A “Guiri” Stumbling Around Andalucia #
A collection of emails sent home in the early days of my arrival in Spain. In late 2002 packed up my pickup truck with my worldly possessions and Rocky, my black Labrador and headed south. The first place we came to was Lanjarón in the Alpujarras.
N.B Guiri (pronounced [ɡiɾi]) is a colloquial Spanish slur used in Spain applied to foreign tourists, particularly from countries in northern Europe or the Anglosphere
I arrived in southern Spain just before the Christmas of 2002. I had studied a bit of the Spanish language at college in Leeds and also done a series of Michel Thomas CD’s, but nothing prepared me for the onslaught of accented and garbled “Andaluz” that I was about to encounter and totally fail to grasp!
I have to say, I wasn’t your typical “Guiri” in many ways in that I did want to learn to speak properly and to know and understand the customs, history and traditions of my adopted country. In short, I wanted to fully integrate into the Spanish rural lifestyle.
I had first come to these parts in 1998 lured on by a Trail Magazine article about the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada, Mulhacén 3482m. That first visit blew me away as we had, predictably that magical combination of sun and snow. Like many beforehand, we totally underestimated the difficulty and altitude of the Sierra Nevada ,so had a predicatively tough time. This visit introduced me to the white villages, the friendly locals, the plain but wholesome food and, of course, the cheapness of the alcohol.
Mid-life crisis? I had mine at 45 when I walked out of the well-paid Financial Directors role and turned to that great passion of mine, the mountains. In the following years I made further visits to the Sierra Nevada which solidified my growing connection with the area. I had always thought I would end up on the west coast of my beloved Scotland, so it was quite a shock when the opportunity arose to leave England and head south instead of north.
I packed up my pickup truck with my worldly possessions and Rocky, my black Labrador and headed south. Tracy, my partner at the time also came along together with her dogs. The first place we came to was Lanjarón in the Alpujarras. Why there? It was the first place we came to that had easily obtainable rental accommodation. Not the prettiest town in the Alpujarras but authentic rural Spain. Just what I was looking for. I loved it. I still do.
It was the first time I had moved home away from Leeds, so felt it necessary to keep close contact with friends and family. This is a record of all the emails I sent back home during the first few years of my relocation.
First contact from Andalucia: Sat, Dec 21, 2002
Greetings from Andalucia! Nice thing is that the email/internet connection between my laptop and my Spanish mobile works a dream (via infrared connection)! Movistar, the Spanish mobile network is light years ahead of British Telecom. There I was expecting a load of hassle and I just turned the things on and ...received all my mail. I now feel that I have connection with the outside world and the world Ive left behind in the UK. So Id better update you....
The Journey: Bit of a nightmare actually. Supposed to get here on Thursday am but instead got here Fri lunch. Had radiator leak near Bordeaux which cost me (and now the Garage I bought it from!) 460 euros. Set me back and lengthened what was already a long drawn out trip. Made good time from there over the Spanish border at San Sebastian and then down via Madrid and Granada to the Alpujarras. The dogs were great, especially Rocky, who sat for hours on end in the front footwell of the passenger seat. He never once complained. What a dog. Leo was good too but let you know if he was bored, which was quite often. After all the pain and cost of getting "Pet Passports" and export certificates neither the French nor Spanish were in the least bit interested in them. Is it only us in the UK that's fixated with documentation and certification?
The weather on the trip down was awful too. Fog, rain and drizzle through France and northern Spain but as soon as the outskirts of Granada was reached...surprise, surprise, the clouds cleared and the sun shone. Rounding a corner just before Granada the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada glittered in the sun. An omen perhaps?
The Dogs: Leo and Rocky get on well but Leo doesn't know when to give up. He can be really tired but will only relax for one moment before his ears prick and his eyes open. Then its off to bite Rocky's ears or to try to have sex with him. Yes, he's a quick learner for 10 weeks old. He’s also 2/3 the size of Rocky and almost as strong. God knows what he's going to be like in 2 months time. He really is an annoying little S**T! - barks like mad and throws tantrums if he doesn't get what he wants. Thinking of renaming him from "Leo the Leonberger" to "Leo the Leonbugger"! On the positive side, he and Rocky play a lot and I think they will be good mates. Leo is quite a good looking little dog. Very unusual. Everywhere I go people point and stare or come and ask me some gibberish in Spanish to which my standard answer is "Es Leonburger, tiene hasta diez mes". They then just laugh, so who knows if what I say means anything at all? They usually disappear smiling and uttering things, which always include the words "mucho grande".
Accommodation: The Estate Agent Ive been dealing with, Jack, came up trumps. He managed to find me a house to rent. Only 480 euros per month. Not bad really. It's in the village of Lanjarón on the edge of the Alpujarras and at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Lanjarón is a old established spa town and one of the town's natural springs disgorges itself from the mountains just below my property. During late afternoon (for some reason not yet established) the local townsfolk come to collect their drinking water from the spring. My property is immediately above and I have visions of Rocky and Leo urinating through the fence bars onto the local townsfolk collecting water below. That would be a nightmare! They probably already know me as "El Ingles Leonberger Hombre".
The house itself is OK. The view from the terrace is....awful! Not the wonderful views over mountains and sea, to the hills of Africa, that I expected. Instead it's the main street of town with the council rubbish tip to the left and the pig abattoir opposite! Ah well you cant expect everything too soon can you?
Latest from Lanjaron: Tues, Dec 24, 2002
Toilet - doesn't flush so needs filling up before leaving it 'cos not good news if the situation is desperate! Will be fixed "shortly" (Spanish for "whenever").
Bath - takes half hour to fill up because of trickle of warm water that exudes from tap. Soon to be resolved ....again "shortly"! Kitchen - not enough space to swing a cat, sorry.....dog
Terrace - the sun gets there at 1.00 so makes up for the view of the local tip.
Locals - very friendly and intrigued by the overseas visitors (ie me, Rocky and Leo).
Dogs - they love it and its now dog escape proof so I can let them run free all day. Phew
The property (named "La Casa de Fuente Hoya de Grillo" (The House of the Cricket Hole Spring) - might have lost something in translation..eh?) is growing on me. Its not a bad location, only one and three quarter hours from Malaga airport and half an hour from Granada. It’s ideally situated at the entrance to the Alpujarras and it wouldn't take a lot to transform the place. Might buy it. I know this sounds like taking the easy option but this house has all connections and services and won't need much work to be a great property (excepting the abattoir/rubbish tip, of course!). The garden would be very low maintenance and gets the sun until it sets. The sunsets are incredible! The asking price is £98,000 and I'll post pictures of the place shortly on my website. My plan then would be to buy a cheap mountain lodge, requiring hardly any services except water (I have my own generator). Do I then have the best of both worlds?
Rocky has taken to being a real Spanish dog......he barks at anything moving on the street below, especially mules and donkeys. No danger of anybody coming to visit without an invite. I won't require a doorbell! Leo is settling down but pesters Rocky to death. He wont give up and is a determined little sod.
You wouldn't really know it’s Xmas here. No Xmas trees or decorations are evident. Its quite nice really. Shopkeepers think its great 'cos they have even more excuses to close the doors and have siestas! Strange to be sitting here in shorts and t-shirt so close to Xmas.
A nice roaring fire?: Sun, Dec 29, 2002
Still nice weather here ...........20 deg in the shade most days (about 30 in the sun). The problem is that nights can get cold and these houses were designed to keep the heat out.
I'd been staring at the fireplace for a week before my quick mind realised that if I built a fire then I'd be warmer! 1st attempts were awful due to smoke, until I realised that a lever needed pulling which opened up the chimney.....clever eh? The fire also didn't last long, not enough air getting to it. Using my talent for Do-It-Yourself (as you know) I decided to build a fire grate out of iron railings, fire bricks and toilet rolls (just kidding!). Anyway the result was....perfect. A fantastic roaring fire.
However this posed another problem because the fire was so good and cosy that it burned firewood at a rare rate of knots. Very quickly the spare wood on the house grounds was consumed and I then began a search for more wood. This became similar to the search for the Holy Grail. Rocky and I travelled further and further afield in our search. The answer was to drive 10 miles up a broken down, rutted dirt track to a height of 2,000 metres finding old wood along the way and then drive all the way back trying hard not to go off the edge in the twisting turning corners (the track was in fact marked as a road on the map!). What an effort to get warm?
I then stumbled on an Olive Mill in my village, Lanjarón. They supplied wood. The owner must have seen me coming and had a bit of a laugh at my pathetic attempts speaking the lingo to ascertain if I could buy wood! I told him I wanted about 500kg delivering. He told me that it was uneconomical for him to deliver less than 3,000kg. Having tired of driving up mountains, I agreed. Anybody know what 3,000kg of wood looks like? I had no idea too until he then showed me his monster lorry that would deliver the wood. Too late to back out I retired gracefully, forgetting to ask him if the wood was pre-cut!
Anyway next Friday the delivery will be made. I’m fully expecting the lorry to turn up and drop 30 trees outside the gate. Might take me until summer to get it all cut and stored! I reckon that Ive probably bought about 5 years supply. Should be warm enough next December though.
Of water and wild animals: Thurs, Jan 02, 2003
I hear the weather isn't too good there at the moment so I'd better not tell you about the weather here. Won't mention the fact that there's only been 1 day of rain in 3 weeks or that the temps were in the upper 20's yesterday.
I'm very lucky, you know. Out of a hole in the wall at the bottom of the garden flows the "Fuente Hoya del Grillo" (The Cricket Spring Hole). This is a fantastic source of drinking water producing the famous (well in Spain anyway) Lanjarón Agua de Mineral. Always clear and cold, I'm told the spring remains going even in the most arid of summers. Can't be that good for me though because there’s no fluoride or other chemicals in it, but it hasn't done the locals round here any harm. It tastes like nectar.
The same situation however can't be said of the house water supply. On arrival here I was told that the water supply from the town would be connected ........."Next Monday". Evidently, all water in Spain is turned on, on a "Next Monday". Pepita and Josepha, the house owners, very kindly fitted a hot water heater for me and informed me that when the water supply was connected, "Next Monday" everything would work, they said. Well, sometimes the toilet flushes and sometimes it doesn't. You sit there and wonder if you're to be in there 2 minutes or 30! To refill the cistern from the cold water tap takes ages.
The same goes for the sink for hot water to wash up in. Takes 20 mins to fill. Cold water isn't much better. Still.......mañana, as they say. This is Spain, after all. Anyway, "Next Monday" arrived and sure enough the Water Man arrived. After about 55 mins conversation between Pepita, Josepha and the Señor de Agua, including much waving of arms and raised voices I was informed that the water would indeed be connected........"Next Monday"! Pepita and Josepha then proceeded to usher me up a mule track beside the house for 400 yards. They explained that the house water deposit tank needed to be filled and that the house shared some streams with 3 other fincas in the area. We then proceeded to dam up certain streams and release the flood gates of some others and pretty soon a steady flow was coming down the water "acequila"(irrigation channel) that led to my house. How I envy you guys who just have to turn a tap on! After 2 hours I had to return up the hill to re-dam the streams into their original configuration. Can't wait for "Next Monday".
On a slightly different note, Leo is growing remarkably fast. He's almost the size of Rocky now and is certainly "top dog". He's quite aggressive too and throws a bit of a temper tantrum when told off. His instincts are quite strange really. he acts like a big cat. He will walk slowly towards you, stalking you, or sneak up behind you. Then at the last moment he pounces and tries to bite. Very catlike. This is all very well during daylight hours but when night falls it can get quite scary.
Do you remember the Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers? Remember his oriental manservant, Cato? Well I'm thinking of renaming Leo - Cato. At night if I want to go to the toilet the outward journey usually goes OK. I creep quietly across the living room and usually make it OK to the toilet. The problem comes on the way back. I turn out the toilet light and, momentarily blinded, and unaccustomed to the dark I tiptoe back towards the bedroom. But I am aware of a presence. I feel something close. Something primeval. I am being hunted!
The attack when it comes is swift and efficient. Suddenly there's the sound of heavy, large footpads on the tiled floor. I grasp my unprotected nether and tender regions as the attack comes in. "NOT NOW LEO", I cry as I rush to the safety of the bedroom. Once the bedroom door is closed I can address and bandage the wounds. Whew!
Well enough of these ramblings. Won't tell you about the fiasco of the Marmalade making afternoon or the 45 second visit by Jack on New Years Eve! Am I turning into a mad recluse? Who cares?
