The drive from the airport in Malaga to the Casa Brisa villa took 1.5 hours, the last third up a succession of tortuous mountain hairpins with humungous drops on the right hand side going up – the side of course nearest the car. There were barriers of various kinds but some of the party were unconvinced of their reliability. The villa at a height of about 700m had stunning views all round even with the villas, including ours of course, which sprinkled the hillsides. Why are houses in the countryside so often painted white? Those painted grey or off-white blended in so much better. One sees the same but worse in Cornwall where (second home) owners want to believe they really are in the Riviera. Houses in rural locations and painted white only work, I think, in real sun-scorched coastal towns.
I must just here briefly congratulate Rob on the style in which he took to driving in a foreign country, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road as it were, where everything seems opposite to what you expect. It was the first time he’d ever attempted it and I was impressed how he negotiated the busy traffic in Malaga and got to the road up into the hills with little or no trouble. Once upon a time I might have done it OK but not now I think. Driving round Barnstaple is difficult enough, as Mij would confirm. Why do I find riding a motorcycle easier than driving a car? Not that I don’t get lost on that too.
We got to Casa Brisa feeling as twisted and contorted as the road leading there since the car Josie had hired was changed at the airport for a smaller one. We were submerged in bags, cases and in my case a rucksack. The villa itself was exceptionally well equipped and delightful in every way. It had a good library of reference books and fiction, so the small European bird book I took was redundant.
Young Sam claimed to have seen a snake on the roadside as we climbed up; if he did, it was the only one - which was disappointing although I did find a large sloughed skin.
As suggested in Part I, while the family besported in or beside the pool and read,
I wanted to grab the chance to get some work done. No hardship because to do what one most wants is what others call ‘fun’. Here was an opportunity to familiarise myself with a technique I’d never seriously used before: watercolour. I found manipulating it frustrating at first because I was trying to make it do something it didn’t want to do. I tried what I thought were traditional methods but this old dog was finding new tricks very tricky. Some of you might be thinking at this point, “Why didn’t the idiot learn before he went. He’s got enough books.” Start doing something I’ve never done in my life before? Follow instructions? This is not to my credit and it has been a continual source of irritation to my brother. It’s made life hard for me at times but I’ve seen so many well-trained dogs which in the training seem to have lost, for better or worse, their natural character. I’d rather have an honest idiot dog true to himself than something from a Crufts obedience round. [Last time it was The Lord of the Rings, now it seems to be dogs. This must stop.]
I’ll admit to uncertainty about the validity of what I ended up doing. Whether they were 100% watercolours, but does it matter? I think towards the end – about Day 12 – I was using pure watercolour. The first Sunday morning some locals were beating almond branches to bring down the nuts, and this dull thwack echoed round the otherwise silent hills at other times too. Otherwise the silence was occasionally only broken by motocross bikes (I was a little envious because there were some great rough tracks hereabouts with no mud).
It was that Sunday the cat turned up. Thereafter he stayed with us. Apparently people come for a while, get cats then leave abandoning them. This one was black, and the caretaker told us that black cats are more often abandoned than others because they don’t show up well in ‘selfies’. This surely can’t be right. The endangered Scottish Wildcat (Felis sylvestris) is my favourite wild animal so it is strange that I have such a problem with domestic moggies. It’s more their well-fed depredations of garden birds and small mammals I suppose. ‘Blackie’ quickly became a firm favourite with us. He seemed to like our company and even tolerated Isabelle’s close and intimate attentions most stoically. Isn’t it interesting how potentially powerful and dangerous animals seem to understand the helplessness of very small children? One day, when they all went out leaving me alone to draw and paint, I enjoyed Blackie’s company. Unlike a dog, he didn’t demand entertainment, walks or any other such nonsense, and didn’t follow me about in that irritating way that some dogs do. Content just to be there stretched out in the shade, blissfully happy.
As mentioned above, there were other habitations but many were unoccupied; second-homers and residents often go to cooler northern climes in high summer. Nevertheless I felt inhibited from wandering about; everywhere was evidently owned by somebody and I found no ‘public footpaths’ as such. To get to wilderness we went to the Parque Natural. Mij and I did one day. After being dropped off by ‘the children’ we set off to explore and climb high. The infrastructure was forsaken and dilapidated; a refreshment stall and toilet block were abandoned and vandalised; litter was strewn around and the rubbish bins broken and unemptied. Graffiti on every available surface, and the footpath quickly degenerated into a rough steep goat track.
