Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

A Convertible in December needs sunshine. Lots of it. Good job there’s loads of sun in Spain then.

Marigold Says...

Went to a marvellous beach. Lots of hippy vans and in another section some very posh ones. Had a good look around and decided which one we would have, as usual I chose something old and cranky but brightly painted.

We went down to the beach for a good walk, got halfway and ahead of us was a load of nudists. There were willies everywhere and very bouncy ones as they were playing football. Not wanting to look pervy we decided to go back. G said we could have joined in. I gave him a look and we backed up giggling.

G urgently needed a mouth guard as he’s started to grind his teeth when asleep. He said the dentist told him it’s stress due to living with me. He has bitten through his old one so we phoned a dentist in Spain.

First shock. Can you come in this afternoon? We have been used to being fobbed off with “no appointments for 3 weeks” Even private. We arrived suitably masked. The dentist had a mask on and a Perspex one as well, two gowns and rubber boots. Obviously taking it all very seriously. Oh and this bit was good you tapped the credit card pay machine with a sterilised sponge on the end of a pen. There will obviously be no cases of interfering with patients at that dentist.

Not bad for December, eh?

G Says...

‘Last week, I went to Philadelphia. It was closed.’

That’s a quote attributed to W C Fields and I thought of it recently as we returned to areas that had been thriving and distinctly ‘busy’ on every other visit.

Not any more.

Of course, there are reasons for this, most of them related to a certain pandemic. W C Fields again – ‘The world is such a dangerous place a man is lucky to get out alive.’

Well, quite!

Apanthropy. That’s a condition manifesting itself as an aversion to crowds, from the Greek meaning ‘unsocial.’ An old word I have seen knocking about a fair bit lately as Christmas approaches. Anyone suffering from apanthropy would feel at home in Spain at this time of year if our journey so far turns out to be typical.

Travelling by car means seeking accommodation along the route as distinct from our camper van trips where we were taking our ‘home’ along with us. It’s not much of a restriction in reality as there’s no shortage of hotel rooms in the winter months and there’s plenty of scope for haggling. We almost never pay the advertised price of a room. Turning up at the last minute means it’s a balance between the hotel deciding we are desperate for a roof over our heads and willing to pay an inflated price and our contention that an empty room benefits nobody. On the whole we win the argument more often than we lose.

We’re also avoiding the motorways as we enter Spain. This isn’t with the intention of avoiding road tolls as all tolls on the motorway network have been suspended and dramatic alterations are being made to the areas where once we paid for the privilege of using the road. I imagine an alternative system of road funding is on the way.

The local roads allow stops to be made when we want to stop and look around, avoiding the necessity of waiting until the next exit off the motorway. It takes longer, but we’re in no rush.

We’re well acquainted with the various ‘costas’ of Spain, following the coastline south from the French border and this trip allowed us the opportunity to revisit some favourite places. In particular, we wanted to seek out the places we spent time in during our long stay camper van trips. I won’t burden you with all of them, but here’s a few of our favourites.

San Juan de Terreros used to look very different. When we first came across it there was a beach and not much else. Well, the beach is still there, but there are now hundreds of apartments and villas nearby and the promenade is a work of art, it must have cost a fortune.

We grabbed a cool drink at one of the restaurants – it was Sunday and they were gearing up for the lunchtime rush, but at just after noon we were the only customers. We have parked our various vans just outside the town on several occasions so we went off on a trip down memory lane.

Playa de Los Cocadores is a delightful beach, one of four coves within a short stroll, all of them virtually guaranteed to be free of tourists in the off season. There used to be fifty or so travellers’ vans parked up here and we were happy to see there still are. One mysterious fact soon became apparent: the absence of British registered vans.

Is it the requirement to leave the EU within 90 days? It’s certainly a factor; no more year long trips travelling through Europe for us or anyone else with a British passport. After discussing it with other travelling folk the only alternative choice is to keep on the move and stay under the radar. Avoiding a return to England completely. That’s fine for some, but obviously won’t suit all.

We found a van belonging to people we’d met here on a couple of occasions over the years, but the (Dutch)owners weren’t in residence. It’s an old van, not really a camper van at all, just a ‘van’ and with its distinctive camouflage paintwork it’s hard to mistake. They were parked on a headland away from other residents so we were unable to find out how long they would be away.

We went for a walk on the beaches instead. There were nudists playing football at the far end of one beach who waved and seemed friendly but Marigold decided she wasn’t up to chatting with a dozen naked people on this occasion. You’re either in the mood or you’re not.

