The Spanish Gawp

“Gawp” (verb) – to stare openly in a stupid or rude manner.

This is something you will have to accept if you plan to travel around Spain in your campervan. We’ve now travelled around pretty much all of Spain, and it’s the same everywhere. We’ve tried to fight it, but there’s just too many of them. It’s ingrained into their society. You can’t fully understand it until you’ve experienced it. Even writing this now, I’m getting gawped at. I’ve tried dramatically gawping back, I’ve tried over enthusiastically waving at them – nothing works! I may consider putting up a sign next,  just to see what effect it has, but I think I’ve had to admit defeat and accept it.

The Spanish are generally fantastic, I love Spain, and have found most people to be welcoming, helpful and also generous, I just wish they could be more subtle. Everyone likes a little snoop, and I too like to have a quick look into someone’s campervan, to see how they’ve kitted it out and generally have a nose at what they’re up to, but seriously – it’s ridiculous!

On their approach to their van, once they’ve noticed you, the mouth opens, they’re transfixed. If they’re alone their eyes remain glued, if they’re travelling in groups they make sure the other members of the group have noticed, with an obvious nudge or grabbing of the arm. Once they’re at optimal gawping position they will more often than not stop and stare straight in. If you catch their eye, either by accident or on purpose, they will not look away in shame. I’ve often entered into a staring competition, but being British I could never win, self awareness over takes me and eventually I cave. It’s like staring into an empty shell – if it wasn’t so annoying it would be quite impressive. Then once they’ve satisfied their incessant curiosity, their legs will start moving but their gaze will remain unbroken. Only when their necks have reached full extension, and they can’t strain any further, will they eventually continue on their original path. Some have been known to then pause and have a second look to check they’re not missing anything from their new vantage point.

Not knowing the culture well enough, I’ve been unable to read into the purpose of the gawp – whether it’s disapproval, curiosity, amazement, or just instinctual like a dog that’s just noticed a squirrel. I have only come across a milder form of this once before – in the elderly French population that are often found occupying benches or stationary at the end of their drives, but I understand this. I know that they look upon me in disapproval – “Why are you in my country, you silly roast beefs”.

The French come across as mere amateurs, now that I have seen the professionals in action, but I would love to find out the reason behind it, and maybe one day discover a cure. Until that time comes I will just have to sit proudly in my van, casually ignore them and continue about my day.

 

North West Galician Coast

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The north west area of the Galician coast has a love it or hate it feel. You can also sit on both sides of the fence, as there’s disparity between the area on a nice sunny day compared to a cold wet day. Unfortunately this area doesn’t have the wealth of the east coast, and you really notice this when you look around the towns. The majority of the buildings are low cost and of concrete construction giving a less than aesthetic appearance. In contrast the natural landscape is simply stunning, you have it all here – beaches, forests, rivers, mountains, and on a sunny day these are the features that stand out. When the weather turns, you do get dragged back down to the grim reality that this area is struggling, and particularly with the older generations here – there’s a lot of hard faces that give that slightly depressing small town feel that the people run away from in their youth.

As we’ve driven around the coast it’s hard to get an accurate picture of the place, as we’re out of peak tourist season, so similarly to Cornwall, some of the areas we’ve parked up in seem a little baron. With weathered old men shuffling around the towns, and shops that don’t seem to bother opening you can get the urge to just skip large sections. Then on a sunny day, the same place can feel completely different. All of a sudden people start arriving with their surfboards and the beach transforms from a bleak oil painting and becomes alive again.

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There’s a small pocket of the Galician coastline that I really love, between Muros and Fisterra, but travel just a little more north of this area and you can quickly start feeling as though the locals still chase people with pitch forks. I think you would need to know the area well to find the good spots, and if you’re just trucking around you may get increasingly frustrated as you aim for a place name on a map only to find another lifeless town where people just stare at you. I’ve found with most travel you can go to the most stunning places in the world but its the people and the buzz that you remember and the experiences that you take away with you. So you may need to dig a little deeper here to find what you’re looking for, and possibly this could be why this area hasn’t quite taken off yet.

Here’s some info on the places we’ve seen, but each area will be hit or miss dependant on the weather, time of year or other varying factors that I don’t know about.

Muxia  – Great lighthouse/viewpoint. You can park up overnight here, and wake up to the most stunning view. You may be a little battered by wind over night but I would say it’s worth it. You have to drive through the narrow town roads to get here, so some larger motorhomes may struggle. Town’s a little dead, but there are the essentials.

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From Muxia we could see another lighthouse flashing away in the distance so we thought we would take a drive over there too.

