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Published: August 30th 2009
Motorhome New from Europe 13.
Spain January 2005
A touch of frost - and we’re chasing great bustards again.
After a few weeks at home for Christmas, it was good to be getting on the plane again to pick up Smiley once more at Almeria on Spains’ arid south coast. Ron and Todd were delighted to see us of course and especially pleased to be let out of the cupboard.
We’ve been back around ten days now, and we are looking forward to a holiday in Mallorca later in the month. We’ll leave the motorhome in Valencia, pack a bag and catch the ferry.
It was going to take a while to break back into a routine of walking in bright sunshine, exploring new beaches and living in each other’s pockets again, but we started as we intended to go on; with a day to the west of Almeria looking for new birds and enjoying a typical Spanish lunch at a local’s bar in the mountains. It was the 7th of January and yesterday was Epiphany, a public holiday here and the day that all good children get their Christmas presents. The whole of Spain
Our Lady of Almeria
...carried along the beach shoulder high.
had taken an extra days holiday and making a long weekend of it - and most of them were there in the bar enjoying themselves!
Despite the warmth of the mid-day sun, the mornings and evenings are quite cold here in the desert. We have electricity connected overnight and our heater works pretty well, giving us a snug little home, despite a considerable variance in temperature throughout the day. I noticed our German neighbour sitting outside in the cold reading a book at 9am yesterday.
‘What are you doing out there in the cold at this time of day?” I asked. “The sun’s not up yet.”
“I’m waiting for it,” he replied, quickly.
The site was quite full on our return. Many more Brits arrived over Christmas and I guess that there are probably equal numbers of Brits and Germans here now. They had 1 ½ cm of rain here a few days after we left in December and some of the long timers with awnings full of gear were flooded out. We are told this is more rain than they expect in a whole year! There were fewer birds on the lagoon alongside the camp as the
storm-water broke through the sand shelf to the sea and I guess it’s now too brackish for some of them. Out at sea, we spotted a raft of razorbills and several Mediterranean shearwaters; and water rail in the reeds.
Four miles down the beach is the growing town of Retamar. On the first Sunday following Epiphany they celebrate the event by bringing a heavy silver figure of Our Lady of Almeria carried shoulder high by a dozen strong men behind the local band and into the tiny circular church on the beach. About 20,000 turned out for this occasion, to set up their family barbecues, prance about on their horses and generally enjoy themselves. A few even sat through a 2 ½ hour service on the beach amongst the funfair and market stalls. Most of them will have left their litter for the wind to blow into the sea. It was quite a spectacle, topped by a very professional display of Flamenco dancing - and all for free!
Monday was our last day to savour the beauty of the volcanic landscape before heading north and we decided to return to San Jose for a walk, this
a Troglodyte village built into the hillside
time southwards close to the coast towards the sun over rocky scree, brown, red and grey, treading the thyme and lavender sending wafts of perfume into the warm air. It was another fine day, circles of thin cloud brushed the bright blue sky and a pair of the elusive trumpeter finches pecked at the scrub a few feet away - our first ever sighting of this elusive bird. We can go now.
The route north took us through ‘cowboy country’ once again, to the north of the snow capped Sierra Nevada (Snowy Mountains), en route to Cazorla, across the high plains. The almond trees are not yet in flower and we’re quite sad about that - it has to be something to behold. There will surely be other opportunities as we go north. We stopped for a while in the high town of Guadex to see the hundreds of troglodyte houses carved into the hillsides surrounding this plains town with its bold sandstone castle and cathedral. Narrow circular chimneys poke their heads through the mountainside, the sweet smell of wood-smoke rising into the pastel blue sky. Gone now are the Arab flat roofs. Here in the town, they are
A touch of frost!
in the morning sun
grey/beige, pan-tiled and gabled.
The road from here climbs through arid desert, now some 120 km from Almeria, and before long we were driving through dry river beds lined with bamboo and fields of poplar and olive. We were back in Griffon vulture country now, circling above us, waiting for us to run out of diesel! At Pozo Alcon further north there was snow on the road and the facing hills and here we returned to the mountains at 3-5,000 feet. It was going to get cold, very - very cold. Ben Nevis stands at 4,800 ft and there’s an awful lot of snow up there in January! Here we saw wild boar and three beautiful fallow deer in the valley below us near Cazorla, though we weren’t lucky enough to find ibex which roam hereabouts. By morning, our gas and water had frozen and the waste tap was solid. No problem for us old stagers!
