Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Long Week and a Short Get-Away

This week we needed a break. Not from the paradise that we are fortunate to call home, but from the increasingly worrisome morning routine of scanning the headlines to learn what happened in the U.S. while we slept. 

So on Monday we went to the coast. After a quick stop for a few items at the hardware store and the grocery in Motril we drove down towards the Mediterranean for lunch. The restaurant is right on the beach and we enjoyed sitting outside in the warm sunshine watching the waves gently glide onto the deserted stretch of coastline. After lunch we took a stroll along the water, stopping to pick up colorful stones as we walked. The swoosh and swish of the continuous waves arriving then filtering through the pebbled shore as they recede, was comforting. We seemed to have the entire beach to ourselves on this warm January day, and it was just what we needed.

The beach in Motril

Tuesday morning we were off early to explore some villages that have been on my must-see list since our trip to Spain in 2008. Our first stop was in the white village of Frigliana set high on a hillside with steep mountains for a backdrop and a view across the Mediterranean to the mountains of Africa. 

View across the Mediterranean from Frigliana

It was a cloudless day and the whitewashed houses were brilliant against the deep blue sky. We started with a stop for coffee and at first resisted the touristy atmosphere. There were several busses and many Northern Europeans and Brits wandering about. But after our coffee we decided to go ahead and explore since we were there. 

The narrow streets that wind up the hillside revealed charming doors painted in a range of pastels. We visited an art gallery and stopped frequently to take photos of colorful flowering plants, village cats, and the postcard-view. It didn't take long to get into tourist-mode ourselves and in the end we found the town to be delightful and worth re-visiting when we have guests to entertain.

Narrow street in Frigliana

Wonderful doors in Frigliana

Another beautiful door

Back in the car we maneuvered through the narrow streets until we were on the other side of Frigliana headed towards Torrox.  Several kilometers out of town we found the sign for the village of El Acebuchal. The drive on the narrower-than-one-lane road would have been a white knuckle experience back in 2008, but we did it with relative ease and after about 8 kilometers dropped down into the tiny village.  

El Acebuchal, once an important staging post on the ancient mule-trading routes between Competa, Frigiliana, Nerja and the city of Granada, had been abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. In the summer of 1948 Franco evicted the 200 inhabitants and the Guardia Civil moved into their homes to fight the Republican rebels who had dug into the rugged mountains in the surrounding area. Eventually the village was only a collection of ruined houses and became known locally as the "Village of Ghosts."  Now it has been almost entirely restored by descendants of the last inhabitants and there is a thriving restaurant that attracts visitors to the village. We enjoyed a delicious meal there surrounded by Brits and Germans. Another tourist-oriented stop, but worth the trip.

Lunch in El Acebuchal

A street in El Acebuchal

The waiter discouraged us from taking the 13 km dirt track out the west side of the village, so we returned to the tarmac road the same way we had arrived, and then continued west.  I had decided on a route ahead of time but Sam noticed it was a red and white line on the map. He consulted the key and discovered that red and white meant "Winding and Dangerous."  I thought that sounded perfect!  

We found the narrow twisting road and it did have a few places that were concerning, but compared to what we have gotten used to, it was lovely.  There were even guardrails and we only encountered a few cars in the hour and half journey. I kept pointing to various views only to be instructed to "keep your eyes on the road!" 

The almond trees are starting to bloom and to me there is nothing prettier than the fluffy pink blossoms. 

Almond blossoms


Steep hillsides, terraced and planted with fruit and nut trees were all we could see in every direction. Occasionally a narrow driveway would disappear over the side and we said repeatedly that we would never live there! I can't imagine plunging off the roadside onto one of those drives.

Finally we arrived at our hotel on Lake Viñuela. A find, we were upgraded to a corner room with a lake view in this luxury hotel, for 56 euros. And that included an extensive breakfast buffet the next morning! It was a lovely location and our room was very comfortable. The heated bathroom floor was especially welcomed after our relatively cold cortijo. We enjoyed our evening and a spectacular meal in their dining room. We will definitely return to Hotel La Vinuela.

Our patio and view at Hotel La Vinuela

Wednesday we found another winding road through almond orchards to make our way towards the IKEA in Malaga. It was the end of our peaceful getaway, but we needed to purchase some furniture for the guest room. Purchases made, and car packed tightly we headed back home. Whether we are away for an afternoon, an overnight, or a week, when we pop over the hill and see our cortijo below us and Mulhacén in the near distance, we are happy to be back.

In other news, we have new neighbors.  A young couple from Belgium has moved in with their three horses, a collection of dogs and some cats. They are lovely people and we are happy to include them in our group of exceptional neighbors. They have not yet received the permit to build a shelter for their horses and this week we have had very cold nights, some with snow and high winds. We offered our vacant stable to them and we have enjoyed going out in the morning and seeing two lovely horses looking out the stable doors. 

Fun to have horses in our stable!

