, wet and stormy conditions, and when I say cold I mean freezing cold for this part of the Costa del Sol, daytime temperature down to just 6-7 degrees(c) and night time between 0-2 degrees(c) which is around 10-15 degrees below where they should be at this time of the year !! Our comfortable ‘bolt hole’ provided us with warmth and shelter, but even though we had much more space than in the van, after three days of being housebound we needed to get out, so we decided that a drive to our local ‘Mercadona’ supermarket was in order as a re-stock on provisions was required. We had now used up all of our vast stocks of fruit and vegetables, and just whilst I am on that subject, did I mention that I was glad that we had a proper flushing toilet in our ‘bolt hole’ !! Anyway it was good to get out, and although only a short drive there and back, around 8 miles, it at least also gave the ‘Little Fokker’ a bit of a run out too. Thereafter, came another three days of very cold, wet and windy weather and we just hunkered down indoors, inside the sanctuary and warmth of our ‘bolt hole’.
After what seemed an eternity of bad weather, in truth it was only the six days……. Hallelujah !! Normal service was at long last restored and the ‘Works of Fiction’ predictions, for the next two weeks, revealed that we were in for a lengthy spell of dry and hot weather with temperatures of 22-23 degrees(c). We decided that this would be a great opportunity to get back out in the van, so we started to look for potential destinations, perhaps along the coast ? do we go South, North or East ? We had the choice of either the Meditteranean or the Atlantic coastlines, or, do we just head up into the Andalusian mountains ? However we also realised that as this would be the first weekend of hot temperatures and full sunshine, most of the Coastal resorts, and the inland reservoirs, would probably be quite crowded, it is amazing how the appearance of sunshine brings people out in their droves, so we decided that it would be better to wait until the Monday to commence our excursions, that would be when everyone was back at work and the kids were back at school. But neither did we want to miss out on this good weather over the weekend, we decided that we would just drive the short distance into Estepona, we would park up in our usual area near the Marina, we could spend the day and, if we then felt so inclined, we could also stay overnight in our usual very handy location, an easy strolling distance to the town, before returning to our ‘bolt hole’ the following morning and get on with our travel preparations for our mini-excursions.
We got into the van, turned the key in the ignition, the engine fired up but then the engine revs just died and the engine stalled, the ‘amber’ Engine Management Light (EML) was lit up on my dashboard display and a message flashed up, ‘Check Engine’, it did this 5-6 more times, What The F*** !! Why ? It had been perfectly fine on this trip, 900 miles we had driven since arriving back in Spain with no problems, we had been stood overnight in sub-zero temperatures and the van had always started first time and we had driven up and down some very steep twisting mountain roads. The van had also started first time, just three days prior to this, when we went to the Supermarket, so what on earth is going on ? There was obviously power in the battery so I checked under the bonnet for loose connections, no obvious problems that I could see with my non-expert mechanics eyes. Fortunately, as if by magic, after the eighth attempt, it started and this time it held the revs, although the ‘amber’ EML remained on, which meant that it was safe to drive it, if it had turned to red we would have been in a lot more serious trouble and it would have neccessitated a call to the breakdown people. So we decided there and then to take it straight to Estepona, but not to the Marina, but straight to the local FIAT approved dealer, the one that we had been taken to five years earlier on the back of a big HGV breakdown truck, when ‘Big Momma’, our previous van, suffered with contaminated diesel in Morocco, and if you havn’t already done so, you can read all about that drama on our very first blog site (Big Mommas Great Adventures)
I pulled up outside the garage, having had no problems with the van en-route, other than the EML light being permanently on, and then without thinking, turned off the ignition, well it was a natural thing to do !! ‘Pepe‘ the workshop supervisor was still in charge of the garage side of things, I recognised him straight away and I explained the problem, he came out to the van and I turned the ignition on, would you believe it, it started first time, but the ‘amber’ EML was still on. He told me that he could not get the van in to look at it for another fortnight as they were very busy !! So there was nowhere else that I knew of to take it, if it had not been that the van was still fairly new and only had 8,000 miles on the clock, I would have looked for another mechanical workshop to try to resolve the issue. So we booked the van in so that it could be looked at on their diagnostics computer and then have the relevant adjustments, repairs, whatever, to be carried out. We did not want to tempt fate, so as the van was still running at that time, we drove it straight back to the ‘bolt hole’. Once parked up, I turned the ignition off and left it for a couple of minutes, when I tried to start it again, no joy, it would start but then it stalled again almost immediately and after numerous further attempts it just wasn’t going to happen !!
I have to admit that my normal cool persona did elude me for a short while, my emotions were all over the place, a combination of anger, frustration, disappointment, concern, it was times like these that I wished that I was more vehicle maintenance savvy and proficient. I started to replay over and over in my mind what could have caused this to happen, the van had performed perfectly throughout this trip, and before that, apart from needing a new engine ‘starter’ battery last October, it had not given us any problems over the last two and a half years. The one thing that kept sticking in my mind was the cheap fuel we had put in on our last fuel stop, surely this could not be a repeat of our contaminated fuel incident I was thinking to myself !! But from that moment in Morocco, and once the van had been repaired, I had sworn that I would be more careful where I chose to re-fuel in the future, so I was now beginning to chastise myself, I knew that I should not have been lured by both the ‘cheap fuel’ and the ‘convenience’ factor, I bloody well knew not to do this, there were plenty of ‘Repsol’ or ‘Cepsa’ fuel stations along our route home from Almeria, but yes, the anticipation of getting back to our ‘bolt hole’, and so yes upon hindsight it probably was more about the convenience than the price of the fuel, but it didn’t matter now what the reason, it got in the way of ‘good sense’, “Why Do We Do Things That We Know That We Shouldn’t ?” The only thing that I could think of, that may potentially be the cause of this problem was the cheap, potentially ‘low Cetane grade’ diesel fuel, apparently it is ‘Octane’ levels in Petrol and ‘Cetane’ levels in diesel. I had saved myself a whopping €0.10c per litre, no more than perhaps €7 Euro in the grand scheme of things, but this false sense of ‘thrift’ could end up costing me hundreds of Euro’s to get the van repaired. These modern engines are quite sensitive and need relatively high cetane fuels to work efficiently, whereas older engines tend to be a little more forgiving.
We had no way of knowing what the actual cause of the problem was, I think the contaminated fuel incident in Morocco made us jump to that as the immediate conclusion, so, it was time to consult ‘Google, although we knew that this was always dangerous as we would be inundated with people making dozens of potential misleading diagnosis, a bit like when you are not feeling well but do not want to go to the Doctor, so you do a self-diagnosis, which can be either extremely useful or extremely dangerous !! Google was, in the main, directing me towards a faulty EGR Valve but I also ‘messaged’ Dean, my daughters long time partner, he knows a thing or two about vehicle mechanics and electrical type stuff and he too suggested that it sounded very much like the valve on the EGR being stuck in the ‘Open’ position, usually because it gets clogged up with carbon. I did not know enough, although translate that word ‘enough’ to really mean ‘anything’ about engines of any description, or their components, to argue. In my head I was saying surely this cannot be the EGR Valve, just after I bought the van it had been subject of an ‘Urgent Recall’ notification due to hundreds being diagnosed as having faulty EGR valves and in October 2018 the Motorhome Dealership had fitted a new one, since the fitting of that new valve I had only added 2,000 miles on the clock, so if this turned out to be a correct diagnosis then either they had fitted another faulty valve or my engine had more serious issues !!
Having looked through copious numbers of ‘You Tube’ videos, and getting further advice from Dean, in respect of telling me where to look to locate the position of the EGR valve under the bonnet, a place I only tended to visit once every blue moon to check easy stuff like fluid levels. But with the assistance of both Dean and Google I discovered that it is possible to do a ‘quick clean’ of the EGR valve, without actually having to remove it, which would have been way beyond my capabilities. But first I would need some EGR Valve cleaner, now had I have been back in the UK I could have just nipped in to one of the numerous ‘Auto Accessory’ stores and purchased a can, or just have gone onto ‘Amazon’ and ordered some. Now, whilst we both love Spain, the one thing that is in short supply here, well in our particular part of the Costa del Sol, is the ‘Auto Accessory’ type stores. I searched for the nearest in our vicinity and there was only ‘one’ listed, and that was back in Estepona, only about 11 miles away but with no vehicle I would need to look at other transport arrangements to get there and back. I started to look for more local vehicle repair garages, surely they would have some ? I came across a garage, although not in my immediate vicinity but not too far away, and it was English owned, a bonus, as that would save the ‘lost in translation‘ problems. By sheer coincidence, the owner of the garage was also called ‘Dean’, there must be something special about people who are born and named Dean and their canny relationships with mechanical and electrical stuff, perhaps I should consider changing my name by Deed Poll, well it could not make me any worse with this sort of stuff would it, as lets face it I am already at Level ‘0’ (Incompetence Standard) as it currently stands !! I explained my predicament and whilst Dean (Not my daughters ‘Dean’, the garage owner and mechanic ‘Dean’) stated that he did not have any EGR Cleaner in stock, after confirming where I was located he very kindly told me that he would get me some and drop it off, on his way back to work after Siesta, god bless for Siesta I thought, and good to his word he did, although unfortunately he did not have the time to take a look at the van for me, to confirm my suspicions as to it being a fault with the EGR valve or that the valve itself was actually where I thought it was under the bonnet ?
Okay, so if your eyes have not already glazed over, mine have, and I already know what happens next !! The short version, I used the EGR cleaner spray as shown, and used all of it, as instructed, and it worked, the van started, it did not cut out, so again, as instructed via the ‘You Tube’ videos, I kept the ‘revs’ going up and down between 2000-3000rpm until the engine was up to normal running temperature. Then I sat in the van for twenty-minutes with the engine just idling over, occasionally just boosting the revs. This seemed to confirm, well to me at least, that the problem may well indeed lay with the EGR valve. I turned the engine off then turned the ignition on again, it fired up, but bugger,, it would not rev up again, the engine revs fell and the engine stalled, back to bloody square one and now without anymore EGR cleaner **!*!!😡
I now was left with two choices, wait until the morning of the 10th February when the van was due to be taken in to the garage, try to start van and if it does not want to play, call out the Breakdown people for a pick-up truck to take me to the garage, or, I could try to get myself some more EGR cleaner, then on the morning it was due in the garage, repeat the exercise with the EGR cleaner, get the van going, then drive straight to the garage in Estepona and hope that I would not be forced to stop for any reason which may cause the engine to stall. I decided to go with option two for no practical or logical reason ?
We had never before had a reason to catch a bus from where we live, into Estepona, or indeed anywhere else for that matter, so this in itself would be a kind of mini-adventure for us. We went on-line and checked routes, times etc. The bus stop was a twenty-minute walk from our ‘bolt hole’ and we arived in good time, we waited, and we waited, the bus finally arrived twenty-five minutes late !! We discovered why when we boarded, the ticket machine was not working, so the driver had to handwrite tickets for every single passenger who boarded the bus, the bus had started its journey from La Linea (the town just minutes walk away from the border of Gibraltar) and so there were already plenty of other passengers on it, the reason for the lengthy delay in it arriving at our particular stop. But once sat comfortably we were in no particular hurry, as long as we arrived well before the shops shut down for Siesta, it was a cheap journey, two adult return tickets costing a little under €7 Euros. I couldn’t help but think that if I had been that bus driver, I would have just taken the fares off the passengers and not bothered with writing out tickets, in order to keep the bus on schedule, how many people at stops further up the line would have not waited as long as we had, thinking perhaps that they may have missed it or it had broken down or been cancelled, as it was, they had waited and so our arrival into Estepona was somewhat delayed even further, whilst he wrote out each individual ticket !!
