Old wrecks and big guns

22. Feb, 2018

Some 40 kilometres north of us here in Isla Plana is the city of Murcia.  40 kilometres as the crow flies that is.  Because of the hills between us and there, by road it is more like 80km. Because of her unique planning skills, Jane Tom-Tom took us a route which ended up at least 100km long, as we had to over-ride her so often. I think she has finally had a nervous breakdown.  The aim was to get to the Burstner caravan dealers mid- morning, then go into Murcia for a coffee and a wander round.  We ended up having a coffee in a roadside café at noon 40km short of our destination and arriving at the shop, after directions from the postman, just before it closed for lunch.  However the replacement for the broken breakaway cable was in stock, as was the catch for the bathroom door which had sheared off in the middle of the night last week when Lesley blundered into it, half-asleep and needing the loo, so it was not a wasted trip.  

On into Murcia, where we parked in a typical Spanish underground car park in the centre.  We learned some time ago that on occasions like this it is better to plunge into the nearest car park, whatever the price, rather than spend hours driving in circles looking for somewhere better and getting hopelessly lost.  This time we emerged right in front of the town hall where there were pretty flower beds and fountains, just round the corner from the Episcopal palace and the cathedral.  The front of the cathedral is an amazingly Baroque confection, completely disguising the old 14th century original.  On the way in I made the mistake of giving some change to a beggar.  Of course he chased after us complaining that I had not given him enough.  It’s the last time I’ll make that mistake- I’ll go back to the studiously ignoring mode in future.  Inside the cathedral was interesting, but not startling.  Seen one cathedral seen them all, some would say.  There was very little by way of a central nave, the space being occupied by a huge choir stall and organ. In fact, big though it was, I suspect it would have seated no more than 100 worshippers.   There were side chapels all round the edge, some of which were quite amazingly decorated.  Then a church official came and ushered everyone out as the place was closing for lunch.  I suppose even God has to have a lunch break.

Making sure we left the cathedral by a different exit, to avoid the beggar, we then wandered round the city centre for a while.  The centre is pedestrianised, with narrow streets lined with lovely old buildings.  The modern part of the city, or what we saw of it, was unattractive.  At one end of the precinct was a display of Rodin sculptures, on temporary loan from France, which was interesting.  Back in the cathedral square we stopped at a pavement café for some lunch, and then tried to find our way home.  This time I would go MY way, not Jane’s way.  This involved taking the motorway to the west of the city, towards Lorca, then cutting south to Mazarron.  Could we find the motorway?  Hah. And when we found it could we find the way onto it?  Hah again. We did eventually, and found our way home in the end.
  
Cartagena is just 20km east of us, but the road there climbs over quite a steep range, going from sea level to about 1,000 feet and back down again in the space of about 5 miles.  We set off in good time, with a cool box, aiming to see Cartagena in the morning and then drive on to La Manga for a picnic on the beach.  Cartagena is a very ancient port, founded originally by the Phoenicians, taken over by the Carthaginians (hence its name) then the Romans.  It was the prime port for the exportation of the gold, silver and lead mined locally.  It is currently one of the bases for the Spanish navy and is developing quite an upmarket marina.  We parked underneath the promenade (Spain is so much better at car parks than any other country in Europe), surfaced and sat having  a coffee while looking at the posh yachts. On display on the promenade is the submarine built in 1888 by Peral, a native of Cartagena, and behind it is the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Maritima, an impressive modern building housing displays of how they have explored and preserved the many wrecks around this coast from Phoenician sailing boats to stately galleons.   Of course that is the reason why we have seen so many diving schools and clubs around Isla Plana and La Azohia.  There is a huge concentration of wrecks around here.  As a reward, old wrecks like us (pensionistas or Jubilados) are allowed in the museum free, which was a bonus.  

After a short walk round Cartagena’s old quarter, where there are once again some fine old buildings and some Modernista ones, not to mention two Roman theatres, we set off towards La Manga and the Mar Menor.  This is an area we had heard so much about and were looking forward to seeing it in the flesh.  The Mar Menor is a salt lagoon, sheltered from the sea by a 13 kilometre sand bank known as La Manga.  There is a huge campsite there which is extremely popular with over-wintering Brits, and we expected there to be some development and perhaps some nice beaches where we could have our picnic.  Well, as the Mar came into view, we could not believe our eyes.  Tower blocks of apartments and hotels as far as the eye could see.  We immediately realised there would be no picnic on the beach so we pulled off the road well inland and ate our butties in a nature reserve, watching a pair of crested larks foraging in the scrubland in front of the car.  

