Olocau – the last blog… but is it?

14 – 17 March 2018.

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A beautiful spot I came across when walking in the Sierra Calderona Natural Park.

It is Saturday: poor unsuspecting Spanish men are running and cycling in the vicinity and they are therefore besieged by the dogs! After 2 hours plus of careering out of the house in full-bark, I bribed them (the dogs that is) with biscuits and locked them up inside. More for me than for the populace really!

What prickly places I get myself into for a shot! I have the scars to prove it.

At 6. 30am I received message number one of many from G. (the owner of the house in which I am ‘sitting’) telling me about her car break-down on leaving France to return home, so maybe this will not be the last blog after all …

Perhaps if she knew what I did with her other car on Thursday night, she would be here sooner: Sue, G’s colleague, had kindly offered to take me in to Valencia for Las Fallas, a celebration of the coming of Spring. I drove to hers with the aid of Google maps (on the opposite side of the road, remember; in the dark; in a car which is so big for me I need two cushions to reach the peddles), and as usual I got lost.

One U-turn later, I was speeding along a cami (which is a smaller road which runs parallel to the main A-one) in the wrong direction, and, after stopping to ‘recentre’, I followed the instructions and took ‘a very sharp left’ – there was a diagram and everything. In fact I got out of the car to look before I did it as I seemed to be very close to a roundabout and … yes, there was a ridge with black and white chevrons painted on the edge of it, but for some reason I believed Google instead of my instinct. Why on earth? It was hard work, but I persevered. And then the car got wedged – I mean, really stuck: the two front wheels on one side of the bit you were not under any circumstances supposed to try and go over, and the two back on the other.

In retrospect, I do not have any excuses – it was simply stupidity. I got out of the driver’s seat and had a look, disbelieving; I got back in and tried to go forwards; I got out and had another look and then back in again and tried to go in the other direction; I wondered if I might be in danger of being crashed into so located the flashers pretty quickly; then I stood on the road a third time and looked at the vehicle.

Immediately a Citroën stopped and two couples got out. Not long afterwards, another sort of car did the same, and, to cut a rather long story short, one of the brilliant women thought of jamming stones under the front wheel and someone else moved the car and bit-by-bit it was freed. Meanwhile, I stood around and remembered the odd word of Spanish and not one person criticised me or shouted – they just helped. And later when Sue arrived it was just like in Edinburgh: she knew the wonder-woman who had ‘done the trick’, she had actually been her English teacher. Well, that is Spain for you – help coming out of my ears wherever I need it (if you get my drift). Oh, and the car is undamaged.

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I tried to feed Severus Snake his warmed up (previously frozen) mouse yesterday, but although he swayed his head around a bit, he would not take it. However, I did remove the poo from his cage, which is all that remains from last week’s meal.
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A stunning light display at Valencia Las Fallas Festival – the colours changed with the music. It went on for about 10 minutes. Fantastic.

We did not get into Valencia until about 11pm but it was worth it. Basically Las Fallas seems to be a festival of lights, fireworks, and Disney-style erections in every available plaza (square) designed and built by groups of local residents in a massive competition. Some of the women and girls dress up in national costume with flat circular plaits over their ears. I think the photos speak for themselves. While you look, imagine the loudest possible firecrackers going off unexpectedly behind your back while you run for your life. Perhaps my nerves were a little on edge.

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Some of the displays were unfinished and protected by fences.

On an altogether calmer note, I visited the San Vicente National Park near Llíria with it’s attractive chapel and fish/duck ponds. Here are some more images for you to feast your eyes on.

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The Ermita de San Vicente, 18th century.
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There are little sandy patches under the water where the spring bubbles up and huge carp.

This morning I sent in my latest book review and here I am quoting Thomas Traherne in his Centuries of Meditation, (a book I will certainly be reading later). He was a mid-17th century thinker who said that the Hobbesian world view of a material and mechanistic life was likely to make humans feel depressed, afraid and cut off from the cosmos (p. 198 of The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans). I am a firm believer that we all need a well-rounded and vast life, one which contains joy and ecstasy, and adventure as well as peace and quiet. That is why I set off to Spain in the first place in Autumn 2016. Never looked back!

