On 25th November, we took the
35 hour ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao. ‘Choppy’ doesn’t
quite cut it, however, we made it without vomiting and it
was an excellent option for us at this stage, waves or no
waves, as it got us to Spain, saving us time and Euros.
It’s an interesting population of people on a ferry to Spain
in November. Some doing the return mini cruise with a 4 hour
stop-over in Bilbao. Great if you love Bingo and feeling
sick. The rest were couples with mansions on wheels which
made our Land Rover appear very meagre. We did chat with one
other couple driving to Timbuktu, Mali in a very interesting
ex-military vehicle, who were experienced and very
informative so that was a good start.
Our arrival in Spain was followed by a couple of long
driving days to get to Barcelona, via Tudela. This was quite
nerve wracking for us as we are still regaining confidence
and the car is very heavy when loaded to full capacity.
Do many people pay for toll roads so that they can go
slowly? We did after discovering that on the single
carriageway roads the Spanish cannot cope with a Land
Rover going at 50mph. A few rude gestures, horns and shouts
later we decided to pay to go slow, which was a much more
We couldn’t find a campsite in Barcelona which was open ( at
which point we realised why the only other people on the
ferry were either turning round to go home again or had huge
camper vans – it is actually cold in Spain in November) so
we camped by the beach. It felt great to be camping free by
the sea. The police popped by to check we were OK.
We did Barcelona quickly, not really being city people and
then moved on to a real campsite which was open – hoorah!
More enormous camper vans ( including one which is the size
of your average London flat) and us, and lots of cold wind.
Great hot showers though, a bar, running water, wifi and our
extremely comfortable tent.
We left our campsite near
Barcelona and began our descent through Spain. Quite an
intense driving day to get to just south of Valencia. All
the Spain we saw was through the car windows, bar a very
short stop on the coast, but this did afford us some
spectacular views of the Mediterranean on one side and
countless mountain ranges all around. The landscape of Spain
is varied and often breathtaking. Oh yes, and the cultural
experience that is Lidl. Remarkably similar to the cultural
experience which is to be had on the Old Kent Road. We felt
quite at home really and Neil only bought one tool which has
to be a bonus.
The day also contained one remarkable
moment though: we overtook our first vehicle. A small
electric van hanging on the hard shoulder, but that is not
A disappointingly basic and overpriced campsite, but by
9pm we really didn’t mind and set up camp for the night.
We set off from our campsite
early, made a trip to the beach 300m away and then continued
driving south. Our destination – the Murcia area.
up the driving with a further cultural highlight: IKEA. It
was packed with Brits, clearly attracted by the hot-dogs and
the arrows on the floor. On no, that was just us. We wanted
a wash bag and literally ran around the shop. In and out in
20 minutes, with a hot dog, that must beat some kind of
record? We chatted to an English guy in the car park who had
spotted our Land Rover. They appear to be very rare in Spain
so everyone looks it up and down.
The campsite we found was certainly the highlight of
Spain so far. It was in the Sierra Espuna National Park,
just West of Murcia. We arrived in day light which was a
nice change after always arriving in the dark up until now.
We wound our way up to the campsite along a very steep, very
windy road. The Land Rover ate the slopes and felt
completely at home.
The campsite was in a tiny Spanish village and surrounded
by mountains. The village was very quiet with hardly anyone
around, although I did see a beautiful Spanish scene of an
elderly couple carrying between them a basket laden with
olives. We saw olive trees a plenty, along with many orange
trees. Neil was determined to attempt ‘frumping’. After
looking at him confused for a moment, I realised that he
We met a great English couple at this campsite who were
taking a late year out to travel around Europe in their
camper van. We had a nose inside their van and determined
that later on in life we will cash in the Land Rover for a
slightly more comfortable van – with heating. Yes we are
still struggling with very cold nights but thermals and
beanies are helping.
We slightly reluctantly moved
on feeling happy that we had stayed somewhere that felt as
though it had a real Spanish feel, unlike the places on the
coast. We also had to sadly leave behind the beautiful
little kitten who had adopted us and liked to sleep in the
car! It was the friendliest little cat I had ever known and
Neil ( I think seriously?) suggested that maybe we could
take him and just hide him in the safe when we got to border
posts. We are both cat-lovers and were genuinely sad to
leave him but cats are fickle and I am sure this one
benefits from many adoring tourists.
We drove on to
Granada where we were staying with old friends from Exeter –
Richard, his wife Anni, and their gorgeous 15 month old son
Driving in to Granada we had a first glimpse of the
snow-capped Sierra Navada. Absolutely stunning against the
We had a very warm welcome from Richard and Anni. It was
great to be in a home and Samuel was a little entertainer
who kept us very much amused! Spanish houses are certainly
built for the heat of summer, and it was very, very cold,
but good to have real beds, blankets and lovely home cooked
On Friday, we set out for a
sight-seeing day of Granada. Again, the weather was
impeccable, albeit cold. Absolutely perfect for a visit to
the Alhambra. This was the only tourist attraction that we
paid for in Spain and I have to say it was worth every cent.
