Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ups and Downs

The weeks are flying past and this week was measured by various trips up and down the mountain.

On Sunday I decided to take a longer hike while Sam worked on projects at home.  I walked up the driveway, then the road, then onto a sheep path, across a barranco, then through a meadow until I came to an old ruin.  At the ruin there is a marked trail that runs east and west (or uphill and downhill).  I turned east and started downhill towards the Poqueira river.  The views were stunning in every direction and I took many photos.  I paused to eat the sweetest blackberries from bushes along the path.  The trail is steep with many switchbacks and I went slowly.  At one point a man with a heavy pack caught up and then passed me, but he was the only other person that I saw on this part of the walk.  It took about an hour and 15 minutes to get from our house to the bridge over the Poqueira river.

The trail to the river

Resting in the coolness of the river gorge

I stopped and ate some bread and cheese and dried fruit, enjoying the cool of the water and the shade in the narrow gorge.  After my break I started back up the trail.  In a short distance I decided to take a path that went along the mountain rather than back up the mountain; I knew where it would intersect with a trail we have taken before.  

Ruins are scattered on these hillsides

The walk was pleasant even though the day was warmer than I'd expected.  I passed one man and later a couple, but otherwise no one else.  Eventually I came to the intersection where I could either go left towards Bubion or stay straight on towards home.  I was ready to be home and walked on. The climb back to our house is quite steep, but I have done it before and with many rests I made it back home about 3 1/2 hours after starting out.  

We had scheduled an appointment for Tuesday to have our car fixed (remember the concrete post incident?).  So Monday was the day to get our errands taken care of.  We needed to be in Pampaneira at 10:00 to catch Pepe the mailman.  He is only there from 10-10:30 and this is where we will receive speeding tickets, if for some reason we get one, or other car and insurance related mailings.  So we left our place about 9:15 to drive the 10 kms to town.  As we made our way down the road we were passed by another vehicle that was racing down the mountain.  I admit to driving cautiously on our steep, narrow, bumpy road, but I was amazed that someone needed to pass me.  But when we got to the intersection with the paved road, the car that had passed me was parked next to another car and an elderly monk was being helped from the one car to the other.  At first glance he looked like the Dalai Lama.  

There is a Buddhist retreat center on our mountain and it has been visited by the Dalai Lama, but on second glance we decided that this was a different man.  He was quite elderly and the transfer between cars took several minutes.  Once he was installed in the second car, there were many bows and signs of affectionate respect from the women who had delivered him.  Then the second car sped away and we were free to continue on our way.

After confirming that Pepe had no mail for us we made our way to Orgiva to pick up packages from our delivery point there, then to the hardware store and the post office box and the grocery store.  The final piece of business for the day was to go to the ITV in Tablones to get our trailer hitch inspected.  

We have learned that it is very important (and required) to have your trailer hitch inspected.  When we purchased our car we were given documents for this purpose and we later discovered that the ITV is the place where this is accomplished.  The ITV is much like the facilities in the States where cars go for emissions inspections.  We were pleased to discover that there is an ITV in Tablones, which is just across the Seven-Eye Bridge from Orgiva.   Tablones seems like a pueblo that has been overlooked, but there is a very large, new, shining facility that houses the ITV.  Our first trip there was a few weeks ago and we learned then that we did not have all of the required documents for the trailer hitch inspection.  We returned to the car dealer in Granada and were given additional documents.  On Monday we presented our new documents to the man at the ITV but were told that we were missing a signature and a stamp on one of the documents.  We scheduled an appointment to return next Tuesday at 10:32 for our inspection, with the plan that we would get the missing signature and stamp when we took our car in to to be repaired.

Tuesday morning we were up early and started our drive down the mountain at 7:00, long before the sky was showing any sign of daybreak.  It was raining lightly, but the drive was uneventful with no speeding monks or other curiosities.  We arrived at the car dealer in Granada promptly at 9:00 for our appointment.  After a bit of roughly translated discussion with the woman in reception, that included her shrugging her shoulders and signing and stamping the trailer hitch document, we turned over our keys with the assurance that the car would be ready on Friday.  We were then directed to a van for a courtesy ride.  We needed to get to the bus station but from what we could understand, we were being taken elsewhere and we could get a bus from there to the bus station.  We tried to learn more from our driver but he indicated that he was deaf.  