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I trained as a dancer between 1981-85 at The Laban Centre which was then part of Goldsmith’s College, University of London. I was extremely unhappy a lot of the time and it was really hard, but even now I am glad for the part where we were taught to listen to the rhythm of the body. Walking is a pleasure for me, and when I pace I can hear the melody of my movements, not because I am any more balletic than any other, but because I learned that skill and it is a conduit for mindfulness. Being aware of each step, the quality of the flow and the balance, brings me into the moment and allows me to stop focusing on the past or future.

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Dainty blossom: now sprinkled in the puddles by the wind.

Then I can make observations: thyme’s little purple flowers between the stones, and the weird, fluffy and speckled seed heads draw my attention; the volcano-shaped anthill are all a-busy; the heather is clad in its girl colours; and, as my sense of smell returns, the pine, the dogs’ breath.

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An Oleander seed pod.
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Not sure if you can see the ants.
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Beautiful reflections.

It is a funny thing, fitness, you only know it is improving if you measure it: a hill which was a struggle on day one is easier now. With the full backpack (which is supposed to be 10% of one’s bodyweight), I find myself leaping up little boulders and breaking into small runs; taking it at a fair lick; the dogs and I overtaking each other; and my ankles, thighs and centre feeling a lot stronger which gives me confidence for the upcoming Camino.

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Macabre.

Like all Shiatsu practitioners I know, once the terrible afflictions have passed my clients simply forget and it is only when I ask them, ‘So how’s your..? that they remember and reply’ Oh, that, I have not thought about that since I last saw you!’ You see, it is the same thing – if one is in the moment, life just is the way that it is.

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Euphorbia – spectacular Spring green.

Parque Parochial San Vicente website

Olocau near Valencia, Spain.

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.

Olocau, Spain Mother’s Day weekend

10 / 11 March 2018

Fonteta Melxor (fountain)

Thanks to the honest shop assistant in Curry’s in Edinburgh where I went to buy a tablet so I had larger keys than my mobile to type with, I am writing this using my new Bluetooth portable keyboard. At less than a tenth of the price, it weighs 197.3g and folds up into a 4×6 inch slim size so is ideal for my rucksack. I have also finally found the brain space to think to download a photo resizing app. I hope my daughters are proud of my technological abilities when forced to manage alone. It is all down to their patient teaching throughout childhood!

After 24 hours without adult conversation (I am lucky that I never seem to get lonely) I slept well and my wrist, which I thought I had broken when I slipped on the bathroom floor the night before last, was considerably better.

Violets for my mum on Mother’s Day.

I therefore reinstated my morning meditation, stretching, porridge and Duolingo routine which of course makes things better. It does seem a little incongruous to be breakfasting on oats and lunching on veg and chickpea soup as at home, but it suits my digestion and is good prep for the upcoming walking.

Louis asleep in Sophie’s kennel. Sophie chews everything if she’s left inside at night.

I thought I had lost the snake and panicked. Luckily I discovered him hanging from the roof bar of his glass case. As yet no poo to clear despite it being 3 days since his weekly rat.

A venerable olive.

A group of T’s friends, 12 year olds in trunks and trainers, caught me typing away in my knickers (it was hot!). I tried out my Spanish by way of explanation that he was not here, but they stayed anyway, all turning somersaults on the trampoline at the same time. They helped themselves to the pool, towels, water and other toys until I had had enough of their boisterousness. They are obviously used to being welcomed.

Gleaming grasses bent in the wind.

Saturday’s walk was a bit of a disaster. I tried to visit Llopps, the ancient ruins on the top of the hill nearby, but it is reached by way of a small road. I discovered that the puppy has probably never been on a lead before so she was none too happy with me insisting and we had to return to the house. Not before the three of them had raced up someone else’s drive and the owner had shouted and cursed at me.

Butter wouldn’t melt!

There was a spectacular storm with sonorous thunder and torrential rain which certainly put paid to my asparagus picking plans and left deep orange puddles everywhere.

After the storm 1.
After the storm 2.

