Category Archives: Spain

Travel Work Exchange and our experience.

Why you should consider a work exchange experience when you travel.

Travel has been important since the dawn of time. The explorers in us have always roamed this earth in search of new lands, experiences and views. Through all of it we love to learn about new places and cultures. For those of us not content with 2 weeks a year and who try to travel either full time or regularly, the costs can mount up. Looking for ways to save money when we travel is essential to make the most of our free time.

Why not consider a ‘travel work exchange’ programme?

Paint brushes

What is a work travel exchange?

A work travel exchange is an amazing way to travel on a budget. You get to meet lots of people. You usually get to stay for free in exchange for some work that they need doing. This allows time for you to see the local area in your free time.

Travel/work exchange programmes have been around for many years. They have given those that love to travel the ability to move around for low costs. It is beneficial for businesses owners, private land owners, social projects, farms etc. to get assistance with an endless amount of roles. It’s a collaborative exchange between you and the hosts looking for a certain type of work to be done.

What type of work can I do?

You do not have to be trained in obscure roles such as ‘listed house roofing specialist’ or have a degree in landscape gardening. There are plenty of other roles available for almost every type of skill you can think of. However if you do have certain skills, particularly being able to speak foreign languages, it will certainly help you in some work travel placements. There are so many opportunities to learn on the job. The most important thing is to have an open mind and be willing to work hard.

Some roles could be helping out on campsites, in hospitality, fruit picking on a farm or helping to clear land. Teaching a language or subject, renovation and maintenance, cooking, child care, working in a rescue centre for animals. The list is endless and they are all across the globe. They are enticing you off of the beaten track into the more remote locations to get a real feel of the land and local communities.

What do I get in return for working?

In most cases accommodation is provided, sometimes a spot to park your campervan (sometimes there may be electric hook ups). All of this is relative to the individual location and host. It is important that you clarify all benefits before you travel to ensure you are prepared for what to expect. Occasionally they may be shared dorms and bunks similar to a hostel environment, if they are having regular volunteers. You may be lucky and have your own accommodation and bathroom or it may be shared with others.  

In most cases we have found that one meal is usually provided communally. Cooking duties are usually shared amongst the volunteers so having some basic cooking skills will serve you well. Pun intended! If you are a really bad cook then perhaps agree to be the chief washer upper!

Chopping wood
Wood Chopping

What don’t I get?

In most cases, do not expect to earn money. You are working for the host in return for your board. It is very unlikely that any wages will be included on top of that.

You will be responsible for your travel costs to and from the location. Any visas and vaccinations if you are going abroad, and medical costs will be your responsibility.

Food may be included for communal meals. All other food will need to be purchased by yourself as well as money for excursions and leisure activities.

Each work/travel exchange will be different depending on the host. You need to make sure you clarify all the fine details before you commit.

How long do I have to work for?

This will vary from host to host, however the usual amount is around 20 – 25 hours a week. We undertook a placement in an animal sanctuary and volunteered to do almost 12 hours days at times. In addition we also had night duty and were very happy to do those hours. I will stress that we didn’t have to and that the host was very accommodating to our needs. We loved it so much that we wanted to as much as we could.

What travel insurance do I need?

Due to the types of work you will be undertaking, there are some grey areas as to whether you are a worker or a tourist. In reality, you are neither and both at the same time. We did a quick search for volunteer travel insurance and found some information on gap insurance. This is catered for the younger age bracket taking their gap year between collage and university. Some of these insurance companies have a maximum age bracket as low as 35. We recommend speaking to insurance brokers and explaining the type of volunteering or work exchange placement you are undertaking to ensure you have the correct cover.

Any advice?

We suggest that for your first experience, consider starting in your home country. Once you feel confident then start to look further away. Perhaps arrange to go with a friend to have someone to travel with and share the adventure. Make sure people know exactly where you are and check in regularly. Provide your family with contact details of your host.

Where can I find out more.

There are lots of websites set up specifically for work travel exchange programmes, volunteering and working abroad. A quick internet search will bring them up for you. There are also lots of facebook groups set up for this. Connect with others that are looking to sign up for, or have experience in, travel work exchange programmes. Build a network of like-minded people. Start to make friends with them and ask them about the highs and lows of their involvement in the programmes.

Voluntary work
Voluntary work

Our experience of Travel Work Exchanges.

Arriving at the campsite

We have only done two so far but are looking at other experiences for the future. Our first one was in the UK and we found this on a facebook group for van-lifers. It wasn’t done through a specific website or company. We saw a post from an lady that had purchased some land. She was looking for people to help clear it and turn it into a campsite. The land was in Tairgwaith, Glamorgan, Wales. This is a part of the UK that we love near the Black Mountains. We were looking to give something back so volunteered to lend a few days helping out.

Speaking to the host a little bit about the types of things that were needed, it seemed like general weeding, tidying, maintenance etc. In return she would let us park our campervan on the land for free in exchange for the manual labour. We were looking forward to hearing about the business plans she had. Perhaps learn a little bit about what would be needed if we ever embarked on a project like that in the future.

We arrived at the location and were greeted by wild horses. The site was on a slight hill with a gravel path marking the small site, only catering for approximately 3 or 4 campers at a time. It wasn’t a large plot of land but it was beautiful. We met our host who was, shall we say, a unique character. After being given a tour of the site, she told us all about her exciting plans. We could quickly see that there was a LOT of work that would need to be done.

Groundwork

In order to get the most out of the time we had, the host set us to work on one area. Rather than just do bits here and there it made sense to concentrate on one area. During the time we worked there we managed to make a safe bonfire pit. We used this to burn small amounts of wood at a time. In the evening we also used this to cook our dinner on.

From moving big heavy branches, pulling weeds and moving rubble, the area took a fair amount of time to clear. We used rocks to line the edge of the path and discarded tree stumps as seats around the fire pit. The host would pop out every now and then to see how we were doing. She would remind us that we could stop when ever we wanted to but we were quite happy just pottering along and keeping the fire going.

Out for an adventure

On the second day, our host wanted to show us part of the local area. We all bundled in her yellow campervan and headed for the hills. She took us to a stunning part of the Black Mountain range to where there was a disused mine and lime kilns. It was lovely to go out with the owner and learn more about the surrounding area. After a little while she headed back to the van and told us to take our time investigating. We agreed to meet her and her dog back at the van when we were ready. This allowed us time to look at the views and poke about in the rocks, looking at the ruins.

Live Streaming

After our walk we headed back to the camp site and continued to potter around. The next day saw us doing something slightly different. A beautiful stream runs through the site at the bottom of the hill. It had been all snagged up with fallen branches during recent bad weather. The host had asked us if we would be happy to help her clear it. With my wellies on I gladly followed her down the bank into the freezing water. We walked along the trickling stream that was largely rocky and very slippery. The host and I cut some branches back and cleared the debris that could have posed a problem if left to build up over time.

We passed the branches up to Louise who stacked them to dry out. The whole site was like something out of a hobbit film. Down in the stream the whole site looked completely different. The purple flowers appearing on the banks looked like a spring carpet. Tracks from animals could be seen using the water as either crossing locations or for a water source. Further along, back on land, were the remains of an old cattle shed. Sadly it hasn’t survived but would have been a beautiful building in its day.

We thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Even though there were not facilities to shower, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our time. We were helping this semi wild and basic site get a head start before opening properly.

It was thanks to this experience that we were eager to have another go at a work travel exchange, this time in Spain!

Galgos Del Sol

Parked up on site

After our first season of travel, we settled up in Yorkshire for the winter. Being in a house just felt more restrictive and we needed to get out and about. We saw on another facebook group that an animal rescue charity was looking for people with a campervan. They wanted people to come and volunteer for a few months. This was to help do the night duty and care for the dogs. An interesting work travel exchange that was close to our hearts!

We love dogs, both having long careers in animal welfare under our belt, and we had a camper. Spain was warmer than Yorkshire and it was an area that we were sort of familiar with. A year prior we had stayed about an hour from there in my aunts villa. We loved it very much so we knew that should we have any major problems, there was an area (and possibly a villa if it wasn’t being used) nearby that we could find safety in.

Making the arrangements – even with the van rebuild not entirely finished, we made our way to the centre. On arrival, we were very impressed with the set up and facilities. This is a working canine rescue centre and it is still under some construction. Although most of the kennels are now built some work is still underway. Accommodation areas for volunteers and a communal shower facility for those camping are in the pipe line. We were able to use the shower in one of the finished apartments with permission from its current guest.

Agreement to volunteer

In the agreement we made with the hosts volunteer co-ordinator, we were given all the information we needed. This included hours we were expected to be available, safety information and site rules. It was clearly stated that there was a strict vegan policy in communal areas. You were allowed animal products in your own areas but not permitted in the communal kitchen or meals. Louise and I would be expected to work with the dogs 8am – 2pm then have lunch. The afternoons would be free time as long as we were back for evening duties. Duties would include being responsible for feeding, cleaning and training the dogs, caring for the guard dog at night and reporting any problems to the owner.

Louise and I were happy with these arrangements but it soon became clear there was a lot to do. We ended up working almost constantly, rarely taking any time off. We felt guilty on our occasional time off (due to covid, we couldn’t go anywhere anyway!) when we knew there was so much we could be doing.

