Hire car fuel tank full - Check
Destination address loaded into sat nav - Check
20 hours worth of top tunes loaded into phone - Check
Ham salad sandwiches and water in cooler bag - Check
Beanies, hoodies, sunnies and SPF 30+ sunscreen - Check
By 4:00am on a dark and rainy Friday morning in early February the hire car was loaded and the nice lady who lives inside our sat nav told me to turn right at the next intersection and keep going for another 680 kilometres (422 miles). I complied with her instructions. She's been with me now for over 7 years and I've found it best not to argue with her or question her decisions.
At that hour of the day the road leading us out of Javea and onto the AP7 south bound was almost deserted and it wasn't too long before we were on the toll road with our cruise control locked onto 120 km/h (75 mph). The lady in the sat nav informed me that we'd be arriving at our destination in approximately 6.5 hours. I cranked up the music and settled into a comfortable driving position as Aannsha blew up the travel pillow and settled into a comfortable dozing position.
If you don't include Russia and Ukraine, then Spain is the second largest country in Europe, after France, and with a population of 46.5 million it means that the roads and motorways outside of the main cities are relatively empty. The toll roads even more so, as the Spanish avoid paying tolls whenever they can. I couldn't find anywhere online to calculate what the tolls would be from Javea to Gibraltar, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was about 24 Euros (AU$34.50) each way.
The hours passed by, the truck drivers were polite, the passenger
coach drivers made lane changing decisions at the last minute
and the BMW, Mercedes and Audi drivers zoomed past us at breakneck speeds and disappeared into the darkness. Somewhere around Sierra de Baza (catchy name) I began to notice that the 'rain' in the headlights, which had been fairly constant since we set off, had started to look different but I couldn't figure out why. It was only when my bladder informed me that it required emptying, the cars fuel gauge indicated the tank needed refilling and I pulled off the motorway into a service station that I realised that it was snowing. It had been 20 years since I'd seen snow falling and 30 plus years since I'd driven through it in the dark, that's why my brain couldn't figure out what was wrong with the 'rain' in the headlights.
The snow fall was only light but as we looked around and took in the snowy landscape it was obvious that it had been falling for a couple of days at least. Legs stretched, bladders emptied, fuel tank refilled and with dawn breaking as best as it could through the low hanging clouds delivering their cargo of small fluffy snowflakes we continued our drive through the ghostly landscape. I am not a fan of cold climates or being cold in general, but I had to admit it all looked very picture postcard perfect.
Some more hours passed and the snow slowly disappeared as we descended from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and passed through a great variety of landscapes including a mixture or rural areas and small towns, wooded hillsides and vast gorges spanned by viaducts which had road signs that proudly declared their height in metres just as you drove on to them. I think the highest one was over 600 metres (1,968 feet) tall.
As predicted by the lady in our sat nav (allowing for leg stretching and fuel stops) we arrived in La Linea de la Conception at 11:30am and parked in the car park of Alcaidesa Marina, then took the 15 minute walk across the border into Gibraltar. If you want to know how the Spanish/Gibraltar passport/customs areas function you can read about that in my Blog # 15.
We were to meet our hosts and RYA course instructors Peter and Carrie at the wooden bridge in front of Bianca's Bar & Restaurant at Gibraltar's main marina. We got there just a little after midday and tried not to look like tourists, which is hard to do when you have luggage with you. Our cunning plan did not deter a nice young lady who approached and offered to sell us day trip tickets to go and see the wild dolphins in Gibraltar Bay. We declined politely and informed her we were here to do our Day Skipper sailing course with Rock Sailing Gibraltar. It turns out that Gibraltar is one of those small places where everyone knows everyone else and she told us that she'd just seen Peter and Carrie having a coffee inside Bianca's which was right behind us. Thanking her we picked up our obviously touristy looking luggage and wandered into Bianca's to meet up with our hosts.
Introductions done, coffee finished and Carrie heading off to a meeting, Peter showed us onboard Rockefeller, our 36 foot floating home for the next few weeks and left us to our own devices with firm instructions to "Have a good look around, open cupboards, lockers and drawers, she's your boat from here onwards!" We stowed our gear, opened cupboards, lockers and drawers and then decided on a quick look at Gibraltar's main street before darkness fell. Back on the boat we got stuck into a bottle of local red wine and called it a night around 9:30pm. We were knackered after the 3:30am wake up and the long drive, plus we had to be on top form and ready to learn all about VHF radio handling when our first RYA course began at 9:30am the following morning in what was locally known as 'The Greenhouse'.