Bank holiday in the desert

22. Feb, 2018

28thFebruary is Andalucia Day, a bank holiday throughout the province.  As this year it fell on a Tuesday it made for a long long weekend for the Spanish.  The influx started on the Friday, and on Saturday the campsite was organising an afternoon carnival and fancy dress party.  Best plan, we thought, would be to disappear for the day, go to Almeria, explore the castle and do some shopping.  On the way we would call at a caravan shop that we had found on the internet to get a replacement breakaway cable, which had broken away prematurely, and a replacement for our much missed whirligig washing line.  The website had shown a thriving business, selling new and used caravans and motor homes, parts and accessories, garden equipment, sheds and garages, swimming pools, you name it we can sell it.  When we eventually found it, having gone through the same police speed checkpoint three times, it was closed up and looked derelict.  So much for the Spanish Yellow pages, which listed the next nearest one as being in Seville, hundreds of miles away. Better luck in Murcia next week, we hope.

On to Almeria, a city of two halves, or maybe even three!  The tourist guide we had picked up at the campsite was so hard up for entries it even listed the railway station as being of architectural importance. Looked like any other station to me as we drove past.  We followed the signs to the centro historico and the streets got narrower and narrower, until we saw a P sign and decided to call it quits and park in a typically Spanish underground car park in the basement of an ancient office block.  

Setting out on foot we decided a coffee was needed before we faced the Alcazaba.  Narrow street after narrow street, past the cathedral square, more narrow streets, and we never saw a single shop, bar, restaurant or kiosk that looked as if it had been open at any time in the past 200 years.  The streets were dark and gloomy and scruffy. We followed the signs to the Alcazaba and eventually found it, still gagging for caffeine. We turned round and headed back through the city in another direction and came across Constitution Square, a delightful square lined with majestic offices, all of which seemed empty, apart from a small tourist information office.  Past a few more closed up cafes and eventually we found an open one, although why it was open I don’t know, as we were the only patrons.  So much for one half of the city.

Suitably refreshed, back to the Alcazaba, which in true European fashion was free to EU citizens.  Steep winding cobbles lead up through a series of gates to the palace gardens, laid out in quite modern fashion, but using the original Moorish waterworks.  Fountains and rivulets run down from the old cisterns, giving the whole area a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere.  Beyond the gardens are the walls of the original 10th Century palace, containing the remnants of Moorish bathhouses and courtyards, then the solid walls of the 15th Century fortress built by the Catholic Monarchs.  All very impressive and well worth the hike through the grim back streets to get there.  The views from the top were good, over the harbour (not so nice) across the bay to the Cabo de Gata to the south and east, while behind the views went up to the mountains. Strangely, in the valley immediately below the rear castle walls were pens of antelopes.  This is part of a project to bring endangered species from the Sahara to introduce them to the Cabo de Gata national park.  How long they will last before the Spanish start shooting them remains to be seen.

So the second half of the city was much more impressive.  But what about lunch? Not a sign of anything suitable so far.  Should we go back to the car and drive out of the city?  And if so, in which direction?  There must be more to Almeria than this, surely.  We retraced our steps to Constitution Square and set off in the other direction.  The streets were still narrow and closed feeling, but there were people around. Eventually we came across the third half of the city, the proper shopping and business area.  Through the centre goes a nice avenue, a bit like a down market Champs Elysees, lined with neatly trimmed trees, shops and pavement cafes. A beer and a sandwich later we felt able to face the supermarket.

Back at the campsite that evening the noise was beginning to build up, as Spanish families with permanent caravans on the site met up with the neighbours they might not have seen since last year, or maybe last night.  Young kids were running round the site and hanging round the toilet block, which has a central atrium and is an ideal place for them to congregate.  It is weekends like this where the young girls learn for themselves that vital part of growing up and becoming a true Spanish woman.   They learn how their voice must be louder than everyone else’s, and how to be able to listen to what someone else is saying whilst at the same time speaking, or shrieking, non stop themselves.  It was well after midnight before they retired to bed to catch their breath, which meant Sunday morning was reasonably peaceful and we were able to have a quiet day, punctuated by a walk down to the beach.