For some of the longer term dogs, we would try to focus on enrichment ideas. This was to keep them stimulated and introduce new games and puzzles that they would need to figure out. We taught basic obedience, handling, touch acceptance, agility, lead work and settle. We loved them and played with them. After a snack we went to sleep and did it all again the next day.

Food Glorious Food!

Cooking is a passion for Louise and eating is a passion for me. This is one of the reasons we work so well together! Learning a whole heap of new recipes was a great joy. Being able to collaborate with other volunteers taught us a lot. We all took turns in the cooking and cleaning of the kitchen. At the busiest time, we were cooking for 13 people. That was until Covid hit and everyone had to leave, leaving just 4 full time and 2 part time helpers.

From aubergine parmesan, curried cauliflower and chick pea curry to vegan burger and chips. We had a real variety of food and everyday we would look forward to seeing what had been created. It was the one time of day that everyone could be together. We would discuss the plans for the next day or so. Through these experiences we made some really strong friendships that cover many countries and have remained in place even since we have returned.

Giving back

Fiji

Although we know we gave a lot to the dogs we cared for they also gave a lot back to us. They were our comfort, our security, our children and our friends. On one particular day I was feeling really tearful and frustrated so I went to sit with Fiji and calm down. She knew something was wrong and kept licking my face, practically sitting on me and forcing me to stay still until I felt better. Fiji is a heavy girl and if she sits on you, its hard to move her! We all loved Fiji and know that she will make an incredible therapy dog!

Nerina

The puppies needed us to be on top of our game. Constantly feeding them and picking up poo whilst nursing their mumma back to health as she was in such a poor condition was one of the most rewarding elements of our time there. Nerina, the mother, was very wary at first about strangers coming in and touching her puppies.

She didn’t have any milk so to start with her babies needed feeding until she was able to take over again. She had to quickly learn to trust us. We took it as slow as we could. Always wearing gowns and respecting her space. After a day or so it was clear that Nerina was happy we were helping out and used us coming in as an excuse to have some alone time away from the pups and stretch her legs. Once we were done she would come back and settle down with the pups, once again latching on and starting to feed from her.

Marie

Louise and Marie

Some of the dogs needed a lot more socialisation than others and just spending time building bonds of trust were the most important sessions we would be involved in. It was a slow process with some of them but Marie, a dog who had spent almost her entire life at the rescue centre, was very scared of leaving her kennel. Louise and I spent lots of time slowly getting her to trust us and accept touch before we even tried to do any more than that. After a week or so we were able to start work putting the harness on – still not leaving the kennel.

Once the harness was able to be put on and off we started just going outside the gate. Marie had a favourite spot in the weeds just outside the block and we used this as her thinking spot. She felt safe there. Over time, and using lots of food bowls with high value treats in, Marie felt able to investigate the bowls and get a reward for doing so. During our time there we slowly moved the bowls further away, replacing them with vocal rewards and treats from the treat pouch. Now Marie can walk with other dogs and on her own, she is now kennelled with a friend and is enjoying playing in the large paddock.

Libby and Javi

As you know these two dogs became very close to our hearts. We spent a lot of time with these dogs and they gave so much back to us that kept us engaged with them. Javi has a broken back. He was hit by a car and when found, he had learnt to walk on his front two legs only. Sadly, Javi was paralysed from his hips down and his injury was inoperable. Tina, the director of GDS did not give up on him and was able to start him on hydrotherapy, electronic stimulation and physiotherapy.

Working with a dedicated team of vets and specialists, Javi began to make progress and can now walk again as his muscles are strong enough to hold him. Not only that, but he can play again almost like a normal dog. He still has the occasional wobble and certain weather may make him stiffer in the mornings but he was given a second chance to live and he has embraced it with both paws. Javi always looks happy, always has the biggest smiles and never complains about anything – other than that breakfast is always too late! He was a true inspiration to us both.

Libby is his best friend in the whole world and she look after him like a mother/son relationship. Libby has spent her life at GDS too and although her needs were very much looked after, she needed some Basic training to help give her the skills she would need in a home setting. We taught her to sit, to lay down, to wait and also a few tricks such as weaving, paw and using the agility equipment. She was a lovely dog who had so much enthusiasm for human interaction.

A shared experience

It is hard to sum up the experience of volunteering with GDS and the above are just a few examples of the different work we were doing with different dogs – however there were over 200 dogs on site and to tell you about each one would take some time. Lets just start by saying that we will never forget this experience and it taught us so much about ourselves, as well as about breeds of dogs that we had never worked with before.

We got to learn all about how front line rescue works, the effort it takes to rescue these beautiful dogs in the first place (countless hours sat waiting for these stray dogs to go in the humane traps to be captured, vet checks, medical bills, food and rehabilitation) before they can even be put up for adoption.

Volunteering at Galgos Del Sol

We learnt about volunteers from all over the world that came to help, including America, Belgium, Denmark and beyond. Connecting with other like minded volunteers and staff was incredible and easy as we all had a common interest in the well-being of these dogs, and therefore had a subject to talk about straight off the bat.

We also learnt a lot about ourselves, working under pressure in a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic – not knowing if we would be able to go home at any point soon and having to navigate another countries requirements with a significant language barrier proved quite entertaining at times.

Travel Work Exchange programmes

Travel Work Exchanges can leave an important mark on you, as we found out. They can help you grow your knowledge of people, places and skills as well as change you forever. You will meet people like you that like to travel and have common goals, adventurers, wonderers, hard working passionate people that want to get as much as they can from life. Above all, you will be able to travel with a low budget and have the most amazing time of your life!

If you have been on a work travel exchange, please tell us your story below and tell us how it changed your life!

Back to Blighty with a bump! Puppies to Covid-19

We are home and so the adventure had to come to an end. We cant believe where those three months went! It seems like only yesterday we were planning how we were going to raise the funds needed. Can we please say a massive thank you to everyone that donated and supported our volunteering stint. We are so grateful to each one of you who helped us to have an amazing adventure. We healed ourselves, the dogs and puppies and survived a global pandemic hidden away behind 8 ft fences for as long as we did.

It started with a rough crossing on the ferry and ended up with a mad road trip to cross the border. We had to get back into the UK like Indiana Jones before further restrictions took hold during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Ferry Cap Finistere
Cap Finistere, Brittany Ferries

Lockdown Blues

We really hoped to post more about nearby locations, little towns as well as stories of the dogs as we went along. We planned to investigate the area on our down time. This didn’t happen (except for one trip to Mar Menor) as just after our arrival the whole world went into various stages of lock-down. This had a severe impact on the rescue centre. Having not encountered anything like this before no one really knew how to react. Most of the volunteers followed the advice of their countries government recommendations to return asap. Suddenly the centre went from 13 volunteers plus a few staff to just 3 volunteers and a few staff. We were pulling close to 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week most of the time we were there.

With the centre holding over 200 dogs this put an immense strain on the running of the shelter. Seeing as we had our house on wheels – and what it seemed at the time like it would be a short lockdown, we decided to stay and help for as long as we could. We were hopeful we would bridge the gap until the volunteers were able to return again.

We had no idea how severe the pandemic would become but knew we were safe where we were. The kennels were 5 miles from the nearest town and surrounded by fruit and pepper farms. Our groceries were bought in for us and we had all the facilities we needed there to keep us safe. It seemed like we would be more at risk to try and get home as the ferries had stopped running.

What did we learn?

We both have experience of working with rescue dogs in the UK. Volunteering with Tina at GDS has taught us so much more than we ever expected. From medical conditions we don’t see often in the UK such as Leishmania to working with breeds of dog that we had never worked with before such as Galgos, Mastines and Podencos. There was dog training to undertake and also ground works to maintain.

Emma and Fiji, Galgos del sol
Fiji, A Mastine

We don’t know where to start with telling you about our experience but what we do know, is how we want to move forward. It was incredible and we would do it again in a heart beat. We would also recommend others consider volunteering if you ever get the chance.

It has been a healing, rewarding, humbling and educational experience. I was craving something before we left in February, I felt like I hadn’t given enough. I wanted to do something worthwhile and we both found that at GDS. From rearing day old puppies, helping a dog overcome agoraphobia and falling in love with a dog that has a broken back, it has been a real adventure and we feel like we had the opportunity to learn, grow and give back with the skills we have to help the lives of these dogs.

So where does that leave us now? Well, currently day 6 of self isolation. It has been a blessing because it gives us a chance to research, learn and make plans for the future. We will reveal those plans shortly but we want to show you what we have been up to first!

Here is our first instalment – The ups and downs of raising puppies.

On 9th March, just 2 weeks after we had arrived and still finding our feet, Tina had set off on a rescue mission. Reports had come in that a pregnant Galgo had been spotted on some land. Although they had been out to try and find her many times, she had evaded capture. That morning, a call had come in that she had been spotted by a house. She had dug a hole and given birth to a litter of puppies. The mum was very thin and it was unlikely that the puppies would survive without intervention.

A short while later, Tina arrived with the mum and pups and their health was poor. One puppy in particular was looking very weak and cold. Tina quickly passed him to us and asked us to try and warm him up but not to hold out too much hope. Little Pablo fit in the palm of our hands. We gathered heat pads, heat lamps and towels, puppy milk and cotton buds. His face was covered in dirt but he was alive.

