Plastic bags, lettuces and a carnival

24. Oct, 2018

We arrived in Roquetas with an open mind, to like it and stay or not like it and move on. It is one of those sites that is very popular with the long term winter visitors, but has good write ups and for once is within walking distance to the beach.   We booked in for three nights, but after the first night and Lesley's excellent shower experience the following morning, we extended our stay to ten nights.  Like many long term coastal sites in Spain it is a bit regimented, but unlike many, it is spacious as the campsite has a policy that, during winter months, two pitches are provided for each caravan.  The first night there we just towed right onto the pitch, but having decided to stay next morning we rotated the caravan 90 degrees so it was broadside on to the sun.  The result, once we had the awning up, was caravan, awning and car on the pitch with still plenty of room to sit out in the sun, which is what we seemed to do a lot of over the next week.  In fact, looking back on it, we only had a couple of trips out.

The area around Roquetas is a strange one.  Situated just along the coast from Almeria the twin towns of Aguadulce and Roquetas de Mar, with the campsite situated between them, are the playgrounds as well as residential suburbs for the city. The beach is about three miles long in all, but when one includes the beaches all around the flat peninsular there must be about 50 miles of beach, much backed by low dunes and lagoons.  Unfortunately the colour and texture of the sand is not attractive, being a grey brown grit.  There is the usual mass of hotels and apartment blocks, but not overly so.  Roquetas has an old castle which has been restored and both towns have marinas for both pleasure boats and working fishermen. 

It is the hinterland, between the sea and the mountains and up many of the valleys, that provides this region with its character and its wealth. Prehistorically this was a large delta, rich in alluvial deposits.  It is now one of the driest parts of Europe, and as there has been very little natural vegetation the richness of the soil remains. The warm climate combined with Moorish irrigation channels makes this ideal land for produce.  It is now one giant plastic bag, the greenhouse of Spain.  Mile after mile of plastic greenhouse, some smart and run by multinational agroindustry, others shredding in the wind and derelict, sitting there as their old plastic gets blown out to sea to clog the digestive systems of tuna and whales.  Once all the plastic has blown away then BigCommerce can buy the land for a song and erect new greenhouses, employing the huge army of legal and illegal African immigrants to tend the crops.  It is the price we in Northern Europe pay to get year round supplies of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and strawberries.  
  
As you drive down the little lanes between the greenhouses you come across the ruins of the original farmhouses and wonder what happened to the farmer and his family?  Now and again you see a huge packing station with lines of articulated refrigerated lorries ready to make the dash north to Tesco or Sainsbury.

On our first day we drove along to inspect the promenades and beach at Roquetas.  The castle looked very smart, but was just about to close.  However we did manage to peep through the door to see that actually the inside was a modern museum.  A walk along the seafront and back took us to a little Spanish seafront tapas bar, which turned out to be English owned with supplies of English bric-a-brac!  However we had a nice plate of calamares, spring rolls and cheesy chips, with a beer to wash it down.  

We then drove west to the Paraje Natural Punta Entinas-Sabinar, a long -winded title for a large area of salt flats, marshes and a couple of big lakes with flamingo.  We saw no relative notices at the gateway, and saw other cars there, so on we drove up this rough lane, getting good sights of the flamingo, loads of ducks of all shapes and sizes and a marsh harrier.  Towards the other side we could see a ruined tower, so we headed for that and came out through a little gateway beside it.  Here was a huge notice banning vehicles from the area.  Oh dear!  So we could not go back the way we had come.  There was a road of sorts along the beach, heading towards Roquetas, so we took that.  When we hit Roquetas we also hit rows of bollards at the end of the promenade, so no way out there then.  We veered inland and the road/track petered out into a lake.  Back to the bollards and try another way.  At this point a French African waved us down and pointed us in the right direction.  I had to say I did not believe him at first as the track was rougher than the others, but there were tyre tracks there so we followed it and eventually found our way back to the original entrance.  I had not reckoned on an hour’s offroading that afternoon; for me it was fun, but I’m afraid Lesley was a gibbering wreck by the end of it.  How to cheer her up?  Well, at lunchtime the people at the next table to us in the bar had an order of waffles and ice cream, one of Lesley’s favourites, so back we went!

On another day we went inland from Almeria to an old copper smelting works which sounded interesting.  When I say old, I mean really old.  About 4,000 years old!   Los Millares, which was occupied from 2,700 to 1,800 BC, was the site of Spain’s first metalworking culture.  At its height 2,000 people lived there.  On view are the excavated remains of three city walls, a number of round houses and a couple of smelting rooms. There are also over 100 round dolmen-like tombs.

