Light, animals and action!

We were heading towards the light. This is the Costa de la Luz – Coast of the Light – where previously when we were there for New Year’s Eve we saw the best ever sunsets (and we include famous classics in there such as Ibiza and Goa). It’s another glorious part of stunning Andalusia, this one with different coasts due to it facing the rolling Atlantic.

IMG_8398Just north of Tarifa on this wonderful coastal trip from Nerja, with clear views of the African continent’s Moroccan mountains, is the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia. Its history lies in the trade routes serving Europe and North Africa – the Roman town’s strategic position on the coast near the Straits of Gibraltar made it a crucial stopping-off point between the two continents. Mountains to one side, beaches and the Atlantic to the other side, it’s a stunning view of the past set among stunning views. And that beautiful shimmering light on this coast evident all around.

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After this we went to Conil de la Frontera’s Camping Roche for another warm welcome from the Leal family who run this campsite so excellently. It’s one of our very favourites out of the dozens of campsites we’ve stayed on during the past year. It’s laid out ideally and close to both beaches and countryside.IMG_8445

And what beaches and countryside. The Costa de la Luz is wonderfully natural and unspoilt. We could even give a History lesson from the amazing beach at Los Caños de Meca, from where a couple of hundred years ago you could have seen the ships and heard the cannons that were pounding some of those ships to pieces during the Battle of Trafalgar. Thankfully, the tranquility of today’s shoreline is a million miles away.

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Every day during our week’s stay here was delightful. One of our favourite days though had to be when we took a simple walk around through the campsite that’s like a lovely park in itself and then just outside it for half a mile where we came across horses, chickens, a puppy, plus the donkeys we’d heard that previous dusk.

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Then it was Conil de la Frontera, among the favourite places of ours in the whole of Spain. It’s a lovely white-washed town with many Moorish influences. We parked up right by the beach, where more horses were, then had a walk around the town trying to cool ourselves in the narrow shaded streets as the temperature had shot up in Spain into the mid-30s – phew!

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Then it was to the glorious beach here for some play and “beach-teach” (spelling and maths lessons in the sand) and to watch the kite-surfers.

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Lastly, to gaze in awe as the sun set into the sea, and then at the scarlet clouds back at the campsite.
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Next morning we sorted through (and practised counting and some maths) the beautiful sandy-coloured shells we’d collected the previous day. Our handy Outwell picnic table was ideal for this sort of play and lesson (and was even colour co-ordinated with the shells!).
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With our stay here over and Portugal-bound we pointed our Swift Escape northwards and trotted off to ride a couple of the dromedaries (Arabian camels) in Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s largest areas of sand dunes, covering more than 200 square miles – and home to mainland Spain’s only camels up for a ride.

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It’s thought that during the 19th and 20th centuries, a herd of feral dromedaries roamed the area, introduced during the Moorish conquest of Spain in the 8th century or they may have escaped from a herd introduced as working animals in the 1800s. By the 1950s, there were only eight left, and these were threatened by poachers. But they survived and now there are about 20 here. Including a three-week-old cute calf that our boys Daniel and Darley got to stroke to their delight.

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This trip came about after some research because we didn’t get to ride camels in Morocco as we’d said we would to the boys. We’d seen pics of some of the camels ridden in Morocco, and Debs (being a horse rider, equine enthusiast and utter animal lover) had noted the jaw ropes were an unnecessary and possibly painful restrain and that the camels looked to be in very poor condition. Debs contacted a camel expert in the UK who said the jaw rope looked “dreadful” and that a head collar was sufficient. A jaw rope could break their jaw.

This sort of thing is always worth keeping upmost in mind of course when looking to do anything with animals, especially while travelling to unfamiliar places. So after looking at the online photographs of these Doñana dromedaries, then checking them out at their stable and chatting with their owners, a couple of lovely chaps from the Western Sahara who’d grown up with camels, we decided this was okay.
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They carefully balanced us either side of the camels, and if the one the boys were carried on was large then the dromedary that Debs and I went up on was huge! At a sleepy rhythmic pace rocking from side to side we went for a slow-paced stroll through the stunning sand dunes. It was fantastic and seeing the camels one of the trip highlights for the boys.

Swapping our camels for our motorhome we motored on to Portugal. We stayed at Olhão, the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It’s surrounded by fascinating lagoons, which makes for abundant wildlife. For example, about 30,000 species of birds ever year can be observed here, since it serves as a migratory corridor and contains some of the last remaining nesting grounds in Europe for certain bird species. (Unfortunately, during our stay, there were also plenty of those pesky mosquitoes… Luckily for us we all had our Craghoppers Nosilife clothes to save us from a few bites and bumps.)