Hot Salsa!: Sat, Jan 18, 2003
Yesterday I became a proper Spaniard and bought a quarter of a pig (well a full leg anyway) that's hung up from the kitchen ceiling. The meat is cured at a village called Trevelez high up in the hills. Its fantastic, just melts in the mouth. Also hung up are rows of red peppers linked on string. Looks really rural the kitchen does now!
Anyway, last night Leo started jumping around most excitedly. I saw he had something in his mouth. He'd managed to find a red pepper that had detached itself from the string held to the ceiling. Now these peppers are hot, I mean "really hot"..."Vindaloo" type performance if you know what I mean! Well Leo knew it was food, so his greedy mind told him he had to eat it, yet he couldn't keep it in his mouth for more than a few seconds because it got too "hot". This really frustrated him and he kept throwing it, pawing it, jumping on it etc. Eventually his persistence paid off and after an hour he' d consumed it all, seeds and all.
Now I'm waiting for the after effects to kick in! Any minute now I expect he'll be shooting across the yard propelled by cannon-like explosions from his rear end. Bet it will blow him out of his little yellow skin. Anyway, it will teach him a lesson.
Another major event was the arrival of the Señor de Agua to turn on the water supplies. This time he brought a little man with an earth digger. They proceeded to excavate part of the drive and seemed most excited when they struck a water pipe and burst it! This they didn't expect, as they stood rooted to the spot as a miniature "Niagara" covered them. They just looked at each other with confusion as the river they had unleashed ran onto the road and started flowing down the high street. They still looked on in disbelief when the local police arrived and started putting up roadblocks, warning signs and diverting traffic. This then became the local event of the year as the village locals arrived to see what was happening. Total confusion ensued.
Anyway, "all's well that ends well", and I now have hot gushing water coming from the taps (no..not all of them!). I can have a bath or shower to order. Luxury! I even have proper drinking water coming from the cold taps. Still go down to the spring for the drinking water though, seems more appropriate.
Wood at last! - Tues, Jan 21, 2003
Well, the wood has finally arrived! A little man in a big truck dropped it in the drive. Anybody know what 2 tonnes of wood looks like?...a bloody lot I can tell you. Spent the next 3 hours moving it up to the top terrace behind the villa and then packing it neatly against the wall. Looks pretty good actually. Tonight I'm going to have the "mother of all fires". Rocky and Leo helped. Well, not really! They kept nicking bits and bringing them back down again. Moving the wood turned out to be an experience not unlike "walking uphill in sand" or even "pissing against the wind", I guess.
So just when the water got connected; got loads of wood for the fire; the telephone landline was organised and everything started coming together....Jack came to see me. Now Jack is a really nice bloke. A University biologist by trade and an ex-pat for most of his life, his travels have ended up in Orgiva, Alpujarras. He's without doubt the most disorganised and scruffy man I've ever met. His mind must be very clever though, but I think he thinks too fast. His dialogue consists of joining together bits of various sentences and then talking to you. Basically, you have to decipher each sentence into little bits and then put various bits together again in some semblance of order to see what he was saying. Spanish is much easier! After a visit from Jack you end up knowing no more than when he arrived. In fact he turned up one evening last week to tell me he had "no news".
To compound things Lanjarón has just had the first snow it's had for 16 years. Snowploughs (where did they come from?????) cleared it in a few hours.
First foray into the hills: Sat, Jan 25, 2003
Rocky and I had our first trip up the hills yesterday. Objective was to suss out the way off the western end of the Sierra Nevada ridge line. This entails dropping down from the last 3,000m peak (Cerro de Caballo) and landing hopefully at the villa in Lanjarón. As we would be above the snow line I took full winter gear. We started out early and made good progress, but the altitude and deep snow stopped up at about 2,300m. Not a bad effort considering Lanjarón is at 650m! This is big country. Reminds me of Canada. Lots of space and forest. Hard to believe it's southern Spain. Problems started on the way down as the signposting and marking of paths is non-existent.
We dropped into the gorge of the River Lanjarón and had to cross the river. Retreat back uphill wasn't an option, so we had to get across. Combined Tarzan tactics were employed utilising slippery rocks, overhanging trees etc. At one point, balanced on a slippery rock, whilst hanging onto a tree with one hand and Rocky by the other I felt like "Milk Tray Man". Anyway we made it in a few adrenaline busting lunges and collapsed on the opposite bank. The way down was long and tiring in the hot sun but we reached the villa by mid-afternoon. Rocky and I were both exhausted.
The temperature on arrival on the terrace of the villa was 34 degrees in the sun! This partly explained why I had got some funny looks from the locals when I got back to Lanjarón ...........I'd forgotten I was dressed in full winter kit with ice axe and crampons strapped to my rucksack, insulated water carriers, and dragging a black floor mop, sorry Rocky. I must have looked like "Dodo the Space Kid" just landed from the planet Zog! Bet they’ve got a new name for me now.
Hot, hot, hot!: Tues, Jan 28, 2003
Wow...I've just had the hottest day so far. The temps reached 30 degrees in the sun on the terrace this afternoon! This is only January....what's it going to be like in June? Going skiing with Jack in the morning at the Sierra Nevada ski area. Really looking forward to it.
Made a bit of a mistake this afternoon. Had to try on my ski boots and make sure they fit my skis. I went to the car and got my skis out of the roof box. I then proceeded to attach the boots (with me inside them) onto the skis. This was to ensure a good fit and to save time when I reached the ski area next day. Little did I know, but I was being watched by the 2 guys who keep the Cortijo up the hill !!!!!! They must have really wondered why the English guy was trying ski down the drive. Not only on a flat and level slope, but in this heat and also not a patch of snow in sight. Ah well.....
Smoke signals: Wed, Feb 05, 2003
Have started Spanish lessons. At my assessment with the teacher, Eduardo, last week I was quite pleased as he placed me in course 4 (out of 14). I'm now having 3 lessons of 1.5 hours each per week when I'm not in the hills working. Now, Eduardo is an Argentinian who has evidently been brought up on the Costa del Sol. Hence I've now learned to say "Dos grandes beers por favor?" and "Un grande plato de patatas fritas?" ...........I know, but its a start!
Just walked the dogs. High winds high up so my plan of setting an itinerary for a winter skills course has been "blown". The high winds aborted my plan for a long day trip up Mulhacén including a short (hopefully) descent of the north face to suss out the climbing potential. Instead I did another section of the GR7 with the dogs. This is a great walking trip across the Alpujarras and is fantastic for bad days high up. Great tracks traverse steep hillsides, gorges and gullies to link various "white" villages of the area. Hot sun and the ambiance and tranquillity of these villages made it a good half day out. My aim is to do all the sections of the Alpujarras of the GR7 and GR142 and then advertise trips for the older generation.
On these walks you see no-one. Its very tranquil so you get very laid back. Your mind wanders and it's really relaxing. Just as I was thinking about how the countryside resembled the Rockies of the USA, there in front of my eyes, right alongside the path was ....... an Indian village, full of teepees and such like. Now I'm a simple man and I knew that I was really in Spain. I wanted to go up to them and tell them things like... "If you’re looking for buffalo, you've got a wait, as they haven't been seen round here for 3,000 years!" or "White men speak with false tongue" (Don’t regard myself as white as I've got a good tan!)
Something held me back from venturing forth however. Don't know what. Now I've got fairly long hair at the moment and, not requiring a really drastic haircut, I skirted the village. Bet they have even got an Indian name for me now.... Just like Kevin Costner in "Dances With Wolves". Bet its something like "Walks With Naughty Dogs".
Looking down on the village from above, I noticed that a full community live there. Kids were running around, happy as anything. It got me into "philosophy mode". What's better for the kids? A life here living on the side of a hill, in touch with nature, learning the value of basic things - or a life full of terrorist bombs, soaps, computer games and TV's? Food for thought eh?
Must say that the Spanish newspapers are streets ahead of ours. I get *El Pais *(The Country). It's a good paper, full of news (can't read it but I assume it must be...ha ha). When you compare with the papers in the UK, which are full of headlines like, "Latest Arrival At BECKingham Palace", "Now Another Leaves Big Brother" and "EL TEL Gets Sack" it makes you think. Must go now. Buffalo to kill. white man to scalp, squaws to ravish and my teepee to clean. And all before bedtime.
Telephones, peaks and dilemmas: Thurs, Feb 06, 2003
After waiting for the last 3 weeks for a telephone line to be installed, the little man from the telephone company arrived. He duly had a good look round for 15 seconds, spent 10 minutes asking if he could mate Rocky with his black Labrador, then said :
"The telephone. It's not possible today. The house is too high up and we cannot run a branch line the 20 metres from the main line".
"What a surprise?" said I, with just a hint of sarcasm.
"We can put in a new line by digging up the road", he said.
I replied with, "Well why not, the water man's just put it all back after he dug it up."
"How long will it be before the road is dug up again?" I ventured, knowing the reply
"Oh, only about 2 or 3 weeks, I believe" he said most reassuringly.
Now, you all know what will happen in 3 weeks time.....that's right...NOWT!
With an average of 320 days of sun a year here I would have to pick a cloud covered day for an ascent of Alta del Chorrillo (2,715 metres). Story of my life, I suppose (everybody say "aah"). It was Rocky's first major peak and I have to say that he coped a lot better than me. Whilst I was chugging uphill feeling the effects of altitude he trotted merrily along in front. When you think of it....he's fitter, younger and has four wheel drive. Not only that, his four wheel drive system has built in crampons that make him grip well to snow and ice.
He's also turning into a good guide. He always has to be in front and he's developed the ability to choose the best path to take. Makes my life easy. Only when he's not totally sure which is the more defined path, he'll wait for me at the path's junction, and wait for me to indicate whether he should go left or right. If it wasn't for the fact that he can't drive a car or speak English/Spanish then I'd probably be out of business!
Boys will be boys: Thursday, February 27, 2003
Tracy, who always looked after Rocky when I went on my travels whilst in the UK, has been looking after my boys here. She has brought Rocky's mate ......her dog called Alf. A big drooling floppy eared Italian Spinone! Whilst I was away up the hills she looked after the dogs. I'll let her own words tell you what happened next .........
"Leo and Rocky had a really mad time when out (think it's all the rain, they can't really play outside much) have eaten your head torch (think only Rocky could have got that down off mantelpiece) phoned a few people on the phone, finished off the balcony chair, cushions, three boots out the bedroom (think that was Leo barging through) pint of milk all over kitchen, box disappeared completely, think evidence eaten) four broken eggs, two still missing, two chairs acting as barricade moved to other side of room so they could get to phone, one chair eaten slightly, finished my coat off, and one bag of big dog biscuits (think Alfie could have contributed greatly to that). Have to give them credit though, they did try to clean up the mess as the mop and brush were in the middle of the room, but think argument must have broken out about who did what as mop is in pieces! Was laughing too much too tell them off (Leo had brush bristles on chin, Rocky had ash from fire all over face and Alf had biscuits in his beard - bit of a give-away!) They have all been given a yellow card, and any more "tantrums" and they are out in the rain. All three now sat on blanket eating bones as if butter wouldn't melt."
Leo has also just discovered ..... belching! He did it by accident one day and because I laughed, he thinks its a funny thing to do. He sits next to you, looks you right in the eye and burps, very load and very human-like. When you smirk or laugh his eyes light up and I'm sure he's laughing too! What a dog. Will try to capture the moment on video and send it on.
Heavy rain and snow here for the last week. Can't believe it. Over 2 metres of fresh snow above 2,000 metres! Avalanche warnings all over the place. Temperatures at the base ski station yesterday reached the dizzy heights of -9 degrees C! First customers arriving on 13th March hoping for the "advertised" sunny weather ...... ooops! As I write this, the view out of the window looks like Fort William on a wet weekend.
Snowy adventures: Mon, Mar 03, 2003
Just had a fantastic day in the hills yesterday. Did a solo crossing of the Sierra Nevada range from the Ski Centre via Granada over the peaks and down to Capileira in the Alpujarras. First time ever I've had to use all my gear that I've spent a lifetime buying! Skis and skins for the ascent of Veleta (3398 m), Crampons and axes for the descent of Carihuela del Veleta, even snowshoes for the long walk down to Capileira (6000ft of descent.)
It was 60 hrs since the last snows fell, but the range was in a high state of alert over the avalanche dangers. Stood looking over the cornice on top of the Carihuela at the mass of snow bowls below me I did consider returning. Eventually after a 15 min summoning up of courage and with adrenaline flowing fast I began the steep descent of the summit ridge. By keeping to the ridge line or traversing below rocks on the right hand side I lessened the risk but my heart was beating fast by the time I reached the relative safety of easy ground.