Once we were delivered we got walking directions from a man at a nearby hotel and we started out to find the bus station.  I was delighted to look up and see that we were on the Camino Mozarabe route towards Santiago.  Each telephone pole had a shell and a yellow arrow painted on it and suddenly I was back on the Camino following the arrows.  But alas, the way to the bus station led us off of the Camino route.  

Camino Mozarabe from Granada to Santiago

We found the bus station and soon were on our way back to Pampaneira.  It took about 2 hours to get to Pampaneira, delivering us just in time for lunch.  After a pleasant meal of salad for me and a jamon bocadillo for Sam, we began the walk home from Pampaneira.  

Beginning our walk to home from Pampaneira.  Our house is somewhere high on the left.

Crossing the Poqueira river at the start of our hike home.

We had not walked this path before and were a bit unsure of how to go, but we had a good sense of where our house was and no matter what, we knew it was a steep uphill climb.  We walked along the river for about a kilometer then crossed on a bridge and started the climb.  

Closer to home - Pampaneira in the distance.

It took about an hour and a half before we were finally home.  

On Thursday we contacted the car dealer to confirm that we could pick up the Jeep on Friday.  We were told that it would be ready at 6:00 pm.  We went online and bought bus tickets from Orgiva and then arranged with our neighbor Manuel for a ride to the bus stop.  Friday morning Manuel picked us up at our gate at 9:00 am and kindly delivered us to the bus stop in Orgiva.  Once on the bus and nearly half way to Granada we received an email indicating that they needed a part for the car and it would not be ready until Monday.  And no, they did not have a car that we could use for the weekend. Fortunately we had other business in Granada; we needed to make a bank transfer of 225 euros to the shipping company that has had our stuff for over three months now - but that's another story for another blog post.  

We made it to Granada, went to the bank and transferred the money to the shipping company then wondered what to do next.  We stopped for a delicious lunch and then, once again, walked to the bus station.  During lunch I sent a text to my friend Kiersten asking if she could give us a ride home if we got the bus to Lanjaron.  She responded that we could use their truck for the weekend.  Their truck was parked near the Hotel Espana, and we could just ask at the bar for their keys.  How cool is that? So we got to the station and soon were back on the bus headed towards Lanjaron.  The bus we were on had bad, or no shocks, and we bumped and swayed as we raced down the highway.  We were relieved to finally step off the bus in Lanjaron.  We got the keys from the bar and made our way back up the mountain in Kiersten and Richard's truck.  As I wrote last week, we could not do this without the kindness and generosity of our new friends.

Monday we will deliver the truck back to Lanjaron, return the keys to the bar at the Hotel Espana, catch the bus back to Granada and hopefully retrieve our car so that we can keep our appointment for the trailer hitch inspection on Tuesday at 10:32 sharp.

Saturday, September 17, 2016


This was a week of friendships, both old and new.

On Monday, new friends Felipe and Juanmi came to have a look at our water heater.  Several weeks ago I noticed a large burnt spot on the outside of the water heater and it was apparent from the dramatic sound coming from the heater each time we turned on the hot water that something was no longer working as it should.  I mentioned this to my friend Kiersten and she told me that Felipe could fix, or replace, the heater.

This is not a good sign

Felipe doesn't have a 4x4 so we arranged to meet at the Ermita del Padre Eterno and I would drive him up the mountain.  On my way down to get him I passed Andreas, a neighbor who hitchhikes up and down the mountain, and I picked him up.  We managed to have a bit of conversation during our 20 minutes together although he has no English and my Spanish is beyond basic.  When Felipe arrived at the Ermita he had Juanmi with him.  Juanmi owns a shop in Lanjaron where he serves drinks and the best tapas around.  I drove them up the mountain and they went to work on the water heater.

Juanmi and Felipe cleaning the old water heater

After a thorough cleaning of the heater they hooked it back up, but the flames were determined to come out in all the wrong places. 

This is not what you want to see on the inside of your water heater box

Felipe told us that he would go to Granada and purchase a new water heater and return on Friday (in a friend's 4x4) to install it.  We knew that we would not be around on Friday so we agreed on a hiding place for the keys, told him the combination to the lock on our gate and thanked him for his efforts. 

