We were woken by the sound of a Helicopter buzzing around behind the buildings opposite to find a cold overcast day in Andorra with a sharp wind. We hadn’t set the Van up properly so there was little room to manoeuvre but we were able to make some tea before venturing out for our morning ablutions.
The town of La Vella is in the bottom of a deep gorge with menacingly steep rock faces on either side of the river, with a parallel slit right above where the sky can be seen. Built on the lower slopes of each rock face are buildings (apartments) and above that some of the steepest Allotments I’ve ever seen.
Frampton Cotterell Parish Council would have kittens keeping these in order.
When we ventured out we saw the wind was carrying small tufts of white down, a bit like bunches of Dandelion seed, in such quantities that we initially thought it was snowing. These cotton balls were soft to the touch, almost silky and had covered the ground in a white blanket before being blown into drifts against the fencing around the site.
The site itself looked at first glance a bit uninspiring set as it was off the main road behind a sports complex and next to a commercial car repair centre but it had great facilities, an all year round indoor heated pool ( this site is a magnet for winter sports enthusiasts and there were pictures of campers in 3 feet of snow hung on the wall of the Cafe) a good restaurant offering a range of fresh cooked, primarily wood smoked dishes, a bar, a well stocked shop that was open and clean heated showers and toilets. It was a bit expensive but we got 10% discount for using our ADAC card.
We set out to on the “10 minute walk to the centre of a Town” which in fact took us more like 25 minutes as it was all up hill, going against the flow of the Grand Valira which dominates the valley bottom and is harnessed in places to generate electricity, one of Andorra’s main sources of income.
The roar of the river as it rampaged through the valley competed with the traffic noise from the road and it was only when we ventured into the relative tranquility of the town that we realised how loud this had been.
As we were walking I started to feel very breathless. I concentrated on breathing deeply, expanding my chest and diaphragm as far as possible but still had the feeling I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to my muscles. This may have been due to altitude, we were after all in the Mountains but I just felt some thing wasn’t right.
My cough, which I’d had for over a year before arriving in Spain was now back and I was sneezing. Jaki suggested I may be suffering from the effects of Pollen as she was having a full blown Hay a Fever attack. So, when we got back to the a Van I took some anti Histamine and things seemed to improve though I wasn’t doing anything physical by then?
My fitness has really deteriorated since we’ve been away as were getting little if any exercise. We were relying on campsites with swimming pools to allow us to do our 20 lengths per day but this facility has been fickle.
The cycling hasn’t been as regular and enviro rating as I’d hoped and the amount of cycling has been in direct proportion to the length of stay at any one site.
In Mojacar where we stayed for 10 days we did several long cycle rides, but in other places where we’ve stayed for only a few nights we haven’t had the time to explore in depth so didn’t get to use the bikes much. In Barcelona, the bikes didn’t come off the van as there was no where safe to cycle.
Add to all that my swollen feet caused I think by the increased dose of Lansoprasol prescribed by the GP to get rid of my cough and I don’t look too good.
When we got to the Town Centre, which is very interesting and full of sculptures we found a large Supermarket and stocked up on the ridiculously cheap booze and tobacco that had lured us here in the first place. We filled the now familiar shopping trolley to the brim with bottles and added a single electric hob at €18 and a two pin multi socket extension lead that proved to be defective ( that can go in the bin with the Garlic a Crusher that snapped on it’s first Garlic) and some sports socks before setting off back down the hill to the van.
After breakfast We spent a great deal of time considering our route. We also considered turning round and heading back south to where we knew the Sun would be shining but settled on heading for France. We decided to keep driving through Andorra in the same direction (rather than follow the fastest route shown on the Sat Nav, which suggested turning round and leaving the same way we came in). The weather forecast for the next couple of days was pretty unpleasant across most of Spain (except the area between a Denia and Mojacar) and all of France, so we may as well be traveling and seeing new things.
The climb up out of the valley took us to the tops of the mountains where the now empty Hotels and Chalets had until recently been teeming with Skiers. We saw the ski runs and the chair lifts which looked so out of place now that the snow had melted in all but the most stubborn spots.
The scenery was spectacular. Forest and meadow, wild flowers and even Edelweiss. The greens were fresh and vibrant, with the constant slash of the river, grey and white, smashing it’s way over and around rocks worn smooth as marble.
At the top of the road we entered the Tunnel D Envalira which is over 2 kilometres long and cost us another €11.60 for the privilege of avoiding the Envalira Pass. On the other side of the tunnel the road started to make it’s way back down again and it wasn’t very long before we crossed the boarder into France. The Sat Nav advised a left turn but the signs to Perpignan pointed straight on. Given this dilemma we chose to follow the signs which was perhaps a mistake.