It was a beautiful day, clear blue sky, sunny, not a hint of a breeze and with the temperature forecast to be around 23 degrees(c), it would be a lovely day to spend by the sea in a town that we have enjoyed on numerous occasions. We could get our EGR cleaner and then spend a couple of hours relaxing before we got the bus back. However, because of our much later than anticipated arrival into Estepona, it ended up arriving forty five minutes later than scheduled, so we decided not to catch the next bus back at 14:30, as that would not leave us very much time, so we elected to take the later departure at 16:30, there are only four buses a day but the last bus was not until 18:40, which was just a bit too long to hang around and linger, Estepona is not really that big.
The Auto accessories shop was only a ten minute walk from the town centre, but my heart sunk the minute we walked inside. Being the only store of its kind that was listed in Estepona was hard to believe in the first place, so I had naturally expected a very much larger store with numerous aisles in which to wander, but no, not this one, it was a single unit shop that only had shelves on the two side walls and they did not look very well stocked. There was a small counter at the back with a chap stood behind, unpacking a small box on the Counter top. I had taken the initiative and converted the name of the products that I needed into Spanish, I was also going to purchase some Diesel Additive that goes in to increase the ‘Cetane’ level of the low grade fuel, but it proved to be a pointless exercise, he looked at my small list of just two items and said ‘No‘. Now my previous experience of shop staff in Spain has been that they are usually very pleasant and also quite helpful, if they do not have what you need they generally know where you can obtain it, and they point you in the right direction, but not this particular chap. “Do you know where I can get some from” I asked, it appeared to me to be a very reasonable question, but you can guess the answer already, “No” !! Had this been a totally wasted journey we began to ask ourselves ? But in the face of adversity and all that stuff, we were not going to give up that easily, we decided to make our way towards the ‘Poligno‘ (Industrial Area) where we knew all the main car dealers and garage repair businesses were located, it was quite a long walk from the town and was made worse by being all uphill on what was now a searingly hot day !! On the way we called in to several back street car repair establishments as we saw them when we passed by, just on the off chance that we may get lucky, but we found the same story, “No“.
Did I mention that it was very hot, and that it was also a very long uphill walk, we were sweating worse than pigs in a pork factory and we were becoming more than a little despondent. We arrived at the large Industrial area, we kind of remembered our way around, we had, after all, spent eight days here, five years ago, when we were having ‘Big Momma’ repaired, but it is a maze of streets, with lots of car showrooms, some with parts departments and some without. There were also numerous car repair workshops, but again we were having no luck, but at least they were all trying to be a bit more helpful by suggesting places that may have what we needed. Eventually, with potential oportunities rapidly diminishing, we were directed to a Unit that sold all sorts of car related oils, lubricants, polishes, parts etc. Our hearts lifted the moment we walked through the doors, it wasn’t a shop that you could wander around, just a counter but behind were racks and racks of products, this was more like what we had been looking for. A chap came to serve us and I gave him my list, he appeared quite positive, we watched as he walked along each rack of products, it was a bonus that he appeared to know what it was that we were after, and he must have known that they stocked them as he was actively searching amongst the racks. After disappearing out of sight for a short while, he returned and told us that he was ‘out of stock’ but that he could get some, but not until 4pm, although I knew, from experience, that they all shut down for Siesta at 2pm and did not re-open again until 4:30pm, was it worth hanging around, missing our bus and waiting for the later one ? We thanked him profusely for his efforts and explained our situation with the bus, although not very hopeful at this stage, we asked if he knew of any other establishment in the area that may stock the items. He gave us directions to a small vehicle parts supplier just a couple of streets away, although he was not certain if they would have what we needed.
When we walked in we were once again not very hopeful, there was not a lot on their display shelves. A chap came to the counter and on discovering, through our poor Spanish accents, that we were British, spoke to us in perfect English. I gave him my list, although it was beginning to look a bit crumpled by this stage. He scoured some shelves behind him, his body language was not looking positive, so we prepared ourselves for the worst, but then his eye’s lit up as he reached down to a bottom shelf where two solitary cans were stood side by side. He picked one up, brought it to the counter and I recognised straight away that this was the same brand of EGR cleaner that ‘Dean’ the garage owner had brought me. I pointed to the second can and confirmed that it was the same stuff and when he confirmed that it was I said I would take them both, I wasn’t going to risk being caught short a second time, not after all of this trouble trying to get hold of it !! He didn’t stock any of the ‘diesel additive’ to improve the ‘Cetane’ but that for now was the least of our concerns, I would let the garage sort that problem out for me, just as long as I could now get the van started and get it to them that is. By sheer coincidence, the place that we eventually got the EGR cleaner from was almost opposite the garage where we would be bringing the van to, to get it sorted, so we went across to pre-warn ‘Pepe’ that we may be arriving on the back of a breakdown truck. But this unscheduled visit turned out to be a blessing in disguise as ‘Pepe’ looked at his work schedule planner and told us that we could take the van in a bit earlier, in just three days time instead of having to wait another week. Was our luck changing at last, for on the way back into the town we came across a BP fuel station that just so happened to sell the fuel additive that we required.
So Thursday morning arrived and we were both up early, we went down to the van, armed with both cans of EGR cleaner. I had forgotten how dark it would be first thing in the morning but fortunately I always keep a torch at hand, a quick try of the ignition, nope, it still didn’t want to play so under the bonnet I went. At first, although the engine fired up it just wouldn’t idle and kept stalling, so I kept spraying until eventually it did start and the engine was happy to idle, but that was all it was happy to do, no matter how many times I pushed the accelerator to the floor there was no increase in engine power. We sat there, half in utter exasperation and the rest in utter frustration, it was time to call on our European Breakdown Cover, but that must have appeared to have been a threat to those ‘Dark Forces’ that had been antagonising us and suddenly the engine revs increased. I kept increasing and decreasing the revs just to make sure, and then we decided it was worth a go at getting to the garage under our own steam, well we got no more than two hundred metres before we lost all power and we glided to a halt. We made the call, to the breakdown HQ in France !! it took ninety-minutes before a recovery truck arrived but he was pretty efficient, he got the van loaded on to the back of his low loader and chauffered us to the garage. After all the admin was sorted, booking in the vehicle etc. we said to ‘Pepe’ that we would call him in the morning to get an update.
The following morning when I rang, ‘Pepe’ could not translate in English what was wrong, and our Spanish language course certainly did not include a mechanical or technical lesson with words that may have been useful in situations like this and all I could understand was one single word, “Inyector” he kept repeating, “Inyector“, which was obviously the Spanish word for ‘Injector’, I can’t half pick up this foreign lingo quite quickly don’t you think ? However, other than that, the cause, what level of damage, how long to fix, how much was this going to cost me, nope, not a cat in hells chance of getting any of that information, so I would have to enlist the assistance of a translator via the European Breakdown Service. Now I felt reasonably confident at this stage, it was the same garage that resolved the ‘Inyector‘ problems on Big Momma five years earlier, they were friendly, efficient and had good reviews, the only difference being that the European Breakdown Service I was covered with then was the RAC, and they were absolutely brilliant, ringing the garage on a daily basis then ringing me with the updates and once back on the road, a day or so later, phoning me to check that everything was okay. The only difference this time was that my Insurers had changed the European Breakdown service to the AA, so this would be an opportunity to see if they performed to the same exceptionally high standard ?
The answer to that question was ‘No’ they certainly were not, for a number of reasons that I will not go into now, but only because there are too many issues with their service that this blog post would end up being even longer that it already is. However, I must just temper that by saying that after I complained, I was then allocated one dedicated liaison person, instead of having to deal with different people every time I called them, so ‘Alice’ was great from that point on, but I could have done without the palava that had gone before, I was already stressed enough with the problems with the van !!
Fortunately I have a security tracker system fitted to my van, this enables me to log on to my mobile App and get lots of different functions that I can self-activate, things like turning off ‘Theft Alerts’ when my van is being transported, on a ferry, Le Tunnel or the back of a recovery lorry !! There is also a ‘Garage Alert’ which means that I can turn off the alarm when my vehicle is in for service or repair and the vehicle battery may get disconnected, plus a whole host of other things, but the bonus for me at this particular time is the ‘Trip Report’ function, this shows when (Date and Time) the vehicle is moved, how far and it shows the route the journey took. Now this was useful because on one particular phone call to Pepe he had told me that the mechanic had the cylinder head off, but a day or so later I noted that the vehicle had been taken out of the garage on a short trip, I assumed a ‘test drive’, although in reality it could just have been the mechanic using it to pop out for a sandwich !! The important thing, my van was working, well at least it was at that point ?
On the Wednesday night, at 20:45pm, in Estepona the shops and garages re-open at 16:30pm after Siesta, and do not close again until 9pm, anyway I received an Email from Pepe telling me my van was fixed and ready for collection, I emailed him straight back to tel him that we would collect it the following morning. Another bus journey into Estepona, we were getting old hands at this Spanish public transport m’larky now.
We arrived at the garage at around 11:15am, Pepe was stood outside the workshop smoking a cigarette, when he saw us he was going to stub out his cigarette but I told him to finish it, I was in no hurry as hopefully I was not going to have to catch a bus back home. I had written out my questions for him in Spanish, to no avail, whilst his basic English is good, the translation of technical and mechanical terms was not. I understood some of what he was trying to explain, too much pressure in the engine had caused one of the ‘Inyectors‘ to fail. They had taken it to a specialist to check for damage and hopefully just repair it, as they had done on all four of the Injectors on my previous van, but on this occasion I needed a new Injector. Pepe could not explain to me in English what had caused the high pressure but when he took me across to where I needed to pay the bill, the chap in the office had good enough English to interpret what Pepe had told him. Apparently it had nothing to do with the EGR Valve, which was actually quite a relief as that had potential other complications which would have involved lots of heated correspondence between myself and FIAT !! No, the problem was ‘bad fuel’, not water contamination, just poor quality fuel. They had not drained the ‘bad fuel’, much to my surprise, but told me that because I had put a fuel additive in prior to taking the van to them, that that had already helped improve the ‘cetane’ level. I was instructed to run the diesel fuel down to 25% in the tank, they gave me some ‘Injector Cleaner’ which I had to add to the fuel tank, but no more fuel at that stage, then run the van for approximately 50-60 miles then fill the tank with high grade diesel. The bill came to less than I had anticipated, the last time the repair bill was close to €1,500 this time it was a little over €550 !!
So I currently had three quarters of a tank of fuel and I needed to get rid of 50% of it, now I suspect that I know what some people would have done with the fuel to get rid of it, I on the other hand did not have access to anywhere ‘legally’ where I could dispose of it by directly draining the tank. I needed to give the van a bit of a run anyway, a bit further than just the 11 mile trip back to our ‘bolt hole’ so Shazza and I connived a plan. We would head back home and get a few things together for lunch and then take the van for a short trip down along the coast road, on the way back later that evening we would head out to our local ‘Mercadona’ supermarket, so by-passing our bolt hole and heading out in the opposite direction, then return home. That would eat up probably only around 30 miles or so.
