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What we know:

Christopher Columbus. Moorish Blood.   Grandiose.   Superiority.   Egotism.   General Franco. Aristocratic. Gypsies.   Christ the King.   El Cid.   Castil.   Christianity.   Cathedral. Basilica.   Crusaders.   Civil War.   Swashbucklers.   Incas. St. Ignatius.   St. Theresa.   St. John Cross.   Olives.   Oranges.   Fig trees. Flowers.   Horses.   Donkeys. Saddles.   Fish.   Bulls.   Mules.   Isabel.   Virgin Mary.   Sanctification.   Don Quixote.   Picasso. Sun.   Tagus. Brandy.   Dali.   Madrid.   Barcelona.   Seville.   Malaga.   Gibraltar.   White. Castanets.   Flamingo.   Tourists.   Football.   Matador.

“We’re unquestionably getting near the Spanish border,” announces Fanny.

“How do you know “I enquire,” the Cows look different “. On arriving at Euro Campsite, pitch number four, we swap roles, Fanny pitches the tent, and I cook under the watchful eyes of Florence. No major snags except Fanny are in Scorpio form, because Florence and I both being Taurus, have long recognised the bulls for cows.

Or, then again, her foul form could be due to the showers. This time they are the turn on the water cock and boiled like a Lobster type.

A cup of coffee in the local village and some serious route planning sees her scorpion tail relax.

Somehow or other the next day we are on a different route to that which we had planned in the coffee shop. Fortunately once more all is not lost; we pass a sign saying, Route de Formage to Pamplona.   Reaching Iruñea/Pamplona we head for the Centro, find a large square, park beside some street rubbish bins, where we plonk ourselves down at a square Cafe table, for some well-earned refreshments.

Unknown to us, on the other side of the square, Murphy’s Law is at work. Williwaws (our Land Rover) front right-hand tyre is in the process of being conquered by a Spanish nail left behind by some litter bugging Crusader.

It is returning to the stratosphere (in aid of the ozone hole) the Hampshire air trap within its four inches of reinforced rubber quicker than any Amazon chainsaw gang could holler timber.

Crossing over the square, ” Don’t worry “I yell over my shoulder, swearing. I find Williwaw on a downward slope, listing slightly to port, almost on top of the rubbish bins. Reversing her a few wheel rolls to get clearance, her stern is now protruding into the afternoon square traffic causes a midday tailback, with a competition to see who has the loudest horn.

It is not long before two Spanish Polizea are attracted by the hullabaloo.   Both sauntering over, I impart an image of, “I know what I’m doing, you’re not dealing with a raw prawn here I will have you know. “First find the light jack, which is stored behind the driver seat. Next, hop up and get the wheel brace, out of the toolbox on the roof.

In Clint Eastwood style, with the agility of a younger man, I am up on the right-wing, and down again in one fluent movement.   Blinded by a flash of the sun from the reinforcing plating on the wings, I land smack bang on top of a set of highly polished black boots. The Rayburn, pistol-packing occupant audibly grunts. I give him a “Gum a lash scale” (phonetically pronunciation for sorry in Irish)

Watched now by a gathering crowd of street admirers, I remount this time making a mental note to take the more adventurous return route via the bull bars. I rack my brain for the combination lock numbers of the toolbox. Could I remember them, not on your Nelly? Dismounting, all is not lost, don’t panic.

In my wisdom, I remember that I had written them down in code under the tent roof platform.   There they are blurred and faded from the rain. 36 11 32, or is it, 38 11 36. One twist to the right – stop – back to the left – stop. Back around to the right. Stop. One last try, Eureka, where is the brace, nowhere to be seen.

Beads of frustrated sweat are beginning to blur my vision. It must be in the main toolbox, which is sporting a lock of London tower quality. Where are the keys?   My Spanish is not up to enquiring as to their possible whereabouts from my two, unsmiling, give him a fine, where are your papers, cops.

Try one pocket after the other, not to be had.   Then there comes a flash of inspiration. Of course stupid! The wife’s handbag. With full transparent hand gesticulations, I explain that I have to go across the square to get the keys to the lock. There is no sign of Fanny, she has gone walkabout with Florence.   Returning empty-handed I take the precaution of slipping on my own shades.

