Sunday, March 26, 2017

Friendship, Muy Trabajo, Adventure and The Rest of the Story...

It has been a full two weeks. After enjoying a week of summer-like weather between visitors, the day that we picked up my high school roommate from the Malaga airport the weather changed. As we drove up the mountain in the thickest fog we have seen here, I know that Mary Jo wondered what she had signed up for. When we arrived at our cortijo, the snow began to fall. Fortunately I had laid a fire that morning and soon the house was warming to coziness. 

I've decided that weather reports are of little value as the forecast for Mary Jo's visit called for day after day of rain and/or snow; but after only one day of weather that kept us inside, we enjoyed sunny days and were able to do all the things we had planned. She had come from Ann Arbor, Michigan and told me before she arrived that she was leaving 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius) with wind, and that if I could improve upon that, it would be great! And it was great!

Showing Mary Jo around the area - Trevélez

A hike near the fire lookout


What a gift to have a visit from someone I've known for so long. Neither of us is where we imagined ourselves during late-night talks in our bunk beds at Boarding School, but we both feel fortunate to have ended up where we are.

Forty-one years of friendship


On the day that Mary Jo and I went to Granada, Sam joined about 25 others, a mixture of Spanish and ex-pats, men and women, and began to clean the acequia. This is an annual multi-day activity involving someone from each property that benefits from the water that flows down the mountain through the ancient water channels. During the autumn and winter, leaves, dirt, and other debris fill the channel, while wild boar do their part in collapsing rock and dirt walls. This all needs to be cleaned out and repaired before the snow melt begins and the water starts to flow. If the acequia remains clogged, then there will not be enough water to fill the albercas and cisterns for the cortijos and for irrigation.


Sam hiking in our leaf-filled acequia before the cleaning began

The acequia cleaning crew starts with the strimmers (weed-eaters) who clear anything that is growing in and along the channel, then come the "leafers," who scoop out the loose leaves and trimmings, next workers with hoes clean up the sides and loosen the compacted mud, and finally the shovelers toss it all out, heaving the piles of dirt and debris as far from the channel as possible. The Spaniards frequently bring a dog or two along and this can be a problem if a Retriever is in the group as there is a constant effort on the part of the dog to return what has been tossed out!

Acequia cleaning, day #2


The workers gather at 8:00 and work until 17:30.  This year it is expected to take 4 or 5 Saturdays to complete the 14 kilometer stretch for which our "neighborhood" is responsible. Yesterday was the second Saturday and the further they progress, the longer it takes to walk into the day's section, and then back out at the end of it all; it also seems that there are fewer participants each week. 

Last night our neighbor came over for dessert and he and Sam talked at length about "there has to be a better way." It was agreed that cleaning the acequia is muy trabajo, very hard work. Our neighbor is 38 years old, so even the younger men find it a physical challenge.  The Spaniards seem to accept this as something that just must be done, and there were some very old men doing their part. It is so important to understand all that is involved culturally for these men who have done this all of their lives, but it is hard to resist imposing a bit of other-culture strategy on it all. 

Yesterday while Sam worked like a "medieval slave," as our neighbor described it, I drove into town for some groceries. It was a beautiful day and much warmer down in the valley than here at home. After stopping at the necessary shops I decided to go on a short adventure.  

Just outside of Órgiva, across the Seven Eye Bridge (named for the seven arches), I turned right, went through the narrow tunnel and drove on for a couple minutes.  There is a pull-over on the right hand side next to some high rocks, and I've been curious about why the pull-over is there and have wondered what I have been missing each time we pass on our way to or from the coast. It seemed like a good day to explore. 

Who could resist climbing to the top?

There are paths all over the hillside, but it quickly became clear that the paths have been made by goats, and following goat paths is not always fruitful for a human. The animals care nothing of views, and their sure-footedness meant that I ended up in places where my lack of sure-footedness became alarmingly apparent. 

