Friends, Ruined Plans & Flat Batteries in Northern Spain

While we were at Oradour-Sur-Glane, we received a message from a couple of friends we had met on the road on our previous tour. We met Wayne & Felixa in Javea in early 2017. They had arrived in France that morning from the Eurotunnel with the intention of hurtling down through France to get to Spain. They suggested we get together, and as we had no other planned stops in France we decided to slowly head towards Bordeaux and on to the Spanish border to let them catch us up.

On our route south, we selected a few CampingCarPark aires to stop over for the night lapping up the included electricity and wifi. As we got close to Bayonne it was decided that Wayne & Felixa could catch us by the following day so we agreed to meet up at San Sebastian, just across the Spanish border. Avoiding the toll roads on the stretch between Bayonne and San Sebastian makes for a tough drive but the scenery of the mountains and the traditional Basque Swiss Chalet style houses in both France and Spain makes it worthwhile.

View across a marina to one of the aires we stayed at in Southern France

I have wanted to visit San Sebastain for many years. We have driven around the back of the town so many times to cross the border into France both in our motorhome and also when we lived on the Costa del Sol, but it has always been in the middle of a long journey and hasn’t been practical to stop. So eventually this would be our chance…. or so we thought.

Both our motorhomes are too long to fit comfortably into the official aire at San Sebastian so we opted for the alternative of the sports arena car park where motorhomes are permitted to stay, and you can catch a local bus into the town centre. As we approached the sports stadium the area was a hive of activity. At the arena car park entrance, there were barriers across with a steward and a policeman. No motorhomes were being allowed in! The steward told us there was a rugby match, a hockey match and a basketball game all taking place in the stadium and arena adjacent. He did not know of anywhere else we could stay. Tip: Don’t arrive on a Saturday afternoon!

Just by chance we were about to send a message to Wayne & Felixa to tell them of the closed car park when we got a message back saying they were right behind us! We had arrived at the same time. But our plans were scuppered and San Sebastian would have to wait for another time. We both parked up in an industrial area to plan our next move. The next aire was about 35km down the coast in Zumaia.

Proudly flying the Basque Country flag

It was now dark and starting to rain, the worst combination for driving a large motorhome especially around a twisty and hilly coastal road and when we arrived in Zumaia we found the designated aire there was also closed off! Park4night showed another location nearby at the side of the river and also an industrial area, but it would do for the night and there were other motorhomes parked up.

The next day the 4 of us went for a stroll along the river into the town centre and out along the harbour walls. The harbour walls rise up on 3 levels. We took the high route with the usual Spanish health and safety precautions in place. A red line painted along the edge of the walls. Cross this and you will fall 30 feet on to the lower concrete path below! Not a hand rail in sight.

A nod to Spanish health and safety – don’t cross the red line!

Zumaia is a pretty little coastal town set at the foot of green mountains.The coastline is rugged and with the green mountain backdrop reminded us very much of our own coastline back in Northern Ireland.

We strolled back to the town centre and had our first Spanish coffee and tapas of the trip. Patatas bravas, alioli and croquetas would fill a gap until the evening. Back at the van Michelle prepared dinner for the 4 of us and we spent the night catching up, chatting and laughing over some beers and wines late into the night as you do.

Rugged coastline reminiscent of Northern Ireland!

Next morning we awoke to a crisis. Our leisure batteries were dead, and I mean totally dead, extinct, ceasing to exist! Where would we get leisure batteries around here?

Where the river and beach meet the Atlantic

Parked opposite us was a Spanish man who it turns out was living here in his motorhome. I went over and asked him in my pigeon Spanish if he knew where I could get some new batteries and he marched me around to an industrial unit which sold tyres and batteries, However, after the guy checked out our batteries he knew that car batteries would not suit our purpose but that he would check around and make a few phone calls and come back to us later.

Meanwhile Wayne & Felixa were having their own crisis. Their toilet cassette was full and there were no services in this alternative parking place. They decided they would need to move on to the next aire in the small fishing town of Lekeito to use the services. We stayed waiting to hear our fate running the engine intermittently to put some charge in the batteries as it was a dull day and the solar was producing next to nothing.

Typical Basque chalet style residence in Zumaia

The guy from the tyre bay came back to us at around 5pm to say he could not get the right batteries but there was a caravan supply store about 8 miles out of town and that it was open until 8pm. The man living in his motorhome beckoned me over and said “Venga con migo en el coche!”. He opened his car door which was parked next to his motorhome and drove me to the caravan supply store, while I had to leave my caravan parked at caravan storage Melbourne. It is amazing to experience the generosity of strangers.

Unfortunately the caravan store didn’t have any suitable batteries either but told us they could order some in to arrive the next day. That night we huddled around an LED battery powered lamp lent to us by Wayne and by next morning the batteries were completely dead again even though the only power being used was the digital voltmeter and fridge control. Nothing was working and it meant re-starting the engine for periods during the day. We sat around all day until 5pm when the phone call came from the caravan store to say the batteries had not arrived! This meant another night without power.

Next morning we decided to cut our losses. We had planned to visit Bilbao next and thought we would have a better chance of sourcing some leisure batteries in a bigger city. Wayne and Felixa were ready to move on too from Lekeito so we planned our next stop just outside Bilbao and hit the road. At least the drive there would provide some charge. Before leaving we popped over to our Spanish friend and gave him a bottle of finest reserve Rioja with our thanks for his help.

Catch us next time in the wonderful city of Bilbao.