We managed with cold water all week.  This time of year the cold water is actually quite warm and it really was not much of an inconvenience.

On Friday afternoon we received a text from Felipe showing the newly installed water heater.  We arranged to meet at a hotel bar in Lanjaron where we reimbursed him for his costs.  He wasn't going to charge us for his work because we are his friends.  A very kind gesture, but nevertheless we compensated him; he had two trips to our house as well as his trip to Granada and then the time involved in installing the new water heater - far more time and effort than we can accept as an act of friendship.

New Water Heater

In the meantime....We welcomed our first visitors from the States.  Sam and Peter worked together at Bonneville Power Administration and we enjoyed visiting with Peter and Janice several times in Portland. Their friend, and now our friend, Amy was traveling with them and they scheduled several days in Andalucia following a trip to Portugal.  They did not stay with us but instead rented a house in a village about an hour away.  

On Wednesday we met Peter and Janice and Amy in Lanjaron and went to Juanmi's shop for his famous sangria and a fabulous selection of tapas.  

At Juanmi's enjoying sangria and tapas

While we visited over drinks and delicious food, several others entered the shop, and we knew everyone! It started to seem staged as we introduced Felipe, then Richard, and finally Alison to our Portland friends. I think they had a false sense that we are far more connected here than we actually are, but it was fun to have them meet so many of our new friends.

On Thursday we met Peter and Janice and Amy at the Ermita del Padre Eterno and drove them up the mountain to our home.  

Ermita del Padre Eterno, and convenient meeting place

There were some quiet moments from the backseat as we bumped along close to the edge of the winding road.  But once we arrived home they expressed surprise at how nice our home and location are.  It was affirming to share our new life with old friends and to feel as if they really understand why we are here.  We wandered around our property and then took a short walk towards the barranco. On the way we encountered our neighbors, and new friends, Rich and Jules who were out walking their young horse.  

After a snack of jamon, cheese, olives, fresh tomatoes, bread, almonds and dried fruit we piled in the car and drove to Ferreirola.  This village is where Sam and I first stayed in 2008 and where we immediately fell in love with the area.  There is a pleasant walk out of the village and down to the river.  Everyone was having such a good time that we crossed the river and climbed for 25 minutes to the top of the other side where there are stunning views across to the white villages that are scattered on the hillside.

Janice looking across the valley towards La Taha

We stayed at the rental house with Peter and Janice and Amy on Thursday night and spent Friday together in Granada.  This was our first trip to Granada without needing to accomplish any business and we enjoyed wandering around, stopping several times for drinks and tapas, and visiting.  Finally we dropped them off at the Granada airport for their flight to Barcelona.  

As we drove home we reflected on how fortunate we are to have so many great people in our lives. We could not make this work without the kindness of new friends and now we have the assurance that old friends really will visit!  And although this is our choice, and no one needs to understand or support it, it was a treat to share it with Peter and Janice and Amy and to know that they totally "get it" and share in our joy.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


It has been a week of SLOs; Significant Learning Opportunities.

Facebook friends already know about the afternoon I backed our new car into a concrete post.  This was a significant event in many ways.  Over the years we have driven thousands of kilometers throughout Europe, in various rental cars, without ever getting a scratch on a car.  But the Jeep had less than 2000 kms on it when I, without any reason, backed into a post.  I have tried to find an explanation, but I just looked over my left shoulder, stomped on the gas pedal and hit the post.

What initially seemed like a potentially huge issue quickly diminished to a more proper position in life's concerns.  We recognized all the things that didn't happen; I did not hit another car, or a person; the post did not crumble bringing the entire grocery store down on top of us.  My can't-be-explained lapse in driving talents did not happen while encountering a tour bus on a narrow hairpin turn, or while driving strangers up a 4x4 track on a mountainside.  In other words, it could have been much worse.

