Category Archives: Tourist Attractions

Walking to Zahara de la Sierra

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I love the sweeping backroads. The craggy peaks and pine forests of the sierra are just above, but there’s something smooth, calming and minimal about this Cádiz landscape that never fails to lift the spirits, whatever the weather (which on this day was around 35 degrees hence the heavy sky). Even the graffiti is beautiful (I’m sorry, I love you). It’s a good road walk – during the first 1.5hrs I saw just two cars, but there are endless opportunities for following trails and rivers along the flanks of the sierra.

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People come here from all over the world to watch birds; I can do it from my bed. Yes, now I have moved in, yet not fully resolved the window situation, I can watch swallows swooping overhead from dawn. Without wishing to be anthropomorphic, I’d say their mood appears to be deeply indignant, after all, they were here first. I know this only too well having, having waited with great patience until each egg in each of the seven nests had hatched, and the chicks had grown and flown off, first around the room, and then then out of the big hole in the wall created by Ivan. At this point I had removed the nests – and the subsequent mud ball attempts at rebuilds, along with a lot of bird shit – with faint disgust, a heavy heart and a deep sense of guilt. (I wondered perhaps whether I could manage without the use of an upstairs floor, but was persuaded this was both impractical and excessively extravagant).

The nests in the chimney are also providing an ample opportunity for birdwatching. There is a lot of action at the top, and from time to time the muffled cheeping from deep in the recesses is replaced by an ear-splitting shrill, urgent, and ultimately mournful noise from just above the metal plate in the living room fireplace. A few days ago, a plucky yellow-beaked gorrión – house sparrow – squeezed through a small gap and dropped into the hearth from where it blinked at me balefully. I decided the best course of action would be to put it in a shoebox on top of the scaffolding in the hope that a parent might spot it and feed it. But nature can be cruel. I had to go out to buy silicon, screws, and timber, and on the way back, knocked a hole in the sump, and had to abandon the car and hitch a ride home via a bar. By then, the sun had moved round and, as a friend who climbed up to look put it, the bird did not look well at all.
When the next one fell through, I stuffed him back up the chimney, then felt so bad I spent four hours lying in the soot coaxing him towards the gap and got him out again. This bird was nice and feisty, drank some water off my finger. I put him in the shoebox with some soft straw, and the box was taken up to the roof and put on a ledge just inside the chimney. All I know is that a couple of days later there was nothing in the box.
A third bird was taken on the precarious journey across the shifting roof tiles to the chimney ledge and promptly flew away. I found a fourth, gulping up at me from inside my shoe just as I was about to shove my foot in.

For me, this is the most entertaining form of birdwatching but the area has the highest concentration of raptors in Europe and people also arrive throughout the year to squint up at them. Four species of eagle breed here, including large numbers of Bonelli’s eagles, and many more birds of prey migrate through. It’s a rare day I don’t stop and watch a kestrel or hawk riding the thermals. Giant griffon vultures cast shadows the size of planes, and nights are filled with the sound of wind ruffling feathers and low, soft woohoo-whoos of many owls. I am used to flashy tropical birds and aside from these few mentioned I only recognise the choughs, and the wood pigeons which perch making on telegraph lines making the sounds of an English country churchyard in the pine forest.


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Bad Bones in Ronda


Ronda is two distinct towns: the old bit and the older bit. They are divided by the Puente Nuevo – the ‘new’ bridge – which is in fact, old. The bridge spans the gorge which featured prominently in the Civil War and, quite rightly, attracts a lot of visitors. Mainly though, when we make the 40 minute drive to this historic epicentre it is to visit the dentist, ITV (MOT) the car, to search for spare parts (oven / bike / scanner / printer), replace watch straps, upgrade mobiles, buy flipflops and unsweetened yoghurt in SuperSol . . . and other tedious stuff. It’s always a race against time before the lunchtime lock-down (from which SuperSol is exempt).

Now most visits include a visit to the Fisio Terapia centre, making Ronda not only a place where boring things happen, but a place where painful things happen too. A combination of excess incoming work and a haphazard chair-desk set up turned my shoulder into string and concrete. The harder they pummel it, the more gnarly it gets. I have illustrated this – how things are (left), how I believe they should be (right).

Last time I lay wincing and battered under an ice pack with needles in my ears listening to crocodiles of tourists shuffling up the sunny street beyond the window learning about this church and that church, it occurred to me that I’m not really getting the best out of my days out in Ronda. Next time I’m going over to the other side, to spend the day people-watching in the plazas, drinking cold beer and buying trinkets with bulls on like everyone else.