Archaeologists have reconstructed a part of the site to show what it would have been like. The site is set in what is now a wilderness area, in fact only twenty miles or so from the valley where the Spaghetti Westerns were filmed.  There is a very nicely presented museum with three staff, but as the whole thing is in the middle of nowhere, and poorly signposted, I suspect we were the first visitors since 2013.  

Notably lacking was any sort of a café, so as it was lunch time we headed for the nearest small town, Alhama de Almeria.  This was not exactly on the tourist trail, and eating places were as rare as hens’ teeth (although, strangely, there were a large number of banks!)   There were precisely two options, a pasteleria (a café that sells cakes – delicious but not really a meal) and an old bar, stuck in a time-warp, where all we could get was some very basic tapas (ham, cheese, crisps) and a beer.  Not really a meal either, so after we left the bar we went straight to a supermarket and bought a pack of donuts!!
 
From here we drove up the valley to the Eastern Alpujarras, a much less visited part of the Sierra Nevada valley than the main western end.  The land here is mountainous and eroded into such weird shapes.  Like the coast below it was once a huge deposit of alluvial silt which has fossilised then become exposed and been eroded by wind and rain.  It is a land very rich in minerals and there has been a lot of mining over the centuries, both underground and, more recently, opencast. 
  
But not enough to spoil the landscape of course, as it already looks like a huge opencast mine as a result of the work of nature!  The drive over the Sierra de Gador to get back to the coast was spectacular.

For the rest of our time at Roquetas we did very little.  We had great fun watching the German contingent.  Roquetas is a very German site, and for some reason very popular with elderly German bikers.  There were a lot of motorhomes occupied by single German men, or ones whose wives kept out of sight, all of whom had a huge box trailer containing a very big bike, Harleys and Hondas, with the odd BMW or Ducatti.  Most of the time they would just stand around and talk about them, in their loud booming Germanic voices, but occasionally a few of them would pluck up courage and go out for a ride.  The guy opposite had a very smart bike, but it never moved in the ten days we were there.

Also very prevalent at this site are cyclists.  In fact we felt the odd ones out!  There were two English caravans further up our lane and another in the next road, who all mounted their bikes every morning, in matching helmets and yellow hi viz jackets, to disappear for the day.  There are a lot of cycle routes around Roquetas and Aguadulce and of course the land is very flat.
 
Eventually though it was time to move on.  Lesley was up to date with her washing and I had had enough of seeing old German men posing in their underwear in the shower block.  We had intended to move to Palomares, a little further along the coast near Mojacar, but I read on line that there was a big Mardi Gras parade in a town called Aguilas, a little further on, and there was a camp site close to the town.  I contacted them; they had a space, so here we are at Camping Bellavista.  They say they had space, they did, but that is only because we are all crammed in together!  We are on one of the few pitches where there is room for a car as well as a caravan.  Sadly behind the van, the other side of a wall, is a busy road.  But it is just for a few days for the carnival.  Sadly too the weather has changed.  A cold wind with heavy showers.  A pity, because this is a beautiful coast.
  
On our first afternoon we drove into Aguilas for a recce before the crowds.  During carnival week there is a holiday atmosphere in the town.  The two main streets are lined with seats for the parades (there are four of them on four separate evenings, all identical) and down on the harbour side, where the parades finish, there are stalls for all the usual hot and cold drinks and fast food.  That apart, the town has a couple of attractions.  On the hill in the centre is the Castillo of San Juan, and in the centre of town the Plaza Espagna is particularly nice, with a fountain in the centre depicting a goose being attacked by a snake (why??) and surrounded by elegant buildings.  There are a number of good beaches too.  But that afternoon it was all very closed, for in carnival week this is a night time town.

Although originally Roman, Aguilas really prospered in the late 19th century when the British funded the building of a port and railway line.  Thanks to the export of iron and lead ores and esparto grass, and the import of coal from Newcastle and cement from Catalonia it became one of the busiest ports on the Spanish Mediterranean.  Eventually of course it became cheaper to import minerals from elsewhere and the mining stopped, as did the need for coal and cement. The port closed in 2001.  There is a wonderful old ore loading pier, built by the British in 1905, still preserved.

