European Escapades

Groundhog Day




A happy groundhog in glorious sunshine
A happy groundhog in glorious sunshine.

I am not quite sure how to start this blog, at the beginning or the end. The reason is because both blogs would seem to read identically to each other, as they both start and end in the same place. So I’m going to start in the middle and work my way back to the end, or the beginning, however ever you choose to understand it. We are in the first large town we have come across in Spain called Lleida looking for a Yoigo shop for the second time. We are getting a feel for distances in Spain as well now, and we have come to the conclusion that the ACSI guide is going to let us down in Spain if we are to keep to our 80kms a day rule, and we will need another guide to show us all the campsites in this country. Fortunately the very nice people of Peña Montana, gave us an old 2007 ‘Guía Campings’ which seem to show most of the campsites in Spain and Portugal, as well as a more detailed map of Spain. From this we have noted a distinct lack of campsites from where we entered Spain through the Pyrenees and our preferred destination heading North West towards the Rioja wine region.

The countryside moves from a beautiful wild mountain setting to urban sprawls of towns that have no beauty or interest for us. I am still waiting to find some presence of beauty in the human urbanizations of Spain. Lledia is definitely not going to tick that box, in fact when I was talking in halting Spanish, with plenty of sign language to the shop assistant in the Yoigo shop, she asked why if I was a tourist, I was in Lleida at all, says it all really. You may be wondering what a Yoigo shop sells and the obvious answer is Yoigo’s of course. Having managed to purchase my Yoigo, we head out of Lleida for the second time and back northwards to Lake Esera and our destination of Bellavsita. We pass the first real Solar power plant I have seen for the second time, with its mass of steel frames holding the panels aloft at an angle of maximum efficiency, as if they are flat square satellite dishes, that move with the arc of the sun, training in on the strongest of signals. Amazingly we pass an old man walking by the roadside with two carrier bags by his side for the second time. We are sure it was the same man we saw yesterday, and assume he is homeless and this was his stretch of road. The second Schlekler supermarket in a forgettable town, stuck behind a tractor as we crawl through the narrow main street for a second time. We even hit the same bump in the road as we pull up, to turn off into Graus. And then the sight we have been dreading all day, the reception and campsite of Bellavista. We have returned…

You may be wondering by now why we are back in the place from whence we came? Well the truth is when we finally drove the 120kms to the first available campsite to the south west of us, near the town of Fraga. We booked in only to find I had lost the photo card ID part of my driving licence. Frantic searching of the van did not reveal the card and we had to come to the only conclusion possible, we had left it at Bellavista or it was lost. Frantic phone calls to Bellavista proved futile, as I tried in my halting Spanish to ask if they had my driving license. The woman answering the phone spoke no English and my Spanish was so bad, I just about managed to give her my mobile number before she put the phone down on me. I searched the almost empty campsite for someone to explain our predicament to and finally found someone. After I had explained my situation, he phoned Bellavista for me, and in Spanish confirmed that they did indeed have my driving license at the reception. I guess that we were so anxious to get out of there that morning, that we forgot to ask for it back. The camps seem to like some form of ID and security to be left at reception and I will not leave my passport with them. So another 120kms trip back to Graus was required, and maybe another night stay in the campsite we vowed never to go back to…

The campsite near Fraga was expensive at €18 and more geared up for the fisherman than the travelling tourist. No WiFi and to be honest not much of anything else, as the swimming pool was drained and unused and we couldn’t even get down to the lakeside. No bar and shop onsite, I guess Peña Montana had unfortunately given every other campsite in Spain a very high bar to compare themselves too. The thought of a 240kms round trip did not appeal to us either. So with the thought of a municipal campsite in the actual town of Graus somewhere, we decided to head back and stay nearby. This in our minds has been the turning point in our travels through Spain and the direction we have taken. Having recovered my driving license from Bellavista, I ran back out to the van and jumped in to head as far away from this site as I could. On reflection as we pulled out of the site in the afternoon sun, the site had lost a lot of its grey and foreboding feel and as we drove up the newly tarmaced road towards Graus, it felt more like it was just a little unloved and neglected. Due maybe to the snazzier and new sites taking some of the tourist trade away from it. But if you get a great site like Peña Montana on your door step, OK 65kms away, you have to compete or go out of business. Seems when we arrived at the municipal site, they had to learn this lesson as well. They wanted €21 of a one night stay. We eagerly asked about the obvious fantastic facilities that would be included for a price like that. It seems the swimming pool was not available. The WiFi was extra and only available at reception. We noted two young people sitting outside in the sun trying to read their dazzled screen display. We asked why it was so expensive ‘caro’; it’s intriguing to note how we pick up Spanish words that are important to us very quickly. I think I was at this time, frustrated to be back in this town and annoyed at the receptionist’s obvious attitude of take it or leave it. We told him we would leave it ‘politely of course, but his English was not good enough to appreciate how politely we put it.

Our first wild camping experience in Spain
Our first wild camping experience in Spain.

Detesting the scenery on the road to Lleida and beyond, we decide at this moment to turn 180° and head South East instead to the profusion of ACSI sites available on the coastal areas in Eastern Spain and onto our new destination of Almaría. This gave us a campsite in Tremp for which to head, and it would get us out of this town for which we had grown to dislike immensely. We took the route over the mountains into what was to become our forth camping experience in Spain. When you take a back road in Spain the road maybe rutted and worn, but the views are normally spectacular and this route did not disappoint. The other benefit of these routes is the isolation you feel as you drive on almost empty roads, with hardly any signs of life anywhere. Once up in the hillsides outside of Graus, we shed the depression that had been with us all day and started to feel the beauty of the hills around us. With the afternoon drawing to a close and the sun heading towards the mountainous horizon, fatigue hit me and the sight of a small picnic area just off the quiet mountain road was just too good to pass up. This was going to be our first wild camping experience in Spain, and what a joyous experience it was as we looked out to wild desolation and majesty…. We slept well that night.

By the way if you still don’t know what a Yoigo is, it’s a Spanish mobile company that provides a broadband modem for laptops at the reasonable price of €3 a day on a PayAsYouGo tarrif.

yoigo modem
We are now connected…

This entry was posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010 at 3:25 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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