Fear of the Walking Dead.

Sunday 01 July 2018 – Xelardo, Lliria, Valencia, Spain.

Acting innocent, trying to blend, look like a local or a regular visitor, someone possibly walking, in my case, an imaginary dog, I wait for the lone car to pass down this quiet, dusty road. As soon as it is out of sight, with pounding heart and sweat pouring (it is Spain and really hot) I scramble through the hole in the fence and into a scene from The Walking Dead.

Welcome to Camping Aguas de Lliria. Contentiously and rapidly abandoned in 2009, the site is a ghostly reminder of what was a large campground with some permanent residents. I am not sure how long it was open but this website suggests it was running for at least 15 years before the council at, very short notice, closed it down for supposedly not having a permit when it was originally built, locking residents and holiday makers out.

On reading the website I was shocked to see the place had been closed for so long. There is lots of rubbish and some vandalism, but nothing that says almost 10 years have passed. Perhaps its isolation and the dry weather has allowed for some level of preservation? We will see.

Before venturing to the campground I wanted to check the abandoned house I visited last year. There was an old stuffed chair in one of its three rooms and I hoped it was still lurking, lumpen, in the corner. I approached cautiously again, a little nervous. I didn’t want to run into the owner. I now know this is private property and being semi-rural the likelihood is no one speaks English. My Spanish is worse than poor, even the words I do know come out sounding mangled, dulled by my flat New Zealand accent. Unintelligible.

Approaching, I saw a stuffed chair outside the front door, someone had tried to burn it, stuffing had been ripped, but it had been resilient to their attempts. I was pleased, this was not the end I wanted for my chair. I wanted a long slow gradual decay, perhaps to be found by future generations, still lurking, lumpen in its corner.

Passing inside the door, over broken glass and other detritus I discovered the outside chair must have been the twin of mine, for there mine was still lurking, still lumpy and tatty; but mostly complete. Unburnt, unmoved, still dignified. Still in the corner where I first found it.

People have been here since I last came, there is more damage to the interior, more rubbish on the ground, dead fires, empty and smashed bottles. Signs of small parties, youthful nights, exuberance and stupidity. Sometimes I miss those days.

I start to head in the direction of the campsite, discovering I am not too far from a road, and a house. A car comes down the road and stops. I am standing on the edge of a ploughed field, sort of behind a small scrubby tree, a man gets out of the car, though just walks to, and then in to, the driveway of the house. Phew. I beat a hasty retreat, back over the slight ridge, past the house and up a small rocky trail to some old gates that I know, from last year, lead to land that is open and used by locals to walk their dogs.

I feel more certain of my legitimacy and stop to take some photos of the grass and these weird little plants that I like the look of, but have no idea what they are called.

Soon I am walking down the road, along the fence line of the campsite, looking for entry points; maybe rapid exit points if needed later. I find a way in, a gap big enough to get through quickly. Just as I approach, a car comes down the road. I start to walk purposefully, innocently, waving to the driver as he passes, slowing immediately he is gone. I wait till the car is out of sight, then turn back and quickly enter into the campground, into a scene from The Walking Dead, thankfully without the flesh eating zombies.

It immediately feels strange, as if crossing through that chain link fence has crossed me into another less joyful dimension. It ‘feels’ quiet, deserted. Both are good things, hopefully reality will match the feeling and I will not come across anyone or anything that presents a danger.

I get the camera out of my bag, I have bought the old 5d with a 50mm lens, nothing fancy, no big heavy lenses and nothing that would get caught on the fence if I have to make a hurried exit. There is a surprisingly large amount of stuff, the result of the rapid departure of the people who lived here.

There has been some vandalism, though I am surprised at the condition after nine or so years of desertion, there are even some windows that have not been smashed. Though there is a ton of rubbish strewn about.

I can see people have dossed/camped or hidden away here over the years, small fire pits are scattered here and there. I am guessing the council or the original owners used to sweep through here in the early days. Numerous holes in the fence have been repaired, but more have been made and I spotted three or four as I walked down the road, keeping an eye on escape points.

I am still a bit nervous, I worry about wild dogs, and wilder people. The image of disturbed zombies does not leave my mind. I know these things do not exist, but…

I do not wander too far in, I am not that courageous. The place is massive, far bigger than it looks from outside, a large portion has been burnt down, though none of the fixed dwellings look fire damaged. There is some irony to be found.