Then began a long snowshoe descent that became harder as the hot sun softened the lower snows. Blisters on both feet made it hard work. I reached the town and trudged (limped really!) through the masses of short clad tourists who gave me some really funny looks. Not surprising really as I had a rucksack laden with skis, poles, snowshoes, axes, crampons etc. Shade temps are now 25 deg C and the hot weather looks likely to continue. Having a rest day today. A few well earned Pina Coladason the balcony I think.
For whom the bell tolls?: Fri, Mar 07, 2003
It could only happen to me! The other night I picked my daughters up from the airport at Malaga. During the 2 hour drive back to Lanjarón I told them how wonderful the area was, how lovely the people were, how cheap it all was. What beautiful views you could see, if it wasn't dark! I related tales of history ..... of battles between the Moors and Christians. Told them about El Cid. I was just telling them how life was simple but good and people always had a smile on their faces when ............. rounding the corner on the outskirts of Lanjarón by the bottling plant at 1 am in the morning ............. we came upon........... a Guardia Civil Police checkpoint!
No smiling faces, just dark, hard faces. Hands at the ready on pistols. "Ah" I said, momentarily lost for words. And, of course we got flagged down. Now at these times in your life thoughts pass by so fast. Do I get out and say "Viva La General (Franco)" ..... bad idea, because he’s dead! Ok, then what about "Arriba la Republica!". Better not. In the end I did the Yorkshire thing and said NOWT.
The officer looked at me and asked me for my passport. Guess what, I didn’t have it with me. Things in my mind went from bad to worse. Was I to be thrown over a cliff into the gorge below? (as in Ernest Hemingway's famous novel). Was I to face the full might of the Spanish Inquisition? Garrotted? Hung? Put against the wall and shot?
They obviously thought Emma and Claire seemed suspicious and dodgy too (I'd been telling them that for years!), because they demanded their passports for inspection. Things didn't look too good. The turning point came when I told them in halting Spanish where I lived. As soon as the officer realised that I was "El Loco Ingles" with the "Grandes Perros" his attitude changed. Without further ado we were on our way with calls of *"Adios"*and "hasta luego". We will probably be good mates now! Viva Espana!
The Beach: Mon, Mar 10, 2003
Oh dear, gone a bit pear shaped today. Took Emma, Claire and the boys for a walk on the beach. Lovely hot day. Sun shining brightly. All started well. The boys went in the water. Rocky loves fetching sticks out of the surf, you know. Then he got a bit giddy and went on one of his "mad minutes"! Completely out of control he dashed over to the nearest sunbathers. They happened to be a middle-aged Spanish couple. She was not only topless but also hated dogs. "Recipe for disaster this", I thought!
Well Rocky knew he was being naughty and the reaction of this startled, naked Spanish señora egged him on still further. Not content with just throwing sand in her face and scaring her to death, he got as close as he could to her and shook all the seawater off himself. Emma and Claire were in hysterics by this time. The Señora was hysterical herself and jumped up and down, her oversized boobs flopping up and down in the sunlight. She was screaming blue murder. It was then that things went from bad to worse, because Leo decided to investigate! Just as I was trying to get hold of Rocky he started sniffing around the couple....."I hope he doesn't attack!", I thought. Eventually I managed to recover both dogs. The Spaniards gave me a good telling off, most of which I didn't understand. Emma and Claire collapsed with laughter. Big help they were!
Traffic cops - Wed, Mar 19, 2003
Got stopped by Guardia Civil Traffic cops yesterday. Didn't have registration document for car with me so I got fined 60 euros ....bugger! Nightmare really. Leo wouldn't stop barking at them and they were getting annoyed at the racket he was making. Then when they let me go they insisted Rocky and Leo were in the back of the truck. That’s all very well but Leo and Rocky don't speak Spanish! Just as I began to set off they both jumped in the front again. Oh well, s**t happens.
House buying in Spain: Fri, Apr 11, 2003
Buying a house in Spain has proved an enlightening experience. Briefly, on the day of purchase, both buyer and seller go down to the Notaria with all the documentation. Then you go through a routine whereby all parties and about 3 staff from the Notaria's office babble all at once for about 3 hours.
After the fuss dies down you sit in front of the *Notaria *(a very good looking Spanish Señorita) and she reads through the contract while your translator tells you what's happening. My translator looked more confused than me so God knows what Ive actually bought! I then had to pass the cheque for the cortijo over to Antonio in front of the Notaria.
Later, round the back of the office, I paid Antonio the rest in a brown paper envelope! Can you imagine the same thing happening in Leeds? Perhaps it does, its just called "accountancy"!
University Hiking Club Trip to Sierra Nevada - Fri, Apr 11, 2003
This group are the ones that I took up Ben Nevis last November. There were 15 members of the party that day, mostly from Taiwan, Hong Kong and India. We reached the summit very late in the day and I remember giving them a stern talking to before setting off down the mountain. I reminded them that the sun was setting and we needed to act with the utmost urgency as night was falling. Five minutes later, on the way downhill, I turned round and found myself all alone! Going back uphill I found them sat on a bend in the track taking pictures of each other and eating sandwiches! Getting pretty annoyed I told them, extremely sarcastically, that in this country (Scotland) when the sun sets it signals the onset of darkness. I asked them to confirm that they had indeed all brought torches as agreed. Guess what .... we ended up with 4 torches between 16 of us. When darkness fell (as it does when the sun goes down) I asked them to keep close together so that the torches would shine the way. They all agreed with much nodding of oriental heads. Well ....... 3 minutes later they were all scattered over the hillside wandering round in the darkness. Some were still intent on eating sandwiches. Some even tried to take pictures in the dark! Nightmare. God only knows how we all ended back at the bottom safely.
Samir, the leader of their party that November day, had been to Mont Blanc with us the previous summer. On that trip he came out with a piece of mountaineering history. Standing at the edge of the Mer De Glace glacier he said "Is the ice slippy?". I replied “What do you think Samir?”.
Anyway, back to the plot. Samir and 3 members of his club are with us in the Sierra Nevada. Today, due to poor weather high up, I set their group an orienteering exercise. I have just dropped them off about 10 miles away. Instructions are to follow a path via 2 villages and make their way back to my villa in Lanjarón. I left them about 2 hours ago. Before leaving them I spent about half an hour showing them how to use a GPS satellite receiver to plot their position on a map. I showed them how to navigate using a compass. I told them of how to use the sun as a reference. How to use the terrain to get a position fix. I told them which villages they had to pass through to get home.
They nodded their complete understanding so I set off for home by car. However something, maybe a sixth sense, held me back. Sure enough they set off along the track. Yes.....you’ve guessed it.......they were heading east not west. I made the fatal mistake of not telling them which way up the map had to be !!!!!!!!!!!!! As of this moment I've probably got rid of 2 Indian, 1 Serb and 1 Taiwanese nationals who are wandering aimlessly around Spain.
Trouble in the fields - Mon, Apr 28, 2003
Didn't realise how much I'd taken on until last week when Antonio (the original owner of the cortijo and my neighbour) indicated to me that the weeds and grasses were now over 2 ft high on my terraces. With disapproving Gaelic shrugs he walked off. Well, yesterday I decided to show him how committed to the land I was, so I went out and bought a motorised strimmer. After finally figuring out how to make the damn thing work, I set about avidly chopping down all in sight (except the trees of course!). Four hours later and under a hot midday sun I was beginning to wilt. What a lot of land I've got! I had hardly made much impact and had probably completed about a fifth of the task.
Just after midday along came Antonio and took a look at my new strimmer (that I was so proud of). With a shake of the head he laughed and proceeded to explain that the work would indeed take many days with such a "toy". What I really needed, he explained, was a real man's machine, like the one he had! With much deflated ego and feeling very much like the new kid on the block I continued on with my labours.
At about 3.30pm I'd had enough. The sweat ran in rivulets down my face and I was covered in grime and grass cuttings. My legs and arms were wilting with the effort of holding onto a bucking strimmer for the last 7 hrs. Time to knock off and have a beer. So I sat by my pool and opened a lovely cold, refreshing San Miguel. Just after my first sip I heard a sound that sent shivers through me........... it was the sound of a heavy duty strimmer from deep within the olive groves. Oh no ..... Antonio had turned up to help! Not wanting to appear rude, I had no alternative but to raise my weary, battle worn body up, manhandle my strimmer into position and head out again to battle.
Antonio is a workaholic and will work all the daylight hours. Has done so for most of his life. I, on the other hand, used to be an accountant! Say no more. I tried every trick in the book including .... running out of petrol or strimming tape, but Antonio would have none of it and had me working until dusk. Never have I been so tired, but by the time the light began to fade and the sunset began to glow from the west, the job was done! All terraces are now cleared of weeds and the trees can be viewed once more. What a day!
Today is a day of rest and I intend to have my beer (or 5 actually!). Spring is here with a vengeance and the smell of wild thyme fills the air. The flowers are in full bloom and the sun is shining. Just hope I don't see Antonio !!!!!
The last few weeks Sun, May 18, 2003
Had a few interesting times these last few weeks. Firstly, I had some unusual clients, a couple of Hells Angels whose names were Sean and Clare. Both dressed in black and were covered in tattoos. Clare wished to be called and known as "Bear" (for some obscure reason). She was covered in tattoos of Bears. Every time I pointed out some of the magnificent mountain scenery (over 3500 metres high!) they kept insisting it was very much like the Peak District, only not as interesting. When I showed them a huge 4000ft face covered in snow and ice they said it was like Mam Tor in the Peaks. They talked a good game but unfortunately their ability did not match their words and it took them 10 hours to climb a peak that has taken all other clients this year no more than 7hrs to scale. They even thought Granada looked very much like Sheffield! Yes..... we get all sorts here but Mr and Mrs Bear were unique!
Also done something that it has taken me 48 years to attempt.......getting on a HORSE. My good friends Alistair and Harry visited for a week and together with Tracy, who is an experienced rider, we had a 4hr trek in the mountains. Once I'd figured out how to start, stop and turn the damned thing I became a bit more confident. We enjoyed fantastic views from the saddle as the scenery round the Alpujarras is very much "Wild West". The horses are very sure footed and were very competent at climbing and descending steep mountain tracks over long drops (didn’t do too much for my old ticker however). By the time we descended back to the stables my rear end was very sore, my neck was glowing red with the sun and I was walking bow-legged. Might do it again someday.
Other news ..........my local bar has just started selling hand pulled Guinness! Not sure if it's because of me and my frequent trips there! After a day in the hills it's a great place to stop and enjoy a cool pint. Just like the Peak District isn't it?
The grounds of the cortijos are becoming a bit of a strain. Didn't realise just how much I'd taken on here. Every time it rains, which thankfully isn't often, the weeds look to have grown a foot overnight. Hard work keeping the whole thing at bay. Also not too sure what to do with the fruit trees ie when to pick etc. Its all a bit new to me. Have got a gigantic cherry tree in full swing. I estimated that it's probably 15 cherry pies and 10 jars of cherry jam worth! But how do I harvest them when the bulk of the cherries are 30 ft above the ground?
The temperatures have been getting close to 30 degrees C for the last few weeks and it's getting hotter. The locals tell me there will be no more rain now until September. I must say that its great to wake up every morning and not worry about the weather. It's very consistent.
The new cat, Cato, is doing nicely. Got a shock last week when I went into the cortijoand found the cat's head in Leo's massive jaws! Thought Leo was wanting a small snack before his dinner. Needn't have worried though, because Leo is in fact very gentle for a big dog. He's besotted with Cato. Think he's fallen in love actually!
Rocky and his "Cojones" (spanish for Testicles) are about to be parted if he runs away again. As soon as he gets let out in the morning he jumps the wall and goes off to find a 6 inch high midget bitch who lives next door. Don't think its love .... just lust. I've given him one more chance before he gets the knife (ouch).
Sexy Beast!: Mon, May 19, 2003
Well, gone and done it now haven't I? With temps well up into the 30's I felt the time was right to become .......... the typical Brit abroad! Went down to Motril on the coast and had head shaved, bought 2 sun beds and retired to the poolside. Look a bit like Grant Mitchell in Eastenders (oh dear, what have I done?).
There I sat for the rest of the day drinking beer or sitting in blow up armchair in the water. Managed to persuade Rocky and Leo to get in the shallow bit of the pool, where they stood quite happily keeping cool. Going to the pub tonight for 4 pints of Guinness. Think I'll give the tattoo a miss though. Just like home.......except a bit hotter, I guess!