Faro de Cabo Vilan – Nice lighthouse, decent viewpoint, and there’s a little informative display in the building next to the lighthouse showing old photos, lamps and maps etc. You can’t park up overnight here, but there’s plenty of coastline near by. I wouldn’t go out of you way to get here though.

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Praia de Traba – This was a very scenic beach, with good facilities. There’s a cold beach shower and toilets that get some abuse but are cleaned daily. There’s some off road parking near the beach, and it’s slightly off the beaten track, so not many vehicles passing through. This area transformed half way through the day as the sea mist set in late afternoon and stayed all evening and into the night. There’s very little lighting out there, which combined with the mist gave quite an eerie feeling. This beach is possibly better for a windy walk with your dog rather than getting your speedos and sun lotion on.

Praia de Caion – This was a nice little park up for a night. The beach is a little more populated than most in this area, and as always the landscape is stunning. There’s a beach shower that will test your resolve but you can recover from the ice cold water temperatures with a nice Earl Grey while looking out over the ocean. The car park is slightly above the beach, so you can watch the surfers below. Again the town is dead, for example on a Saturday morning the local Panaderia didn’t open until 9:45Am. We were outraged, and in protest we searched out another bakery that was two miles away. We found Panaderia carracedo in Arteixo, this was great little find and with such friendly service. The bread was lovely but the Spanish just can’t get pastries like the French.

A Coruna – This whole area is very industrial and this gave noticeably poor air quality. It’s just a modern industrial city, I’m sure there’s nice bits, but we just couldn’t get over the close proximity of these huge stacks kicking out plumes of smoke that you could taste for miles. I would skip this whole area.

Praia de Doninos – Near to Ferrol, this seemed to be a very popular beach. When the sun’s shining the huge carpark will be full. This isn’t always great when you want to get your table and chairs out and have lunch. The beach is really nice, showers, toilets etc, etc and quite nice cliff walks leading from the beach. You can easily camp here, and I’m sure mid week it will be quieter. By this point we had started moving through places a bit more quickly and in general we’re getting a bit bored of this area.

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Valdovino – Stunning beach, slightly odd people. There’s a decent car park with toilets, and a nice board walk, but again the town was dull.

Cedeira – Head towards Rua Area Longa. There’s a carpark area on the river front. This seems to be an unofficial motorhome park up. There’s no facilities, but it’s a nice change from beach carparks. Waking up to the river mouth in the morning is quite relaxing and it’s a very safe area, so we left the van in search of a nice restaurant in the evening.

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We discovered there’s very little in the town other than nice restaurants, but this suited us, as we were just passing by. We tried the Pizzeria Lanus, as it was very busy, but finding ourselves in that awkward situation where the waiter was so nice that we couldn’t really say anything negative. The restaurant and service was exceptional, but they get away with using cheap ingredients which doesn’t sit right with us, and the result is the food tasted like a supermarket bought pizza.

Praia de Estiero – Ending on a high, this is a great spot. It’s like a free campsite, just set back from the beach there’s shade and a cold shower in the wooded area between the beach and the park up. You will often have the beach to yourself, and when the suns out this place is a secret paradise. A bakery van turns up a little after 10am each day, but stock up and stay here for at least two days. This area is a little wilder than your usual beach car park, and with this you get a few extra insects and it is pitch black at night, so stepping out to take an old man pee in the middle of the night is interesting. I would only recommend it here if there’s other motorhomes or vans around, as it’s a bit creepy on your own, but definitely give it a go. Head towards the right hand side (east) of the river to find the right place.

I’m feeling bad about grouping all of these places together, but maybe this symbolises our thoughts here. It’s nice but we’re starting to hurry through rather than savouring every moment.

 

Fisterra – El Camino de Santiago

On our drive along the coast we picked out Fisterra as our next destination. I’m really happy we did, I love this odd little place. We were only going to park here for lunch but we stayed for three days. Driving in, on your left is a car park (campervan park up) charging 5 Euros per day. There are no facilities, but the view is stunning, and the guy who runs it is great too.

We had stumbled across the end of the El Camino de Santiago. As the name suggests the official end is in Santiago, but then history dictates that you should continue on to Fisterra, to the lighthouse and burn your clothes as part of a pagan ritual, as this was once considered to be the end of the world. For those of you still in the dark the El Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage to the final resting place of St James. It was quite common to make this pilgrimage to worship St James and people from all over the world were known to walk here from hundreds of miles away. This tradition was resurrected in the 1970s when a few people charted the old trails used, and wrote about their experience. Once again, people from all over the world now take this pilgrimage of between 100-500 miles, and sometimes even further than that. The purpose of the trip isn’t so much to worship St James any longer but for many it’s still a spiritual experience. It’s a physical test, but you may just discover a little more about yourself along the way. Some people use this experience to move past hard times in their lives or even to quash some demons in their heads. Everyone has a different reason to be treading these well-worn paths, but you won’t be alone. One other aspect of the Camino is meeting people from all over the world. I think in this modern digital world it’s a powerful experience to separate yourself, to detox from the constant pressures and distractions of everyday life.