Cadiz Countryside

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I live close to dramatic peaks, Roman cities and the translucent coast but I like the rolling pantano and have my favourite hills, trees, roads and slopes. These less dramatic landscapes are more beautiful to me, cheer me more.
Winter in rural Cádiz is not a hardship in retrospect, but the reward is warm earth, the too bright green pushing through, clear skies and the constant sounds of bleating and bells of sheep and goats.

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So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

This is the last post of many from the Costa Rican jungle. You can read them all – albeit in reverse order – by choosing SOMEWHERE HOT from the menu (just as you can vicariously enjoy the entire USA ROAD TRIP). For everyone who got in touch and liked along the way – thank you.

It’s time to leave Costa Rica behind. This, for inexplicable reasons, has been where most of the drama in my life has taken place, from the best to the worst: the birth of my son, the loss of my partner, the death of my ma; and perhaps it’s the hope of travelling back that keeps bringing me here, looking. and hanging around.

Although the physical, earthy country in itself is enough of a magnet; a real land of the lotos-eaters, with plenty of foreigners who came for a week thirty years ago and never left, lounging around to prove it.  It’s a pungent, pulsing place with a visceral heat, walls of warm rain, and colours so rich the rest of the world seems drained. Here in the Osa, there is something left of the simplicity and innocence and belief in another greater world, the powers that be, that used to be part of the national psyche. I have often watched Ino the baker watching hummingbirds build their nests; the girls from the hotel watching the sunset;  Wilmer watching the rain;  William and Carmen watching the sea, and enjoyed seeing  the pleasure they have from being where they are – and felt it myself.

Of course I leave my old friend Fitz (and several boxes for him to ship once there is an address to ship to), but there are many things I’ll take with me – not just damp shoes, a collection of feathers, and my notes, but mental images of blue skies and bright birds I’ll file away and bring out on grey days.

I’m signing out with this from Douglas Adams.  I know there are a lot of dolphins just off the shore, and I know they are intelligent. I often stand on the sand and look out there puzzling over what on earth they are all doing. Walking along the beach in the early mornings, I have always  found things the sea has thrown out for me, although never a bowl and a message.

The deep roar of the ocean.

The break of waves on farther shores than thought can find.

The silent thunders of the deep.

And from among it, voices calling, and yet not voices, humming trillings, wordlings, and half-articulated songs of thought.

Greetings, waves of greetings, sliding back down into the inarticulate, words breaking together.  A crash of sorrow on the shores of Earth.

Waves of joy on — where? A world indescribably found, indescribably arrived at, indescribably wet, a song of water.

A fugue of voices now, clamoring explanations, of a disaster unavertable, a world to be destroyed, a surge of helplessness, a spasm of despair, a dying fall, again the break of words.

And then the fling of hope, the finding of a shadow Earth in the implications of enfolded time, submerged dimensions, the pull of parallels, the deep pull, the spin of will, the hurl and split of it, the fight. A new Earth pulled into replacement, the dolphins gone.

Then stunningly a single voice, quite clear.

“This bowl was brought to you by the Campaign to Save the Humans. We bid you farewell.”

And then the sound of long, heavy, perfectly grey bodies rolling away into an unknown fathomless deep, quietly giggling.

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.

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What to Pack

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What to pack for many months in Costa Rica on a tropical beach backed by jungle, miles from anywhere? Day shorts, evening shorts, a wide selection of repellent, trousers, long-sleeved shirt, and trusty rubber boots (although they are best bought locally from the kind of shop that also sells seed, aluminium pots, and rope).  I would also recommend swimwear, underwear, long books and a torch. I have many hats, but I don’t often wear one – I don’t stand around in the sun much either.

How little you need is on my mind as I’m packing up ready to move on.  My damp and mouldering possessions are on the floor and on the bed, but not as yet in the heavyweight plastic bin liners that constitute elegant luggage round these parts. Obviously I have laptop, hard drives, leads, adaptors, tripod and camera equipment, as well as an enormous pile of books on pods and Central American history, but I also have silver sandals, a chiffon shirt, a long dress.

The things I haven’t used look at me balefully – not just the still un-transcribed interview tapes, but running shoes and empty Moleskin notebooks, and, particularly, a beautiful, untouched, set of watercolour paints and brushes, a gift from my ma, and the coloured pencils and artist’s pad, from my son. What expectations did I have for my life here? What good things did my family expect of me? These things, unused, are quite a torment. What an extravagant gesture this has been.

People say that possessions possess us; that we are encumbered by what we own. I have abandoned a lot, but now what I have left I’d like to keep.  I’m not sure I have roots, but I have some things that hold memories, and others that represent dreams. I need to find my somewheresville, put everything in it and paint some pictures.  Of course first I have to get everything onto a boat.

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