Saturday night was film night as a result: It turns out that I have already seen ‘Today’s Special’ before about a sous-chef who aspires to greater things but needs to embrace his native culture in order to bring them about. I enjoyed this quote in which Samir explains why he is still in New York: ‘I had some plans that changed.’ The wise old ‘magical’ character replies: ‘I had a million and one plans that changed. Even the ones that worked out didn’t work out the way I had planned.’

Usually the river bed is completely dry but today there was some moisture.

On Sunday, my kind friends Emma and Eduardo took me once again to find asparagus for the tortillas. This time we got right up into the mountains (approximately 50km from Valencia), driving around the S-bends of the treacherous CV-25, through Old Marines (where I once found myself mistakenly after 4 hours of walking in 30 degrees heat), and then Gátova with its elegant church tower, until we branched left past the Roman Bridge to the picturesque Fuente de la Alameda. With simple space for picnics, I recommend this day-trip.

Gátova through the wet window.

We wandered between the stepped slopes, almonds trees dressed like Cinderella going to the ball, and olives looking dashing in their own immature silver-green garb. However, the changeable weather – brilliant blue skies interspersed with showers – revealed that the season is still too young at this altitude, and the trip was aborted.

Driving through this landscape, it is as if Paulozzi’s giants have come to life and hurtled rocks at each other, leaving them strewn randomly. It was nice to listen to the constant gentle Spanish in the front of the car – this couple seemed to have so much to say to each other.

Prickly pears starting to errupt on the sides of the quilted cactus pads.

Later I trekked around familiar and new ground with my canine companions for a couple of hours, admiring the wild flowers and feeling my legs getting stronger.

I enjoyed my tortilla later. Thanks to G’s healthy free-range chickens, this is the true colour of my feast.

Olocau, Spain – March 2018

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The ranch style property I am looking after.

This trip I am going to try to blog daily or every 2 days and see what it is like, so it will be in real time for my friends and relations. It also means I will not have lots of writing to do on my return. Let me see what the difference is doing it this way and if I keep it up!

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Setting off on my walk.

8 / 9 March 2018

I arrived into the familiar velvet Spanish air and exhaled deeply. It is possible that Spain might have been my home in another life because I think if you had flown me here blindfolded and then put me out of the plane I would have recognised that sensation.

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Spanish garden plant: a succulent in full flower in March.

My phone was out of battery like many of my air bnb guests when they arrive in Edinburgh, but I was pretty sure I’d find a charging point easily at Valencia airport and I did. It was on the front surface of a broken bar and the Señora asked me if I wanted anything and accepted when I said no. This was quite a contrast to the Ryanair hostess who would only give me hot water if I paid for it!

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Vegetable plot with the Sierra Calderona in the background covered in trees.

In fact I was so hungry that I did have a decaff mini cup in a while – black with sugar, something I never do at home – and it hit the spot as I looked to see if my hostess had left me a message.

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Almond blossom with a few nuts from last season.

Georgie happily met me soon afterwards which allowed us to start to catch up on news since I visited to house-sit in July 2017. Lots has happened since then, so we sat up until midnight over the vino rojo and delicious Spanish/Thai curry she had prepared for us.

I slept well, amazed at how tired this virus was making me, but my chest was clearing the more I rested (KD supports LU of course in Chinese Medicine), and my eyeballs were not quite as sore when I moved them. This illness has an emotional cause which has given me quite a shock – I am not sure I have ever had one like it but it is definitely a sign that I am now letting go and moving on.

I woke to the chickens clearing their throats outside my window, and the sun was shining on the surrounding Sierra Calderona.

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Taken with the zoom so a bit blurry.
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Severus Snake.

Later G took me round and updated me on the house and menagerie before she left me in charge of the house. She showed me how to feed Severus Snake: ugh! Not easy to watch or contemplate doing myself, given I am a vegetarian and it involves a rat as food.

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Sophie, the 7 month old puppy.

The new puppy bought me a goldfish she had fished out earlier, presumably as a welcome present.

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My daily walk was for strengthening (preparation for the camino in 10 days time), to try out my new trousers, and reacquaint myself with the gorgeous area where I am house-sitting.