It just felt so good to be back in the van, the Captain’s seat swivelled around to make up the comfy lounge, I sat on the co-pilots seat with my feet up on the drivers seat, the habitation door open and fly screen across, I had fantastic sunny views right along the wide sandy beach and out to sea, watching the Sailing yachts enjoying the brisk breeze that filled their sails and then the much larger freight vessels lumbering slowly, out on the horizon. In between conflicting thoughts, the relaxation of this lifestyle and the problems with the van I managed to pen a few more lines on this blog post. I knew from the last incident that I would not be able to relax whilst I was driving, not for a while yet at least. I knew that I would be continually listening to the engine for any sounds that told me something may be wrong, watching the dashboard display, dreading seeing that amber EML light flicker on again and then monitoring the feel of the vehicle for any judders or lack of performance, it would take many more miles before I would be able to truly relax again and I hated that feeling. Shazza was apprehensive too, although she tried to hide it, but she never conceals her nervous stress very well, she was looking tired, we needed to get our confidence in the ‘Little Fokker’ back as soon as possible and there was only one way to do that, get out and use it, and put some miles on the clock !!
After our short afternoon beach break we would return, on completion of the re-provisioning task and then we would re-pack the van with the provisions and a few more clothes and then in the morning we would head out on our mini-road trip, but would it be just for the weekend, three days, four, maybe five…….we would make it up as went along, provided the van behaved itself and as long as we used up the existing ‘low grade fuel’, then we could put in the Injector Cleaner and then finally fill up with ‘premium grade’ diesel and hopefully that will be that. We only had two weeks left before our return ferry from Bilbao to UK, we wanted the van sorted before then so that if there were any further problems we still had time to get it back to the garage, it would take a lot of miles before I regained my confidence in the vans reliability, albeit that it was my mistake that caused the problems in the first place, but we also had the apartment to clean and lock down as it would remain empty now for several months, potentially longer than the six months that we would usually leave it before returning ?
So, the moral of this somewhat lengthy story ? Sometimes, trying to save a small amount of money and inconvenience can, in the long run, end up costing you very much more than you bargained for !! If we had currently been retired and living off a restricted budget, that €550 would have had to have come out of our limited ‘on the road’ budget and probably would have taken 3-4 months to recoup, so it is a lesson-learned and a mistake that will not be repeated.
But their is also a saying, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining‘, so we found our ‘silver lining’ ? The good news is that sometimes, just sometimes, these unfortunate experiences can actually teach you something, in our case for example, I now know how to do a ‘quick clean’ on an EGR Valve and, whether I ever need it again or not, my spares box will always now have a can of EGR Valve cleaner in it and a fuel additive, just in case ? We also now know how easy and cheap it is to get a bus into Estepona. We have spent the last fortnight walking everywhere, and that includes back up a fairly steep hill to our bolt hole, so with the ‘Plant Based Food Diet’ and all the exercise we are both as fit as fiddles as the saying goes. Have the ‘Dark Forces’ now left us alone, for now maybe, but I am sure that they will return, which will yet again be when we are least expecting them and at the most inconvenient time, the Bas**rds !!
If you are regular readers of my ramblings you may well recall a post that I published, “Lifestyle Choices And Our Future Vanlife” at the back end of November last year, which was on my previously published blog site (http://www.swervesintheroad.wordpress.com). The main context of that particular post was all about us reading ‘other’ people’s vanlife travel ‘Blogs’, or watching vanlife travel ‘Vlogs, the modern version of ‘Blogging’, additionally, just because I like boats, watching lots of sailing ‘Vlogs’ about fulltime liveaboards travelling around the world. Now Shazza also likes watching foodie type documentaries on ‘Netflix’ and last year she started to get interested in the one’s where the main subject was in relation to leading a healthier lifestyle, this got her to watching lots of stuff based around ‘Plant Food Based Diets‘. Now although I was not all that interested in these type of documentaries, I was always finding a lot more interesting stuff to do, but I kept tuning in and out of some of these documentaries, as you do when you are sat there with tv noise in the background, but especially the bits where there were lots of ‘Claims’ about how people, many with critical, or very serious, health issues, having somewhat miraculously been cured, just by eating a ‘Plant Based Food Diet‘. The thing that I started to notice, watching my ‘much more interesting’ travel blogs and Vlogs, was that there were a lot of Vanlifers, and Sailing Adventurers, who it seemed, more and more were well in to this ‘alleged’ much ‘healthier diet lifestyle’, not strictly just this new fad on the streets at the moment, yes I refer to ‘Vegans‘, but also ‘Vegetarians’ and now, yet another new one on me, ‘Flexitarians‘, what is it about all these labels that people seem to want to give themselves these days ? Why not just say ‘I don’t eat meat only Vegetables and Fruit’ ?
Now as you may already know, I do not always take things at face value, I tend to like to ask questions, sometimes a lot of questions and so, as a consequence, some may regard me as a ‘Cynical’ sort of person, well if that is what asking questions is, or not being willing to just take everything they are told at face value is, then okay, I can live with that and am quite happy to be called a ‘Cynic’. I am always interested in listening to, and finding out about things that I may not know, and whilst I may not always agree with what somebody else does, or how they go about doing it, I never tell anyone that they are wrong, it is called having a freedom of choice, but within reason of course, otherwise we would all be living in a constant state of anarchy.
Now I know that the subject of ‘Plant Based Food Diets’ appears to be quite a controversial subject, a bit like the good old ‘Brexit’ debate, which I believe is now safe to mention that word again ? Anyway, to me there always appears to be three main groups in all such controversies, there are those that are in the ‘For‘ group, those in the ‘Against‘ group, and then the ‘I Don’t Know or Give A Damn‘ group. This does not just apply to either the Brexit or Plant Based Foods debates, the same applies to lots of things in this world of ours and the controversies or debates can often be Country or Region specific, but sometimes it can be a much wider global subject and this ‘Plant Based Food’ dietary business seems to fall under that category. You may note that am not calling it ‘Veganism’, as there appears to be several different groups that fall under this general category. The ‘Ethical Vegans’ main focus appears to be primarily on the mistreatment of the animals and mammals that are farmed to provide food products for human consumption and the collateral effects that has on our Planet. Now do not get me wrong, I do not say that we should mistreat any animals or mammals, including the one’s that are not ultimately going to be killed to provide us with food. However, after tuning in to some of these documentaries my ‘cynical’ nature started to creep in, I started to ask questions. Just by way of an example, I was half listening to one of the documentaries that Shazza was watching, a pretty young girl, just 19 years old who now has her own dedicated ‘Channel’ on ‘You Tube’, associated to her new Vegan lifestyle. She started off by introducing herself and saying that she ‘used to have’ personal ‘issues’, but stressed that these were not medical issues, although she did not elaborate further so you were left to make your own conclusions as to what they may have been ? She apparently saw photographs of other similar aged girls on ‘Instagram‘, and in her own words, not mine, ‘these girls had perfect bodies, flat stomachs, healthy clean shiny skin tones and they were all ‘Vegans‘. Now this had led her to explore what being a Vegan was all about. So, I may have got this wrong but my interpretation of what this 19 year old’s motivation for becoming a ‘Vegan’ was, is that it was possibly due to her own conceived weight issues and her own ‘Body Image‘, I guess that I can understand and empathise with that, with all the pressures on young girls these days to look more like super models. However, much later in the documentary, after discussing her new ‘Plant Based Food’ diet, she stated that, as part of her turning ‘Vegan’ she had joined many of the rapidly growing social media groups, and through those on-line groups, she had heard about several ‘Vegan Festivals’, which she has attended and now, even she has become a bit of a social media celebrity herself, and has been a guest speaker at such events. Okay, whatever gets your juices flowing, after all, I cannot criticise social media as I write a blog and publish that online, although after nearly six and a half years of doing I have not managed to acquire the same Celebrity Status as she appears to have done 🤔 perhaps I am doing something wrong, maybe I should pose scantily dressed in my budgie smugglers and post the photographs on Instagram, then again, maybe not !!
However, I digress, so there I am drifting in and out of this documentary when my attention focuses on her starting to get on her soap box and telling viewers how she is totally apalled at the mass mis-treatment of farmed animals, just to provide us ‘humans’ with meat, the impact it is having on the worlds resources, the amount of water it takes to keep these hundreds and thousands of animals all over the world and it’s connection to the destruction of our planet etc. etc. etc………….now that may well be true, about the global effects but I do not believe that every animal farmer is mistreating the animals they raise. And………. Just hang on a minute !! Not more than thirty-minutes prior to this she was telling us viewers that her motivation for turning ‘Vegan’ was basically due to her envy of the other girls ‘body image’ !! Nothing whatsover to do with the welfare of animals or protection of the planet from water shortages, soil erosion, climate change, so my cynical side asks whether she has been ‘radicalised’ after joining the ‘Vegan’ movement, when actually all she wanted was to lose weight, have a flat stomach and clean and shiny skin like the other girls on Instagram ?
Now having now also sat through dozens of other such documentaries on the ‘alleged‘ benefits of eating a ‘Plant Based Food’ diet I have come to the realisation that it is not just about the welfare of animals or saving the planet, that, I have come to realise is solely the drum banging domain of the ‘Ethical Vegans‘, who it seems are quick to protest about animal welfare, including the horrors of catching fish in our oceans, but it seems are more than happy to buy their meat substitutes which are all wrapped in plastic !!
But there are other groups, that do not not give this subject the star headline of ‘Vegan’ in the title, keep to the much more user friendly sounding title of the ‘Benefits of eating a ‘Plant Based Food Diet‘. Ardent spokespeople and supporters of this healthier lifestyle philosophy comprising of Medical experts from across all the fields of medicine, Scientists, Nutritionists, Biologists etc. and a whole host of other groups of people in professions whose titles also just happen to end with ‘ist‘. Now these groups are actually a ‘little’ bit different, mainly because there actual ‘Claim‘ is that eating solely ‘Plant Based Foods’ and no ‘red meat’ can actually be to the benefit of us ‘Humans’, and each documentary provided strong evidence in the form of Data and statistics gathered from clinical trials, as well as enlisting the testimonies of people who have been subjected to such trials, with stories about how they have recovered from major life-threatening conditions, claims that a strict ‘Plant Based Food’ diet can ‘cure’ or ‘reduce’ some Cancers, yes mention that ‘C’ word and it is guaranteed to grab peoples interest ? They also ‘claim‘ that this wonder diet can prevent, and even eradicate, some other major medical conditions, notably ‘Diabetes Type B‘, ‘Cardiovascular diseases‘, ‘depression‘, ‘high blood pressure‘ and of course the real biggy in today’s fast food world, ‘Obesity‘. Of course, we already know that you can interpret any Data or Statistics to support an argument and choose to ignore any that does not. So watching and listening to these documentaries put my ‘Cynical’ side into overdrive !! So come on, let us be honest here, we have known for very many years that if we eat sufficient Vegetables and Fruit that we will be healthier, and if you eat lots of refined sugars, saturated fats etc. then you will be less healthy so this is not ‘Breaking News’. However, the revelation is that if you stop eating all types of food products that contain animal products, meat, fish, dairy etc. then not only will you be healthier and less susceptible to disease and illness but, and here is the biggie, if you already have some of these medical issues, then switching now, irrespective of your age, to a Plant Based Food Diet can actually cure some of these and you no longer have to rely on the vast array of medications that GP’s subscribe to you.
