Sunday, March 17, 2019

Una muestra de la cultura natural del Arte en España.

Arrival February 1, 2019. Madrid to Malaga by the AVE high speed train (top speed 275km/hr). Arrival in Malaga 2h20 minutes after departing Madrid. Francisco (Andalucians drop the "s") our taxi driver has our names on a sign at the station. He allows us to pick up some groceries in Malaga before departing to Nerja. Cool, very light rain. It is evening in Malaga. We pay Francisco and find our way to the villa in the Oasis de Capistrano, Nerja, Malaga, Spain. We wake up to bright sun (after all it IS the Costa del Sol), and this view. The tall peak to my right is Pico de Cielo, which is 1510 metres high. 

Hurrying to the local supermarket, we found most of the constituents of the Mediterranean diet. Being coastal, this part of Andalucia has a constant supply of fresh seafood. And olives! And olive oil! These green jewels, and their heart healthy oil, are so much more tasty (and less salty) than those available in Canada.
Then we took our first walk (3 Kms.) to Nerja, pictured below, and yes, that is the Mediterranean (Burriana Beach may be seen in this photo).
Back to the patio, and my first (of 175 species) European bird perched and sang close by. The Serin, Serinus serinus is quite common. It sings constantly, and brightens one's day. It is a close relative to the Canary, Serinus canarius, which may be seen here too, as well as in its original home in the Canary Islands, off of West Africa.
Meanwhile, perched on a nearby villa, this White Wagtail, Motacilla alba, became my second European specialty. These birds do indeed wag their tails constantly.  We have also seen Grey Wagtails (photo near end of this blog), which are not quite as common.
Our walks in early February began with a jacket, and ended with jackets in our backpacks. The cool air permitted us to walk, as below, through the local farmlands, with the Mediterranean always in view. Our walks have become longer over time, and more ambitious, with recent walks into Tejeda Natural Park involving a lot of vertical challenges (and in my case, vertigo).
The hills, as shown below, have a mix of xeric species, some of which have escaped cultivation, such as the thick leaved Agaves, below, from California. The tree is a wild olive. Olives, both cultivated and wild, dot, and occasionally cover, the Andalucian landscape.

Below is a view of the Mediterranean from one of the barrancos (gorges) cut through the hard limestone of Andalucia. Fishing boats are not common. We could see only one or two each day. About 20 miles off the coast is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, as ocean-going freighters ply from and towards the Strait of Gibraltar.
Landscaping around the "urbanicaziones" is typical of zone 10, frost-free climates. For example, the villas are festooned with Bougainvilleas, which are also planted throughout the Caribbean. Below, a typical coastline view around Nerja: red limestones and conglomerates dominate, rising quickly into the Sierra Tejeda.
Oh yeah, if the olives aren't picked while green, they ripen!
We travelled to Almonte, in the southwest of Spain, and stayed at Casa Halcon, an organic olive farm and guest house owned by Angelika and Nigel. Our delightful hosts greeted us, and we then went for a walk along the road, passing by farms. At one farm, this lovely horse greeted Jan, who has always had a great fondness for all horses.
Most of the farms in this part of Andalucia have extensive gardens, with the occasional orange tree (yummy).
The next day, February 11,  was Jan's birthday and when we returned from our tour of Doñana National Park, Angelika had made this tasty and colourful cake.
Then we returned to Doñana (how could you possibly tell?), where...
we saw Flamencos (Greater Flamingos, Phoenicopterus roseus) and many waterfowl, and wading birds....

including this White Stork, Ciconia ciconia, which was NOT seen carring a baby.

Jan was more interested in the numerous wild horses, including some which were clearly Andalusians.
I still like the Flamingos more.  The pink ones are full adults, and the white ones are juveniles.

We ended the day watching Álvaro, our delightful nature guide, helping our host Nigel demonstrate the technicalities of "curing" olives. Jan is seen in the background sampling the wares, with the olive orchard behind her. Nigel had earlier explained that he made olive oil by stomping on the olives with his "Wellies". We concluded that he wasn't giving us an accurate picture! How could he POSSIBLY get into that blue container and stomp? We know better than that, Nigel!
The next day, Álvaro started our tour in the historic, wonderful town of El Rocío, where live some of Spain's oldest olive trees, the oldest over 700 years old. Below is one of these trees.

Álvaro translated the sign below which tells the story of these venerable "árboles".

The town of  El Rocío is where the annual roundup of the Doñana horses takes place. The streets are all wide and sand covered. The restaurants/bars all have places for the Caballeros to have a pint while sitting on their horses. Each year (this year June 9-10), this village of 700 people welcomes Spain's largest pilgrimage, attracting about 1 million celebrants, to what is, at least in origin, a solemn religious experience. See more here (turn translation on!):

Speaking of religious experiences, Jan and I took the relatively short drive to Sevilla, after bidding our Almonte hosts "adios". This trip will be expanded to a full blog edition in the future. For now, know that we were treated to a very intimate Flamenco show by the three performers seen with us, above. The dancer, beside Jan, managed to demonstrate the force, emotions and vitality of Flamenco in a most visceral way. The guitarist demonstrated the intense professionalism of Flamenco guitar (both hands and all ten fingers active on the guitar). We watched a similar flamenco performance and once again experienced the emotion of this dance form in the caves of Granada.