You can find out all the info on this experience online, but as a guide it will take around 31-35 days, you need to cover on average about 30kms per day, and it will cost in the region of 15 Euros per day. There’s albergues (hostels) along the whole route, usually charging 5 Euros per person, and it’s considered best to start in May, or in early September. Check out the film “The Way” if you need some inspiration, this will give you an insight into what it’s all about. I would be open to taking on this challenge at some point in my life, and we even talked about doing it to finish this leg of our trip, but we didn’t feel like it was the right path at this time. It’s the kind of thing you actively search out, instead of just coming across randomly, but also I think in a way we’re already doing our own journey, it’s just a little easier on the feet this way.

There is a big hippy community in Fisterra, and it’s hard not to get caught up in their happy vibes. We strayed into the World Familya cafe/commune that actually offers great food, and the menu of the day is 7 Euros – bargain. You see all sorts of people here while you sit and eat your lunch, and we found it to be a really entertaining place to be. Come back in the evening and they offer a communal style dinner at 9pm open to everyone, and you just offer a donation as payment. If you had asked me beforehand if I would like to have lunch and dinner at a hippy commune and then party into the night with random people on a spiritual quest – I would likely say – No, I’ll give that one a miss thanks, but it was so much fun and I would highly recommend both Fisterra and the hippy cafe.

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Take a walk up to the lighthouse, and also discover the secret cove at the north of the harbour. These are two stunning places to see while you’re there, but also hunt down the Panaderia German, it’s a small bakery – pretty much run from an old lady’s front room, and she specialises in sourdough. There’s a market on certain days near the harbour and  some really great little shops tucked away. You also meet so many shaggy dogs just lying out in the sun as you walk around the town, I think this place attracts hippy dogs too, if there’s such a thing.

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We met some great people that had been walking the Camino (Matt from Sydney & Lyn from Atlanta), and some lovely Germans and Dutch that were camping next to us in their vans and motorhomes. This town  has a real atmosphere that seems to attract some  interesting people, treat yourself to at least two days here, and you will have a completely random experience – guaranteed.

Muros

Heading over to the Galicia Coast, somewhere that I’ve been excited about seeing from the start of our trip. Only hearing good things about this area, we were not let down. This coastal stretch of North West Spain is a hidden gem. Leaving that sun scorched feeling of central Spain behind us, it was a pleasure to see green forests, beaches and flowing rivers again. Right up my street, so much so that I would actually consider moving here. The only stumbling block is – how to make some dosh, as tourism hasn’t really hit this area yet.

We arrived at Vigo, having not done any research, to discover it’s quite big. We’re feeling a little city’d out, and in desperate need of little seaside havens, we started driving up the coast. Stumbling into a toll gate, we needed to enlist Sat Nav’s help to avoid further tolls. After remembering a recommendation from the couple that were bound for Africa, we typed in Muros and hoped for the best. This paid off, and as we rolled through town we came to carpark near the small fishing harbour. Loosening the purse strings a little we had finally found a place that serves toastado con aceite y tomate (tomato and olive oil on toast) – a traditional Spanish breakfast, served with a coffee or tea, you can order two for a little over 5 Euros – It’s so good to be back in Spain! (Restaurante A Muradana) We had a wander around the back streets and popped out near the small docks. Muros isn’t a big place, but great for breakfast or lunch.

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We carried on as it didn’t quite tick all the boxes for staying over night and we soon came to San Francisco beach. Literally 2 minutes around the corner this is a great place to park up. We stayed here for two nights., and spent two hot days on the beach. The car park is on a bit of a slope, but if you get the bottom spot you can park right next to a stunning beach with showers and good shade from the sun. A bakery vans pulls up at the top of the car-park in the morning, and the cafe at the top with the conservatory type add on (green cover) has a toilet that you can use if you buy a tea or coffee for 1 Euro. We did this trick and ended up having toast and a croissant too as it was so cheap. The owner was a nice chap that tried really hard to give very good service. We looked on google maps for a nearby shop as we had run out of food, but nothing was (lazy) walking distance away. We also felt the urge to move on, so we packed up in search of some food. Teaching us not to rely on technology so much, just up the road was a fantastic little independent food shop – that seemed to have everything. The eggs were laid from her own hens, and the veg was as fresh as it comes. Next stop Fisterra.