As I scrambled up a precipice, small rocks and dirt fell away from me, and I wondered if perhaps I should have told someone where I was going. But curiosity drove me on. I ended up high on the rocks with a stunning view towards home. The Rio Guadalfeo flowed far below in front of me while behind me, seemingly tiny cars enjoyed a Saturday drive along the twisting road that hugs the side of the Sierra de Lujar. Wildflowers are scattered across the rugged terrain and I breathed deeply taking in the scents of a warm spring day. 
Tiny cars far below

Towards home 

Wildflowers

The Poppies are starting!


And now, the rest of the story....I have mentioned our fuente from time to time and in my last blog I shared some photos of the rusty barrel that has served as our first place of collection, amongst the ferns, about a kilometer from home. On Wednesday Sam and our neighbor Joseph decided to take on the task of replacing the barrel.

We were off early to Pitres to see what the building supply yard had in the way of small water tanks. Sam and Joseph teamed up to find the necessary Spanish to describe what they needed and then we discovered that the merchant, Antonio, has quite a bit of English. So our needs were spelled out in broken Spanish and then summarized back to us in English. 

Yes, it was understood what was needed, but something would have to be ordered. I think we were all relieved that the job could be delayed for another time. But then Antonio had a thought; he might have just the thing! Keys were uncovered and a door unlocked and there sat the perfect item. A small tank intended for making wine, but exactly the size that we needed. Having settled that issue, the three men sat down on the floor and sorted through a box of valves and parts until everything necessary was collected.

On the floor sorting through a box of parts


It took all afternoon to dig out the old tank, make a deeper hole, drill holes into the new tank, replace the intake pipe and hook it all up. I busied myself at home until Sam called. His first words were, "Don't panic." Does that ever help anyone NOT panic?  

Joseph had cut himself badly. Sam wrapped the cut tightly with teflon tape (the man is resourceful and calm in an emergency!) and now Joseph was on his way home to stitch it up himself. Sam thought I should walk up to see if I could help. Fortunately Joseph assured me that he could take care of it and he would be fine. I walked on to the fuente to check on the progress and before long Joseph returned, bandaged and back at the barrel replacement effort. 

Teamwork


By dusk the project was completed and the new system is working perfectly. 

Finished project!


Water is everything.


For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it. - Marcus Samuelson


Sunday, March 12, 2017

One Year Later

One year ago this weekend we first visited what is now our home. We had not been looking for a house in Spain, but a lunch invitation got it all started. I have been re-reading my journal from a year ago and when I read the words, "we may have found a house to buy," even I don't believe it.

A year ago yesterday we came here for lunch. The drive up the mountain was truly the most stressful driving experience I had ever had; and I've had a few (including learning to drive on Long Island, New York, and inching along the Amalfi Coast with the Gas-Empty light flashing!) I had no intention of ever making that drive again.

But that day, after a long, leisurely meal and a lovely visit with the previous owners, Sam asked, "Could you live there?" I immediately responded, "Well, yeah!" 

What I was really thinking was, "There?! Up that road? In the middle of nowhere?!" 

But I had wanted to move to Europe for years and I was not going to pass up this opening.

The next day we drove to Bubion - the town just across the Poqueira gorge from our house.  We spotted the property and then decided to walk to it.  We took the path to the river and then made our way up the other side until we were just below the property.  We kept calling it "our place," but I don't think either of us believed we would actually purchase it.

Well, as they say...the rest is history. We have now lived here for nearly eight months. 

Crazy? Perhaps, but this is the daily view.


When we decided to make the move we agreed to wait five years before giving up. I thought it would take a long time to settle in, make friends, learn the rhythms of life in a different culture, etc., and I didn't want us to spook and run "back home" before we gave it a chance.  So we agreed on five years.

What actually happened was that in fewer than five days, we knew that we were never going back! We have not had any regrets. Of course we miss our family and friends, and we haven't found band-aids or plastic wrap that work as well as what they have in the States, but this is home now and we have no plan to ever leave. 

