Travel

(Tiny) Home for the holidays

After a month in Portugal, it was time for a change of scenery. We crossed back into Spain near Badajoz, traveled north to Granadilla and parked up next to a reservoir for five days. This is where we would spend Christmas.

Once supplies ran low it was time to move on to a different spot for New Years. We saw a place on park4night that looked good, about two hours drive south. Finding it though, well that took a bit more effort. At one point we were on a narrow, rocky track that was only getting rougher. It was clear that the GPS had sent us in the wrong direction. It was time to turn around before we got a puncture or worse. After checking the map, it looked like we were at the wrong end of the lake. Right then, off we go, this time in the right direction. Almost. One more wrong turn, a minor GoPro mishap, and another rocky track later, we were there. It’s always an adventure.

Escape to the south of Portugal

We worked our way towards the Portuguese border, stopping at Bande’s Roman Thermal Pools on the Spanish side. After a soak and an overnight stay, we crossed over into Portugal and kept driving south in search of better weather. We found it, 600km later, at Praia do Queimado, about a two-hour drive south of Lisbon. We parked up next to the ocean where we stayed for four nights. The adjacent dunes were a great place to walk the dogs and enjoy the warm, sunny days. In the evenings we would sit on the beach drinking wine until our feet got cold, all the while amazed that this could even be possible. We had escaped winter. So this is what all the fuss is about!

Northern Spain and the village of Tiermas

From Italy we traveled west across the south of France into the north of Spain. (It’s really not as complicated as it sounds) After two nights in the hills of Basque Country we doubled back towards Pamplona, driving on further to the Yesa reservoir. We camped on the edge of the reservoir, which in the spring and summer would normally be under water. The muted grey tones of the dried up shoreline was a strange contrast to the multi-coloured hills that surrounded us. There was an endless supply of firewood lying about and not a single person to bother us.

The reservoir was built in the 1950’s, flooding fertile agricultural land along the Aragón River and leaving the locals without a source of income. The area was largely abandoned over the course of the next 30 years. It’s not a new story, but a sad one nonetheless. In fact, in British Columbia, they are doing something similar to this right now.

The 13th century village of Tiermas was interesting to explore. Information is hard to find online, but from what I understand, the last resident left around 1990. Before that, there are stories of hippies and squatters living in the village. Of course there is a much deeper history of this area. The Aragón river was once a trading route of the Roman Empire; there are ruins of ancient Roman baths below the village. When the water level is low enough, the springs reveal themselves. We visited the site but unfortunately they were submerged. Maybe next time!

Tunisia Part 2 – Sand dunes and chill

I had grand ideas of how I would photograph the desert landscape. Tripod, polarizing filters, ND filters…maybe a remote flash? Nope, didn’t use them. In the end it came down to time. Or the lack thereof.

So, I had to work faster.

Sand is a destroyer of electronic equipment. Ask Bob: his point-and-shoot completely shut down on him after that Saharan silt worked its way into the zoom mechanism. You must keep your camera in the bag until you need it. Then, once you have a free moment or spot a composition, grab it and shoot. Then back in the case it goes. It was a sort of street photography style, only without the streets.

Here are some shots from the dunes and the southern town of Douz, known as the “gateway to the Sahara”.  There are streets there mind you, and the atmosphere was incredible. The people were warm and the colours so vibrant. I could have spent the whole day wandering around. I hope that next year we have a bit more time there.

Sorry about your camera, Bob.

off road vehicles camped in the desert

Tunisia Part 1 – An overland adventure

Earlier this year I was invited to join a group of off-road enthusiasts on their annual expedition to Tunisia. My friend Bob van der Meer had been trying to arrange this adventure for quite some time. Finally it had become a reality; in October we were set to spend five days camping in the Sahara desert.

From the 24 hour ferry ride and the ensuing chaos of passing though customs in Tunis, to driving through the dunes and camping in the desert under a full moon, the experience was unforgettable. We made new friends who taught us how to drive in the sand and who patiently pulled us out every time we got stuck. We cracked beers and jokes and quite a few parts. When something did break, the tools came out and lunch was prepared while the work was being done. It was a team effort from start to finish. There were nightly bonfires, delicious meals and a few controlled explosions. We had a great time and have already made plans to do it all again next year. I hope we do.

Switzerland Part 2 – Return to Davos

We passed through Davos last year on our way back from Croatia.  It was our first trip in the camper and also the reason why we built it. At the time we didn’t have plans to actually live in a van. It was simply a way for us to see more of Europe without being restricted to a fixed itinerary of Airbnb rentals. Just a bit of freedom to wander and explore, avoiding cities and touristic areas. We had a simple camper build without a heater or a toilet or a fixed LPG tank. We had 20 liters of water on board, a 5kg propane tank and a few lessons to learn about what it meant to travel Europe in a camper van.

Near the end of our four week holiday we found ourselves crossing into Switzerland from Italy via the Ofen Pass. We stopped in the Swiss National Park and were immediately captivated by the landscape. It was the end of September; fall was in full swing in the alpine. Further along, atop the Flüela Pass, we thought we were on another planet. We had just come from the Dolomites but this was something completely different.

I had heard about Davos but that was the limit of my knowledge of the area. Well it was about to become a very fond memory. From the top of the Parsenn Funicular I made my way down the mountain on my bike, stopping at the Strelapass for a beer and some flammkuchen before making the final descent into Davos. The scenery was unreal. Hikers and bikers shared the same trails and there was an atmosphere to the place that I had never experienced in Canada. This time around was even better. I had a bit more knowledge of the trails and it made for an incredible day on the mountain. But next time I will bring a full suspension bike. Ouch!

Switzerland Part 1 – Acquacalda

A visit to the Selvasecca Forest Reserve in Ticino. They call this Italian speaking province the “Mediterranean heart of Switzerland”. There are four national languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that but I digress.

From Biasca we drove north on the Lukemanier pass until we came across a small campsite, Centro Pro Natura Lucomagno. It was very peaceful with only one or two other campers so we decided to stay two nights. With hiking trails leading right from the campsite it was a great spot from which to explore the area. The fall colours were out in force making for a very picturesque landscape.

The French Alps Part 2 – Val d-Isère

These photos were taken in the Vanoise National Park, just outside of Val d’Isère.

The French Alps Part 1 – L’Écot

The hamlet of Ecot near Bonneval overlooks the gorges of the river Arc. There are several very old stone houses and one chapel in the village. There were also some newer homes being built in the same stone and wood style. After digging around on the web I discovered that Nicolas Vanier filmed the movie Belle and Sèbastien in the village and surrounding area.