A hard day’s night: Mon, May 26, 2003
After a lunchtime/afternoon JD (Jack Daniels for the uninitiated) session yesterday and just about to fall asleep in the hot late-afternoon sun, I heard my neighbour Antonio, strimming in his olive groves. Now we Yorkshire folk are a very friendly sort and my conscience wouldn’t allow me not to go help him out. I got kitted out in strimming gear and went out to meet him ........ big mistake! He was so pleased to have some help that after we were finished he invited me to his house for, yes you've guessed it, more drinks! Oh dear!
Antonio doesn't speak any English and I, of course, have only an elementary talent in Espanol. God knows therefore what the hell we talked about for 3 hours! The rough vino he supplied me with certainly helped. I came away from his house staggering up the path, head full of half understood sentences. Knew I'd promised to have one of his Persian cat's puppies (What do I want another for I ask myself ?) but the rest was, well pretty blank to be honest!
Sunday dawned with clear blue skies and I was just having breakfast, nursing the previous night's hangover and looking forward to a nice relaxing day (I'd had 3 or 4 days hard work, fencing, painting and gardening) when Antonio rolled up and asked me if I was ready? "Ready for what" I asked. "Para la agua" he replied. Then followed one of those moments in life when you suddenly think "Oh shit!". It all came flooding back. I'd asked him in a half drunken state to show me how all the water systems worked in the olive groves. The moment had evidently arrived.
What a hard morning it turned out to be. Antonio works (and walks!) twice as fast as anybody else, and I had major trouble keeping up. We travelled high and low, turning off water, diverting streams, digging water channels etc. By the end of it, about 3 acres of terracing were totally flooded with tens of water courses flooding down through them. Great news for the young fruit trees. Biggest laugh for Antonio (not me) came when I started sinking knee deep into the soft earth of the terraces. "No botas de agua?" asked Antonio with a wry smile. "No I don't bloody well own wellington boots .... didn't think I'd need them in Spain!", I retorted as I fell back once more into the earth! He found all this highly amusing and I bet my flounders will be all round the local bars by now. Evidently I shall have to do this twice a month during the hot months. Anybody got any size 10's they could let me have?
Cato (who is now evidently a girl) has fallen in love with Rocky. When trying to avoid Leo's open jaws (Leo thinks she's a light snack!........see attached photo), she is intent on playing with Rocky's tail. Spends hours doing it and poor Rocky just gets fed up. He keeps moving away for a bit of peace and quiet. Funny how things turn out isn't it?
Remember me telling you about the 40ft cherry tree in the garden. I have picked the ripe lower branches and made some jam. Quite tasty actually, but I think I've put too much sugar in, as its a bit sweet. Made about 4 jam pots worth. I reckon there's about another 300 pots to go! Might put my own label on it and sell it to guests renting the villa. By the way, Antonio has informed me that the olive groves I now own should provide a yield of 2,000 kg of olives per annum. At a yield of 4:1 that should provide me with 500 litres of my own Extra Virgin a year. Can I really eat that many chips?
Going for proper lesson on how to ride a horse tomorrow. Sarah, who runs the stables, is going to have a good laugh teaching me to trot and canter. Why am I the village laughing stock? Got to go, Leo has the cats head in his mouth again.
All about A.R.S.E.O.L.E: Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Whilst on a horse trek in the hills the other day we came across a scrawny brown dog sitting on the path. Very emaciated and thin, the dog was obviously on its last legs. It followed the horses for about a mile then left. Sarah, the owner of the stables, said the dog was always there and always did the same thing. She thought the dog had been "dumped" by its owner.
Now Tracy and my daughter, Emma are soft touches, and later that day walked back up the track to take food for the dog. It wasn't there. A phone call to Sarah and she collected the dog on her next trek. Outcome .......... we now have 4 dogs! Latest addition is Cassie. She's a brown short haired pointer, now positively identified as a Hungarian Vizsla. Bred for their hunting prowess, she was evidently no good at it for she hates loud noises (especially shots!) and also can't swim. She's also a bitch in season. Rocky says that it's the best present I've ever bought him and he thinks I'm the best Dad in the world!
Naturally you have this daily sight of Cassie being followed wherever she goes by a trail of dogs eager for a bit of pleasure. Cassie has a lovely warm nature and desperately needs TLC (who doesn't?). She is settling down and, with food, is now beginning to fatten out. She has this habit, inbred I suppose, of looking up in the sky at birds. She is fascinated. She will run after them whilst looking up in the air. Unfortunately this has landed her in trouble, well the pool, actually! She was following a bird and ran straight into the pool. As she can't swim (some hunting dog, eh?), she was drowning until Leo alerted me to her struggles. So Leo saved her life and he was really hoping for some reward from her. Not to be I'm afraid. She's very tight with her favours.
So as we seem to be taking on everybody's stray animals, I'm thinking of opening the Animal Rehabilitation and Stabilisation Enterprise Of Lanjarón, Espana (A.R.S.E.O.L.E for short).
Fiesta de San Juan: Thurs, Jun 19, 2003
We're well into our 6th week without rain, and temperatures are in the upper 30's each day. I now understand siestas much better! Just been down to Orgiva with my friends from the riding stables. I don't usually like Orgiva but on Thursdays it's market day and Orgiva is a lively blend of colour, smells and sounds. Flamenco music blares out from all corners as hippies try to sell spices and all manner of weird articles. It's a funny combination, reminding one of Africa, Egypt and the Mediterranean all at once. Good excuse for a piss up anyway!
One thing about this place. They love having fiestas. They have ones for this, ones for that, ones for all occasions. I personally think it's so that they can all close shops for the day and get blind drunk.....who knows! Lanjarón’s major festival is just round the corner .............. the Fiesta de San Juan. This is the major fiesta of the year and the town is gearing up for the big day, well days actually, because it lasts 5 days. There are stands being put up all along the high street, bunting and flags fly above the streets. Adverts are all over the place advertising this year's fiesta. The hotels are getting full. The place is buzzing!
"What is it all about?" I hear you ask. Well, the Fiesta de San Juan is one of those extremely important, meaningful festivals that occur in Spain from time to time. This is all about....."water". For an area that is so conservative with its water and also has the best water in Spain (if not Europe!) it really goes mad about the San Juan Water Fiesta. Don’t expect to keep dry for 5 days as people throw water at you from their houses, kids pelt you with water bombs, even bartenders will chuck glasses of water at you. The whole of the population is soaked for nearly a week. Drive through with your car window open and you will be "hosed"! No matter how posh and upstanding you look you will be attacked. Nobody is spared. Naturally, to participate fully it helps if you are absolutely blind drunk, as everybody is. This is all done with a smile on the face and an acceptance of the celebration rituals. Bands play and discos blare throughout the night. This wonderful expression of Spanish cultural history starts on Saturday.
Me ................... I'm going up the hills for 5 days. They should be quiet and deserted, as everybody will be in Lanjarón. Just hope it doesn't rain?
Summer in Andalucia: Thurs, Jul 03, 2003
Just come in from the heat and watched Tim Henman losing at Wimbledon! He'll never make it will he? Why do they all get so worked up? Seems really strange ........ I'm so far away yet can watch tennis, football, rugby etc. Just like I never left. Even Coronation Street if I want!
We'll, the summer's in full swing here. We've had no rain since a 15 minute shower in the middle of May. Temperatures have been high (upper 30's) during June and the locals tell me that it's been the hottest summer since 1963! Temperatures have been those expected during July and August. As I've no guiding work until I go to Chamonix in mid-July I'm spending the time catching up with work on the cortijos. Never knew that swimming pools took so much looking after. Each day I have to clean, skim and backwash the pools. Sounds easy, I know, but all work has to be done in scorching heat, as I take the dogs for a walk in the early mornings before the sun rises.
I have got some local guys to work the land as I cannot cope with all 4 acres. They have rotavated and strimmed all the groves. Looks great now and should mean no further work until September or so. Lots of trees here. Oranges, lemons, olives, almonds, peaches, cherries, figs and apricots. God only knows what I'm supposed to do with them and when?
Some problems with "Cucarachas". These are a small fly/flea looking insects that can inhabit humid areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. They lay eggs and can become a bit of a plague. Sprayed them with plenty of repellent and put down some special anti Cucaracha tablets. Hope this will sort it. No real problem with mosquitoes yet, although I take precautions to limit their effectiveness. Chlorine in the pond stops them developing. Big problem here is "Leishmaniasis", which is a form of Canine Aids virus. The bite of a sandfly can infect a dog with the virus. Have got collars for the dogs and they take tablets, but I know from the vet that Cassie already has it. Should be OK if controlled though.
Went out with friends last Tuesday. Aim was to go to a new restaurant that's opened at the end of town. At 7.30pm, Sarah, Paul, Tracy, Ella, Irena, Anne, Haydn and I went, and got as far as Antonio's cortijo (35 yards from me!) He invited us in for a quick Sangria. 5 hours later we left rather worse for wear! Very friendly these locals.
The ultimate “Keeping Up With The Joneses? Sun, Jul 06, 2003
Ever wanted to parade up the high street in a £150,000 Ferrari? Fancied buying the smallest, best pixel, sexiest, digital camera on the market today? Wanted Armani suits to strut your stuff in? Ever imagined showing off your brand new Rolex watch? Well have I got news for you? I've got the ultimate, must-have item the world has ever known!. You can keep your bloody BMW's, stuff your laptop computers, stick your luxury mansions where the "sun don't shine", cos I've got ........................ a hammock !!!!!!
Yes, this marvellous piece of kit cost sod-all and is made up of interwoven coloured cotton. It feels like silk next to the skin. I've hung 2 of them up in the porch area between the Cortijo and the swimming pool. As the porch has a thatch covering it is the perfect way to while away the Siesta hours, laying in the dappled shade. Next job is to acquire a large piece of mosquito netting and then I shall be spending the rest of the Spanish summer sleeping outside. Luxury or what?
Gradually sorting out the problems with the pools. As I've never had a pool before it's been quite hard figuring out what buttons to press and which knobs to turn. Being Spain, of course, there’s no markings of any kind and no instruction manuals! Managed to locate a Brit called Brian (had to be, didn't it?). He explained in perfect gibberish what I had to do. After talking for an hour I was no wiser, just more confused. Am I that thick or is it a Spanish "thing"? Anyway ventured down into the depths of Cortijo Cerezo (the new one) pool house. It felt like I was entering the Mummy's Tomb! The walls were clad with nests of spiders and scorpions ran across the floor .... UGH! God only knows what else lay in wait in the depths. Spent as little time in there as possible but managed to get the pool system working eventually.
I'd been thinking for some time about how to get my own back on Antonio for those late night alcoholic binges he's become quite famous for. Came up with a really cunning plan. Decided to invite him up to Sarah's at Caballo Blanco for a short trip into the hills on a horse. Thought his nether regions would have mucho trouble coping with the strain of a 5 hour horse ride. Today he turned up with his brother in law (Jose) and his nephew (also Antonio) and off we went. I'd forewarned Sarah about them and suggested she took a very rugged route with much trotting, cantering and the odd very bouncy gallop! As soon as we set off it was evident that they were very much at home on horses. You know the rest of course. By the end of the trip I was staggering, bow-legged, away from the damn nag, whilst they were laughing and joking about what a good time they had had. Another cunning plan goes pear-shaped. Bugger!
Rocky now comes with me on the horse treks. He loves it, now has learned to keep away from the horses hoofs. He trots merrily along 20 yards or so in front of the pack with his mates Roger and Igor (Sarah's dogs). He thinks it's wonderful when the horses gallop and he chases along having a great time seeing his master, wide-eyed and hanging on for grim death.
Tracy has just bought a horse. A jet black Arab gelding. I can ride it when I want, which will probably be never now! Her and Sarah are planning to start advertising 3 days horse treks up Mulhacén, the highest summit in Spain. A good idea that should attract custom. They are planning an exploratory trip to see if it is in fact a possibility. However there lies a problem as neither person can read a map or tell left from right! I've been invited therefore to come along too ... surprise, surprise. The thought of 2 or 3 full days in the saddle makes me cringe, but it may be fun. We'll see.
