Thursday, May 1, 2014

Landing in Santander and on to Galicia ...

8 April 2014
What a fantastic overnight ferry trip we had on Brittany Ferries. It started off very slowly indeed with us arriving well early in the queue to get on (Alan being a typical boy who always likes to be first), and then finding ourselves having to wait two hours in the hot sun while they shuffled to get all the vehicles on the ferry in the right order of weight and height. We usually travel with Irish Ferries who seem to have this procedure down to a T and are very efficient in getting everyone onto the ferry. We discovered another benefit of traveling in a motorhome .... you have the space to get out of the sun if you have to sit in the car for a long time, with loads of cool water and snacks to hand. Even after the long wait we still felt fresh enough to enjoy our evening on board.

We didn't take our cameras up to the cabin with us, choosing instead to have as little as possible to carry up, so you'll have to believe me when I tell you about the buffet dinner we had and the huge breakfast with a view of the ocean. Sigh. The memory! 

We chose to eat in the more up-market restaurant because we'd read excellent reviews ... and on the road you tend to eat too many heavy foods like chips, and we reasoned we'd get much healthier food there. Good choice. There were two food-islands packed with bowls of different kinds of prawns, smoked salmon, vol au vents with pates and olives and thingys-I-didn't-know-what-they-were's - but they looked and tasted good, big bowls of salad, fresh rolls, artichokes ..... you get the picture. And that was just the hors doevres.

Mains for me was a really good, rare, steak, and for Alan a Dover Sole. We then had the cheek to visit the other two food islands which were packed with cheeses and biscuits and the most incredible range of chocolatey, creamy, lemony, caramelly, biscuity, merangue-y, and more chocolatey desserts I have ever seen. Of course is was Alan who sampled the cheeses and me who over-sampled the desserts. Nothing changes in the world. 
And did I mention the wine? A good bottle of Bordeaux. Sigh.
Haven't had a meal like that ...... ever!!!
The French sure know how to elicit taste in their food. They're brilliant at it.

The sea was like a lake .... but somehow we were rolling along the corridor when we walked out! Can't think why :-)

We rolled down the corridor and made it to a large seating area where a blonde girl was beating out the likes of Duffy songs, Annie Lennox songs, and others which I well recognised, with the most incredible ability at emulating the originals with excellence. Most enjoyable indeed. So we had to stop awhile. And Alan just had to have a cafe cognac (one of those incredibly small and strong coffees with a neat brandy). Yuk. But he enjoyed it. Finally I relented to a Southern Comfort on the Rocks. Evidently I'm a real pleb for enjoying this, but someone has to be the pleb!

9 April 2014
Needless to say, we slept well - even on those unbelievably uncomfortable ship's cabin beds. A fella the next morning smugly told us he always books upper class as it's so worth the comfort of a good bed. Maybe he's right, and we can be smug with someone next time.

Breakfast, in the same place as dinner, was a feast of bacon, a variety of eggs, sausages, mushrooms, beans, a lovely range of pastries and croissants, creamy yoghurts in their own little glass pots, the juices, and tea and coffee. I'm not a huge breakfast person, so dabbled here and there, but Alan made up for my reticence with his usual love of life attitude!

We were expecting to be moved out of our cabin by mid-morning for cleaning purposes but were happy to find out that the cabin was ours right up to disembarking time near 5 pm. The day was spent with a good mix of reading quietly (to recover from all that eating!) - the full works of Oscar Wilde for me (loving it!) and a re-read of Slow Boats to China by Gavin Young for Alan, wandering around on the open deck with a stunning sunny day and blue ocean without a strong wind, and nibbling at biscuits because the word "lunch" was too much to contemplate after the two previous meals.

We were expecting a long delay again as we entered Spain at Santander but, to our amazement, we just sailed through with hardly a foot on the brake. This is the first time I'm using my Irish Passport since I got it a year or so ago, and I tried in vain for the official in his little box to give me a stamp on its clean new pages, but he just shook his head and smiled at this crazy person, and waved us on. I'm so disappointed no-one wants to see my new passport!

