For years, Rona has been wanting to spend winters in Spain because she can’t handle even the Netherlands’ mild winter weather and short winter days. This year, we finally managed to set aside time to go on our scouting mission. We drove to the Mediterranean with an old pop-up caravan and our two dogs, spent ten days at two different naturist campsites within walking distance (for me, anyway) to the sea and then drove home. It was very old-school and became more old-school after our Tom-tom led us into the mud at a kilometer from our first real destination and then Rona’s phone got stolen, leaving us without 4G for the rest of the trip, so we had to locate and learn about hotels the old-fashioned way (I have since changed my bundle and now have 4G on my phone for the first time in my life). Here are a few things we learned during the sixteen days of travel:
It takes longer than you thought
By airplane, you can be in Malaga in a matter of a few hours. In theory, you can get there by car in 24 hours if you drive the maximum speed
, piss in a bottle and take amphetamines. But traveling with a trailer and two dogs, it will take three days or more, and if you have one driver with a paralyzed leg, those three days will do a number on you. Next year, we will take time to space travel out over 4 or 5 days. This will be easier because unlike this year, when we had to purchase a pop-up caravan at short notice because our 1970s Constructam was being rebuilt and an existing alternative fell through, we will be traveling with a real caravan next year. Or at least, Rona will be. Depending on our vacation schedule, she may decide to travel alone so she can stay longer, while I fly over at a later time and catch up with her in Malaga. I don’t like that idea, because I really don’t want to be on an airplane unless it’s for work or other very urgent reasons, but it’s something that we might do.
It’s also much more expensive
We took the toll roads a lot. I am in two minds about the idea of toll roads: on the one hand, people using them pay closer to the real cost of road travel, but on the other, that prices good, well-kept roads out of the reach of poorer travelers, and it also looks like it effectively de-socializes road maintenance. Where there are toll roads, the public roads turn to shit as a result. However, we found that the toll roads met our needs right now, because they were clear, safe and less busy, with no worry about roadside bandits other than the ones running the gas stations. Er, it turns out that the true cost of road travel is much greater than the subsidized cost of air travel. We made up for that by not going to any restaurants when we were at our destination though.
Aires (Areas, Raststätten): use them. Well, maybe
On the western route that we took towards Conil, the public rest areas in France, known as Aires, were pretty impressively well-kept. We took all our breaks and refueled there and the only thing that stopped us from sleeping there was that one of our dogs freaked out each time we were in the car and not moving for more than fifteen minutes. Next year, with our real caravan and the need to space travel out over four or five days, we will spend some nights there.
It was a different matter in Spain itself, and different still on the Eastern route we took home from Almayate. The Spanish Areas were smaller and more run-down and this didn’t improve once we were back in France. As for the German spots that we ended up in, they were run-down and filthy. Too bad, because otherwise the eastern route was a much more comfortable drive.
TomTom and Google Maps are both pretty useless at the edge of the continent
Trying to find our first campsite, Cala del Alceite outside Conil, province of Cadiz, we followed directions from our navigation systems and ended up stuck in the mud! A gang of lily-white youths pretended to offer help, then made off with Rona’s cell phone. After we got out of the mud, we heard that in that area of Spain, navigation systems cannot be relied on and indeed we found throughout the trip that roads recommended by TomTom were dirt trails or otherwise did not match the lay-out the system showed us, and that businesses referred by Google Maps whenever we had WiFi did not appear to exist on the stated address at all. A good old-fashioned local road map would have helped us a lot more, as, to be honest, would paying more attention to the signage. But at the point where we hit the mud, we had been traveling for three days and weren’t at peak mental capacity.
I am very bad at some aspects of camping, especially living at close quarters with my stuff
Because this was a scouting mission and we wanted to simulate the sort of life we would be living if we were overwintering, I took much more stuff than I would otherwise have done, including a full set of traditional drawing tools, print books and musical instruments. The drawing tools got used, some of the print books got read, but the musical instruments, including my guitar, were not touched at all. This mattered because we had very little room in the pop-up caravan and the stuff I didn’t use got in the way and obscured stuff I needed. I am bad at keeping things in their proper place at the best of times, and having to be constantly mindful of where everything was was mentally draining, as was making sure all of it was safe from falling over or getting wet from coffee mugs and water jugs. Next year, I won’t take the guitar and focus on ebooks for reading even if the reading experience is somewhat less good for me. Every misplaced or mislaid item carried an immediate penalty in terms of stress and hassle, and I don’t need to make this harder for me than it is. I will also cut the amount of traditional drawing tools in half, as I am perfectly content to draw on the iPad Pro if the sun isn’t directly on it. And I will spend the rest of this year training myself to stay organized better.
Winter naturism is absolutely possible if you go far south enough
We both have a strong preference for naturist campsites although we would compromise on this if we had to. Rona is going no matter what, so if we hadn’t find any naturist sites, we would have found some good textile ones. However, we found places we could comfortably stay at near Conil, province of Cadiz, and near Almayate, province of Malaga. And in late January, early February, it often warms up enough to go nude; we were able to sunbathe and I managed a long walk on the bach at Almayate.
The demographics at these sites are doubly skewed: naturist campers tend to be older and so do people spending the winter on the Meditteranean. On both sites we were the youngest people by a large margin. Since we primarily socialize with each other these days, this isn’t a huge problem and the people we did talk to were very nice.
Nights can get very cold in late January, early February
This may seem like a ‘duh’ thing to observe but it’s worth noting because we went south to escape cold weather. Surprisingly, I was much more affected by the cold nights we had than Rona was. Eventually, we added a space heater to our inventory, used the electric blanket more and in the final days I changed my schedule so I could warm up with my morning run. This is another thing that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if we’d had our real caravan to sleep in, so it won’t be a problem next year.
It was worth it and we’re doing this again
I won’t lie: six days of travel in total took its toll and there were times during the trip when we got on each other’s nerves. But when times were good, when the sun was shining, everything was organized and we could settle down to do our thing, times were very good. We prepared to the best of our ability (given the unexpected unavailability of our own camping vehicles) but neither of us had ever done a road trip to Spain before. Next year, knowing what we’ve learned and what we will learn through further study at home (we’re planning to learn Spanish and get our own fast internet connection to use so we’re not dependent on campsite WiFi, for example), we will be much better prepared and things will go much more smoothly.
Photography is fun and I need to get better at it
During my morning runs and while walking the dogs, I took a bunch of pictures, most of which were for the purpose of helping me find my way back without GPS, a map or a functional sense of direction. Because of that, the quality of the photographs wasn’t a concern, but as I went through the 150+ photographs I took after we got home, I found some that I thought would clean up well. Here they are: