Friday, 31 October 2014

Ascent to Istan

Having spent a good deal of yesterday and this morning cleaning the house and preparing for the arrival of Fr Hywel tomorrow evening, I felt it was time for one last outing with a camera. So, I drove down the N-340 to Marbella, then turned inland to ascend to the hill village of Istan, which stands at 600m at the top of a valley in the biosphere park of the Sierra de las Nieves, about 15km above the conurbation. For about 8km below the village the steep sided valley has been transformed by a dam into a huge lake, providing a major water supply for the region. 

Vehicle access to the lake is officially restricted but large numbers of people visit for family outings, or else for bird watching. Without a guide, to help find a proper parking place, and avoid getting lost on the multitude of forest trails in the surrounding environment, I decided to give the nature walk a miss on this occasion, and drove all the way up  to the beautifully maintained village, perched on a high ridge, overshadowed by gaunt grey peaks of 2,500m. Forestry, horticulture and now eco-tourism have enabled this place to thrive and even grow in recent decades, so there are plenty of new buildings in the traditional Andalusian 'white village' style, that blend in nicely. You can see my photos here.

On my first stay in Fuengirola, I drove along the high road from Coin to Marbella to discover Monda, and the remotely located Refugio de Juanar with its spectacular views out across the sea from 900m. I noticed there a walker's trail signpost showing Istan as the next destination, 10km away. That's stayed on my to-do list ever since, but there's been no opportunity of company to share it with with. Very glad to have seen Istan, however.

Well, there's been a modest amount of Hallowe'en hype in the shops, even our local Granier pasteleria had a few fake cobwebs hung over its wall lights. So incongruous in such a bright clean eaterie. There were no kids out in the dark trick or treating, that I noticed in our urbanizacion however, and yes there are a few families living in the neighbourhood, or visiting at weekends with young children. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

El Faro Playa

I celebrated the midweek Eucharist and chatted with people at the Coffe Morning afterwards for the last time this morning. An unusually large number of people came, many of them returning visitors, so the place buzzed with lively chatter. I wonder if last weekend's flower festival might also have motivated some to make a return visit. By way of contrast, the number for the Eucharist only half a dozen, having been ten for several weeks running.

I has some work to do for CBS after lunch, then late afternoon drove to El Faro Playa to meet Bill for a drink and a chat, only the beach restaurant was closed. I arrived early to walk on the beach with a camera in hand, as this promotory and neighbouring beaches is renowned as a landing point for birds on the migration path. 
The beach was empty of humans, with the occasional pigeon and a just a family of Turnstones browsing on the foreshore. Their colouration is close to that of the sand, so that they are not easy to spot at first, let alone take a decent photograph. They seem unconcerned by close human contact. I was no more than ten metres away when I took this picture.
General Torrijos, who attempted a coup d'etat to overthrow a cruel and unpopular king in 1831, landed with a small band of followers at this place to start a short lived campaign that ended with his death. There's a commemorative plaque close to a stream running into the sea across the beach here.
This would be a pleasant beach to hang out on, if it weren't for the close proximity of the N-340 highway just above and behind where I took this photo from. Traffic noise, both day and night is a constant feature of life along such an urbanised coastal strip. Yet, it's still amazingly rich in bird and other wildlife, though it's not often apparent when I'm out and about with a camera.
I met up with Bill at the appointed hour and we went instead to a restaurant in El Faro urbanizacion further inland, mercifully well away from traffic noise, quiet enough to relax and talk.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Back street surprise

This morning I walked to the open air market on the recinto feriale, using a backstreet route, slightly shorter, for a change. I'd driven but not walked this way before, and at a slower pace, discovered a small park tucked away behind the houses. El Parque Pulgarcito, is its name. It means Tom Thumb Park. As well as childrens' swings and climbing frames, it is home to a charming bronze sculpture of the little man sitting on top of a pile of books.
The uppermost edge of the park is bounded by the garden wall of an exotic looking building in the Andalusian moorish style, clad in coloured mosaic. It resembles a mosque with its dome topped by a crescent moon. It's grand mansion of a local businessman with a painting and decorating company.
It's a truly remarkable sight, set in a quiet back street. The house is called 'Alhambra' and was built in 1993. I particularly like the mosaic covered pavilion in its courtyard, for dining al fresco.
For once I'd come out without a camera, as I was on a mission to find myself a new pair of sandals in the market, which I did, at two thirds of the price I paid for a very similar pair this time last year, just before I left for my first spell of duty in Colsta del Sol East Chaplaincy. Anyway, I returned later in the day to take the above photographs, during my afternoon paseo down to the beach. The sun was by that time fairly low in the sky, and I arrived in the vicinity of the harbour mouth in time to watch half a dozen or more fishing vessels depart, escorted by hosts of expectant seagulls.

I couldn't help noticing, when I returned to Calle Virgen del Carmen, that during the late afternoon the task of pruning the algorrobo (carob) trees along the avenue was at last complete, and all the cuttings taken away. It's taken eight days, and the end nearest the house was most in need of a trim. All summer, new grown branches had bent right over into the roadway and footpath, posing a minor hazard for walkers and motorists alike. These were the last to be removed, defying common sense. 

A dozen or so dead tree trunks, lining the motorway embankment edge were also uprooted and cut up, during the week, leaving just the handful of trees that flourished in place. 
They'd all evidently been planted when the motorway was driven through this part of town, perhaps ten-fifteen years ago, to help disperse road noise. If they weren't grown from saplings but transplanted fully grown, soil drainage at the embankment edge may have left them with insufficient water to thrive long term. The townscape is less forbidding without the dead trees. Road noise will remain a problem perpetually.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Post Cordoba reflections

Sunday morning, Bible Sunday, was my last visit to Calahonda to celebrate the Eucharist. Having gone to bed early, to optimise the advantage of the clocks going back an hour, I woke up well before the alarm, and even left the house twenty minutes early. Once I'd parked the car outside the church I realised that I had enough time to take a stroll down to the sea shore. It means crossing the N340 road bridge and heading through a street with a series of beach front exclusive residences, until I found a narrow lane alongside a stream which took me down to the water's edge. I was rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of a yellow wagtail, and a view of the sun over the waters, a little higher than usual at this time of morning. 

After a moment of quiet and a little Chi Gung exercise on the sand, I returned to the church, and entered at the usual time, to get ready for the service with a congregation of just over thirty. After taking my leave of those unlikely to come to next Sunday's 'bring 'n share' lunch at St Andrews, I drove back to Los Boliches where there was a congregation of forty five surrounded by the flower festival exhibits from the previous two days, still looking good. It was a successful venture, attracting around seventy visitors and receiving nearly four hundred euros in donations.

Apart from food shopping, and a brief visit to the church office in the afternoon the only thing I did all day was write up the Cordoba trip, which involved researching historical detail I'd deliberately avoided looking up before I went. As with other sacred sites in Spain, if not across Europe, a Roman temple site had been built over in the fifth century by Christians, in this case Visigothic invaders from Germany, then taken over by muslims, then re-taken by Christians. Such sites were strategic places in the power politics of each age, and religion a major dimension of this. But what of now?

Cordoba's mosque/cathedral is a UN World Heritage Site, in a European Community country, a venue for international tourism, a manifestation of 20th century globalisation of culture and its consumption. World trade has become an accepted if sometimes contentious feature of human existence. The work of the United Nations and all its specialised agencies, just like the European Community can be regarded as an interim step on a long agonising journey towards unified world governance. This goal is resisted by many who remain stuck with their ethnocentric political and economic self interest. If globalising impulses really did bring peace, prosperity, justice and security to all earth's citizens, it would signal an evolutionary step change for humankind. As long as the world remains so deeply divided between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, however, such reconciling enterprises are no more than glimpses of a distant utopia beyond reach.

I wonder if threats to places and things accorded World Heritage status from climate change, pollution, environmental damage, population explosion, or war will be enough of an extra stimulus to world citizens to make a difference in the challenge facing this generation to deal with so many critical issues facing our future?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Cordoba visit

I took the Cercania train to the Maria Zambrano Station this morning to travel on the 11.05 AVE high speed train to Cordoba. It was a lovely experience. The carriages are spacious, the seats comfortable, and I had a window place in both directions, though taking photographs at 120mph was a challenge. Once the train has gone through the mountains up behind the Guadalhorce Valley, it travels across a wide gently rolling plain, fringed with distant hills. Now it's autumn, the arable crops are harvested and this exposes different colours of soil, dark red, black, yellow, chalky white, along a train route which also overlooks citrous and olive groves as far as the eye can see, and only the occasional white village adorning an escarpment. It's a reminder of how big Spain is and how dispersed its settlements.

Cordoba station is a modern building, such as befits the new era of rail trasportation on the main line from Malaga to Madrid. Connections can be made here to travel to west Sevilla, and north east to Barcelona. This is where I'll have to change trains next Monday for my seven hour journey to Vinaros, on the TALGO Mediterraneo. So, I checked out the platform change required, so that I can mentlly rehearse the journey in the week ahead. 

The walk down to the mediaeval town centre took me down an avenue with a wide strip of park and garden in between the roadways took me half an hour. The western section of the ancient town wall and gateways survives, and encloses an area of narrow rambling streets full of bars, restaurants and tourist shops, crowded with visitors. I made my way directly to the Cathedral, former mosque, which has attracted UN World Heritge status for its unque beauty and architecture. The huge courtyard is dominated by a huge high bell tower now hung with church bells, built around the core that was once the mosque minaret.
 There was a 120 yard queue of people waiting to enter, having paid eight euros first for the privelege at a courtyard ticket booth. I only waited 10-15 minutes to get in, and there was lots to photograph meanwhile. There were hundreds of people from all over the world inside, some in organised groups with a guide, families, couples, individuals, most with cameras like me, taking pictures.
The building started its life in the late fifth century as church of the Visigoths, Germanic colonisers of Spain after the fall of the Roman Empire, who adhered initially to Arian Christianity, but hereabouts converted to the orthodox Latin Christianity. The first church, dedicated to St Vincent was built on the site of a Roman temple of Janus. After the muslim conquest of Spain, the building was shared between them, then replaced and extended, reaching its present dimensions in 987, at 180 x 13 metres it is one of the largest islamic prayer halls ever built in the world. Following the fall of the city to Christian forces in 1236, the mosque was converted for use as a church with the addition of several chapels. In 1523, the central section of the mosque was gutted. A renaissance choir and sanctuary was raised to give it the full dignity of a cathedral for the diocese of Cordoba, an architectural imposition commented upon unfavourably at the time.
The simple beauty of the islamic prayer hall with its nineteen naves, each 130 metres long, is impressive. It uses many high value kinds of stone in its columns, and similar designs of arch construction from different periods of expansion with characteristic chequered arches, made of red brick and white limestone. Many costly kinds of stone are used in the supporting columns. Some of them were originally part of the temple of Janus.
On this first visit, I didn't delve into the building's history. I wanted to form an impression of the whole. I took many pictures and watched the crowds of people ebb and flow for an hour of walking around. 1.5 million visitors a year, they reckon, not counting people who come here to worship. In the south east corner chapel, a wedding was going on. It's still an active diocesan place of worship out of visitor hours.. How that's managed in reality is hard to imagine. There are dozens of chapels set into the walls of the building, and some altars in some of the naves. When, if ever they are used, is an open question. I couldn't find a Sacrament chapel - too many places to look. Nor a place to light a candle. The highly ornate south facing mihrab, focal point of muslim prayer, is impressive and seems to invite those who gather before it to gaze quietly.
In many ways, the extensive aisles of columns and hosts of visitors milling around reminded me of an unusual palace, a house of culture rather than a place of worship sacred to two faiths. There were several areas where historical artifacts were displayed in museum cabinets, and one nave on the east side contained a contemporary guide to prominent saints, related to their statues, in a kind of secular catechesis. 

The only shared focuses of activity, taking photos and consuming great historic culture, are both quite subjective in their way. Visitors were subdued, well behaved enough for the security guards to have little to do. Apart from its extraordinary beauty and general quietness, there was no much of what I would regard as a numinous or spiritual atmosphere to the place. Perhaps it's different when it's largely empty, or during a time of worship, than introduces a common focus and intent to the place, fulfilling its purpose. The most visible concession to modernity is the presence of TV screens in the vicinity of the renaissance choir and sanctuary, each discreetly covered with a red dust cover. Does being able to see what's going on at the altar make that much difference.

Afterwards, I walked down to the edge of the old town, where the Guadalquivir river flows, and made my way along its promenade to the place where there's a river bridge from Roman times, with a fortified tower at the far side and a triumphal arch from Renaissance times on the town side, next to a modern Visitor Centre that preserves sections of the old Roman town walls beneath it. Just one street away are the southern and western walls of the mosque. 
I then made my way through side streets into the 'Judia', the Jewish quarter, made famous by the lives and teachings of Jewish phlosophers Mamionides and Averroes. There's a small fourteenth century synagogue here. Under muslim rule there was a place, a strictly regulated place, for Christians and Jews to live alongside. After the reconquista of 1492, the Jews were expelled and the synagogue was turned into a chapel. Thankfully this building is now under the care of the ajuntamiento and has been restored. 
It's decorated with fine patterns and Hebrew scripture quotations carved out of stone. Some of it has suffered the ravages of time, though not all, and the collective mind applied as been able to make all texts identifiable for the benfit of those who visit now. I found this small cube of a simply room, empty of all furnishings save for its carved walls, breathed spiritual atmosphere. I stood and said the 'shemah' (in English) to honour the centuries of gifted thinkers and workers in a community whose origins may be hidden in pre-Christian Jewish disapora.

Across the street from the synagogue is a house which has been converted into a museum of Sephardi Judaism, that rich uniquely Spanish cultural expression of Hebrew religion. I didn't have enough time to take the guided tour, with my train timetable in mind, but chatted with the guide for a few moments before leaving. There was a lovely hospitable spirit about this place, and as I stepped out into the street I found myself moved to tears, touched by something deep down that I was hardly conscious of. What it is I don't know, but here I felt more like a pilgrim than I did in the holiest shrine of the kingdom of al-Andalus.
On my walk back to the station I discovered a huge nineteenth century greenhouse type building of iron and glass in the park garden between the road carriageways. The Mercado Victoria seems to have been some kind of public meeting place in times past, but has been renovated and converted into a market place of small bars and gourmet restaurants celebrating Andalusian food, a very classy undertaking. Not enough time to stop and partake. I was even to busy absorbing the enviornment to stop for lunch, only a beer, at a place with a live guitarist entertaining open air diners.
The train journeys went smoothly, and a was back at home by seven, pondering on all I'd seen and reviewing the photos taken, juggling with two cameras to see which would perform best in the unusual lighting conditions prevailing inside the mosque cathedral. A memorable day. I'm determined to return for longer next time. More photos of the day are to be found here

Friday, 24 October 2014

Flower Festival at St Andrew's Los Boliches

This morning I took Communion to 95 year old Peachy at her apartment in Torreblanca, she is reasonably well, though her mobility is poor nowadays. She's always welcoming appreciative, and good humoured despite her frailty. I'm not sure she remembers who I am, but that doesn't matter. For her it's enough to have a visit from a priest, bringing her the sacrament reading familiar texts, some remembered, others half remembered from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

When I arrived to collect the home Communion kit Church Administrator Linda was putting the final touches to the sixteen flower displays which make up the first St Andrew's 'Fiesta de Flores', each with a biblical and/or liturgical theme. The church looks lovely. The challenge is to get people to come and visit, today and tomorrow. I returned after taking Communion out, and stayed for several hours, chatting to the couple of dozen people who dropped in to take a look. Several church members from the different congregations came along to act as stewards and serve refreshments, making it a good occasion to work together on hospitality as well as creating an artistic installation together. Here are some photos I took of exhibits, just before opening time.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The mystery of Alhaurin's tower

I left the house early to return to the Post Office with my little parcel. When the counter clerk read the registration form she asked if the phone parcel contained a battery, which I said it did. Then she told me it was unacceptable. The explanation was unintelligible regardless of whether it was in English or Spanish. The language difficulty was conceptual. It was about how she interpreted the regulation. Did it specify 'Battery in the parcel' or 'Battery inserted in phone'? I had been advised to pack phone and battery separately and had done this. I bought another jiffy bag, and opened the parcel, showed the clerk that it was separately packed, and got the standard clerical frown until I separated the battery and re-packed phone, adaptor and leads. This time I got a smile for my nine euros The battery will have to travel separately, although I'm not sure how yet.

Half a job done, I drove up to Coin to celebrate the Eucharist there for the last time, drink coffee after and say my farewells. Then, before I drove back down the hill to Fuengirola, I drove as far as Puerto de Pescadores, the top of the pass where the road from below divides to go to Coin or Alhuarin, in order to climb the forty five metre hill and visit el Torre, which gives the nearby village its full name, Alhaurin de la Torre. This structure, prominently visible on the horizon from many places around this area, is a twentieth century water tower which has been disguised with decorative stone cladding that make sit look like a tall ancient fortified grand mansion. It's a grand romantic folly and it looks good in the landscape.

It wasn't clear which path would take me quickest to the tower, so I explored before ascending. It was an unusually warm day for mid October, but fresh, cool and fragrant under the trees, with lots of   flowering rosemary and thyme bushes on the hillside. The views were spectacular in all directions. I reached the tower, expecting it to be inaccessible, and was surprised to find a huge iron portal wide open. I entered, and found that I was able to climb right up inside the tower two thirds of the way up to a level with open views out across the countryside. I could have climbed further but the condition of the building - open stairs without guard rails, and much evidence of neglect and casual vandlaism dictated caution, to I didn't go as far up as possible.

If this edifice had been well maintained, it would have made a fascinating tourist attraction, but the view from high up indicaed this was part of a stalled project. Roads had been made throughout the surrounding countryside, but few buildings or residences had been constructed to fit in with them. There was a metalled road up to a car park below the tower, and a large concrete plinth on which to build  restaurant or a visitor center. The adornment of the tower itself was incomplete, or had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where it looked incomplete. I know nothing more about this failed project, whether it was a victim of recession in this century or the last. Apart from a good stiff climb, it gave me lots to think about.

You'll find photos I took here.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Unusual visitor

After the Wednesday morning Eucharist and coffee morning, I was sitting in the church office, and a man came in to see me, enquiring about marriage services in Spanish chaplaincies. He spoke good English and was well versed in understanding the history and origins of Christian marriage liturgy. It was a subject he had researched, and it turned out that he'd done a ministerial training course at a reformed seminary in Spain. Now he was enquiring about  how he could legally and legitimately marry his fiancee, a non-EU citizen, and bring her into the country - a difficult undertaking for an honest man.

He was on leave from his work as an educational outreach worker in the Granada gitano community, persuading kids to turn up regularly for school and complete their basic education. Illiteracy and innumeracy are high among gypsies due to their fundamental distrust of state efforts to integrate them into society through the educational system. As an evangelical Christian missionary he was involved in gitano church planting, a social and spiritual enterprise which has met with considerable success in Southern Europe over several decades. When we'd finished an interesting conversation lasting more than an hour, I wished that I had more time in Andalusia to go and visit him in Granada and discover more about his work. I just had to let the opportunity go, aware of the need to concentrate on handing over to Hywel, my successor as locum chaplain.

Today I needed to get my broken Blackberry into a postal package for sending back to Ashley in Cardiff. I bought a jiffy bag and acquired the necessary form for a registered letter, only to be told at half past one that registered post is accepted only between nine and midday on working days. Ah well you live and learn.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Travel in mind

I went into Malaga today, to book tickets at the main train station Malaga Maria Zambrano for the journey to Vinaros when my work here is finihed. The Cercania line to Malaga from Fuengirola connects with the main station, now embedded in a huge modern shopping mall, so you emerge from an underground platform into a very busy posh retail centre. The station's name honours a woman highly esteemed as a Spanish essayist and philosopher, exiled from the country by the civil war until nine years after the death of Franco, when she was eighty years old. She was born in Velez Malaga 30km up the coast from the city. I wonder what Maria Zambrano would have made of this honour?

Early on November 3rd, I'll be taking the AVE fast train to Cordoba, change there for the Barcelona train that goes north east back down to the coast at Valencia, then on up the coast to Vinaros. An eight hour journey, arriving at tea time. I was delighted to pay just under fifty euros for my one way ticket, and to make the booking without needing to speak English. 

From the station I walked through the streets towards the old town centre and discovered a municipal market, dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen, patron saint of fishermen. The modern market building contained a majority of fish stalls, and this was reflected in the remarkable cafeteria, where there were two cold storage units on the counter, of the type normally containing prepared tapas dishes. These however, contained different species of fish ready to cook, sixteen containers, with several bowls containing prepared tapas and salads on top. In the corner was a hot plate, also several deep fry pans containing olive oil, two men cooking and two women serving. I ordered an Alhambra beer, one of the Malaga brews, and a meso racione of tuna fish, which was served up with pieces of white and brown bread, hot from the deep fryer, garnished with basil, a whole side plate full of pieces, right to the edge. So simple, so exquisite a taste!

After I'd wandered the streets and taken more photographs of things that caught my eye, I returned to get the Cercania train from Maria Zambrano, rather than the nearer terminus station at the top of the Alameda, as I'd made up my mind to have a day trip to Cordoba, camera in hand, of course, this coming Saturday. A seat on the AVE fast train ida y vuelta, cost me just under fifty euros. Affordable adventure!

When I got back, I had a call from Clare reporting a visit to her eye specialist. Her glaucoma condition now requires and eye operation which needs to be fitted in before shoulder surgery, and she's been given an appointment for day surgery on 2nd December, which means I'll have to fly back home for the inside of the week to see her through the day surgery and early after care. Vueling, by then will have stopped operating flights to Cardiff, so it's back to EasyJet to and from Bristol with train journeys at either end to Barcelona to take the flight. Fortunately, Rachel can come over from Arizona early for her Christmas visit, and is delighted to have the opportunity to look after her mum for a change when I've returned to complete my Costa Azahar spell of locum duty.

It's not often I get to book two train journeys and two flights in the same day! More Malaga photos here.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Milestone posting

Stuck at home all day today, as a couple of workmen are sanding and painting the external woodwork, and need access through the house. So, I've done next Sunday's sermon, and caught up on posting the weekend blog.

I've just realised that my last posting was the thousandth on 'West of the Centre' over the past four and a half years. Add to this the 88 posts on 'Spanish Sojourn', when I did my first long locum two years ago, and 46 posts on 'Sicilian December', and that's a lot of words and pictures published since I started this retirement blog, 1642 days ago, just nine days before I came to the end of my last full time pastorate and started life as a 'voluntary pastor' (as the great 20th century missionary prophet Roland Allen called us) after retirement from stipendiary ministry. I love writing and reflecting about the many and varied experiences that come my way, and have done so on average, two days in every three. 

There's been a lot more story-telling than reflection, perhaps because it's hard to be sure what range of readers make up the 'audience' for what I write. I'm not really into website analytics. Perhaps I'm afraid of what I might learn. I know a few family and friends read this sometimes, but really the only audience I feel I want to write for is my two grand-daughters and foster grandson, none of whom are presently readers. My hope is that one day, they'll be able to answer questions such as "What was my grandfather like? What did he do when he was alive? When he was old and no longer tied down to being busy in a church parish?" Which is no doubt how my children remember growing up with me around.

So, if a possible future audience figures somewhere in my motivation, I'd better make sure that the entire content of all my different blogs has a home somewhere other than Google webspace. On paper, or in a readable digital format that won't go out of fashion or become unreadable. I wrote a book about the kind of Christian faith that has propelled my life through thick and thin. "You should get it published." several people who've read it declare. The only decent publisher I approached liked it but wasn't sure there was enough of an audience to make it a commercially viable project. Do I want to occupy my latter years with self promotion, which would be necessary, either working with a publisher or self-publishing at my own expense? No, blogging is as far as I want to go in public exposure. 

I get to write, others get to read if they're interested. I might write and think better with some reader feedback, but then again not. Healthy dialogue would be interesting indeed, but also time and energy consuming. Would it leave me enough time to muse as I'm musing now? Would I get swamped with trolls? One never knows, and I've become more risk averse as I've got older. Peace, tranquillity, space for contemplation rather than energetic thought are too precious to squander. Often the phrase from the Second Collect for Evensong crosses my mind: 'that we may pass our time in rest and quietness'. It's what I most want, and am most blessed to receive.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

La Cala Romeria

My first Eucharist of this morning was at Benalmadena, driving East with the sun just risen over the sea in a clear sky, a respite from recent clouds and rainstorms. Then it was back to Los Boliches for the second service and a somewhat larger congregation than in recent weeks. Autumn visitors and temporary residents are again strarting to swell the congregation numbers.

I received an invitation from Sandy to join her family for a picnic lunch at the community romeria in La Cala de Mijas, and was delighted to have a chance to participate rather than observe, as I've done previously in other situations. A romeria is what we'd call a Parish outing. Everyone dresses up and parades after a special service from the church to an assigned picnic place. La Cala has a big indoor sports centre in the hills behind the town, and next to it is a very large picnic area in an olive grove containing two dozen barbeque fireplaces and stone tables.

The occasion for this romeria is the Patronal Festival of the attractive little modern church down in the village quarter - St Teresa of Avila, which occurred midweek. Right in the middle of the picnic area there was a flower bedecked trona surmounted by a statue of Sta Teresa presiding over the feast.
 Earlier, after Mass, the town band led the procession of the community, not just church goers, out of town and up the hill, with horse carriages, ox carts, and dozens of horses, ridden by a variety of people of all ages, some very smartly dress and some casual. The horses, carriages and ox-carts occupied there own cordoned off area at the periphery of the picnic ground, nearest the road, and made a delightful spectacle to visit.
At the picnic ground a bar was set up. There was a small stage, plus a sound system pumping out a selection of Spanish pop music. At one table, a man sat playing his guitar and everyone gathered was singing and clapping with jubilation.

I was made most welcome by Sandy, her husband, her dad and children, plus two members of the Calahonda congregation also invited. We shared a feast of barbecued meat, black pudding, tortilla and salad, washed down with beer. It was a lovely experience. Sandy's daughter was among the group of two lots of children dancing a Sevillana on the little stage, all dressed in attractive matching flamenco dresses. This was definitely not a tourism inspired event, but a live expression of real local community that knows how to have a good time together.
There were lots of uniformed local police and protection civil personnel around the place keeping an eye on things, but socialising more than anything, as it was such a happy untroubled gathering with no bad behaviour or drinking to excess. Children of all ages wandered around, played with their friends wherever they wanted, in complete safety and security. I watched three little girls learning from each other how to execute flamenco dance moves. One was dressed up, one in jeans, and one in beach shorts and a tee shirt was playing the castanets to accompany them. The transmission of culture here happens not just vertically, down the generations, but horizonally across them.

It was a lovely afternoon, not too hot, just right for the occasion. It's difficult to estimate how many people were there as the site was so extensive, but I'd guess it was well over five hundred. Naturally, I took lots of photographs - you can find them here

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Blackberry Blues

Today's flight back to Malaga was punctual and uneventful apart from a brief bout of turbulence over the Pyrenees which caught everyone by surprise inclding the air stewards. After we landed, I found that my Blackberry Z10, newly converted to run on a BT EE network sim card could find the local network but wouldn't attach to any of the four carriers available with strong signal. I tried different settings, and re-started the phone to no avail. In the end, it booted up to 100% but wouldn't even display what Blackberry call the 'Escreen' = the 'desktop' on an ordinary computer, so I couldn't even use it to retrieve emails via wi-fi. My own personal PAYG phone, on the same EE network switched over to Orange ES, without a hitch.

Nothing much can be done about this over the weekend, and I certainly can't do anything from Spain, it will have to be done by Ashley in Cardiff, as he is the account holder for all our business phones. My guess is that BT, despite having a contract to supply us with acccess to roaming services while I'm in Spain have foisted a new SIM card upon us without checking if roaming abroad was required. If so, it's a serious indictent of the quality of service to business customers in an world where crossing European borders, if not continents is an everyday matter. Once again EE's 'Everything Everywhere' service turns out to be more like 'Nothing Nowhere' despite all their expensive media advertisements. It's not so much the technology that doesn't work properly, as the people who manage it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Silver lining

We were out of the house be eight fifteen this morning to drive to Llandough Hospital, where Clare had an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist about her shoulder injury at nine, After an initial x-ray had been taken, we were ushered into a consulting room where Clare was given a scrupulous examination by a physiotherapist skilled in diagnosis, to confirm what the x-ray and previous scans of the injury had revealed. Then the surgeon appeared and very quickly pronounced his willingness to perform keyhole surgery to fix a ripped tendon. 

This came as a complete surprise, as others involved had suggested the injury might not be treatable due to her age and she might have to live with some painful limitations for the rest of her life.. The physiotherapist, however, observed how fit Clare is and unusually mobile and flexible because she's a eurythmist, dedicated to the art of movement, and thus more likely to respond well to treatment, as well as needing it to continue her vocation. With a wait time of two to three months, this could be an unexpected Christmas gift. The treatment will leave her arm immobile for a month, so she'll need a lot of looking after. It'll be a while before we have a date, and hopefully it'll be around the time I return from Costa Azahar. Just in case there's an overlap, Rachel has expressed her keenness to arrive early from Arizona for Christmas to be number one nurse. Every cloud has a silver lining.

At half past ten we were on our way to Dyffryn House and gardens for a walk around, to inspect their historic dahlia collection, 35 varieties, 6000 in various flower beds, now somewhat past their glorious best, yet still a riot of colour against the trees tinged with autumnal gold. Several new rooms, partly renovated, have now been opened to visitors -one has been made into a library, another furnished with a history on the Cory family who owned and developed Dyffryn House as the family residence. They were very rich, both from ownership of coal mines, but also from shipping coal to ports up and down both sides of the Atlantic seaboard. They were also philanthropically minded, and as a result house and grounds were much used and enjoyed. Indeed, they were eventually given to Glamorgan County Council and used as an education centre, before finally being taken on three years ago by the National Trust for a major restoration project, with lots of volunteer engaged in looking after house and gardens. A visit is a must-do thing for us now, all the year round.

We had a pleasant lunch there, and then I went into town to do some more money moving, and spent an hour in the office, to fit in a couple of urgent tasks while I could. Things aren't easy just now, as Julie our administrator is off sick, but we muddle through. Afterwards, Clare joined me and we spent an hour at John Lewis' having tea and indifferent chocolate cake and then looking at their selection of curtains for our front room makeover. News came through today of the delivery of our new sofas,  next week, ordered back in August on our way home from East Anglia. I'll have to content myself with viewing them on Skype.

All too soon, it seems, I was hunting down all my bits and pieces, spread around the house, packing the rucksack ready to travel, and off to bed early, for an eight o'clock airport bus trip, wondering how soon it'll be before Clare hears about her surgical appointment.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I went into town this morning to attend a RadioNet Users Group meeting and take minutes. At the end, I went back to the CBS office, and wrote them up while my memory was fresh. I haven't done this for a good while, and was pleased to find that it wasn't too difficult to do quickly and satisfactorily, so I was on my way home again at lunchtime.

In the afternoon I went up to St Mike's to meet up with Fr Hywel Davies to brief him on the short weekend we'll have together when he comes to take over from me as locum chaplain for Costa del Sol East at the end of this month. He arrives Saturday evening, so I have Sunday to show him around and introduce him to people. Then on Monday, I leave for Vinaros, via Madrid and Valencia, as there's no direct route up the coast. The rail track bed is complete, but the construction project ran out of runs to lay track and finish the job. How frustrating for the regional holiday economy. It was good to see the College again, running along quietly and happily under Fr Mark's Clavier's leadership. I caught a glimpse of him in the distance, about his business, but we were both busy at the time.

Clare returned from swimming with a pair of fat mackerel bought in the Central Market, one of my favourite fish, to cook and eat. I see on the fishmonger's slab less often in the Costa del Sol. There are so many more local varieties to choose from out there, I guess. Tomorrow is my last day before returning. I keep checking to see if I've done everything needed to keep my affairs in order. Time passes so quickly.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Quite apart from checking and organising financial affairs when I come home, there are always office jobs to be done. I spent time today making a MS Publisher version of a training manual for retail workers, devised by CBS colleague Sarah, entitled 'How to Make an Arrest'. This involved going into town and taking photos of the City Centre retail zone to supply up to day graphics, but it will be up to Sarah to complete the enhancements. Needless to say, we discovered that our versions of MS Publisher are incompatible. Now that's what I call a crime against computer users. Backwards file compatibility is one of the essential attributes of any working system. Unfair.

This afternoon the switch over of the BT SIM card of my work Blackberry Z10 from Vodaphone to EE was completed. Needless to say, because EE reception in our area is so poor, compared to Vodaphone, that I cannot get a signal on the ground floor, once I cross the threshold. So, I have to go up to the attic our out in the street to call someone. The good thing about the Blackberry is that it is quick to pick up a signal automatically, whereas the Samsung Galaxy Ace II automatic facility has never worked, and any time the signal drops, it has to be re-set manually. Inconvenient and such a waste of time. Instant connectivity wherever you are, is an illusion created by marketing people, and an unfulfilled ambition on the part of the technologists. Why create and promote an expectation when you cannot be sure to deliver?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Up at quarter to five after an early night with more rain, then a quick breakfast, ready to be collected by Peter to drive to Malaga Airport for the 7.15am flight to Cardiff. From the time he dropped me off it took less than twenty minutes to check in and pass through security. The flight left on time, and dawn broke above the cloud cover somewhere over northern Spain, but there was cloud all the way into Cardiff. My first glimpse of home was Sully Island at high tide, on the last leg of the flight path along the coast into Rhoose. 

When we landed the pilot said: "Welcome to Cardiff Airport, where the temperature is eight degrees. Sorry." Back from the land where it's more sunny than it's not, to the land where it rains more often than not. A land of grey and green, not much red and orange in the landscape. It's still unusually green, however. There are but a few tinges of yellow in most trees, as the mild Summer weather extended longer than usual.

I was home by half past ten, catching up with Clare, ignoring the pile of unread mail. glad to be back despite the rain, apart. While Clare went to the hairdressers, I went to the CBS office and did some catching up there as well. A 61 bus was at the traffic lights on Romilly road as I approached the junction, so I decided to run to the next stop, some seventy yards away. The bus caught up with me and reached the bus stop when I was still twenty yards away, but it stopped anyway. I thanked the driver profusely. "I only stop if I see someone putting in the effort." He quipped. It's pleasing to know that I can still sprint that far if I need to. All the long walks in Spain are doing me good.

Our business telephone service provider BT is switching from Vodaphone to EE. We've been issued with new SIM cards to activate for office mobiles. Swapping SIMs is a fiddly procedure. You have to schedule a swap time with BT via the internet, use your phone until it can't receive calls, then swap SIM cards, losing all your SIM card data unless you copied it to phone memory, which means one more thing to learn how to do! The question is, when the swap has been effected, will I be able to receive calls on my Blackberry at home. At the moment the indoors EE signal reception on the ground floor is non-existent with my Samsung and sometimes outside as well. New improved fast data service only works if you have a signal to start with.

Following the office visit, I had an appointment with our GP practice nurse for a 'flu jab, fitted in at the end of her day, thanks to a phone call from Clare in the morning. Then, I met Owain from the Bristol train on his return from work, and the three of us went to Stefanos for supper. It was good to see him, as he's under pressure to get lots done before he flies to Berlin for a long weekend with one of his music making partners. He said the trip was being paid for by virtue of royalties received from the Performing Rights Society for techno music he's composed. He certainly deserves it. And I'm impressed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A rainy Alhaurin Sunday

Heavy rain started in the middle of the night, and didn't stop until well after I set out from the house in the dark, to collect Gordon the organist from Mijas Golf village, and take him to Benalmadena, before heading inland to celebrate my one Eucharist of the day at Alhaurin. 

Driving out through town, people were sitting under toldos outside the bars chatting, drinking coffee, eating breakfast tostados drizzled with olive oil. There were a few people in shorts and tee shirts out walking their dogs in the downpour, seemingly oblivious to the weather. On the back roads, without drainage. water several inches deep covered the entire road surface, flowing down into the nearest arroyos. 

Surface water flowed in sections of the rio Fuengirola normally dry and stony. Pity there was no time to take photos, with a timetable to keep and uncertain road conditions to navigate. Sometimes the big junctions with the main road have flooded underpasses and traffic is halted for hours. They are not well drained, or their drainage silts up. I drove on the motorway to get to Benalmadena, avoiding the coast road, crossed in so many places by drainage channels that might, in times of flood conditions be impassible.

By the time I arrived at Alhaurin, the worst was over, and only a few from the regular congregation of two dozen were absent by reason of not being able to leave home or use roads due to flooding. It was my final visit to take a service there, as I'm not scheduled to return before my departure after All Saints weekend. The inland congregations make an effort to reach out to people over a wide area of towns and villages. There's potential for growth, and it would be good to see another priest working away from the coast. This happened for a while, but membership and funding shrinkage meant that the venture had to come to an end. It would be providential if a retired cleric were to settle in the area and offer their services voluntarily, and an encouragement to Lay Reader Caroline and the team of volunteers whose enterprise is already bearing rich fruit in community building.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Bull fight weekend

This afternoon, I walked again along the promenade as far as Castello Sohail, and up the river park with the express intention of taking another look at the turtles in their murky water, no far from the huge Miramar shopping mall, with go-karting and a cinema on the roof, and two storeys of retail and restaurants. As there'd been rain in the night and morning, the mall was very crowded with families. The beaches were quite deserted.

This time, standing on the same bridge, I counted nine different creatures. One of them was out of the water, basking on a rock, looking handsome and exotic. I have yet to find out anything about whether this local colony is a survival from a different era, or an import into a re-created environment.
On the return journey, I passed the bull-ring. The street outside was closed to traffic and several horse boxes were parked in the open road. 
People were queuing for admission to an evening of equestrian spectacle and flamenco dancing, a pre-cursor to tomorrow evening's bullfight. I felt no inclination to attend either event. In fact, tonight I need to get to bed early and rise early for an additional duty at the beginning of the day.
Right next to the Plaza del Toro is one of the town's cofradia houses, with its own ancilliary building housing historical archives, very much an indication of the value given to its activities.
Its doors were open, inviting passers by to take a look inside at the images carried in procession - Christ crucified and buried, and our Lady of Sorrows, in a large chapel-like room.
Just five minutes earlier, in a back street, I passed two badge toting Mormon missionary males with a young man in tow, dressed more like a holiday-maker or a local. Despite the strength of traditional Catholic piety, the supermarket of religions is as much a feature of life in contemporary Spain as it is anywhere else in western Europe.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Benalmadena Tibetan Buddhist Stupa

The last few days have seen torrential rain and low temperatures in Spain almost everywhere apart from the Mediterranean coast, where temperatures stayed around 25C, with little cloud. With Sunday preparation completed, I went out in the car, first up to Mijas, and then turing east along the old high road that descends to Benalmadena, to savour the different views of the coastal strip from 400+m above sea level. This road meets the A7 motorway near the top of the Riserva del Higueron, where I walked a few days ago. From here, I followed the road to Benalmadena Pueblo to reach the Buddhist Stupa overlooking Benalmadena and Fuengirola from a promontory 250m above the coastal strip.
Completed in 2003, at 33m high, this is the largest of a series of Tibetan Buddhist Stupas constructed in western Europe under the initative of Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche. Its location on a high ridge makes it visible for 20km to the west. I haven't yet explored to the east. It doesn't describe itself as a chapel or a shrine. A Stupa is, above all, a place associated with the memory of one or more spiritual masters, a meeting place for Buddhist teaching and meditation.
Its architecture is precisely disciplined to convey a sense of harmony, space and peace. It is made sacred by the loving regard and veneration of those who come here to learn the Eightfold Path and to meditate. The meditation hall has images of the Buddha.
There's a throne for teachers past and present.  The walls are covered with bright murals depicting stories from the life of the Buddha. 
It's a serene cheerful place, with views of enfolding mountains and the coast through windows and the door. Underneath is a complex of meeting rooms and an exhibition space. At a dignified distance behind the Stupa, at the edge of the great platform on which it sits, are a cafe and a souvenir shop. It's not at all like a school, yet it's a place of teaching and learning, like an embassy for a realm of non-violent ethical citizens. How many Buddhists are there in the region? It matters not nearly as much as this symbol of  trans-national witness for peace and harmony.