The road to Vera, fabulous name and home to one of the biggest nudist beaches in Europe, maybe the biggest, follows the coastline and is delightful. Along the road there are viewpoints, at one of which I have taken a photograph of Marigold on at least a dozen occasions in the past, but today was deemed a ‘bad hair day’ so I was obliged to be an unworthy substitute.

We intended going to see an old mine we’ve often thought about visiting, the Pulpí Geode, also known as the Giant Geode. Unusual name for a very unusual geological feature, the Geode is in one of the largest crystal caves ever found, and is the largest accessible geode in the world.

It was once a silver mine which closed long ago without anyone ever realising what else was tucked away underneath the mining excavations. In 1999 a group of mineralogists from Madrid dug a little deeper and discovered a unique feature. It’s been open to the public for a couple of years, but turning up on a Sunday, during a pandemic, didn’t turn out to be much of a good idea.

For those of you not well versed in mineralogy, that certainly includes us, a geode is basically an empty space formed from an air bubble inside volcanic, metamorphic or sedimentary rock and filled with crystals formed from mineral deposits. There, I suspect you will all treasure that information.

The Giant Geode measures 8 metres long by 2 metres high, and is covered with huge translucent gypsum crystals up to 2 metres in length. The transparency, size and state of preservation of this geode make it a must see item on any geologists’ bucket list.

As long as they don’t arrive on a day when there’s no sign of life at all. The blow was somewhat eased when we saw the admission charge would have been 22 euros each. We felt slightly less deprived after that.

We didn’t bother with the nudist beach at Vera, but we did manage a fully clothed ramble on the ‘textiles’ section. It was deserted, but by now we were getting used to that. This stretch of beach is reputed to be where Hannibal’s war elephants came ashore in Roman times. Today, a single dog was the only beach invader.

We didn’t examine ourselves for suspicious bumps or lesions, even though the memory of that brilliant Netflix drama ‘Chernobyl’ was still fresh in our minds. This area saw one of the most significant and scary incidents of the nuclear age. On January 17, 1966, a U.S. B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane in mid-air during refuelling above the small fishing community of Palomares, adjacent to Vera. The B-52 bomber was carrying four thermonuclear bombs, which went down with the plane. The parachutes on two bombs failed to deploy and they both detonated upon impact. The nuclear warheads did not themselves detonate, but the explosion spread much radioactive material, including a uranium and plutonium, dust cloud across the fields of Palomares.

The third hydrogen bomb was recovered relatively intact, its parachute did the job, while the fourth bomb, despite an extensive search was only recovered from the sea bed by local fishermen 80 days later. After what became known as the ‘Broken Arrow’ accident, all flights involving nuclear weapons were prohibited over Spanish territory.

As part of the clean up operation, 1,400 tons of soil were removed from the site of the crash and taken to America for disposal. As for the remaining acreages, the land was covered over with a fresh layer of topsoil and left alone. Plutonium is one of the most toxic materials imaginable and as it degrades into americium it takes 24,400 years for even half of the stuff to dissipate.

Since 1966, air monitors have been installed around Palomares, crops and animals are regularly examined, and a sample of local villagers have to undergo physical examinations every year. As for the surrounding fields, they’re still radioactive and will be for thousands of years.

This dreadful situation was not just down to the United States government’s persistent failure to deal with the problem. General Franco, the infamous Spanish dictator, was in power at the time and medical records were destroyed or suppressed due to Franco being determined to ensure the disaster shouldn’t be allowed to threaten Spain’s fledgling tourism industry.

In 2006, forty years after the event, the US and Spain finally began a further clean up of the site and added more extensive medical testing of local residents. A large expanse of land was fenced off by the Spanish government in 2004 and remains a ‘no-go area’ to this day. We found the fence but weren’t remotely tempted to investigate beyond it.

The US did provide a desalination plant on the beach at Vera as compensation for the devastated locals, but as this was largely a rural area at the time with a low population density it was never used. The Vera Playa Club Hotel now stands on the site of the unused desalination plant, the epicentre of the naturist movement in Spain.

A peaceful spot for a cool drink

Plenty of camper vans and motorhomes but no Brits

Yes, there's our car. Gold star to those with good eyesight

They're not all big, fancy Motorhomes. Not all painted white either

This was the most crowded beach we saw all day

Marigold battling her way through the crowds

My favourite

Marigold's favourite

No, this is the one Marigold REALLY wants

Deserted beach at Vera

Empty beaches everywhere.

