Just carrying on from previous blog post...
Bubion is only about a mile from Capileira and it’s the village we’re most familiar with in this area as we stayed here for a couple of nights about ten years ago. Needless to say, we can’t find the house we stayed in even though so much else is familiar. A few walkers are setting off in little groups, wearing odd knitted hats, big clumpy boots and (perceived) expressions of superiority. They’ve all got sticks and weatherbeaten faces too. I’ve nothing against walking, we certainly do plenty of it, but there’s a certain ‘type’ of walker where being in a group appears to give off vibes of superiority, especially towards those who are sitting in a car.
‘Look at us’ I suspect they are thinking, ‘see how fit we are, how smug and comfortable in our presumption of longevity.’
Marigold points out the three at the back, two men with very red faces and a woman who looks as if she’d rather be sitting by the fire, eating biscuits yet are probably the most expensively equipped of the whole group, are puffing a fair bit and they’ve only walked a few hundred yards and are still on a firm, even surface. That’s another thing that annoys me: the competitive nature of the ‘leaders,’ making a point to the less accomplished members at the rear. As with cyclists where one, always the man, rides half a mile in front of his female partner, particularly on the hills, what’s the point? If I walk or cycle with Marigold, we stay together, we talk, we share the experience. Why can’t this ‘group’ stay together as a group? They’ve already fragmented and they’ve only been walking for ten minutes, at most. Walking ‘group,’ do me a favour.
‘You’re ranting, again,’ Marigold says as I grumble away. Yes, I know I am, but I have no problem with ‘walkers’ at all; wonderful exercise in the open air in the company of others, but I do wish it didn’t so often denigrate into a competitive display of showing off.
A social group, walking together as a united group, in the countryside, sharing the experience, I’d happily join that group. As would Marigold, although if there were too many hills she’d resent getting out of breath as it may mean talking would become difficult.
We don’t go down as far as the church (not because it’s too far to walk, but because I’m still hoping to stay in touch with the eagles) but move on instead, not very far, to another pretty village, neighbouring Pampaneira.
Pampaneira has hams, of course it does, but is also renowned for its chocolate.
It’s only a small village with narrow streets, but amongst these narrow alleys is Abuela Ili (Grandma Ili) which specialises in artisan chocolate. We bustle along, still very much aware of how ‘nippy’ it is out of the sun, only to find Grandma’s shop is closed. Cue much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
We console ourselves, well not really, by visiting the Fuente de San Antonio, (Saint Anthony’s Fountain), known locally as Chumpaneira, very popular amongst ‘unattached’ young men. The closest I can get to a translation of the inscription it bears is ‘it has such a magnitude that, a bachelor who drinks with the intention of marrying does not fail, because he has a girlfriend at once. You’ll see!’
Marigold points out a couple of local men sitting on a wall nearby. They’re tucking into a stercoraceous concoction with evident relish, presumably a shared breakfast on a paper plate placed between them. Like their meal the pair are quite spectacularly unattractive in appearance and their chances of finding a girlfriend are surely pretty remote, Marigold suggests.
She wonders if she should take a glass of water from the fountain over to them as it may improve their prospects. On second thoughts, she decides such an approach could be misconstrued and leaves them to their bachelor state. Even worse, they may ask her to share their meal.
We know what to expect when we get to Trevélez: hams and cold air. Trevélez is 1,476 metres – that’s just over 4,840 feet - above sea level, making it the highest permanent settlement in Spain, but this altitude makes it a pretty nippy place. The last time we were here was in summer and it was certainly not a teeshirt day on that occasion.
Hams are the first thing we see on entering the village, a fancy sort of delicatessen with numerous hanging hams. If the mountain air of the Alpujarras is ideal for drying hams, then Trevélez is ham drying perfection. The village is divided into three barrios: bajo, medio and alto. The lower section, Barrio Bajo, is the most tourist friendly out of the three with handicraft shops, bars and restaurants. We wander up to a restaurant with an inviting lunchtime menu, but inside is bedlam – the young lad behind the bar seems happy enough to have his rap music blaring out at distortion level, but nobody else is there to share the experience - while the plastic seats outside in the cold are hardly inviting.
There’s a ham museum, complete with a giant ham outside, further up the hill, but it’s closed. Of course it is. Back down in the square, we meet up with a couple of walkers, Brits, who are topping up their water bottles from one of the fountains.
‘It’s freezing,’ the man says to us, sipping from his bottle. He’s drinking what is almost certainly melted snow off the mountain, but still seems surprised. They tell us they got up at dawn and have walked all the way up from the valley. Impressive, but given the man is a) in his 60s, b) at least three stone overweight and c) has both knees heavily strapped perhaps a little foolhardy as well. His wife, Muriel, is small, very thin and looks as if a strong gust of wind would blow her over.
Marigold rolls her eyes as this brief exchange seems likely to develop into a lengthy exchange. The man seems intent on bloviating away, talking at us rather than to us, purely because we share a common language.
They may be perfectly nice people, but seem intent on chatting away for hours and I’m well aware Marigold would far rather be indoors out of the cold with food and drink in front of her.
