Monday, 31 October 2016

Cuevas del Almanzora visited

Once my morning tasks were done, I drove to Garrucha to get some close up photos of the cargo ships in dock, and went on from there to visit Cuevas del Almanzora, another 20km inland. The town is one of the largest along the Valle Almanzora, with a population of nearly 14,000. The road from Vera runs through a large area of coastal plain which once was covered with sea. The soil and hills are pale and sandy, both in colour and texture. This is a young landscape, its surface easily eroded. For millennia, people have burrowed into the cliffs and created homes or storage areas. Hence town's name 'Cuevas'.

It's a fertile area, given over to orchards and vegetable growing. The green of industrial horticulture is a striking and beautiful contrast to the colour of the soil on the sides and floor of the valley. The town's oldest quarter is on a hill to the north of the rambla, which the rio Almanzora flows after heavy rain, and at the top is a sixteenth century castle built by the Marques de Velez of that time. It's well used, housing a museum and art gallery, the town's policia local headquarters, and seating arranged to make an open air auditorium for plays and concerts. 

The views of the town and surrounding from its bastions are wonderful. A modern cast iron walkway has been constructed around the east facing castle walls to give access to the best views. The town hall and other administrative buildings dating from the early 19th century are a few hundred metres down the hill in the narrow triangular shaped Plaza de la Constitucion, and below that in another street is the Parish Church.

I walked up the hill behind the castle to find the Ermita del Calvario y San Diego, again with amazing views across town. In front of this, down the hill, is a cave museum, and also the town's well, none of which were open. San Diego de Alcalá was a 15th century Franciscan missionary lay brother and ascetic of the kingdom of Seville. The name Diego is derived from Santiago (St James). He was one of the first post-Reformation saints to be canonised in 1588, 125 years after his death. His name lives on in the Californian county, and also in the devotion to him is his home region of Seville.

I was back in the apartment again by three for a late lunch, but went out again to take some twilight photos of the rio Aguas, as it was beautiful evening with just a few clouds to make it more interesting. As I was cooking supper, the postman turned up to deliver a local rates bill from the Ajuntamiento which I had to sign for. As with other aspects of life here in Spain, the name on the account is of the original property owner. The bureaucracy attached to changing the account identity is considered 'too hard', and rarely done. But someone currently responsible for the property has to pay up nevertheless. I was confronted with the same bill delivery routine when I was in Nerja, so at least it wasn't a surprise. And I did get a chance to speak some Spanish again.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sunday morning arrival

I was unable to benefit from an extra hour's sleep, and woke before dawn, as I have been doing lately. By the time I'd prayed and breakfasted, I was ready to leave for church but still an hour early. I heard a ship's siren sounding, something I've not so far noticed here, so I walked to the Rio Aguas bridge and then beyond to investigate. One of the large bulk carriers was on its final approach to Puerto Garrucha, in the company of two tugs. I watched the nearly 30,000 tonne ship being helped to dock stern first at the quay where gypsum is loaded, and got some pleasing photos. Later, the maritime traffic website told me the ship is called 'Kure Harbour', that it docked three hours ahead of schedule after a voyage from Morocco. The tugs, Nueve Chaparro and Guapo C are Garrucha based, and the website records their comings and goings regularly.
As I walked back over the bridge, I spotted a Great Heron standing in a prominent location up river, and took some photographs. It's the first I've seen here.
Then, off to the Ermita San Pascual for the Eucharist. As this is an autumnal holiday weekend for local people, the roads were a little busier than usual. It's quite noticeable because the speed limit along the coast road is 40kph, with plenty of speed bumps. Drivers don't negotiate these bumps in a uniform way - some are businesslike about it at 40kph, whilst others slow down considerably, and that inhibits the traffic flow even further. I remember people saying how the 20 minute journey time to the Ermita can double, if not more, on summer holiday Sundays, and now I've seen the contrast between Sundays, I understand why.

There were fifty people in church, and my Bible Sunday repeat sermon was only the same in parts, as there are options in the lectionary, and this week's readings were different from last. After the service, I was invited to lunch by Peter and Angela along with a friend of theirs at an Indian restaurant in Vera Playa. It was an enjoyable surprise. The food was good, and so was the company. I could have done with a siesta went I returned but somehow it didn't happen. 

I spent a long time talking with Clare on WhatsApp, as she was watching Rhiannon bake and decorate Hallowe'en cup cakes. For a short while it was impossible to sustain the call connection, no matter which internet app I tried. No idea why, but every now and then it seems to happen, regardless of the device I use, or the country I'm in. Amazing it works as well as it does, and how much better now that it was just 5-10 years ago. It's just inconvenient if it doesn't always work for no reason. But, it does reveal just how dependent it's possible to become on the perpetual availability and reliability of this means of communication.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Walking again to Mojácar Pueblo

Again I was up and about before dawn this morning, but sunrise was at half past eight, local time. It's just as well that I don't have any early starts here. The clock goes back tonight, and adjusting to the change of hour won't be so critical as when I return home in just over two weeks, and have to put the clock back another hour. Oh those afternoon sunsets, and dark by half past four! I don't look forward to that.

After breakfast, I sat out on the balcony with the telescope on its proper tripod, so I could use it to spot birds a good hundred metres away. I identified a collared dove, both from appearance and its characteristic call, which is different from that of a turtle dove. Yet, according to my bird book, the turtle dove is supposed to be common here as the collared dove is in the UK. The book, however, was published over thirty years ago, and things have changed in that time.

The weather seemed good for another walk up to Mojácar Pueblo, this time using the shortcut over the back road I discovered last week. It took me just under an hour and a half. When I arrived in the Plaza with the large mirador looking out across the coastal plain to the north, I was surprised to find that since my last visit it has been closed, surrounded by heras fencing, and transformed into a building site. There were groups of puzzled tourists somewhat crammed into the remaining half of the plaza nearest the shops. Not what they expected either? 

For a while, I wondered if there'd been some sort of disaster there, but then I saw an Ayantamiento notice announcing closure of a few back streets due to the demolition and 'sustucion' of the Plaza. Google translate was unable to help me with this word, but when I was about to set off on the return journey, I saw a large information panel near the bus stop announcing the demolition and 'suscitución' (=substitution, i.e. replacement) of the Plaza. The puzzling word was no more than a municipal typo.

In the Plaza there's a redundant ermita, which has been turned into a souvenir shop. I went in this time, as it was open, and looked at the collection of small silver 'indalo' images, which I'd discussed with Clare as possible Christmas presents for Rhiannon and Jasmine. After a WhatsApp phone discussion with Clare, I bought two pairs, to use for earrings, rather than single ones to hang on chains.

I visited the Parish Church again to see if there was an advertised time for Tuesday's Todos Santos Mass, but could find no information. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a quiet time therein, until a tour party arrived, led by a priest. Then I sat outside in the Plaza de Iglesia with a beer and a warm tortilla tapa, watching people coming and going for a while. Then I wandered about in a part of the town I'd not gone through before found some streets with views on the highest elevation of the pueblo, facing the sea. At the top is a Plaza del Castillo, although nothing visible now remains of the mediaeval Moorish fortress.

For the return trip, I chose to re-trace my steps on the route I took on the first walk up to the pueblo. As my legs were already well stretched and tired, the descent to the plain was quite steep in places and uncomfortable to walk. I glimpsed several interesting birds on the route, but I identified only a crested lark as it ran away from me along a side path.

By the time I reached the apartment, I was quite footsore, perhaps because I wore my walking shoes for my nearly four hour expedition, rather than the usual sandals. That's only the second time I've worn them since travelling in them, so my feet were unused to the change from sandals, even though the shoes are comfortable to walk in.

After cooking lunch and a siesta, I realised I there was some weekend shopping to do. I couldn't face the usual four kilometre walkabout to the Mercadona, so rather than do without until Monday, guiltily I took the car. Apart from the rare convenience store, shops and supermarkets here are shut on Sundays now. I'm not sure what happens in high season. 