Beginning to catch on with the language round here. Its easier than classical spanish as they don't pronounce their "S". As most plurals and other important bits, such as familiar forms of the verb, tend to end in an "S" this makes it easy to pick up. You don't have to worry about whether something is plural and also means you can't be too familiar with anyone. Also means nobody has a clue what each other is on about. Fantastic! Perhaps Blair, Bush, Aznar, the EEC politicians, Saddam and the rest talk it too?
This might be the last mail for a few weeks as mid-July I'm heading north to Chamonix for 6 weeks WORK. Hate to use the dreaded "W" word but everybody's got to earn somehow I guess. Anyway we've got 35 clients to get up Mt Blanc so it should be the usual mix of fun, laughter, hardship and tears. I will pick up email whilst away so keep in touch.
There’s no place like home - Mon, Aug 23, 2004
"There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home" repeated Tracy, with eyes tightly shut, as she tapped her feet together three times "Why, oh why didn't I listen to Richard more carefully" she thought.
Let me explain..............................
I had a party of 7 clients camped high on the Cerro de Caballo (3,001 metres) last Tuesday night. We had walked up that afternoon. The plan was for Tracy (who came along helping to carry gear etc) to return to her car early Wednesday. Her car was parked at about 2250 metres, some one and a half hours downhill walk away. Knowing that Tracy is not the best navigator in the world I had constantly shown her the route back on her way up that afternoon. A simple route back actually. Just a slow descending traverse along the left hand side of a ridge line, a good path all the way.
Yes, I all knew that she couldn't tell her right from left (or even possibly up from down?) and didn't have much sense of direction, however a good straight path in glorious weather shouldn't be much problem should it? My biggest mistake however was in forgetting the "BLONDE" factor! She left the campsite at 8am and should have been back at the car by 9.30am. In actual fact she finally arrived at her car at 5.30pm, some nine and a half hours later! This is her story...................
She left the campsite with Cassie our brown, small ( and not very good) hunting dog, and initially all was well. However as she started down the left hand side of the ridge line she met a small herd of some 15 cows. Cassie (the Brave) is scared of cows and wouldn't go any further even if being carried. Tracy said that some of the cows were looking at her very aggressively (how do they do that?) so to avoid them she went right of the ridge line. Cows, suitably by-passed, you would have thought she would then move back to the left and then contour round to regain her original path. No...not Tracy! Instead of regaining the route by trending left she went RIGHT! Unbeknown to her she headed away from her car in the general direction of Granada.
After three hours walking she realised she was lost so she rang me so that I could tell her where she was. I asked "Where are you?", "No idea" she replied. I asked her to describe the view and forgetting she didn’t know right from left asked her "Is there a river on your left hand side?". "Yes", she replied (when she really meant right hand side!). And so the conversation went on until all juice was drained out of both mobile phones. Now no communication was possible. She was on her own.
The hot afternoon sun beat down as she walked down through forest and meadow. No water meant dehydration was setting in and blisters started to appear on her feet. At a loss she realised at last that she could see Granada in the distance and that Granada was the wrong way to get to Lanjarón! Bright girl eh? So she retraced her steps in the general direction of Lanjarón. After some six hours walking she came across and old cortijo with an elderly woman tending the garden. The woman luckily turned out to be English and gave Tracy rough directions to her car. Unfortunately, the woman told her, the way was blocked by a herd of wild boar that had just been foraging at her potato patch. The bad luck continued. The wild boar had to be by-passed and this meant a long hot trudge up forest roads and trails for a further three and a half hours until eventually her car was reached.
Don't think she's going to win her Brownie Orientation badge do you? She now wants me to teach her to read maps ................. might be a lifetime's labour coming up!
Latest from Lanjaron: Thurs, Sept 04, 2003
Well, I'm back in sunny Spain where, funnily enough, for the first time since mid-May, it's raining! Hence the time to spend catching up with emails.
Got back from France last Sunday after mega 17 hour drive from Chamonix. Had a good season out there but Mont Blanc was too dangerous during August. The hot weather had destroyed the underlying permafrost and much rockfall was the result. Made the summit with a group late July but that was our only successful effort. The French authorities tried very hard to dissuade any summit attempts by even posting gendarmes at the foot of the mountain! Instead we all trooped off to climb the highest peak in Italy, the Gran Paradiso. A good substitute, but a substitute nevertheless.
Well, I've gone and done it. I've got a motor bike! I've had a dream for a few months now of roaring down the highway like Tom Cruise in "Top Gun". Tight white T-shirt, wind rushing by, 200 throbbing horses between my legs! Anyway the dream has now been achieved, well almost. I've bought a Honda X8RS 50cc bike/scooter. Unfortunately, far from looking like Tom Cruise, I'm more like Bart Simpson driving a lawnmower! OK, I can hear you laughing. Not such a bad idea though, as 50cc bikes have no regulations attached to them here and I will get about 90 mpg ............... just wish it sounded a little bit more earthy, rather than like an underpowered sewing machine. Plans to buy a horse have been "put on ice" until I see how the damn thing goes (or doesn't). Need a helmet to go with it. Will probably look like "Dodo the Space Kid" then eh?
Snow arrived on the high peaks yesterday. Just a dusting but enough to remind me of the joys awaiting me soon. Bookings have started to come in for the winter season here and there are lots of enquiries around. "Very buoyant market conditions" the current business speak goes, I think? I'm looking forward to skiing this year and shall buy a season pass. Can just see me on my bike, driving (chugging) up the access road towards the ski centre, skis tied to my back, holding all the traffic up as I hit 17.5 mph. Reminds one of Jim Carey in the film "Dumb and Dumber", doesn't it?
Work has been started on a well in the grounds of the cortijos. I say started, because that's all they did 4 weeks ago ....... drilled a hole, made a mess, and left! Perhaps they'll return and finish the job one day, who knows? The well, if completed, will provide a year-round supply of water for the grounds and will ensure water even in the driest summer. Good idea ......... or so I thought?
Did a long walk in the hills yesterday. Left the car at north end of Sierras at the ski centre and walked all the way back south to Lanjarón. Must have been 18 miles over some of the roughest terrain in Spain.At top of the final peak, Cerro Caballo, with water gone, 7 hours walking done, legs hurting, I saw Lanjarón still some 14 km distant. That 14 km took me another 5 hours to descend and by the time I reached town my feet were severely sore with crushed toes. I limped into town like a younger John Wayne and went straight to my favourite bar, "Los Faroles". Antonio, the landlord/owner saw me stagger in and immediately supplied my with a complimentary PINT of Jack Daniels and Coke! How's that for service? Can't see that happening in the UK somehow, can you?
The dogs are well. My daughter, Emma is over here now and has dog sitting duty as one of her "tasks". Her other main reason for being here is to see if she can deplete the Spanish "Malibu" mountain. I'm sure she's only over here because she gets 5 measures of Malibu in every drink. She thinks it's because the barman, Marcos, fancies her. I think it's really because that's what's done for everyone.
All about WOOFERS! Fri, Sept 26, 2003
So, Lanjarón's just a sleepy little backwater of the world eh? Don't things change fast, just when you think it's all going so slow? Just when I thought I'd be spending the next two months strimming, gardening, sweating and straining to keep the land going along comes some ....... WOOFERS!
Evidently Woofers is a pet name for a WWOF i.e a "Willing Worker on Organic Farm". These young persons are usually aged in their early twenties, want to travel and see the world, but also want to contribute to the environment. Well, what am I doing with 3 then? Fate has again reared its head and a problem on a neighbouring farm has landed a German couple and an Israeli chap with me. In return for board, lodgings and food they work all hours of the day ...... great, I feel "mucho hammocka" time coming on!
Don't know how long I'll have their services but it should really help. My daughter, Emma, is also looking forward to them arriving later today as the Israeli lad, Mikael, is evidently very good looking. Marcus, the German guy, knows a lot about the land and will be a good help. He's also a world authority on fig jam. As I've got lots of rotting figs cos I haven't a clue what to do with them, this could be good news.
Work on the well has resumed. Antonio has kicked out the workers who didn't arrive and decided that me and him should be able to set the whole thing up. Well (ha ha...get it), as everybody knows I've been up to my neck in water on many occasions so it will be interesting? We've had 3 trips to Granada already buying cables, pumps, timers, joints etc. Also the well house has been completed. Antonio if nothing else is a very rapid worker. We built the thing in a morning, although I have to say, that its in keeping with the rest of his property. It's not at all level and leans dramatically! Perhaps he had a hand in that tower in some place called Pisa?
Got my bike back from the garage. Cost me 100 euros, which is a lot round here. Anyway I'm a bit nervous about riding it now. Perhaps a good thing?
Just had 4 days (3 nights camping) in the Sierras. Very pleasant. You can walk all day and not meet a soul once you stray from the few tourist areas. Can't wait for winter now!
Great news!.......came home from the pub last night and the water was in full flow down the acequeia channel (irrigation channel). Haven't seen this running since the end of May. The summer might be over here, but its still fantastic weather. Shorts and T shirts every day and clear blue skies with lots of sunshine. Only 2 hours rain in September so far. Temperatures just reach 29/30 degrees during the day and a fresh 18 degrees at night .......... very pleasant. Orgiva's having another festival this weekend .... lasts for 5 days! Bullfights, the lot, but won't be attending. Too many foreigners (English, Germans etc). I count myself as a Spaniard now because my Spanish residency came through this week. No going back now, because I don't think King Tone (Blair) will want me back anyway!
Having problems with "Scolopendra Morsiitans" or to give it it's popular name ........... "Escolopendra". This is a large earwig type creature. Pretty nasty too! About 6 to 9 inches in length, moves fast and packs a nasty bite. Now it's getting cooler, these bugs are starting to figure out that it's a wee bit warmer inside the house than outside. The 2 cats (Cato and Taz) are good hunters, but it's a bit disconcerting to go to bed and wonder if one of these things might not crawl it's way over you when you’re asleep .........uuuggghhhhh!!!!
Home, home on the range: Thurs, Oct 09, 2003
After 4 dogs, 2 cats, countless insects and reptiles you'd have thought that was enough to keep at Lanjarón Zoo (i.e my house). However I now also have ............... 2 horses in residence! My friends Sarah and Paul who run the riding stables have split up, and Sarah has problems finding alternative land for her horses. Tracy has brought her black horse, "Jack" (named after Jack Daniels whisky, I might add), down to reside on one of the less planted terraces. As "Jack" evidently gets lonely on a night if he's all alone (why,oh why do I always fall for this one!), another horse called "Gimly" has turned up. Now need somewhere to put tack, straw, horse feed etc. I had a quote from a local rip off merchant called Ricardo Rivas of 7,000 euros for the erection of 2 stables. I have politely told him to go away (in my best Spanish of course).
The well that was to solve all our water issues has continued to give problems. The pump works for half an hour and then packs up ......................... like everything else in Spain, I guess! Antonio thinks the pump is too powerful and is emptying the available water out of the well faster than the well is getting replenished through natural sources. Might have to change the pump, which will mean pulling 70 metres of cable, motor, pump and piping (full of water) out of the well. "Might need a crane" says Antonio. Why is nothing ever simple round here? Funny thing is, after 4.5 months without any rain at all, just as the well was installed, it rained heavily for 2 days and 2 nights. Dirt roads up the Campo (hillside) were washed away. Sod's Law eh?
Best bit about last Saturday's attempts to get the well working was that Antonio, Pepe (the “Electrico”) and myself adjourned at midday to a local farm to return a generator we had borrowed. The farm was run by an old man with no teeth and his son. These people had about 200 acres of good farming land and were probably sat on millions of euros, yet they preferred their "shanty" lifestyle. They gave us copious amounts of a fortified, cloudy wine drink called "Musto", or was it "Costo"? Anyway, it was strong and bitter. After an hour of hard drinking I had to negotiate the twisty mountain road home, the laughter of Antonio and Pepe in the back, ringing in my ears. I know they like me because they never stop taking the piss out of my crude attempts to speak the lingo.
A new "Woofer" has arrived. Jay Lively is from Kentucky in the "gud ole USofA". Bit of a red neck, but thinks George Bush Junior is a prat, so he's OK in my book .......... Jay that is, not Georgie Boy! We spent a hot day painting the upper Cortijo yellow. I know that sounds horrible and tacky but it actually looks very nice and deflects the glare of the sun. He's well into chainsaws and strimming machines, so he's proving a useful asset to me.
