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Further travels with Fred – fasten your seat belts!

The ferry across to Santander in Spain turned out to be a very bad joke. The sea, even in the Bay of Biscay, was like a millpond, yet the ferry wallowed around and heeled over like an old waterlogged scow. Didn’t actually see anyone being sick, but there were some very funny coloured, grim faced people and an awful lot of leftovers at dinner.

Ran smack into a roadblock in Santander; Guardia armed to the teeth like very bad Hollywood extras, ‘mal hombres’ and very unfunny - tried desperately not to look like a Basque in disguise.

Got pattern of travel established first day; arrive campsite early evening, eat, get smashed out of our coconuts, sleep, wake, shower (cold brrrr!), play tennis, swim, back on road. Seems reasonable to me, but Maggie not too keen on new idea of getting smashed in the morning as well... can’t think why.

Got the language thing sussed, all you need to know is “Dos grandes botellas muy barato (cheap) vino tinto/blanca, por favor” and you get two large bottles of Fred’s medicine at 40-50 pence a litre.

We’ve taken three days to cross Spain - my way; I have this penchant for obscure, grass-growing-up-the-middle back roads. On Spanish maps these are yellow roads, on English maps they’d just about rate a dotted line, but one can do about fifty miles to the bottle.

Absolutely fantastic countryside that changes dramatically with almost every bend in the road; vast, rugged mountains, rolling, barren hills, vast tracts of nothing but sun flowers as far as the eye can see, olive and orange groves, wild figs, almonds and walnuts, tree after tree of locust beans, miles of wild Spanish type rhododendron and azaleas, cypresses and a million other varieties I’ve never even seen. Everything bone dry and bleached white by the sun. In the back-of-beyond villages there is poverty and dereliction everywhere. But the people appear proud and to actively resist progress, ie. hydro-electric schemes to improve their lot, or so the authorities would have you believe, but I’m not sure the so-called peasants haven’t got it right in the first place. Nothing here has changed in a thousand years; they still cut the corn with hand-sickles and seem content with all but bureaucracy.

Met our first English people today (Saturday) from Bath. Useful contact co’s they knew of a place in Valencia with wine at twenty-seven pesetas a litre - that’s almost fifteen pence! I reckon if I filled the water tank in the wagon that’d be twelve gallons on tap - wow! Maggie says that at fifteen pence a litre it would probably rot the tank... spoilsport.

Spanish drivers are fun, they drive with their mouth and their horn...’drive’ is a euphemism for aim! They don’t give a damn for their cars - or anyone else’s - they just hurl them around until they fall apart from sheer metal-fatigue (or relief), they then dump them in the ditch and get another. My theory is that they all hate driving so much they try to make their journeys as short as possible - and in order not to frighten themselves they shut their eyes!

I love Spanish camp-site proprietors who listen patiently and po-faced to your painful Spanish stammering until they’ve extracted the last ounce of amusement and then answer in perfect English.

The Cantabrian mountains are sheer magic and the roads... I fall about hysterically every time I call them roads... are one-in-three gradients with more pot-holes than our farm drive at home.

In the mountain villages the inhabitants, sitting in the shade from the midday sun, seemed to be surprised to see us. But I noticed that when we had passed and they’d seen the GB sticker they nodded knowingly to each other and tapped their foreheads significantly - a sort of peasant obeisance I suppose?

I’ve discovered one of the great pleasures in life and really the only way to drive. A baguette in one hand, a Spanish cheese of unknown origin, but rather like a crumbly Wenslydale, in the other and a bottle of red-biddy chambreing between the naked thighs (shorts, you naughty people) to keep it nicely at body temperature. Man! That’s livin’. Can’t think of a thing to match it... well, not quite.

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