Right next to the Stupa is a building with a far eastern architectural facade. When I first saw it from afar, I thought it was perhaps a monastic building. Not so. 
Behind the facade is the visitor centre for a large building with a climate controlled environment hosting multitudes of rare butterfles. This project is evidently a fruit of Buddhist presence here.

Reverence for creation, and the moral impulse that makes environmental conservation a spiritual priority for Buddhists has, in the past quarter century, led to international partnership between the WWF and Buddhist monasteries to manage sacred forests and the content of ecosystems belonging to them. Bees and butterflies are 'flagship' species. If they die off, plants relying on them for pollination can't reproduce. Every creature relying on plants for food suffers, as well as predator species.

The Mariposa centre isn't just a nice place to charm the kids with beautiful creatures to see, it's a place to discover crucial things about the interdependence of all living things on each other, and what needs to be done by world citizens to protect the earth that sustains our lives through such complex bio-diversity. It brings the spirituality of the Stupa right down to earth.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Midweek celebrations

Wednesday morning, I celebrated the midweek Eucharist, chatted to people for a while at the coffee morning afterwards, but didn't hang around too long in case the plumber returned, which he didn't. Later I learned that he'd turned up without notice while I was out at church. Thank goodness the chaplaincy house has the luxury of two bathrooms!

At the end of an afternoon of waiting, I walked into town, and visited the fun fair on my return trip, to take some photographs. Children had a school holiday on Tuesday, but after school for the rest of the week, many will dress up and go out with their parents to socialise in the fun fair and queue in large numbers for the fearsome rides. You'll find some photographs here.

Thursday, I drove to Coin to celebrate their Harvest Eucharist. After the service we had a bring and share lunch on the terrace outside the church. A member of the congregation had baked a special Harvest Loaf in the shape of a wheatsheaf, with an interesting bread recipe using porridge oats and white flour, as an experiment. It turned out to be very tasty, and I was pleased to have a portion of it to bring home for supper. On return, no sign the plumber had been, and no message, but I waited in anyway - just in case.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Day of Prayer and Fuengirola Fiesta

A leak in the bathroom shower tray revealed itself by producing a small hole in the ceiling and a pool of water on the floor by the window. A plumber came and diagnosed the problem on Monday, then went away to obtain a spare part, but didn't return, or ndicate when he would.

Ten of us came together at the Hammonds' house in La Cala this morning for the autumn Day of Prayer, which I led with a series of short addresses on the ministry of angels in the Bible. The reason for this was that the original date for the occasion was the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, but later the date was changed, but not the theme.

Today is the fiesta of our Lady of the Rosary, the patroness of the municpality's parish church and a public holiday. No sign of the return of the plumber. There's a fun fair in the recinto ferial, which has taken several days to construct. It started last night, and continues for a week. The noise emanating from the site continued until four in the morning. The fair ground can't be seen from the chaplaincy house, as it's behind a hill, but sound echoed off tall apartment buildings. I'd hate to be living closer.

Our quiet day finished mid afternoon with a Eucharist, and on my return journey I drove through the town centre, to see if I could find out about the day's Flamenco Mass as I'd seen no advertisement for it anywhere. There were many women out and about clad in beautiful flamenco dresses. All were walking away from the square in front of the Ajuntamiento, which told me all I needed to know. 

I was disappointed to find that the Mass and procession were already over. For the participants in the Day of Prayer, the municipal fiesta is no longer a matter of interest, more of endurance, so the clash of dates was a matter of indifference, and I am after all, not a tourist but a sojourner here to serve their needs. 

Now it's averagely several degrees cooler along the coast, it's possible to hold an open air service in the middle of the day, rather than in the cool of evening. After the event, people all dressed up were heading for the fun fair, mothers and daughters and occasionally grandmas in their party clothes. A delightful sight. I was too tired to join them at the fair. Holding an audience and delivering five brief addresses I found more taxing than the days of quiet preparation required to create them.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Harvest Sunday

I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about CBS business affairs. An issue I've been dealing with was plying on my mind, and I know it wouldn't go away until I'd put my thoughts on record, so I got up, wrote for an hour, and eventually I got back to sleep, waking up, as I often do, just seconds before the alarm went off. With an hour and half less sleep than I need to function normally, it took me hours to feel I'd woken up properly, but it was still business as usual, driving to Benalmadena for the first Harvest Eucharist of the day. 

While I was preaching, I became dissatisfied with my sermon, and with myself for not spending more time critically examining and editing the finished work - quite strange experience, which I attribute to feeling out of sorts. However, Gwen's eloquent and rich textured prayers of intercession more than compensated for what I thought was lacking in my offering. I was most grateful for that.

The Harvest Eucharist at St Andrews which followed was blessed with a congregation almost double that of last week. When I arrived, I realised I'd left my sermon script behind. I some ways I wasn't all that bothered, and jotted down some summary headings from memory in order to preach from notes, which I seldom do, as I tend to over-elaborate and go on for too long, However, I felt I had enough control over the ideas and content to take the risk. Just after I'd finished, Val arrived, having followed me from Benalmadena to Los Boliches to return my script, thinking that it was indispensible! So then I compromised, reading the opening paragraphs, and then elaborating my notes for the rest. I don't think I preached any longer than usual, and by this time I was starting to recover from my broken night's sleep.

After lunch, I completed the preparations needed for Tuesday's Chaplaincy Day of Prayer. Just as I emailed these to both the Lay Readers, Val arrived to give me a lift to Alhaurin for a Harvest Service at which the excellent local Tapas Choir sang.
The children's group, aka Mustard Seed Gang, also took part with some congregational support, in re-telling the story of Creation.
Together with the thirty strong choir, there were eighty five people in church. My role was simply to bless the Harvest offerings and the congregation at the end. Refreshments were served outside the west end of the building, and people stayed round and chatted for ages. 