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I have visited here in December and July, but this is a different landscape again.

Previous Olocau blog 1 and 2.

What a wonderful place this is! At ground level there is some green grass (all was of course dry in July 2017) with violets, clear water, and jumpy insects which look like little logs for the second they are still.

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Spring water for irrigation and dogs to bathe in.

At eye level flutter cabbage whites and flies with whirring wings. There is straggly rosemary with lilac flowers, scratchy silver bushes left over from last year, and egg-yolk yellow broom (see photo above).

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The first half of the walk along Les Macollades (a route with ancient olive trees and irrigation channels for the vegetable and fruit plots) was amidst almond blossom orchards and orange groves. I picked up two windfalls and juiced them when I got back to boost my immune system – delicious.

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Almond blossom.
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Orange groves.

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Towering above me were the rosy hued crags, some of their tops softened by trees in full leaf, and some jagged and sharply pointing heaven-wards. I taught myself this landscape last year to avoid more calamities of the getting lost variety, and thankfully my Body Mind remembered it well. This time the dogs were perfectly behaved – maybe Pollo and Louis recognised me too.

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Sophie, Pollo and Louis – my companionable charges.

I met only one person: a gentleman in a cloth cap with an axe under his arm. When he bade me good afternoon, he revealed a toothless smile.

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The majestic Sierra Calderona Natural Park.

Spain, Olocau 2

Living in Olocau for a few weeks: July 2017

I flew from Edinburgh at lunch time without any incidents, and had time to spare in Stanstead where I have never seen so many people in short shorts in such a small place!

My plane was arriving in Alicante at 9.30pm and I needed to be in Valencia by the morning. I had researched many different ways to make the transfer, and as previous readers of my blog will know, I have had adventures with Bla Bla Car in the past, so I went with that option. However, this time it backfired: the driver cancelled a few minutes before boarding for Spain and that left me without any way to make the journey that night as the final bus between the cities leaves at 9.30pm.

I remembered how people have turned up to help me when I have had challenges before, so when I was in my seat before take-off I asked the woman, Ana, in the next chair if she could check my Spanish translation, and she was a honey! As we were delayed on the runway (yes, Ryanair), she was invaluable in helping me search and book an Air bnb,  as well as an early morning bus, so by the time I was in the air I had plans. Then we had time for stories of family and travel, cake decorating, and common kindness. The sun set like an inside out blood orange.

Of course arriving in Spain in July, even in the late evening is a hot thing to do. But I managed the bus into town smoothly (2 euros 70) and made the journey on foot to Pilar’s. Oh, to exist was to be covered in a smooth, thick, sheen of sweat! 

I had not brushed up on my Spanish before leaving as I meant to, and so was rather pleased to hear myself finding accessible vocabulary which I thought I had forgotten. Pilar and I swapped walking stories and tales of a knee which won’t allow her to climb. I managed about 5 hours sleep.

Walking through dark Alicante at 4am I marveled at the ink black sky and waning moon. Bored Guardia Civil were on their phones, and divers back packers on the edge of the pavement or draped over rucksacks with black eye masks. Me? this time I had a suitcase and smaller rucksack so I did not belong to that itinerant group.

I managed to dissuade a random man from linking up with me, and on the bus Spanish radio voices rattled away, and girls made excited phone calls as I drifted in and out of sleep. I was so tired that a stiff neck and hips did not deter me.

And in no time at all there was Valencia, its sun rising in pastel colours of baby blue and pink with old gold at the edges and it was already 25 degrees at 7am. I had been warned!

And so I arrived in Olocau, and the market was in full swing as we drove through the village (see previous blog).

The first thing I noticed was the wonderful aroma of lemony pine.  I was welcomed by the dogs Pollo (chicken in Spanish) and Louis who were to be my companions for the next three weeks. 

First I had free range eggs from their chickens for breakfast, and later I was  shown how to feed and care for them. 

There was sort of surround sound, a constant zzzzz, that might be mistaken for electricity but was of course cicadas.

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Inside there was the sound of trickling water from the goldfish tank, outside the swimming pool jets, and occasional renting of the peace by the dogs’ warning barks. 