Yesterday we drove down the coast to Mojacar.  We went through the little resorts we had visited on our first ever trip to Spain, to find not a lot has changed.  The same apartment blocks, the new ones still incomplete.   There’s a huge new Mercadona at Garrucha, but the pet rescue charity shop on the coast road at Mojacar has disappeared, to be replaced by a cancer charity one further up the road.  We stopped for a truly excellent pizza for lunch, then called at Consum for some groceries on the way back.  Mercadona is our supermarket of choice, but occasionally we like to pop into another to see if there is anything different.  Sometimes this can be a mistake.  On our way into Roquetas we had spotted a huge Carrefour, so last week we thought we would try it.  Now usually Carrefour is a nice supermarket, but this one was the pits.  It was more like a '70s KwikSave.  But yesterday Consum provided me with a jar of Old English Marmalade.  I have finished my home made jars I brought with me, and the continentals might make good jam but they have no idea about marmalade!

On the drive back we stopped at a few view points on the coast, but the weather was grey and showery so it was not as it might have been.  On top of that many of the lovely beaches were encircled by free camping motorhomes.  There have always been free campers, people who are able to live from their motorhomes without an electric supply and without the need for site facilities, but this year we have never seen so many.  Quite why is not clear.  The other point about this coast is that they grow spring crops in the open air, not under plastic.  Fields of lettuces, as far as the eye can see.

Back home we prepared for last night’s carnival.  The campsite had posted times of a bus service into town, which was a great help, so at 6pm we boarded an old smelly service bus for the mile and a half into the town.  The town centre was barricaded off and surrounded by the Guardia.  We had been told that we would have to buy a ticket for the seats, but they were all wet and in the open air, rain was threatening again, so we, like many others, opted to stand behind the rows of seats in the shelter of the building overhangs.  Fortunately the rain held off all evening, although it did get a bit cold later on.  We set ourselves up not far after the first corner, which was a good sheltered spot, but, as we found out later, not a good spot to see the best of the paraders, who had worn themselves out performing for the television camera at the end of the first straight!  However it was fun watching some of the bigger floats struggling to get round the corner.  You would have thought that after 25 years on the same route they would have learned.

Barrows were being wheeled up and down the streets selling nuts, popcorn and candy floss.  It was here that we learned the correct way to eat sunflower seeds.  Put it in your mouth, crack it, ease the centre out with the tongue then spit the shell to the ground.  It is always easy to tell the sunflower addicts.  They are up to their ankles in husks.  Still, it’s better than some others, who by the end of the parade were up to their ankles in fag ends.

The approach of the parade was signalled by the police scooter and patrol car, the last dash of the vendors and then the noise.  Noise was to be the biggest event over the next three hours.  Noise was provided by a car towing a high trailer with multiple huge speakers strapped to it and several generators working underneath.  Now I have no knowledge of speakers and amplifiers, but I would expect each car would be towing 50,000 watts of sound.  Each was turned up to maximum volume so that the dancers associated with it could hear their tune over the tune of the next troupe 30 yards down the road.  There were times when the plate glass shop windows behind us were vibrating.
 
Each group or society came along in a specified order, all dressed in the same style.  First would be the tiny tots, trying ever so hard but with very short attention spans, so all the audience says "aaahh".  Then come the young girls, ever so serious, stern faces, intent on getting it right.  Then the teenagers, beginning to learn how to flaunt it, some naturals, some struggling.  Finally the seniors, very well rehearsed, enjoying themselves and posing whenever possible.  Most of these troupes were female, but there were a number of lads of all ages.  The younger ones a bit embarrassed, the older ones really showing off.  Occasionally there would be a troupe of older people, middle aged or antique.  Then a group of men dressed up and flouncing.  Or a group of men with fantastic glittery suits singing and dancing then turning round to show that the suits had no backs! Between each there would be huge floats depicting carnival personalities.  The final float was carrying what looked like a huge shower curtain above which were the heads of men wearing shower caps.  Suddenly a door opened and they all trouped out wearing boxer shorts and covering themselves with pan lids to do a hilarious dance.
 
By this time our feet and backs were wrecked.  We were glad to get the bus back to the caravan for a cup of tea!  Had it been a fine warm evening I am sure we would have followed the parade to the end and indulged in some of the many snacks available and drunk some of the carnival’s “official drink”, Cuerva, which is a sangria like drink laced with liquor.  There are lots of carnival pictures on the next page
 
Today has been quiet, unsurprisingly, but as it is still windy and wet we would not have done much anyway.  Lesley went for a short walk on the beach during a dry spell, while I have pressed on with this blog.  Looks like today will be the first time the blog has been written, pictures chosen and all published in a single day.

Tomorrow we move on, starting the long trek home.  Our next port of call is near Elche, inland from Alicante, for our last official rest week.

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