So, one year later....Yesterday we walked to the fuente, the spring that is the source of our drinking water. We go regularly to clean the screen that covers the barrel where the water collects.  The screen had gotten torn and so yesterday we went to replace it.  Once Sam removed the old screen he realized that the barrel also needs replacing, so he patched together a temporary cover, with the plan to do some major replacing of pipe and barrel in the weeks ahead.

This leaky barrel needs to be replaced! (Don't worry, we use multiple water filters for the drinking water.)

New screen for a temporary fix.

My view as Sam tried to increase the water flow and I reported on the level of success.


The birds are returning from Africa and each morning we wake to the chorus of song birds that rest in our trees. Various types of bees create a constant humming as they busy themselves in the blossoms of our apple, peach, pear, and apricot trees. 

A happy bee in a peach blossom.


Apple blossoms with a view
I think these will be apricots


Today I did some spring cleaning in preparation for our next visitor who arrives tomorrow. The summer-like weather is still with us and so the laundry dried easily on the line and when I mopped the floors they were soon dry as well.

These are the simple routines of our new life. We work for awhile and when we want to, we sit down and enjoy a snack. 

Afternoon snack


Throughout each day we stop and marvel at our views. When we hear the sheep and goat bells, we step outside and wave to the shepherd. 

We are fortunate to have the best-possible neighbors, who have become treasured friends. On Wednesday I hiked with my friend Kiersten, who played a large part in our ending up living here, and just last night we enjoyed a raucous gathering in Lanjarón, celebrating the 50th birthday of another one of our friends.

Happy 50th Suz!

And we are so pleased to share our life with those who are making the effort to come visit. Tomorrow we welcome my high-school roommate.  When we met in 1976 neither of us would have ever imagined that she would be flying from Michigan to Southern Spain for a visit in my Cortijo on the side of a mountain. 

And yet...

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Trip up North, A Visit from Kids and a Coating of Sahara Dust.



Two weeks ago we left home for a roundabout trip to pick up one of our kids, Andrew, and his wife Lisa in Madrid.  The drive to Madrid takes about 6 hours if you go directly there, but I thought we should see something along the way, so we scheduled a few extra days.


The first night we stayed in Béjar, a town just south of Salamanca, founded in 400 BC and on my must-see list since 2008.

The next day we drove up to a section of the Camino de Santiago.  I walked the Camino in 2015 and have wanted to take Sam back to show him parts of the Way. We visited several villages on the Meseta, the high central plateau that defines the Camino between Burgos and León. 

San Antón 

The outskirts of Castrojeriz


We drove along a section of the Camino from Castrojeriz to Moratinos.

This view was just as spectacular as when I walked, but what took me three days on foot, only took a couple hours by car. We saw very few Pilgrims out on this February afternoon.
We spent the night in Moratinos, a village of only 20 people; every Pilgrim passes through Moratinos, but many may not remember. 

Last June the sister of an ex-pat friend shipped a painting to our house in Oregon, from her home in Pennsylvania.  We included it in the shipment that we sent to Spain from the States.  It arrived at our new home in late October and we finally delivered it to our friend in Moratinos.

Fabulous sunset on the Meseta as seen from Moratinos

Finally we drove on to Madrid where we stayed for three nights in an apartment that is conveniently located between the Prado museum and Retiro Park.  We have returned to this same apartment four times now and Anna welcomed us both with a warm embrace.

Sunset in Retiro Park

After enjoying a few days of wandering Madrid and eating delicious meals, it was time to pick up the kids from the airport. We found them easily and hit the road for the six hour drive back to our home. After nearly 24 hours of travel, they were sleepy but managed to stay awake to enjoy the scenery as it changed from city, to pastures dotted with oaks, then vineyards, and finally endless miles of olive trees. Our goal was to show them the sunset as we drove up the mountain, but as we neared Granada it was evident that there would be no sunset.  We had heard while we were gone that the Sahara desert had blown north and covered much of southern Spain. Typically the Sierra Nevada mountains tower over Granada, but on this day there was nothing but a thick haze.

