Spain for keeps?

Sun, blue skies and nature’s bounty!

So now,  off to settle in Spain, having concluded our eight months on Safari in southern Africa.  Ha ha…when is 8 months ever enough?!  Although we marvelled again at the vastness of Africa, breathed deeply as the evening air cooled and the sun sank in a golden shimmer below the western horizon, tensed with excitement as big cats stalked past – all the while relishing our good fortune – we started looking north again… contemplating a new, stranger, Spanish life.

Having made our decision based largely on the abundance of sunshine and space, it was mildly disappointing (and ironic, too) to land at Malaga in the rain.  Officially Malaga’s Costa del Sol Airport!  No hay problema!  A minor blip, no doubt, as the dependable Spanish summer awaited us…

Choosing a beautiful B&B an hour away from Malaga, in the hills near Alfarnatejo, as our first stop seemed like a great idea and was easily arranged on a laptop in another country, but actually finding it required a little more application… and some scary new driving experiences.  Navigating narrow mountain roads, while driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was hair-raising!  It was worth it, though…  Margarete’s house was gorgeous: mountain views, a gorgeous pool, a backdrop of rocky crags, the gentle tinkling of goat bells – and a hostess who has now become a friend.  A local venta (inn/pub) down the road and a little pueblo blanco (white village) up the road.  What with a local Gazpacho Fiesta, this life could get some serious hooks in! (Gazpacho: wholseome, fresh tomato soup).

Sun, pool and vista in Alfarnate, Malaga.

We met Enrique one night, down at the inn.  Bubbly, cheeky little terrier, but exceptionally hospitable.  As is Maria, his very able wife who makes delicious tapas and supplied us with an endless stream.  We weren’t always sure what we were ordering, but we never went hungry; we’ve loved discovering new food, and new ways of cooking old favourites.  Amazing how Enrique’s liqueurs improve Richard’s Spanish… so he claims, anyway.  We still go back to visit and laugh and get teased in Spanish!

Our next house was arranged for us by Angela, a lovely English woman with close to 20 years’ experience of living in Spain.  Our landlord is Miguel: a very hospitable, friendly Spaniard with a lovely young family and a wonderful sense of tradition and living off the land.  He has rare-breed Andalucian chickens, and plentiful fresh fruit and vegetables in his garden; a highlight was watching Miguel and his family crushing grapes to make wine in the traditional way.  We would stumble through conversations about local ferias (festivals), food, harvests, villages and his wine-making!  Miguel’s casa has been a tranquil home-base for our introductory few months in Spain.  Actually a traditional finca (small rustic country cottage), now modernised into a holiday cottage with a large outdoor living area and little pool for the blistering hot days in July and August.

Miguel’s family restaurant is down the road… serving good local food and ice cold beer and wine under the shade of a grapevine.  It’s a regular haunt for the old men and their competitive dominos: raucous domino rounds resound – possibly only equalled by the passion and intensity of the Spanish conversations.

mango

Aaah, the colour, aroma and flavour of fresh fruit straight off the tree!

 

8ª Fiesta de la Cabra Malagueña en Casabermeja. Local food produce in honourof the local goats!

8ª Fiesta de la Cabra Malagueña en Casabermeja. Local food produce in honour of the local goats!

Within weeks of our arrival we sat engaged in a confusing yet fascinating enterprise as we familiarised ourselves with Spanish bureaucracy.  Not a lot different to bureaucracy anywhere else; more of a Spanish flavour and clearly more stressful in a foreign language, but still the same nitpicking and prevarication that characterises dealing with officialdom in so many countries!  (In Spanish we think that would be “quisquilloso y prevaricacion” – but testing that out will have to wait for a bit more boldness on our part!)

As the summer temperatures rose we settled more into a Spanish rhythm: breakfast at about 10:00am, lunch at 2:00pm, a siesta to escape the intense heat of the day (with temperatures regularly reaching 40 degrees) and a late supper…  We’re seldom in bed before midnight.

House-hunting is our priority, so that’s been our main focus since early July… touring the countryside and exploring little villages.  Apart from knowing we wanted to be in Malaga province, in inland Andalucia, we didn’t have any fixed idea about location – which has made house-hunting both interesting and challenging!  We have our sights set on a particular type of house (which we have yet to find!) but we have seen some really beautiful places and, of course, some less than comfortable spots.  As you might imagine, matching what we read on paper to reality is sometimes virtually impossible.

Even out house-hunting, stopping at little country ventas and local cafes, the Spanish rhythm prevails (apart from the siesta, that is!)  We have found ourselves a wonderful estate agent.  Simone is a professional, honest, down-to-earth, straight talking, no nonsense Dutch lady who has settled in Spain.  Her local knowledge, sense of humour and facial expressions when she doesn’t like what she sees, have kept us entertained during many a long day visiting properties in the heat.  It helps, too, that she knows the best restaurants and where to find a superb sizzling Gambas Pil-pil (Spicy Prawns)!

Image courtesy of http://www.absoluteaxarquia.com

Image courtesy of http://www.absoluteaxarquia.com

We thoroughly enjoyed having friends visit during the summer – especially as it gave us an excuse to be tourists again…  Discovering the province of Malaga has been fascinating!  We’ve explored from the relatively quiet, protected beaches in a natural park north of Nerja, inland to Antequera and the fascinating karst rock formations of El Torcal, north to the sunflower fields of Cordoba, through Campillos by the flamingo lakes at Fuenta de Piedra, past Ardales and El Chorro to the embalses (or ‘Malaga Lakes’) and the amazing Caminito del Rey walk, across mountains to the historic town of Ronda, over the beautiful Sierra de las Nieves, and down to the busy and vibrant coastal strip of Marbella.  A huge arc encompassing a large chunk of Andalucia pivoting around Malaga and encircled by beautiful rocky sierras.

