Call the Midwife!

There’s worse places in the world to catch the flu than a campsite on a beach near Tarifa so that’s what The Tall One decided to do. The day after Christmas he came down with it really bad, only just managing to summon the energy to walk the 50m down the steps to the sand to soak up the vit D. So much of the last few weeks has been recovering from it, slowly and steadily, and getting back to a level of fitness. As many of you would no doubt agree, having the patience of a saint, I make a half decent nurse (I nearly typed nerd there 🙂 ) so I managed not to poison him with my cooking and managed to go to the shops on my bike all on my own, yes, I’m your very own ‘Call the Midwife’ just with different circumstances.

So, as his energy levels increased and his breathing improved we were able to get out on the bikes, thankfully he was sensible and used as much battery as necessary and didn’t overdo it. Flat rides into Tarifa to sit and watch kite surfers, wind and foil surfers, watch birds from the hide, or eat cakes with a coffee became the medicine of the day. On one ride we found a convent where the nuns are clearly partial to the odd beer or two. Otherwise, it was wandering the shoreline looking for sea glass that may one day become a mosaic coffee table, building dams, watching sunsets and various water sports folks or marvelling at the rock formations that emerged at low tides.

Eventually we were able to get out and about a bit more and tackled the ride we had to turn back from before Christmas due to the weather. A stunning ride, climbing to 4000ft with glorious long mountain views, the ubiquitous Griffon Vultures swirling and a clear enough day to be able to see across to Morocco. Not an easy one, mainly tracks with the odd sections of mud and puddles and bone shaker rocky surfaces but we did it. Won’t bore with you with it but having the bikes really has enabled us to get to off the beaten track places and appreciate the natural surroundings, the gorgeous trees and birds, that flit along with us or glide overhead. I decided that cork trees are one of my favourite’s although stripping their pants off seasonally is cruel! Fascinating stuff though, raw cork! Also in my top three are Eucalyptus, the aroma when warmed by the sun is very evocative.

We had a good time at Torre de la Pena, at times it did seem like a German retirement camp for older men but we met a great family, also full-timing until they settle in rural Ireland from Brunei at Easter. Three smart, confident and fun girls who’ll know doubt take the world by storm, and give mum and dad a few headaches along the way. Anyway, what a fab family, living life to the full. We hope to stay in touch as we have done with lots of people now.

On leaving there, we headed to Arcos de la Frontera. Free park up near the centre, we climbed the steps (slowly!) and wandered through the narrow white painted streets of the Roman and Arab origin’s Old Town. It had the term ‘Noble and Most Royal’ bestowed upon it for its strong resistance efforts against French occupation in early 1800’s. En route to the Basilica we passed the unusual Monumento a la Semana Santa, the tired Palacio Conde del Aguila, a 15th century mix of Gothic and Mudejar styles, evident by its lack of symmetry.

The Basilica de Santa Maria de la Asuncion, however, is the star attraction, a bargain at 4 euros each. Climbing the bell tower as the sun started to soften we were treated to an incredible 360 panorama over the white town and the surrounding countryside. The bells were deafening… we got our timing slightly off! Inside the Basilica (actually its a Basilica Menor) its another example of ‘small town big church’ syndrome. Seriously, the scale was immense. Built on top of an Arab mosque in 15th and 16th centuries, it has some pieces dating to early 1700’s, found on farmland after the conquests. Very old frescoes and gilded chapels side up to a very unusual 3D main alter of prominent figurines.

Wandering back through the evening streets, full of atmospheric light and great miradors overlooking the Guadalete River we stumbled across a super tapas bar, that we later stumbled out of and back to the van. The following morning, we were rudely awakened by their Friday market being set up and the car park becoming a melee of abandonment around the few motorhomes who’d parked overnight. We found some great graffiti celebrating women! Anyway, cobwebs cleared by a local market breakfast and resisting the need to buy fabric, clothes or kitchen utensils, we headed away to Grazalema, one of the most beautiful towns in Spain (with Sentinel, Zahara de la Sierra and Vejer de la Frontera, tick).

A long and winding road took us to a great free Aire again, just below the town, a super spot to set up for a couple of nights. Discovered, when we walked into the town that its known for two things, Payoyo cheese (from the Payoyo goat) and being ‘The Other Pamplona’. Another Pueblo Blanco, we wandered around the two ‘Barrios’ (upper and lower) Barrio Alto was historically poorer and where agricultural workers lived and Barrio Bajo where textile workers resided, the houses grander. There is another reference term for the two barrios but I can’t put that in a family friendly blog, all be it to say that part of a bulls anatomy is involved. The town is also well known for its own Bull Running Event “The Roped Bull from Grazalema” involves the usual, free running bull and lots of idiot blokes who think its fun to taunt it (3 bulls at 3 times of the day) Supposedly dating back to Celtic traditions according to local cave paintings, it doesn’t make it right. My money’s on the bull anyway! Thankfully, the bulls are not ‘harmed’ so the local literature states, but they are all now taking time off from their normal sire duties as a result of their mental health.

Jigsaw really enjoyed the open green spaces there, befriending the local goat herder and a fellow camper from Germany who for once was really chatty! Jigsaw at one point was stalking the sheep, idiot!

Grazalema sits within the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema and with an awe inspiring rock Peñón Grande looming above it and the River Guadalete running beside its a great place to hike and bike. Out on ours, we slogged up to 4000ft through the limestone mountains, with views over the dramatic gorges and below the soaring vultures. Such a clear day, we could see snow on the Sierra Nevada, 180km away. The whole area is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, quite deservedly. The rare Pinsapo Fir tree is protected here. Not sure the pictures do this place justice but our date night meal out in the town was well earned! Next stop, power showers!

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