Sunday, 6 September 2015

Covering Miles, desserts and the Pyrenees!

We are in Andorra! And i'm thoroughly impressed, i was a little unsure as of what to expect. The small country, nestled high up in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, famed for having the only co-principality in the world, the Principat d'Andorra is a truly impressive place. Because of it being such a mountainous country, the majority of its buildings, towns and villages are set in the bottom of various valleys, meaning that everywhere you go, you are surrounded by mountains! Sitting in a restaurant typing this now, 400m behind me the land rises sharply to at least 1000m!

Don't look down!

Anyway, yes we are in Andorra, but what about the last few days?! When i last wrote, we were near Valencia, that evening we ended up at a campsite in Calig, another hundred or so miles North up the East coast. That was actually the second campsite that day we visited, first headed to one in nearby Tirig, However upon arriving the place was deserted, i say deserted, but there was a few caravans there, an open restaurant and the place was clearly maintained, lights and music on in the restaurant, pool jets running... Yet there wasnt a single person around! After having a look around to see if i could find anyone, and failing, we waited for a little before leaving... It was starting to get a bit weird! We ended up at camping l'orangeraie in Calig. One of the best sites we'd stayed at.

We're not afraid of the dark!

Next morning we were up and ready for another day of mile munching. We headed for the Ejea de los Caballeros, north of Zaragoza. Whilst it was a bit of a trek, we ended up there earlier than i'd expected. So we started exploring some local tracks, the majority of these were on loose gravel, but very smooth and flowing, it was fun to get the car sliding around a little, and if you follow our Facebook page, you'll see some evidence of that! The day before though it had rained, meaning that by the time we actually got to the campsite, Tim was filthy!

 Where's it go?

Nobody knows...

Admittedly, could do with a bath at this point...

The next day the plan was to spend the morning and early afternoon exploring the Banderas Reales, before heading to the Pyrenees later on. The Banderas Reales is an awesome place, and if you are in the area, it is somewhere that is well worth exploring. The Banderas reales is a semi-arid desert, and has purpose made unsurfaced routes for exploring the place. We spent a few hours driving around the place, taking in the views, and exploring some of it on Foot. Very cool.

 Although only at most, 50 miles from the nearest town, you could feel truly isolated.

 Could almost be Nevada...

 Geography isn't my strong point, but the examples of erosion were incredible...

Leaving the Banderas Reales, i made a small navigational error, meaning to be headed north-east towards Andorra, for some reason i headed north-west, and ended up in Pamplona. Bugger. As nice as Pamplona was, we were now several hours further away from where we wanted to be! We headed into the Pyrenees anyway, and stopped at a campsite just outside Broto, cool place, and i was in awe of the scenery regardless.
 At times hard to focus on the road, the scenery was amazing...

Yesterday we awoke at Camping Oto, and headed off, travelling east towards the town of Alins. Alins was our target destination for it is the start of the not-so-secret but surprisingly un-well documented 'smugglers route' into Andorra. We had a leisurely drive through the Pyrenees, stopped off for plenty of photos along the way, had some lunch and arrived in Alins just before 5. Aware of the challenges that would face us tomorrow, i spent a few hours going over Tim, raising his ride height, adjusting suspension, swapping the two front tyres for the ones with better tread on the roof, and letting a load of air out of all four to hopefully aid traction. We chilled, for the evening, made some chow, and then i got a fairly early night.

 Not a bad spot for lunch!


This morning i awoke, it was cold! For the first time this trip i'd actually set an alarm, not wanting to sleep in too late, and with a rough target of being in Andorra before midday. An hour after being awoke and eventually making it out of my cosey sleeping bag, we were ready to go!

Compared to 30+ degree heat, this was brrrr!

I won't publicly list how to find the route, as part of it's charm is that its not massively overpopulated and isn't too busy. If anyone is genuinely interested though please feel free to send us an e-mail and just ask.

Anyway, once on the route, tarmac turns to concrete, and the concrete quickly ends, leaving the path ahead based on mud and rocks... Once passed through a small and very remote village, the track opens up, and begins to climb quite steeply, the rocks getting bigger and the gradients getting more challenging. Tim coped remarkably well, as long as we kept moving he managed to get over some sizable rocks and gradients. Setting off on a hill was a careful balance of keeping the revs high enough to get him moving but being gentle enough with the clutch so that he didn't just wheel spin on the spot and get us nowhere! There were a few small river/stream crossings, no problems!