The roads have certainly been busier yesterday and today with the influx of people taking a break for Todos Santos. Hallowe'en silliness doesn't play such a prominent part here as it does in Britain and other places where culture has been poisoned by American marketing hype. It's a relatively recent introduction. The custom of visiting family graves, tidying them up, leaving flowers, and even having a picnic party there, is still widely practised in Spain. Death is accepted more as a part of life, rather than the subject of fear and supernatural fantasies. It's altogether healthier, in my opinion, than what has sadly become normalised in northern European countries.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Ship watching refined

This morning it was a few degrees warmer than it has been lately, so I did some washing, and it dried much quicker than usual. I walked out to the bridge over the rio Aguas before lunch to try a powerful telescope for bird watching I've been loaned. Powerful indeed, but it needed its tripod stand provided for stability, and this wasn't practicable in the open air. I'll have to try on a table out on the balcony and see what results I can get. There are plenty of birds in our neighbourhood. On the way out, I saw a pair of white wagtails for the first time here.

While I was photographing birds on the bridge, I saw another large bulk carrier heading out to sea after leaving Puerto Garrucha. This one had the words 'Pacific Basin' on the side in large letters. Later I googled this and found that the Pacific Basin Shipping Limited is another global shipping company. Looking on the Marine Traffic website's Garrucha page, I learned it's named 'Alex A' and that tonight it's anchored off Gibraltar. 

When out walking in the afternoon, I saw another smaller cargo ship heading out, similar to the one I spotted yesterday, but with the letters ISB on the side, and close enough to reveal that it was named the Christina. Another google search revealed this to be one of the International Shipping Bureau's fleet. The name speaks for itself. It's fascinating to realise the variety of foreign companies operating cargo ships using Puerto Garrucha. Even so, 51% of reported maritime traffic is local fishing boats, to be seen and heard early morning and afternoons, coming and going. Such a wealth of up to date information freely available on-line to anyone who is curious enough, like me, to bother to look.

Sister in law Ann emailed me to say that a neighbour had seen pictures of Eddie on Google Street View of all places, so I tracked them down and sent her the screen shots that I retrieved. They were dated August 2011. Funnily enough, I remember Eddie mentioning that he'd seen the camera car pass through the village. I wonder if he knew he was caught on camera chatting to a neighbour?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Thursday celebration and ship tracking

I drove inland again this morning, to celebrate the Eucharist of Saints Simon and Jude a day early at the Aljambra chapel. A fortnight ago, Fr Alan introduced me to a shorter cross country route from the main road into Albox to circumvent the town centre. I took what I thought was the right turning at the autovia exit, then took the wrong cross country road, taking me up into the hills to the north of town, nowhere near my destination. Once I was sure this was so, I turned around, returned to the main road and drove the route I first learned through the town, only to find the road out towards Aljambra was blocked off due to unannounced resurfacing work. 

Once more I turned around and headed back to the edge of town where I knew the turning I'd missed must be near. I rang Fr Alan, but despite his best intentions to direct me, was still bewildered. He was however, in a position to call a member of the congregation awaiting my arrival and explain what had happened. I back-tracked and soon identified the turning I should have taken off the main road. From there, it was easy, and I arrived, but a few minutes later than expected. Arrival was a rare pleasure!

After the Eucharist, I joined the congregation in an excellent lunch served in the chapel itself. This happens every fourth Sunday in the month. It's great. There's always enough to feed anyone else who might just turn up. That's proper Christian hospitality, something I've noticed over the past few years is happening these days at churches in all sorts of places in different ways.

After the meal, I returned to Mojacar, shopping at Lidl's on the way, and later walked along the beach as far as the Parador. Clare called on Whatsapp, as I was reaching the turning point. She's now up in Kenilworth for the weekend with Rhiannon, as Kath and Anto come and go with the Wriggledance performance tour - fifty venues all over England over six months, focussed on times it's possible to garner an audience of parents with pre-school children. I spoke to Kath about the tour, also Clare and Rhiannon, while sitting on a bench across the road from the Parador. "We stayed there a few times, Mojacar's lovely" said Kath. I didn't know they'd been here and enjoyed the place before me.

On the return walk, I caught sight of a cargo ship that had sailed out of Garrucha. It wasn't one of the larger bulk carrier ships but a smaller craft of shallower draft, laden with containers, I think. Its side was emblazoned with the legend WAGENBORG.
An on-line check later told me Royal Wagenborg is a diverse Dutch shipping company with global interests and hundreds of ships. I'd never heard of it before. Being curious about its cargo, I googled the company, then sent them an email enquiry to find out what the ship had come to collect from Garrucha and where it was bound. 

Enquiring of the Puerto de Garrucha website didn't give me what I wanted to know, but set me on on another search, until I got a fascinating glimpse into port arrivals and departures. The local marine traffic website is most informative and user friendly, so one can easily find information about local commercial shipping traffic. Such an amazing, unexpected evening diversion.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Ministry in Arboleas

As I was driving along the coast road to Garrucha on my way to today's funeral in Arboleas, there were three bulk carriers riding at anchor off-shore and one about to leave port. It's more usual to see one ship docked and loading and only occasionally another out in the bay. Why the increase in traffic? What's going on in another part of the world requiring so much raw construction material, I wonder? Or is this all a regular part of a cycle of commerce I know nothing about? It's intriguing.

I took the route to Arboleas on the back country road past Concepción and through Zurgena, having left early enough to have time to take photos on the way there and on the way back. The site of this rural village has been in occupation since neolithic times, with fertile soil, access to water and marble quarrying in the vicinity as an economic resource. It's the centre of a municipal area that reaches north across the valley as far as Llanos del Peral. Down on the floor of the valley is the village of La Alfoquia, which seems bigger. When the railway came to the Almanzora valley in the late 19th century there was a station there, a goods yard and warehouses. Some of the buildings survive, but alas, nothing more.

I arrived in Arboleas an hour early, found the church and a place to park, then had a coffee, in a bar nearby. In this place, and another around the corner, I heard mostly English being spoken, as I passed by. Indeed, since I've been in Mojacar, I've heard more English spoken on the streets, than Spanish, followed by French. The funeral director and his wife had arrived with the hearse by the time I left the bar. The church, however, was locked.

Slowly the space in front of the church filled with cars and people arriving for the funeral. Nobody seemed to know when the church would be unlocked or by whom. The widow and a few mourners were beginning to fret about not being able to get into the church. The funeral director called the priest with whom he'd made the booking and I gathered from him that he'd be along soon. It seems he was the other side of town officiating at a funeral in the Municipal Thanatorium, and was the only key holder available. I found myself briefly in the role of interpretor. It seems that few of the expats had more than rudimentary Spanish.

The young parish priest arrived at twenty to twelve and opened up. The churches in this area are fortunate to have young clergy, with so much ground to cover, so much to look after. We spoke in Spanish, and he was most welcoming, and expressed relief that a priest had been found to conduct an English service. He spoke some English, but like others, lacks confidence to use it unless really necessary. Bit by bit, however, necessity is proving to be a virtue for me, as I find that I can make myself understood quite well, except when I get learned vocabulary 'blank-outs'. The insistence to 'use it or lose it' is certainly true.

There was a congregation of about eighty for the service. The selection of popular songs from Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra seemed to fit, as a contrast to the quiet reflective mood it was so easy to facilitate in a beautifully decorated and well cared for neo-baroque 19th century building. There are rows of double columns in the arcades supporting the nave. Although painted to look like marble, these are made of local cast iron, a homage to local industry.
There was no gathering immediately after the funeral, so I took my leave of the widow, aware that she's living in a neighbourhood of expats that's long standing and close knit, so there'd be informal visits and socialising going on later in the afternoon. I re-traced my journey to the A7, and was back in the apartment cooking lunch by half past two.