When we arrived home everything was covered with a layer of fine, pinkish-brown sand and the next morning Sam was busy cleaning the terraces while I washed windows.

Even Mulhacén was covered with sand from the Sahara
The rest of the week was spent showing Andrew and Lisa as much as possible of our life in Spain. We probably didn't schedule in enough time to just sit and enjoy the peacefulness of our home, but we fit in several easy hikes, a day at the coast, and a trip to Granada and the Alhambra.

Hiking near home with Andrew and Lisa

 Lisa enjoys the view from further up the mountain from our house

At Puente Palo

 Andrew's first time in the  Mediterranean

Grilled Octopus

 In the Cathedral in Granada

At the Alhambra

 View over Granada from the Alhambra

Exploring Pampaneira

 I got to share my beloved Almond blossoms with the kids!

Andrew enjoying the scenery

Too soon it was time to take Andrew and Lisa to Malaga to begin their long journey back to Seattle. We stopped in Frigliana for lunch and to show them around a typical White Village. As we enjoyed our meal, the rain began to fall, and after dropping the kids at the airport we drove home through downpours and battled raging winds along the coast. 

 A typical doorway in Frigliana

The wind tossed the car back and forth as we drove up the mountain, but the rain had passed. When we pulled into our driveway snow started to fall; we were relieved to have made it safely home from the airport.


The sunset after the rain, and before the snow

It is a joy to share our lives with friends and family and we had a great time with Andrew and Lisa. 

I will be taking another break between blog posts as we welcome a dear friend next Sunday for her first visit to Spain.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Projects and Puppies, Panoramas and Pigs

The news from the States continues to make my head spin; imaginary terrorist attacks in Bowling Green and Sweden being reported by the White House staff and even the President - and I just learned that the House of Representatives has passed an NRA-backed Bill that legalizes the killing of bear cubs in wildlife refuges. I wake up each day believing that this-will-be-the-day that somehow, someone will have stopped this hand basket ride, but no, it just gets worse. And each day I am torn between rage and the deepest sorrow I have known.

And so I will pull back, again, and focus on what is right in front of me, and for a few minutes I will bring you along on this journey that offers so much beauty and peace, far away from the madness.


Our new neighbors' new horse (and Mulhacén)
Sam gets some love from our neighbor's puppy and her visiting sister


This week we enjoyed a hike that provided a restorative day with good friends as we walked for hours up and down hillsides through forests of cork oak and orchards of almonds and figs. The views of the Mediterranean were not as promised, but instead there were trees emerging from the fog, and distant bells that became cows as we walked near to them. It was a day above, and at times in the clouds, and it was lovely. 

An olive tree emerges from the fog

Looking towards home from the Sierra de Contraviesa

Some hobbled horses among a herd of free-range cows

Almond blossoms just beginning

Sam and Rich having a short rest

Sam has several projects going including a wall of shelves in the storage/utility room. 

An entire wall of shelving


On Thursday several neighbors gathered to help move a heavy piece of equipment and then we sat on the terrace enjoying coffee, cookies and conversation. 

Our new Belgian neighbor, our British neighbor, our Spanish neighbor and Sam moving the shredder

Manuel continues to build stone walls on our property, shoring up terraces in a way that will last far in to the future of this land. 


Dry stone walls (no cement) defining the terraces on our land

And yesterday Sam participated in a mantanza, or pig slaughter. He decided that if he is going to eat pork, then he should understand all that is involved. The whole thing was conducted as humanely and respectfully as possible, and he took photos, but I decided not to post any here.  I went later in the day and instead took photos of the peacocks that live on the same farm.


A proud peacock

I am taking a couple of weeks off from the blog. We are going to pick up our first set of "kids" who are coming for a visit.  Andrew and Lisa will fly into Madrid and we look forward to sharing our new life with some of our family. I'll be back in March to share some of that with you.