Looked good but sadly neglected (the Parque, I mean, not Mij, obviously)
But it was good to be in wild Andalucia and we soon left the human rubbish behind; as in GB, most litter is dropped near cars. It is a shame that the Spanish don’t value their wonderful natural heritage more: I suspect, but don’t know, that they got EU funding around the millennium to set up the visitor centre then funding ran out.
Spot the wild goats: there are two taking a break from sneering at our climbing skills
We climbed and climbed, scrambling up scree until we reached a small solar powered pumping station where we again hit regular footpaths following contours thus making much easier walking just below the tree line…
Spot one semi-wild Mij
For me this was best part and I could have happily camped and worked here. It was not without its dangers however, for leading off in the other direction from the pumping station there was a promising footpath overlooking a stunning gorge.
However, just ‘round the bend’ the path had collapsed and was suspended only by the twisted “safety rails”.
The pipe, suspended by a rope and old car tyre, is an aqueduct. A smashed concrete culvert had been replaced by ceramic pipes buried (but not deep enough) beside the footpath. This too had been broken by walkers’ feet and finally replaced with the ugly alkathene pipe which trailed alongside the footpath and was just dying to trip you up. The whole thing appealed to my sense of danger but the absence of warning signs was surprising to say the least; it is inconceivable that in the UK this would be allowed. Not only was there no barriers, there was not even any warning tape. It maybe is not quite in the same league as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caminito_del_Rey but exciting enough.
This was the wildest bit of Andalucia we saw; it lived up to all my old romantic expectations (at least those to do with landscape). Elsewhere, round the villa, I felt as though I was trespassing but this was probably due to not knowing local customs, but there aren’t public footpaths as we know them in the UK – or if there are, I didn’t find any but since all the groves of Olives and Almonds were deserted it was not a problem for me. In fact I met nobody except an elderly Scottish gentleman (we chatted about Glasgow) who told me that his son-in-law owned lots of the hillside near his villa and I was free to wander about as I wished. So I spent some time drawing here but didn’t see him again or his family.
One day I walked some distance from the road until finding a place which felt right and where the trees afforded some shade from the scorching sun, and where olive trees looked like olive trees should.
My main company was ants, which appear as from nowhere. There are tiny little red-headed ones which have quite a bite so the girls said, but I think my skin must have been too tough for them. Even so, ants in general were quite distracting; they seemed particularly to like my sketching bag. Wasps were among the insects you would expect but were not in the least aggressive.
Actually , there were enough motifs near the villa to keep me busy and I didn’t often feel the need to wander farther. And before I got to this grove of olives I practised a lot around the villa, making copious notes...
These were my first impressions, and feeling my way with difficulty into the use of a completely new medium for me.
You can see how stumbling my efforts are but as someone wiser than me once said, “Every day’s a school day” so I learn and carry on. Unlike school, no-one is telling me what to do or how to do it. This has good and bad consequences of course but I will take the good. I hope I never stop learning, not just about technique but about my responses to the world out there.
When the idea of two weeks in Andalucia was first proposed, I must admit I thought, ‘Oh, what! There’s so much to do here. I can’t spare the time let alone the effort.’ How ignorant and stupid is it possible for a bloke in his sixties to be? How many more chances will there be to be somewhere so different? The sort of place I’ve dreamed of living not just visiting.
Now, I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that I could have done so much more out there. Perhaps that is always the way. In the next episode, I’ll try and show some progress but it might only be me who is possible to see it.!
Before leaving I’d rashly promised to send out some hand-drawn postcards. This didn’t work out the way I’d intended but after some abysmal efforts solved the problem by concentrating on just one motif and doing a series of twelve postcards from this sketch…
If you can discern the scrawl you’ll see what was carelessly supposed to be an olive tree was in fact an almond tree. It took Josie to point this out to me – some naturalist I am.
These were the first twelve postcards I did from it (later doing a few more)...
The next instalment will deal with watercolour progress (I’m sure you can’t wait) and some wildlife (other than ants) murmurations.
An account of our hilarious (and somewhat rapid) descent of the mountain (which is what really caused the goats merriment) I’ll leave til next time.