I didn't go out for my evening paseo until it was almost dark. I walked as far as the Repsol garage near Garrucha and back, which took me an hour. As I passed over the Rio Aguas bridge, squadrons of egrets were flying in to roost for the night. Reed beds either side, nearest to the sea were a mass of white blobs, once they given up jostling for position or changing their resting place. It's hard to estimate just how many egrets roost there but it's got to be over five hundred.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ornithology surprises

In a mood of industriousness this morning, I wrote two sermons, one for the Aljambra Eucharist on Thursday, in honour of St Simon and St Jude (about whom precious little is known),  and another for All Saints' Sunday. While preparing the former, I discovered there's an ancient church at Maku in northern Iran, in the region where Iran meets both Armenia and Azerbaijan. It's possibly one of the world's oldest Christian sites where the apostles are said to have been buried, martyred nearby, after evangelising in Armenia and Iran. Under islamic rule today, the church is said to be only accessible to pilgrims on their festival, one day a year, rating this as the world's most inaccessible Christian places of pilgrimage.

After lunch I had a phone call to tell me this this Sunday, it'll be Bible Sunday readings at the Mojacar Eucharist, and not All Saints. It didn't take me long to re-edit last Sunday's effort for Llanos, so now I am a week ahead! What shall I do with myself? There are no weekday services here next week - so far, but it was possible there could be another funeral, after all. I quite enjoy being in a position to pick up on anything that comes my way. It keeps me on my toes. It does my mind good. Heaven help me if I ever run out of things to do!

Later in the afternoon, I made myself go out for a walk. The weather is warm, but overcast, just like Cardiff, except that the clouds are a bit higher. Blue sky is such an incentive to get outdoors, a day like this is a temptation to turn in on myself. Anyway, I decided to explore the road on the north side of the Rio Aguas nature reserve. On the way over the bridge I got some good shots of a moorhen and a reed warbler, one of several pairs active in the reed beds, expressing itself occasionally with a noticeably loud distinctive call. Several pairs of moorhens were there before, but I'd not identified them, but confused them with the gallinules that are also present. There's this tiny diving duck with scruffy plumage. It might be an immature something, though what, I can't begin to think. Earlier I identified it as a teal, but now I'm less than sure. Its behaviour rules out it being a coot or a moorhen. For now it's a mystery bird.

The walk up the un-metalled road took me was the end of the golf course which is part of a golfing resort occupying land between Mojacar and Garrucha. I've walked around sections of it before, but have never seen anyone playing a round, and just one person on the driving range. The weather is great right now for a round of golf, so why is the place deserted? I wonder. 

After tarmac ran out, I followed the un-metalled track for another kilometre, as far as the cement works, and then crossed the dry river bed for the return leg. The entire length of the arroyo, both the section where there's water, and where the watercourse is underground, is rich with a variety of small birds, very hard to identify. At one point a flock of several dozen took to the wing at the same time. The energetic sound of the birds taking off surprised me. I would have needed the camera to be on, and set to video record to capture what I saw. 

It wasn't a flock of sparrows, the sight of which I am used to, but of even smaller birds, whose flight pattern was both erratic and distinctive, the entire group flew in patterns to avoid and confuse predators in a way I don't recall seeing before. I wonder how many more time I'd have to return to their territory to see that again.

So glad I made the effort to get out of the house for an hour or so.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Side roads in Valle Almanzora

On the basis of the directions I received yesterday, I drove to Arboleas, but couldn't find a sign that directed my to Los Corrascos. I knew it was on the south side of the town, out past the Municipal Thanatorio, but how far I wasn't sure. I did a tour of part of the town due to a missed turning, but second time around, found the Thanatoro, predictably, next to the cemetery, took the wrong turning but quickly realised my error. The correct turning took me a couple of kilometres out of town over a hill and into a valley parallel to Valle Almanzora. There was no sign for the village I was looking for until I reached the sign announcing that I had arrived.  

I drove through Los Corrascos wondering where my right turning would be, and spotted a rather worn Correos posting box on a right hand corner, which I'd noticed in the Google Street View photo that didn't reveal the extent of the street beyond. I turned, and then immediately before me saw the shiny new street name plate I was looking for. Apparently this housing area acquired street name plates for the first time only recently, after a wait of more than a dozen years. No doubt Google Maps will catch up in due course.

After an hour of planning funeral service arrangements for Wednesday, I headed back down the Valle Almanzora, but instead of taking the autovia, I followed the winding country road east, on the opposite side of the valley leading to Zurgena. The road climbs up and out of the valley through a gap in the south side of the valley. Zurgena's houses are distributed on the slopes and floor of this gap, and is in effect a hill village. I didn't want to stop, as I was determined to return and complete my preparation for the funeral while my memory was still fresh, as I was asked deliver a tribute. The drive through, showed me that it's worth stopping to take a look around next time.

The road ascends from the village on to a rolling plain, green with citrous orchards, and ringed by jagged peaks formed by volcanic action and soil erosion. So the pale yellow soil is rich and fertile in what can be grown there with suitable modern irrigation techniques. In fact, it's surprising just how much green is visible in an area of very low rainfall.

The road from Zurgena looks relatively new, and was probably built or upgraded to provide a direct link to the A7 autovia. It runs outside rather than through Concepción, the next village on a ridge overlooking Valle Almanzora. From there, it's just a couple of kilometres to the next junction down from where I usually turn off the A7 to drive to Aljambra and Llanos. On the last stretch to the coast, I diverted to do some shopping to the large Mercadona just off the road at the edge of an urbanizacion a  couple of kilometres outside the coastal resort of Puerto Rey, in between Playa Vera and Garrucha. I must make an effort to drive north and explore the coast road. It has an industrial history due to mining before modern tourism made its mark.

In the afternoon, I completed preparations for Wednesday's service, and only after supper, when it was dark did I go out for a walk, and phoned Clare and Rhiannon, who's staying with her for half term, from the sea shore, so they could hear the sound of the waves and the tree frogs chirping in the moist warm night air. Tomorrow promises to be warmer.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Street view navigation

Today's Bible Sunday service took me again to Llanos where there were over thirty people for the Eucharist. Many regulars are away at this time, I understand. The weather was comfortably mild, even with a wind, much to the relief of many present, as it was unnecessary to use fans to keep cool. We began the service, in consequence, with a few minutes of delicious silence. I told a little of the story of the Bible Society's world wide work, and afterwards found there were some who are familiar with it. I felt a little like I did back in to eighties when I was often out and about preaching 'world mission' sermons and telling stories about the work of church agencies at home and abroad.

While I was just about to eat lunch on returning, I had the exchange of calls about the funeral on Wednesday which I'd been expecting last night, and then made arrangements to visit the widow, who lives just up the valley from Arboleas. She gave me clear instructions, which I tried to follow on Google maps with little success. Putting the address into the search bar produced nothing. So I tried using Microsoft's Bing map search engine. That produced no result and the area map was far inferior. Using Google Street View again, as I did yesterday, I followed the main road towards the house to the point at which there was meant to be a right turn. Indeed there was, but there was no view of a street, only a view of tarmac'd stretch of road without houses. This convinced me that neither map nor Street View have been recently updated.

It's not uncommon here for streets in new housing developments to remain un-named for several years after houses are built and occupied - they are simply known by the original developer's plot numbers. Keeping street maps up to date is by no means an easy task when there are so many new developments to cover all over the world. 

When Street View was first came to Cardiff city centre, it showed pictures of the redevelopment work well in progress, from late 2008. Earlier still, Google Earth had shown aerial photos of the city centre dated October 2006, the week when demolition began. You could even see a huge yellow machine that eats old buildings parked on a flattened site. It would be another five years before this aerial view was updated. I lost track of when Street View caught up with the place transformed, but do know it was a year or so after the work was completed in summer 2009. I pitied foreign visitors using these services, having heard about the wonders of the new shopping centre and finding images of a building site instead. Not good for tourism! My protests yielded nothing, but that was in the days before I could complain publicly on Twitter.