We managed to clean his mouth and nose out carefully. He was cold and refused to drink. Over the next two hours we battled to save him. We gave him CPR and mouth to mouth when he stopped breathing. We tried to revive him many times, a few times successfully, but sadly he was just weak. His life was short, but we was loved. He died in our hands despite everything we tried.

Pablo one day old puppy galgos del sol
Pablo, Fighting for his life. 1 day old.

We couldn’t mourn for long, the rest of the litter needed us.

The rest of the puppies were now our priority and over the coming weeks, until the day we left, we were responsible for them. It wasn’t an easy road for them either. Mum was so underweight that she didn’t have any milk and was unable to feed her babies. The vet came and gave her some medication to stimulate her milk production. We needed to feed the whole litter day and night until she was able to take over. This involved many late night room service trips to feed the remaining puppies on top of our day shifts. We worked non stop.

When Nerina (the mum) did manage to feed her babies again we noticed the pups were becoming ill. With wounds appearing on their feet like they had been burned with acid. In places, their skin was peeling off.  It took several trips to the vets to be able to diagnose the cause of the problem. Nerina had a nasty infection and was very poorly. She was passing the infection to her puppies through her milk.

Checking the puppies one morning we found that due to the infection, one puppy had lost a toe. She was at risk of losing her whole foot, if not her life. Treatment was started which meant mum was again unable to feed her pups. Nerina had to be removed from her puppies for a short time. As a mother, she was desperate to get back to her babies. Her health improved and as soon as possible, she was successfully reunited with her litter.

It takes a village to raise a litter!

Hand feeding puppies
Cortina, being bottle fed by Louise

Most of our time spent with them in the early days was medicating, bathing wounds, applying cream and feeding the puppies. Mum was starting to gain weight and was tolerant of us both handling her pups although wary at first. Once she was used to us and trusted us, she soon welcomed the surrogate nannies. Nerina would take the opportunity to go for a walk and relax outside whilst we took over and she could have 3 meals a day in peace without puppies hanging off of her very sore nipples.

Pupdate

Now, the puppies are doing so well. They have changed so much and developed such amazing characters. Being able to work with these puppies from just 1 day old has enabled us to learn so much. Although we have fostered many puppies in our past, we have never had them from this young and so poorly. It was such an amazing moment to go in one morning and see that Mini (aka Mini-Milk), the puppy with the missing toe, had her eyes open. Of all the puppies that were bigger and stronger than her, it was Mini that opened her eyes first. We got to see their ears open, their mouths change shape and their noses elongate.

Now they are playing, excited, growing so fast and learning life experience by annoying each other. It has been such a turbulent journey. They had the first part of their vaccines, which made them feel poorly for a few days and been wormed. Saying that, I think Louise and myself ended up with more wormer on us than in the puppies!

Although the story of the puppies has been full of highs and lows, we know that because of Tina, her dedication and our efforts to keep them alive, they will now go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

Amazing transformation of pups from 1 day to 9 weeks old.


Why did we leave?

Simply put, we didn’t want to. We have already extended our original term and enabled the centre to have our help and support for the time that we could. We had family back home that were all dealing with their own struggles, from lock down related worries to all the things that go on in normal life. Being in another country to them was already hard but we face timed regularly and tried to be present for each of them.

It was becoming apparent that we were really needed back at home and had already started to look at options to return. We were hopeful it would be in the next few months as the already strict legislation’s in Spain were starting to be relaxed. You could get up to a 30,000 euro fine at the time we left for being out unnecessarily if stopped by the authorities.  

Ferries were still not running and the company constantly saying they would be restarting, then cancelling and delaying sailings again. We had started to look into alternative travel and had some hard decisions to make. Either leave the van in Spain and fly home, putting ourselves at risk in an airport and taking only essential items with us OR drive through France and catch the Eurotunnel that was still working.

A hard decision

On the Monday evening, reports that the borders were actually going to be tightening were making the news and rumblings that as of the Friday at midnight, mandatory quarantine at the borders would be enforced. This would potentially involve us being put into the sports complexes and arenas that we have watched being transformed into make shift hospitals over the last few months and was not somewhere we wanted to end up down the line.

We had a tough choice to make. Leave first thing in the morning and drive home, getting us home Friday afternoon if all went smoothly, or wait and be sent to a medical facility both ends of France causing a month delay in getting home. The risk of being thrown into an area with thousands of people from who knows where, that have been in contact with who knows what was unbearable. We have been kept so safe up until now, that we certainly didn’t want to risk being infected at the quarantine facility. We really had no option but to drive home through the tunnel. It was the safest option.

We cried most of the way home, stopping only to plan how we could see the dogs again. So much hard work and effort has gone into building GDS over the years, a lot of hardship, loss, sleepless nights and financial input, to make it what it is today. We have been forever changed and inspired by Tina, Nomi and the team at GDS and want to build something in the UK to make them proud.

Plans are afoot!

Louise and I will explain more in our next update but for now, just know we are home, safe and sound, missing the dogs and so humbled by our experience there. Check out our videos and don’t forget to share our posts to help us reach a wider audience and support our next project.

Once again, a massive thank you to everyone who donated and helped us have the most amazing time, full of hard work and long days but it was so rewarding.

If you can, please donate to our next project – it is a big one, and will be in the canine welfare sector. Paypal Link paypal.me/VanLifeDiary

Mar Menor

From small sea to large pond, this area has had many names but all describe the natural formation that we see today at Mal Menor, its name translating as “minor sea”. Europe’s largest salt water coastal lake is located on the Iberian peninsular near Cartagena and home to 170km2 of sun warmed salt water. Not only does it provide an amazing view, but is a great location for water sports such as stand up paddle-boarding, windsurfing and kite boarding.

La Manga (meaning sleeve) is the area that separates the salt water lagoon from the Mediterranean sea. A strip of land full of holiday apartments and hotels provide a modern looking tourist resort that can be easily spotted from the main land. Originally the bay was open and La Manga was the natural end of the salt lake. Over many years, the volcanic reefs at either end of the bay started to hold back sand and sediment in between two meeting seas, the Menor and the Mediteranean. Now, La Manga is the result of that natural phenomenon. The resort has been being built since the 60’s and now very commercialised.

La Manga
La Manga in the distance

The mainland side of the Mar Menor lagoon, looks out to sea and to the right of us are the blue and purple silhouettes of the mountain ranges. Taking our first outing from our volunteering stint with Galgos del Sol, we ventured to Mal Menor as it looked interesting on the map.

Mar Menor and it’s ecological importance

Emma on the edge

The northern end of Mar Menor still has salt flats and these now include a wetland protected by the regional government and is a special protection zone (known as a Zepa in Spanish) for bird life.  It is a humid area with its own micro-climate. It has been included in the list of wetlands of international importance since 1994.

With reeds standing 15 ft tall, sea lily, sea thistle and more, a broad representation for varying flora can be discovered here providing all sorts of food and habitats for the wildlife. With birds such as the grebe, large cormorant, black neck grebe, stilt, plover and tern for example, there are also reptiles including the Iberian skink, red-headed lizard (which we didn’t see) and common chameleon (which we could have looked straight at but not seen). Endangered insects, crustaceans and fish also live her and mammals such as shrew, weasels and bats.

reeds mar menor
Reeds in the conservation area

Beaches

There are more than 8km of beaches around the Mar Menor lagoon. Three most popular beaches are Las Salinas, Beach Barraca and Punta de Algas although there are many more options for quieter locations depending on what experience you are looking for.

We headed to a location given to us, just the other side of Murcia airport and near a couple of motorhome campsites. They were full of holiday makers even in early March so  that was a good sign for us! After a few failed attempts we finally located Kinita restaurant and beach club and found somewhere to park.

Visiting the conservation area

conservation area looking out to sea
Conservation area

Walking through to the beach was like looking at a postcard, blue sky, warm sunshine and palm trees lined our way as we walked through to the beach. Although not golden sand like the Caribbean, the beach was small but a great location to keep an eye on little ones! The sea was a bit mucky today but that could have been tidal so don’t take our word that it is always like that as we don’t know and we have had a few storms recently in the area.

At the end of the beach we noticed some steps and what looked like a little wooden footbridge so went to explore. This was the entrance to the conservation area. Wooden boards and railings lined the footpath to keep all visitors in designated areas instead of walking anywhere and damaging the reserve. A look out tower and some viewing platforms made for great photo opportunities. We saw some birds hopping around in the shallow water and watched them for a while. It took around 15 minutes for us to take a gentle stroll for us to reach the other side and onto the next stretch of beach. It was here we swapped wooden boards for a paved esplanade next to the sandy beach.

Playa de Los Narejos

palm trees lining the esplanade and sea
The esplanade

Kite suffers lined the horizon as we looked out towards La Manga and beyond, twisting and turning in the breeze. Children played in the sand and groups of people were gathered in the communal areas (If you know what I mean!). A few bars and watersports schools lined the path as we took in the sights and aromas of Spain.

As we walked around looking at the area, we heard a chirping noise above us. We tracked it down and found out that it was a green parrot, sat in a tree!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a parrot in a palm tree!

We really enjoyed our afternoon off in Mar Menor and took a drive through San Javier on the way back to base camp. As the sun started to go down, a chill in the air bought welcome relief to what had been a hot day when out of the wind. With the breeze on the sea front, we forgot quite how stong the sun was and burnt a little but even though we were wearing sun cream.