 And so it begins...

 Climbing slowly...

 Getting higher!

 Splish, splash!

 Encountered some traffic...

 Views were nothing short of incredible...

At the top of one of the peaks we were greeted by several four wheel drive tour operators, to say they were surprised to see Tim at the top would be an understatement! The greeting was more than friendly though, with one of the drivers offering us advice and asking all about Tim. Several members of the tour were even having photos taken with Tim! Basically celebrity status!

 Pfffft! Who needs four wheel drive!

Some random dude insisted on having a photo with Tim!

Around 5 more miles off road continued, with some of it quite testing, before we arrived in Andorra! The border post now abandoned due to Andorra's 'relationship' with the EU, the only way to tell you've arrived is that the path turns into tarmac!

 Don't fall down the ruts!

 The end is near...!

And we made it, back on Tarmac! Almost a shame...!

We continued down the CG-4, through Pal, and headed towards Andorra la Vella, Andorra's capital. Typically, as we were driving down through the mountains, it became apparent that the UCI Mountain bike world champs are happening here this week, we parked up and i tried to see if there was a way i could get in. Unfortunately it turned out it would be almost impossible to get a ticket for the day, unless you had very deep pockets! Bummer.
Giant steel tea-cup... No idea what it means, but pretty cool!

We are currently in Andorra la Vella, planning on spending a few more hours here exploring the city, before heading North in the direction of France! Not before filling Tim up with some cheap fuel of course....

So for the last time this trip, we have left Spain behind us, goodbye for now, we will be back! Onwards North, and into France!

Peace, Joe.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Gibraltar, Palaces, Mountains and getting stuck in the sand...

Yesterday alone, we travelled from around 1500m up the Sierra Nevada, to the Tabernas dessert, from there; we headed to the Andalucian coast. So you could say we pretty much covered most climates and conditions! Oh, and it was all going so well, until we got stuck on a beach for over an hour… But more of that later!

Gibraltar was an odd place, not a bad kind of odd, just odd. Being around 1500 miles away from home, and then seeing Royal Mail postboxes, walking down the high street past Marks & Spencers and paying in pounds sterling was rather strange. Im not writing this in a negative sense though, far from it, I found Gibraltar very interesting, and I wouldn’t be adverse to going back again. I only got the chance to spend a few hours in the town, and would like too of spent at least a few hours more. The town itself is fascinating upon how its constructed, consisting within old fort buildings, shops and restaurants squeezed in where they can. The high street is narrow, but wouldn’t feel out of place in London, with all major brands present, yet when you reach the end of the street, the giant rock of Gibraltar itself looms into view. It’s a strange attraction in itself, for around the 10 miles or so before reaching Gibraltar, the area is completely flat, and as you draw nearer the ‘rock’ itself looms into view, looking almost unnatural in the vicinity of coastal towns and flatlands.

Weirdly it was almost like being at home!

 But cheaper, much cheaper!

After filling Tim’s tanks with Gibraltese petrol, and at 82p a litre I would have filled them twice if I could! We headed back across the frontier and into Spain, strangely, this seemed much more normal and familiar! We headed north towards Granada, and stopped at a campsite about 30 miles from the city.
 Off road again? 

Nope, just Spanish road works!

The next day, we made our move onto the fabled Alhambra palace, I’d heard many stories, and read many things, but little could prepare me for what I would see with my own eyes. If you have not been then you need to go. It is a place of outstanding beauty, and cultural differentiation that somehow blurs all into one. And it does so with Elegance, from the Moorish palaces to the later Roman and even more recent areas, each of which never feel out of place from one another. Different, most definitely, and distinguishably so, but it all just works… I find it remarkable, considering that each reigning empire rarely saw eye to eye, that each palace and section of the Alhambra still remains! I got talking to several people whilst walking around the grounds, nearly all of them tourists/travellers. It was interesting to compare differences in how we accomplished doing what we love so, travel. Anyway, for this I will let the pictures do the talking, apologies in advance for some, parts of the Alhambra were very dark, and slow shutter speeds and shooting handheld rarely mix! Excuse all the photos, i could of spent days there just taking pics!