A couple of weeks ago, I broke my HSBC code generating device, used for CBS business internet banking. I didn't feel I could throw it away intact, so I reduced it to pieces to throw away, and extracted the tiny lithium battery for safe disposal. It's always a challenge to find a battery disposal unit at home and abroad. Here in Mojacar however, there's a collection point facility I've not seen elsewhere. There are tall advertising panels at certain points along the street, and built in to the base of some is a safe disposal unit. Ingenious. I must have walked past one nearest to the apartment a dozen times without remembering to drop off the battery. Tonight, on my evening paseo, I finally remembered, musing to myself that sometimes you can overlook doing the right thing, even when it's possible and right in front of you.

Saturday, 22 October 2016


This morning straight after breakfast, I set off to walk to Mercadona, in need of olive oil and fruit to see me through the weekend. My usual route goes along the main road as far as 'El Rancho del Mar' hotel, then turns inland and goes uphill, and then left along a parallel side street, passing the local Urgencias. It's quieter. Today, on a whim, I took a detour, walking on uphill, beyond the point where there's neither tarmac nor lamp-posts, just an un-metalled track in open scrubland. I was curious to see if this track would give me some different views of the foothills away from the sea, inland. I wasn't disappointed, and also got a pleasing photo of Mojacar Pueblo in bright sunlight.

I climbed, about three quarters of a kilometre to the top of a ridge, and discovered that the track on the other side descends steeply down to the main road from Playa to Pueblo. Walking down from the Pueblo on a previous occasion I'd noticed this track and wondered exactly where it led. Now I know! Next time I walk to the Pueblo, I have a short cut that'll save me a couple of kilometres.

Earlier in the week I bought an 800g pack of fresh chicken breast, enough for at least four meals, given how little meat I eat at any time these days. Rather than freeze any of it, I decided to cook and then store it all in one session, then use cooked portions to add into some other disk I fancy preparing. The first batch for lunch, ended up being stewed in white wine with onion, garlic, herbes provençal, green beans, red pepper, mushroom, and a dash of tomato passata, which I prefer to tomato frito. It turned out to be an enjoyably tasty dish, which is just as well, as I made enough for two. I still find it hard to scale down and cook food for one from fresh ingredients, but this means I take time to cook properly only every other day.

Later, I did a load of washing and left it out on the balcony for a little too long. I had to put on the heating for a while, to finish drying my only pair of pyjamas. It's not yet been needed, apart from this, as the weather is pleasantly mild, day and night, 21-17C. 

I finished and printed off tomorrow's sermon, and dealt with messages from Duncan, in Malta on holiday, about a funeral this Wednesday in the Parish Church at Arboleas, the next on the road down the Almanzora valley towards the coast, from Albox, so it won't be hard to find. Even so, I spent time with Google Street View trying to identify where the church is in Calle Iglesia, as churches aren't always tagged on these maps. I found out that it's dedicated to Santiago. The building is 19th century, replacing a church built after the reconquista, in 1505. That building was located on a promontory above the town and the river, and dedicated to San Roque, the town patron. It became ruinous and eventually was completely demolished. I've driven past the town several times now, so I won't have any trouble finding my way there.

Now the pyjamas are dry enough to wear, bed time.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Up and beyond the coast road

Today is actually the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster I wrote about last Sunday. The BBC Radio Four Today programme had a thoughtful report by John Humphrys, who as a young reporter had visited the village that day. Radio Cymru played part of Karl Jenkins' Aberfan memorial cantata recently premiered. BBC Radio Wales gave over the morning to playing music, and receiving phone calls from people in Wales and further afield sharing their stories from that day. At nine fifteen, the minute's silence in honour of the 144 dead was observed, but it was not 'radio silence'. I believe it was a live feed of the ambient sound being experienced at the ceremony in the village itself, as the distant roar of traffic on the A470 above, and birdsong, could be heard. 

Silence started and ended with the blowing of a whistle. I wondered if this was connected with the original rescue efforts, but I haven't found anything to confirm it. Rescuers digging for survivors commonly use a whistle to call for silence and stillness if any sound is heard from the stricken zone.

This landslide of a mining spoil heap into a school full of children, was an example of incompetent dangerous waste management on the part of the National Coal Board, many of whose practises may hardly have changed since the pits were developed by private mining companies. Eagerness to extract mineral wealth profitably from the ground and get rich as a result is often accompanied by disregard for safety of workers or the impact of the industry on the environment. It's still happening in many parts of the world, and despite modern scrutiny, it could happen again here over the introduction of fracking.

I found myself thinking not only of the teachers and children whose lives had been taken, but of the countless others working in mines, killed by industrial accidents or diseases, often receiving little or no compensation from company owners. The National Coal Board and its chairman Lord Robens were much criticised over the disaster, but nobody responsible was brought to judgement. Mother Nature's judgement on dumping large amounts of mining spoil over a watercourse was an avoidable environmental catastrophe. It wasn't bad luck but a man-made disaster. The fact that such things still happen indicates how far costs get cut, risks get taken and safety disregarded in pursuit of profitability. When will we ever learn?

After lunch, I went for a walk along the coast road. A little way beyond Mojacar's Parador hotel, I found an un-metalled road running inland alongside a piece of raised waste ground with derelict buildings on it. A gap in the more or less continuous urban development which is Mojacar Playa. The road goes alongside an arroyo flanked by more unkempt waste land, marred by rubbish. Then the road begins to rise and parts company with the arroyo. Half a kilometre from the coast road, houses with extensive gardens and terraces became visible, private villas, well separated from each other, and the road becomes metalled. After walking half an hour, I came to a luxury urbanizacion, like many others, built in Andalusian pueblo blanco style, borrowing features from Arabic buildings, arches, domes, towers suggestive of minarets but aren't. At 50 metres above the sea and an initial 10 metre rocky outcrop the road offers good coastal views.

Cloud shrouded the peaks inland, but was more broken out to sea. The mountain foothills, contain a lot more dwellings scattered on them than are visible initially from the coast road, up to a height of 200 metres. There may be a hamlet or a village up there, but then it may be a select hotel or urbanizacion, it's hard to tell, from a distance of several kilometres. Who lives there? Who goes there? Who stays there? It'd be interesting to find out, but living that far from town is must be rewarding for the views alone. 

On my way back I found I'd received an email from the Revd Roy Jenkins thanking me for my message of appreciation sent after his Sunday morning broadcast service. He said he'd worked on three different Aberfan commemorative programmes, and that preparations had been going on for over a year. When I arrived back at the apartment, I realised that I'd walked for nearly three hours, a distance of about 10 km. No wonder I'm feeling tired tonight.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Ministry in Roquetas del Mar

This morning, Alwyn and I drove south on the A7 autovia a hundred miles to the seaside resort of Roquetas del Mar, the far side of Almeria, to celebrate the Eucharist for the small group that has met there for many years. The service wasn't in a church, but in Burti's Bar, a place frequented by expats, run by an Englishwoman. When the chaplaincy was well established, there were many more worshippers here, all retired people. Over the years people have died, or returned to the UK, and have not been replaced by other British expats. The focus on desirable places to settle has shifted elsewhere since then.

Roquetas, like Almeria sprawls across the coastal plain beneath the mountains, a very built up area. Seaside land is dominated by some stylish colourful high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Further inland are zones of commercial and industrial buildings. What strikes the eye however, is the vast acreage of poly-tunnel greenhouses, filling in every patch of open space remaining. Fields of white plastic sheets begin to appear, filling plains and valley floors a good 20km to the north of Almeria, and further south as well. This is one of Spain's main regions for growing and exporting vegetables on an industrial scale thanks to technologies developed and refined over the past thirty years.

The A7 autovia winds through the sierras and by-passes Almeria to the west, straight through the foothills, rather than around them. Apparently, it's now open all the way to Malaga, cutting journey times significantly. The terrain through which it passes is semi-arid with pale sandy soil, low bushes, with trees a rarity. It's easy to see why spaghetti Western movies were shot on location around here. The sedimentary bed rock is geologically young and crumbly, so excavating cuttings straight through is less difficult, and makes for a road with fewer and longer curves. Cross-sections of rock in these cuttings are varied and colourful, with pale yellow, pale grey orange and pink hues, all of which made the journey most interesting for me.