Actually there was plenty of quiet between it all for my meditation, and although in the Sierra Calderona at this time of day the sun was around and above, in the valley was a very green cool. 

Above the house and village are grand cliffs and I half expected the heads of American presidents to morph out of them.

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My first proper walk was wonderful for the first 3 hours, but then I became aware that the sun was still on my right (it was about 10.30am) and that therefore I was heading north. I should have curved around and started to head for home before this, so I must have missed the path. Eventually I discovered I was in Antigua Marines. The scale of the map was too small for me to find paths through the mountains, and the only way google showed me home was by road. That was when I discovered that the dogs were not traffic savvy and I could not control them. In the end I hit upon phoning Sue, a woman I had not even met yet, to be collected in the car. What a disaster!

Other walks I made during the following week were frequently in 30 degrees, with warm golden evening light, and I got lost a lot: I came across a fountain that way (photo at top of page); I admired the goats which were multi-coloured with twisted horns, bells tinkling, and ear tags – they were nervous of me but not of the dogs; and the magnificent variety of greens.

Today I removed a tiny bloated frog from the bottom of the pool, yesterday more than one whopping great spider, and the day before a courageous hedgehog. I do not know how long he had been there, and I know hedgehogs love to swim (so it says on the internet anyway), but then I saw him going under and so I hoiked him out with the dustpan which I had been using to clear the patio. He just stayed put on the grass for ages, breathing but not even hiding his snout. Eventually I wrapped him in a towel, put him in a box and placed the box in the flower bed. I thought he might be starving if he had been in the pool for hours (or even all night). An internet site suggested he might like scrambled eggs and green beans, but by the time they had cooked and cooled he had left.

Spain: Olocau

15th July – today. 30 or so minutes outside Valencia surrounded by the Sierra Calderona hills.

Just over 6 months after my first visit, I am lucky enough to return to house sit for Georgie, Phil and family.

The cafe on this Saturday morning is full of noise and colour. Like trees full of tropical birds, flocks of male cyclists are in vibrant lycra, one making ear-piercing whistles to attract his friend’s attention. They are stocking up on coffee before hurtling through the Sierra on their bikes.

Young boys learning to be their fathers, pose on smaller cycles in neon orange T-shirts and bright yellow shorts further up the streets.

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The attractive pink stone of the Casa de la Señoria, Olocau.

Older women in black tops and floaty-hemmed skirts pad to market in sandals, clutching a purse, and returning with a white carrier bag, baguette poking out of the top. Some wear pinnies over their polka dots. These casual clothes are in contrast to the black elegance of last night’s singers, accessorised as they were with white pearls and corsages. I recognise the matriarch who wore a see-through chemise for the concert. She has replaced it with a practical jumpsuit.

A delegation of men and women errupt onto the street dressed also in black, and also with neon orange, this time over their shoulders and with Proteccion Civil Naquera, Proteccio Civil Valencia or Olocau on the back, depending on whether it is written in Castilian or Valenciana I presume. Trousers tucked into boots, they delicately suspend their cigarettes between fore and middle fingers, and traipse back and forth between cashpoint, cafe and bakery. I thought they might be traffic wardens as I have seen similar groups in Edinburgh when they start their rounds at 8am, but no, they are trainee lay people, a force to assist the police in their official duties. They carry only walkie-talkies around their waists, not guns. Both male and female saunter, hips leading at a very relaxed pace – perhaps they are taught to walk like that.

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The market is in the square opposite the church. My eye is immediately drawn to the eco- stall and I bought some seaweed flakes to sprinkle on my salad.

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They also have gleaming sunshine in tiny bottles of lemon or tomato-infused olive oil.

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Amongst other things, you can see cartons of almond drink (Orxata, say orchata) and peanut juice (terra xufa, say chufa).

The stall holder sells Portobello mushrooms so I tell him I live near there, in Edinburgh. This information seems to please him: in English he regales how he has never been to Scotland but, with a smile on his face, that he will visit when he grows up, when he has more experience! (I am guessing he is around 60 years old.) He says he was in love with Chrissie Hynde (the lead singer and founder member of the Pretenders, who lived in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh), and thought Simple Minds were great. Later, when I was queueing at the place opposite, he came over and played me their music on his phone. I find the Spanish delightful.