The German and Israeli woofers have gone now. Their legacy? ................. lots of fig and grape jam, dried figs, caramelised figs etc. In fact, probably 101 things to do with .... yes you've guessed it, bloody FIGS! I don't even like the damn things. The grounds now, however (in addition to figs), produce olives (130 'ish trees), oranges (36 trees), lemons (3), cherries (3), khakis (best fruit I've ever tasted) and almonds. In addition the vegetable and herb gardens are coming on good and are well established. Some of the best olives have been picked and stored in jars so that in a few months they are fit to eat. We change the water every day and next week will introduce salt into the jars. It's too early for collection for the oils but I've been told that these trees should yield 500 litres ...... a lot of chips! I have got a couple coming on Saturday to show us all how to properly look after the trees. Worth a few bob, I thought.
Emma leaves next week. I shall miss her. She has been good company and it's been nice having her around. She likes it here though and I think she'll be back. Big Juan in the local bar will miss her too. He keeps asking her out clubbing in Granada, but she continually refuses. Every time she walks in the bar he does a chicken imitation to her!
First snows have fallen in the Sierras and the skiing is due to start end November. I shall get a season pass this year and make the most of it. Bookings for next winter's mountaineering are going well so far and it could be quite busy. Am I back in the "rat race"?
Got to go as my Jack Daniels and Coke is ready (courtesy of barmaid, Emma!). Shall have a sunny siesta, I think. Sod work!
Baah: Tues, Oct 14, 2003
Had a visit from Dave and Aspen from up the mountain yesterday. They are "professionals" in self-sufficiency, energy and water management and trees. Aspen took one look at our beautifully manicured terraces and said "Isn't it tidy?" She then proceeded to tell us that by getting rid of all the weeds we had destabilised the terraces, that would get washed away when it rained.
Also, the soil would deteriorate and nutrients would disappear. Armageddon, evidently! And it all looked so pretty. The answer she suggested was to keep the weeds under control. Seeing lots of hard work coming on, I feebly asked "How?". Her answer was......."Sheep!" So now that I've bought two expensive strimmers, rotavated the terraces and decimated the land all I have to do is get a few sheep and let them munch to there hearts content. "Just let em go", she said.
Unfortunately, I can see some problems ahead with this cunning plan. Rocky, for instance loves sheep. If we got two sheep would we call them, "Lawn" and "Mower"? Could we then eat them? How do you train them to come back when called?
Guilty or not guilty?: Tues, Oct 28, 2003
After a hard morning's shopping, came back to a right mess! Big holes in the drive way. All the gravel had gone and the holes went right down to the soft soil below. Mud all over the place. Now......who could it be?
Alfie................surely not, he's not that energetic,
Leo................looked all innocent which means it could be him, but I think he'd be proud of it if it was him
Who's that in the corner, hiding away? All innocent and childlike. A little black dog . Well when I say black, I mean generally black but the giveaway is that his lower half is now brown. What really gives him away is his brown, sandy nose! Some things never change eh?
Nice white fluffy stuff: Wed, Nov 12, 2003
Let Rocky tell the tale
"Just had a great day out with my Dad. He took me in the car for a long ride but instead of him leaving me in the car while he went to the pub, he took me on a long road up a big hill. He kept saying how great everything looked but I just thought it was really boring. We parked up and then went for a walk. To my big surprise instead of green, the world was white, just like last year! The ground was covered with that white fluffy stuff that gets up my nose but keeps me cool.
I did my usual trick of rolling about in it......it always makes him laugh! Then I chased some snowball things, 'cos that also makes him happy. Just when he was content and off guard I made my break. Freedom! Now where were those funny things with antlers on their heads? About a half hour later and not a Ibex in sight I returned to Dad. Knowing I was in for a bit of a bollocking, I had to do my "really sorry" bit, you know.......tail between legs, puppy dog eyes etc. That worked a treat, yet again, for in next to no time he was OK with me again. Gullible these humans, or what?
Dad's getting sneakier though 'cos he's worked out that if he throws a stone (any stone) down a very steep snow slope, then I have to chase after it to get it. Its my instinct and I can't not do it. This makes me leap downhill, over cliffs and eventually slide to an abrupt halt on the white stuff about 100 metres below him. Grabbing the stone I then set off back uphill at full throttle. Then, cheek of it, he wants me to give the bloody stone back to him! Not likely, I can tell you. Unfortunately he's figured out that all he has to do is pick up yet another stone and chuck it down the mountain and.............yes, that bloody Labrador instinct takes over yet again. Bugger! Dad's crafty enough now to know that after 7 or 8 times up and down the mountain I'm knackered and am not interested in chasing Ibex any more.
We got to near the top of the pointed thing he calls a peak and his clients were tired, so we sat around in the hot sun for a while. To amuse myself I kept pinching and then chewing his new ice axe. Attached is a picci of me with my new toy. The way back down was fun though. Dad got this red plastic thing out of his rucksack and slid down the snow on it. He called it a sledge. He didn't appreciate me chasing him, biting his clothes and pulling him off it, though. Good fun."
Great views and mixed feelings: Sat, Dec 13, 2003
More blabbering from Andalucia............... I've seen some wonderful sights over the years. Walking and climbing in the mountains has provided me with some dramatic and spectacular sights. Even so, last Friday, I was totally unprepared for the view I was to find.
I had ridden the lifts upwards from the Sierra Nevada ski centre. The top chair to the summit was cold and exposed as a icy cold wind blew ferociously into my face. As I escaped the clutches of the chair at the top a strange peace descended. No wind, no snow just still and clear conditions. The sky was bright blue and the late winter sun was low to the SW. I skied southwards along a wide ridge and was met by an unforgettable sight. Beyond the line of the ski run the mountains dropped to the Alpujarras and my home. Beyond them the coastal hills and the beaches of southern Spain were clearly seen. The Mediterranean sea glinted in the sunlight and beyond still was Africa! Africa stretched from the SE to the SW horizon in a long unbroken stretch of mountains. I'd heard rumours that on a clear day you could see Morocco but in 12 months of being here I had begun to think the tale a myth. The natural curvature of the earth was seen to great effect and way to the SW the Rock of Gibraltar stood out at the gateway to the Mediterranean ........................ what a shame I forgot my bloody camera!
Talking of skiing, developments are afoot in these here parts. The present ski area can hold 38,000 skiers a day. Not enough evidently. There's a consortium of companies trying to expand the Sierra Nevada ski area. Discussions are taking place now but it seems as if all parties involved want to expand the ski area to go right the way along to the Cerro Caballo, the peak above Lanjarón. A massive ski area rivalling the larger French resorts would result. That would mean that an access to the then-substantial ski area would be made from Lanjarón. House prices here would rocket, no doubt! Access to skiing on the doorstep......how good is that? Or is it?
I must admit the lure of a chairlift from the town would be good. The sharp increase in house prices would be welcome. No doubt I would get some more walking and climbing business too. There is also no doubt that it would bring a much needed boost to the Alpujarras. Andalucia is one of the poorest and sparsely populated places, not only in Spain, but Europe too. However, would these developments spoil the charm, the ambience, the simplicity? Would it really benefit these people? At the moment you can walk these tracks all day and not see another soul apart from the odd Mule man or Goat herder. That would change for sure. So food for thought and mixed feelings at the moment.
The Australian "woofers" have spent the last 2 weeks olive picking and have collected some 700kg of olives. This should give us a return of about 125 litres of olive oil, or a "lot of chips" to those of you who haven't gone metric yet!
Twas the week before Christmas - Fri, Jan 02, 2004
Hope your Christmas and New Year was successful. Quiet here as usual, not a lot happening. They (the Spanish) seem to regard 5th January as more important for some strange esoteric reason. One nice tradition they have is that on the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve you have to eat a grape every second for 12 seconds. Now because in a former life I was an accountant, my quick and sharp brain calculated (within 10 minutes) that I needed to eat 12 grapes in total! What they forgot to tell you was that the Spanish use very small grapes to perform this feat. I was armed with the muchos grandes grapes I could find. At 7 seconds past midnight my overstuffed mouth was bulging and I was gagging for air and at exactly 8 seconds past the hour the contents my mouth had been flung to all corners of the room! Little bits of green slime covered each wall. It was like a scene from Ghostbusters! You can't take me anywhere can you?
Had my first winter clients in the week before Christmas. Did it go well? OK I guess, but they did think we were a bit strange at Spanish Highs. Let me elaborate........................
Sunday - Pick up clients from airport. Give them usual bullshit about the area etc. Tell them Dennis, my business partner based in Alicante will be over that evening. Show them the villa and promptly lock myself out of mine. Visit Antonio to see if he has any spare keys, he doesn't. One client happens to be an insurance claims inspector and manages to break into my villa by using a paint stripper (far too easily for my liking). Dennis phones from Alicante to say he's been delayed and will be with us tomorrow.
Monday - Day in the snows of the Sierra Nevada. Dennis my business partner, based in Alicante, phones to say his electrics are all out and he can't leave just yet, but will be out tomorrow. In the evening Tracy and I try to light the Aga cooker for the first time this year. After a couple of hours I feel a bit woozy. As I've only had a couple of glasses by this time I think its a bit strange. Clients arrive for meal. All of a sudden Tracy collapses in bathroom and hits head on floor. Passes out. Clients and me perform emergency first aid and then spend the rest of the evening monitoring condition. The evening meal burns and is ruined. Tracy recovers but has extra head and is very light headed, dare I say dizzy? She goes to bed while clients and I investigate. Problem is that previous occupants of villa used olive wood to light Aga. This left a black tar-like resin inside the oven. After many months of build up and 3 seasons of not being used the resin smouldered when ignited and produced large quantities of carbon monoxide. Very dangerous!
Tuesday - Tracy ill and mega headache but generally OK. Day skiing in the Sierra Nevada. Dennis my business partner, based in Alicante, phones to say his son is ill and he can't leave just yet, but will be out tomorrow. Skiing with us is Bernie. Bernie is a 63 yr old Englishman living in Lanjarón. I'd convinced him in front of my clients to come out for a day with us. He hadn't skied for 15 years, but I told him it would be OK and he'd have a great time. Guess what?......after 2 hours skiing with us he wobbled a bit and then collapsed in the snow! I had to organise the ski paramedics to take him back down the mountain to the base station. Both the medics and myself thought it was due to the altitude that had affected him. Anyway, 2 days later found him attached to a drip in Motril hospital with double pneumonia and there he remained over both Xmas and New Year. Clients wonder what's going to happen next?
Wednesday - Big snowfall and can't make Poqueira Hut even on snowshoes, due to depth of snow. Dennis my business partner, based in Alicante, phones to say the snow is too bad and he can't leave just yet, but will be out tomorrow.
Thursday - Day in the snows of the Sierra Nevada. Dennis my business partner, based in Alicante, phones to say he has actually set off! 6 hours later he phones back to say its too wet for his motorbike and too slippy so he's returning to Alicante. He will be out tomorrow. Clients think I'm making it all up about a some mythical character called "Dennis"
Friday - Dennis turns up! I win bet and clients pay up.
Saturday - Clients return home saying they'll be back and they haven't had this much fun in ages ............... oh...the walking was OK too!
Igor’s story: Sun, Jan 11, 2004
It's a funny old world isn’t it? Stood in the middle of Lanjarón main street last Tuesday was certainly a somewhat surreal occasion. In one hand I had a ham sandwich as my other held a plastic bowl with blood covered scalpel. Cowboys rode past and loud Flamenco music blared out. Tourist cars passed by unaware of the unfolding drama! Let me elaborate................
Kings Day is the 6th January. Its the day the Three Kings visited Bethlehem and gave presents. Here it's an excuse to have another national holiday. My clients wished a day off from the high peaks, so I was free to have a day off myself. Sarah, Tracy, Phil (my Welsh buddy) and myself decided to have a horse trek up in the hills. It was a bright sunny day again as we "desparados" rode the trails. Leo (the famous Leonberger), Roger (small brown hunting dog) and Igor (the Dalmatian) came along too. The dogs love to run with the horses and they charge excitedly all over the place. A perfect day, so it seemed?
We were about 2 hours out from Sarah's place when Igor came limping out of the bush. Blood was pouring from a side wound. It didn't take long to figure out that he'd been attacked by a wild boar that had gored him! There were boar scratch marks at the side of the track and it was typical "boar country", with lots of trees and undergrowth. Sarah galloped back to her house for the car with her horses, wildly following. The three of us then tried to stem the flow of blood by holding gauze pads, tissues etc over the wound. It was like some American Vietnam war drama! Igor went into shock and we seemed to be losing him although we did a good job of stemming the blood. We were also very conscious of the fact that the boar(s) was still around and would attack humans if pressed. We were all a little nervous, I think.