We drove on to the lighthouse at Cabo de Palos for a view across the bay, then having come this far had to drive up La Manga.  The whole peninsular consists of a four lane dual carriageway, lined with hotels and apartments, shops, bars and restaurants.  Nowhere to walk or stroll except along the side of this road, which I would imagine in season to be a tad busy.  Side streets lead down to a beautiful beach on the seaward side, or to a calm shallow beach on the Mar Menor, but there is no promenade, no way along the beach other than on the beach itself, and there was no sign of any beachfront cafes or restaurants or beach bars or anything.  And this goes on for eight miles, to almost the tip of the peninsular. It makes Benidorm look like a quaint little village in comparison.  It is such a popular place that in summer it is heaving.  Sorry, not our cup of tea at all.  I’m glad we have seen it, because now we can say we don’t like it with knowledge, rather than just suspecting we wouldn’t. 

Closer by is the headland of Cabo Tinoso, with the lovely little fishing and diving port of La Azohia at its base.  We can see this across the bay from our caravan window, hazy in the morning, golden in the evening, and a whole variety of shades in between.   

La Azohia is one of the ports where they practice the traditional Almadraba method of fishing.  Here they set nets out across the bay and gradually pull them together between the boats until they have a heaving mass of fish, mostly Tuna and Bonito, which are dragged aboard in a huge bloodbath.  We never got to see this, fortunately, as it would not be a pretty sight.  However we did enjoy a proper Spanish meal in one of the restaurants in the village, tuna salad followed by a fritura (a plate of assorted fried fish) then paella. This was followed not by flan, for a change, but by a peach cream for me and a Viennetta for Lesley.  We ate it Spanish style, from one o’clock until three thirty!

Just beyond La Azohia is a small headland crested by the tower of Santa Elena, a 16th century defence tower.  A stiff walk up to it, but well worth it for the views across the bay to the campsite, Isla Plana and Mazarron, with Cabo Cope in the distance.  Then by road from near La Azohia to the Cabo Tinoso itself, an absolutely breathtaking journey of some 10 miles or more which snakes its way up the mountainside, twisting and turning, round hairpins and through narrow cuttings in the cliff face, single track and potholes most of the way. 

At the Cabo is the most surprising relic of the cold war: a full Spanish naval station, complete with huge guns pointing out over the Mediterranean.  Deserted and partly derelict now, it is open to the public to wander round as they please. The guns are, presumably, disarmed, but it is interesting that they are aimed at Libya.  The station itself is built in the fashion of an old castle, and the resultant effect is one of walking round Disney world.   The views from the headland are magnificent, to Cartagena and beyond to the north east, to Cabo de Gata in the south west. It is said that in ideal conditions one can see Africa, but I think that is stretching credibility a bit.
  
We arrived at Camping Los Madriles two weeks ago, intending to stay just a week.  However we have found it such a pleasant site in such a pleasant area that we are still here.  The pitch we have is plenty big enough, room for car, caravan and awning and leaving space at the back of the caravan to sit out in the sun enjoying the view over the bay.  There is an excellent swimming pool complex - an indoor 25 metre six lane pool and an outdoor multi-shaped pool with a Jacuzzi area.  Both are salt water, pumped fresh from the sea each day and heated.  Some days when the sun is hot but a breeze is blowing, it is warmer in the pool than out.  It is well used, with groups of Germans standing around in it talking loudly, sportier types ploughing from end to end.  Around the pool is a tiled area and also a grassed area with sun beds, littered with the aforementioned old wrecks. 

Actually though, as March moves on, many of the over wintering old wrecks are packing up and moving home, their places being taken by a decidedly younger crowd, some may even be as young as 55!  The only disappointment has been that the bar restaurant has not been in full swing.  Most of the time it has been closed, but recently there are signs of life and yesterday menus appeared on the tables outside by the pool. Apparently the guy who runs it has been ill.    
When we arrived here the trees around our pitch were bare, just a hint of a bud here and there.  Now the leaves are bursting and catkins of some sort are setting our noses off!  The site is very well maintained, with irrigation water pipes all around, steadily feeding drips of water to the plants.  These pipes are under quite high pressure as we found to our cost one morning. Looking out of the “dining room” window while we breakfasted we could see a fine mist of water coming from one of the pipe junctions.  Lesley popped out to check and it burst apart, sending a torrent of water past her and into the awning, soaking everything.  I got pretty drenched forcing the pipe back on to its junction.  The maintenance man came to check it out, but  he does not seem to have done much to it. We have been rather wary of it since.   
 
So, most of our days here have been very relaxed.  A trip to the shops some mornings with a coffee in town, a walk along the beach, a game or two of table tennis, a swim, a lounge in the sun……….  Of course there is the feeding of the 3,792 sparrows, four collared doves, three goldfinches and two blackbirds that populate the pine tree on the edge of our pitch. And the contemplation of how on earth I am going to clean the bird poo off the awning roof.

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