So why am I rambling on about this and what has that got to do with Shazza and myself ? A damn good question, so, although neither of us are what you may consider to be fitness fanatics, we do not got out jogging or running, we are not members of gymnasiums and we no longer have bicycles so we already share the disappointment in knowing that there is no way that we are of the fitness ability to be able to represent our nation in any major, or minor come to that, sporting events, something I am sure we will learn to live with. The advantage of having that acceptance is that it is another thing to cross of our ‘Bucket List’ as a non-starter, although I would like to find out who put that on the list in the first place !! However, that said, we do not consider ourselves as ‘unfit’, we do a lot of walking and hiking and we are nowhere near the stage of having to gasp for breath after climbing up the stairs to our bolt hole, there is though always the option of using the lift if, or when, we get to that stage in our lives. By the grace of God, neither of us currently suffer with any major, or minor, pre-existing medical conditions or take any medications, unless you consider my recurring kidney stones a medical issue 🤔 Although I will come to that particular subject in a moment or two. But, although we do try to eat a healthy diet, we both do enjoy food and wines, we love sampling different cultures and cuisines, and often that is not always the healthiest of options although we ‘seldom’ eat from the more popular ‘fast food’ establishments, that is not to say that we do not, or have not, but just not on a regular basis, probably no more than three or four times in a year. But whilst Shazza does eat meat, she eats much less than me and has often stated, over many years, that she could quite easily become a total vegetarian but understands that does not mean that I have to.
Now I would be lying if I said that we were not concerned about our weight, although to be truthful, ‘concerned’ is too harsh a word as neither of us lay awake at night worrying about suddenly becoming Obese. Shazza is probably a lot more obsessive about watching her weight than I am, I think that is more of a ‘general’ woman type thing though, and let us be honest here, for someone like Shazza who likes cooking, baking and sampling different culinary delicacies when we are travelling, putting on a few extra pounds does not actually come as that much of a surprise. We are not frequent drinkers of alcohol and I have never really been a drinker of beer, occasionaly I may have a Lager. So I put my ‘middle aged spread’ completely down to being that it is just a case of ‘relaxed muscle’, although I had never realised before that I had so much muscle to relax !! I think that what started this ‘Plant Based Food Diet’ thing whizzing around in her head was a culmination of a number of things. In Shazza’s immediate family genetic history there is that ‘C’ word, and that does I know sometimes concern her especially as she recently had her own ‘scare’. She has always suffered with her weight, but she weighs much less now than she did when we first met, more recently she has developed an issue with ‘Thyrosis’ but not to the extent where she needs any medication to control it, although she has regular checks. At the end of last year we discovered that a friend, close to retirement and planning their future lifestyle, was diagnosed with Cancer and started treatment in January this year, this all plays a part in our own minds, we of course know that sometimes things happen for no apparent reason, and can happen to the fittest and healthiest of people without any rhyme or reason, but as we are close to embarking on our change of lifestyle, our own general health and well being are just ‘one’ of the things uppermost in our minds.
As for me and my kidney stones, well I have suffered with them for what must be nearly thirty years now, initially I would get one very large stone as regular as clockwork, every five years, however, they have started over the last couple of years to become more frequent, two stones in one year and my recent episode came just eighteen months after the last one. Now I am not going to bore you with all the ins and outs of kidney stones, suffice to say there are four main types, each stone can be created by certain foods and drinks, which contain both Calcium and Oxylates which, in my case, it appears that my bodies natural defences cannot break down. However, each stone is different and therefore unless you know which type you are suceptible to forming then you cannot eliminate the foods, or drinks, that cause them, and as my stones have to be blasted to get rid of them there is nothing remaining to anaylyse, so a bit of a Catch 22 situation. Now here is the coincidental bit of information that I have only recently discovered, across all four different type of stones, the only common denominator, across all four is the consumption of ‘red meat’, and as a long time carnivore that came as a pretty disatrous discovery. Although, red meat is not, on its own, the primary cause of kidney stones but it is, as I have stated, the only food group that appears across all four of the kidney stone types. As for any other medical issues, I am pleased to say that currently I have none.
So, Shazza informed me that there was this ‘thing’ happening, it was being given the title ‘Veganuary‘, so she suggested that perhaps ‘we’ should give it a go, just as a trial she said, just for the month and see how we got on with it. Anyone who knows me will tell you that there is not a lot that I will not eat, or even sample, at least once, do not mock what you have not tried is what I would say, but I was now beginning to rue that bloody philosophy. I probably ate red or white meat at least six days out of every seven, and now she wants me to go a whole thirty-one days without any at all, whatever did I do to her that was so bad to deserve this. I tried to provide some sort of an educated argument against entering into such a trial, how will we be able to gauge the effects, we do not suffer with any of the associated medical issues, surely we would need blood tests, before, during and after, to see if their were any changes in our cholesteral levels, and regular monitoring of our blood pressure, and, I continued, just stopping eating red meat will not necessarily, on its own, prevent the kidney stones from re-occuring and we certainly would not know after just a one month period. It was, I thought, a pretty damn good argument and, one which I thought was pretty well presented, that was until she said that ‘our’ main focus was on our weight, really, I thought to myself, I cannot recall ever saying that I was overly focused on watching my weight, I may have just mentioned, on occasions, that I could not get a couple of shirts to button up over my relaxed muscle, or blamed her for putting my favourite shorts on too hot a wash and shrinking them, or that the mirror in the bathroom had bowed and was giving a false image, or that the bathroom scales were knackered again, but never had I said that I was ‘focused’ on my weight !!
Anyway, you do not need me to tell you that she, as usual got her way, but not without a few concessions on her part. She was going to do this whole thing, so no meat of any description, including fish, no products that contained anything deriving from animals, so no milk, eggs, or anything else containing dairy products, gelatine etc. etc. However, I agreed to support her in this ‘trial’ as much as I could, but I would still eat Fish and perhaps Chicken and also Eggs, she agreed. The truth is that I never thought that I would last beyond the second week !!
So, we are now well into February, so how did ‘we‘ get on with the ‘Plant Based Food’ trial ? To be perfectly honest, a lot of the Vegetables and Fruit we already actually eat on a regukar basis anyway, although there were some new one’s we had either never tried before or had not heard of before, but mainly, for some menu items it was just a matter of cooking or using them in a different way. However, I have never eaten so many different types of what I now know are referred to generally as ‘Legumes‘, Lentils and Beans, there were a lot of herbs and spices added to various dishes and some variations on what used to be dishes which contained meat, Shepherds Pie, Curry, Spaghetti Bolognese, Chili, Stir Fry, to name but just a few. Of course there were a variety of Salads which, for me, were made more bearable with the inclusion of a variety of Fish, Prawns, Pilchards, Sea Bass, Salmon etc. We could of course still eat Potatoes, in all their varieties, Baked, Mashed, Boiled, Roasted and even chips and crisps and then their was the addition of Sweet Potatoes, which we already used to eat anyway. We could still eat Pasta’s, the wide variety of different types of Rice and of course Noodles, so in the main, apart from the lack of meat, and the absence of dairy, there was not a lot of difference. We could still eat Cereals like Corn Flakes or Weetabix, which importantly contains the essential Vitamin B12, and Shazza conjured up her own version of Meusli with lots of fruit. As for Milk we have used Oat Milk in our hot drinks, as it does not split, and we use Almond or Hazlenut milk on our cereals, although my particular favourite has to be the Rice and Coconut Milk. So obviously we have eaten a lot more Vegetables and Fruit than we ever used to and that does have it’s consequences, but without going in to too much detail let’s just say that it keeps you ‘regular’ 😳 Because I have elected to still eat eggs then I have a wide range of menu choices to incorporate them into, Omelettes, Scrambled, Poached, Fried or simply Boiled.
The trial was not without its problems though, moreso in the first week or so, as a lot of the new menu items that incorporated ‘Legumes’ required a mix of spices to provide flavour. Unfortunately, by following someone else’s recipes you do not know their preferences for flavour, heat etc. As I do not like over hot spices or too strong herb flavours like Coriander, whilst Shazza enjoys stuff with a bit of a ‘kick’, so getting the balance right was certainly a bit of trial and error. Their were some dishes that were absolutely horendous and I will never eat again, whilst other’s, which I had imagined that I would not like, were absolutely delicious. Shazza enjoys cooking and experimentation so she has been in her element, although she was a little despondent at first as the failures outweighed the successes, but by the end of week two we had a good list of menu choices, breakfasts, lunches and dinners and also healthy snacks, not just fruit !! I had never ever had a ‘Smoothie’, why not I now ask myself ? they are wonderful and even if we were to go back to our normal diets I would keep these on my list of must have’s. The thing that amazed me is that I have not once missed eating meat, including Chicken, which, along with eggs was one of my concessions, but which I have not, as yet, succumbed to. When we got to day thirty-one we both agreed that we did not, as yet, miss the meat, so we are continuing with our new experimental ‘Plant Based Food’ journey, I guess when it came to the time for me to apply for parole I ended up with ‘A Trial With An Extended Sentence‘ and we are now on Week 7 !!
So there may be a number of questions that you, the readers of my blog, still require answers to:
Do we feel any healthier ? –
Not particulary, but then again we didn’t feel particularly unhealthy before we started !!
Do we have any more energy ? –
Not particularly, we still do the same amount of exercise as we used to and we cannot say that we feel any better or any worse.
Have we lost any weight ? –
Yes, we have both lost 5Kg (10Lbs) and my relaxed muscle has disappeared considerably, although just a little bit more would be nice. According to the NHS medical database, I am in the normal weight range for my age, height etc. At 72Kg but, according to them, 70Kg would be my ideal weight. Shazza has a bit more than me still to lose, to get to her ideal weight, but you have to take into consideration that the charts we are using do vary between Males and Females and of course she is nine years my junior !!
We will have to wait and see when Shazza gets her next routine GP check done to see whether there has been any improvement in her Thyroxin levels.
But here is my unbiased view. We both could have lost weight without going on to a ‘Plant Based Food Diet’, simply by changing our normal diets, reducing the amount of meat we ate, cutting out the bad stuff we liked, eating more fruit and vegetables and doing a little more regular exercise. So for me, this ‘experimental’ diet, in the short term at least, has not proven, or disproven, anything. It may have been different if either of us had been suffering with any other medical issues, High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes Type 2 or even a Cancer, and had been subject to many of the regular screening programmes, then perhaps we may have been able to have provided some useful feedback on whether there had, or had not, been any significant changes.
The positives, we do not feel any worse by excluding meat from our diet, or the refined sugars, saturated fats or any of the whole host of other additives and supplements that you find in foods on Supermarket shelves. We have discovered different ways of cooking many of the vegetables that we already used to eat and we have been introduced to new one’s that we had never tried before. I used to get bored of eating the same old Salads, or Rice and Pasta dishes but now, purely through conducting this ‘Plant Based Food Trial’, we have discovered a whole new world of ingredients, home-made sauces, herbs and spices, which in all honesty were already out there and available, but which had never featured in our old, often routine and repetative, dietary menu choices.
Finally, would I now bang the drum for ‘Veganism‘, ‘Vegetarianism‘ or even ‘Flexitarianism‘, or any other ‘ism‘ coming to that, the answer is no, like everything in life, as individuals you have a right to make your own choices and not have people try to force their opinions or choices on you. We have made the choice to stick to this ‘Plant Based Food Diet’ for a little while longer, but with no end date, but we have also made the choice to also enjoy our lives the way we choose. Which, for us, means that during our adventures, now and in the future, we want to continue with our Culinary enjoyments of places that we visit, so if that means eating meat in the course of doing so, then so be it. If we are invited to a barbecue we are not going to say, “No thank you, we would prefer a salad sandwich” !! But meat will not be a regular item on our dinner table in the foreseeable future.
So we are not ‘Vegans’, ‘Vegetarians’ or even ‘Flexitarians’ we are just plainly and simply Eric and Shazza, a couple of people who choose to live our lives the way we want to.