On Friday we went to the car dealer in Granada for an estimate on the repair.  The salesman who had helped us with our purchase met us and spent about two hours with us.  He doesn't have any English, but he has incredible patience and while Sam used Google Translate on his phone and Miguel used Google Translate on his own phone, we were able to get it all figured out.  The repair will cost several thousand less than we anticipated - in the end, less than 1000 euro for parts and labor, and Miguel convinced us to use our insurance policy to cover it.  We were afraid that our 3-week old policy would be canceled if we filed a claim already, but Miguel assured us that we get 4 accidents before anything negative happens.  So we will take the car back in on the 20th and it should be good-as-new three days later.  We don't know if we are getting new parts or just repairs to our current parts, but Sam, who has always been a perfectionist, shrugged and said, "Whatever they do, it will be good enough."

"Good enough," is a phrase that I am hearing more and more from Sam, and it is a phrase that I never heard him use back in the States.  This is a significant change.  For years I have watched him do and re-do and then for good measure, re-do one more time.  I would point out that "no one will ever see it," but that didn't matter.  He would tell me, "but I'll know," and then he would work harder to get it "just right." But now we live in a home that doesn't have one straight line in any of the construction, where Saharan winds cover everything with a fine layer of dirt, where a drive to the store involves weeds and brambles scraping the sides of the car and then bouncing over rocks and ruts for 7 kms. Bugs and geckos come and go freely from the many small openings in our house and I am watching as Sam embraces the fact that none of it really matters.  And so he has re-grouted a few spots, and put a layer of fresh paint on the walls; he pulls some weeds, when he feels like it, but in the end he steps back and says, "That's good enough."  This ease is a gift of our life in the Alpujarras.

There is a philosophy here, rooted in poverty and restricted access, that you use what you have rather than buying something new.  And so old doors are used as covers for the water control box, bathtubs are used as animal watering troughs; gates are constructed from any combination of odds and ends and a multitude of things are reused in a variety of ways.  In that spirit, and because our shipment of things has not yet arrived from the states, I decided to use my vegetable peeler as a cheese peeler.  I made one good swipe across the cheese rind and told Sam I had made a brilliant discovery as the rind came off in a paper thin strip.  Then I repositioned the hunk of cheese and pulled the peeler towards me to try for a paper thin slice of cheese.  The peeler slipped off the cheese and onto the lower portion of my thumb taking a thicker-than-paper slice of skin off of my hand.  In that instant between the event and the resulting gush of blood I called out, "I don't think this was a good idea!" and then the profuse bleeding began. We both thought that we had packed gauze and first aid tape, but it was no where.  Sam used scissors to snip off the dangling flap of skin and then we did our best to clean it up before wrapping it all with a pad of paper towel and masking tape.

Sometimes it is acceptable to buy the correct tool rather than using what you have.

My hand will be fine but this week we need to stop at the farmacia and stock up on first aid supplies. The car is fine, but for only a little inconvenience it will soon look good-enough and perhaps even good-as-new. I have named the geckos and this morning when a young gecko walked past me on the floor I just looked up and thought, "oh, he's a young one." Although none of the walls are straight, I do have a perfectly flat cook top for the first time ever.  I stood there puzzling over the fact that when I crack an egg into a pan, it does not travel to one side of the pan like it always has. I mop the tile floors knowing that within minutes they will be covered with fine dust, but I know it won't be as dusty in the winter when the winds shift and the doors and windows are closed, and in the meantime, it just doesn't matter; to anyone.

We have found perfection in this life we have chosen, but it is a perfection of spirit that comes from the simple beauty of sunrises and sunsets, of clouds and shadows, of Bee Eaters swooping and calling to each other as they gather before their migration back to southern Africa.  There is perfection in afternoons spent with friends and new acquaintances of various nationalities, laughing and talking over tinto de verano and beer while sharing plates of chips and grilled fish; where no one is in a hurry and time passes easily.  

There is perfection in a task that ends with the comment "That's good enough." Because, really, good-enough is as close to perfect we will ever get.



Bee Eater, Photo credit: Kiersten Rowland

Friends and acquaintances; most are just back from a 5 day hike in the mountains

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Water Issue is Resolved. We Think. We Hope

But first, the snow! 

Yesterday there was thunder in the mountains and for a long time we couldn't see Mulhacén at all. When the clouds lifted, there was a light blanket of snow on the west flank of the mountain.  We were so surprised and quickly shared the exciting news. Last winter was very dry here so even a suggestion of snow this early is encouraging.

