Our route takes us past the turn-off to the Alpujaras, where we spent considerable time three years ago and we feel the pull, but despite the urge to turn off we carry on down towards the coast. We park on the outskirts of Motril and cycle in to see Dr. Nur at his clinic. He welcomes us warmly and gives Frank another full health check (and I’m very happy to report that Frank is even healthier than last year). We’d been hoping we could invite him for a meal chez restaurant Rozelaar, but unfortunately he has no time to see us socially, he’s such a hard-working man…
It is already dark when we leave Motril in search of the sea, and it feels like the end of one chapter and the beginning of another as we rumble along a dirt track in search of a parking space, having traversed Spain coast to coast. When we think we’ve got completely lost, I walk on a bit further on a recce and discover half a dozen campervans snuggled up close behind some large clumps of bamboo. A friendly person waves us into a place. We switch off the motor and fall into bed. Discovery has to wait until tomorrow…
We wake up to the sound of the waves lapping onto a long, clean beach. Very tempting for an early morning skinnydip
It’s a motley crew here on this piece of abandoned land at the end of a bumpy track, Germans, British, French, Spanish and José from I don’t know where. Not sure if he knows either. He speaks many languages fluently and has spent a number of years living in Morocco. He’s a fountain of knowledge; not just about places we should go and visit or those we should avoid, but he also gives us many useful hints about Moroccan culture.
Our stay on this beach turns into a couple of days’ lessons on Morocco. His love for the country shines through and it is very encouraging to hear him speak about how safe it is to travel there and how friendly the Moroccans are.
One lunchtime, we share a meal together, fish freshly cooked on our BBQ and I play with his dog who not only brings you a ball but first nudges you to play, then barges you and finally bites you if you don’t react! Eventually ‘papa’ José puts his foot down and wedges the ball between two branches high up into a tree and we can eat in peace.
I spend best part of two days ringing around different health and car insurances to try and make us safe and secure ( as much as one ever can be), to no avail. It seems that between the fact that Frank is over 70 and that we have already left the UK, no-one wants to insure us for Morocco. How very frustrating. This is a lesson we have learnt: sort out insurance before you go, even if you only really need it half way through your trip…
(One week later, we find both car and health insurance, but at a hefty price. Needs must…)
The days fill themselves with preparation for Morocco. We need to find various items and also fill up with LPG (apparently we can’t get this refilled in Morocco). We ask José what are good gifts to take with us and he recommends beer and chocolate.
After a few days, we travel on to pay a surprise visit to Dani in Alhaurin el Grande, the mechanic who helped us so much in our first year. He’s pleased to see us, even touched when he hears that we haven’t come because of a mechanical problem but just to see him.
At Dani’s garage, we meet Alain a frenchman who works for NGO’s all over the world and has strong connections to Morocco. Again, we hear only positive things about the country and the people. for example, he tells us of a fishermen’s initiative near Agadir, who established a ban on fishing with nets on a long stretch of coastline. This ban promoted a greater variety of marine life, resulting in one of the healthiest stocks of fish in the area. He tells us about the negotiations he is involved in, bringing the government and the locals together to aim for a sustainable industry. Alain adds pens, pencils and sharpeners, paper etc. to the list of things we might want to take as gifts. He is a marine biologist, so most of his recommendations for special locations concentrate on coastal areas. Our map is filling up with handwritten directions, and we are starting to get excited about visiting all these places we hear about.
We travel on, staying overnight in a remote place in the mountains before once more descending to the sea. Our next port of call is San Pedro, near Marbella, to meet up with Tina (mother of one of Yolanda’s friends). It is lovely to see her and to have a good chat – when you are travelling, it’s rare to meet someone you’ve known for a long time, so we delight in catching up with each other and to share our experiences as mothers and women who are in this precious stage of transition through menopause.
The area of Marbella and San Pedro is really British – and also Russian – expat land. Check out this advert for curtains:
There is a place in between the San Pedro and Marbella where the feeling is really quite hard, with armed security on the entrances of huge shopping centres and many signs in Russian. But in contrast to the many high-rise buildings, ostentatious hotels and shops after shops, the sea is one beautiful long stretch of sand or at times pebbles, the water is very clear and there is a beautiful long promenade one can cycle along. In fact, in our fruitless search for good maps of Morocco, we cycle for miles and miles in both directions, enjoying the sea air and one evening even watching a dolphin jump and hunt for fish.
We spend a couple of quiet nights near San Pedro in an abandoned car park by a closed hotel. Off season, it’s very quiet here – the only car that comes by once an hour is the security guard who on the first night reaches for his baton when we approach him, but he soon realises we are harmless. We have late night or early morning dips in the sea, roll out our yoga mats on the abandoned wooden walkways in the mornings, and during the day we do a lot of research online for our pending Moroccan adventure, using the hotel’s internet connection (Thank you!).