There were half a dozen of us for the service. I think there'll be more attending next month's Remembrance-tide service. The last time I recall leading worship in a bar was over 30 years ago. A Harvest Festival sing-song in a pub at the edge of Bristol's St Paul's area. It wasn't an abiding custom however. The pub itself closed and was demolished not long after. 

On the way back, we stopped at a large DIY store where Alwyn purchased two long folding tables, such as are used to prepare wallpaper for hanging. These will have a different life as stalls for the forthcoming Christmas Fayre.

We didn't stop for lunch, as I was apprehensive about being sleepy while driving after a meal. It was gone four when I eventually sat down to eat. I'd like to return and take a good look at Almeria itself, but would prefer to go by bus, and not have the hassle of car parking and one way systems in a big strange city. I'll need to do some research first. I haven't get found out where Mojacar's bus station is.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza

Mid morning, I drove the 20km inland across the plain from Mojacar to the small town of Antas, (population of around 3,000) in good time to have a look around before the funeral at noon. Antas is located above the south bank of the river after which the town is named, not that there's water to be seen, except in extreme seasons. 

In another era, water flowing from sierras to the west carved a 150m wide channel 20-30m deep through ancient deposits of alluvial rock and sediment, turning the old river bed into an arroyo with a flat surface fit for cultivating oranges, lemons and other crops, enclosed by sheer cliffs of pale sandy material. In some places, the river's action hollowed out caves, some have been extended to make dwellings and storage places. 

This is a richly fertile area, settled since the stone age, although the town's emergence in its present form probably dates to the 16th century. Its Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza dates from 1505. This dedication is unusual, although not uncommon in Andalusia. 'La cabeza' is Spanish for 'head'. Without knowing its story, this sounds bizarre. 

It begins with a reputedly ancient image of the Virgin being hidden in the on the Cerra del Cabezo in the Sierra de Andujar, west of Jaen and Cordoba at the time of the Moorish invasion of Southern Spain in the eighth century. Fast forward five centuries and the image is miraculously rediscovered by a shepherd who is miraculously healed as a result, a sanctuary is built and devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza begins and spreads, as the reconquista gets under way. The story relects the resurgence of Christian identity in Andalusian life, for although Christianity was tolerated in the time of Islamic rule, it was unable to be expressed freely in the public realm.

After a photo tour of the old town, I met Fr Enrico the parish priest, just after he'd opened the church. He was most welcoming, and he put up with my efforts to converse Spanish for a good twenty minutes, before he switched to English, which he speaks quite well. He told me that he says Mass for English speaking Catholics once a month at Palomares, and had spent time in Norway as a chaplain to Spanish expats there. English is widely spoken by Norwegians, and serves as a second language, especially among a wide range of international expats living and working in the country. A kindred spirit indeed!

There were just over a dozen people present for the funeral, and afterwards we went to the Bar Almanzora where I'd met the widow and her friend two days ago, for a buffet lunch. It's a long time since I was invited to join a social gathering after a funeral. I enjoyed sitting and listening to table talk, and occasionally being quizzed about my religious views, though not too demandingly. I got back around three, and whiled away the rest of the day editing and uploading photos, chatting with Clare and Owain, plus listening to music stored on my phone, something I don't often take time for.  

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A visit to Carboneras, and a saint discovered.

I rose early, washed some clothes, wrote a St Luke's Day sermon for Thursday's sermon at  the Roquetas de Mar service, then wrote another one after lunch for next Sunday, around Cranmer's Bible Sunday Collect. It was one of the first Prayer Book Collects I ever learned off by heart, when I was a student. 

I became familiar with it in making bible study part of my Christian rule of life. Then in my last undergraduate year, a group at St Paul's University Chaplaincy church put on the play by Charles Williams entitled 'Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury', all about the man whose creative mind devised the English Book of Common Prayer, first issued in 1549. I had a small part in it. This particular Collect was quoted in the play, and I've remembered it ever since. Many Anglican Collects are his translation from the Latin, though some were original compositions for occasions not provided for by the old Roman rite. Anyway, it's nice to have an opportunity to make use of it in preaching as well as prayer.

At the end of the afternoon, I drove down to the Ermita de San Pascual which we use for Sunday services in Mojacar, to collect wafers and wine for the travelling Communion kit I must take with me to Roquetas de Mar. Looking at the church notice board on the way out, I noticed that the chapel is dedicated to San Pascual Baylon, something I'd not learned from Google Maps, someone I'd never heard of. 

I googled him when I eventually got back, and discovered he was a Spanish Friar, born in 1540 as the protestant reformation was sweeping through northern Europe. His family were poor peasants, and he struggled to learn to read to pursue a lie of devotion, while he was growing up as a shepherd boy. Eventually, at 24 he joined a Franciscan contemplative community, where he lived a life of prayer in ascetic poverty, dying aged 44. He's associated with the practice of sacramental adoration, and is patron saint of Catholic Eucharistic congress gatherings. There, that's something I didn't know when I woke up this morning.

I then drove on down the coast road in search of the next coastal town, Carbonera, signposted from Mojacar but with no indication of the distance. In fact, it's as far from the Ermita, as the Ermita is from the chaplaincy apartment, altogether 22km.

Sight unseen, this turned out not to be an easy drive. The road is safe, modern, well built and well maintained, but every kilometre offers its own surprises. It undulates, rises and falls 2-300metres, and is full of sinuous and sometimes banked curves, crossing ramblas and steep ravines, passing through high hills in deep cuttings. Most of the way, you drive through the Cabo de Gata - Nijar Parque Natural, reputed for its bird life and stunning mountain beauty. It's the latter that makes this so difficult to drive. When you're driving up from the shore, the line of the highway ascending so steeply make you wonder if you can succeed in the journey. There are few places to stop safely, and so much to see it's a constant struggle to stay focused on the road. Thankfully, out of season there's little traffic.

This is another region with a geological history of great turbulence, where different historical rock strata are fractured and mixed up like the inside of a marble cake. In some road cuttings, there were vertical layers of rock in pink, yellow and grey, with a softer adjacent bed of black slate so crumbly it looked like a South Wales Valleys coal tip. Hillside vegetation cover is rich in colour, and in the same area you see several different coloured soils exposed, similar colours in rocky outcrops also. These colours aren't vivid, but muted, in contrast with the more intense green, yellow and orange of vegetation. It's a road I'd loved to have been able to linger on and take lots of photographs, but there was no safe opportunity. There's no walking route on this stretch of road, to even consider a photo shoot expedition. I need to go again with someone else driving. 

Carboneras is a old fishing village transformed into a holiday resort, its long sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, with an unpretentious mixture of businesses and eateries across the narrow shoreline road. It has a world wide reputation as one of the places where the production team for the movie 'Lawrence of Arabia' was based. Several of its scenes were shot nearby. On the edge of the main plaza there's a bronze statue which resembles Peter Finch wearing Arab garb, plus a commemorative plaque. This experience is still well remembered by many of the older generation of the town's 8,000 strong population.

Beyond to the south of town is a small port with a fishing fleet and leisure marina. Beyond that, at the far end of the bay, a cement factory scars the skyline, and there's a ceramic works too. Also the town boasts one of the largest water de-salination plant in Europe. It's a place to visit for a quiet beach holiday, but while seasonal tourism is beneficial to the economy, mineral industries are still a mainstay, as in several other places I've noticed along the costas.

The Castillo de San Andres in the plaza opposite the ajuntamiento, dating back to the 16th century, at a time when the Moors rose up against the Catholic kingdom. In the 17th and 18th century, the coast of Almeria province was plagued by pirates, so this remained in use as a garrison fortress, protecting a thinly populated mountainous coastal region.