Friday afternoon we invited the new neighbors and another neighbor family for dinner. I was making veggie chili and cornbread so I just made more. It was a stormy night but having a houseful of kind people was the coziest atmosphere imaginable. Today we walked across the field to see our neighbors' new puppy and as we walked back home a couple hours later we remarked on the magic of this life. We woke up this morning with no plans but ended up visiting the puppy, staying for coffee and cake and then returning home with gifts of oranges and laurel branches and some Kombucha starter. 

The view on our walk home from our neighbor

There is so much right here to remind us each day that many people are kind, and life is good.

Flowers on a wall in Orgiva

Our hyacinth is blooming!

Just another photo from a recent walk in the neighborhood

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I was going to blog about grocery shopping in Spain, but that story can wait.

This has been a dark week in American and World history. On Friday as the new president was inaugurated, I had frequent bouts of tears punctuated by nausea. I had continued to hold out hope that justice would be served and that he would be stopped. Alas. 

But yesterday I was full of pride as I watched millions of women and men peacefully march for equality, human rights and true justice, throughout the world. I am so proud of the many friends and family members, including my daughter, her partner, my son and daughter-in-law, my niece and my cousins, young and old, who marched in Washington D.C., Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Boston, Philadelphia, Salem, Newark and numerous other cities. 

My friend Lindy wore the names of those who wanted to march but were not able, taped to her jacket. I requested that she wear my name, and also my mom's name. Because those who marched were representing all women, and we needed to be a part of that.

Lindy's jacket with my name and mom's name

Lindy and friends in D.C.

Heather with her sign in rainy Portland where they anticipated 30,000 and had 100,000 show up!

My daughter-in-law Lisa had her sign ready in Seattle

My niece April marched in D.C.

The link below shows photos of marches around the United States and around the world. The photos tell the story, and it is a beautiful story for anyone who cares about the future of mankind and the planet we occupy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Two Cultural Events in One Week

This week we had the pleasure of participating in two events that allowed us to learn and experience more of the local culture.

Mid-week we went to Granada for the opening of "The Edge of Forever," an exhibit of photogravure prints. As a part of the opening, architect and Spanish history expert, Rafael Anderson, gave a lecture about the agricultural, religious and political history of Granada and the Alpujarra. As we listened we delighted in the intellectual stimulation, but also in the knowledge that we are briefly passing through this place that has a rich and ancient history. We felt great pride in our opportunity to be present on this land for a relatively short time, perhaps leaving a small imprint among those of so many who came before us. 

In any direction that we look we see evidence of earlier inhabitants; in the terracing that defines the hillsides, in the ancient acequia channels that bring water from the high mountains so that livestock and crops can survive the hot, dry summers. The numerous ruins and stone walls that punctuate the Alpujarran countryside provide glimpses into the lives of those who once lived here. And many of the hiking trails we enjoy were once mule paths used to transport silk, honey and other goods.

A glimpse through the broken door of a ruin

Reminders everywhere of those who lived here before

Friday night we joined our friends and went to the San Antón festival in nearby Soportújar. They picked us up at our gate at 7:45 and we rode together down the mountain to this small village which clings to the hillside. Soportújar has a population of 296, but it is a vibrant community. The festival of San Antón centers around huge bonfires of olive wood that symbolize the burning of any bad luck from the previous year. We arrived before the fires had been lit so stopped in at the town bar for a drink and some tapas. Clearly the central meeting place in town, we entered a festive atmosphere as many others were also beginning their evening the same way. Each time someone entered the bar there were warm greetings called out, and hugs and kisses shared throughout the room. The kids quickly found school friends and were off playing.

By 9:00 the fires were blazing and we went out to the village square to join in the celebration. 

Getting the party started

There was live music and multi-colored strobe lights reflected off the front of the church. Free food (hunks of pork on huge slices of bread) was distributed and a selection of drinks flowed from a seemingly endless supply. 


There was such joy in the faces of those around us and soon many people were dancing. I loved seeing very old couples dancing next to young people and before long a conga line snaked its way through the crowd. 

People of all ages dancing

Conga line video

Several teens tucked behind the shadowy corner of a building where they, tentatively at first, and then more boldly practiced their own dance steps with each other. 

Teens finding their own private dance space (check out the lit-up shoes!)

And all the time the small children played on their own. Our friends' kids are nine and five and for well over an hour we didn't see them at all. But in this community there is no reason to worry as everyone watches out for everyone else and the kids are truly being raised by a village. I wish that words could capture the spirit of openness, joy and kind acceptance that we experienced. 

When we walked back to the car near midnight it was clear that the festivities were just getting started and I suspect that the dancing and celebration went on through the night. 

Delivered back to our gate we walked down the drive with only the light of the near-full moon and billions of stars, some shooting across the sky above us, and once again we marveled at our good fortune to be here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

“Water is the driving force in nature.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

Feliz año nuevo! 