We were buffeted by extremely strong winds during the night, which did surprise me a little bit, as we had thought that we would be pretty well protected here, their was a very large inner harbour wall right behind us on the Southern side, and the very large Capitanaire’s building that towered above us on the Eastern side, and a longer and much taller Motorhome on our West side. But I had not heard any rain on the roof, so I hoped that by the morning the gusty squall would have blown over. However, I was awoken by the sound of a very much stronger wind, the van was rocking from side to side, quite violently at times, the strong gusts just seem to slam into the sides, it was as if the van was being hit by a wave !! I got up and looked at the clock, it was 08:30am, it was a bit later than normal for me, perhaps the disturbed night’s sleep had something to do with that ? When I partially pulled down one of the night blinds the sky was actually blue, and it was dry, but the thick and heavy leaves on the palm trees, lined up along the pavement outside the Port, were thrashing around uncontrollably.
Shazza was awake, and as usual I gave her the verbal external weather picture, I certainly had no need to mention the strong wind as she was already reaching for her ‘sea sickness’ tablets, before realising of course that we were not actually on a Brittany’s Ferry, crossing the Bay of Biscay !! Neither of us mentioned those two words, ‘bolt hole’, well not just yet anyway !! I handed her a hot mug of coffee and whilst she sat, propped up in bed and clinging on to it with one hand, so that it would not spill any of it on the bed covers, and holding her Kindle in the other, I got myself washed and dressed. Once she was up, we opened all the blinds, but it was odd, the sun was up, the sky was blue and other than the horendous gale force winds, it looked like a very nice day, but we had a bit of a dilemma now, what should we do, stay here to wait for the wind to die down ? move elsewhere, perhaps further inland ? or just go home ? We discussed our options, it was going to be a difficult call because if we elected to just remain here for another day, and night, what would we actually do ? We had basically seen what there was to see, that was of interest to us at least, and of course it just happened to be a Sunday, and it was extremely windy, so it would not be pleasant for just walking around in the open. Whether we moved elsewhere, or headed to the bolt hole, it would still be a rough journey if these winds persisted ? I looked at the ‘Works of Fiction’, they were of no help whatsoever, as far as all of them were concerned we should already have been sat just listening to the heavy rain on the roof !! I may have mentioned this more than once, over the last seven years, since selling our house and moving in to our more mobile dwelling, in relation to the ‘Works of Fiction’, that in any other profession, getting things so wrong, so regularly, would have meant being sacked a very long time ago, but of course, even though they spend millions of pounds on satelites, computers, weather stations all around the globe, their excuse everytime is that ‘Meteorology is not an exact science’ !! I guess you do not need me to tell you that I am more than a little bit frustrated by them ?
But I put on my positive head, and I put this road trip into some sort of perspective. We had already known that when we had got off the ferry in Bilbao, that we only had seven weeks before we had to return to the UK again. We had never set ourselves any sort of timetable, for how long we would be ‘on the road’ in the van, or how long we would spend at our bolt hole, we had just said that we would saunter and take it one day at a time, which we have, and after all, in normal circumstanceswhen we travel down in the car, we would have completed the drive down to our bolt hole in just a single journey of ten hours but so far we have been ‘on the road’ for thirteen days !! We always knew that we would eventually have to return to our bolt hole at some point, as we need to do what we always do, clean it thoroughly, and then close it down properly, as we always do when we are returning to the UK at the end of our Winter breaks here and are leaving it empty for months. When we had left it in December, to return to the UK for our three-week festive visit to family, we hadn’t bothered packed everything up, so that meant that it would be ready just to walk straight back into, as and when we got back there.
For us though, this road trip in the van has been more than just a mini-adventure, it has been, primarily, to use it as a bit of a shake-down trip on the van, to put it through its paces so to speak, to test its livability for us, as this is a much smaller van internally and externally to the one we had lived in for extended periods on previous trips, almost ten feet shorter in length than ‘Big Momma’. It was also to test all of the on-board facilities, to ensure they worked and that there were no problems that would need to be resolved before we get back on the road on a ‘fulltime’ basis. Finally, to see whether this smaller more compact vehicle would enable to get us to the kind of places that we either could not, or would not, attempt to get to in our previous much larger motorhome, for example, parking in normal car parking areas in towns and villages, or driving along much narrower roads or tracks, being able to find those much more secluded locations, and we are extremely pleased that the ‘Little Fokker’ has passed ‘all’ of those tests with flying colours.
As for ourselves, I think we too have passed on the livability tests. We have adapted to using the very much smaller washroom with its combined shower, no longer having a separate washroom and a completely separate shower was a bit if a palava at first, which I believe I have already mentioned in an earlier post, it took a bit of organisation and getting used to, but it has actually worked out quite well, once we got into our shower routines. Shazza has certainly had much less galley space in this van, but I have been truly amazed at what meals she still produces in it, although she has got the same cooker/grill/oven set up, and still a decent sized tower fridge/freezer, it was actually more about the much more limited storage space and limited food preparation area, but again, it was just a matter of trying to pre-plan meals, organising herself and doing some pre-preparation of food, but she has now perfected this. God only knows though how she can fit so much fruit and vegetables into such a compact space though !! On our future travels we also intend, whenever possible, to also fully utilise both of our BBQ’s for cooking on, not necessarly just for the normal bog standard BBQ type meals, but also as an alternative heat source for cooking food, in pans etc. Our transverse double bed is very large, width wise and length wise, and now, after fitting the ‘Flori‘ underbed spring system, it not only prevents the condensation problem, that we had discovered under the mattress earlier last year, but it is also very comfortable to sleep on. The forward dinette and lounging space, again, is obviously much more compact than in the previous van, but sufficient for our requirements and we could still accommodate four people in comfort if required, so it is quite social. Our on-board power is supplied via one 150w roof mounted Solar Panel which charges both our vehicle battery and our two 90amp leisure batteries. Of course the vehicle battery itself, when we are ‘on the road’ and driving, also supplies a charge to the leisure batteries. The Solar Panel is only effective when it is receiving enough power to charge the leisure batteries, and although it does not necessarily have to be a completely sunny day to receive Solar Energy, the more overcast it is, the less solar power it is going to generate. On this trip it has worked out fine, not only has it been extremely sunny almost every day, but we have also been driving on most days, although not all. However, looking forward to the future, we we would not be continously on the move so, if their were prolonged periods of bad weather, or just several continuous overcast days, that could potentially become an issue. But, we already have that aspect covered, as although we do not currently carry it with us in the large rear garage space, we do have a portable ‘Honda’ generator, which we will carry when we once again hit the road on a fulltime basis. The ‘on the road‘ communications, and access to Data, does need to be reviewed, what we had available for this trip was very limited, but we already knew that it would just about be sufficient for this trip, and it was, but only by accessing it sparingly !! So we had already decided, well before we finished working last season, that we would need to address this particular area when the time comes, their are several simple solutions, some of those may be subject to what the UK providers decide to do with ‘Roaming Charges’ once we leave the EU. However, there is already a lot of ‘free’ accessible WiFi available, if you are in the right places, or you can buy a local data SIM card from whatever Country you happen to be in. We menjoy spending time in more remote areas, wherever possible, so having readily accessible data in the van will be more convenient for us. We are of course aware that many people adopt many different methods to access WiFi, which is basically dependent on their specific requirements, so on this subject it is much more of a what fits your needs scenario.
We have had some disappointments too, I do not know whether it was because we were just very tired after the long journey to the UK, and the combination of lots of driving whilst we were back in the UK, but we have been a bit lethargic and not really had the motivation, or the energy, to do anywhere near the number of ‘Shazza Expeditions‘ we had envisaged doing. Perhaps, in our defence, the weather has also been instrumental in some of that as we certainly could not have done any Kayaking in the temperatures we experienced in the Northern areas of Spain, but, in all honesty, we do know that we could have done a lot more walking than we have done, and by that I mean proper walking, hiking boots, walking poles, rucksacks, and not just the sightseeing type of walking that we have of course been doing.
Now as strange as this may sound, what I have just written here, and that you have just read, are exactly the same subjects of the conversation that Shazza and I had whilst discussing our options. Another question that we asked ourselves, after having that conversation, was ‘By having this conversation, are we trying to justify our reasoning for taking the decision to just go back to the bolt hole‘ ? It certainly sounded like it, but then, why were we trying to justify it to ourselves ? this had not been a challenge that had been set by anyone to see how long we could stay out, and nobody was certainly going to give us any medals for doing so. Neither were we ‘Vloggers’, a lot who, it would appear, tend to rely on subscriptions from ‘Patrons’, or ‘Sponsors’, to fund their ‘on the road adventures or provide equipment or other services. So perhaps they are under a certain amount of pressure to remain on the road, filming, and publishing updates, for their ‘Customers’ every week, whereas, I just write a simple travel journal, a blog.
So, it was not, in the end, one of us who ended up taking the decision, but it was truly a joint decision. Our rationale was, if you have no choice but to remain in a van in bad weather conditions, because you do not have a ‘bolt hole’ to run to, then that is a different matter, but believe me, it is no fun being couped up in a van, potentially for days, with the van swaying or being buffeted in strong winds, day and night, and any conversations being drowned out by the rain hammering on the roof continuously. But ‘we’ did have a choice, and although we may have purchased our ‘bolt hole’ five years ago, it was always for this very purpose, it was originally intended, to provide us with somewhere to run to, as and when we wanted, or needed to, not just in cases of really consistently bad weather, but also as a break from ‘van life’, from living in a compact space after an extended period of time.
We still did not know whether we had actually been lucky enough to evade ‘Storm Gloria’ or, whether this current period of gale force winds was just the prelude to it, what we did know was that the immediate forecast for the several days that were now ahead of us was not looking good, and so, rather than be holed up on a Campsite somewhere, we may as well be in our much more comfortable ‘home’ that is quite literaly, now right on our doorstep.
The one thing we did need to do, before we got back to our bolt hole, was to empty our on-board tanks, so whilst Shazza commenced getting the van ready I did a quick search for some Motorhome Services along our route. If we couldn’t find one, without too much of a detour, then we did know of a couple in the vicinity of our apartment, within a thirty or forty minute drive, which we could use on another day. I just didn’t want grey and black ‘waste’ stood in the tanks for a long period of time, so emptying them before we got back would be more prefferable. Fortunately, I did find one on the P4N App, it was not far off the A7, along our route, but only a few minutes drive off the main highway, the only unknown being that it was at a local garage, on an industrial area, it was Sunday, so would it be open ?
We paid our dues for the parking at the automated ticket machine and then we were on our way, and it was out of the city along the same route that we had arrived in on, so simple. It wasn’t until we actually got on to main A7 that we felt the force of the wind on the van, of course it had not affected us whilst we were driving out of the city, protected by tall buildings, but it was certainly a ‘brown trouser’ journey, especially when we had to cross the numerous open sided viaducts !! How many times have we crossed these and looked at the High Wind signs and smiled, after feeling nothing when we crossed them, but today was a different kettle of fish. It wasn’t just the viaducts either, it was the same after passing high sided mountains close to the road, as well as when we emerged out of tunnels, I was glad it was Sunday and that the roads were quiet, especially the lack of big trucks, as their were several occasions when the force of the gusts pushed me sideways and over into another lane !! The sunshine was pouring in through the windows, but I knew for certain that on this occasion it was not the heat of the sun that was the cause of my sweaty hands !!