It is a magnificent piece of history, beautifully preserved
and against the back drop of the blue sky and the white
mountains, we really felt quite overwhelmed.
decided to make a day of appreciating Spanish food. We began
with a speciality of churros con chocolate. Awesome. Long
thin donut sticks dipped in a cup of thick chocolate.
Calorie-laden heaven. We worked that off during our visit to
the Alhambra and then had a Menu del dia – a lunch time menu
in a small Spanish bar. It was inexpensive and good – paella
and fish for me and Neil had rabbit. Bizarrely – he
struggled with that concept, does the red-meat eating South
African have a soft little heart?! Was it too soon after the
encounter with the cute cuddly kitten?
Another lovely evening with Richard, Anni and Samuel
followed. We really are so grateful to them for their warm
hospitality and generosity. I think it is moments like that,
with people, that will really be the true highlights of this
On Saturday we drove on down to
the coast. The sun was very warm and this really was the Med
that we had imagined – little white dwellings looking out on
to the sea. Doubtless, this area is all about tourism rather
than Spanish culture, but to look at it is beautiful and we
certainly appreciated the warmth.
We had coffee and lunch
by the sea and then continued to campsite near Estepona. It
was late and dark but we decided that we would stay here for
two nights so that we could sort out some bits on the car
and appreciate the coast.
After a morning of sorting and
organising (we are trying to make sure that everything is
packed well before we hit Africa and also that we have
everything we need), we headed to the beach for a few hours
in the afternoon. It was beautiful and there were great
views of, not only the Rock of Gibraltar, but also its
counterpart in Morocco (together known as the Pillars of
Hercules). Our first view of Africa. Somehow, now that we
have reached the tip of one continent and can see where we
are heading, it doesn’t seem quite such a daunting venture.
Back at the campsite, we met a very interesting German
guy, Thomas, who had an enormous, 1963, converted military
truck. He was heading off to Morocco. Amazing what type of
vehicles can be converted into comfortable living quarters.
We shared some beers and chatted. Maybe we’ll catch up with
him later along our route.
Another slowish morning but we
knew we only had 50km to drive to get to Gibraltar. This was
a very significant day for Neil as he has spent so much time
in Gibraltar with work, dreaming about the day when he would
drive through on his way home.
It was an easy drive, interspersed with increasingly
impressive views of the Rock of Gibraltar. It is an
awe-inspiring rock which seems quite a fitting end to
Europe, although the place itself is really quite bizarre.
Gibraltar feels more British than Britain in some ways, and
yet also is so Spanish in others.
We drove across the border and airport runway, and parked
in Morrison's. After catching up with Neil’s friend Corin
with whom we are going to stay, we wandered around the
centre. Its’ a Spanish public holiday so it was packed. M&S,
Next, Bobbies on the beat. We couldn’t really play the
nostalgia card having only been out of UK for 10 days, but
it is quaint all the same.
Corin and Jo live across the border in La Linea. On the
way out we got pulled over and searched – the first, and
most polite, of many border controls, I am sure. After a
snoop around they waved us on and wished us safe travels.
We had a fantastic meal out with Corin and Jo in an
Argentinean Tapas bar. Delicious, hearty food and beer
served in ceramic pots which they keep in the freezer. It
was great to be eating out with friends and we had a good
laugh. They have a great flat where we are going to stay for
a couple of nights to get ourselves sorted before the real
A slow morning and early afternoon and
great to have a flat in which to relax, update the website and do
some washing. We headed out in Gibraltar in the afternoon and
stocked up in Morrison’s, not being able to resist our last little
taste of the UK.
This evening was the moment Neil has been waiting for so long –
Patagonia’s, the infamous Argentinean steak restaurant which he had
frequented often with his colleagues. It really was amazingly good
food (with a price tag to match!). I am not sure that I have ever
eaten so much meat in my life, along with some delicious wine. We
now have seven months of rice and char-grilled goat to work that
off but the memory should keep Neil happy until Namibia at least.
Our final day in Europe for a while
was well spent in Gib. We managed to find a garage to fix the uprated anti-roll
kit on to the car (slightly late you may say, but at least in time
for us to hit Africa in our mended and very heavy vehicle!)
Leaving the car at the workshop, we walked up the Rock of Gibraltar. The weather was
sun-screen hot and there were clear views across to Morocco. We
climbed the ‘Mediterranean Steps’ around the back of the Rock. It
was still and deserted – a real wonderland of rock and sea. We also
saw the famous barbary apes, which are cute and quite funny – from a
All in all it was a good day also visiting St Michael's caves and the Great Siege Tunnels which Neil never really had time to do on umpteen trips to Gib.