After thirty minutes of quiet skulking I decide to leave. Heading back to the hole I came in, I walk up the road to the chained entrance. Stopping to take a photo through the gate. A final reminder that my fears a zombie apocalypse had occurred as I crossed dimensions were not entirely unfounded. It was good to be back in the real world again. I think.

Was this the best paella?

Tuesday July 3 2018 – Valencia, Spain.

This is my fourth, and Eleanor’s third visit to Valencia, staying with friends Paula and Paul in their holiday home on the edge of Lliria, a small town at the far end of one of the Metro lines. We are all here for three nights, with not a lot planned apart from lunch on Sunday with an old work mate. My idea for this trip was to relax, drink cheap lager and wine in and round the pool, eat some food and do some planning, photo editing and writing. I also wanted to make a sneaky visit to the abandoned camp ground nearby.

In hindsight I think the trip was pretty good, but in the immediate aftermath I considered it a bit of a failure. I didn’t really achieve any planning, photo editing or do much writing. That was probably good, I needed to make some time to relax. The reason for the lack of photo editing was the cable for the portable hard drive that contains all my photos disappeared somewhere between security at Stansted Airport and the arrival hall in Valencia. To say I was pissed off would be an understatement. It did remind me that I HAVE to do a backup of that drive when I get home and have a replacement cable…

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Sunday we met ex-work-mate, Fran, for lunch. Fran is Valencian, returning from London earlier this year. He has long recommended Casa Carmela for the best paella in town and was keen to introduce us to it, and we were keen to accept the offer.

It is a scorcher of a day, 30 degrees plus, with the clearest sky and not a breath of breeze to speak of. A lot of Valencians were hitting the beach, and it was a very crowded tram ride from the station to the sea front; but so nice to travel by tram rather than car or foot.

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We arrived early and took the opportunity to walk along the beach front, Casa Carmela being at the far end of the beach from the tram stop. The beach was very busy, I should have bought swimming gear with me, I cannot remember the last time I was in the sea, I miss it.

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The walk along the promenade is nice, too hot to be thoroughly enjoyable. Being able to stop for a very cold San Miguel at the far end was a fine reward and made walking in the heat almost bearable. Stupidly (or arrogantly) I did not put any sun screen on my face before we left and I could feel my skin tightening and burning as we walked. There was not a lot of shade till the beach bar. Lesson possibly learned.

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Lunch at Casa Carmela was everything I had been led to believe. We had an extraordinary local white wine and the bbqed squid was just exceptional, I have never had squid that nice, nor expect to again, unless we come back. However, we were there for the paella, not the squid nor the wine, and we were not let down. The seafood paella was massive, unbelievably we all ate till bursting, yet there was still some left at the end. It was as good as Fran had said.

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There was a tiny, tiny space left after the paella, even the dessert stomach had been used up. Fran suggested a cafe bombon to wrap up the perfect Valencian meal. Cafe Bombon originated in Valencia and is a European version of coffee found all over SE Asia, a shot of espresso mixed with sweetened condensed milk. I absolutely loved this drink on my travels in Asia and did not know existed in Europe. It was perfect and a fine end to a very enjoyable feasting experience.

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After lunch we piled into Fran’s car and he took us to a  nearby horcheta bar, horcheta is a non-alcoholic drink made from tiger nut and is a regional speciality. I have had it before and it is very nice, like a mildly sweet milk shake, and over ice was very welcome on such a hot day. The bar had the TV on and a good crowd there for the Spain v Russia world cup game, the other reason for going there. Surprisingly, and sadly Spain lost, so it was a quiet crowd that left after the game.

Late that afternoon I went on a small tour of discovery in the abandoned campground I came across last time we visited. Camping Aguas De Lliria was shut down by the council in 2009 and my next post I will explore it and the nearby fields more closely.

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The following day we did not do much, lots of reading, some eating, swimming, lounging etc.

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Perhaps some watching of football on the telly. The sunset was verging, on but was not quite, spectacular.

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I have seen spectacular here before, and good as this sunset was, it was not up to that standard.

Tuesday was all about packing, cleaning, waiting for a delayed flight back to London and then home.

The answer was yes, that was the best paella….