There are two fruit and veg stands: one presided over by a woman in thin denim who keeps a close eye on who is next, gives me a soft yellow plum to try, then takes one herself and laughs as the juice escapes down her smock.

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A quieter man serves at the other one. He gives me a handful of cherries, and I buy potatoes, almonds, and a fig for a treat.

The patroness of the patisserie / panaderia (cake and bread shop) struggles to understand my Spanish as I foolishly attempt to ask if the bread has anything extra in it, like olives, because it resembles that sort of loaf in the UK. Why do I try such things?

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Hooray, there were three sorts of ’empanadas’ without meat, inlcuding spinach!

Although I only arrived 2 days ago, I am greeted by fellow choir members from last night’s performance – some with kisses on each cheek, others with ‘Que tal?’ (how are you?), or ‘buen dia’ (literally, good day). Everyone is so friendly to me.

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Red, pink and white geraniums stand tall by the bank (open today).

There is always a large screen in cafes here. This one has silent rappers in caps making their secret sign-language.

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The cafe where I spent the best part of the morning with my notebook. Coffee turned to fizzy water (con gas), thence to a beer, but sadly no tapas, although locals beside me were given them.

Palm trees line the main street, edged mostly with older properties in pale yellow and whitewash, though some are more modern. Pavements and cobbled streets look well kept, apparently mended during the recession as the ‘ayuntamiento’, (town council) attempted to keep men in work. The village is clean and smart with ornate balconies, bulging at the bottom, and matching window bars at street level.

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The white fluttering banner to the left advertises the Saturday evening concerts, weekly throughout July.

There are decorated eaves made of terracotta or white plaster, and the blind covers someone’s front door to minimise the heat.

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As the church bell sounds, I look up and see that the roof tiles are made up of columns and rows of arcs like endless ‘mmmms’. If I listen, I fancy I can hear humming from choirs of ages past.

Cliffs provide a craggy backdrop to the north end: strata of pale pink rock interspersed with the sort of plants that obviously do not need much soil (see the church picture above). To the south are softer tree-covered slopes. There is no doubt that Olocau is right in the middle of this popular natural park.

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The southern slopes are behind the traditional style houses at the end of the main street.

A woman lifts her skirts to point out the mosquito bites to her friend, who responds by showing hers.

There is a burst of Barry White which must contravene all laws concerning sound levels, followed by a cascade of Spanish I cannot understand. This is repeated – in case I did not get it the first time?

The Spanish tongue rolls and bubbles, like waves at the beaches edge. Words I recognise punctuate: ‘claro’ (stress the aah in the middle, means absolutely), ‘genial’ (say henial, lovely). Luckily they have expressive eyes and often gesture dramatically, which might be for my benefit or for the fun of it, I am not sure. Where I fail to communicate my English sense of humour to the French, the Spaniards seems to share it. With naughty smiles, their voices pick up speed and timbre as they chuckle wickedly together over village stories.

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Old-fashioned street lamps and cactus growing over the edge of the balconies, with a more modern flat in the background.

Fans are constantly a-flutter. Sue (my rescuer) tells me that the houses are cool in summer, here in the tight streets where the sun does not shine on them, so the women find it hot when they come outside.

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When I ordered a decaff coffee the night before last, it came black in a tiny weeny cup, so today I asked for ‘un cafe grande con leche’ (a large one with milk) and look, it was no bigger than a British tea cup!

The Valencians take pride in their music, offering free classical concerts in Olocau, really a small community, every Saturday night through July. Not just that, it also boasts a music school of its own which prepares kids for the Conservatoire, a choir and a band. Emma, the talented and lively singing leader, tells me that nearby Lliria is famous for its wind players, and we thoroughly enjoy the evening concert. A quintet consisting of flute, oboe, horn, clarinet and bassoon, enchants us with Mozart, a medley by Bizet, plus the more unusual Muczinsky and a Piazolla I had not heard before, to end with. In the middle of the Rossini the town church just over the wall struck midnight, but it did not deter them.