And… Relax

Louise, Monanna and Emma

A nice relaxing evening of sorting out our laundry and cooking some dinner (first time we had properly cooked in 2 weeks for an evening meal!) before we head off for an early night. Although we enjoyed our afternoon off we really missed the dogs and cant wait to see them again in the morning.

Emma and Louise at the beach


We heard just now that Maria Jose has caught another stray this evening that will be coming to us after her vet check and we will be making sure she feels safe and loved. Add on to that our ever growing list of favourite dogs (Bonjo, Marie, Javi, Fiji, London, Peugeot, Joaquim, Kissy, Libby, Penny, Wella, Violetta, Tania, Blossom, Isabachi, Tomi, Montanna, Quid, Madrid, Moschu Anton and Twinkles – oh dear….) its going to be more than 10 days before we want to take any more time off!!!

Your donation are saving lives

With the money you have donated, we have been able to help care for the site whilst Tina and Nat have been off assisting with rescues as Galgos del Sol. Yesterday they caught a poor galgo that had been seen with a nasty trap around her stomach. After saving 3 other dogs the day before whilst trying to catch her they finally succeeded. She is now safe and being taken care of. We saw her ourselves today and she will be looked after medically and emotionally as she recovers.

We are so grateful that you helped us get here to the front line and you honestly don’t know what a difference you have made to the lives of these dogs just by helping us. We are dedicated and cant wait to bring you Marie’s story soon. But for now, we have to go and finish a few things around the centre for our night duty before we try to get a few hours shut eye and wake up ready to bounce into kennels in the morning!

Our first week with Galgos Del Sol rescue centre.

As we drove from Santander, via Madrid to the rescue centre called Galgos Del Sol, the nerves were building. Of course, going into any new situation can be overwhelming or cause anxiety but that is the fear of the unknown.

As people who have worked in an English animal rescue charity on the front-line, we knew roughly what to expect on arrival and had seen pictures, videos and read the stories about Tina and her incredible rescue centre. However nothing can ever fully prepare you for the moment you walk through the doors for the first time.

Once in the care of Galgos Del Sol, the dogs at the rescue centre are treated with kindness, compassion and a relaxed atmosphere in which they are able to live comfortably whilst waiting for their forever homes. The vision that this woman has for animal welfare is incredible and she knows every single dog in the kennels as well as their back story. A mean feat when you have around 200 dogs in your care.

Driving to Galgos Rescue centre

clouds
Odd clouds above the mountains

Our drive to Galgos Del Sol was a long one but so beautiful. The first leg of our drive saw us set off in fog from Santander. We drove towards the mountains and entered tunnels that provided welcome shortcuts through them. We happened to be videoing at the time and captured an amazing sight when we came out of the other end. The fog was now clearing and showing the jagged mountain skyline laid out before our eyes.

As we climbed higher on the mountain road, the fog stayed low in the Valley, becoming a fluffy carpet floor and hiding the towns below. The drive was full of varying landscapes but the roads were easy to navigate. Duel carriageway or motorway most of the way there. Service stations were pretty easy to locate but we never let Chewy get lower than half a tank as we didn’t know where the next station was located.

Out on the horizon, about half way there, the familiar sight of a few high rise buildings replaced the jagged mountain passes. A city skyline took over as we approached Madrid and then we noticed the reflections in the sky as Aeroplanes stacked ready to land at the capital cities airport. We stayed on the outskirts of the city and bypassed the main parts but there it was, in the middle of nowhere, a metropolis.

Returning to the roads heading now towards the coast, the radio stations’ phased in and out of signal at every high note or chorus. Our excitement was building with every kilometre sign we passed. We would go from intense conversation about what we would do, what it might be like and whether we would want to leave to sitting in silence collecting our thoughts and preparing ourselves for this experience.

Arrival

Just before we arrived at the rescue centre we decided to find a supermarket and stock up our groceries for a few days. We also took the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the town and find out where to empty our chemical toilet.  Louise had done all of the driving and even though I could do it, I haven’t driven on the other side of the road before and Louise has much more experience. I decided it was safer if I was designated Navigator (Sat nav reader) and set the course for Lidl. We drove through the town and found the supermarket, collected some provisions and then set off for the local petrol station to empty our chemical toilet.

We found it on Search for Sites, it is just a service point but you can empty your toilet and fill up water for free. They also have washing machines and tumble dryers that you can pay to use. We will surely be back here soon so make a note of it on our map. Its only 10 minutes from here to the kennels and we can’t quite believe we are here after all of this planning.

We follow the directions, knowing that the centre is in a rural and secret location so are not surprised when we veer off of the Auto-vista down a dirt track in the middle of agricultural land. From nowhere, two gates appear before us. With mountains in the distance, a musky blue colour in the shadow of the sun and a clear blue sky above us that seems to go on for miles, we wonder how on earth we found it! Finding the centre easily and being let into to the compound, we are amazed to finally see it in the flesh.

The kennels

Penny Galgos del sol
Penny

Passing reception into the kennel area we are greeted with happy Galgos either in their kennel chilling out or in their exercise compounds playing with volunteers. A few volunteers are practicing agility in one paddock and another is treating a young Galgo to a sensory walk amongst herb pots and flowers.

The kennels are new and some are still being built. An outdoor washing up station has clean bowls drying in the hot Spanish sunshine. Its like a 5 star palace for them and they are all really calm and happy inside them.

A staff kitchen area has communal outdoor seating and all the equipment needed in the kitchen to feed the army of staff and volunteer that dedicate their time to the dogs.

The team are welcoming and make us feel comfortable straight away as we get our bearings. After a while of saying hello and having our tour, we retire to the van to start getting things straight. Currently everything is packed away in boxes in the garage area under the bed and slowly, a box at a time, we sort through the kitchen boxes and clothing etc.

It takes a while to get things where you want the and almost 2 weeks later we still haven’t finished unpacking. (Update – we just had a major clean out and its almost done now! We even purchased two fake planks to give it a bit of green!)

Hands on at the rescue centre!

Fiji galgos del sol
Fiji and Emma

The next morning we woke early with excitement, today we get to play with the rescue dogs and start doing what we came for. We met the most incredibly friendly dogs, with Tania – A white Galgos who had been seriously ill before Christmas – stealing all the limelight with her markings and ‘feel sorry for me’ eyes. Don’t believe a word of anything she tries to tell you, she is spoilt rotten although she will make out otherwise!

We met a fair amount of the Galgos but there are also Podenco’s, lab crosses and Mastines at the site that we have never worked with before. We were tasked with working with some of the more challenging dogs to either get them ready for transport or work on some basic training with them.

This week we have be been blown away by the passion, enthusiasm and care for these dogs at the rescue centre. More often than not staff and volunteers are on site from dawn until dusk. Tina is like an octopus, juggling so many aspects of running a charity, out on rescues, social media releases, write ups for dogs, organising transports and visits and spend time with her family.

Here are some of our special dogs so far…

Javi.

Louise and Javi
Superstar Javi

Javi is a Podenco cross who was bought to Galgos after a rescue mission to save him. Javi was in a really bad condition on the street as he had a broken his back. The specialists reckon it happened about 3 weeks before he was rescued and in that time Javi had learnt to crawl on his front legs as he was unable to walk on his back legs. Tina took him to a vet who took x-rays of his back. The prognosis was poor with the vet saying he was paralysed and unlikely ever to regain the use of his legs.

Tina knew that poor chance, meant some small chance and decided to bring him back to the centre. Following months of intense therapy including Physio and hydro, he started to improve – to everyone’s amazement. The vets were not able to operate on his back and he was incontinent due to the nerve damage he sustained. Against all odds, Javi can now walk again. Not only that, but he can play. He can run and he is able to do the agility ramps with ease.

Javi loves a fuss, has a great attention span and also can live with other dogs. He is such a sweet cuddle monkey and would make a great family pet. Javi deserves a second chance in a patient, understanding and loving home where he can be spoilt rotten. Every day he is still improving and he seems to be regaining some control over his bowels. It is hoped that this will continue and in the right home should not be an issue as long as he has access to a toileting area.

Check out the facebook page and watch the video of Louise working with Javi here He is the real hero of Street life to Sweet life! What an amazing dog and rescue recovery.


Wella

Wella Galgos del sol
Wella, Our darling!

Having been on the run for weeks, Wella was finally captured on a rescue mission after she became stuck in a well ( hence her name). No one knows if she fell in, or was put in there however she was taken to the centre and is now safe. It was quickly evident that Wella was a little special. She was unsteady on her feet and after she had been sent for a brain scan, it was deemed most likely that she was born with a damaged cerebrum. The other possibility was a Youth Degenerative Disease however the vets feel if it was that, she would likely be a lot worse than she is by now and she seems stable at the moment.

Wella has a little twitch, or a dance as we call it and this is due to the condition. She bobs her head and then hops from front foot to the other a couple of times. She is not in any pain and is able to run and play with her friends. She can just be a little wobbly now and then so needs understanding owners with a non slip floor!

Nativity and her puppies.

Nativity's pups
Nativity’s puppies

Nativity evaded capture on the streets whilst pregnant. Once she had delivered her babies she was able to be relocated to the centre and her puppies looked after. Born on 30th November, they were all given festive names and have been put up for adoption now that they are old enough.