On the road north out of Carboneras are a several large urbanizaciones, and an impressive cliffside hotel complex under construction, though whether it will ever be completed is questionable, given the continued impact of recession on the Spanish holiday industry. Along the costas stand the ugly shells of many half finished construction projects, some contentious and illegally started. Nobody has the funds, either to complete or to demolish and restore the landscape. Beauty spots can be as blighted by failed products of the building industry as they can be by traditional industries which are still contributing to the region's economy.

The journey back was a lot easier as I knew what to expect, and spotted places to stop. Suffice it to say that I'm looking forward to another more extensive drive along the coast road, knowing there's so much more to discover.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A funeral to prepare for

Just after a late breakfast, I received a phone call from an Englishman working as a funeral director to ask if I'd take a service in the village Church at Antas, about half an hour's drive inland from the coast. He gave me the widow's contact details, and those of the Parish Priest, who said he'd like me to get in touch. I then phone made a midday meeting arrangement to prepare for the service in a cafe on a trading estate close to the A7 autovia exit nearest to Mojacar, which is actually within the boundaries of Antas, although separated from it by the road.

I arrived just at the same time the widow and her widowed friend, and noticed how members of the staff in the cafe greeted her with of sympathy, clearly she and her husband were regular customers here. We talked for a long while and I gleaned enough information to write a eulogy, as family and friends didn't wish to. The deceased was an aero engineer, what had worked on building Concorde at Filton in Bristol, something recalled understandably with great pride. 

A selection of popular music had been chosen to play during the service. No hymns, and very few prayers I was admonished, as the widow claimed not to be a believer, although her husband had still possessed respect for the faith of his boyhood, if not actual practice. As the shock of his death, unexpected due to complications after an operation was still raw, I felt it wiser not to argue, but later, it meant that I'd need to give careful attention to liturgical content with this in mind, as to crafting the eulogy. The issue is not leaving God out as much as bringing God's presence into focus in a respectful way - inviting those who can to pray, rather than just saying prayers on everyone's behalf. Thankfully there's plenty of precedent for that in Christian tradition, always having to cater for diversity in the participants at an occasional office of the Church..

On the way back to the apartment I did my main weekly shopping trip to Lidl's in Garrucha, but after lunch I realised that I'd forgotten milk and margarine yet again, so walked into Mojacar to buy some, and get much needed exercise. In the evening I called Fr Enrique, the Parish Priest of Antas, with my well rehearsed speech in Spanish, but got no reply. Half an hour later, however, he rang back, and after a successful start in Spanish, he switched to English, keen to practice his foreign language as I was. I'm looking forward to meeting up on Wednesday for a chat before the service.

I went down to the beach again in search of pictures of the moon rising out of the sea, but there was thin cloud down to the horizon, and little to be seen, let alone photographed. Ah well, another night maybe.

Late night success

Failure to recover those Garrucha photos was still bugging me, after midnight, when I should have gone to bed, but I would have only dreamed about the annoyance anyway, and wondered what I did wrong. So I googled and found a free 'try before you buy' Windows 10 file recovery program

I'd not seen before (it depends of the key words you enter into Google search), then to my delight, it delivered the lost photos within seconds of downloading and running it. It's called EaseUS data recovery program. Well done, those who designed and provided it.

Needless to say, I edited the pictures and uploaded them to Google Photos, as I'd intended to do this afternoon. Such a relief, to find this, regardless of the sleep I may lose catching up. One of the benefits of retirement is, what happens on Monday mornings doesn't often really matter now.

Looking through recovered photos, including more of the industrial site, I got some key information from John, a retired engineer, at this morning's service, which finally made sense of the place. Firstly the narrow gague railway track didn't use an engine to bring the ore trucks (or 'drams', as they were known in South Wales pit parlance) from the inland mines, but were towed by cable partly powered by the weight of empty trucks returning. Just like the transport systems my father worked on for thirty years of his life underground, and became an acclaimed expert in running, to the point where he wrote and published a book on the subject called 'Colliery Haulage and Rope Splicing. I still have his handwritten original draft at home.

John also pointed out that the strange structure, subject of my conjecture, wasn't buried remains of furnaces, but a level ramp where the the trucks ended their journey and unloaded ore, possibly to a long chute for the last hundred metres journey to a ship's hold. This makes sense of its careful solid construction. It means there's no trace visible of smelting furnaces that might have been on the site, but I daresay soil on cleared and tidied up ground tells its own story when analysed. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Aberfan remembered

While eating breakfast this morning, I listened to BBC Radio 4 on the Nexus tablet, first the news and then Sunday Worship, as it was from Wales, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. The Reverend Roy Jenkins presented it, a Baptist Minister who trained in Cardiff Baptist colleague at the same time as I was at St Mike's. We've known each other since then. He's worked for BBC Wales as their religious affairs guy for decades, and continues in retirement to present programmes. 

When I was at St John's, he involved me in a broadcast round table discussion programme, and every now and then we bump into each other at the opera, or on the street in the city centre. Coincidentally, earlier this week, I received an email from him, after a weekend visit to Malaga, where he'd gone to the Harvest Festival Eucharist at St George's. He'd seen a mention of me on their website, and was curious that someone else was there instead, so I replied, telling him that I'd been redeployed since.

This morning's broadcast was a real tour de force, with hymns and readings which were important at the time of that tragedy, which occurred in a village in the neighbouring mining valley to the west of where I was born and grew up. There were also interviews with several ministers and lay people from the community, some of whom had lost children attending the school inundated by slurry from that unstable coal tip. I was especially impressed by a lay woman and a minister who spoke of how it was prayer that kept them going and enabled them to survive the aftermath of this disaster, and do more with their lives.

I left for the Mojacar Sunday Eucharist thinking about this, and resolved to introduce my sermon on the theme of persistence  to getin prayer, by speaking first about what I'd heard. It made the sermon a bit longer, but as most of  the congregation were my age, if not older, their memory of this event, and its repercussions all over Britain and the world, drew looks of recognition from many in the fifty strong congregation.

I succeeded in leaving home without any reading glasses, but was able to borrow a pair from Fr Alan to get me through, even though they were not my prescription. My driving glasses would not have been up to the task. It's a long time since I last left home without reading glasses. Perhaps I was still preoccupied with what I'd been listening to on the radio.

My personal memories of the Aberfan disaster are twofold. Firstly, in the week after, there were people out in the streets of Bristol city centre, where I was working in a Shell-BP office at the time, collecting for the Aberfan appeal, a sign of the national sympathy that emerged. Secondly, it was, I think, the first Friday of my first University half term weekend, so Clare and I, married two and a half months went over for the weekend to my parents in Ystrad Mynach, ten miles from Aberfan. Little else was on our minds apart from what had happened that morning.

Late the same evening, Archbishop Glyn Simon, who ordained me three years later, appeared on the family black and white telly to give a late night epilogue attempting to interpret the disaster, since he spoke about where God was in the midst of this unfolding tragedy. Afterwards, I remember my father, who'd worked in mining most of his life, who kept faith with reservations about the church, and was skeptical about many things, commented approvingly on what the Archbishop said. As an aspiring ordinand, this was a relief, given how skeptical Dad was at that time about me being ordained!

After the service half a dozen of us stopped at a popular Heladeria on their way home to have a drink and chat together. This is a regular occurrence here throughout the year, and the proprietor expresses his appreciation by sending us tapas - not just olives and crunchy nibbles, but also salchichon, cake and ice cream. Amazing generosity.

After a late lunch, I settled down to transferring photos of yesterday's visit to Garruch from the camera SD card to my laptop for editing and uploading. Disaster struck when I sent to delete several poor quality images, and ended up deleting fifty, because Windows Explorer, with its little tick box options for every file, doesn't behave the way I'm used to. I tells you how many you are about to delete, but in small print it's easy no to read in the middle of a routine file management operation. 

I downloaded one of the Windows recommended file u-delete program, installed and ran it. Deleted files were identified for recovery after a time consuming scan, but the program wouldn't allow me recover them without first paying for a subscription. OK, except that the download failed to mention it wasn't free. I did another search, found a free Open Source software package which downloaded and worked fine. This revealed that just four of the fifty three photos lost were recoverable, for no explicable reason, as I'd done nothing with the SD card since deleting the photos. I can only conclude the file damage was a consequence of the Windows 10 file deletion routine.