Apart from a dog we did see a few ducks

This was supposed to be a photo of ducks until a Great Crested Grebe walked into shot

We weren't tempted to climb over this fence!

Not my photo, but just in case you wondered what the inside of a geode looks like.

There's more to come, folks...

We based ourselves in a favourite place, Mojacar, for a spell. We still like it even though I had a heart attack there on our last visit. We don’t hold grudges.

Taking a break from long distance travel we took the opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, but still went out occasionally for ‘day trips.’ Having missed out on a trip to a monastery a few miles inland on quite a few occasions we set off to rectify that omission on a bright sunny morning. We’d made careful plans prior to setting off.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Typically, we knew the name of the monastery and that it was ‘just past Albox.’ How hard could it be to find a monastery?

Ah well, we got to Albox easily enough. We decided nothing would ever persuade us to consider living in Albox. An impression based entirely on ten minutes driving through its narrow streets.

Harsh? Yes, probably, but as the return journey only reinforced our opinions, maybe not so harsh. We did find a signpost indicating the road for the Monastery of the Virgin of Saliente. That was the easy bit done.

After five miles or so of winding, empty roads Marigold reached the point at which she started on a familiar refrain. ‘If it’s not round the next bend we come to, forget it. We’re going back.’ I kept on going with these words echoing in my left ear for quite a few more miles. By then Marigold’s oft repeated remark was making more and more sense. There were no helpful signs and although there were plenty of hills nothing resembling a monastery was to to be found on the summit of any of them.

Suddenly, there it was. As promised. A vast terracotta building perched on a hill with stunning views across a valley. Journey’s end.

Its history is a familiar one. A simple farmer’s son named Lazarus was caught on a mountainside with his mules and donkeys during a violent storm and afterwards claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. After visiting priests heard the story it was decided to build a chapel nearby to commemorate this vision. Work began in 1712 and took four years to complete.

The chapel became such a popular place of pilgrimage that extensions were made and by the time of our visit the building was very far removed from being a simple chapel. It is huge.

As is common in Spain, an annual pilgrimage is involved, from the town of Albox to the Monastery of Saliente on 8 September every year. The Virgin of Saliente figurine is paraded through the town of Albox and carried up the mountains amid a vast procession of villagers and visitors to her home in the chapel of El Santuario.

Many hundreds of people come from all over Spain to walk the twelve miles from Albox to the monastery. It’s a festive occasion, but extremely arduous as the route is along the Rambla, a rough, stony and distinctly uneven track leading from the town to the hilltop.

We’d looked at sections of the Rambla on the way and wouldn’t fancy walking a dozen miles along it on a hot day. Or even on a cool one!

Even more impressively, if that’s the right word, many of the walkers make the journey barefooted as penance for their sins.

We marvelled at the views from the large terrace and I was asked on several occasions to take a photograph of cyclists, using their own phones obviously, presumably as proof they had reached the top of a daunting climb. It’s obviously a popular cycling destination, the all year round version of the pedestrian pilgrimage.

What about the interior of this splendid building though? Ah, that’s where our customary absence of forward planning came into play. The monastery is closed on Tuesdays. Armed with that information we could have made this trip on the following day. Or the day after that, but we didn’t.

Marigold insisted that a photograph of the interior was possible by use of flash through the narrow grill on the impressive front doors. The result wasn’t too impressive.

As we were leaving a rather scruffy middle aged man approached us and told us the monastery was closed today. We’d already, long since, realised that, but he turned out to be very helpful and offered to allow us a ‘peek’ inside as he had a key to the doors. We could not enter, of course, as it was Tuesday. Rules are rules.

Our new friend opened the doors, very briefly, so we could see what we had been missing. In answer to Marigold he said he wasn’t a monk, the idea amused him greatly, he worked at the restaurant round the back which was, obviously, also closed on Tuesdays.

We drove back down the hill, pausing only to take another look at the Rambla and be grateful we were in a car and hadn’t walked the dozen miles along this rough track barefoot from Albox. At least the pilgrims have enough sense not to make the trek on Tuesdays.

Onwards now, still following the coast downwards. Alarmingly, we have plans in place. The prospect is terrifying.

The monastery is a bit more than a basic chapel these days

They're a bit fussy about the plants. No idea why as there's a few scruffy cacti and that's about it

When it comes to erecting a monastery, it all comes down to position, position, position

Marigold checking on what's inside

If we use flash... No idea why Marigold has a mask on, there's only me there

Here's the result. Yes, I know, it's rubbish

A lot easier with the door open

We still didn't get to go inside, but this captures the ornate interior pretty well