Sat 10th June 2006From sunny London to sunny Gibraltar in a couple of hours, plus another couple of hours to get back through the border traffic jam from Spain where we had to pick up the hire car. If I had read the guidebook I would have known that it was pointless to have a car in Gibraltar where it is easier to walk.
The hostel we have booked into is deserted so we walk into the nearest square for some lunch. The large square is packed with football fans waiting for the 3 pm kick-off which will be displayed on a screen the size of a small house.
The centre of town is pedestrianised and nice to walk through but down towards the coast it becomes obvious that this is a shipping port and British naval base. The small botanical gardens are a pleasant place to stop for a kip to catch up after our early morning rise.
As we have a car we decide to drive round the rock to see all there is to see which does not take long as it is only 6 km long and 1 km wide. Past the lighthouse on the southernmost tip, the road runs up the eastern side a little before it is fenced off but on the way back up the western road we find a way up and as the rock is almost half as high as it is wide, this is by far the most interesting aspect. After only a few million revs of the engine we are experiencing fantastic views down to the town and out over the water to the southernmost part of Spain and indeed, Europe. All the tourist attractions are closed by now but a few stops at lookout posts and gun emplacements are entertainment enough for us in the evening sunshine.
Back down in the town there are lots of English pubs all selling fish and chips and a selection of English beers, at least, the ones that travel well but are tasteless. Gibraltar looks like a Mediterranean town but in most other respects is an English one.
Sunday 11th June 2006
The compliment of English shops includes Marks & Spencer's and
Morrissons (still badged as Safeway here) so we pick up some lunch and
walk to the cable car for a ride up to the top of the rock. There is a
cafe on the top patrolled by Barbary Macaques (apes) ready to steal any
food that foolish tourist attempt to eat so we save the packed lunch for
dinner and eat lasagne in the cafe instead.
Monday 12th June 2006It was another windy day as we set out from this little bit of Britain, stopping only to stock up on provisions, and head out into the Andalusia region of Spain.
Our oddly shaped little Citroen C2 skittered merrily down the wrong side of the road, but that is OK because they all drive on the wrong side of the road here. In no time we were out in the country and up in the mountains heading for Jimena in 'de los Alcornocales', 'Parque natural'. After very few kilometres we could not resist taking a sidetrack down a tiny road to Castillo de Castellar. The deserted, windy road took us past a lovely lake and up a steep hill to a castle. Inside the curtain wall they seemed to be converting the tiny contained village into holiday apartments. It looked like it would be a nice place to stay, but not for us today. Just outside the walls a cafe served up a nice cafe Americano while at the bar two men cooked sausages over their own personal barbecue of flames in what looked like a gravy boat.
Further up the road, just past Los Angeles, we reach Jimena de la Frontera, with its own castle and village on steep slopes. Apart from a few men sitting outside bars there is no one about as we meander to the top of the hill to the castle. Muslims seem to have been in this area quite allot in the 1300's, building or adding to castles in the area.
The mountainous, tree covered countryside with streams and pools looks like perfect rambling country so we set off to find a place to stay. In the town, a sign points to a camp site which turns out to have log cabins for rent, and nice little log cabins they are too. We seem to be the only ones here which suits us just fine so we make ourselves some pasta and settle down to drink red wine in the evening sun.
Tuesday 13th June 2006Having our own cabin allowed us to rise more casually and besides, our planned walk was just outside the door. We headed down the valley to the river (Rio Hozgarganta) below where a bushy plant with bright pink flowers seemed to thrive. The river was just a stream between pools at this time but the marks on the banks suggested it flowed in torrents on the odd occasion. Faint paths above the high tide marks guided us through the thick and spiky undergrowth. Most all the flora and fauna we could see were unfamiliar and most of the vegetation has spikes to scratch at the passing rambler. Turtles and little green frogs plop back into the water as we approach, lizards scuttle under rocks while birds of prey float overhead trying to spy them. There is little evidence of human population, not even the sound of road traffic that is ever pervasive in England.
Wednesday 14th June 2006-11-25We were lulled to sleep last night by a rain storm with thunder and lightening that just about rained itself out by the time we got up. An ideal day for a road trip.
We travelled north from Jimena where our cabin is, along an all but deserted mountain road, through wonderfully scented pine forests and cork oak trees, stripped of their lower reaches of bark. From the top of each mountain were views of yet more forested mountains, sometimes streaked with rocky outcrops.
We headed for a lake and a village called Garcisobaco thinking of lunch, but the road was closed off and derelict with only gates to a private house of the same name. The lake seemed to be submerged fields with fences and trees, surrounded by mud flats so we decided to press on.