After the Alhambra, and after being stung for nearly 10 euros worth of parking! We left Granada, and followed signs for the Sierra Nevada. It had a natural allure for me, after always being drawn to things tall and mountainous. The Sierra Nevada is not famed for being a particularly challenging climb or route, with its highest peak being the Mulhacen, most people considering it a walk or a hike. I even met two Brits who had flown into Malaga and were doing just that, camping at sites and wild where they could. However for me it had one thing that I did want to accomplish, the Sierra Nevada holds claim to the highest publically accessible road in all of Europe… Guess where we headed!

The road as it leaves Granada climbs steeply, and covers something like 2000m in 15 miles… So it’s a constant serious incline from the beginning to the top. All was going well until about 1500m, I had noticed the air getting thinner, and Tim had been affected also! Fourth gear became almost unusable as he became starved of oxygen, third was most popular with second getting a fair workout also! After 2000m it became quite hard work. Pulling away required planning, lots of throttle and a considerable amount of planning, my AFR gauge telling me just how rich the mixture was! By the time we got to the top, around 2700m, his idle was barely ticking over. Alas he had made it, and did so without much fuss, me probably making more of a deal of it than necessary! The view from the top, would have been incredible, except, as seems to be a theme on this trip, there was a considerable haze…  We could still see a few hundred feet, so it could have been worse!

 2700m and some...

After spending an hour or so at the top, experiencing the lack of Oxygen and watching the test vehicle climb to the top and fly back down again. There was lots of these, I noticed several Transits, some loaded, some towing trailers with weight, and then lots of Lorries, working hard pulling up the incline. Several vehicles that I couldn’t recognise due to their stripey and baggy clothing also! Anyway, we headed back down, Tim ran better as the air got thicker, and I too felt the difference, after descending a thousand feet the air felt like soup in comparison! We headed to a campsite that we’d seen signposted on the way up, and spent the night.

Before leaving I’d been intrigued by the Tabernas dessert, and with it only a few hours away and in the right direction, that was our first heading of the day. However, before even leaving the Sierra Nevada, there were a few off road trails that just proved far too tempting…! Some were rougher than others, continued down one for about 20 miles before it ended at a road. After well over an hour spent playing and taking photos, we got back on our heading.

 Wheres this go...?

 One way to find out...

Amazing views on the way back down!

The Tabernas dessert is famed for being the location of many ‘Spaghetti Western’ films, and when arriving here you can quickly see why! It is one of only a few true semi-desserts in Europe, with annual rain fall below 200mm a year. We stayed a while, before moving on, as unless you wanted to go and see the sets of the films, there’s not a great deal to see. And it was rather warm also, try 42 degrees in the shade!
Dry enough...?

We headed back out to the coast, my grandparents have a place in San Juan De Los Terreros, unfortunately they weren’t out here at the time. Alas we found a beach and parked up for a while, took some photos...

Moving off the beach is where it all went wrong, I managed to find some soft sand, unintentionally whilst turning round! Tims front wheels quickly sunk in and were pulling us nowhere. He was beached down to his sumpguard. Bummer. Sand ladders came off the rood, and I dug him out, he pulled himself onto the ladders, made it about 6 feet, and then sunk again… Double bummer. Long story short, this happened 5 times! After 2 hours of digging, sinking, digging, sinking… You get the idea, we were out! Wahooo! Note to self, watch out for soft sand next time!



 Thrice... (I got bored of taking photos after this!)

Wahooo, we made it out!

After clearing the sand out of most crevices, we headed into the nearby town of Aguilas for some shopping, exciting stuff I know. Found a campsite 20 mins away, and set up camp.

Last nights meal...

Today has been less exciting (thankfully?). Forever wary of time and money constraints, decided to cover some miles heading north, aware missing out on some of the East coast, but I needed to head North as in a few days I wish to be in the Pyrenees before heading back over into France. So I’m currently sat here writing this, near Valencia, from a fast food restaurant popular with travellers for their free wi-fi… Hey, this is my first one this trip!

Peace, Joe.

P.s. All photos are downscaled so it doesnt take several days to upload them onto here, if anyone wants full resolution versions, just give me a shout!