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Fundraising – Borneo

Tammy’s sending herself off to Borneo to help tackle issues around climate change, and the effects that our consumerist lifestyles are having on the lesser developed world. This is a really great cause, and hats off to her for braving the elements and wanting to get  stuck in. She’s volunteering as part of the Raleigh organisation and committed herself to 5 weeks hard graft out in the rainforest of Borneo.

It’s almost impossible not to impact the environment in our everyday lives, but even small changes can make an effect. For instance cutting down on foods that contain Palm oil, getting your takeout coffee in a re-usable cup, or simply turning off lights.

It’s a problem that will affect us all, and it’s not going away!

You can help sponsor young inspiration people like Tammy and make a difference.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tammy-hesketh

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Madrid

Madrid is slap bang right in the middle of Spain. I found this pretty inconsiderate considering that we wanted to make small jumps along the coast. Wary that even in October this area is very hot, and without the breeze of the coast or the facilities usually found along the beaches we decided that we would have to find campsites. It’s just too uncomfortable not to have a proper shower here. So therefore this limits our stay to a few days as unfortunately I’m not made of money.

There’s very few campsites in Madrid, and we basically had the choice of two. Obviously we chose the wrong one first. We drove just under an hour north of the city to camping la Fresneda. This was in a big patch of green on the map, so we took a punt that it may be nice. It wasn’t – far from it, infact. I don’t know how they have the cheek to call themselves a campsite. Anyway we were left with Camping Osuna, which is closer to the city, but also more expensive. Our first thoughts were, this is a bit scabby, but it actually wasn’t that bad. It’s quite deceiving from reception, but the site extends quite a way, and the facilities were always kept spotless. The only issue here was the noise. It’s situated right between two busy roads, and there’s a really noisy school or park nearby to add to it. We paid 22 Euros per night here and after a few tight fisted grumble noises, I decided that it’s wasn’t too bad – knowing the van was safe while we explored the capital. There’s a metro station fairly close to the site, and this takes you directly into the city. It’s 2 Euros each way per person, and takes about 30 minutes.

We left the metro via ‘Opera’, which is really close to the Palace, arriving just in time for the changing of the guard – or at least the Spanish version. I found it quite ironic that there were a load of police that were guarding the guards throughout, but this was fair enough as someone had to deal with the Asian tourists. They go bonkers for all this Royal palaver. I was a little confused as the first bunch of horse guards trotted in chatting to each other, I thought this may just be the warm up act, although they did have very shiny boots.  Then a marching band turned up with some confused stop-starting, and then some big old shire horses turned up pulling heavy cannons. I don’t think anyone knew what they were doing. I was expecting to see a performance with military precision and some very stern faces. I’m not a big fan of all this bravado and poncing about, but if you’re going to get all dressed up at least act the part. I started to feel a little patriotic knowing that we wouldn’t put up with this nonsense at our Queenies house – Amateurs!

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They fired their cannon at the end of the performance, which completely startled this poor little dog. Scared out of his mind, and with his owners not paying him any attention, I was considering going to try and calm this dog myself – then Karma struck perfectly on que and the little dog pee’d all over his owners trainers.

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There’s loads to do in the city, but it is a little spread out, we even set a new city record, covering 14 miles as we explored on foot. The Parque de El Retiro is a great way to while away an afternoon, watching street performers as you stroll through the park. Head towards the crystal palace, and keep an eye out for the little turtles having a wonderful time as they propel themselves through the water and squabble for the best place on the  ramp.

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We had the cunning idea to visit some of the museums later on in the day, as entry became free after a set time. Unfortunately so did half of Madrid, and the queue to the Museo Nacional del Prado was roughly around half a kilometer long. Our plans quickly changed as we stood in amazement looking at the ever growing queue. We couldn’t quite understand why people would put themselves through this ordeal. The Reina Sofia was down the road, but unfortunately we found this to have the same problem, so we took ourselves off to a local coffee shop to have a grumble about bloody tourists! After a nice coffee and a hefty wedge of carrot cake I felt revived and ready for a short walk to the Plaza Mayor. We ended the day with a Chocolate and Churros, although they didn’t quite live up to their reputation, I think we just chose the wrong place to have our churros experience. I have faith that you can find the authentically light an fluffy kind somewhere in the city, but not at  Chocolateria San Gines, which is odd because that’s what they specialise in. Maybe they were just having a bad day.