They are not pure Galgos but we have no idea who their dad is. With 4 black dogs and 3 white/golden, they are picture perfect. Rudolph has found a home and has left the centre but the others are still up for adoption. Take a look at their video below too!

Donate!

Tania and Montana
Tania, Montana and Louise

We will try and bring you further information about their journeys and tell you more about the other dogs that we are working with but there are so many we are in love with. To say we have only left site once since our arrival and we only nipped out for groceries should show you how much we are enjoying the role. Some of the dogs we have been working with are scared and we have seen so much improvement even during our time so far.

We love to see them take those first steps and build their trust. It inspires us to keep working with those dogs and we are putting in 10, 11 hour days, before undertaking our night duties too.

If you want to donate, please check out www.galgosdelsol.org to donate directly. You can follow them on Facebook too! They may not all be Galgos, but they are all deserving of a new home and for their care to continue.

Now YOU have funded our trip here, we are working closely to ensure any left over money gets put back into Galgos Del Sol so you can still donate on the GoFundMe too.

We still have what seems like forever here before we come home and I think both of us would be happy to stay longer, however we are sure it is going to fly by!

We made it to Spain on the ferry!

It was a long and at times worrying journey to Spain on the ferry with Brittany Ferries. The rough sea and weather we faced was enough to turn even seasoned veterans green. We know that because we met them! This was all part of our journey to get to Galgos Del Sol to start our volunteering time.

The 24 hour crossing from Portsmouth to Santander was delayed by two hours because of the weather. Where we were supposed to leave at 5 pm it was actually gone 7 before we set off along the English channel towards Spain, via the Bay of Biscay.

When we arrived at the ferry terminal, excited to reach Spain, drove to a booth that took our reservation details and registration number. They gave us our boarding passes and a ticket to put on display in the windshield. From there we were ushered down to a multi laned waiting area. We were able to get out, stretch our legs and have some lunch before we would board.

Tornado Warning!

Only we could decided to get a ferry to Spain during a Tornado warning! We knew that if Brittany Ferries felt it was too rough to sail that it would be cancelled, however we hoped that we could sail. From the outset we knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant crossing. We have heard too many stories of rough crossings in the Bay of Biscay, or the Bay of certain death as one lorry driver told us!

Map the route

Map of Spain
Spanish Map

Although we had an idea of the journey we were taking (we had looked into toll roads etc) we took this time to look over the large European map that we had with us and carefully studied the roads we would be using. They all seemed to be main roads and hopefully wouldn’t lead us down narrow lanes!

It was only the day before that we had heard of a van conversion missing a sign for a narrow road. They needed a police escort to get them unstuck and out of the town! We don’t want this to happen to us so it is best to look at a map and not trust the sat nav as she forgets we are larger than a car!

Boarding the ferry to Spain

boarding the ferry
Boarding the Ferry

When prompted, we drove Chewy onto the ferry easily and followed instructions to get her parked. We were able to see her from the decks which gave us great comfort to know we could see her. The ferry was a large one called Cap Finistere. She sails this route on rotation with her other trips from Portsmouth to Bilbao.

After boarding the upper decks where passengers would travel, we were welcomed aboard by the Brittany Ferries crew. All were very helpful in showing passengers around the boat to their cabins. We were located on Deck 7, the same deck as the main bar and restaurant, spa and shops.

A lovely twin room with a TV and an en suite bathroom and shower waited for us as well as a bowl of fruit, complimentary cocktails and sweets in the room. The decor was basic but adequate. A European plug socket was available. It would have been great if we had thought to bring an adaptor but that is a learning curve!

Getting our bearings

Deck 8
Exploring the ferry

Once we had put our overnight bags in the room, we decided to have a look around the ship. We started at the top (deck 10) where we found a play area for children one side and a dog exercise area on the other. A cafe shielded by perspex panels was also situated up here and a set of stairs down to level 9.

From here we could see Chewy from the back of the boat and took a while to watch the view as we sailed into the channel in darkness. The bulk of the cabins were on decks 8 and 9 and the boat was easy to navigate once you had your bearings!

Video

Video

Entertainment

On deck 7, we found a nice bar at the back of the boat with cosy, informal seating areas and tables. Lovely mood lighting and entertainment greeted us there. Getting ourselves a drink, we relaxed here for the evening with live music, bingo and a music quiz. It was much more than we expected as the website said the ferry to Spain was a no frills journey. We were very surprised by the standard of luxury we had.

There was also a fine dining restaurant, an informal cafe, duty free, clothing store and a shop on board. Lounge areas with TVs were located all around the ship so there was plenty of choice and space for everyone.

table in the bar
Nautical themed tables in the bar area

By that time we were getting tired as it was about 10pm and we had been up since 6am and driven over 400 miles to Portsmouth. We headed off to see if we could get any sleep as the sea just got rougher and rougher.

The weather was awful. The waves were crashing against the boat and we were swaying from side to side. Having taken our sea sickness tablets a few hours ago we were glad of the drowsy side effects. Feeling a bit dopey, we decided to see if we could sleep through it. It felt at times like we were going up in a lift and then being dropped as the boat crested over the massive waves and landed again. It kept us awake worrying about how the van was. Had she fallen over or bounced overboard as they hadn’t strapped the vans down.

A Rough Night on the ferry to Spain

Cap Finistere outside area
The calm after the storm!

There was nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t get up and check as they doors would have been locked to the deck for safety reasons. We were also just too drowsy from the tablets. If the boat had started to sink I don’t think we would have been able to do anything about it! It was a very long night of rocking and swaying. It took a long time for us to settle into a proper sleep. Around 10am when we finally woke up the next morning and a quick look on google showed our ferry heading towards Spain, in the Bay of Biscay.

It took us ages to get over the effects of the travel sickness tablets, but I managed to stagger to the bar and order tea and coffee for us to get us going. Although the sea was still choppy it was much better than last night where the waves had been battering our window on deck 7!

We took a walk around the boat and went outside to get some fresh air. A lot of people were grey or green as they all felt sick from the storm. All hanging on to the railings and looking like they had seen better days! Chewy was where she was supposed to be and all looked a bit better in the light of day,

Reaching Santander

Santander harbour

By late afternoon we had almost reached Santander and excitement was brewing about the next stage of our trip. We packed our belongings up and headed for the lounge to relax and wait for instructions. We were delayed coming into the port so pulled up at dusk as the sun was setting.

Santander port is beautiful. With lighthouses welcoming you to the Spanish mainland and a bustling port town with hotels, bars and restaurants all lit up, it look breathtaking against the colours of the Spanish sunset.

It wasn’t long before we were docked and advised we were able to access the garage area to prepare for disembarking via passport control. We were so happy to be getting off of that boat and swore never to do it again!

Crew

Sunset on the ferry
Sunset pulling in to Santander

The crew on board were incredibly helpful and went out of their way to ensure all passengers were happy. Nothing was too much trouble for them and even though they were tired and also feeling the strain of the storm, they delivered an exceptional service.

Would we use Brittany Ferries again? Yes – but on a calmer sea for sure!

About Cap Finistere

The boat was made in 2001, originally being used by a Greek company and transferred to Brittany Ferries in 2010. She is 204 meters long and has a crew of 86.

There are 265 cabins. Enough room for 500 vehicles. Free WiFi in public areas. A cinema, spa, shop, restaurant, multiple cafes and a bar (on 2 decks).

It has pet friendly accommodation and kennels on board for those taking their dogs. There is also a heated outdoor swimming pool in summer months using sea water! If you are going to get the ferry to Spain, it is a lovely boat to travel on!

Our Boat
We are on the ferry to Spain!

Alcala De Jucar

The Journey to Alcala De Jucar

Today we are taking another coach trip with David’s Coaches. We are heading 2 and a half hours North of Torrevieja to a town called Alcala de Jucar. It is here that we will get to see and experience the Cave Houses. 

Boarding our coach for an early start we are able to fully relax. The air conditioning and USB charging points in the bus mean we can relax. Time to enjoy the scenery, something that usually only one of us can do at a time! We collect the other passengers and continue our journey. As we travel our rep brings us lots of information about the towns and villages that we pass. 

The bus is a happy one today. People say hello to the new additions as they board. A steady chatter fills the coach. There is a real mix of age groups on the tours we have been on. Sometimes there is an age bracket and personality type associated with coach trips. We found that to be untrue. The tours was were filled with people from all age groups and backgrounds.

Almansa

Visit Almansa Castle - on the way to Alcala de Jucar
Almansa Castle

As the journey was so long, we broke our route with a brief stop in Almansa. Almansa stems from the Arabic المنصف (al-manṣaf), “half way of the road” and this was very apt for us. Set in the province of Albacete and built at the foot of a white limestone crag. At the top is a castle built during Moorish times. During the Reconquest, a long period in history where the Christians and Muslims fought over territory in Spain and Portugal, this area became a ‘frontier’. This was between the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and the Muslim kingdom of Murcia. 

The castle was built in the early 12th century. Quite a few remains of this original building survive in the present structure. As with many historic castles, the building we see today is a vastly modified castle. Over the years, and changes of inhabitants, it has seen parts added and removed. The castle finally fell inactive at the end of the 15th century, after the expulsion of the Moors and a unified nation emerged.