See the snow on the West side?

And then there was the furniture assembly.  

Sam worked non-stop last weekend and by Sunday night nearly everything was put together and our house started to look more like a home.  Since then we have added a rug and a tablecloth and even a new light fixture, but here are a few of the finished items.

And now the rest-of-the water story...

We were informed that the angry old man, who I will call "JP," was coming up to meet with our neighbors on Wednesday morning.  We decided that it would be good to attend.  As I anticipated the meeting I thought, "What if he brings a gun?"  And then I remembered that I am in Spain, not the U.S., so it was unlikely that things would turn un-necessarily violent.

The meeting was at 10:00 am, and we arrived at 9:45 (I hate to be late.)  Our gracious neighbor came along to translate and he arrived at 10:00.  We all sat around and chatted until about 10:45, which is still considered 10:00 by local standards, so JP was not yet "late."  Nevertheless, the hosting neighbor made some calls and finally learned that JP was actually waiting at another neighbor's about 1km further up the track from where we were.  

We all piled into our neighbor's car and drove up the track, then down the bumpy drive to the next neighbor's.  There was JP standing with his mule and carrying a large hoe.  No gun; and although I suspect some damage could be done with a hoe, it didn't look like that was the intent.

JP started to talk rapidly while gracious neighbor did his best to fill us in.  The initial accusations were repeated and soon we learned that we would all be following JP to the barranco to look at the source of the issue.

 JP letting us know how things were going to go
Telling us that we were about to go on a field trip

So off we went.  No one was prepared for a walk; some were in flip flops and I was the only one carrying water.  It was a warm day and I worried about JP trucking up the hill in canvas pants and long-sleeved shirt.  But he had more stamina than the rest of us put together.

First we went to the barranco and the men all followed him up through the weeds and brambles.  

They were gone for quite awhile and then returned, still following JP.

Returning from the barranco.

At this point we were nearing a resolution.  Apparently the barranco runs all the time, but sometimes it runs faster, and that is when the gate from the acequia is open.  At those times, according to JP, we are entitled to 5 days of water, every 15 days.  But the rest of the time he does not want to see our pipe in the barranco pool. (Which explains why it had "come out" several weeks ago.)  If the acequia water is not available, then he is the one who gets whatever water remains in the barranco.  When there is plenty of water in the barranco due to rain, snow melt or whatever, then he will put our pipe in half way and we can have some water.  But otherwise we can put our pipe in for 5 days, every 15 days, when the acequia gate is open.  And this is all backed up, roughly, with legal documentation.

Everyone seemed to be getting along and JP was calmer.  But now he decided that we all needed to go see the acequia which is higher up the mountain.  He instructed our neighbor to get her car and we would all drive up the mountain together.  I decided that one car was not going to hold 6 sweaty adults, so I walked home to get our car.  While the others walked back down to where the mule and our neighbor's car were waiting, JP and I walked along the track for a bit.  I offered him some of my water to drink, but he didn't care for any.  He asked where the previous owners had moved to and I told him to a place with mas agua - he actually kind of laughed at that.

Before long we were all quite a bit further up the mountain and we parked, then walked until we came to where the barranco water crosses the road.  We stopped there and waited to see what would happen next.

 Contemplating water

It was decided that the men would follow JP up another hill, through taller weeds and brambles, to look for the acequia.

Gracious neighbor is wondering what he got himself in to.

Eventually they returned.  Everyone, including JP, was scraped and bleeding, in spite of JP's efforts to hack away at the brambles with his hoe.  They did not find the acequia, but everyone was in agreement that we would do whatever seemed reasonable to JP.  

And JP seemed to acknowledge that no one wanted to make things hard for him.  Gracious neighbor explained that we are new here and really just want to get along with everyone. I kept offering him water to drink and tried to show that I am kind and friendly.  In the end we all shook hands and thanked JP over and over for....well, I'm not sure, but we thanked him lots.

And that's where things stand.  We have a full alberca and so an adequate supply of irrigation water to get us through several months.  Our neighbors use mostly water from the spring, and are agreeable with the 5 days every 15 idea.

Our full alberca

A happy ending, for now.