Oliva, Spain Saturday, January 31, 2009
Last time I wrote the blog I was sitting in Vilanova listening to the rain beating on the roof of the caravan. Today it is beating again, but this time it is a pleasant (?) change from some of the weather
we have had over the past three weeks. To say we have had a lot of weather would be an understatement.
We arrived in Oliva on a grey day, with light rainfall, but the next few days the sunshine was warm. By the end of the week though the light breeze became a wind, bringing clouds with it. Even then the sun was warm enough to sit out in, when it broke through the clouds. On the night of Thursday 22 January the winds became gale force. I was up a couple of times in the night to check the awning. Lesley lay awake with the lights on as the caravan rocked. In the early hours two or three motor vans lost their awnings. All the next day the caravan was rocking and buffeting. We could go nowhere for fear of losing the awning while we were away. It was really a catch 22 situation. If we had tried to take the awning down it would most probably have blown back and damaged the caravan, probably taking us with it. If we left it up, it would be damaged. I chose the latter and kept everything crossed. During the night the wind rose to such an extent that the previous night's wind was a gentle breeze in comparison. I was up at 4, sleep being impossible. I spent the next 12 hours constantly adjusting the poles, tightening and loosening ropes, re-pegging the guys, and at times simply hanging on to the framework. I thought we had lost it when one of the front zips split and the awning lifted from the ground, but managed to hold it. Later in the morning one of the fibreglass poles showed signs of splitting but a rapid emergency repair with Duck Tape held it. Across the way an elderly Danish couple spent two hours hanging on to their frame, which entailed frequent visits to them to check they were ok. The high hedge around the site came down, causing some caravan damage. People were scurrying hither and thither, checking their neighbours and helping out wherever necessary. And all this was before dawn! It was quite a wonderful international co-operative spirit. When the gale finally died down to a strong wind and damage assessments were made, I felt that we had come off extremely lightly. Needless to say when there was a temporary lull in the wind we took the awning down pronto!
Later that day we were able to check the news and saw how lightly we had got off. The devastation across southwest France and as close as Barcelona was on all the news channels. In the early hours of Saturday morning power lines were blown down near Benidorm, causing a huge forest fire. We first knew of this when we saw the fire fighting planes heading south.
This week the climate has been more like it should be. We have had warm sunny weather, shirtsleeves and even some bikinis seen on the campsite (don't get excited lads, the wearers were all in their 70s). Yet this part of the coast experienced something quite abnormal for Spain. Real Scarborough weather, two days hot sun (21 degrees) followed by a cold damp sea fret. The locals had never experienced such a thing.
So much for the gale, but what about the teeth? Well just before Christmas I lost a large filling at the back of my mouth. My mouth has an inbuilt calendar and I always have some sort of tooth problem just before Christmas. Well this year I ignored it. However by mid January I was starting to worry about what might be happening in there so we contacted an English-speaking dentist to have a look. She was a very nice young lady who expressed astonishment and concern at the amount of metal in my mouth. I explained that my Copmanthorpe dentist considered my teeth to be a masterpiece of engineering.
"Well", she said, "that engineering is reaching the end of its life. You need a lot of work, at least 12 crowns. Your jaw is too heavy. Your teeth cannot carry the weight".
"No", I replied, "let's just treat this one for now."
So she gave me a jab and started poking around with the drill.
"Oh dear, the tooth is too far gone, the decay is in the root, which is what has caused the filling to come out. We will have to take the tooth out. Look" she said as she stuck a mirror in front of me. I could only agree. Another jab.
"You are a big strong man, it will not be a problem"
"I may be big, but that is fat, not strength"
"You are big compared to Spanish men, they are all tiny"
Her hand gestures invited a reply, but I was not quick enough to come back with what may have been an inappropriate response. Five minutes later she was showing me the rotten tooth she had pulled and I went home with a mouth full of cotton wool and €30 lighter, comforted by the thought that an NHS extraction would probably have cost more.