We ended 2016 with a day of snowshoeing on the mountainside above our house. We drove further up the gravel track for about 20 minutes then parked and walked. At first we were on gravel and small patches of snow, but soon we needed our snowshoes as we made our way into the forest. At the goat shed we started uphill through the trees. We followed ski trails and when they were accompanied by dog prints we were certain that Manuel and Blues had left the tracks. 

Manuel and Blues were here before us...

As we climbed the snow got deeper and young trees were bent in submission to the cold white blanket that will keep them buried in the weeks ahead. 

Sam passing trees bent in submission to the snow

Passing through the tree line we left the sound of chirping birds behind and the only sound was the crunching snow beneath our feet. The ascent is more gradual once out of the trees and we could see for miles in every direction. We were the only people on the mountain and it was absolutely silent. Clouds were thick over the Mediterranean in the distance, but the sky above us was clear and a blue so deep that even Photoshop could not enhance the color. The snow had a hard crust and we were able to take off our snowshoes without sinking in. We sat and enjoyed a simple lunch of tuna sandwiches and cookies. Everything about the afternoon was my version of perfection.

Perfect lunch spot looking towards the Mediterranean

I couldn't be more content

New Year's Eve was spent at our neighbor's home. The hosts prepared the main course and the rest of us brought either the starter, the cheese course or the Port wine. The Scottish couple brought the starter and once we had each devoured our small pot of delicious food they told us that we had just enjoyed our first serving of haggis. It was not a first for the others, but they suspected that the Americans had probably never had it. They were correct and it was honestly delicious. Next we had roast pork and all the accompaniments then finally the cheese and Port. The kids were both asleep by midnight, but the rest of us ate our 12 grapes in the Spanish tradition as we welcomed the new year. The Brits wanted to watch as London greeted 2017 an hour after Spain, and they were gathered around the television as we said our good-byes and dragged our tired bodies back home. There were a few fireworks in the villages across the valley and the stars in the dark sky were brilliant as we walked. A perfect welcome to the year ahead.

The rest of the week included a hike with friends and a day in the surrounding villages running errands. 
Running errands in Pampaneira

On Wednesday our neighbors enjoyed a day on the ski slopes, and we had fun with the afternoon feeding of their horse and donkey. 

Pia the donkey and Leti the horse

And then mid-way through Thursday morning we were surprised by a total absence of water. The toilet wouldn't flush and the sink only gurgled. The washer was stuck somewhere between the wash and the rinse cycle with a full load of sheets. Sam and I walked up to the underground tank that holds something like 5000 liters of water; it was dry. There is a nifty system that includes a float and a cork that serves as the indicator of whether or not the tank is low on water, but a combination of a stuck cork and only brief checking resulted in our emptying the entire tank without knowing it. Our checking of various valves and hoses didn't shed any light on what the problem was. So we decided that a walk to the fuente was the next step. But then we remembered the previous owner mentioning that once or twice another neighbor had turned off our source where it is controlled half way between our house and the fuente. So we walked the half kilometer to where the large valve is that controls the water flow to our property and it was turned off! This must have been done several weeks ago for us to have used the entire tank load. This particular neighbor had just sold her house and we suspect she wanted to leave a full alberca for the new people so turned off our water to increase her flow while she filled the alberca. But we'll never know. Once the valve was turned back on we could hear the water rushing through the pipe. We walked home and stuck our heads into the tank happy to see that it was filling again. 

Later in the day I wandered up to the tank to see how it was progressing and was disappointed to see only a foot or two of water in the bottom and a slow drip of water entering the tank. So we gathered up some tools and headed off to the fuente. We walked 1 kilometer to where the ferns are lush (although they are dead this time of year) and then scurried up the steep hill to where the path goes through the briars to the fuente. Sure enough, the screen that covers the collection barrel was covered with small rocks and debris and only a tiny trickle was coming out of the pipe. Sam cleared the screen and then used his clippers to make his way through the brambles and stinging nettles to where the stream enters the pipe. It was all clogged with rocks and debris and soon I witnessed a large deposit of fresh debris pushing through the pipe and onto the screen, and then a satisfying gush of water. Problem solved! Sam cleared the screen off one more time and then we went home to where the water was now pouring into the tank. 

Sam clearing the screen that covers the collection barrel
Celebratory wine and cheese at the water tank after the problem was resolved

Later Thursday night I decided to take a bath assuming that we had plenty of water. I turned on the tub and then brushed my teeth. When I turned back around I was startled to see that the tub was full of dark brown water! Apparently we have a bit of sediment in the bottom of our water tank and the fresh water pouring in had stirred it all up. We ran the water until it started to clear, but I decided to pass on the bath for the night.

Around 3:00 am, unable to sleep because of the stinging nettles (the ones that got him before he got them), Sam got up to research treatments for nettles. Consider this a public service announcement: Duct tape, or Cinta Americana, as it is called in Spain. Sometime in the night Sam put duct tape on where he had been "stung" by nettles, pulled off the tape, and just like that, the irritation dissipated! 

By the next morning our tank was full, the water from the tap was clear and life was back to normal. Another good week at Casa Petrillo