Occasional social events built around a special act of worship bring together more people than attend services habitually, regularly. It's a key aspect of the chaplaincy's role as community builder among expatriates and visitors alike. Much organisation and persistence is required to graft such events into the English speakers' social calendar. It's admirable that a year long interregnum has made no difference to the determination of church members to continue with social outreach of this kind. It's a welcome sign of their health and strength as a missionary congregation.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

October fiesta

Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi and it's the Pope's name day God bless him. Such a difference his ministry has made to the Catholic Church, indeed to all Christians. I feel a sense of expectation and excitement about the prospects for the church's witness and mission, after a decade of serious setbacks. Who knows what will emerge from the dialogues now being fermented by the Vatican?

I went for a stroll before lunch, and as I passed the barrio parish church of Nuestra Senora y Sta Fe on impulse I went in to pray for/with the church on this special day. A wedding was in progress, in a mix of Spanish and English, with a women's choir accompanied by a guitarist, singing the hymns and the ordinary of the Nuptial Mass in cheerful harmony. It was a moment to cherish. I forgot to pray for the Pope as intended, however, but when you join with the church in prayer, as it cherishes the life of its faithful people, the Holy Father's name will be in there somewhere, whether you register it or not.

My stroll took me past the recinto feriale, where a huge fun-fair is in the process of construction for this week's fiesta. October 7th is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a public holiday in Fuengirola, as the parish church in which the ajuntamento and other municipal buildings are located is dedicated to the Virgen del Rosario. At some time during the fiesta (I haven't seen any advertisment yet), a Flamenco Mass will be celebrated in Constitution Square. It's one of the most distinctive celebrations in this community, affirming Andalusian cultural identity in the supreme act of worship. I look forward to it.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Ascending El Higuerón

After my river walk, yesterday, I slept long and well. I wasn't too stiff thankfully, but glad of a quiet day. I wrote a Harvest Festival sermon, then in response to an email from Linda, wrote a Chaplain's Letter for the Chaplaincy Magazine 'Outreach'. This is by way of a farewell, as I will be moving to the Costa Azahar chaplaincy as their locum priest for November and the run up to Christmas. Even with a month to go, I feel I am running out of time to explore the region and travel to visit places I'd hoped to see. When it's this hot I prefer to take each day as it comes, according to the amount of physical energy I have for getting about.

This afternoon I felt like another long walk again, and went east on the promenade to Carvahal, before turning inland and going uphill, to get an elevated view of the coast. The road was far steeper than I'd imagined, going straight up at a steep gradient, rather than zig zagging, for much of the first kilometre. It was a slow climb. The road train that links the district with the beach overtook me on the way up, passed me as it descended, and passed me again as it went up and I went down. The third time, the driver gave me a friendly wave. 

The road led to a holiday resort urbanización, on the hillside with an architecturally impressive hotel near the top, the up-market Reserva del Higuerón whose white marble finish with the afternoon sun behind it, reminded me of an Escher painting with its perspective tricks. Higueron is the name of the arroyo that descends steeply to the sea somewhere in Benalmadena from the Sierra de Mijas. I believe the name means fig tree. 

I climbed right to the top entrance of the Reserva. It's about 200 metres above sea level, close to the motorway exit and Higuerón service area. I've been to this entrance before, to collect and drop off John Le Page the day we went to lunch with the Archbishop of Málaga. The views from up there are spectacular, well worth the climb. I retraced my steps back down to the sea shore and promenade, very pleased my legs hadn't turned to jelly. Having lost a few kilos with my delicious Mediterranean fresh food diet this past six weeks has certainly made a difference.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

River trail walk

I celebrated the feast of St Michael and All Angels belatedly at the St Andrew's midweek Eucharist, then chatted with people at the coffee morning, bought some figs, fresh and dried, each delicious in a different way, before returning for lunch. As the weather was reasonably cool, I decided to take another long walk, making my way inland to the far edge of town where the AP-7 toll motorway crosses over the A7053 road up to Alhaurin. The motorway also crosses over the rio Fuengirola at this point, and I'd set my mind on following the riverside path all the way down to the sea.
For most of the year the river inland is dry, although after last Saturday night's heavy rains, there were still large pools of water in hollows and crevices along the bank shaded by huge mature eucalyptus trees, and plenty of fine red mud covering the gravel and pebbles of the river bed. I was surprised at how quiet a walk it turned out to be. In a 5km stretch, I was passed by several joggers and a posse of off road cyclists.

Half way along the trail, the ground level dropped to a point where the water table was above the river bed, filling the river with standing water from bank to bank, hosting dragonflies, parakeets and a family of three very shy egrets that I tracked for a mile without getting close enough for the decent photograph. Down at the mouth of the river, egrets browse at the water's edge, quite indifferent to the proximity of humans ten metres away. I wonder why a change in environment makes a difference to behaviour?
The valley the rio Fuengirola runs through is wide and shallow. For much of the length of the trail, the plain on the east bank is given over to industry: cement works, storage depots, small factories. The west bank still has an extensive area of green pasture land, its subsoil must retain a great deal of water to maintain such a bright colour after a long hot summer. In the hills that are the natural boundary to the conurbation are select urbanizacions with a great view across the bay.
About half way down on the west bank, nestling into the base of the hills, the municipal Fuengirola cementario stands, having been relocated from the centre of town when building expansion took off in the eighties. Its near neighbours are a veterinary clinic and the town's sewage works. Standing as I have done twice in recent weeks, outside the cemetery chapel waiting for mourners to arrive, the odour on the breeze has been most disconcerting. What was the town planner who first thought of co-locating municipal waste disposal facilities thinking of?
Water in the river only moves when swollen by heavy rainfall. Big bursts of torrential rain are the norm here, and everything about the surface environment is constructed to take this into account. At the end of the trail, the waters are contained by a low dam, permitting overflow into a bed of wetland vegetation contained by another dam, from which water can overflow into the Parque Fluvial
This, I believe is designed to purify water flowing into the public recreational area. This has wide banks, furnished with amenities for open air sports, on land and water. A canoeing basketball game was being played by four people as I passed.

As I crossed a bridge, photographing river management features I'd not seen before, a man summoned me to his side, and pointed down into turbid waters below. I saw a turtle swimming, then another couple of turtles further away out of range.
Considering all the construction activity going on to complete the second phase of work on the Parque Fluvial, I was amazed by this. I've since found out that sea turtles inhabit Costa del Sol Coastal waters, and as this last stretch of river is open to the sea, this may be a hideaway for them, when they are due to breed.
The last stretch of my journey was along the promenade back to Los Boliches, somewhat slowly, as by now I was feeling pretty tired, having walked a good 15km. During my previous sojourns here I go to know much of the urban area by car. I'm glad to have the time to walk and discover much more about this place and how it has developed in this remarkable past half century.