Our three weeks here have not all been doom and gloom, by any means. Lesley will take over and tell you about the good bits......
We're nearing the end of our stay in Oliva on the Costa Blanca and it's been a very mixed experience. Neither the weather nor the campsite were quite what we would have wished for, but nevertheless there have been many things to enjoy. This area is a centre of orange production, and it's amazing to see thousands of orange trees stretching into the distance, all loaded with ripe fruit. The picking season has just started and it still seems to be done entirely by hand. At the same time, the other main crop in this region, almond trees, are just bursting into clouds of white and pale-pink blossom. The speed with which the almond blossom has appeared is amazing, almost as if a switch has been turned on. One day the trees are bare winter branches, the next they are all blossom.
One of the nicest things about spending winter in a warmer climate is that there are always some flowers in bloom. In gardens we've seen all sorts of flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea and mimosa. In the countryside the fields and orange groves are carpeted with wild alyssum and bright-yellow Cape sorrel, and rocky slopes are a mass of gorse and toothed lavender. The sand dunes are covered with mats of Hottentot fig just coming into flower. We've seen some interesting birds, too, including Sardinian warblers, olivaceous warblers, crag martins, hoopoes, black redstarts, and hundreds of white egrets, especially in the rice paddies of Albufeira.
There are plenty of attractive ports and resorts up and down the Costa Blanca, many of them with an old castle on a hill. In fact it sometimes seems as if every hill in Spain is topped with a castle! The most picturesque so far is Guadalest, with its tiny castle and village perched high on a rocky crag, overlooking a lake of extraordinary turquoise water. It's the sort of place that must be purgatory in summer, with coachloads of day-trippers from nearby Benidorm thronging the streets, and souvenir stalls everywhere, but when we went it was pleasantly quiet.
Talking of Benidorm, we just had to go there to see what it was really like - it's not far down the coast from here. We had our first glimpse from a distance, a surreal array of tall, thin towers on the horizon, like a space age San Gimignano. Close up it was simply ugly. No attempt seemed to have been made to make the endless tower blocks attractive, so it was rather like an inner-city high-rise council estate plonked down beside a beautiful beach. And yet Calpe, which also has its share of towering hotels and apartment blocks, was much more attractive. This is mainly due to its stunning natural setting, with the huge rocky outcrop of Penyal d'Ifach looming over it and dwarfing the man-made towers. We saw the rock (which is now a nature reserve) at various times of day and it seemed to change colour from white to golden to red according to the angle of the sun.
Nearer to Oliva is the small port of Denia, and further round the coast the headland of
Cap de Sant Antoni, where the distinctive mountain El Montgo stretches out to meet the sea - fantastic views and interesting flora and fauna. A few miles further is the resort of Xabia, formerly known as Javea, which seems to have gone down the Bombay/Mumbai route. We enjoyed our usual coffee and cake on the very pleasant seafront before carrying on up to the Cabo de la Nao, another headland with fabulous views of the wild rocky coast, reminiscent of the Costa Brava.
We made several trips inland, too, finding that once the tourist-oriented coastal areas are left behind, the scenery and villages are more representative of the real Spain. The orange groves of the plains soon gave way to terraced hills of olive and almond trees, then to high rocky crags - at maybe 2000 feet they're not quite high enough to be classed as mountains, but with such sharp, serrated peaks they resemble miniature Alps. Not for nothing do the Spanish call them sierras, because they look exactly like jagged saws. We came to the old town of Xativa, which was the birthplace of the notorious Borja family, several of whom became popes and italianised their name to Borgia. Some of the buildings even looked Italian, with their deeply-overhanging eaves and covered loggias.
So in a couple of days we'll be moving on, further south, to the Almeria area, and whatever awaits us there! It would be tempting fate to say that we've experienced the worst that the weather can throw at us, but you know what they say - expect the unexpected. Just no more gale-force winds, please!!