We planned a long drive for Thursday, north from Coto Rios beyond the reservoir, shimmering and steaming in the early morning sun and on up to Alcaraz. This is a fabulously beautiful area, the steep sided mountains tree-lined to the
...and all for free!
very top with pine and oak. We are so pleased not to have missed it. They are harvesting the olives now, casting their nets and whacking the branches with long sticks. It’s going to be a long harvest. There are a lot olive trees across the whole of Spain!
We have experienced many rapid changes of scenery in our time in Spain, but none more than that at Puerto del Barrancazo where the steep winding narrow road cuts its way through the sharp sided hills swathed in pine, green and bright in the sun. Suddenly, at the top, the trees vanish - completely, to open out on to a broad plain, stark white and rocky, barren except for a few roughly cultivated fields. There, perched on top of a pile of rocks, sat a little owl; the first we had seen on this trip. We were to see five more the next day and had even more delights to behold.
A slow drive brought us to Penacosa just outside Alcaraz the following morning. There was ice everywhere on the roads - and we were looking out across the plains for great bustards once again. After 4 hours
Great Bustards - at last!
OK, they're a long way away, but the proof is in the pudding (or is it picture?)
of hunting, criss-crossing wide open fields, now turning pastel green as new crops take life, we saw them. Seventeen of them in a group set against the brick red of the farrowed field. Wow! We have seen great bustard before; in Queensland, but never in Europe. These proud Prairie turkeys stand about 3ft tall and have a wingspan of more than 6ft. They hold their grey heads erect, their brown chests puffed out and their tails held straight behind or fanned like a domestic turkey.
We spent a night on the town car park in Alcala del Jucar, a tiny town of tiny white houses built up the sheer side of a limestone crevasse, carved like a great scar some 200ft deep in the middle of the plain. A sandstone castle sits proudly on the crest defying invaders and a tall square towered church uniting the townsfolk rises from the river at the bottom. We watched a hundred or more choughs swoop to roost in the tower, calling and diving with their wings folded back like falcons as the sun fell below the skyline. We had planned to stay at the local campsite, but it was closed
for the winter contrary to the advice in the book. We wouldn’t have missed this lovely village for the world.
Saturday saw us heading for Alicante in thick fog to go to the salt-pans along the coast for some birding, but a phone call to friends John and Anne Swain who have a home a little further south at Pilar de la Horadada, changed all that. We were invited to lunch and arrived at around 3pm as arranged to discover that they thought we would be arriving tomorrow! (‘send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance’). All turned out well of course. It was lovely to see them. We had a great time, the sun shone on our short walk to the beach, we were well fed, and after a few too many glasses of wine, we went to bed in Smiley, parked just outside on the road.
Birding here in Spain is usually pretty good. We try to be armed with all of the books and guides which increases our chances of success. Two Ospreys spotted over the pans at Santa Pola just to the south of Alicante made our day, hundreds of Flamingos
At the festival It's as much a carnival as a religious celebration.
of course, Shelduck, 17 Herons, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper; and lots of others! Continuing north, we dropped down off the motorway into Benidorm just to say that we’ve seen it. OK, there are hundreds of towering apartments and hotels, but apart from the obvious Brits walking about with their white legs and Essex gold medallions, it’s a bit like Torbay really, with lots of winter sunshine and certainly less tatty than Great Yarmouth. You wouldn’t want to admit that you had been there for a holiday though, would you?
North of here the shop signs are in Spanish, German and English in that order. Here, the villas are gently spaced around the bays and smart restaurants abound. Our campsite at Punta de Moraira just north of Alicante was outstanding. Undoubtedly one of the best we have experienced so far. Tomorrow, Monday, we plan to head slowly up to Valencia and have a day poking our noses in and around the museums and art galleries. It’s been a while since we ventured into a town of any size. We really do prefer the wild open spaces - and we have certainly found our share of those!
Love to all
Todd - and Ron
In case you were still wondering who Ron was. (..our new family member from the visitor centre at RONda
David and Janice
The Grey Haired Nomads
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