Friday, 16 September 2016

Journey into the Andalusian interior

I arranged to visit Doreen, the Chaplaincy Curate this morning, and take a tour of the area she's lived in for the past thirteen years, just two o them, since she was ordained. We arranged to meet at the village of Salinas. Google maps confidently showed me this was just to the north of the conurbation of Málaga quite close to the autovia in the commuter town of Puerto de la Torre. I was under the impression that my destination was much further away, and set out harbouring an uncertain feeling. I arrived in good time, but could find no signage to Salinas anywhere. Mystified, I phoned Doreen who confirmed my worst fear. She didn't even know where I was!

Salinas is a common enough place name, referring to the salt industry that's part of its history. Our rendezvous has Salinas Granada as an address although it's actually in Málaga province. The village is in an area where Granada Cordoba and Malaga provincial boundaries intersect. It's like Mulhouse outside Basel, where France, Germany and Switzerland have shared borders, and an airport. It's known as the 'Dreieck' - the three corners. This meant I had another three quarters of an hour's drive, once I had Doreen's instructions.

Fortunately, I was only five minutes drive away from the junction for the Granada autovia. The correct Salinas was easy to find and I arrived but an hour late. We had a coffee and a village bar and then went to see the Ermita, where Anglican services are held. It can accommodate fifty people, and there's an adjacent suite of rooms for social use. This one is I believe dedicated to San Isidro Laborador, patron saint of landless peasants.

It's an early 20th century building in traditional style. It has a suite of church rooms attached to the chapel's south side, originally this housed the first village school, but now, social events. It's the same pattern as many mission churches built in South Wales in the early years of the coal mining boom, to meet the pastoral needs of families migrating to the valleys from rural areas. A useful sort of building to have in a newly developing area.

From another village several kilometres away Doreen drove us and talked about people and villages, the locals and the expat settlers she knew. We did a big circuit of half the Embalse de Iznagar a 35km flooded valley providing both water and hydroelectric power. But four years of drought have dropped the water level by 50-60 metres, exposing a barren shore line, drowned farmhouses and even a handsome brick built road bridge down in the valley below the modern one. There's a huge shallow sloping area of exposed land called 'La Playa', and treated as a beach when waters are low. It's great birdwatching terrain, although in the heat of the day there was little to see and snap.

The hill town of Iznagar with its prominent church and castillo is perched impressively on a high promontory overlooking both halves of the lake. Apparently many Brits have settled there. We went to the hamlet of La Parilla where Doreen lives and had a beer and tapas lunch on a table in the narrow street. Doreen comes here often at lunchtime and meets her neighbours and friends as they pass by.

We visited the local Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Socorro, which last week celebrated its 300th anniversary. The local kids are now bussed out to their classes, but the church has an annexe once used as a school and a couple of back rooms kitted out with beds. For travellers? 'Hospedia' over the door suggests a lodging place provided by the faithful for visitors, maybe itinerant labourers. The hamlet is too small to have its own inn. Impressive to see this remnant of another age, in this once poor region, I suspect, not so long ago.

This is solidly an olive growing region. Andalusia is one of the world's major olive oil producers. There was evidence of many new trees being planted. Spain is benefiting from the drop in production due to war in the Middle East and a nasty olive tree plague hitting Italian and Greek crops. Spain is said now to export to other olive oil producers who then re-badge and sell on as their own produce, provided it is stored in the host country for long enough. Thus a measure of unexpected new prosperity comes to a region that has previously lagged behind more industrialised places.

While stopping for refreshments we saw a spotted flycatcher, and a long tailed tit. Also a spotless starling. At one point we get a great view of a honey buzzard patrolling the thermals above us on the mountainside. But that was all. No hoopoes or bee eaters, or kites or other more exotic locals like the blue rock thrush and azure magpie, but never mind, we has a great day of conversation, which was most enjoyable.

The only misfortune was a wasp sting on my ring finger. I took off the ring and sucked out the venom, then transferred ring to the little finger of the other hand. I found this most uncomfortable and eventually transferred it back, as my finger hadn't swollen.

When I returned there were three documents to send out for the BCRP board meeting for reading before Monday. This normally give minute task took five hours or trial and error due to network congestion. A pretty rotten way to end an amazing beautiful day discovering inland Spain.

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