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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The new puppy bought me a goldfish she had fished out earlier, presumably as a welcome present.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They also have gleaming sunshine in tiny bottles of lemon or tomato-infused olive oil.
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.
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?
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.
There is always a large screen in cafes here. This one has silent rappers in caps making their secret sign-language.
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.
There are decorated eaves made of terracotta or white plaster, and the blind covers someone’s front door to minimise the heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just part of one of my days here in this beautiful place.
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.
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 protectedarea 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.