From Riches to Rags – A Tale of Two Campsites

After five weeks stationary at Bonterra Park in Benicassim, we were itching to move on.  Whilst it is a lovely 5* campsite, it is more like a retirement village for octogenarians on electric bikes.  Everything is just too ‘manicured’ for it to ever be considered as a travelling stopover.  It is ‘glamping’ at the very least.  Everything is on hand, from the choice of two supermarkets to homemade greetings cards produced by Gloria (which we were pretty sure were her own recycled cards) and plastic bottle windmills from Anya and Gant on their vastly festooned pitch.

It certainly says something about the place when the staff and other campers referred to us as ‘The Young Ones’.  This was never more noticeable than the night of the Halloween Party.  Although it was difficult to guess-timate ages thanks to the ingenious costume designs, the give-away came when ‘Disco Dave’ played Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’… Never before have I seen so many pensioners in one room jump to their feet to dance.  As a small party of octo-vampires and crinkly witches hop-footed it past our table we actually heard one of them shout “This is my funeral song!”

That night as we observed the dancefloor, Bonterra Park was affectionately renamed as ‘God’s Waiting Room’.

Now, I am not a great believer in ‘Heaven’ but if this paradise does exist, l do hope it has a swimming pool that clearly displays some rules for swimming etiquette; for I have been scarred for life from having to share a swimming pool with the older generation…

Every morning before breakfast I would try to squeeze in 30-40 lengths of the indoor pool.  Usually I was the first to arrive.  After 3 or 4 lengths, Mr & Mrs Matching Bath Robe would arrive, casually throwing off their gowns to reveal very skimpy bathing attire. Mr Matching Bath Robe would then promptly start swimming circuits….in the opposite direction to my laps!  This meant that I had to try and avert a head-on collision every other lap.  To make matters worse, Mrs Matching Bath Robe would simply position herself against a wall at one end.  With her back against the wall and her arms resting on the side, she would just open and close her legs as wide as she could; which meant that on my south-bound lap, I had to try and avoid being sucked into the Dartford tunnel!

By lap 15 Mr Splashy Feet would arrive.  Thankfully Mr Splashy Feet would swim lengths rather than circuits…but unfortunately his swimming style was akin to a wind-up bath toy – all splash and no movement.

By lap 20 our final swimmer would grace us with his presence.  Mr Furry Island was a gigantic German with a huge distended belly and the smallest black Speedo’s (or ‘Budgie Smugglers’ as we call them) you ever did see.  A mass of black curly hair adorned his entire body, other than his shiny head.

Queerly, Mr Furry Island did not swim – He just floated.  Upon entry to the pool, his curly hairs would shrivel and take on a furry appearance.  He would simply lay on his back, close he eyes and float – in whatever direction the water took him.

Thanks to Mr Splashy Feet, that direction was usually my direction.

Now on every lap I had to avoid a collision with Mr Matching Bath Robe by quickly dodging to the left – only to be kicked in the face by Mr Splashy Feet who edged me closer to the huge belly of Mr Furry Island – all whilst avoiding eye contact with the nether-regions of Mrs Matching Bath Robe doing her strange water Pilates!

Our final joy of the morning was always the parting gift of seeing Mr Furry Island leave the pool.  His strenuous efforts to hoist himself up the steps typically resulted in him parting company with his tiny Speedo’s.  With an unembarrassed shuffle he would gather his robe and then clumsily remove the said Speedo’s, making them slop to the floor.  In bending down to collect them, the crack of his arse would collect a substantial amount of the robe’s fabric.  With a confident wave Mr Furry Island would breeze past with his balls in full sight since the majority of his robe was stuck up his arse!

This was generally enough to put the rest of us of our stroke – and a mass exodus would ensue.

This was not my only peculiar encounter with an old man at Benicassim.  One afternoon, whilst walking into town with the kids, I noticed an old straggly gentlemen with a long grey beard and a weather-beaten face, sitting cross legged on the ground with a woolly Jamaican hat in front of him.  I gave Jonah a couple of euro’s and encouraged him to throw them in his hat – which he did.  Immediately the old man collected his harmonica and enthusiastically belted out Abba’s ‘Chiquitita’ – we assumed as a thank you.  Not wanting to appear ungrateful for this personal performance, we stayed and awkwardly smiled, patiently waiting for his poor rendition to end.

After his third performance of the same song, my smile changed to more of a grimace and I gestured at my watch that we had to go.  As we started to walk away he beckoned us back, waving an even larger harmonica, which reverberated ‘Chiquitita’ all the way up the high street.