Under the press-ganged assistance of the watching onlooker’s Williwaw’s three and a half tons is pushed back up to the rubbish bins.   Out of handcuff range, I take refuge, on top of the spare tyre, on the bonnet. An hour passes, with another. Hands in the air, shoulders lifting tactics, are beginning to wear thin. Blood pressure is mounting. “No bla, bla the Espain e ol,” The clock strikes four, O! Lay the handbag shows up. Crank, Crank, the light jack strains the wheel security bolts (Top Tip: Security wheel bolts are a most for Africa) refuse to move.   Florence and Fanny have long fled back to the Cafe across the square and my two cops are nowhere to be seen.   I can only guess they have gone for reinforcements. Three knuckles bleeding later I drive around and pick up the girls and make a hasty blinkered B line out-of-town.

The Spanish Tourist board recommends camp number five.   Arriving late in the night, it can only be described as a knackers yard or, to be more, precise the glorification of a dump. A wild pitch is the only option our first of the trip. Pitch no five. So it was that night, somewhere in the foothills of Ubrbase, on a cold dinner we settled down to a wild and windy night’s sleep.

The town of Gasteiz Vitoria presents itself next morning for a welcome warm coffee break after which we wander over to an old church that once promoted God. Here we find herds of students wandering around stalls promoting the legalisation of the weed, selling Gerry Adams, Fidel Castor, Black Power, and Nelson Mandela wall posters. There is no doubt that there is a long way to go in the study of Sociology.

I have always found that God and the weed mixed leads to credulity-stretching gymnastics to explain past utterances.

If one was rational you would become cynical about politics that for sure.

To escape the hullabaloo of noise we duck into a bar.   Florence is both fascinated and abhorred by her first Bullfight on the Telly, but even more so by the sight of a Rottweiler dumping up against the bar wall.

Astonishingly!   That afternoon finds us looking for pitch number six early.

Decided to stay off the main track, we headed more northwest, than south shadowing the Bilbo/Bilbao to Santander coast road, by someone hundred odd kilometres in land. Near Villasana de Mena we are rewarded with a Meadow of Spanish dancing flowers, a running stream. Fanny is apprehensive, “What if someone is to see us?”   “What if the farmer comes around?”   “What will we do then?”   Run. We stayed two days without seeing a soul.

Each morning Florence and I run two laps of the meadow.   I try learning Tarot cards, but on dealing myself back-to-back Old Nick and the Sickle of Death I begin to take heed of Fanny’s feelings of a Don Farnando showing up uninvited.   A trip in the evening to the nearest village puts Fanny’s fears at rest and exile’s bad fortune back into its box.   When in need you can always rely on 103 Spanish Brandy.

Refreshed, we head west again, to Reinosa. ‘Rain, rain, go to Spain and never come back again.’   Back in Ireland I never did take much notice of this rhyme, as it never seemed to work. It always lashed for a picnic, barbecue, wedding, or a day at the races, while the sun split the heavens for funeral’s, exams, car journeys, creditors meetings, court attendance, divorces, or visits to the In-laws.

Parking under a power pylon big enough to carry the needs of Madrid I announce, to lift the gloom, “A bowl of soup.”   The girls watch for the next hour in disbelief, while a stubborn Irish twit in dripping green waterproof, battles with the elements, the gas cooker, finally producing a cold cup of gluttonous Lobster Bisque that goes down like a lead balloon.

Following the rhyme   ‘Rain rain go to Spain and never come back again ‘the weather to the letter under crackling pylons lashes us all the way down on to the plains.

Stopping one more on tarmac totally unaware of a Poliza car that has just gone by us, and is now awaiting our arrival up the road we eventually break out of the bad weather.

Flagged down.   “Stopping on an Autopista carries an eighty thousand Peseta fine,” says the good-looking one – Pointing to the steering wheel on the other side.   “Sorry, I did not realise we have been off-piste too long, old boy”,” Never mind the fine” says Fanny,” which way is it to Reinosa?”   Gracias, Bueno, Adiós, Maňana and all that stuff. There is just enough time for the Mr cool to withdraw his foot, to acknowledge a wave from Fanny with a smart salute, and to receive a mouth full of exhaust fumes in a gesture of goodwill, before we are off in hot pursuit of the directions given.