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We wake up to a lovely sunny morning and after a shower and internet session at Chela’s house, we take a walk to Irene’s Finca la Furriola to see how her project has come on. In this part of Dilar, the constant sound of burbling water accompanies you everywhere – the moorish system of water distribution is still functioning here, bringing water to the many terraces of olive trees and vegetables. We walk along the road, occasionally taking a short-cut down one terrace along one of these burbling brooks. It’s a beautiful day; the air is crisp, it’s warm, the sky is bluer than blue and the landscape is in full technicolour. We’ve brought our yoga mats, so the first thing we do when we get there is to have a Yoga session together on the roof terrace of the newly restored school building.
Irene and her boyfriend Mateo have worked hard in the last year to bring life back into the land and restore the old building to make it useable for their project. Irene runs various courses there, including Ayurvedic medicine/nutrition. We didn’t meet Mateo as he is currently working in France, but we could sense that between the two of them this project will be successful. Finca Furiola has a special feeling to it, a sheltered, healing space, one where life slows down to a more natural pace, where even chairs have their individual characters. Irene is very knowledgeable in what she teaches.
After a delicious lunch of only home-grown ingredients, we walk back to our Emma, picking some super-ripe, sun-warmed Kaki fruit off her tree for our dessert as we walk past. It is time to move on; we have an appointment with Dr. Nur in Motril in a couple of hours.
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Almost three years ago, we spent a week parked up outside Estrellarte, a circus space just South of Granada. We made nice connections with some of the people at the time, so we are curious as to whether the space still exists and would love to reconnect with some of its members, especially Irene, who at the time was also in the beginning stages of an education project on her own land.
I don’t find any indication online that Circus Estrellarte is still going, so we are happily surprised to see that it is still open and thriving with young people, albeit an almost completely different set of people to a few years ago. The big murals have been painted over white and indoors everything looks cleaner, more orderly, open and welcoming.
We ask if we can stay for a night or two and after a couple of FB enquiries, are given the go-ahead.
That evening, Irene drops by. We share some tea in our van and catch up with what she’s been up to in the last few years. She looks very different, rounder, more grounded, happier. She has found a good man to help her with her project and they have worked hard to restore the old barn on the land, to clear and maintain the trees, to grow vegetables and to start teaching various groups.
We don’t have that much time to chat as Irene is on her way to a birthday party, but we agree to come and see her place the following day. We go to the party together, but it turns out to be a women-only event, so Frank walks back to the van…
Chela has invited a group of women to celebrate not only her birthday but also the fact that she has just become a grandmother for the second time. She is a lovely smiley and energetic woman whose favourite word seems to be to say yes. It’s a lovely group of women of all ages and I enjoy sharing an evening in such diverse company. I chat for a long time with a first-time pregnant woman as we both reflect on the ritual nature of our state of being, her entering motherhood and me entering menopause. We share how we both sense the opening of a door, the widening of horizons and how we feel excited about beginning a new stage in life.
I enjoy watching Chela celebrate her life and celebrate her friends, moving from one woman to another, smiling and embracing them. She asks for a dance in her honour and everyone joins in. She brings out a huge ham and everyone practices their way of cutting fine slices off it. She digs up 58 balloons from behind the sofa, one for each year of her life, and invites everyone to help popping them. There is a childlike grace about her when she unwraps some presents and it looks like every present is just right for her, a handknitted wollen hat, a scarf, Argan oil, some earrings…
I wonder what it would be like to dance Tango with her, with that vibrant energy. She doesn’t know Tango yet, so I offer to teach her some the next day. She happily accepts and invites Frank and I to come round for lunch. Irene will come too.
When we arrive around 11am the next morning, she has only just got up – the party had continued until 5am! So we start with a leisurely breakfast on the terrace of her beautiful house before heading into a luscious Tango session. When Irene arrives, we make some lunch from the leftovers of the party and then decide to all go to a hot spring near Santa Fe.
We’d heard about that hot spring three years ago, but we’d been advised against going because of a big rave happening there at the time. Now we all pile into Irene’s car and head off towards Santa Fe.
Unless you are with someone who knows how to get there, you’d have a hard time finding it. Somewhere, Irene turns off the main road onto a smallish road which soon turns into a dirt track which we follow for a number of kilometres, turning right here and left there. Eventually, we turn off the track into an olive grove and Irene wends here way up the hill amongst the olive trees. I can’t believe what I am seeing: it looks like hundreds of cars have gone up this hill in between the trees – everywhere I look the earth is compacted! There are some mobile homes parked at the top and all around you can spot them amongst the trees. But not of the plastic fantastic type, more like converted lorries and military vehicles. Ours would look very run of the mill amongst them, although there is no way we would venture up here with Emma anyway!