Hateful little tick boxes against every file managed by Windows Explorer by default work in such a way that you can leave boxes ticked, navigate beyond view of them in the files window, and forget that you have more ticked than you can see. Where you're copying them somewhere else or deleting, this is a recipe for havoc. It's totally untrustworthy, as a file management tool in this context. You can reconfigure to dismiss the hateful boxes, but why on earth this dangerous facility should be enabled by default is a mystery to me. One more thing which designers and programmers of user interfaces think is helpful when it isn't.

Thankfully, the batch of photos are all of Garrucha, taken yesterday. I can return, walk the same route and reproduce them, for my own interest, if nobody else's. Strange to say, but after I'd realised there was no option but to re-take the photos, I remembered another occasion when I had to do this. It was during a study visit to Jamaica in 1982, with a couple of film cameras - a Practica SLR and a Ricoh pocket half frame camera. I still have the former, but don't recall what happened to the latter. 

The high humidity level caused the SLR's shutter to malfunction. I developed  photos while I was there. When I found I'd lost a lot of valuable photos of my journey across the island, I was able to re-trace my steps and take another batch with the Ricoh. Thankfully I had time and a hire car, having saved money from my travel grant by having local contacts offering me hospitality. All those photos are digitized from the original slides and reside somewhere in my archives.

This evening I went to the beach nearby to watch the full moon rise and take photos. Unfortunately there was too much cloud and too little to capture anything of any interest. Very disappointing, but a pleasant hour on the sea shore, listening to the waves on a mild evening, waiting to see the moon, nevertheless. Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Garrucha exploration continued

Awake again at first light, and unable to doze off again, so I got up and took my camera down to the beach to get some photos of the sunrise, as the skies were reasonably clear. This was one that gave me pleasure to look at later.

Apart from uploading photos, the rest of the morning was once more devoted to CBS office affairs and a long phone call to Ashley. After lunch I walked once more to Garrucha and walked on further than the port and the promenade along the Calle Malecon. Most of Garrucha is on an undulating ridge, right above the beach. There are some steep streets ascending, but if you look left or right at any junction, you see how streets ar right angles go up and downhill along the contours as well. 

I found the Parish Church of San Joachin (father of Blessed Mary in Christian tradition), tucked into a rather inconspicuous plaza, a few streets along from the food market, with a statue of Maria Immaculata on a pillar in front of the church, looking out to sea. It looked as if it could do with a coat of paint, in contrast to an unusually modern design of building attached at the rear of the church, with tall bronze doors, decorated with bas relief images of suffering Jesus and Mary, announced itself to the home of a local cofradia. 

From there I walked to the top of the town. Above the uppermost street, the ridge rises sharply to a peak on which sits a monument to the town's industrial past in the form of a tall chimney. As there's nothing to tell you why it's there, and the only sign identifying the place has been smashed, it stands mysteriously in isolation, approached by a spiral ramp, at the end of an approach road flanked by street lamps, some broken. The site breathes an air of neglect, with sunken floodlight housings smashed. It's hard to tell if this is a genuine industrial remnant or a modern homage to past smelters that brought wealth to this small fishing port. Either way it's a cultural project which wasn't followed through with a sustainable budget for maintenance. Not unusual, but nevertheless a pity.

On the way back, I revisited the site of the town's lead ore furnace and walked right around the area this time in the hope of gaining more clues about the industry which once dominated this place. I gained no new insight from this, only a few more photos from different angles. Having walked to the top of the hillside on which the enterprise was located, I continued walking along the contour back to Mojacar, above a full sized golf course, surrounded on all sides by modern luxury hotel and apartment complexes. I spotted just one man on the course driving range, but nobody out of the course itself. But then, at time of year, visitor numbers are drastically diminished. I hope they do better in high season, to justify the phenomenal investment made in transforming this coastal area into a high class holiday resort.

I got back as the sun was setting, and went straight out again down to the beach, intent on taking some photos of the nearly full moon rising over the waters. I had much difficulty in making the necessary camera setting adjustments to enable the Sony HX300 to work at its best. I spent much of the rest of the evening reading the on-line manual and trying to figure out how. My best photos was taken on enhanced auto settings, and I still can figure out how to get what I want, despite an hour or more of playing about with it.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Weekend supermoon coming

I woke at dawn to see a sky filled with spectacular coloured clouds. Later in the morning it rained again, though not for long - just what's needed for the water to be absorbed by the soil and not to run off and cause chaos. I had several CBS office tasks to work on, as well as blog updating, and these occupied the day until late afternoon, when I went out shopping. 

After parking the car on return, the eight litre bottle of water I'd bought keeled over when I put it on the ground next to the car and was punctured by a small stone. It then started spouting water under pressure from the small volume of air or gas that's added to the bottle to keep it rigid. When I laid the bottle on its side to prevent it leaking any more, the air or gas hissed out. I then had to carry it in carefully and decant the contents into another eight litre bottle and an additional smaller bottle. How strange, that's never happened to me before.

Later, I walked for an hour along the beach road as it was getting dark. The moon rose early. It's now almost full, and shone brightly on the sea, a glorious sight. This weekend will be a supermoon full moon, when it's closest to the earth, known as a 'Hunter's Moon'. I must make sure I use this rare opportunity to get out as soon as it gets dark to photograph this full moon rising over the horizon out at sea.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Day of amazing views

This morning, I drove out to Los Galliardos to meet Fr Alan and travel together to Aljambra for the Eucharist. It was great to have the company of a fellow priest for the day, as I did in Malaga with Doreen last month. There were sixteen of us for the commemoration of St Edward the Confessor, and the singing was again enthusiastic.

After the service, we were invited by Lay Reader Duncan and Jean his wife, to visit their place for lunch. The house is perched on top of a mountain to the east of the valley in which the village of Aljambra is situated. It's at the end of several kilometers of steep winding unmetalled road, quite a challenging drive, so Duncan took us there, plus friends John and Ann in his six seater four wheel. It's at roughly the same altitude as Mt Snowdon with wonderful views in all directions, down to the sea plain in the east and even higher mountains to the west, and north.
The track affords many remarkable views during the ascent, and winds through a fascinating range of geological strata from different eras exhibited in exposed rock faces. The soil is mostly pale grey soft slate, but there's also streaks pushing through of old sandstone, limestone and volcanic rock, all mixed in a chaotic way, evidence of a turbulent ancient history. How I wish I'd been in a position to study geology properly when I was young, after initiation into what underlies the landscape by my Grandpa John Kimber in childhood.

Duncan and Janet's house is called Nido del Aguila - Eagle's Nest - a natural choice, since there were golden eagles riding the thermals above the ridge on the day they first visited twelve years ago. The house is way off grid, self supporting, sustained by solar electricity and rainwater storage. It even has a terrace with a swimming pool! There's an adjoining old house that's been renovated by the Spanish landowner to which the modern one is attached. Such an impressive building project with all the logistic complexities this entails is a true labour of love for a retired civil engineer. It's a delight to all who visit. Best of all, as we were leaving, I spotted an eagle soaring high overhead and got this photo, which is better than I could have hoped for given the difficulty of scanning overhead with the 50x zoom of my Sony HX300.
After a splendid meal and conversation on the terrace, Duncan took us back downhill, though not to Aljambra where the car parked, but to Albox, to take the road north for our promised visit to the Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de Saliente perched on a terrace high on a south facing mountainside beneath the peaks at the end of the 20km valley.
It's the principal locality for Marian devotional pilgrimage for the people of Albox, and has been recently renovated, receiving Papal recognition this year, for the third centenary of its foundation.
The site is referred to as a monasterio. There are many auxiliary buildings and a couple of cloisters. The church and sanctuary, however, is a larger version of the layout in many other Ermitas, with no monastic choir or presbytery, causing me to wonder if it ever had been run as a monastery.
As a place of pilgrimage offering hospitality, it may have been looked after by an 'active' religious community of men or women. Evidently, Mass is being said there regularly, no doubt baptisms and weddings as well. New signage as you enter the domain from the parking lot calls it a 'hospederia', a place to stay. Auxiliary buildings attached to the church have been restored to provide modern accommodation and there's a restaurant on a lower terrace with amazing views. We called in for a drink, and the proprietors greeted Duncan with delight. They're his hill top neighbours although for them it's a second home.
Again the valley soil here pale grey, almost white in places and orchards of almond trees pattern the landscape. Tree trunks are either blackened by flame or painted with a product (I don't know which) for protection from pests. At the moment, leaves are yellowing or have fallen, but across the end of the year, the valley will be transformed by pink and white almond blossom. I wish I could be here to see that.