Snoopy was telling me that it was time to exit the A7, to head for the Motorhome Services. We drove into the Industrial area and found the garage, thankfully it was open. This one was a local fuel service station, not one of the big names, and it did not sell ‘Autogas’, not that I needed any, but it is always worth noting. The actual Motorhome Service Point was to the rear of the actual garage, away from the forecourt. When we pulled up their was another large Motorhome using the very handy, under cover motorhome wash area, complete with a jet wash. The services were of the ‘Euro Relais‘ type, emptying of grey and black waste was free, had we have wanted fresh water, which we didn’t, it would have cost €2 for 100 Litres. Once we had completed our Services on the van we drove across to a large gravelled area opposite the fuel station and had our late breakfast, we were still some distance from home.
It wasn’t long before we were back on the main A7, and finally into familiar territory, as soon as we got to where we pass Malaga Airport it felt like home turf, for this is our regular route when we come and collect, and drop off our visitors. The weather had stayed sunny throughout the journey, but the gale force winds had not abated, and so it was a bit of a relief to drive in through the security gates of our complex and finally park up unscathed. Out of all of the drives we have done over this last fortnight, this last day had probably been the most demanding of all of them.
After the nice sunshine of the last fortnight, and arriving back at our bolt hole on a very warm and sunny day, it went rapidly downhill, we have had consistent rain, high winds and it has been unseasonally cold, both day and night. This really is unusual for the Winter months this far South on the Costa del Sol, I have never known a time over the last five years, when we have been here and have had to have both the central warm air conditioning heating on at the same time as our three bar electric halogen heater, during the day and night, it really was bloody cold. As we discovered, this was to last for the next six days !!
Having got back to the luxury of having unrestricted WiFi, we have been able to update ourselves on the ‘Blogs’ and ‘Vlogs’ that we regularly follow. I also went on to social nedia and discovered that ‘Storm Gloria’ had hit places that we had been to, or in areas that we had been close to, and it looks as though we had made the right choice !!
Just to bring to an end these blog posts on our Spanish mini-adventure, here are some bits of information that I have been collating:
Our total mileage, from Bilbao to our bolt hole was 900 miles and we averaged 28mpg
We were on the road for 13 days
(Note: when we left the UK we were fully provisioned, we had a full tank of Diesel, 2 Full Cylinders of LPG (44 Litres), Full tank of fresh water and empty grey and black tanks)
All the below costs are in Euros (€)
Motorway Tolls 18.00
LPG (Autogas) 12.00
Motorhome Services 4.00
Campsites/Aires/Park Ups 6.00
Personal Expenditure 75.00
Total Expenditure 302.00
We hope you have enjoyed reading about our Spanish Mini-Adventure as much as we have, actually doing it, and that I have, actually documenting it !! Also, very sincerely, a big thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my ramblings, to those who generously have ticked the ‘Like’ button and of course to those of you who took the time to comment, it is always very much appreciated.
We still have the option, whilst we are here, if we feel inclined and do not get too comfortable just enjoying all the comforts of ‘home’, of going out and doing a bit of local exploration in the van, with maybe an odd night, or few days, wildcamping here in Andalucia, but if we do I shall certainly be writing about it and of course, will be including photographs. We have not made our minds up yet on how quickly we intend to travel back to Bilbao, either a mad dash in one day, or one or two, or perhaps even more, overnight stops en-route, but again you can be assured that I will of course be penning just the usual one or two words !! about those travels.
It had been yet another quiet and peaceful night without any disturbances, human or meteoroligal, and I awoke early, yet again, I got up and checked the clock and it was a little before 7:00am, I was wide awake and so as usual I got dressed. I pulled the blind part way down to see if I was going to be rewarded by watching yet another beautiful sunrise, but it was not looking good as the sky was already thick with cloud, even the light from the moon was shrouded in a dark grey murkiness, but so far it was dry. We had decided, the previous evening, to leave our decision on what we would do about moving on until we knew what the weather was going to have in store for us. If the ‘Works of Fiction’ were wrong with their prediction for rain, then as this was a nice spot we could remain here for another day and night, getting ourselves properly dressed and with more appropriate footwear we could go and explore the walk along the cliffs a little bit further than we had managed the previous day, perhaps even venturing all the way back into the ‘glitzy’ town we had passed through on the way here, best we put our clean jeans on then, as we didn’t want to give an impression of being waifs and strays. As for a ‘Plan B’, well we did not have one, as yet !!
I waited for daylight proper to arrive, which was around 8:30am and, after making a coffee I took it outside and walked down, on the considerately provided wooden boardwalk, to the top of the sandy beach and I just stood, looking out across the calm sea and the landscapes around me, listening to the gently lapping waves as they brushed up onto the shoreline as I did so. It was so peaceful, I could imagine in towns and cities all over the world, that right now, people would be franticly rushing around, on crowded roads, buses, tube trains even at busy airport terminals, all in a hurry to get to work or somewhere else, by a certain deadline, it felt good to be out of that, for now at least, no rushing around, no need to be anywhere anytime soon, just stood here, in the calm and the relative peacefullness of the morning, the only noise was coming from the sea, and of course the occasional screech of gulls in the sky above. I felt at ease, stood here, just a brief moment alone, with my coffee, just savouring the peacefullness and drinking in the fresh air. It was actually pleasantly warm, even though there was no sunshine and the sky was heavily laden with a grey forboding cloud, the calm before the storm perhaps ? I finished my coffee before returning to the van, as I did so I counted the vans that were parked up along the long sandy track, no sign of life, their night blinds or curtains, well the ones closest to me that I could see, were still firmly closed, there were twenty vans along this stretch of beachfront, but because of the length of this area, and the good amount of space between each van, it didn’t, well visually at least, look that many.
I had left Shazza in bed, drinking her coffee, as usual, and so once I got back to the van I reported in, as to what the outside world was doing, “What do you want to do” she asked, putting the onus on me to make a decision, “I don’t really know” I responded uncomittingly. The problem was, I was mulling over in my mind to myself, was that if it did rain, then we would risk being confined in the van for the day, using up the valuable power that we still had stored in our leisure batteries, but little, or no solar energy to continue to put power back into them to enable us to spend a whole day, and night, on our devices. But also, in the wet, the sand would quickly turn to a yukky sludge so trying to get out, and more importantly, back up the loose surfaced steep incline, may present a problem. I resorted to looking on the P4N App, to see what alternatives there were for locations, more suited for a wet weather day, I came across a hardstanding parking area on the Port at ‘Almeria’, okay it was certainly much further than we had wanted to travel, by choice, as there were still so many places to explore inbetween here and Almeria, and also, that particular ‘park up’ would cost us €6 to park for 24 hours, and there were no services. Now the cost was not really an issue, we hadn’t actually paid for any Camperstops or Campsites at all over the past eleven days and we did not need anything as far as on-board services or provisions were concerned. However, the advantages of staying there, if the weather did turn out to be wet, was that we would be parked on a hardstanding area, it was in a secure and apparently well lit parking area and right by the Capitanaria Offices, but the greatest advantage was that it was only a ten minute walk into the City, and even on a rainy day, as long as it was not a torrential downpour, we could surely find somewhere to shelter in the town, out of the rain, but we would have something to do to pass a few hours, rather than be sat in the van, getting cabin fever, which would not have been helped by the noise of the rain consistently hammering on the roof. I had even contemplated paying €15, or perhaps even a lot more, to perhaps use a proper Camping facility, if it had come to it, and if we could have found one with a space for us that is. I looked at the three weather ‘Apps’ on my phone, all of them were forecasting rain, but each gave differing times of arrival for this wet stuff, the earliest stated 11:00am but all showed that when it did arrive it would remain, for the whole day and night and then for a few more days afterwards. I guess that I already knew in my head that this journey was rapidly coming to an end, I was just trying to prolong the inevitable, this damn weather !!
Shazza finally pulled herself from under the duvet and got washed and dressed, I did not wait for her inevitable question a second time, which would have course have been “So what do you want to do ?“, I guess I just didn’t want to be the one to make the decision that I knew would be forthcoming. So, I just told her, in a very matter of fact way, that the weather was not forecast to improve anytime soon, all of the ‘Works of Fiction’ were still saying to expect rain, so I said that I thought it best if we get out from our current location, whilst we still could. I showed her on the road map where I was planning to take us, I explained my rationale for going to Almeria, rather than a straight dash to our ‘bolt hole’, and made sure that I emphasised that it was just a mere ten minutes walk into the City, that was it, she didn’t need anymore convincing, it was a done deal.
I programmed the Co-ordinates into ‘Snoopy’, but it wanted to take us back on ourselves, the route it was showing was a shorter 67 miles, however, we agreed that whilst it was still dry we should just continue along the Coastal route, hopefully find somewhere to stop for breakfast, then carry on to Almeria, that would extend our mileage to being probably around an 80 mile trip, but it would at least be a bit more scenic, if the rain stayed away that is, and there was always the chance that we may have come across an alternative town or village to stay. If not, the longer drive would be more than adequate to charge our leisure batteries, and our devices at the same time, giving us plenty of power when, and where, we did eventually park up for the rest of the day and night.
We did stop for breakfast en-route, but unfortunately we did not see a suitable alternative park up location, well not one that wasn’t on sand or earth, that would undoubtedly turn into mud if, or when, it rained, so we both decided to stop looking for alternatives and just continue on to the City of Almeria.
I am glad though that I checked the road map before setting off and planned my own route in, because ‘Snoopy’ wanted to bring us into the City from the North East side, and although ‘Snoopy’ threw a bit of a hissy fit at me, when I constantly kept ignoring the plea’s to “Turn around when possible“, the route I had selected was much more straightforward, and so we were soon parked up on the harbour, along with just another three or four Motorhomes at that time, although by sunset there were nine vans parked up with us for the night.
It was still a very grey and overcast day, although it still felt relatively warm at 16 degrees(c), but we could feel a bite on the rapidly increasing wind, could this be the advance party for ‘Storm Gloria’ we wondered ?. We quickly got the van turned around into home mode and had our coffee, whilst doing so I quickly checked ‘Google’ maps for the general direction into the city and the location of the Tourist Information Office. As the P4N App had correctly quoted, it was only a ten minute walk from the entrance of the Port into downtown Almeria, basically just across the road.
The main modern shopping street was buzzing, well it was a City after all, and it was a Saturday and more importantly, it had gone 11:0am and it wasn’t raining. Once we had obtained our street plan from the Tourist Office, we discovered that fortunately the older historic part was all in, and around, the same area as the modern part. So we just wandered around the small back streets, the old historical bits, looking at different sized Plazas, some wonderfully ornate buildings, unfortunately many had been daubed with graffiti. The Cathedral looked nice from the outside, a bit better than the one we had seen in Albacete, but not as impressive as the one we had seen in Murcia, we didn’t bother paying to go in
But just behind the Cathedral we fell upon the ‘Spanish Guitar Museum’. Was this fate, or just a remarkable coincidence ? Okay, let me make a confession here, but do not make this general public knowledge, let us just keep this between ourselves !! So, other than probably playing a ‘Recorder’ when I was at primary school, I have never played a musical instrument in my life since then, and neither can I read music, however, for a great number of years I have had a desire on my ‘Bucket List’ to one day buy myself a ‘Spanish’ guitar, to learn how to play it, and obviously learn how to read music, for no particular reason that I can justify, other than I love the sound of the Spanish Guitar. I have never really followed up on this desire, it is way down on my list of priorities on my ‘Bucket List’, probably because I have always assumed that they were very expensive, and if I bought one, and couldn’t learn to play it, then it would have been a complete waste of money.
Anyway, having a chance to go into the museum specifically related to Spanish Guitars, Classical and Acoustic, and just take a look around and learn a little more about them, would more than suffice. I did not realise that they dated back to medieval days !! But it was very interesting and to my surprise even Shazza seemed genuinely interested and was reading the Information notes on many of the displays.