Everything looks pretty grungy and a cloud of dope-scented smoke hangs over the pond that is the hottest spring, according to Irene. Don’t look or think too hard about what is around you or in the water, just jump in and enjoy the warmth and hope you don’t fall ill afterwards!
I did enjoy the heat of the sulphurous pool, the tumbling power of the water coming out of a pipe, the company of two fantastic women and of course my precious husband, but the hot spring itself is not something I would want to return to or could recommend. It is too run down…The spring and nature around it felt abused. What a shame! However, it did do us good because when we got home, I fell into bed and slept a deep and untroubled 12 hours!
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We can never resist an open air hot spring within 50km of our route. The name of this town says it all, it’s Arabic for ‘water’.
We stop at a petrol station along the way, also refilling our tank with water. A man is curious to see our camper, so we invite him to have a look inside. Soon, our conversation gets transferred to the local tapas bar and we hear his story too – he’s a heart surgeon in Granada and he too loves to travel with a Campervan, although much shorter stints due to his working schedule. Last year he went to Tuscany with his family. He calls us Paco and Lora, so let’s call him Pepe. It is fascinating listening to his passionate account of operating, sometimes on beating hearts! During the stories we get plied with various delicious home-made tapas and are encouraged to sample the local honey.
Pepe tries to dissuade us from going to the open air hot spring in Alhama and suggests an indoor, natural cave. But for me, the whole attraction of the hot spring is that it is under an open sky…
We move on, up the hill through beautiful Olive and Almond groves. The light is stunning and we seem to be the only ones on this lovely, winding road. After about 1 hour we’ve covered the 22km and we enter Alhama de Granada from the north. After some enquiries from the locals and a kind English man doing an advanced recce returning with an ‘ok’, we venture with Emma into the gorge to where the hot spring is. A parking attendant in a high viz jacket and a peaked cap takes 3 Euros and tells us it’s ok to stay the night. We consider ourselves lucky until the real official comes and tells us under no circumstance can we stay here and there is no parking fee. Ah, well, we’ve been had…
The spring is not really recommendable, it feels like getting the leftovers from a party that happens elsewhere. The water comes out of a man-made chute below the spa hotel and it’s not really hot, just tepid. Nevertheless, we have a good time, chatting to people. I get my first good go at talking to some Moroccans. They have fun trying to understand my garbled Arabic. They laugh a lot and give me corrections and encouragement.
The next day, we are not tempted to go back down to the spa but instead, we go for a walk into the gorge upstream.
It is impressive how the river has dug itself deep into the rock. This walk is well worth doing, despite the strong smell of sewage at its outset.
The second evening, we go to find the natural cave that Pepe recommended, but it is closed. There is a nice lake not far away where we find a spot to stay for the night. This is our vista the next morning:
For more photos of this chapter click here
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Seeing as Adriene has accompanied us for best part of this year, I think it’s time we introduce her to our readership. I came across Adriene in May when I stayed on my own in Napoli during Frank’s week-long trip to Southern France.
I was looking online for a suitable Yoga programme that I could follow for a week or so. By the time Frank came back, I was hooked to the light-hearted but serious, gentle but profound style of Yoga offered by this smiling lady from Texas. Frank joined me and together we embarked on her 30 day yoga challenge – the challenge not so much being the Yoga in itself but the fact that you had to do it every day without fail. It did prove to be challenging but we managed. The venues included sunny mornings on Italian beaches as well as rainy days under porticos, windy days on car parks, sunrises on mountain tops and snowy days inside leisure centres.
We even convinced a few people along the way to join us.
This one month programme is a great intro to Yoga and to they way Adriene sees it. It comes with little love letters she writes to you, encouraging you along, coaxing you, letting you feel that you are part of a large community. And with 2 million followers on her youtube channel, I think she has a point.
There is a great progression over the month, from being taken by the hand and shown every move to gently being led to explore what feels good for yourself, to find your very own Yoga.
I’ve learned 3 things from Adriene and her Yoga:
1) Through her insistence to ‘Feel What Feels Good’ I’ve listened into my body telling me how to move, and this showed me that Yoga, just like Tango, is an improvisatory form. Sure there are shapes one can make to get the feel of it, lessons one can take to be inspired, techniques on can learn to challenge oneself. But ultimately it is a conversation between you and your body.
2) Yoga has shown me ways to relax into a tension. The day that starts with Yoga will have me more relaxed for the rest of the day, as my body remembers how good it felt on the mat and repeats this when I walk, chop wood, dance, write the blog or simply lie down for a rest.
3) I’ve learned to meet a pain or tension with a more neutral curiosity rather than trying to move away from it, and this too has spread beyond the mat and made me more equanimous on the whole.
Adriene’s lesson can be found for free on youtube, or you can subscribe and become a member of her community.
Thank you, Adriene, you are AH-WESOME !
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