Two days later as we walked along the beach (some 3km away from the town) we stumbled across the same old man sitting on a bench. He instantly recognised us and earnestly picked up his harmonica to play ‘Chiquitita’.  Chris was rather bemused by our simultaneous groan of ‘Oh God’ as we smiled politely, but sped up.  I explained that he was the same homeless man we had met a few days earlier.  Chris passed over some more euros and remarked that it was a catchy little tune, and then annoyingly hummed it for the rest of the day.

You can only imagine our horror when the following day, on a 15km bike ride to Orepesa, we caught site of our bearded friend wearing his Jamaican hat and waving his harmonica frantically at us.  Like a chilling seen from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller ‘Chiquitita’ played repetitively and ardently as we pedalled past as fast as we could.  That night I realised we had been singing ‘Chiquitita’ all day like a broken record.  It had become permanently embedded in our brains!

So it was no surprise, that on our last day at Bonterra Park, we should hear ‘Chiquitita’ as we pulled out of the campsite for the final time.  But on this occasion, the sight of our happy homeless man and his harmonica made us all smile, cheer and wave.  He became symbolic of our time at Benicassim and I shall be reminded of him, and our time at Bonterra Park, every time I hear that song.


After the riches of Bonterra Park we headed south for a few nights at Valencia, before continuing our journey towards Benidorm.  This was never a place that we wanted to visit but our Italian friends from Sitges convinced us that Benidorm was a ‘must see’ place; if not just for its amusement value.

Our first impression of the campsite was one of disbelief.  It was nothing more than a shanty town of dilapidated caravans and make-shift shelters.  It seemed slightly sad that our fellow Brits had given the best of their years to the UK Government, only to end up living in Benidorm in a caravan with a corrugated porch – and be thankful.

Signs with aggressive rules were posted everywhere.  The dog walk area was covered in broken glass and a dump of unwanted furniture and caravans at the end of the field was an eye sore even for the most optimistic mind.  All night long, a dog barked, a donkey ee-awwed and a cockerel crowed from a neighbouring property.  It was a far cry from the Tramodol-induced quiet of Bonterra Park.

Knowing that we would not be staying long, we caught the bus into the centre of Benidorm that afternoon.  As the bus drove through row after row of souvenir shops and bars selling full English breakfasts and fish n’ chips, our mouths fell open.  Brits were everywhere! Chris was convinced that the entire Northern economy of the UK must come to a grinding halt as half of its population descend on Benidorm for the winter.

I have only ever caught little snippets of the hit TV show ‘Benidorm’ but it always seemed a little far-fetched for reality.  Well, that view has certainly changed.  The creators of ‘Benidorm’ are research Gods!  The promenade and shops are literally awash with overweight Brits on mobility scooters, middle-aged men in ¾ shorts and football shirts, and leather-look grannies in bright pink lippy and florescent leggings.  The friendly characters that walk (or more aptly, ride) the streets are precisely those that are portrayed on TV.

Benidorm Town was not impressive at all – but it was, or is, the best people-watching place on earth! If you can avoid being killed by a mobility scooter, hours can be lost watching the world go by.

We continued to head west, stopping at La Manga, Almeria, Malaga and Benalmadena – all of which offered as much Spanish culture as Benidorm…although we did stumble upon a hidden delight at Aguilas in the form of a wild camping area on the beach of La Playa Carolina.  If it had not been for Christmas approaching, I think we would still be there.  It was exquisite, unspoilt and free!

Finally on the 10th December we arrived at Gibralta or ‘Little Britain’…to rain! In true UK fashion it was the only place on the south and west coast that was in receipt of 3 days of rain.  It felt like ‘home from home’.  After some sneaky Christmas shopping on the high street, we booked tickets for the cable car and travelled 420 metres skywards to the top of the rock.  The monkeys were as much fun as promised, and although we had a shopping bag stolen and three of us sustained bites, we were as enamoured with the monkeys as we were the Benidorm brigade.

Two days ago we arrived at the campsite that we will call home for Christmas.  In true Cotter-style, it is quiet, clean and beautiful (not a dilapidated shanty house in sight).  The area of Tarifa is completely unspoilt by tourism and offers us a taste of Spanish culture during the festive period.  We have been promised a wonderful procession in the old town on Christmas Eve, where the kids can enjoy “Sweets, a little horse, may be a dog, and a little pork” (we assume the latter is a pig?) – They can’t wait!

To top it off we have been blessed with amazing weather and a coastline to die for (not literally).  The idea of kite surfing and a day trip to Africa appeals over the coming weeks, but for now we are just happy to be in each other’s company, walking, talking, playing and laughing…lots!

So, Merry Christmas (or Feliz Navidad) everyone, wherever you are and whoever you’re with.

We wish you all a wonderful time,

Martine x



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