We think this was the ‘Old’ road and it certainly needed some updating as the Tarmac had been defeated by the winter weather. It was also a very steep and winding road with some sheer drops and the usual collection of Hair Pin bends. However, the scenery was ample compensation. I kept seeing great photo opportunities but as I was driving I had to rely on Jaki to capture them.
She didn’t excellent as a landscape photographer.
Using the I pad she managed to take lots of pictures of the dashboard, the rear view mirror and the stone chip in the screen but seemed to miss the vistas passing by. I suggested she try the Cannon and set it up as fully automatic.
“All you need to do is point and click”. I advised optimistically.
Her first attempt was thwarted when she tried to raise the camera to her eye and found she was sitting on the shoulder strap. Giving it an almighty yank she very nearly severed her left eye but by the time she got untangled, we were 300 metres down the valley. Then she found using the eye piece made her travel sick. We took to stopping at strategic points after that, which in itself posed a further Hazard.
After one stop we forgot to restore the step to it’s closed position so we drove off with the thing sticking out the side of the van by about 8 inches. Given some parts of the road were just wide enough for two cars to pass and on our side there were strategic metal barriers (similar to those used on British motorways) you can imagine the damage we would have done if the step had hit the end of one of these babies?
We also noticed an increase in traffic and a decrease in driving skills and our journey to Perpignan had some memorable motoring madness.
The first in incident took place on the 1:5 downward slopes when a car tried to overtake us on a blind bend, got along side and realised he didn’t have enough room to get by so resorted to blowing his horn. Short of running my near side over the edge of the cliff, I’m not sure what he wanted me to do?
Later we had the proverbial ‘Spotty Youths’ on a scooter who tried to overtake us on the inside but didn’t have enough speed. When at last we slowed for traffic they overtook and gave me the big fat Finger. Whilst turning to look at my reaction to this ghastly gesture the car in front of them stopped at a roundabout. They avoided the humiliation of driving into the rear bumper by a ‘Gnats Nudger’. How I would have laughed.
The next incident involved a road closure, a detour, a single lane road and a Lorry that wanted me to drive faster. He must have thought that getting right up behind me and blowing his horn would help a Hymer Motor home go faster?
The final and probably the most serious was when a car overtook us on a roundabout then cut across the front of us and exited missing us by inches.
It was getting late now and our journey had been about 6 hours long. We decided to find an Aire, have a bite to eat and get an early night. So we looked at the book ‘All the Aires of France, 3rd edition and found several sites within a short distance of each other at St Laurent-de-la-Salanque. The best one seemed to be ‘Le Barcares 2. – Port’ page 342, which was at the Marina. We expected there to be plenty of bars and restaurants within walking distance, so set the coordinates in the Sat Nav and drove on.
When we got there it was a huge deserted car park in between some warehouses. It was completely isolated with no sign of a facility for miles.
The second choice was on the Sea front car park Le Barcares 1 where six spaces had been reserved and marked in blue, adjacent to the a Tourist Information centre. Wrong. There was nowhere reserved for campervans
On the advice of a local restaurant owner we set up camp far enough down the car park to avoid interfering with the Market that was taking place the following morning. Once set up, gas on, washing up from the morning done, we stepped out into the wind and rain with the intention of going back to our friendly bar owner and spending some tourist Euros. At this point the Police arrived and told us we couldn’t camp here and gave us the address of the Towns new 59 space aire. So in the fading light we packed up the camper, turned off the Gas and set off for this,the third option.
When we got there the site was nicely secured behind high fencing, with a barrier across the road. On the left was a big sign giving instructions on how to access the site. This required us putting our details (including our Country of origin and our Mobile phone number) onto the touch screen,inverting the credit card and a code number would be sent by text to the mobile which we then punched into the key pad next to the barrier. Simple.
The rain on the touch screen had sent it into a spin. It didn’t respond to touch, the screen kept scrolling from one thing to another, some strange disjointed voice kept issuing instructions whilst some where deep in the machine a constant ‘Ping’ could be heard.
It was raining heavily now and getting quite dark. It became obvious that this machine was in need of some TLC.
There was a telephone number to call for assistance so we used my UK mobile to make the 8 minute and 20 second call which eventually got us into the site. Thankfully the lady on the other end spoke good English but it wasn’t helpful when she asked where we were and I just didn’t know.
By this time we were scrambled.
So, just after 2130 we set up camp again, got some meat out of the freezer and tried to defrost it before we both fell asleep.
Over a Bacardi and Coke, we discussed options and considered how long it would take us to drive back to Mojacar.
Let’s hope things look better in the morning.