We got ourselves a little lost looking for the El Helguero campsite. We had the way points for the GPS (called Hambakahle = Zulu for Go Well) and she took us for a really beautiful meander through farmlands and delicate tree lined back roads, in the hills beyond Santander. A couple of turns later, relying now on good sense rather than technology, we arrived safe and not too tired. I took a pic of our site in the campsite - plus a few more of our evening there, but can't seem to get them off my Blackberry at the moment.

Too late to cook (that's my excuse and I'm-a-stickin' to it) we enjoyed a great evening in the camp cafĂ© with a crowd of locals, watching AtleticaMadrid vs Barcelona footie. AtleticaMadrid won 1-0 - good because that was our side evidently - going by the cheers of our locals. A beer and an excellent pizza later we had a great sleep and were up and on the road by 10am. There was a special rate being offered by the campsite. If you left by 10 am you qualified for a discounted rate of €10 for the night. Pretty good.

10 April 2014
After a hairy experience some years ago in Spain, while in our Citroen Berlingo, when we entered a village and the roads got narrower and narrower with the only way out being forward, with us (being Alan who was driving) having to do about a 30 point turn to get around a corner with an impatient local fidgetting behind us .... we're especially wary now in a motorhome, of going too far into an unknown village which threatens narrowness to eat you up and not spit you out the other end. The first village Hambakahle took us to, San Vicente d la Barquera, kinda indicated narrow roads, so we parked and checked the scene first. I didn't think it was too bad but Alan chose to rather leave before I could be proved right. Nevertheless, I took some shots of the lovely old buildings.
San Vicente de la Barquera

 San Vicente de la Barquera church on the hill

A local

If it's not a cat in the window, it has to be a pretty plant

We meandered mainly along national roads towards the mountains, glimpsing the coast and cities and towns like Comillas, San Vicente de la Barquera - where we stopped and photographed distant snowy mountains and the long arched bridge going across the river into the town- and on past Oviedo.

 We were heading for them thar mountains!

 Lucky for picture editing because this was a very smoke-laden
atmosphere .... the farmers were busy burning whatever they burn
at this time of year.

It was on a bridge like this (although somewhere further east), forty years ago in 1974, that I photographed a young boy of about five years old, fishing with his dad, using a primitive, homemade fishing line. Times were much tougher then I think. It was one of the shots I treasured most from the three months I spent traveling parts of Europe with my cousin Leigh Kealton and two other Durbanites, Sally and George ... probably because the picture was so atmospheric and true to the atmosphere at the time. I have often wondered how that young fella grew up, how his life developed, and where he might be now at the age of about forty-five. I'm sure everyone has particular life-memories which stick. This is one of mine.

We headed for the hills and the snow on the mountain peaks which took us south towards Leon. Our route took us on a long climb and around the shore of a big damn at Villabino, then more south towards Torrino. It was about this time, while we were enjoying all the stocky horses in the fields and passing through typical ski resort towns, that we began to notice weird little wooden sheds on mushroom-shaped legs. More about those later.

It was tiring for both driver and passenger, concentrating on driving on the right hand side of the road,  but we did well, and weren't too hassled by loads of traffic. In fact, there wasn't much traffic at all. The time of day arrived though, when it was sensible to start looking for a safe overnight camp - but we were finding it hard because the towns and roads only have narrow valley lines to follow between high, rocky mountains, leaving not so much space for pull-offs. We're not too keen on stopping overnight too close to a main road, but in this instance, we didn't seem to have much choice.

Eventually we found a curve of the old road with a pull off, rather littered, but livable, and with the sound of running water from a waterfall we didn't care to investigate due to all the garbage strewn around. But beggars couldn't be choosers in this case. If we kept our eyes on the surrounding hills, they were the beauty of the site, with loads of trees in full bloom with white flowers, dotted around looking like an erractic greying beard on an aging man.