Over the hundreds of years the castles fell into decay. In 1919 the Mayor requested its demolition. The castle was saved and declared a national monument following an outcry to save it. Restoration work continues still today to save the castle. Sadly during our visit we could not go inside due to this work.

vanlifediary Almansa Castle

Almansa Town

That didn’t stop us having a wander around the charming town’s high street and narrow side lanes. There were local bakers with windows full of sweet pastries. Cafes with chairs on the pavement serving hot drinks as well as refreshing cold drinks while the sun warmed up.

The town hall was absolutely stunning and well worth a few pictures. It had a lovely shaded garden with lots of sculptures in and this beautiful courtyard.  

River Jucar

The Jucar River is on the Iberian peninsula of Spain. It runs for around 510km from its source in Montes Universales to the sea in the resort of Callera. The gorge where the road runs is very deep in parts, especially as we get closer to the town. Our rep for the day, a delightful woman with a bit of wiggle room on her sense of humour, announces that we are about to start our ascent to the top of the gorge we are currently in. She advises us (tongue in cheek we hope) that our coach driver only passed his test last week and that he is nervous about the road ahead… Great!

Soon we start to see the road ahead. Winding left to right up the side of a mountain reminiscent of Lombard Street on San Francisco but on steroids. Louise and I look at each other and hope we get to tell the tale. Spoiler alert – she was joking and we survived.

Alcala De Jucar winding road
View from the top of Alcala De Jucar

Cave Houses

We are heading to the top of the gorge for lunch before visiting the cave houses. There are lots of cave houses here and we find out that during the time of the reconquest, the Moors fled for safety. Due to the relatively soft rock in Spain many of them hid in caves. These caves are visible from the road as we drive.

Originally seen as a sign of poverty, recent building and home shows such as Grand Designs, have started to make these cave houses popular. It is interesting to note that these cave houses are subject to the same planning permissions as ‘normal’ houses. This is especially relevant if they want to dig out another room.

There are a lot of benefits to living in a cave house in a hot country. The caves stay an ambient 18-20 degrees. Due to the thickness of the walls and that the windows are at the front of the house only, it stays nice and cool in the summer and retains the warmth in winter.  A quick scan of the internet will bring you up plenty of examples of cave houses for sale in the region of 30,000 euros upwards. A point to remember is that walls are hardly ever straight or symmetrical. If you have OCD or want to hang a large mirror, take your spirit level with you to the viewing! 

El Mirador Restaurant views

Reaching the top of the gorge after a half hour see-saw of winding roads, we stop for lunch at a stunning restaurant. The town, clinging on the edges of the gorge walls, seems peaceful. An odd shape bull ring lies further down. A tear drop shape.

Standing in the garden of the restaurant you get some amazing views of the gorge. They leave you breathless and suddenly the drive seems worth it. We stop for a few photos before heading inside.

Lunch at Alcala De Jucar

El Mirador Alcala de Jucar
View from the restaurant

Entering the restaurant you find yourself in an elegant bar area. To the left is the dining area. The tables pulled together to form 4 long banqueting tables to seat the 52 guests and complimentary wine is on the tables ready for our arrival. Organised into our groups we are then seated. We manage to grab two window seats and get to know our neighbours. 

For starters we had a serving of traditional of hams and cheese with fresh slices of bread. The main course was a delicious turkey stew (and the vegetarians had a fried vegetable dish). The deserts were what ever they had in stock so we all feasted on Cornetto ice creams!  

Wine Drama.

Louise writes – The wine was going down a little too well. More had to be brought to the tables. Imagine this… each table was given 3 bottles of red and 3 bottles of white to SHARE between them! One lady didn’t get that memo and happily polished off a bottle of white before the main course had been served. She then asked the gentleman, sat to my left, to pass our bottle over and down the hatch it went too. Well, this lady had no idea that the 2 ladies from Germany were watching her and so was I at this point, all the while trying to contain my giggles silently. Em kept looking at me and trying to ask discreetly what was going on.

The chap then asked the waiter for another bottle of white and it arrived promptly……. Drum roll please……. The same lady took it from his hands and filled her glass once again. Bearing in mind these were large glasses and could hold over half a bottle. Well the German ladies rolled their eyes, looked at me watching them and we burst out laughing. 

If you thought that was bad – just wait for this!

We got back on the coach to drive us down to the town to the cave house museum. Our rep clocks a bottle of wine in someone’s bag and it turns out that some of the guests felt it was appropriate to steal a bottle of wine from the restaurant. This was a total disgrace. If you took the cost of the trip (27 euros each) and looked at the cost of the menu from the restaurant (17 euros without wine), you would see that they were already offering a highly discounted menu to the tour operator.  Bottles of wine in Spain are not expensive and start from around 2 euros a bottle. 

Our rep made it very clear to the individuals that this is not what is expected and that what they did was wrong. The told the rep that another couple in the group asked them to do it and lets just say it was made very clear to these people, in front of the whole coach, that this behaviour would not be tolerated. You may expect this from the younger generation but actually this couple were retired and living in Spain.

The Cave House Museum

entrance to the caves at Alcala De Jucar
Entrance to the caves

Moving on, we approached the drop off point for the coach. The rep advised that the paths were very steep and the cobbles could be slippery. A safety briefing warned us to use our own initiative. If we felt it was not suitable for us then to stay on the coach. Most of us decided it was worth the risk, after all – that is what we had come to see. She wasn’t wrong! Steep narrow lanes zig zagged from the drop off point to the museum. Ee don’t think anyone ended up on ‘You’ve been framed’ but it was a miracle!

The outside of the museum looked rather discrete. If you didn’t know it was there you could easily have walked past it. The history of Alcala tells us that there are two important caves here. Garaden and Devils cave. Garadén, has 750 years of history and was used as a sentry post. Due to the gorge, anyone who came through from Castilla-La Mancha towards the east had to pay a tribute. The 170m long tunnel essentially acted as a mini customs area! 

cave tunnel
The 170ft tunnel

Juan Jose Martinez

The owner of the caves is Juan José Martínez, an ex Mayor of Alcala De Jucar. Perhaps better known as the bull fighter El Diablo he is also the owner of the restaurant we visited. I can’t help but wonder how far his influence stretches. We are warned that he is a larger than life character and that he is a poet. He has written in excess of 2500 poems, some of them receiving awards. Best known for his moustache and is often at the caves ready to great guests. Juan Jose Martinez is happy to pose for photos. Be warned – he may try to kiss you as it’s customary in Spanish culture!

We each pay 3 euros and are told that at the end of the tour there is (here we go again) a free glass of wine. We are not sure how much of the caves half of our coach saw as they bee lined to the end for their alcohol… The rest of us had a good look around as we saw all of the artefacts that now reside in the museum. Some not seeming to have a specific reason for being there we might add but most demonstrating the layouts a stereotypical cave house may have looked. There were old farming tools, taxidermy animals, mirrors and old cinema equipment.

Strange goings on in the cave disco!

At the end of the bar is a larger section with the walls full of pictures of Juan Jose Martinez with high profile individuals and images of him with lots of beautiful women hanging on his arm. We get the impression he is a bit of a play boy. Not surprisingly perhaps, when we have a look around the area he commissioned as a disco, we see something our rep hasn’t seen before. We have alcohol fuelled minds in the gutter so we will just let the pictures do the talking!

We asked our rep about the rounding of the wooden bar tables and the strange shapes in the concrete ones. We tell her what we see and she blushes a little before trying to explain to the poor lady working the bar what we are asking! Is that table for more than drinking on? Why is it curved like that? 

Bemused we watch as the lady and the rep have a conversation in Spanish before heading off to the area in question. A few moments later our rep is laughing and shaking her head! Apparently the tables are old farm tools, a little like ploughs, that were used to harvest crops. They just flipped them over and made them into a table. The bar lady found it very comical that we thought it was used for secret sex parties! 

Back to the coach!

We had some time to walk around the small town of Alcala De Jucar after the cave museum and see some of the houses still being used today. There was a lovely Roman bridge to cross the river and as we were leaving it looked as though they were setting up for a fiesta.

Little shops selling gifts for the tourist trade adorned the streets near where the coach would collect us. Around 2500 people can visit here each day in the height of the season. Something you would never expect on entering the picturesque location clinging to the side of the mountain and carved out of the rocks.

If you are interested in the other trips we have done in Spain.

Click here to find out where you can swim in a stunning waterfall used in the Timotie adverts.

Click here to find out about Guadalest – the most beautiful town in Spain

And here to find out about our journey to Torrievieja

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Visit Guadalest

We journey from a stunning waterfall to a town that looked photo-shopped. Our Guadalest visit was an incredible find with so much beauty it made us emotional. It has white washed streets and fruit trees hanging over the paths showing off its idyllic natural beauty. Picture postcard alleyways around every corner. A bell tower forced to sit outside the walls of the town as there was no space left inside. An incredible reservoir that is crystal blue like you have never seen before! So many components make up the beauty of this walled mountain town and we can’t wait to tell you more! 

A modern way to travel.

Davids coaches had picked us up early from our resorts local collection point on the Costa Blanca. We had all the home comforts you could expect from a modern 52 seater coach including the new additions of USB charging points. Between all of the seats were 2 USB ports to charge your phones, cameras or other devices as we travelled. The coaches were also fitted with Wifi but as we were travelling long distances there were some black spots. Air conditioning was also part of the draw to a coach trip given our 40 degree heat. 