At Ubrique we stopped to wonder at a fountain far more wonderful than the surrounding town. A model of a ship in the centre of a circular fountain that played varying jets of water all about it, a little out of place here in the mountains so far from the coast? Across the road in a large but quiet café we ordered a flan and a tart from the menu. We had hoped for savoury snacks but what turned up was crème caramel and cheesecake, oh well!
Through yet more kilometres of stunning scenery we arrive in Rhonda, recommended by one of Tracy's patients as a pretty place to visit. We park up in a notably dull part of town and head off on foot to find some proper lunch. In one of the pedestrianised main streets we find some real tapas in a grotty little bar that is empty and half asleep. The dried meat sausage in lard is a bit off putting but OK once the lard is scraped off. The anchovy and potato dishes are quite good. Judging by the size of some of the girls walking by the window, lardy sausages must be a real favourite. Just as back home, some have made their wobbly bits into a fashion statement by tightening a belt around it to form a double water balloon effect, very fetching.
The end of the street opens out a little, mainly in a downward direction. So this is why Rhonda is described as so pretty, the old town is perched on an outcrop of rock with sheer drops all over the place. Some long forgotten mayor must have thought it would be a great tourist attraction if they built a scenic bridge across the gorge between the two halves of the old town. It worked! We even trekked down a steep path to get a better view. Or was it the bull fighting that Made Rhonda so famous, who knows?
An empty tourist restaurant served us a nice pan of paella before we set off to cross the windy mountain passes in the dark back to our cabin.
Thursday 15th June 2006We are reluctant to leave our cabin it is so nice (apart from the little flies whose mission is to tickle us to distraction) so we arrange to stay for another couple of days.
We set off down another walking path that takes us down the Rio Hosgarganta towards Jimena. There are a few houses this way, nestled into the hillside just out of reach of the river. A bit further down we find a very old stone built water mill complete with water race and mill stones. Not surprisingly the water wheel was missing and a bat had taken up residence. It was hard to see how the mill could work except when the river was flooding but perhaps that always happened just after the grain harvest. There are a number of other building along our path by the river, some derelict, others looked lived in or perhaps were just barns.
Near the town we came across an odd construction. It was described on a signpost as 'canal' but it was 5m deep and only 3m wide and ran along the bank of the river. Sluice gates in the outer wall to let water in or out. Strangely, a broken wind-surf board was at the bottom. In all, it may have been a quarter of a mile long. My best guess is that it was designed to catch water during the flooding of the river for use in the town during the subsequent dry period. Speaking of which, as we sit down to eat our lunch of bread and sardines, we hear thunder over the mountains and the rain starts to fall. The rain seems to bring out the scent of the flowers even more and is only a minor inconvenience as we head back along the track. Along the way we meet a white horse. All the hair is worn off his shoulders and the skin is scabby and sore. His front legs are hobbled with a piece of rope which has worn his ankles to sores with a trickle of blood running down one ankle. The least we can do is untie his legs and tell him to be glad he is not a bull.
Back at the cabin we are visited by a plague of cats that start to follow us about. This cannot have anything whatsoever to do with Tracy feeding them. The mini-monsoon has abated for a while so we walk into town in the warm moist evening air to eat at 'La Casca', a little restaurant Tracy noticed on our first day, and very nice it was too.
The town is just as you would expect a small Spanish town to be, all white washes walls and terracotta roof tiles. The streets are narrow and often steep with minimal footpaths. Locals sit in the street and chat or sit inside with their doors open. Even at 10pm a little food shop is open to provide us with tomorrows breakfast.
Friday 16th June 2006Another road trip today, this time to the west through the mountains and out onto the flat agricultural lands of the province of Cadiz. At Barbate on the Atlantic coast we turn north and fins a parking spot where we can walk on the sandy soil through the pine trees and down to the coast. I call them pine trees because they smell right and have needles but the branches form a globe on a stick rather than the usual upward pointing arrow shape. On the sandstone cliff edge we find a good spot with a view for our lunch of bread and olives. The sound of the breaking waves, the afternoon sun and the warm wind were so soothing that we succumbed and joined the rest of Spain in a siesta.
We watched as a little motorboat sped out from the harbour into the bay. One of the two occupants went skin diving while the other kept the boat. I dosed again. The cliff we sat on was mainly sandstone that had mainly turned back into sand making the climb back up to the car quite arduous. The road north to El Palmer seems to be packed with hostels. Many look closed. The one we chose to stop at was not serving food so we head on to Vejer de la Frontera, a nice but typical looking town perched on a hill with a church on the top. All the houses are white washed and tile topped, the roads are narrow and steep. The very top is surrounded by old stone walls and towers that create a pleasing break to the whitewash. We find a Caribbean restaurant for dinner which seems plain wrong while in Spain but the food was good so what the hell.