I came out feeling quite happy that we had stumbled across this particular museum, now that just proves that sometimes it is well worth just aimlessly wandering through a maze of back streets, for you just may fall upon something quite interesting, dependant of course on what you interpret as interesting, for me it was this museum. However, by the time we came back out it had started to rain, not as in heavy or torrential, but was this the start of worse to come we both wondered ? We took shelter in a very pleasant and convenient small Plaza Cafe, just around the corner from the Museum and Cathedral, and just sat enjoying a coffee and a doing a spot of people watching, as you do.
On our way back towards the more busier modern part of the city, through one of the numerous backstreets, we came across a barber shop, my hair was beginning to look unkempt, I had felt uncomfortable with it for far too long on this trip and I was beginning to feel a bit scruffy. I dont know if it is because of my Military days, but since leaving the military after 22 years of service, I have always maintained the bog standard, short back and sides cut, anyway, as there was nobody already sat in the chair, in we went and just a few moments later I came out feeling much more tidier and respectable.
I do not know ‘exactly’ how long we had been wandering, I tend not to wear my wrist watch when we are on the road as time is generally of little importance, although Shazza always wears her’s, but we were both beginning to feel a bit leg weary, so we agreed that seeing as we had spent probably somewhere around a good three hours sauntering, that was enough exercise and culture for one day, our eyes were beginning to glaze over again. Not only that, but it was grey, it was wet and we were getting colder, when we could be sat in a toasty warm van with a piping hot mug of coffee. However, once we checked our street map for the route back to the Port, we discovered that the one place that we had not visited was the indoor Central Market, now we love walking around these places, even if we are not intending on making any purchases. The colours are so vibrant and the produce always looks so fresh and so, as we were actually within such close proximity to it, off we went. We were not disappointed, well Shazza was a little, she now wished that she had not stocked up on so much fruit and vegetables, as we no longer needed, or had space, in the fridge or cupboards for anymore !! But what was on display here in the market looked much fresher and vibrant than the stuff she had purchased from LIDL.
Although the market was housed in an old historical building, inside it was quite modern, the upper floor was all dedicated to fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, nuts, spices, flowers etc.
Then there was a central escalator down to the fish market, well it would have been rude not to, and anyway, Shazza was already on the escalator !!
Now, what happened next, you could I suppose call fate or serendipity ? We had chosen to take a different exit out of the Central Market to head back to the Port, and as we were walking down past a line of shops, we came across a musical instrument shop, selling everything you could imagine from guitars, classical, and also modern electric one’s, drums, piano’s, keyboards etc. you get the picture. We looked in the window and there, as if to tempt me inside, was a beautiful classical Spanish Guitar, although it had no price on it. “Do you want to go in and have a look around” she says, this could be dangerous, I thought to myself, “Well why not, at least it would confirm my worst fears on the cost of these things” I replied.
At first we could only see the Spanish guitars that were hung up behind the counter, they ranged from €500 Euros upwards, not as bad as I was anticipating, but still far too rich for my blood. Then an elderly lady, who we thought was a customer collecting something, but, from the style of the conversation she was having, she obviously knew the man behind the counter quite well. She turned as we approached the counter and started talking to us, but in Spanish, and not even Shazza, with her pretty reasonable grasp of the language, could not understand what she was saying to us, but the elderly lady persisted. Through a lot of gesticulations and some Spanish words of her own, Shazza got her to understand basically that I was wanting to look at some Spanish classical guitars, she gabbled something to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, who himself could speak no English, and why should he, the onus was us to converse in his language. Anyway, he called out to someone else and a middle-aged man appeared on the scene, his English was not great, but niether was our Spanish, however, between Shazza’s limited Spanish vocabulary, and his limited grasp of English, he managed to understand that I had never played a guitar, but was ‘potentially’ looking to learn, but did not want to pay a lot of money for one. He took us around a corner and their were rows of them, and all varying in price, the cheapest was €150 Euro’s, now that was within my price range. I had been saving bits of money that I had received from family for my Birthday’s and Christmas, but I had never spent it.
The chap got the ‘cheap’ guitar down and told me that it was a very good guitar, well come on now, he wasn’t going to say it was cheap crap now was he ? He told me that this particular type of guitar was intended purely for students, beginners, like me. He strummed a few notes on the strings, to check that it was correctly tuned, or just to impress me, no matter, it worked, it just had that magical sound, the sound that only a Spanish guitar can make.
“Get it” Shazza instructed, “You have been talking about getting one for years, so treat yourself for once”, she said. I wavered a bit, the “What If’s” started running through my mind again. Shazza knew what I was thinking, I think that I have already mentioned that she once worked for the ‘Thought Police’, “Get it” she encouraged again, so I did, along with a students basic course book and also a guitar cover. I left the shop an exceptionally very happy chappy and with the widest smile that I think that I have had on my face for a very long time, well at least since I had witnessed that second magnificent sunrise a day or so ago. We had got just a little way down the road when I stopped dead in my tracks, “What’s the matter ?” Shazza said with a worried look on her face, probably fearing that I had lost my wallet. “Do you know, I dont know whether you strum the strings just with your fingers on a Spanish guitar, or whether I will need a plectrum” I said, so whilst she waited I returned to the shop to ask. The elderly chap behind the counter must have wondered what was going on too, he called for the other chap again, and so I asked the question, he did not give me a verbal answer, but he immediately went into a glass case on the counter top, one that contained a whole range of ‘plectrums’ and he picked out two, I asked the cost, as you would, and he told me that I could have them, “A Gift” he said, I thanked him and, for the second time that day, I again left the store a very happy chappy.
On that ‘note‘ (And yes, of course I intended the pun), we returned to the Port, it had stopped raining but it was still grey and still a bit drizzly, but the temperature was dropping rapidly.
Once in the van, the kettle went on for a much needed cuppa whilst I examined my purchase in a bit more depth. To my complete surprise, I discovered, from the information supplied with the guitar, that this was actually no thrown together ‘cheapy’, as I had wrongly assumed from the price. It is actually a hand-crafted ‘admira‘ guitar, produced by the firm that was founded by ‘Enrique Keller Fritsch’ in 1944, which is one of the leading companies among manufacturers of Classical guitars, in Spain, which exports to fifty different Countries, and it comes with a five year guarantee. Although I do not think it will cover the cost of ‘frustration damage’, by the user, as in smashing it against the floor, or a wall, when I cannot get it right !! I strummed the strings and the sound it made, even in my totally incapable hands, was truly wonderful, I cannot wait until it makes the sound of tune that it should make when I can string a few chords together on it. So I now have to teach myself to play it, but I am in no hurry, I now have yet another ‘additional’ hobby to add to my learning German and writing blogs, these things should keep me occupied for a little while. And, it has also provided me with an idea for Shazza’s birthday present………. a set of ear defenders, she is probably going to need them !!
Whilst we were sat in the van, and Shazza was preparing our evening meal, there was a knock on our door. When I answered, a bit cautiously I hasten to add, we were not expecting any visitors ? a man, with an English accent, which immediately identified him as someone who hailed from the North Eastern part of England, apologised for disturbing us and asked if this was the area of the Port for the van parking. I confirmed that it was, and he stated that he was parked outside in his small van conversion, with the cars, as he hadn’t been sure. This did seem a little bit strange to me, as by now their must have been 6-7 Motorhomes and of us all were parked together ? We got into a brief conversation and he told me that he was in a small van with his wife, whilst travelling down the East Coast of Spain, he was parked up, with several other vans, in the Barcelona area, and when they had returned from a day out in the city, they discovered that their van had been broken into, it had un-nerved them, as it would. He then told me that just a little further South from Barcelona, whilst he was ‘free camping’, two other Motorhomes on the same ‘park up’ that he was on, had been broken into and they were both now feeling very vulnerable and unsafe.
I told him that we had not used this particular ‘park up’ before, but that it appeared to be pretty safe, it had security cameras, was well lit and was regularly patrolled by the Port Police, in fact we had already seen them patrolling twice since returning to our van from town. He thanked us, and I watched him as he moved his van to where the rest of us were parked. You can never be too sure when strangers knock on your van door, whilst they are talking to you are they eyeballing the inside, looking to see how easy it would be to break in, or what you had on show that would be worth stealing when they return in the dead of night !! Perhaps it just the former Policeman in me, ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ ? Now I have to admit that we too have ‘heard’ and ‘read’ several other similar stories of break-ins to vans, not just around the North East parts of Spain, or just particulary in the Catalonia region, but there a lot more ‘stories’ of break-ins around Barcelona, so it appears to be a notorious area for it, which is actually why we avoided selecting that part of the Coast and had driven down the route that we had. But I also have to say that on all the ‘free camping’ locations that we have used on this trip, whilst we have taken all reasonable security precautions as a matter of course, no matter how secure the areas may have appeared, but we have not once had any problems or concerns. We of course do not know whether that would be any different during the Summer months, when there are generally even more vans on the road, and where parking opportunities may be more limited, causing people to park in areas that may perhaps be a little more unsavoury.
The one thing that we should comment on about this park up, for anyone else who may consider using it, whilst it is on the Port it is also Right next to the passenger ferry that travels between here and Melilla (Cueta, which is the Spanish provence on the Northern Coast of Africa), and it seems to be a pretty frequent service, running both day and night, so the fery does create some noise whilst it is entering and departing the Port, and also whilst it is disembarking, and embarking passengers and freight vehicles, although I have to say that it didn’t really bother us, but it may not be that conducive for lighter sleepers !!
We decided that would not stay here another night, unless the weather turned and made it totally impractical to drive, but we still had the whole length of this Coast to explore, Almeria is on the most Easterly side and Malaga on the other, before it drops down into the Costa del Sol area, and there are still so many places along this coastline, inbetween these two Cities that, if possible, we want to see. There are even two or three large Embalse’s just a bit further inland, that if, weather permitting, we would also have liked to visit. But I guess that if we do not get the opportunity to see it all, during this particular road trip, then it will still give us somewhere else to explore on a future occasion.
We are due for more rain, but with stronger winds tomorrow, so, the decision that we will have to make is whether to remain on the road, and persevere with whatever mother nature throws at us, do we try to find a Campsite, or do we drive the relatively short four hour journey to our warm and cosy, and much more substantial, ‘bolt hole’ ? I think it is a decision that will once again have to wait until the morning.
Our daily expenditure, not including the purchase of my guitar, as that was out of my personal Savings fund, from Christmas and Birthday money, was, in total €25 Euros. That comprised of €6 for the night’s park up cost, €6 for the cost of entry to the guitar museum, €10 for my haircut and €3 for Coffee.
If I thought that the sunrise that we had woken up to the previous morning was something special then I do not know how to descibe this mornings feast for the eyes, it had certainly surpassed yesterday’s. I was awake and up by 07:00am, after another tremendously peaceful and quiet night. I had not expected to see anything out of the window when I slid down the night blind but what a surprise.
I quickly got partially dressed, still wearing my dishevelled ‘bed head’, no need to comb my hair I thought to myself, who was going to see me at this time of the morning, and to be honest I didn’t really care, so jeans on, hoodie top and just crocs on my feet and then I grabbed my camera, opening and closing the van door as quietly as I could so as not to wake my beloved. Then I just stood outside the van in the cool, but not cold, morning air and I was rewarded with some of the most amazing views I think I have ever seen, varying shades and depths of colour, in the sky, and on the sea, My camera shutter working overtime in all directions as the darkness began gradually turning to dawn, and then morning, and then full sunshine, absolutely magnificent, I just hope that the small selection of photo’s included below will do it justice.