Sadly the coach is quite a large space to cool down so some people on our trip were unhappy at the back. The driver did all he could to keep the vehicle cool but it is worth remembering that there is a lot of space to cool down. It is still cooler than without any air conditioning at all – just be aware and maybe just don’t take it out on the driver or the reps. (You can close the curtains if the sun is coming through the window too!). Bring plenty of water and a little fan to help keep you cool. 

Bucket List Tick!

Fonts De L'Algar

You may recall from the Font’s De L’Algar post that we had just visited the most breathtaking spot. The waterfalls from the Timotei advert where we were able to swim in crystal blue water by the falls. We are still so excited to talk about this moment as it had always been on our bucket list. Admittedly it also included a skinny dip (or chunky dunk) but that would not have been appropriate! We got to swim in a waterfall! We want to shout it from the roof! We have goose bumps just thinking about it. We want to do it again! People were jumping off of the rocks into the water and Emma didn’t do it as she got scared. Next time she will for sure!

The waterfalls were an incredible moment in our life and one that makes us so glad that we are living this adventure together, and us with you! We thought that moment would be the highlight of our day. We didn’t think it could be topped! That was until we paid a visit to Guadalest.

A visit to Guadalest

View of Guadalest from the coach
The view from the coach up to Guadalest

Just under an hour East (and up mountain paths that our driver deserved an award for scaling) we see Guadalest. The roof tops at the edge of the town emerge balanced on a cliff edge. White buildings with beige roofs jutting out as though they have been built into the mountains. Clusters of houses wedged in to keep each other in place and further up, a tower, on its own and a visual marker for our driver as we continue to twist and turn up the mountain side.

We pass Nispera and Almond trees, pine forests and citrus groves. Carob trees are common here too. Our rep explains that these trees possess a fire retardant quality so by strategically planting Carob trees they can slow down wild fires often caused by the blistering heat. 

Arrival

On arrival, we see that the town is quite large and has a fair sized car park to accommodate the many tourists who visit Guadalest. It’s not a surprise  that this location is so popular even from the car park! Strange to think that this little place is only home to 250 inhabitants but is reported to be one of the most visited towns in Spain! It is in complete contrast to the bustling tourist resorts full of English bars that we often associate with Spain. In keeping with its historical past it is a town that time forgot about. Ancient ruins, traditional homes and packed with character. 

Our rep gives us our return instructions. We have around 3.5-4 hours to walk around. Unbeknown to us there was a lunch option and half of the coach continue on to their restaurant and will join us in the town later. We feel smug, we packed a lunch today. We start to explore the town. To our surprise we find a Salt and Pepper Pot Museum, a Museum of Medieval Torture, a Museum of Dolls Houses and the Micro-Gigantic Museum featuring items such as a bull ring on a pin head and the bible written on a grain of rice. Most of these venues were just 1 euro or so to get in.

Cobbled alleyways and a light lunch

We walk down cobbled paths amongst white washed walls. Sloping streets with houses next to shops with window boxes full of flowers in bloom and bowls of water left for dogs and cats to drink from on the door steps. Spanish radio floating out of windows where wooden shutters keep the sun out but let the air in. A side street catches our eye. An apricot tree gives shade to a low wall opposite a little house. An old bicycle leans against the wall and a dog lead is tied to a wooden door, ready for the evening stroll when its cooler. All of these things make up the perfectly relaxed atmosphere of this charming town. Guadalest is worth a visit for sure.

Back in our resort, the local supermarket was full of spanish hams so we feasted on mortadella, gherkins, feta and Spanish bread for our picnic lunch. Fresh flat peaches dripping with juice and a taste that can only be found in Spain itself are our refreshing dessert. Topped up with food we continue to explore the town.

El Castell de Guadalest

guadalest vanlifediary.com
Tunnel to the castle at Guadalest
Guadalest tunnel
Looking up through the tunnel

The town of Guadalest is home to a castle you can visit whilst here. As you follow the signs from the town below you are taken through a short stone tunnel. Top tip – on a hot day, this is a good place to find some shade and a breeze as it flows through the tunnel. On your way up you may have local photographers take your picture to print out for a keepsake if you wish. Once through the tunnel you are met with further squares, shops and cafes. 

The castle is open to visitors and is well worth a look around. Again just a few euros to enter. The castle was built under the Moors occupation in the 12th centuary. On 22 July 1644 an earthquake destroyed the Castle, and in December 1644 another earth tremor destroyed part of the town. Now rebuilt and turned into a museum, you can find information on its former inhabitants through the years, rare Jewels, artwork and artifacts from the area. Unsurprisingly most of the information is in Spanish. If you have downloaded the google translate app on your phone you may be able to hover over the text to translate it to English.

Local goods for sale.

Leather shops display their goods on cobbled street corners and a stall selling herbs and spices fills the air with the aromas you expect from Spain. Some gift shops have sprung up selling more commercial items such as the good old fridge magnet and key rings. Other shops are also dedicated to items such as pottery, glass wares, jewellery and embroidery/lace. Food items such as honey, wine and dried fruits are also available here. 

One shop, quite large from the outside, and further up the hill, displayed really unusual gift items. This location also had a conservatory out the back of the shop and gave our first glimpse of the reservoir below! Interest peaked – we set off for a better view.

Reservoir 

Guadalest Reservoir
Reservoir below Guadalest

It’s hard to believe with your own eyes that it is real and not a photo-shopped image from Insta or a postcard. Did you see my ‘expectation vs reality’ picture on the last post? We all know it’s hard to find spots these days of outstanding beauty where pictures haven’t been touched up. 

We walked to the view point and looked over the stone wall to the incredible views. The colour is caused by tiny particles of salt suspended under the water. Guadalest overlooks the ‘Embalse de Guadalest’ reservoir, built between 1953 and 1963 feeds the Valencian region and Benidorm.

40 Degree sunshine

Vanlifediary Guadalest
Louise and Emma in Guadalest

We spent some time taking pictures and marvelling at the view. Behind us we found a little shade to cool down in as it was the hottest part of the day. A beautiful square dotted by trees and some seats to relax in. Across the square were a few shops and cafes so we purchased an obligatory ice cream. Our water bottles, frozen overnight, were now warm enough to boil eggs in and the heat was tiring. We gathered under the shade of a tree by a wooden door and looked back over the photographs we had taken.

On our way down to the car park we did stop to look around the Ethnological Museum. This is a small museum which displays a typical house from the 18th century built on the rock. This was part of the Old Town originally and the Arabian origins are reflected throughout the display. Access to the house it through is just past the tunnel and the original entrance is still preserved today. From the kitchen and bedrooms through to a small display on farming and agriculture, this attraction may help answer some questions you may have. Another ‘must’ for your visit to Guadalest.

Homeward Bound

Guadalest ice cream
Ice cream

A short walk back through the tunnel starts our descent to the car park. Views stretch out over miles to the sea. The clean streets and proud residents remain a fond memory. Images of the streets remind me of wall hangings in my parents house that I adored as a child. Terracotta roofs and little white houses winding up hills and the sky as blue as a primary colour paint set. I wasn’t sure if they were of Spain or Italy, I just wanted to smell the air. It smells sweet. Of fruit, leather and spices. I feel the cobbles under my shoes and I feel the grain of the painted white walls. I imagine I could lose myself here quite easily in the romance of Spain. 

The time comes to gather back for our return journey. Our Visit to Guadalest was full of surprises. We have plans to take another coach trip and wonder how it will compare. Today has been packed full of things it is hard to attach the right words to. Sometimes there are not enough words to describe beauty. We highly recommend a visit here if you can fit it in and have a day away from your resort.

Whats Next?

Next trip is to a town with Cave houses. We are going to see how the Moors lived after fleeing the Christians and what was once deemed a symbol of poverty are now in fact becoming sought after locations thanks to shows like Grand Designs!

For now, a little doze on the coach and a quiet evening in on the roof terrace. A couple of bottles of wine and some beautiful food (Louise made Crevettes with a garlic and butter dip). We listen to the crickets and smell the evening flowers as a gentle breeze rolls in from the sea. The sky is clear and the stars are out. We are even lucky enough to catch sight of a satellite or two!

Goodnight Moon

Rolling into bed at midnight, the air conditioning keeping the bedroom cool, we slip into a silent nights peaceful slumber.

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Fonts De L’Algar – Is swimming in a waterfall on your bucket list?

We are driving towards Fonts De L’Algar following our 8:45am coach pick up. Travelling with David’s Coaches we are now collecting passengers from Quesada, Rojales and Gran Alicant. The rep is educating us about the stunning pink salt lakes on our left as we pass mountains of white granules stacked on our right. Exported for gritting roads, the salt process has considerably shrunk since some of the land is now a protected nature reserve.

Torrievieja salt lakes
Pink Salt Lakes

Torrevieja Lagoons Nature Reserve is approx 3700 Hectares. 2100 hectares correspond to water surfaces and the remainder is the land around the lagoons. This consists of salt marshes, plant formations, reed beds, and Mediterranean scrubland. Marsh land originally and gifted by the King to the locals. Channels were cut to drain the marsh land back into the sea to dry it out, however the land is below sea level and they flooded it by accident. That is how the salt lakes of today originated. A fabulous disaster!