Monday was not officially a holiday, but it might as well have been.  Nobody seemed to go home or go back to work and many shops were still closed.  We took a trip to Las Negras, a lovely little fishing port some 10 miles up the coast.  We had visited here last time we were in the area and enjoyed a coffee on the beach, and a return visit was in order. The hills tumble down to the sea (quite literally some of the time) either side of the beach, which has fishing boats pulled up onto it and a little café perched on the wall at the back just like a Greek taverna.

On Andalucia day itself we headed south, back through the fields of plastic to the Cabo de Gata beach, then along to the Cabo itself.  The beach stretches for about ten miles from the Cabo almost to Almeria and is for the most part deserted.  Behind the beach are saltpans which have been used since Roman times, and which have a small population of flamingos. There are two small towns, or maybe large villages, which are a bit run down and decrepit, but the Cabo itself rises up at the end to a very impressive height, topped by a lighthouse, with jagged rocks below. 

Meanwhile back at the campsite a huge paella was being prepared.  I had toyed with the idea of joining in, but in the end was glad I didn't. Fancy dress was worn by many, noise levels were unbearable and they had a singer who must be the world’s worst and most tuneless artiste.  It was very difficult to recognise any song until it was at least half way through. Still, it was good to hear some traditional Spanish songs, like Green Green Grass of Home, My Way, Tie a Yellow Ribbon and Dancing Queen.  Of course Una Paloma Blanca did find its way into the repertoire.
 
Next day we set off with a picnic lunch to explore the hinterland. Once more it was back through the sea of plastic, this time to the old town of Nijar, which because it includes the whole of the Cabo de Gata region happens to be the largest municipality in Spain.  Set above the plain, the town has a commanding view across the plastic to the Cabo Park.  It must have been a truly beautiful spot once. 

The town itself is given over to the sale of the two local products, pottery and rugs, with many shops lining its main street.  I find it difficult to say Nijar (pronounce NeeeHaar) in anything other than the voice of a rodeo cowboy, which reminds me of an incident at work a few years ago which, in order to protect the innocent, I won’t go into now. 

After a coffee and a browse we took a narrow mountain road up to the village of Huebro.  Here there is a spring, which the Moors harnessed and used for irrigating the whole of the valley down from Hueblo to Nijar, which they laid out in terraces.   A true oasis in this desert area.  The views from our picnic spot were stupendous.  Then it was down to the coast again to the lovely little seaside resort of Agua Amarga, where we walked along the deserted beach then sat with a beer and the obligatory tapas.  This is one of the areas of Spain where a tapas is truly a tapas.  A small plate of food served with a drink absolutely free. Two beers, a slice of tortilla and a plate of roast potatoes and peppers for £2.  Beat that! 

Wednesday night at the campsite restaurant is bargain night, so we went down to have their set menu.  I had thick vegetable soup while Lesley opted for the chicken soup, then proper Spanish choice of roast Bacalao (salt cod) or roast Lomo (pork loin) served with roast potatoes cauliflower or broccoli, then a choice of a piece of fruit or a tart, which was the ubiquitous flan to be found in varying forms throughout Spain.  The price, €6 each, included bread and a glass of wine. Reasonable food and excellent value. And a bit more Spanish than the pie and chips at the last site! 

Today is our last day here so we have been reasonably quiet, but this afternoon we took a walk up behind the campsite to the Caldera de Majada Redonda, the centre of a long extinct volcano.  The geology of this area is very strange.  I do not know much about the subject, but my interpretation is this. Where in most places millions of years ago the sea bed was covered, shells and bones crushed and compressed to form limestone, here some sort of volcanic upheaval took place before that could happen.  The area was once covered in sand dunes. These were covered by the volcano and fossilised before they could compress into rock.  They have later become exposed to form the weird and wonderful shapes we see on the beaches.  Meanwhile the hinterland is covered with boulders of almost every different sort of rock and evidence of that huge eruption is all over the place.  The variety of rock has led to countless old mine workings, now long abandoned, where they found gold, silver, copper, lead.  Now the only mining done round here is for the new Red Gold, strawberries and tomatoes grown under plastic. And to answer a comment made on the last blog, strawberries in Spain taste like strawberries, even at this time of year.  It is just the tasteless ones they send to Tesco and Sainsbury.

 

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