Well, we actually went through with it, we’re here, we made it! It wasn’t all plain sailing, but more about that shortly. The trip started with an evening with friends in Portsmouth, so after a few days of goodbyes and see you soon’s, we were off, starting our year long adventure. We spent most of the trip down talking about how this couldn’t possibly be happening, we’d talked about it for so long, things like this don’t happen do they?
After a long catch-up, our last takeaway for a while and a good nights sleep the day had finally arrived. Within a few hours we were queuing for the ferry. After waiting what felt like an eternity we drove onto the boat, what a weird experience that was. It was so much bigger than we’d imagined, it was like driving around in a multi-story. Although I had put the hand brake on this fact completely left my head as soon as we walked off the vehicle deck, so in classic Jon style I spent the whole trip imagining the van destroying all the other vans and campers near by. The ferry ride was calm all the way which was great. We saw a few pods of dolphin through our cabin window in the bay of Biscay which was a real highlight.
Twenty four hours later, we arrive in Bilbao, next destination… Madrid! We spent the next five hours taking in the scenery, and constantly saying “drive on the right, drive on he right” to ourselves so that we don’t forget. The drive down was amazing, we had no idea just how mountainous the north of Spain was until we arrived. So the plan was to find a nice looking services outside of Madrid, spend the night and head into the capital the next day. After trying about seven or eight, all of which looked awful, we abandoned that plan, and just kept moving south until we found something. Five hours later, at 1 in the morning after being pretty much convinced we’d have to go all the way to El Chorro before found anything, we spotted a few campervans parked up by the side of the road. Naturally we flew straight past it, and continued another three miles down the road until we could find somewhere to turn around. Once we’d arrived we were greeted with an array of signs, all in Spanish of course! After some quick googling we found out that all the signs were saying was that campervans/motorhomes were welcome, and after thirteen hours of driving this was exactly what we needed.
The first night in Spain was over, we’d managed to get a good seven or so hours sleep, which was greatly needed by this point. So after a quick breakfast we were off again, next stop El Chorro. We weren’t really sure what to expect when we arrived, you see photos of these places and you’re never sure how much effort went into making it look as good as possible. In El Chorro’s case, it would appear that they’d intentionally made it look worse. Coming down the hill towards the town all you can see is huge rock faces towering above a huge turquoise body of water running down through the valley. Every where you looks it’s beautiful scenery, rock, trees, or water, if you ignore the dam, but even that is quite the sight.
Before I referred to El Chorro as a village, it barely earns that title it’s so small, there are about three roads within the village, two of which lead out, one north the other south. We found our primary sleeping just outside of the village with a view other vans, it’s ideally located between a number of crags, water facilities, bins and there’s a toilet about 15 minute walk away, if we’re desperate, although we learned the hard way that it has very specific opening hours, in fact we’re still not sure what those are yet.
We’ve had four days where we’ve attempted to do some climbing this week, I said attempted for a few reasons. The first of those is that is it HOT, like 24/25 degrees by midday, so we’ve been getting up early and climbing before then and just enjoying the sun in the afternoon. The second reason I said attempted refers to our first climbing day here, and is a bit of a story on it’s own.
We decided to go to the Escalera Arabe area, it has hundreds of routes across all grades, and plenty of well bolted lower grade routes, perfect for us as it’s been a while since we’ve been out outside. The walk in is quite long though, the guide book states twenty five minutes, up hill. Forty five minutes later, we arrive, completely exhausted, half of our food and water for the morning gone. We put our bags down and I realise that we’ve left the climbing shoes back in the van. At this point Beth’s too tired to climb, as we had only had cereal, and stupidly only paced a bag of sweets to keep us going. I was determined to at least climb something so I did a few easy routes in my approach shoes, which were fantastic, and a great sign of what was to come.
We’ve also been up to Frontales, and this time I didn’t forget to pack the shoes. We’ve done a number of easier bits, fr4s and fr5s, and I also had a go at Un monton de chatarra, a seemingly never ending fr6a. In reality it’s thirty five meters of amazing limestone slab climbing. We almost decided against doing the route as it was midday and already really hot, but the guidebook had the route down in it’s top fifty list, so I had to give it a go. By the time I was about half way through the route I was completely out of breath, I’m not sure if it was the heat or my lack of endurance, thankfully there was a rest coming up, and after a few minutes pause to catch my breath I soldiered on few the next few clips worth of climbing through what turned out to be the crux to another rest. At this point I told Beth “Three more bolts to the lower-off, I’m nearly there”. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The lower-off I was looking at was for the route to the right of me, which is a few meters shorter than the one I was on. Already being quite pumped and still completely out of breath, I decided I wasn’t going to let the route beat me, climbed on through another few meters of the route, in the middle of the slightly steeper section I realised the mistake I’d made and that there we’re two or three more bolts than I’d originally thought and no more decent rests between where I was and the end. Anyone who’s climbed with me knows if I start getting tired, or scared, my legs shake, from this point on at least one of my legs was freaking out the whole way. I managed to make it to the top, completely exhausted and in a lot of pain as my feet had been slowly growing inside my shoes as I’d gotten hotter and hotter. After limping back down the route, Beth told me how hot it had been down at the base of the crag, and that we really shouldn’t have done just one more route, but I think it was totally worth it.
The afternoons here have been a weird mix of house work and lounging around outside the van. We’ve managed to wash ourselves, once in a lake in the first few days which was very similar to the quick dip we took when we were in north wales, but much warmer, still cold, but a big improvement on the north wales temperatures. We’ve also made use of the rinse kit, which has been fantastic, although the pressure started dropping as soon as Beth had finished with it leaving me with more of a trickle than a shower, but it was enough to clean the stink off and that’s the most important thing.
We’ve also had a go at washing and drying our clothes since we’ve been here. The washing bit is easy, grab some water from the river with our washing bag, chuck in some biodegradable fabric wash, seal it up, and away you go, five minutes of scrubbing later, and a quick rinse, you’ve got clean clothes. The drying part, although simple, has been very embarrassing. We did our first load of socks and pants on a Sunday afternoon. There we’re probably 30 people down by the river having lunch, and other coming and going on walks, generally enjoying time with there families, there we are hanging up socks and pants between two trees in the middle of the car park. After about thirty minutes we couldn’t take it anymore and hung it all up in the van instead. Top van life tip: don’t wash your dirty underwear on the weekend when there are loads of people about.
That pretty much sums up our first week so far, as always more pictures below. Please feel free to comment, we’d love to know what you think of our trip so far.