 This was our overnight camp, taken from its good side!
Clever Alan avoided taking the litter. The main road is
on the right immediately beneath the foliage.
We were teased by thunder and one or two heavy drops of rain, but no storm. We're both lovers of "weather" so were a little disappointed.

It ended up that our pitch was a turning point for drivers who couldn’t fit around the hairpin bend around the corner so they zoomed up to this wider spot, did a quick U-turn and zoomed off up the hill around the corner. We only had one disgruntled lover or druggie (these spots are often Lovers’ Lanes or Druggies’ Pot Corners) who, at 2 am odd, pulled up, blasted his horn and then tore off with another long blast on his hooter. Sometimes these wild camping nights can feel a little stressful, but like good well-prepared security-conscious South Africans we have our police whistle (hmmm, a bit like a whisper in the wind in effectiveness though), our can of foghorn bought at a yatchies’ shop (major effective for blasting someone’s senses and gaining yourself a bit of time), and best of all our two front doors tied together across the driver’s and passenger’s seats (we read about this trick on a motorhomers’ forum somewhere). We also have a cheap magnetic alarm system fixed on various doors and windows but the bits tend to not stick so well and fall off their appointed doors quite often.

11 April 2014
We were up and sorted early. From waking, which is very difficult for me as I’m a heavy sleeper, to breakfast, shower, fully dressed and raring to go, we got it down to a fairly easy and relaxed two hours. 

A stunning 300 odd km drive towards the coast brought us to the stunning beaches of Galicia. Outside Lugo, thanks to a truck blocking our view, we missed our planned turning …. and we ended up being very pleased to have done so! Hambakahle guided us through farmlands with a great variety of trees, streams and dwellings to keep us enthralled.

For a while we were again stumped by those funny little oblong houses in each garden, usually with crosses on their roofs, and usually positioned at the outer edge of the garden, sometimes right on the fenceline, and always standing on legs which seemed to taper upwards. In one district they were made of wood and in another of precast concrete. We surmised their reason for being was from little personal houses of worship, to places to preserve precious belongings of family passed on, to hen houses (!!!), until we finally settled on the fact that they were food storage of some kind, up off the ground away from rodents and pests. Our decision was confirmed when we spotted one or two of them with circular disks three-quarters of the way up their stilts to deter rats, and one of them which actually had a carving of a young woman carrying a grain basket. We should have known - I’ve even seen an African basket equivalent in the foothills of the Drakensburg in KwaZulu Natal – but you have to succumb to being dumb tourists somewhere along the line hey! Here they're called horreos and are described as "pillared granaries".

Just before lunch we found a quaint church and cemetery to give you an idea of what they do with their dearly beloved who have passed on in this area. There were also a couple of the oblong houses in the garden opposite.

These church bells could have been rung by me!
They had a little pulley arrangement beneath, out
in the open, to ring the bells. I didn't do it.

 Something so compelling about old churches and their bells

 I felt a little in awe of these tombs which looked like
heavy-duty cupboards to me ... but then reasoned that
the area was so rocky, and valuable land so necessary
for farming, that this custom was born out of need.

 I suppose it does mean that families can stay together
but I still feel a little uncomfortable when I look at
these pics. Probably because I feel claustrophobic!

 The old (in the distance) and the new
(although we since found out that the horreos
have absolutely nothing to do with religion even
although many of them have crosses on their roofs!

 Just a fun shot of the top of a wall in the cemetary, reveling
in things that are allowed to stay in disarray, not swept away
and tidied by some human. Silly point but it makes me smile.

This was the farm opposite the church.
Soooooo photogenic.

 Same farm, above and below.


 Now wouldn't you think this was something to
do with religion?

 Just the beauty of an old, living, slate roof.

That farm again, above and below.
Couldn't stop photographing it!


 These two shots, above and below, are of a farm
house opposite the interesting one above.


