We had fully intended to be back in Spain at the end of November. However events overtook us and we finally began the long trek back on Wednesday 29th January 2014.
With a change of car from a 5.5 litre monster to a far more modest one we were anticipatedly looking forward to see just what a difference it would make to the cost of the 1500 mile journey. It turned out that our new vehicle – a Mercedes A160 named Amie which although a long wheelbase could still classed a small car – proved herself to be rather Tardis-like.
From necessities like tea, coffee, Marmite and Tamari, gel heel pads, pharmaceuticals, i-pads, laptops and printer cartridges to a mini library of tantalising new books, spice grinder and glowplugs for the recalcitrant Mitsubishi – everything seemed to remarkably just fit.
Determined to both enjoy and shorten the journey, a crossword book and a sudoku one (I was determined to learn a new skill), plus a William James book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and, to brush up on our Spanish – “Caliz del Fuego” in both Spanish and English – there’s nothing like a bit of Harry Potter.
It was pouring with rain and within a few hours I began to regret two things, not having had (1) the squeaky windscreen wiper motor fixed and (2) a replacement windscreen fitted. Amie had sustained a ‘spider’ crack (technical term) from a lorry chucking a stone at her a week or so before, but as it was below our line of vision we ignored it.
Now, the spider’s leg had grown an inch upwards from the impact point and was so obvious I fixated on it for the rest of the journey to Felixstowe. Ahead of schedule and making inroads into the £27 worth of M&S salads we reflected gleefully that we were doing well over 50 miles to the gallon.
France seems to be embarking on a programme of building lots of new roads and services (aires), consequently lots more unmanned peages are springing up to finance them but oh such a pleasure to travel on them. Last reserves of thermos hot water, we resorted to the new never-used kettle but it heated up its contents and then blew the cigarette lighter fuse. No matter, said Joe. We’ll just open up the fuse box and use the one from the rear electric windows, but that also blew. We resigned ourselves to not being able to charge up mobiles or i-pad and reducing beverages to thermos only.
First night stop Tours. We drove around for about half an hour and finally found an Ibis Styles, a new contemporary ‘budget’ hotel which cost 105 euro, but sadly lacking full speed wifi – the internet connection restricted to a PC in the lobby. Clean, shiny, warm. Breakfast choice not great when you’re a part-time vegetarian who doesn’t eat wheat and tries to avoid processed sugar products.
Thursday 30th, we made an early start and made very good progress until we hit a long line of lorries approaching the Spanish border at San Sebastian. We’d had this sort of hold-up before when there was about 10 miles of lorries prevented from crossing the border because of a violent Atlantic storm. The cause of this one was far more tragic – the sobering sight of a lorry that had got itself impaled on the central crash barrier. The Pyrenees loomed dark and threatening, but as we continued down through Spain and had got past the Basque weirdness, it all started feeling like home.
Snow on the high plains between the Atlantic coast and down to Madrid, and at one stage we were on hairpin bends at 5,000m with much reduced visibility but the continual squeak of the wiper motor was of less consequence than the worry that the motor was on its way out because we couldn’t now get full speed wipe. Also, because of the camber and twists, the spider had grown its one good leg by another inch. I had a minor panic with “what if’s” but eventually got the picture that nothing here was life threatening!
Madrid is always a pleasure to drive through because of the magnificent new buildings, that is if you don’t get confused by the road signage. It was dusk so we had the benefit of a kaleidoscope of colourful lights.
Fifty miles south of Madrid we struck lucky with an unobtrusive one storey hostelry called Hotel el Puerto on a wide spot in the road called rather grandly Puerto Lapice. Rough white walls and rustic artefacts but immaculate, with service to match – and only 55 euro! We had room no. 1, approached off the grand sitting room with fragrant olive root fire. So cheap we had a salad and chips dinner while Joe wrestled with opening the i-pad to change the sim card without the dedicated tool.
Friday 31st January and a short hop later we passed through Granada and got our first glimpse of the impossibly blue Mediterranean and the first kiss of the sunshine on our faces.
As we turned off the coast road and drove due north towards our mountain, it looked very stormy indeed. I was actually a bit concerned about what we might find as it had been a few weeks since our friends Maria and Roman had been out to check on our damage and found that a tile had come off the roof, and the wood horse blown over onto its side!
The local press and blogs had been full of the damage sustained by properties all around the area around Christmas time and certainly the force of the wind seemed to have surpassed itself, even for mountain areas used to the vagaries of the winter storms. Stories abounded – hurricanes, flooding, and troubles with claims because of lack of scientific fact – structural damage and decimated trees are not sufficient evidence in themselves for some insurance companies it seemed. However, data was found that put the wind strength at storm force 123.5 kph, ie 76 mph.
It all looked ok as Amie motored silently up the drive. And it was ok!! Roman had put the tile back on the roof and nothing out of place. Lots of the cypress trees lining the drive were contorted and bent over, with many wooden stakes snapped but not a single tree lost. The big eucalyptus and the mimosa were leaning over quite precipitously, but nothing much can be done to straighten them apart from removing branches to balance them up.
The Terrano started first time but the Mitsubishi needed the new glowplugs before performing. Unlike all other times when we’d returned after a long absence, the solar power and new inverter churned out power and the internet buzzed. Everywhere looked so clean – both cars and all the windows of the cabin – just like some giant scraggy Maggie scourer had given them a thorough going over in our honour.
How can I talk about negatives at such a time of good fortune, euphoria and bright sunshine, but I will anyway – such minor stuff though. I’d forgotten to clean out the big fridge freezer so it was festooned with black mould. The almacen door lock was jammed as though someone had tried to force it. On firing up the new shiny red generator (started first pull), it started leaking petrol. The electric water pump underneath the house was also leaking.
Got the fire on, wrote to everyone that mattered to say we were safe, I had a half-hearted attempt at unpacking while Joe rid Amie of her salt travel stains. A wooden house is quite unlike a ‘real’ bricks and mortar one, especially in winter. Apart from the small gaps around the wooden windows which let in cold draughts, the little cabin warms up really quickly when the sun shines on it, or when it is warmed with a fire. Thus there is no damp and everything remains fresh and dry. Usually we would find traces of mice, or even rats as they crawl inside to escape winter’s chill, but not this time. Wow, how lucky are we?!
It was a very windy night but Saturday 1st February loomed bright and clear, so we ventured out for some essential supplies and to give the Terrano a run. Couldn’t wait to get back and have a proper wander around the land. There were some fruit tree and nut tree casualties, to be expected with such extremes of weather being as we are at 850m where only the hardiest will survive. The wild boar have been very active everywhere – we still keep asking the question, where DO they get in?
To the increasingly desperate strains of one little lonely partridge calling out below us, Joe started straightening up and re-staking the cypress trees, some of which had become even more bent over than yesterday.
Amid freshening winds, the sunset-pink-tinged storm clouds gathered once more around the summit of La Maroma; we were in for another windy night.
But despite the rattles and shudderings that would take place we knew we would once more wake up with nothing much altered outside. So glad to be home.