12/13 March 2018

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Olocau – looking down in the evening sun I see stainless steel pools and whitewashed Piccasso cubes of village.

I am house-sitting for G. outside a village in the Sierra Calderona Natural Park, approximately 40 kilometres from Valencia, on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain. The family love animals and each time I visit there are more additions to the collection: to date, three dogs; 5 remarkably plump and be-feathered chickens; copious fish (their murky golden forms almost hidden from view) in the deep pail, and a snake.

G. was a bridesmaid with my eldest daughter, then about 3 years old, at my sister, C’s, wedding. G, C and I all went to the same school in Kent, England, though I am the elder.

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One day’s offerings from the chickens.

The last two days contained more strong rain, but also temperatures of 18 plus degrees, so the aim of boosting my Vitamin D levels after a Scottish winter will realise that, and the virus I came with is all but disappeared leaving only the vestiges of a phlegmy cough and occasional shortness of breath.

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The Iberian blue sky – see why I like coming back here!

In fact, regular readers of Walking Without a Donkey will recognise that I am almost back on form when I note that during yesterday’s walk ‘I heard the silence’ again. That is to say, I heard the wind soughing and my own tread hollow. Hollow but sometimes with an accompanying rattle as stones dislodge,  and other times with a pine-needle crunch. What I guess I mean is,  I remembered to listen to the external environment not just the chatterings inside my own skull.

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Silver grey olive trees contrasting with the mountains’ green.

Yes, the rushes were faintly shushing; the birds gently twittering, and the dogs panting as they ran between the frothy almond trees in the late sunshine.

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Gorgeous evening shadows showing off the dogs in their best light.

I carried my full rucksack for the two evening hours, to see if I could manage. I will be walking approximately 25 kms per day for the 30 or so days I am planning to finish the Via de la Plata camino, and I will also have some food and an extra water bottle, so this was hardly representative, but doing it uphill, at the end of the day when I was tireder, and while I was still not 100% healthy would, I reckoned, give me an idea. It turned out to be most useful, sending me back with a check-list for the future and the mildly asthmatic sensation whilst unpleasant, prompted me to keep looking after myself to get properly well for the main focus of my trip.

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Cairns mark the right path. I add my own choice of stones as I was taught on the Scottish hillsides.

Living with the dogs is an adventure: the puppy is a very active guard-dog and two nights have been disturbed by her growling and barking. It actually makes me more nervous of being away from other people rather than less, but I expect it is wild animals roaming their sweet nocturnal ways amongst the brush and nothing to worry about.

Every day the things Sophie has stolen from around the homestead get more and more chewed up, and I find little pieces of them scattered around – the black plastic filter from G’s former pond; an almond from the bowl on the kitchen worktop which has taken her three days to get into; that trowel that may not ever be useful again!

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Louis, the arthritic overweight dog – he is the most excited when I am getting ready to take them out, bless him!

Probably G. does not lie on the terrace that much because the dogs are a bloody nuisance when I try to meditate or do yoga. They are monstrously affectionate, especially by pressing their noses and tongues into my hands while I attempt to be still. I am sorry to admit this, but I realise I am not really a dog person, I like my cat better, because being licked by them is just not my idea of love.

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El Puntal des Llops (say yops) with its divers signs and billboards, many in incomprehensible Valenciana.

The next day’s mini-trek was backpack-free and I found my way, without trying,  to El Puntal des Llops, a Roman settlement dating from 5-11th century BC which thwarted trip I had attempted a few days earlier. Louis and I took it gingerly on the steep approach (from the back), whereas Sophie went up and down at least four different ways in the time it took us!

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From the top I could see the city of Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea! There was the backdrop of various Sierras in tones of grey against the blue heat-haze. And, closer to home, the orange escarpments; roads like the soft fabric carpet my brother had for his toy cars, the one with hyphenated road markings; the differently-shaped trees, some pointed, some broccoli-shaped; and shadows thrown by clouds the exact shape of my two daughters’ sister-tattoos.

If you want a day-trip from Valencian busyness, hire a car and park at the bottom. Then take your time to wander up this easy (though stony) path because the site is free and open all hours, and even if Roman walls do not turn you on, the view is ‘to die for’.

On your way down you can look out for the rock detail which this landscape offers: tiny thread creases like my skin after a lotion-free day in the sun; or the face of that elderly man, presumably Himalayan, they kept incongruously showing in the film Mountain; like bricks which have been scored but never sandwiched. See the striations of muted colours: orange brown and pink, and be careful as you put a hand out to steady yourself – it could be a brittle paper-dry pine trunk or a hair’s breadth of cheese-cutting wiry green grass.

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At any moment you might be touching deadly sharp bamboo shards or the soft curlicues of what we call ornamental grasses.

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A stalk with a bulging bud. You can almost guess the flower will be orange from the tone of green.

I can hear today’s book in my head inspiring me as I tramp: Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss is not just a wealth of punctuation information which I am hoping will have rubbed off on me as I come to write, but is artfully written and its humour made me laugh out loud three times!

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Everyday a new flower has erupted. Today sprays of delicate white petals with a precise black line down the centre of each, though my camera cannot capture its beauty.

It is getting dark when I make my way home and although I have not seen a soul for two days, I several times think there is a man to my right. When I turn to look closely he has been turned into a tree. This is the landscape wherein fairy tales and bible stories were invented – bushes which could be burning with the word of God at every corner; abandoned houses where witches lie waiting for gingerbread children. Perhaps it is the silence combined gunshots ricocheting around or simply my own fervent imagination!

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Even these leaves remind me of Hans Christian Anderson illustrations – sorcerer hands with long bony fingers which reach out to touch the unsuspecting on the shoulder.

Olocau Tourist Information website.

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