After an hour and a half wait Sarah's car screamed up the dirt track and we managed to get Igor onboard and into the boot. Although Lanjarón was only 3 miles away as the crow flies the twisting, tortuous track and our efforts not to hurt Igor meant it was nearly an hour before we reached town. The town was in full swing celebrating Kings Day with lots of people and stalls selling beer, jamon etc. The town vet was probably much the worse for wear as we located him next to a beer stall. His scruffy beard and appearance was exacerbated by the low slung jeans and "builders bum". We parked in the middle of the street and he gave Igor a quick examination. He then went home for his "tools of the trade" and returned. He asked me to hold the plastic bowl whilst he proceeded to put Igor under and then open him up. Not a pretty sight I can tell you. The boar had gone in and then ripped up through his shoulder. At precisely this time Tracy and Phil returned with beer and jamon sandwiches ....................... Buuuuurrrrrrggggggggghhhhhh. They were laughing and giggling at the sight of the rear of the car. Sarah and I were at the sides of the boot, whilst in between the butcher with a builders bum was performing major surgery. The butcher, sorry Vet, sewed away with all the precision of a blind arab that had a prior conviction for stealing.
Not a pretty job, but effective as the good news is that Igor is now up and running, though somewhat stiffly and lopsided. Just shows you what can happen doesn't it?
The dogs doo dahs: Thurs, Jan 29, 2004
Rocky and his most favourite bits of his anatomy have finally parted company. The final straw came when he disappeared last week for 3 days. We looked all over for him and alerted most of the countryside above the villas to be on the lookout. The search was on for "El Perro Negro".
It was 3 days of worry, wondering if a wild boar had had him or if he had been short by an irate farmer for "worrying" goats (an expression used in this case by Rocky to mean "fornication"!). He eventually arrived back on morning much worse for wear. He was thin, drawn and limping. His paws were bleeding and he had obviously had a hard time. We think he had probably followed some walkers, encouraged by tit-bits etc. He had then been picked up by someone who wanted to keep him.
Having eventually made his escape he spent a long time tying to find his home. He was very sorry for himself and has not really done much apart from sleep since.
"Enough is enough" isn't it? Time for action, I thought. So yesterday we visited the vets at Granada where the ceremony was performed. He now is feeling even sorrier for himself than he was before. Might make somebody some nice earrings, one day!
But, guess what? We went to see the vet with 2 dogs testicles and came out with 2 more! How come? Well, as you well know, were suckers here aren't we? There just happened to be this dog we took a fancy to that was looking for a good home (Oh no, more groans from the audience). Yes, so we are now back to 4 dogs. We are the proud owners of a 2 year old ........... St Bernard called imaginatively enough, Bernie.
This 200 pound monster is very amiable, but characteristically dopey. He makes the decision where he's sitting down, not you. If he sits down and you want him somewhere else you just can't shift the devil. We bonded in the car on the way back from Granada when he slavered all down my head and neck ......... ugh! Whilst driving in the usual heavy Granada traffic, and trying to negotiate weaving Spanish drivers, he started to eat my seat belt. Anyway the other dogs like him so he's now part of the Lanjarón pack (zoo!).
Mountain days, soldiers and turkeys: Tues, Mar 23, 2004
Sorry Ive not been in touch sooner but I've been very busy during this winter. Needless to say I'm quite fit but having had 40 out of the last 55 days up in the mountains I have developed a back problem. Suppose its something to do with carrying backpacks around the hills all day. At the moment, "Ginger" our latest Canadian "woofer" is massaging it back into shape. Don't get any funny ideas because she’s a very homely 55 year old.
The latest 2 clients are soldiers from the elite troops of a middle eastern country that’s very friendly with the USA (no prizes for guessing which). These super fit heroes are determined to take everything on no matter what weather or hardship. Me? I'd rather drink hot mulled wine and stay in a nice warm bed in the Poqueira Hut whilst they shovel for hours making a hole in the snow in which to spend the night. Takes all sorts, I suppose?
Antonio, my neighbour proudly showed me his latest building which is a 2 story house, lower floor for his pigs and the top floor for his chickens. It's quite a edifice and much too good for animal life. I expressed my wonderment at his achievement and next day he arrived at my place and said..."where do you want it?". Outcome was that the following day a tractor arrived and excavated some terraces and within a week I had a similar new house standing in my grounds. Top floor is for all my "boys toys" and climbing/skiing gear. Lower floor has been made for gardening, outdoor equipment and stables for 2 horses. When I asked him if we needed planning permission his reply was ....."no pasanada, sey nurthing nada". He says cost will be about 3,000 euros which in Spanish means 4,500 euros!
Funny place this. Things happen here which I guess would never happen in the UK. For instance, there I was having a nice quiet 5 hour drinking session in my local bar with some clients. At the end of the evening, Antonio (the bar owner, seems to me that everybody's called Antonio!), called me into the kitchen and presented me with ............2 pabos, sorry turkeys. With them was also a nice bag of turkey food, whatever that is? Slightly taken aback and a wee bit wobbly with drink I said "thanks" and proceeded to take them home. Next morning, less under the influence, I wondered what the hell you do with turkeys (excepting Christmas of course). I named them "Christmas" and "Lunch" so that I'd never forget their only use in life. By lunchtime I was bored with turkeys so gave them to neighbour Antonio as down payment on new store shed. He was delighted, as he's just made a purpose built turkey/chicken run with their own swimming pool, sun terrace and breeding place ..........ahhh bless him!
Spring is in the air: Sat, Apr 17, 2004
Not too much to report here. I think we've just had the last major precipitation this year. Next major rain should be in October! Spring really is upon us with all the flowers coming out and the air filled constantly with the scent of rosemary, lavender and thyme. I have just made some essential oil with wild rosemary, which legend has it keeps insects at bay. The cherry trees are blossoming and the figs have green buds appearing .................. anyway enough of the David Bellamy's ............... last Sunday went to bar called "El Oasis" and had a good old fashioned Sunday roast beef lunch with all the trimmings including Yorkshire pud, horseradish sauce, rich gravy and some pork crackling, wicked. A bit surreal actually, as the footie was on the big screen. It could have been set in Leeds, the East End or Bradford was it not for the traditional flamenco band and singers playing live in the background. A couple of beers, bottle of wine and back home for a Sunday afternoon snooze, magic! Just like the old days.
I've just had a week without any clients and to be honest, it's been lovely. A chance to recharge the batteries before the final 4 clients of the winter season arrive on Wednesday. Will be glad when it's all over now as I'm looking forward to the next 6 months here. Funny, but I never think of going on holiday any more? This week I've been honing up on my cementing and building skills (what skills you ask?). In reality I've watched my neighbour, Antonio, and done my own bit by building a bridge across the water acequia for a wheelbarrow to get across. Looks really great actually, but in the usual Hartley way, it was only on completion that I realised that I should maybe have used a spirit level! A bit lopsided. Oh dear, never mind.
The storehouse has been completed and kitted out with all my "boys toys". Ice axes, crampons, skis, helmets, snowshoes etc adorn the walls and a series of lopsided shelves (again wish I'd thought of a spirit level at the outset) hold tents, gear, boots and other items. This summer the inside and out will be painted white and the window sills supplied with flower tubs. Hopefully it will look great.
The grounds have a natural dip/bowl set in them. The size is 16 metres by 8 metres. I plan to buy some plastic sheeting and make this into a *"alberca"*i.e a water holding tank. Unfortunately, as is usual, it won't stop there, as it will become a mosquito breeding ground unless I stock the alberca out with lots of fish. They eat the mosquito larva as food. The *alberca *will provide much needed water for the summer months when drought conditions occur for several months. I will be able to fill it up with acequia water if I hurry up and make it by the end of May. Will have to buy a pump so that the alberca water can be connected to the main irrigation systems. This will mean electric, so I may have a real use for my generator ............ and so it goes on!
The Alberca: 03 May 2004
Now that the last of the winter clients has departed attention has turned back to the land. The age-old problem of keeping the weeds at bay has returned, and we have to somehow cope with thick undergrowth some 2ft high on some terraces. The two horses, Gimly and Jack, have helped, and we rotate them on different terraces each day. They are selective eaters however and although undoubtedly helping they miss the worst bits near the edges. Both strimmer machines are now out of action, so today I have had to invest (heavily, I might add) in a new one. Never was any good with motors was I?
The other main problem here is having enough water for the land during the dry summers. As the "well project" has hardly been an outstanding success (with a puny 10 minutes of water every 5 hours) alternatives have been sought. The Spanish and the Moors before them have had over 2,000 years experience of dealing with dry summers and water storage. I, on the other hand have had a mere 18 months! With summer on its way we decided to utilise a large depression in the land and form a water storage area (or "Alberca" in Spanish). After 2 days preparation in clearing the ground of any sharp objects that might puncture the plastic base, yesterday 3 of us managed to get a large sheet of plastic (some 20 metres by 15 metres) in and around the alberca. The top edges of the plastic were weighed down by stones and old bricks to keep the plastic in place. We then laid two pipes from the water irrigation channel higher up the valley and the water began to flow into our alberca. It was a nice sight and a really satisfying feeling to see the efforts of one's labours and ideas coming to fruition. I don't know how many gallons it will hold but with a size of 15 metres by 10 metres and 6ft deep it should help greatly towards the water supply problems. Soon a small pump will be put in that will spread water from thealberca to the trees.
We intend to let the old couple who have a small "casita" (cottage) on the land have water rights to the* alberca*. They use the casitaas an allotment area for growing lemons, oranges, vines etc. At the moment they struggle up from town with 2 buckets of water each day. As we've built an illegal (ie no planning permission) house , 2 storeys high, right in front of their casita I think its the only fair thing to do. They are a really nice couple who readily exchange fruit and vegetables with us for olive oil and horse muck!
Anyway, the albercafilled nicely, although a couple of tears in the plastic might yet prove our undoing! Of course nothing here ever runs smoothly and last night Andalucia was subject to the most horrendous storms and gale force winds. This would normally happen every so often between January and March but never in May .............. unless of course Richard has just put some plastic sheeting into a big hole in the ground. Fearing the worst I woke up this morning to find some fences ripped, trees down and expected to see the albercadisappearing into the south east towards Morocco. Not so, however, as it surprisingly survived. There is a God after all!
Gone Fishin’: Fri, May 07, 2004
I was having a mid morning coffee with my neighbour, Antonio, a few days ago. Trying hard to interpret what he was saying is very hard as he talks very quickly in a funny incoherent language that's supposed to be Spanish and I of course don't talk much at all! No wonder understanding is difficult. Anyway I thought he asked me if I wanted to go fishing the following morning. He wanted me to get a large net to fish with. I told him that in the UK we use fishing rods to which he laughed. Anyway at 10 the next morning I went to his cortijo armed with all the right clothing expecting a day's peaceful fishing. Never occurred to me that Andalucia is, well basically, dry! There are no rivers to speak of as they are seasonal and mostly dry up by June.
Anyway to cut a long story short, we proceeded to unravel a 10 metre by 5 metre olive picking net and place it in his cortijo's pond, that was at least a quarter of those dimensions. 3.5 minutes later and I had 25 fish of varying sizes for my new water storage lake (called an alberca). With a swaggering "adios", he returned to his house leaving me with a bucket of fish. Speechless I returned to my house and dropped my prize Spanish fish into the alberca. They eat the mosquito larvae so they're useful.
So that's fishing Spanish style eh?
The Lanjaron Wall: Tues, Jun 01, 2004
One day Dennis and I decided to build a climbing wall on the new storehouse building. Armed with bolt on holds from the Granada climbing shop we set about the task. Problem came with top bolt/attachment point as we needed to get on the roof. Dennis held the ladder whilst I climbed the overhanging tiles onto the roof.
Whilst I tried to assemble the bolts Dennis arrived behind me ..... like Heinrich Harrer (on the north face of the Eiger of the Hinterstoisser Traverse) he'd forgotten that from above you couldn't see where the ladder down was and so effectively our retreat from the roof had been cut off.
We had a rope but nowhere to anchor it. So there we were, two mountaineers with over 60 years experience in guiding people in the hills, stranded on a roof in Lanjarón and unable to get down.
I had the embarrassment of calling Tracy and asking her for assistance. After 10 minutes the laughter stopped and she came to the rescue but not before capturing our embarrassment on camera.