Fanny spots the local Reinosa cop shop. In she goes, and out she comes. “Si, Si, follow me” Hostel Tajahiero, four thousand five hundred potatoes for the night. Having escaped an eighty thousand-potato fine up the road this is a piece of cake. We can stay for a month.   Dinner turns out to be impossible, but we find a small bar with excellent cheese and wine that set us up for turning south to Palencia in the morning.

“Our last Spanish town will be Fermaselle” says Fanny as if we will reach it in a few minutes.   Map scales are not a consideration in her calculations of distance, which is done by finger lengths over lunch in Tordesillas. Nor it would seem is the length of St Clara fingernails governed by any scale of normal living growth. According to the grapevine she is lying in a state of mummification in her glass tomb just across the street from where we are having lunch in the convent of Santa Clara.

Florence is fascinated by the fact that St Clara has to have her nails cut even though she has been dead for several hundred years.   My fascination is that she is sporting a Christ-like face, on a female body.   There was no going anywhere that afternoon until we check the nail growth against the length of Fanny’s fingers, my fingers, and all of Florence’s ten fingers, ten times over.

St Clara wins by a long distance, at least an half an inch, what’s more, she is moving her little finger in time to the requiem rhythms of the passing-singing nuns. Flo can’t wait to tell her school friends.

Before leaving Tordesillas we find an excellent market. Purchase fresh sardines, not in a tin, observe by Florence with her new powers of scrutiny still very much functional after the St Clara nail clippings. I visit another church and get clobbered by the local druid who gives me a private tour in Spanish. Exceptionally interesting, but without the lingo the history of the church significance is lost upon me. Departing I could not but help feel sorry for him. Competing against the nail clipper sales across the road cannot be easy.

On the road once more, ” what’s over there on our left, is it Don Fernando’s Castillo or El Cids”?   It is definitely a village that the Crusaders must have passed through.

Up the dust road, we go to Tassa. A three-bell church tower looks out over the plains of Spain. Getting out of Williwaw I feel I should be wearing spurs, smoking a small slim cheroot, packing a six-shooter, with a blanket slung over one shoulder, rather than carrying a camera.   Look! Look! Cries Florence, up there on the church. On top of bell number three. Another castle, a four-foot wickerwork nest built right on top of note c. This is some achievement considering there are no trees never mind twigs to be seen in any direction for tens of kilometres.

Pestered by Florence in the local bar to go up and have a closer look at the nest we enquire if it is possible to get hold of the keys to the church.   Florence wants her first wildlife photo.   No problem, signor, I’ll get the keys from the local countesses.   Four beers later, we are informed the countess is in no condition to hand over the keys. Its siesta time, till the bell tolls or the baby storks start squawking for Mum or the countess comes around. Mrs Stork and her young fledgelings remain undisturbed, as does the rest of the village.

Later that night, much too late, we pitch for the seventh time. The sardines are a complete disaster, accompanied by some tears, due to the lack of Tomato sauce.

We survive the night.

At the end of a long and yet one more, wet miserable day we camp pitch number eight on the lakeshore of Embalse de Almendra, fed by the Rio Tormes.   Fanny erects the tent, while I keep a weather eye on the dark clouds gathering in the west for the night’s dose of llover capuchinós de bronce. (Cats and dogs in Spanish)

By the time its dark the wind is already doing justice to Williwaw’s name.   (Def: Williwaw. A particularly nasty squall found in the back waterways of Cape Horn) Fanny spends the night hearing footsteps around the tent. Security patrols are called for. I in a state of dress more associated with mooning rather than sentry duty is sent forth at three a.m., three thirty, three fourth five. After patrols six I eventually spend the rest of the night in the cab of Williwaw on full alert.

Breakfast, I try my luck fishing in the lake. Six casts later I gave up, packed up, say good riddance to the land of tiles, apartments, brandy, oranges, and crossover the Dam Barregem de Bemposta in a state of mind more associated with the study of psycho-neuro-immunology than saying adios to Spain.

Stopping at Mogadouro, we hotel it for the night, dinner, vineo, chat.

All is fine in the morning till I discover that the Bank some fifty-five miles back along the road has somehow effortlessly forgotten to give me back my passport. On having being screwed by handling fees, commission, and the exchange rate I had somehow managed to walk out without ensuring it safe return.


To be continued.

All donations however ever small much appreciated.

R Dillon. Account no 62259189. Ulster Bank 33 College Green Dublin 2

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