The sun-drenched plains south of Cordoba.

The sun-drenched plains south of Cordoba.

 

Olive groves, river valleys and sierras!

Olive groves, river valleys and sierras! Axarquia, Malaga.

 

Food of the Gods, or Godesses! Nature's bounty for eating as opposed to fermenting :-)

Food of the Gods, or Godesses! Nature’s bounty for eating as opposed to fermenting :-)

 

ronda

Ronda and the fascinating Punte Nuevo. New Bridge.

Two particularly picturesque areas we’ve most enjoyed have been El Torcal and the Caminito del Rey.  El Torcal is an endlessly fascinating mountainous landscape filled with an assortment of different limestone rock formations, constantly eroded by wind and rain…  If you arrive early and explore before the tourist hordes arrive, you may be privileged to see wild Spanish Ibex on the rocky cliffs – traversing seemingly impossible cliff faces!  Griffon vultures wait for the thermals and then soar overhead – often in groups of 20 or more.  Every turn in the path opens up new far-reaching vistas and the possibility of spotting more Ibex.  Just magnificent!

The captivating and riveting Karst landscape of El Torcal near Antequera!

The captivating and riveting Karst landscape of El Torcal near Antequera!

 

The curious inhabitants of El Torcal. Cabras Montes or Spanish Ibex.

The curious inhabitants of El Torcal. Cabras Montes or Spanish Ibex.

Equally magnificent is the Caminito del Ray walk, once known as the ‘most dangerous walk in Europe’, which links two of the Guadalhorce embalses (reservoirs).  You walk through a gorge along a vertiginous footpath attached to sheer rocky cliffs 100 metres or so above the ground. It’s awe-inspiring, breathtaking and occasionally dizzingly scary!  The juxtaposition of the ancient cliffs; the original old path (now worn and full of holes); the newly restored path that often straddles the old path; the train line with modern high speed trains that intermittently pass through tunnels in the mountains; the eagles and vultures that soar majestically overhead; and the constant stream of excited walkers is absolutely captivating.

The awesome Caminito del Rey. A river gorge walk suspended above canyons and bolted to cliff faces.!

The awesome Caminito del Rey. A river gorge walk suspended above canyons and bolted to cliff faces!

 

El Caminito del Rey

El Caminito del Rey – also visible by train!!

 

The new, safer, walkway above the old on El Caminito del Rey!

The new, safer, walkway above the old on El Caminito del Rey!

The hillsides are a patchwork of olive and almond trees, interspersed with splashes of colour from the oleander, the colourful garden flowers and the pretty bee-eaters migrating south.  The harvesting of almonds is happening now and the gentle thwacking of the branches to dislodge the nuts into nets below drifts to us through the cooler morning and evening air.  There is a definite feel of Autumn; although the sun is still hot and the skies a vibrant blue, the nights now cool quickly after sunset.  This is a continuation of our journey of discovery as we only know the very hot and sunny Spain.  The cooler, wetter winter months are ahead… but before that the mango, avocado, olive and citrus harvests will happen.  We wait, eagerly, for this time of abundance and also for the opportunity to learn more about the olive harvest, the pressing for oil and the preserving of the olive fruit.

summer

The colours of summer – especially the blue Malaga sky!

 

Olives ripening in the late summer sun.

Olives ripening in the late summer sun.

Late September and warm sunny days are a pleasant change to the achingly bright and hot summer months.  The nights are fresher as Autumn approaches.  We’re looking forward to seeing the impact the rain has on the parched environment, and to the changing colours of the different seasons…

We have loved our 3 months in Spain so far.  The people are wonderful – vibrant, effervescent and unfailingly hospitable and helpful.  It’s been interesting seeing how they have warmed to us when we’ve tried our halting Spanish; and in turn they are willing to try their English out on us.

Still we look for a house to buy…  Somewhere to maximise the sunshine, give us a view of the gorgeous sierras and night skies, and possibly provide for an orchard or olive grove of our own…  We want to surround ourselves with as many photogenic locations as possible. Karyn wants to hear the tinkling of goat bells in the distance; Richard wants a tree laden with ripe avocados; we both want to see eagles soar overhead.  Not too much to ask for!  We’re keen to put down roots somewhere, and, with a place of our own, to shape our futures – in whatever form emerges…

The Andalusian Bull, overlooking Casabarmeja.

An Osborne Bull (now an emblem more than it is an advert for sherry), overlooking Casabarmeja.

 

Sunset after a hot summer's day.

Sunset over the hills.

As Autumn arrives and the Orange trees are laden with brightly coloured fruit, the Olive trees are hanging heavy-boughed with plump olives, the Quinces and Kaki fruit are so brightly coloured as to be fluorescent! The flavour of fruit plucked ripe off a tree is unsurpassed! We are revelling in it! So here is the golden quince….

Quinces for "dulce de membrillo" - in all their golden glory and with the most wonderful floral scent filling the kitchen!

Quinces for “dulce de membrillo” – in all their golden glory and with the most wonderful floral scent filling the kitchen!

As always, thank you for your friendship, visits, support, updates and feedback which have entertained us during our Spanish transition!

Best wishes

Richard and Karyn.

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