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The stage on which I stood the previous night as part of the village choir is ready for the professional musicians.
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The audience at the interval. It was actually slightly cool at 11.45pm for once.

Just part of one of my days here in this beautiful place.

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Links:

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This is the banner above the eco food stall described in this blog, but I cannot find this company on the internet. Maybe someone out there knows?

Olocau Tourist Information at the Casa de la Senoria  http://comunitatvalenciana.com/viaje/olocau/oficina-turismo/tourist-info-olocau

Susan’s air bnb comes highly recommended https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2518994?location=Olocau%2C%20Spain&check_in=2017-06-01&check_out=2017-07-01&s=5V8FQfC-

http://www.horchatamagazine.com/

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Olocau and Sierra Calderona: Part 2, Spain

Olocau, 12-14.12.16. Part 2

We walk in and out of the village taking Theo to school, picking our way over the stepping stones across two streams. I am so hot and sweaty, despite it being so late in the year, that I change into shorts and vest top with sunglasses when we get back. The golden dogs appreciate the shade.

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We eat delicious oranges that lie under the tree as we walk. At the local bar we are served bitter local olives, quick-cooked sardines, and peanuts in their shells which they grow in the garden – all free tapas with our beers.

The house sits on the edge of this protected area of natural beauty and the daily T’ai Chi is in the shadow of this marvellous scenery.  My host helps me plan the next day’s walking on his GPS which is invaluable once I get used to it.

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Duration: 8 hours. I went slowly to eke out the wonderfulness.

‘Walking: it (silence) hits you at first like an immense breathing in the ears. You feel the silence as if it  were a great fresh wind’. p.59 A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros.

Of course it is not silent really. If it is not birds; insects; leaves hushing, it is my brain’s noticings and internal conversations.

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As on the Caminos, it’s not unusual to find small cairns or piles of stones in significant places. 

There’s the smell of pine, and it’s a very cold 5 degrees as I start. The only sounds are the very high-pitched, fine bird song; the buzzing of insects; tutting of grasshoppers; and wind in the trees. Later there’s a period of hunters shooting, which seems to go on and on. When I am out of the sun, the cold air penetrates my clothes and hair.

Number of others I encounter: A pair of cyclists who I hear before I see them. Then they pass me and it’s only the birds again. There are only two walkers who happen along when I am lost and help me back onto the right track. My luck hasn’t run out.

As I climb, the Valencian plain comes into view, and I look down the rocky slopes to the mountains, so far in the distance that my phone camera can’t pick them up very well.

I walk along a smooth, wide, red-clay track which changes after a couple of hours to brown, yellow and sometimes gold. I am struck how different the colours are from Northern Spain. All around me are trees and shrubs of grey-silver, yellow-green, spring-green, brown, and a whitish pink.

It is really quiet. Twice I hear a noise which makes me turn, and it’s a red admiral butterfly’s wings moving – truly. I imagine this is how the wilderness might feel. I change into my shorts when it gets too hot and feel like a boy exploring exciting lands when I should be in school.

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Great big boulders blocking the path. 

I think there might have been recent rock falls, perhaps in the torrential rain I missed last week, because the path was all but blocked with giant boulders at times. I found myself clambering up to the summit, the Pico, on my hands and feet. There’s a little ‘altar’ at the top with a visitors’ book in which I write. I add a small white shell from the beach in Finnistere, which I have in my pocket.

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And then it was worse coming down, dangerous, and I often slipped and fell. Later as I rested, I heard rocks falling and saw movement of the undergrowth on the opposite slope. There was a wild boar, a large, heavy, dark animal which I had been often told about – so exciting!

Afterwards I visited the village for a welcome beer and wandered around. A beautiful church, an interestingly decorated house (with Charlie Chaplin),  and an alternative zebra / pedestrian crossing, all caught my eye.

I extended my stay an extra day to have one last wonderful walk in the tranquility, and thank my hosts Georgie and Phil for their generous hospitality. I hope the Shiatsu and other help I gave around the house conveyed my gratitude.