There were loads of visual treats in store for us in the mountains, even although we had now decided to head for the coast. I was a little disappointed that the steepness of the valleys destroyed my fantasy of us meandering around mountain countryside and getting to know the inner part of this north western corner of Spain. We even battled to find somewhere to stop for lunch and eventually found this spot in the big, empty, parking lot of a couple of warehouse businesses.

This security gate-house was quite something else. It
looked like Clint Eastwood had just left and that a dusty
Mexican in a sombrero should be sitting on its patio.

Hang 'em High's last hideout

It does upset me how so many dogs, used for security and
hunting, are kept caged all day. These two were in the furtherest,
loneliest corner of the big parking lot. I noticed that what kept
them interested was looking towards this old wooden house
on the hill opposite, and across the main road, to see what was going on

More treats from a scenic stop we made in the mountains.

I've never been to Switzerland or Austria but to me this
looks very like those places. (Above and below)


 This, of course, was taken with my 70mm/300mm lens
(above) so this is more like it actually is in distance
and height  (below)

 Lovely daises strewn all over the paths
and grass, making it difficult to walk for those
of us dafties who don't like to walk on flowers!

 Yeah ... false rock art and false grecian
columns in the distance ... but they looked fun.

Much of the rest of the day was spent on national roads and freeways until we reached a lake-like Atlantic Ocean in all its ultramarine glory at a town called Nioa. We tootled on a bit, winding along the coast and keeping an eye out for an overnight stop, reaching a little town called Muros. We had seen a few possibilities for wild camping but being fairly new to this way of living, and not being too keen to park too close to lots of civilisation for various reasons, we kept an eye out for the campsites we’d seen signposted, passing a really nice looking one but deciding to press on a little further, where it was likely to be less habituated, and see what we could find.

Voila! Down a little road we found a council picnic site with The Most Stunning View of an idyllic bay. 

 Unfortunately you can't see the stunning beach and bay which
is beyond the right of these trees.

A short miming charade with a very friendly Spanish couple assured us we could stay the night. Yay. We parked and got out to have a bit of a walk, me grumping a little as I had a headache from sitting on the sunny side of the car for a few hours, but Alan itching to explore, so I agreed to test my ability to handle the heat after living in a lovely cool country for the past decade. Good thing too. A bit of a tramp around found us a campsite which looked pretty empty and peaceful.

There was a reason it was so empty … it was closed and only due to open the next week for Easter. However, the owner is a big friendly German fella, Wolfgang, who has been living here for 30 years, married to a Spanish lady, building up his campsite in paradise, and he was quite happy to let us stay for as long as we wanted, even although he wasn’t quite ready to open. Wow! A whole campsite to ourselves … just what the doctor ordered for settling for a few days and getting the feel of the area. We don’t really believe in spending days on end in the car trying to see as much as you can of the area, and yet not really getting to know the place. We’d rather settle somewhere, chat to folk, walk around a bit, get to know a small part of the area, take loads of pics (if the mood takes us) and plot and plan to come back another few times.

It didn’t take us long to settle, get out the table and chairs, find a bit of shade, pour a drink and cook up the game burgers and veg which were lurking in our freezer.

A 12 hour sleep in stressless peace awaited.

Practical Info:
Camping El Helguero (eminently suitable if you've recently arrived in Santander by ferry)
El Helguero, s/n, 39527 Ruiloba 
Camping El Helguero is situated in the village of Ruiloba, just a 15-minute drive from Santillana del Mar and the famous Altamira Caves. Santander is around 35 minutes away by car.


  1. lovely post Lynda and Alan, makes me want to jump on the ferry and follow you straight away!Lovely shots of the mountains and I love the little 'house on stilts', grain stores I think, Malachi saw loads of them on his Camino walk through Spain 2 years ago. Keep having fun, and I'm sure you will match your ferry astronomical meal with many more :)

    1. Hiya Liz :-) Yeah, we even found out the name of the grain stores ... but for a day or so they had us flummoxed! Um, yes, there have been some great meals since the ferry .... another one today was enjoyed. More later ..... Lynda x