IMG_8852From here we went on a dolphin boat trip from the nearby charming small fishing village of Cabanas de Tavira to see these wonderful creatures in their own habitat. We were helped on board our Passeios Ria Formosa boat by Louis, a lovely guy who told us interesting facts all the way, including about the many shellfish collectors on the shores, and who steered our boat skilfully and with patience as we searched around for the dolphins here one Sunday dawn. And after about an hour, on a boat ride that was fabulous enough on its own, we saw one, gracefully curving up through the still water. We saw it several more times, to excited squeals from our boat each time, before it was time to get back to shore for a coffee and one of Portugal’s delicious pastel de nada cakes (egg tart). We would have posted a pic of one here – but they were all eaten too quickly before we had chance!

IMG_6962After coffee and cake we ambled along the village’s marina, spotting a few fiddler crabs (the major claw is much larger than the minor claw on the boy crabs while the girls’ claws are both the same size) waving their big claws outside their holes in the grounds as if arguing and shaking their fists at each other. Remember, love thy neighbour, crabby ones!

IMG_8933 We also spotted several Mediterranean house geckos, looking like baby crocs, their lidless eyes staring at us. (We gave them a few friendly winks, but not one of them winked back at us…)IMG_8908

Another day and another campsite, onwards westwards along the Algarve coast to Camping Albufeira, a big friendly campsite, with thank goodness as the temperatures stayed in the mid-30s, two outdoor swimming pools plus a paddling one.

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Mr Colin Dog found shade to swiftly escape the heat… IMG_9183

… while we found the refreshing pools with a view!IMG_9082

Albufeira was a pleasant surprise, its old fishing village still evident. The greatest intrigue for our boys though was not for the wide beaches or the historical buildings or the myriad bars and restaurants, but for likeable Dutchman Ludwig’s fascinating shell stall and his enchanting details about the things he sold, particularly its shark heads.IMG_9098

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And then we explored some more – and discovered the beaches along the Algarve are simply stunning! There were rock pools, caves, arches, stacks, embedded shells and all sorts of engrossing things to study.

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With the well-being of animals uppermost in mind, one day we went to Zoomarine. We’d researched it online beforehand and discovered some of the stuff written, we’re sure with good intent, was incorrect or at least in need of updates (for instance, the dolphins here do not do three shows every day of the week as was written on one website: the place is even closed two days of the week). We know there’s an intelligent discussion for whether we should even have anything like zoos, but most of them have come an immeasurable way since we went as children ourselves. We want our children to see animals up close that we can’t otherwise possibly get to see, and we’ve decided to have a good consideration for each place we’re thinking of visiting.

P5082387And every single person we met involved with the animals at Zoomarine loved them and simply would not have worked there if the animals were not looked after with ample love and care. In fact, the entire staff and set-up was excellent. Everyone seemed really happy to be working at Zoomarine (we can see why!), and were friendly, fun and so helpful throughout our visit.

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In fact, we came away feeling as though we’d made some new friends (with the dolphins as well)! Alberto, pictured below (he’s the one with the hair…!), was as charming, interesting and fun as anyone can be, interchanging seamlessly his information about dolphins, including conservation, from perfect English to Spanish for the group we were with for this dolphin interaction. Then we swam with the dolphins, plus kissed them! Debs realised a dream she’d had since being a little girl and there were tears of joy. The dolphins just seem to get everyone smiling. I even managed to get in my party-bore fact that dogs and dolphins are related, and everyone was very happy!

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Zoomarine’s a fantastic day out (at least – we’d recommend two!). As well as the dolphins there are tortoises, turtles, octopuses (or is it octopi!?), crocs, sea lions and many more wonderful creatures to see.

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Then there’s the big wheel, merry-go-round, water slides, river ride, swimming pools, fountains and even a sandy beach created there, complete with sun loungers and waves. It’s easily up there with the best attractions we’ve ever visited.

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After a week in the Algarve, it was time to start our climb north towards the ferry back to UK. A slightly heavy heart at the realisation that this term of our Education By Astonishment lessons was drawing close to this outdoor school’s holidays – but much to see on the way! This started with a drive on a smart Portuguese motorway (but some of the roads we went on in Portugal left a lot to be desired) to Évora past some beautiful scenery that reminded us of English summer scenes.

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We pitched up at the lovely cosy campsite here (all the campsites we stay at were booked by and are regularly inspected by The Camping And Caravanning Club experts and so you know they’ll be of a great standard), and had a dip in the pool as the temperatures were still swelteringly soaring.

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Due to its well-preserved centre, still partially enclosed by tall medieval walls, and a large number of monuments dating from various historical periods, including a Roman temple and Moorish buildings, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a really interesting mix of human history.

IMG_9280Then, just before we set off back towards beloved Spain, Daniel surprised us when he created this prototype of a new plan that’s taking great shape in our minds… (you’ll all be more than welcome!)

IMG_6999Remember if you go on a specific trip to see a person, place or thing to educate you and your children, give something to charity for the privilege of being able to do so. Our chosen charity to help children not so fortunate around the world is UNICEF. Donate here if in the UK: www.unicef.org.uk And here if elsewhere in the world: www.unicef.org

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