As there'd been thunder and rain an hour or so before dawn, the morning was overcast, but clouds began to lift by the time we set out for Saliente, so we were fortunate to enjoy a sunny afternoon under cloud decorated skies. I'm just so glad to have been told about this place, and being taken there by Duncan. So nice not to have to drive, to be able to take photos on the move. I only posted one that was shaky and out of focus, just to show how amazing it is to look up to the destination from the pilgrims' way. People walk the 20km from Albox, and there's a stepped pathway that climbs up the last fifty metres elevation, for those who want to walk up, or go on their knees. Our visit was all too brief, as we all needed to get home before dark (or the Archers in my case), but there are more photos to look at here.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

History puzzle solved

Today is a national holiday in Spain, so shops and banks are shut. It's also been overcast and dull, so little incentive to get out and go anywhere special. I took time to write my Sunday sermon in the morning, and after cooking lunch, I settled down to see if I could find out anything about the very large mysterious ruined building by the coast road outside Garrucha.

Eventually, I tracked down an old website, many Google search pages deep, recounting the history of an industrial railway line, built around 1890, running from lead mines 17km inland at the small town of Bédar, down to the shore at the southern end of Garrucha. The site has photos taken at the turn of this century of the ruins of what had been a lead smelting plant. Its product was loaded on to boats on the sea shore another hundred meters away. The mines closed in the 1920s and with them, the railway disappeared. 
The land above and beyond the smelting plant had other industrial buildings on it, now long gone. A large area of old industrial land has cleared, maybe with housing in mind in the long term. What remains of the old smelter has been been tidied up, and enhanced with gardens. But curiously, no easily available information publicises this aspect of the town's heritage, whose wealth creation, over a century ago, helped transform a small fishing town with a mineral shipping business into a stylish resort with reputable restaurants and small hotels.

I'm so pleased to have solved this little puzzle. My initial conjectures about a vaulted roof were far from the truth. The neatly laid stone blocks over the site behind the standing end walls were most likely to cover a mound of rubble from the demolished side walls of the building - perhaps cheaper than the cost of taking away the demolition rubble, but maybe also securing toxic waste contamination from furnaces originally housed there. Re-purposing land after industrial use is just as complex and potentially expensive a planning issue as any other form of waste processing with environmental impact.

When I went out at tea time to get some fresh air, I found there'd been light rain. Pavements were still drying, and the air smelled fragrant and fresh. I went down to the beach and walked around the periphery of the nature reserve, exploring paths through the bushes and tall grasses surrounding the lake above the sea shore where the Rio Aguas stops, and seeps water through the sand into the beach. I've come to the conclusion this uncommon environmental feature is not entirely natural. 

If it was there originally on its own, it's been enhanced by constructing two metre dykes along a kilometre of its length inland. On the beach itself the sand bar rises only half a metre from the water level. But this has been sufficient to foster vegetation growth in an extensive area of beach around, thanks to colonising plants. I noticed among the tallest grasses and canes growing shore side, lots of pebbles, washed up with sand at high tides in stormy weather, helping to re-enforce the enclosure of river water to create a lake.

On the north side, I found a path beneath the road bridge over the lack which led through the vegetation to the water's edge, under the bridge. A man was fishing there. There was no need to acknowledge each other as we both needed silence. Then a host of egrets returned to roost for the night, attaching themselves to waterside rushes where they could, hundreds of them. Hordes of swifts came, bats as well, to feed on myriad insects, while coots fought over space in the water below. I realised that in the evening and early morning, days earlier, I'd been mistaken about the waterside plants, viewed from a distance. They were not exuding any white cottony substance. All the white blobs on reeds which were in my field of view in low light were birds roosting, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Well, they fooled me.

While I was there, I heard several different bird calls I couldn't identify any more than I could see them. I got one new bird photo, however. I think, a reed warbler. If you know differently, tell me


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Garrucha walk

This afternoon, I walked along the coast road to Garrucha. It was warm, sunny and clear with a wind that drew away some of the intensity of the heat, and made it pleasant to be out on that rather exposed road, with no shade from trees, as is the case along much of this coastline. Near the point where Mojacar and Garrucha municipalities meet, the sandy beach gives way to low lying rocky shoreline. There's a 20th century war time relic in the form of a small 'pill box' gun emplacement facing the sea. Given that Puerto Garrucha has been a place from which minerals and building materials have been shipped over the past century, it had strategic importance, and would have needed its observation posts and defensive installations.

A few hundred metres further along, just where the sandy beach resumes, is Garrucha's 18th century castle, built as a defence against Berber pirates raiding from North Africa. It's called El Castillo de Jesu Nazareno, but is also known as El Castilllo de San Ramon, and El Castillo de Escobetas. Each of these names tells part of the story of the place, but there's no information about the building in the public domain. It now serves as a museum of maritime history, but Tuesday is the one day it's closed, so I'll have to make a special expedition there, and hopefully find out more.
There's a kilometre long promenade called El Paseo de Malecon, with palm trees, children's play areas, attractive paving and white balustrades overlooking the beach, a couple of metres below. On the opposite side of the street, a line of bars and restaurants and some low rise hotels. There seem to be few visitors now, and the beach was almost deserted. A few hundred metres beyond a rocky breakwater is the south pointing port wall with a quay where a procession of delivery lorries deposit what I presume to be road stone, for loading into bulk carrying ships for transport.

I watched several small trawlers arrive, belonging to the fleet harboured here. The port has its own modern wholesale fish market, where catches are auctioned daily. There's also a marina for private leisure craft. The place is an interesting mixture of traditional and modern enterprise. Thankfully the industrial dimension of the port doesn't dominate and overshadow the beaches with ugly structures, as I have seen at Playa de la Araña near Malaga, or at the aptly named Playa Cementera, near Les Cases d'Alcanar in Catalunya.

Close to the port there's a Casa Consistorial (Law Court), which looks like a nineteenth century building and an Ajuntamiento (Town Hall), looking decidedly modern, next door. There's a large rather bare modern plaza with few trees. Beneath is an underground car park. May be this public space is still a work in progress. I also found nearby, with a remarkable gateway with a coloured tile roof at the top of a flight of steps, a Mercado de Abastos. This translates as 'supplies market'. I guess 'supplies' means meat, fish and vegetables are retailed here. But, on second thoughts, the word 'provisions' does better in English, as it's used in relation to food stuffs, whereas 'supplies' is used in a non-specific way. Other kinds of shops are advertised within, suggesting market use has been diversified. I couldn't find a church or an Ermita, but these may be further up the hill than I ventured on this occasion.

According to Google Maps, the round trip was 8.5km, five miles. It took me two hours and twenty minutes, but this includes stops for photography en route. At the first roundabout on the approach to Garrucha, there's a large wall which looks like the gable end of a big building, except that it isn't.

Behind it is a hundred metre long stone structure, twenty metres wide, which looks as if it might be the exterior of a roof vault, although at first it could be mistaken for a pile of rubble with vegetation growing from it, and on its north side runs a deep ditch. The site has no identity on the map, no name plate or interpretation panel in the real world. It's been there a long while, but what purpose it serves is a complete mystery. Must find out!