It was late by the time we set off for home and it was soon dark. On the way along the windy roads through the mountains we caught quite a few deer in the headlights, winged a bird and applied tyre tread to a bunny. There is loads of wildlife out there, or was. During the day we saw 20-30 large gliding birds circling in the thermals with their wingspan of well over a meter and a half.
Saturday 17th June 2006
Instead of walking down to the river as we had before we walked north
from our cabin and up the hill. A
carefully constructed 3m wide, dry stone path led up from the road to
nowhere. A sign at the bottom suggested that Ubrique was only 9.5 hours
away. We decided to give it a go.
Sunday 18th June 2006
The morning was surprisingly quiet so that the birds and the bees could still be plainly heard. Anyway, we have had enough of Jimena so we made a break for the hills and Sevilla. After the mountains, the landscape falls to rolling hills of cultivated fields. They love their sunflowers here and sometimes they cover entire hills. We find Sevilla rather difficult to navigate with its shortage of road signs, redirections, one-way streets and closed roads. Parking is almost impossible. Finally we find a little hostel named 'Atenas' which appears to be no more than a door in a wall but turns out to be more like a hotel. By this time we need a beer but as our map seems to bear little resemblance to reality so we go out for a wander leaving a paper trail of useless maps to return by. At last we find the café district and settle down for beer and tapas. Hundreds of house martens zoom and swoop up and down overhead screeching as they go. No matter how many flies they catch there are always enough to irritate us.
Monday 19th June 2006
have given ourselves a day see Sevilla which seems more than enough. From
what we have seen so far it is just another busy, noisy, smelly city so we
head for the parks and river. All the streets are narrow and one-way for
cars with little or no pavement. The little parks are a nice escape from
the traffic and the trees give welcome shade from the sun. The 'Plazza de
Espania' built in 1929 is a lovely piece of architecture with a great
sweeping arc around an inner arc shaped pond, plaza and central fountain.
The pond is currently dry for restoration to the ornate bridges over it.
Tuesday 20th June 2006
devises a cunning plan to extricate us from the warren of crazy one-way
streets of Sevilla and out to the hills of the north. It is 33°C by
midday and even in the hills it does not feel cooler. The landscape is
hilly but not quite mountainous with rocky, sandy red soil that eucalyptus
seem to like growing in. It reminds us a little of the outback of
Australia. I would not be surprised to spot the odd Koala.
Wednesday 21st June 2006
at the tourist office a little sign says something like 'back in 10
minutes' so we take a look at the church to pass the minutes. A little old
lady sitting outside lures us into the church. She shows us all the
treasures inside while speaking in rapid Spanish. To my mind the inside is
more agreeable that the cathedral in Sevilla which was so full of detail
it was hard to know where to start looking so that in the end I felt that
I had missed most of it. Here, the treasures could be viewed easily in a
few minutes, after which I felt ready to move on to the next. The exterior
of the church did not reflect the beauty of the interior so that if we had
not been lured inside I might have dismissed it as derelict.
Thursday 22nd June 2006
This is such a peaceful idyllic paradise that we do not want to move. Fortunately
we have everything we need so after a short stroll up the hill to verify
that everything up there looks just the same as down the hill, we settle
in for a day of R&R. Occasionally we stopped to check that the
temperature of the pool was just right or that the scenery had not changed
but other than that we just relaxed. I would have liked to find a
thermostat to turn the temperature down a little bit. Every now and then
someone would open an oven door and a great wave of baked air would waft
over us. Some of the cicadas sounded just like automatic lawn sprinklers,
even down to the pause as the jet moves back to the start. Unfortunately
it was just the cicadas and there was no cooling spray. A highlight of the
day was watching the trains trundle up and down the valley far below us.
Friday 23rd June 2006
With great reluctance we left our remote rural house in the hills and drove south through the winding roads of the 'de la Sierra Norte' and out onto the flat plains of Sevilla. Through the fields of sunflowers and orchards of oranges we drove, past the industrial sprawl of Sevilla and down the motorway, past Jerez and way down to Tarifa. This little town claims to be the most southerly point in Europe. In the centre is an old walled town with narrow, quiet streets full of bars and restaurants. Outside the walls an urban sprawl has grown and outside that hostels line the beach road. Tarifa is known as the wind surfing and kite surfing capital of Spain but could also be termed the windmill capital for the hilltops all around are smothered with them. We end our culinary tour of Spanish food with pizza and sangria at a little café just outside the walls.