Chapter 4: Part 2 – La Manga and Beyond
We finally got to La Manga Camping, which is on the La Manga del Mar Menor (meaning “The Sandbar of the Minor Sea”), on the booked date of 15th December, and with slight trepidation having got the earlier text from Ann (see Part 1), booked in to the site. The staff were friendly and helpful and there was a pleasant business about the place.
Once booked in we found our way down the main ‘street’ to the Camping and Caravanning warden’s HQ. We later discovered that this ‘street’ was responsible for the ‘white water rafting’ comment from Ann as it flooded every time there was a torrential downpour of rain, of which there were quite a few.
Peter and Joan, the Camping and Caravanning Club Wardens were the friendliest, most helpful and knowledgeable people you could hope to meet and explained to us that we had a choice of pitches, but that unfortunately the ones nearest HQ were already taken, so we would have to camp a little further away. We, still in our ‘suspicious of enforced jollity’ mind, were secretly pleased as we didn’t want to get dragged in to bingo or anything of that nature, and quite happily chose a pitch towards the end of the Club’s rally site.
As it turned out, these pitches were perfectly decent but were a bit out of the fun which we later realised we would have enjoyed.
We settled in and a few hours later a couple from Milton Keynes, Debbie and Alan arrived. I’d met them at Reception when I’d gone back to get some information on the Launderette. They’d had a difficult journey, having missed the turning off the dual carriageway which made them have one of their rare arguments (on the lines of ‘I told you to turn left’ and ‘no you didn’t’) so by the time they got in to reception they were a bit frazzled to say the least.
Like us they were new to motorhoming and rallying, and a bit unsure about it, so when they finally pitched their van next to us we were pleased to meet a couple who have turned out to be kindred spirits and have since become firm friends.
So, what to say about the rally? We decided to join in everything and just get on with enjoying ourselves, which we did; from putting up the Xmas decorations in the Club room, to joining the Christmas Dinner and New Year’s Eve party and going on the coach trips to Benidorm, Murcia and Cartagena.. Benidorm, by the way, was much nicer than we’d thought it would be. It has a beautiful, palm tree lined promenade with good quality bars and restaurants and an old town where we got a good traditional Spanish meal in a small restaurant where the owners didn’t speak English. I’d definitely go there for a winter break another time.
Although we’re not very religious people we enjoyed the outside Carol Concert on Christmas morning, it made it seem a more special time as we were all away from family. Unfortunately Peter and Joan didn’t really have loud enough voices to get everybody together so eventually John helped out by leading the singing. He’s always wanted to be a rock star and has been in local bands, although this was a bit different it did satisfy his need to ‘entertain’. Everyone seemed to appreciate it and people afterwards asked if he was a teacher (which he is). One lady took me aside and said discretely, that she knew his secret. When I looked puzzled she said ‘he must be a vicar on holiday, but she wouldn’t tell anyone’. I tried to let her down gently as there aren’t many people less likely to be a vicar than John!
I even managed to catch the ‘La Manga Cough’, which was the worst cough I’ve ever had and postponed our departure for a few days. I’ll leave it to your imagination how awful it was for John with me coughing all night for days on end. In the stillness of the night air you could hear coughing coming from many motorhomes and caravans. It was nice not to feel alone in the small hours.
It even became a strangely unifying illness as so many people had it. There’d be little knots of people comparing remedies, where the best chemist was, what the doctor said, how much they’d coughed in the night, how tired they felt today etc etc.
La Manga is a huge site with hundreds of pitches, statics and permanent homes, and at first site does seem a bit scruffy, but it does have a good Spanish bar and restaurant doing ‘real’ Spanish food as well as generic European cuisine. The rally pitches were near the entrance so we did have quite a walk to get to the bar, restaurant and the Clubroom and the sea.
I can’t say the surrounding area is particularly scenic but you can walk along the coast (deserted in winter) and there is a nice enough large village (Los Belones) within walking distance with a good hairdresser and a couple of reasonable cafes and restaurants. You can also get local transport to Cartagena, and other local small towns and markets, and further on to Murcia and Valencia.
We stayed on for a few days more to get over ‘the cough’ and then travelled on down the Costas stopping first of all at Camping El Cantal on the outskirts of Mojacar. I don’t know how we came to choose this site; it was large, scruffy, run-down and very basic. You could however get to a good beach through an underground tunnel and it was a nice walk along the beach to shops and cafes.
There was obviously nothing along the coast strip at Mojacar before someone had decided to turn it in to a tourist resort and it is now full of British, German and Scandinavian butchers, supermarkets and bars. Good for topping up on essentials like Marmite, Heinz Tomato Soup and, most importantly, bacon.
The beach (the Playa) is long, sandy and well kept and the water is clear, blue and relatively warm even in the winter so we had a few day’s beach holiday here before moving on. It was here we had a memorable encounter with a few Brits who were living in Mojacar. The most notable was a friendly chap who told us, when we enquired what he did for a living said he was ‘an ex-criminal’ and had just come out of prison for money laundering. He also told us that he made a living by buying up motorhomes and caravans cheaply from people who’d got that far and run out of money, and selling them on at a much higher price!
We also got chatting toa young English woman with two children. She told us very indignantly that the children had to go to Spanish school and the teachers were complaining that the children wouldn’t even try to speak Spanish. Then she told us that she didn’t speak Spanish, in fact if they couldn’t understand her in a shop she just shouted at them and walked out! We thought it sad that these children had an opportunity to experience a foreign culture but they obviously weren’t going to be able to take advantage of it.
Behind Mojacar Playa is the old town of Mojacar Pueblo. This is a couple of kilometres from the sea and is a striking collection of white houses perched on a rocky outcrop and offers an interesting, more Spanish, alternative to the tourist resort below.
We were now coming towards the end of our time in Spain. We had arranged to meet Debbie and Alan in Granada on our way to Bilbao so we hurried on through Roquetas. There’s nothing much to say about Roquetas except that it is a pleasant tourist town surrounded by acres of huge flapping polytunnels which must have bought a lot of employment to the area but does nothing for the scenery.
We carried on to Torre del Mar, which we really liked as it a good combination of a working town with the addition of a relaxing beach resort. There are only a couple of British pubs here and, apart from over-wintering British in the campsites, it seems to be a place that only the Spanish know. Again it has wonderful beaches and a beautiful promenade and you can get buses along the coast to Malaga (which we also liked a lot) and then on to the brasher resorts of the Costa del Sol.
So – would we go to Spain again in the winter? Definitely. The weather was great, there was company when we wanted it but it was easy to avoid if we didn’t. Some of the coastal resorts were excellent, other weren’t but it was good fun finding out. The major cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Granada are amazing and there are many more we still want to see.
• Read Chapter 1: Making it happen
• Read Chapter 2: Saint-Pol-de-Léon
• Read Chapter 3: Part 1 – Idling our way to the Italian Riviera via France and a litle bit of Switzerland
• Read Chapter 3: Part 2 – Pietra Ligure and beyond
• Read Chapter 4: Part 1 – A Winter ‘Cruise’ along the Costas and a Christmas Rally