Latest from Lanjaron: Tues, Jun 22, 2004
Emma's out here now. Nice to see her, and I think she likes the laid back lifestyle here. Went to Granada on a big city shopping trip yesterday. She bought all sorts of gear usually load and unusual (what a surprise!) as it's about half price than UK. We shopped in the morning, sat in some squares watching the tourists get fleeced, visited the Arab Quarter to drink tea in the tea shops and then went to some old tapas bars and got a bit tipsy. Right up her street. Last night we became English again and watched the England (sorry ING...GER...LAND!) v Croatia game in an English Bar. Feel really sorry for the Spanish as they have good players but never really shine in major tournaments do they?
Getting a new motor bike on Friday. I love the scooter but want something to take me more on the land rover tracks around here. Thought of going for a 650cc but have been persuaded by Jane and Keith (South Yorks Police) that it's a bit much, so have settled for Honda 125cc. If I get the hang of it I'll trade it in and upgrade. Test ........ required by law, but nobody gives a damn so sod it, won't bother. Have bought helmet though and look like Dodo the Space-kid! Got this vision of heading off up tracks next winter with skis strapped to rucksack, skiing and then coming home.
Fish are doing good job of keeping mosquito larvae at bay and are getting much bigger. Water problems continue with more foreigners coming to Lanjarón. This has meant a drop in water pressure. Antonio helped me move the water storage tank to a new location and then helped me install a pump to supply the two villas. Talking of Antonio, I've been invited to the wedding of his eldest daughter Eva on 31st July (another important day!). This means that for the first time in some 2 years I will have to get togged up and wear some smart clothes. I feel it's quite an honour to get an invite.
The morning after - Fri, Jun 25, 2004
Well you could have written the script yourself. It's happened before hasn't it? Worst bit was scoring first. Why is it that millions around the world watching on TV know that the worst thing you can do is sit back and defend all the game whilst our football master tacticians don't realise it? Just look what happened to the Spanish when they played Portugal? We made a good Portuguese team look very good and when you give them so many opportunities to get crosses into your penalty area or shots on target then the probability is that one of them will end in a goal. Which is precisely what happened.
Our wonderful tactical genius who is paid millions per year (Sven, of course!), signalled his intentions by replacing our only creative midfield players (Gerrard and Scholes), with Phil Neville (cant get a first team place with a poor Man U team) and Owen Hargreaves (who?). The Portuguese midfield, who had been playing for 110 minutes by then, still ran faster, passed better and were more skilful then them. How is this possible?
The final acts have been seen many times before. Golden Balls Beckham missed a penalty that Jonny Wilkinson would have been proud of. A further miss late on sealed our fate. Good luck to the Portuguese, I say. I hope they win it. Us ..... let's get rid of the manager, Beckham, Heskey, Nevilles, James, Hargreaves et al and all the other third rate, overpaid players. Replace them with Robinson, Smith and some hard working young grafters. Not biased a bit am I? Glad I got that lot off my chest!
Anyway, it took me some 24.5 seconds to get over the game. We left the bar and treated ourselves to a 2 euro squashy ball on a string that lit up with florescent colours that we purchased from one of the stalls in the street. By this time the week-long fiesta was in full swing with flamenco dancers and street partying. At midnight a hooter sounded and thousands of people were left in the narrow streets as the bars locked up for an hour. During that hour the locals hurled buckets of water from balconies onto the thronged streets. Drunken firemen hosed the masses down from all vantage points. The masses chanted "Agua" "Agua" "Agua" time after time. Water pistols were the best defence against attacks from buckets and hoses. Millions of gallons of precious water thrown around that signalled the start of summer here. The revellery went on for an hour until the hooter sounded again, the water stopped flowing and the bars re-opened. No trouble, only good clean fun. What a place!
Funniest sight this morning was the local police. There are three in Lanjarón. They were still the worse for wear when they went on duty this morning. They sat near the fountain in the square and threw bangers (fireworks, not sausages!) under passing cars. They were hysterical with laughter when these exploded and were very amused by the bewildered, confused and somewhat scared looks on the car drivers' faces. The Chief of Police then went for his customary morning coffee and brandy top-up. Leaving the bar I saw him get into his car and weave down the high street, wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round, no seat belt, and holding a mobile phone to his ear. What a laugh! It can only happen here.
Mid-summer madness: Mon, Jul 26, 2004
I gather the UK summer is not too good this year, so I thought I'd write and tell you about what it's like out here now. Not to gloat, far from it. Actually to help you cope with it and to let you know that it's not all it's cracked up to be. Last year I was in Chamonix in July and August so did not experience the full summer here. This year is different. Yes, I know there's been no rain since May and in fact up to the last 2 weeks its been pleasant with shade temperatures reaching 33 to 35 degrees C each day. There's also been a gentle breeze which has helped. But now all that has changed. Temperatures soar to 40 degrees and above by 11am, there is no breeze and the humidity is high! Let me summarise my typical day for the last 2 weeks.....................
Get up at 9am. Ride down to town to pick up post and get bread. Back home for breakfast.
10am - Clean and skim the swimming pools.
11am - Time to escape the heat. Shut all windows, shutters, curtains. Turn off all lights in villa (to stop heat build up, not to save electricity!). Cover doors with mosquito netting and curtains. Sit in house all day trying not to do anything that involves any effort or moving around.
2pm - Visit local pub because it's got air-conditioning!
3pm - Swim and straight back indoors.
9pm - Sun goes down, humidity is sky high and mosquitoes come out to play. Stay housebound. Time for TV and bed.
So that's it.........the UK summer doesn't seem so bad after all does it?
Now it's probably not well known, but only 2 hours car journey from Lanjarón, is the vast desert badlands of Almeria. Reputably this is the hottest and driest part of Europe. It's a lovely drive via Granada in which the scenery changes gradually from the greenery of the Sierras to the white and sandy vastness of the Almeria wastelands. What scenery it is, wild and uninviting. Near the town of Tabernas is the film location where the old spaghetti western films were shot, including "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", For a Few Dollars More" and a "Fistful Of Dollars". At the end of the filming some locals bought the film set and have now created what is unimaginatively called "Mini Hollywood". Its very touristy but also very authentic. All of a sudden you're transported back to the wild west, to the "Town With No Name"! Shoot outs and jailbreaks are staged for the tourists, all very well done. There's also a reasonably sized zoo, although I don't know how the animals coped with the 40+ heat. It was bad enough for us!
Captain Nemo: Sat, Sept 04, 2004
Life really changed for "Bernie" our imaginatively (not!) named St Bernard dog on the day we walked into the pet rescue centre in Granada. He had spent all of his year-long life tied up, and had obviously been a problem to his then owners, hence the rescue centre was called in. He was in need of much love and care as these big dogs will develop problems without it.
He was a bit scary at first because of his size and ferocious sounding bark and growl. Gradually during the first months of our relationship with him he started to settle. He watched the other dogs and noticed how they behaved and he was very careful not to upset the family life he was integrating into. Very intelligent for a big dog, he yearned for the care and attention he had been denied throughout most of his short life.
Over the past couple of months, however, he has discovered how to .............. PLAY! Now I don't know about you, but having a 85 kilo puppy wanting to play (well, throw himself at you actually!) is a bit off putting. This, combined with the inevitable drool all over your shorts and T-shirt, means it can get very messy. He's seen Rocky and Leo nibble at fingers as an act of playful welcome and so he tries it himself. Unfortunately having his gaping, drooling jowls nibbling at your arms isn't good for a future in piano playing!
Another funny trait is his total inability to catch anything. Throw the other dogs a titbit and they expertly catch in the mouth, not Bernie. As his eyes are so deep set into his massive head he can't keep track of the flight of the food. As a result he snaps at it after it has usually landed on the back of his head. Again, very messy.
We took him down Lanjarón High Street last week to the "tourist" end. The idea was that we would put a bottle of Lanjarón water round his neck and take photos of him with tourists for 5 euros a photo. Didn't work unfortunately as nobody would walk anywhere near him. They all crossed over the street very conveniently about 100 yards before he got to them. Bernie had to settle for an ice cream cornet at the Heladeria instead.
He is also without a shadow of a doubt the most clumsy dog I've ever met. Partly due to his size, partly due to his deep set eyes, I guess. He bumps into things and trips over constantly. Now most of the time it's not too much of a problem but, when you are cooling off in the swimming pool, and this 85 kilo bomb falls on top of you it can be quite a shock. Not half as bad as trying to get him out again though!
Yesterday we put the dogs at the lower villa as we had some Spanish guests (the Spanish are scared of big or indeed black dogs). After 30 minutes I thought things were a bit too quiet. Taking a peak I saw Leo and Rocky circling the pool. There was a faint ripple on the surface of the water. With horror I realised that Bernie must have fallen in. I ran down to the villa half expecting to find Bernie floating upside down. Thank goodness he had the good sense to swim to the side. He couldn't get out but at least he could stand up on his hind legs and reach over the side. I hauled him out by the scruff of his neck. Undeterred, he continued stumbling and bumbling along. His new nickname .............. Captain Nemo! Think it suits?
Down on the farm: Tues, Sept 21, 2004
This summer seems to have lasted for ever. Lazy sunny days have become the norm and it's been great to get up every day, slap on a t-shirt and shorts and go out to see what the weather is doing ............ needless to say, its been hot and sunny! The grounds are looking very brown and bare and water is now required. Nights are getting much fresher however and the climate will soon change.
We’ve just come up with an idea for the perfect way to keep the terraces tidy and free of weeds. Its cheap to run, efficient, reliable .............. no, it's not a Black and Decker Strimmer, its a......DONKEY! Yes we really seem to have lost it this time. If we can buy it at the right price then we'll have "Bessie the Burro" joining the clan. So, how did all come about?
We have a friend called "Juan". He is a nice lad, very willing to help and in the past has helped with rotavating the land etc. He does however speak very fast and not particularly with the best pronunciation. The problems seem to arise when we have a conversation with him in a bar. Now, bearing in mind that I am a relative novice in the Spanish language, I can only get the gist of what he is trying to say. I go away happy that I've got the gist of what was being said but unfortunately I always seem to miss out and not recognise some very important part of his sentences. Needless to say that when I believe he is going to quote us for some hay bales for the horses, 50 will arrive 2 days later. You get the idea!
A few days ago a friend, Sam told us he was looking for a male mule to help him on the land. Being good neighbours we asked Juan if he knew anybody who had one . Juan told us (or so we thought) his friend had one for free and he lived just above Lanjarón. Consequently we arranged a meeting with Juan, Sam and ourselves (as translators?) to view the mule. It turned out that the mule wasn't a mule it was a donkey; it wasn't above Lanjarón it was 25 miles away high up in the hills; it wasn't free and above all it was female not male. Muttering apologies we retired to the bar!
So this lovable grey female donkey is available and is cheap and we are seriously considering making a purchase ourselves instead of the sheep we were originally considering. Can't see me on it riding around the hills though!
Antonio my neighbour turned up the other day and shouted ........... "Sheet"."Que" said I. "Sheet" he repeated, "Quiero sheet". Just before I was about to get the dreaded dictionary out the penny dropped. He wanted some horse manure for his vegetable patch! We've evidently been giving him some for some months now. He took us to see his vegetable patch which contained the most massive tomatoes and peppers I've ever seen. He filled bags full for us to take home. I asked him what was the secret of his success and he replied ........ "Agua and Sheet". Antonio has had 3 pigs for the last 6 months foraging around his land. This last weekend his female pig gave birth to 14 piglets. Think we might just be eating a lot of pork this winter!
The meaning of life? Sun, Sept 26, 2004
"Antonio the mule man", we call him. Why is it everybody round here is called Antonio? Anyway, this Antonio is in his late sixties I would guess. His prize possession is his mule, although I can't tell you what he/she is called, I suspect its called "Burro", the Spanish for "Donkey". Antonio also (unbeknown to him) acts as a morning alarm call. At precisely 8.23am each morning the sounds of hoof beats are heard from the bedroom, followed by the dogs barking, announcing the imminent arrival of Antonio the mule man. The mule walks slowly by the villa on his way up the mountain, stopping only to eat all our plants, encouraged by Antonio cooing* "burro" "burro""burro"* to his charge. Better than a radio alarm going off eh?
A recent conversation with Antonio provided some insights into his life. He has been a mule man all his working life. Each day he climbs the hillsides above Lanjarón and at the end of the day comes back down again, mule sacks full. "What are you doing going up and down the hill every day?" we asked. His reply ................... "I go up in the morning and spend most of the day cutting and collecting food for my mule, loading it up and then using the mule to get the food down the hill again". His reply sums up this wonderfully relaxed, but rather strange and quirky area!
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