The man, I’ve forgotten his name or deliberately blotted it from my memory, and Muriel stop talking for a moment while he tries to open a very narrow door on the assumption it is the entrance to a public toilet. Which it isn’t.
I point out to him that it doesn’t have a handle with which to open it, just a decorative knob. I don’t say, ‘you’d never get your belly through that door anyway,’ but I want to. He’s getting a bit cross, banging on the door and getting very red in the face. I notice he has eyes of different colours and whisper ‘heterochromia’ to Marigold at the exact same instant she whispers ‘David Bowie’ to me.
‘I see your David Bowie and raise you Benedict Cumberbatch,’ I hiss, relishing Marigold’s annoyance at not being able to think of another with this condition.
Hours later Marigold shouts out ‘Kiefer Sutherland’ and I look at her doubtfully, but if course when I check her ‘facts’ the next day, she is right. Kiefer Sutherland does indeed possess eyes of different colours.
By now Beryl has got her husband under control. ‘We’ve decided to walk to the summit of Mount Mulhacen,’ she announces, waving a bony talon up at the snow capped mountain high above the village. ‘Where does one find a map of the best routes?’
There is indeed a walk to the summit, starting from this village, and we know people who have done it. But, the round trip is a two day expedition not just a hike, it’s only recommended in ideal walking conditions, basically meaning in the summer months when the snow has melted, and the people we know who have done this climb all look a lot fitter than this pair of crocks. Who would carry that man back down the mountain if he twists an ankle? Certainly not Muriel.
‘There’s a tourist office over there with all the info,’ Marigold says, brightly, and they toddle off. He’s already limping and this is a paved village square, not a mountain.
I look quizzically at Marigold. ‘Well, there might be a tourist office over there,’ she says. ‘Why don’t we go and find a café?
So we do.
It’s not easy to find food here that doesn’t feature ham. I choose habas con jamón, which is simply broad beans and ham and Marigold picks an item off the menu about which neither of us have a clue as to what it is (she does this quite often) and when it arrives we still have no idea what’s in it. Apart from chunks of ham, obviously. It tastes good though and we munch our way through another couple of dishes happily enough. The local speciality is Plato Alpujarreno containing potatoes, peppers, egg and black pudding with very thinly sliced ham is delicious, and I’m not normally all that fond of black pudding.
This is rustic food, peasant food, of a kind these villagers have been eating for generations, but it hits the spot. We’ve enjoyed our few days up in the mountains very much. Would we come here again, in February?
Of course not.
‘Change of scenery?’ I say.
‘Will it be warmer?’
Marigold throws her top layer onto the back seat and gets into the car.
‘Drive,’ she says.
Valentines Day should involve warmth, in all respects, so we’re back on the coast soon enough and the difference in temperature is staggering. One or two degrees in the mountains, here it’s a tee shirt and shorts day. Not that I have shorts with me, but we remove layers as far as decency permits - must think of others - and we set off with a specific place in mind.
Roquetas del Mar is by the sea – there’s a bit of a clue in the name – but it’s mostly shops, plastic greenhouses and fruit and veg packing depots as far as the eye can see. We press on as there’s a wonderful beach area here for those with enough perseverance to find it. We’ve been before, so we know it’s here, but there’s a lot of Roquetas del Mar to get through on the way.
We’re late for lunch, Valentines Day or not, but meal times in Spain are a movable feast, literally, and everywhere along the promenade is open. There’s one beachfront restaurant advertising a Valentines Day lunch for 37.50 euros. It’s empty and judging by the waiters’ bored expressions has been empty all day.
We jump into the only spare seats at the place next door which is packed.
We’ve been here before and the waiter recognises us, always nice, and serves up a couple of tapas even before we order a drink which is even nicer.
We munch away and decide to stick with tapas. 1.50 euros each and big portions. We order another four (no, not four each) and share a lovely meal in the sunshine looking out at a blue sea and a cloudless sky.
Perfect Valentines Day lunch? Well, we think so, but we’re in a minority on this terrace. Every other group of diners here is having a ‘domestic.’ The Germans next to us – three couples - are all dressed up and have ordered huge amounts of food and several bottles of wine between them. They’re at each others’ throats – I blame the wine – with the respective couples only stopping their arguments to temporarily join forces in an attack on their ‘friends.’
Of course, we’re loving it. Our waiter comes to our table, winks at us and says ‘everybody happy here?’ We laugh with him and he dashes off as further along the terrace a chair is over turned and a fresh commotion breaks out.
‘Aren’t we a boring pair?’ Marigold whispers. No need to whisper really, it’s bedlam here. Even the ‘lookie-lookie men are turning back and avoiding the area.
It all settles down, eventually. The Germans next to us start singing, badly but very loudly, arm in arm, their differences now apparently forgotten and we decide we need to leave. Riotous alcohol fuelled argument is fine as a spectator sport, but alcohol fuelled singing is quite a different matter.
‘Time to go, Zebedee,’ says Marigold.