When I got back inside the van, I was trying to keep as quiet as one can in a compact space when I heard the voice from the back, “It’s alright I am awake” she said, in what was quite an unusual and cheery manner, Shazza had obviously had a peaceful nights sleep too. “Ready for a cuppa” I said, a rhetorical question really as I already knew the answer, so on went the kettle and the water heater. Shazza remained under the nice warm duvet, not that it was cold in the mornings anymore, but as I have probably said on numerous occasions, she does like to have her first coffee of the day in bed and wake up properly, before facing yet another one of our ‘frantic’ days just swanning around this beautiful Spanish coastline.
I think that I may have already mentioned, in my previous ramblings, that we would, more than likely, be crossing the border today, from the region of Murcia and into Andalucia, now although Andalucia is actually an extremely large region of Southern Spain, it didn’t stop me from feeling just a little bit despondent, as I was now beginning to feel as though we were coming pretty close to the end of our short mini-adventure in the van, however, that actual end point now looked as though it would be very much dependent on the weather, as our own ‘works of Fiction’ were now showing that some lengthy heavier periods of rain were on the way, accompanied by 40-45mph winds, and that this weather system would be upon us within the next couple of days !! So it would now be a matter of keeping a close eye on this rapidly developing weather system and seeing just how many ‘park ups’ we could find between our current location, and Malaga, before we were forced to make the inevitable decision that it made sense to head for the protection and comforts of our ‘bolt hole’. I was hoping for at least another week, but I had to be realistic, in my mind I guess that I already knew that, if the ‘Works of Fiction’ were correct, that at best, and if we were lucky, we may only get away with an extra couple of days.
But looking on the positive side, being the optimist that I am, apart from the very cold nights that we had endured, when we were much further North, up in the mountains, everyday of our trip, so far, has been very sunny, which is a very important factor when you are totally reliant on solar for all of the vans energy requirements. However, with the ‘Works of Fiction’ forecasting, for the whole of this coastal region, and even a bit further South into the Costa Del Sol, several days of heavy rain with little, if any, breaks in the weather, that vital sunshine would not be there to maintain sufficient energy and power to our leisure batteries. So it would mean trying to find places, Camperstops or Campsites, that had the essential EHU. But we would not be the only one’s, so would a lot of other’s so it would be a race for available spaces, if indeed there were any available as they are usually all pretty well booked up by those who travel South in Winter and remain static for much longer periods. Now of course, we know that if we were fulltiming proper and did not have, or were nowhere near, our bolt hole, we would need to try to find a Camperstop or a Campsite, where we could just sit out the worst of the bad weather, but that for us is not the case at this particular moment in time, so it would seem rather pointless, and a waste of money, to splash the cash on what could end up being days on a campsite, when we are probably currently only about a four or five hour drive away from our bolt hole, Centrally Heated, proper shower, proper flushing toilet, unlimited electricity, water and WiFi, and just generally a lot more space and comfort. So we are probably now at the mercy of the ‘Works of Fiction’, but we do keep saying silent prayers in the hope that they get the forecast completely wrong, but one can only hope, they have been wrong on many other previous occasions !!
We were in no particular hurry to depart this wonderful ‘park up’, but sometimes, especially when you have been up early and ready, you just want to go. Our first port of call would be 25 miles away, to that ‘Repsol’ fuel station, that we had been told provided a Motorhome Services Area. We still had plenty of capacity in the grey waste tank, and although our cassette needed emptying again, it must be all the fruit and vegetables that Shazza keeps making us eat ? But that was not really a problem either as we did carry a spare cassette, but we were in more urgent need of fresh water. I had discovered on the old van, ‘Big Momma’, that when the gauge showed the water tank to be full at 100% it actually wasn’t, and it would still take another 15 litres, well it appears that we have the same issue with the water gauge on this ‘Little Fokker’, we are already down to just 25%, which we shouldn’t be as we have been conserving our water usage as much as possible. Anyway, provided that this Repsol station does provide a service point, and we can empty and fill, as appropriate, all our on-board tanks, then we would just back track on our route, find another fruit and vegetable shop or a supermarket along the way, as Shazza needed to re-stock on a few provisions, I bet you can already guess what kind of provisions ? Then we could get back to this wonderful scenic coast road to see what other night stop gems we can discover.
We pulled in to the Repsol service station and could see the rather clean looking Motorhome Service Point next to the car wash bays, but their was a chain across the entry point. I pulled the van alongside and then walked in to the shop, come payment desk, where I was greeted by an exceptionally smiley and friendly young girl. I asked if it was okay to use the Services, “Of course” came the jovial reply, “Do you need fuel too ?” She asked, I told her that I didn’t and that I just needed to use the service point and she informed me that it would cost €4 Euros, which I very willingly paid. She also asked if I needed the use of a hose pipe, to fill my fresh water, which I didn’t, so I declined her kind offer and she came out and removed the chain across the service point entrance so that I could access the area. I noticed a sign that said use of the area was restricted to twenty-minutes but it was not to be used for washing of vehicles, twent minutes was more than enough time to do all the necessary, so I wondered whether this sign had been put up because ‘other’ Motorhomers had spent much more time here doing ‘other’ things and holding up other vans from availing themselves of these precious facilities. I opened up all of the lockers that we would need access to, whilst Shazza opened the valve, which on our van is actually inside and under a hatch in the floor, to dump the grey waste into a run off grill in the ground. Then, whilst I proceeded to empty and flush out the toilet cassette, Shazza commenced filling the fresh water tank, but instead of using the hosepipe, we used the 10 litre watering can that we carry, this gives us a more accurate indication of how much we are actually putting in, but normally we use it when we come across a water tap, that you often find in many of the towns and villages you come across, but where you cannot get close enough to, with the van, to fill via the hosepipe. I had finished with the toilet emptying duties, so I took over the filling of the water so that Shazza could keep an eye on the internal gauge. When she told me that the gauge was showing 100% I kept filling, it took a further 20 litres, well at least now we know that when the gauge says that the tank is full, it isn’t, and 20 litres is a lot of water when you are on the road and reliant on it !! I should just comment that the service facilities here were exceptionally clean, one of the cleanest that we have come across on this trip, the WC disposal area with its water tap for rinsing out the cassette was well away from where the fresh water tap was located, so no excuses for any cross-contamination, although, as is our habit, we still used an anti-bacterial wipe to pre-disinfect the fresh water tap, you can never be too sure where other people’s hosepipes have been ? For non-motorhomers who read my ramblings, you may wonder why I make specific mention of cleanliness or cross-contaminations at service points, well you would be surprised at the state some people leave these areas after they have used them, some even put their toilet waste down grey water drains, leave food deposits on the ground after emptying their grey waste tanks and do not flush it away with clean water, but worst of all, they rinse out their cassette holding tanks using the drinking water tap !! We saw this at the service point at Murcia, where the water tap, for rinsing the cassette, was right above the drain where it should be, but a chap had just emptied his cassette and then took it to the fresh water tap to rinse it out !! Sometimes their is just no rhyme or reason for why people do the things they do ? Fortunately, another user, who had seen what had happened, and who himself was waiting to fill plastic containers with fresh drinking water, gave the tap a thorough clean, however, when we used it straight after him we still used our anti-bacterial wipes on it nonetheless. So it was nice to see such a spotless services area at this Repsol service station, a wonderful facility and I just wish that there were many more like it. However, I do have to cofess at forgetting to check the presence of one very important facility, whether or not it also sold Autogas. But because we didn’t actually need any on this occasion, I was more focused, on entering the forecourt area, to see where the service point was located, it would have been handy to have known though as this would have confirmed it as being the perfect ‘one stop shop’ for any future visits to this area.
After doing the necessary at the service point, we tracked back to rejoin the Coast road, just a little further up from where we had spent the previous night, however, before we got there we had to pass through quite a bustling seafront town and as luck would have it, as we entered the outskirts, we saw a sign for a ‘LIDL’ store, the first one we have come across since leaving Murcia, but still no signs of any ‘ALDI’ stores as yet, other than the one in Murcia that is. It seens strange because once you get beyond Malaga, on the whole stretch from Malaga down to Gibraltar, there are quite literally dozens of each of these stores, almost around every bend in the road, however, although she would have preferred to have found a ‘Mercadona’ supermarket, she now had her chance to re-stock on fresh fruit and vegetables, we do seem to go through quite a lot ? and strangely enough, since New Years Eve, we have not consumed any alcohol whatsover, no wine, no beer, no ‘Tinto Verano’, no G&T’s, no JD & Coke, we must be one of the healthiest and alcohol free van lifers on the road at the moment !!
Once we had been fully re-stocked, we got on our way, the first thing we noticed was that this area that we were now in was quite ‘glitzy’, from the very expensive looking apartments, the designer type shops, even the Cafe/Bars and the Restaurants looked a lot more ‘Upper Class’, the streets, pavements, promenades and beaches were all immaculate, certainly not the sort of place that we could have afforded to purchase a ‘bolt hole’ !! It smelt of money here, I do not mean that in any bad or condescending way, just that this was really the first area that we have been to, on this trip, where you could tell, just by looking, that it was high-class touristy, a bit like Marbella and Puerta Banus on the Costa del Sol coastline. But the other things that were noticeable, from their absence, were the Motorhomes parked up on the side of the roads, this was most definately one of those ‘Untolerated Motorhome Parking’ neighbourhoods, and yes, we could fully understand why.
However, and just a couple of miles further along the road and on the beachfront, away from the glitz, but certainly within a reasonable walk, or cycle ride, back to it, we saw quite a number of vans parked up, there appeared to be a lot gathered together on one side and fewer on the other, with no logical reason for this obvious separation. We parked up in a large gravel area, just above the beach and just off from the main road, and we walked down to the area that appeared to be less populated with vans, to our surprise we discovered, that out of sight of the main road above, there was a very long stretch of sandy, come loose gravel road, which stretched virtually the full length of this rather nice looking beach. All along it, just metres from the sea, there were several Motorhomes parked up, each with a decent amount of space between them, although there were none along here of the RV size variety, I assumed that the incline down, and sharp left turn at the bottom, was probably the deterrant for the larger vehicles. We saw a number of potential areas where we could park so we went back to collect the van and drove it down, and although initially we found a nice large flat and discreet area all to ourselves, also not overlooked from the roadside, unsurprisingly, we didn’t have it all to ourselves for very long, although I have to say that our new neighbours did keep a decent distance between us, more than enough to maintain a decent level of personal space but still remain neighbourly.
We had driven a distance of just 39 miles, but the largest part of that drive had actually getting to and from the Repsol station to do the on board services, in reality we were not actually a million miles further South from when we had been the previous night, just a slightly different view of the sea and the surrounding landscape.
We had ‘Brunch’ and then enjoyed a little bit of time doing a spot of sun worshipping outside the van, yes we actually got the chairs out again, and surprisingly I found myself doing a little bit of unscheduled ‘Personal Contemplation’, and bloody marvellous it was too. Once I had completed my spot of personal contemplation, and after a cup of coffee, we decided that a spot of exercise was in order and so we walked down one side of the sandy track, crossed a dried up river bed, come storm drain, and then started a bit of climb on an uphill walk, on a well worn sandy track, up the side of the cliffs, looking down onto the crystal clear water below. However, we had not planned on a mountain climbing expedition, I was just wearing ‘Crocs’ and Shazza was wearing flip-flops, so when we got to some much steeper, uneven and rocky cliff terrain we decided to turn back and live another day.
As for our daily expenditure, a grand total of €44 Euros, which consisted of €4 Euros for the Motorhome Services and €40 Euros on the groceries.