There are museums dedicated to the salt works if you would like more information

“Be a Flamingo in a flock of Pigeons.Savannah Larsen

Stock image from Unsplash
Stock image of Flamingos

We spot tall birds standing in the strawberry angel delight coloured lakes. A slight pink tint to their feathers, a large flock scattered over the watery fields. Flamingos! They come here in their droves to feed off of the crustaceans.  There is an usual bacteria in the water here called halobacteria. It is the pigments from these that colour the shrimp, that the flamingos eat and it turns their feathers pink. Emma remembers seeing these as a teenager when she last visited the area on a family holiday. Emma has some very good memories from that trip!

Grapes and Roses

Roses on a vineyard
Roses at the end of a vine

Sitting on the coach gazing out of the windows at the Spanish region we are now driving through, with mountains in the distance we are soon to drive up, we are educated about the vineyards flashing past us. There are odd flashes of colour at the end of every 4th row, Roses! They are susceptible to the same diseases as the vines and the farmer will inspect the roses. If they are being attacked then the farmer will know which rows to treat and which rows are OK.

Our rep tells us that when the grapes are starting to grow, the farmers attach paper bags to the stems. This is so that at harvest they are pre bagged. A process that protects them from the damage of the sun, insects and birds and is easier to harvest. Farmers just snip the stems which is quicker and means less bacteria is being passed to the fruit. It’s information like this that really help you to understand the intricacies of the area you are holidaying in. It helps you to understand their traditions and customs but also gives information you wouldn’t be told if you just hired a car and drove yourself. We hadn’t thought of doing coach trips before but we really enjoyed the experience and would do it again.

Arriving at Fonts De L’Algar

Fonts De L'Algar  waterfall
Emma at Fonts De L’Algar Waterfall

After a long but educational drive we twist and turn through the mountains. Soon we pull into a large car park by a restaurant at 11am. We get given our tickets and are told we get a free drink here with one half of the stub. The other half gets us into the attraction.

A gentleman just behind us whispers that the drinks are still free after a swim and don’t feel pressured to drink it first! He had been here before and said it gets very busy. His advice is to go for a swim and get your photos first, then come and relax with your drink.

Never dismiss a free drink!

We take his advice! Continuing on foot up hill for another 100 meters and see the entrance on our left. We pass some little shops on the way up with all the provisions you may have forgotten. For example, suitable shoes for wearing in the water, sun cream and clothing. There is also a fresh local/traditional Spanish fruit and veg stall.

Famous for the early Timotei adverts and then for its inclusion on an episode of the TV Series Benidorm, Fonts de L’Algar is really worth a visit if you are visiting the Costa Blanca. Crystal blue waters and mountain views, you can’t help but feel in one of the most exotic locations in Spain. Ever wanted to tick ‘swimming in a waterfall’ off of your bucket list? Now you can!

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a ticket to Spain, that’s pretty close!

Just under half an hour from Benidorm (15 km) and an hour and a half from Torrieveija, Fonts De L’Algar is the complete opposite to the busy tourist resorts Spain is more commonly associated with. It is also very popular with the local inhabitants given its proximity to them and ability to keep cool. According to the Valencian government this area has a high degree of ecological richness, tourist services and environmental education. It has now been declared a wetland and is protected.

Entering the waterfall area you’re greeted by stunning pools of crystal blue water, known as ‘tolls’ or “source of health”. The water stays a constant 18 degrees all year round. It is a refreshing, but startling, way to cool down on a hot day. Bridges and paths have been added at Fonts De Algar to enable access to parts of the site. The site has a 1.5km circuit path where you can walk through the bed of the river. Do be warned there are a fair amount of steps given the location. If you want to have a drink or a bite to eat there is a restaurant by the entrance but the main attraction is definitely the water!

Expectation Vs Reality


Sadly the sun was not in the right spot during the limited time we had there so the expectation shot and the reality shot were slightly different than we had hoped as you can see below! Still, undeterred we got a picture! The water was freezing and the closer you got to the waterfall, the less air their seemed to be. Once out of the swell of the falls, the water drops down to the pools where the light was better. The water was so clear it was incredible. Once you have your shoulders under the water you quickly get used to it. It was very refreshing given that the temperature was around 40 degrees when we visited!

Expectation Vs Reality waterfall
As glam as Emma gets!

We managed to spend around 2 hours here which was enough to cool off. There were not any areas by the water for lounging, as it is a natural formation, so we were glad we hadn’t opted for the full day excursion here. The crowds were really stacking up now and the queues were getting long. We decided to let the other guests have their time and head down to the restaurant for our free drink.

No rest for the wicked!

Glad to be drying out we sipped our Fanta lemon (it tastes so much better in Spain!) and sat astonished at the fact we had just swam in a waterfall. The restaurant had a shallow pool just deep enough to paddle your feet in. The umbrellas were giving a little bit of shade and we relaxed while the other guests gathered together. We had a set time to depart as after this we were going to a very special location… A town that looks as though it is photo shopped!


Join us in the next instalment to find out where we went!
Read about our journey to Torrievieja if you missed our last post!

Torrevieja

Today marks the first time that I will travel abroad since I was 18. That was *cough* 19 years ago. We are Torrevieja bound! Last week we were so bored of the wet and damp weather in Yorkshire that we embarked on a mission for warmer climates. What we didn’t realise was that the weather was going to get much better in the UK too just as we were due to leave. Typical! That being said as we drove down to Gatwick airport yesterday ready for our flight this morning, we were driving into a reported 60 hour thunderstorm that was sweeping its way northwards.

M25. Always a pleasure!

As per usual the M25 decided to be slow moving and seemed just down to the amount of traffic rather than accidents. It gave us plenty of time to watch the planes taking off from Heathrow and imagine how we would be feeling in just 12 hours time!We arrived at my brother’s and parked Chewy on his drive with about an inch to spare before kissing the gutter. We checked we had our passports about 20 times and had a shower before heading to bed. It was only on the last round of checks that I thought about doing the bag up and realised the carry on bag I had chosen had a broken zip. It’s 11pm and we have to be up at 2:30…We scan the guest bedroom in a panic as we can’t be slamming the van doors at this time. Spying a sports bag on the wardrobe -we borrow/steal it. I make a note to tell my brother in the morning!As night sets in, so do the storms. At 2:30 we awake to thunder and lightning. A rumble that fills us with a little bit of worry. Taking off in a thunderstorm is not ideal! The journey to the airport came free with a light show but luckily by the time we arrived at Gatwick it was passing. It was almost dawn but already the airport was buzzing with people all excited to be flying today.Check in went well with just a small technical hitch over my hair gel being in a bottle that was too big, even though it was almost empty. I hadn’t realised it’s not on the quantity left in the bottle that counts, it’s the bottle size. Noted for next time. We headed through security and Louise told me we were going to the No1 lounge. She had booked us in as a surprise. As I haven’t travelled around very much I hadn’t experienced a lounge before and I loved it! How relaxing! And a prosecco at 5am isn’t a bad start to the day!Soon we were boarding the plane via a short shuttle bus ride from the gate to the plane. A Boeing 737. Smaller than Louise would like but just happy it didn’t have propellers! Taxiing to the runway we felt the excitement and suspense build as the rain was just stopping but the clouds were still dark. The captain said there may be some initial turbulence but should be a good flight. Norwegian airlines have in flight WiFi and an app that let you see where you are on your journey as well as speed and height.

Where did we fly?

According to the captain our flight took us out over Brighton to the English channel and across to France. We coasted down past Bordeaux and over the Pyrenees mountains. Even in June they were topped with snow still! After a quick trolly dash up the aisle with drinks and duty free, our two hour 20 minute journey was over just as quick as it had begun. Coming in to land in Alicante was a delight as we descended close to the mountains and were able to see the stunning landscape unfold before our eyes. It seems the captain was also distracted by the scenery as his landing was quite sudden but safely down, we were able to disembark.

To Torrevieja

We are heading to the Spanish mainland city of Torrevieja. It’s a sunny city on the Costa Blanca. Known for its Mediterranean climate and sandy beaches. Torrevieja translates to Old Town and was once a town demolished by an earthquake in the 1800’s. A recent renovation initiative has seen a brand new city emerge built for tourism. It has the largest market on the mainland every Friday and we can’t wait to go! We were very lucky to have had a lift to our villa and we were given a small guided tour along the way. We drove past some stunning salt lakes where the flamingos hang out before moving on.

The villa

So here we are. Having found our way to the local Aldi (I know… We flew to Spain to go to Aldi but we needed food!) We made ourselves a fresh lunch with meat and cheese, salad and pickles. No bread, cakes or crisps! A glass of wine to toast our arrival and lots of plans to be made. We decided it was far too hot, 30 degrees in the shade, so went for a little walk to find the swimming pool. How beautiful it was with palm trees tapping in the breeze, colourful flowers a small pool for the local residents of this villa block. The water was nice and cool but not cold, so was a delight to cool off after the belting rays of the sun. After a short swim we took advantage of the sunshine and basked in her heat, talking about destinations we want to visit and that we could easily fall in love with Spain!It’s day one of our trip to Torrevieja. We are so excited to experience the rest of what is on offer and will keep you up to date on our adventures. Right now, time for a short nap before we BBQ some fresh fish! Please comment, share and tag your friends. Let us know where to visit below if you have any suggestions for us!