Curiosity and a quest for knowledge drew us to the Maestranza (full title is Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla), one of Spain's most notable bullfighting rings. The tour included time in the ring (bulls were not present!) We were also treated to the Maestranza Museum, worth visiting in its own right. Aside from bull fighting memorabilia, the museum has an impressive collection of art related to this very Spanish (and controversial) tradition, including 10 original Goyas. The entrance to the Maestranza is below. The tour of the Maestranza includes the chapel where the Matadors pray before entering the ring (the prayers were included on the walls of the chapel). In the ring, the guide pointed out four doors. The one we used to enter is the same door the Matadors use. To the right of that is the very tall door where the horse-riding Picadors enter. To the right of that is the Bull's door. Last but not least, she told us, is the Ambulance door. Enough said.

She added that the seats in the shade (bull fights begin in April and go to October) are 29 Euros. Shade seats, where the notables sit, are almost 300 Euros. "I would take the sun seats for sure," I said. The tour guide then mentioned that those seats are subject to temperatures approaching 45C. "Oh," I said.

Sevilla has a big Cathedral, which originally (before 1490) housed a large Moorish Mosque. The Catholic armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella dispatched Moors and Jews. This sordid history is well interpreted in Sevilla. We followed the tour of the Jewish Quarter (immediately next to the Moorish walls) in Rick Steve's book about Spain.
The streets in the Jewish Quarter are the narrowest we visited in Spain.

The Moorish architecture and tile decorations, including benches such as this one, are eye candy.

Later in the month, we visited the old Moorish town of Frigiliana, in the hills above Nerja. The lovely white stone village also celebrates the 3 religious cultures of "old Spain" in the town's centre (below).

While Jan and son Thomas went off to Gibraltar, I visited Ronda for more nature touring with Álvaro. His brother-in-law runs this marvellous restaurant in Ronda, where all of the wines (above the bartender's head) are regional favourites. I am not the greatest wine connoisseur, however, these wines impressed ( I tried 3).
I returned to my room in the Boabdil Guest House (another great experience) through the narrow moonlit streets of Ronda (below).

Above is the church in Ronda's town square. Note the balconies. Álvaro explained that these were not for religious audiences, but were for the elite to watch 17-18th century bull fights! Álvaro told me a lot more, but those details will need a more expansive separate chapter. So I ended the night comfortably under the moonlight in this ancient Moorish city.
In the morning,  we set off to Grazalema National Park,and other splendid wildlife locales around Ronda, the northern portion of Malaga province.
After a few minutes, I noticed that these Griffon Vultures, Gyps fulvus, were looking quite "fondly" at me. "I am NOT dead yet," I shouted.

Álvaro hard at work finding me some "agriculture area" birds in the Osuna area. While he hunted for birds, I took this photo, below, of an Almond tree festooned with blooms.

Leaving the plains (where it never rained!) we rose up into Grazalema National Park, and found these Giant Orchids, Himantoglossum robertianum  in bloom....
just after spotting these Iberian Ibex, Capra pyrenaica, lounging on the high cliffs.

Above, a rare Ronda goat cheese bought in a very Spanish restaurant (Venta La Vega) 15 minutes to the west of Ronda.

Back to Nerja, and a visit to Las Cuevas de Nerja, the huge, beautiful and colourful location of some of Europe's oldest cave drawings. It is now estimated these caves have housed our ancestors for 40,000 years.

After the Cuevas, the neighbouring Jardin Botanico contained hundreds of native Mediterranean plants, including the Gum Rockrose or Labdanum, Cistus ladanifer, above.
Oh yeah, recall I previously mentioned the Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea. I found this male in the Rio Chillar, on the west side of Nerja.The black bib is a key field mark during breeding season.

With Jan (in the rose jacket) and our son Thomas (the tall person on her right) visited Granada. We stopped in Granada's oldest neighbourhood, Albaicín, at night. Pictured below from Albaicin, the illuminated Alhambra. We  then proceeded to Sacromonte, where Flamenco is performed in caves in which this art form has been practiced for over 500 years. The origin of Flamenco, as in Sevilla, relates to the forced conversions of Muslims and Jews following 1492.

Oh yeah, the Alhambra, above. And the Chapel outside the Granada Cathedral that contains the remains and memorial of Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as other Spanish royalty of the 16th century. Note my, "thumbs down" opinion on their policies!  I can confirm they are still dead, that is, their coffins are still in the crypt.

 Back in Nerja, we enjoyed the swirling colour of Carnaval, below.

I leave you with a view of flowers with the mountains of the Sierra Tejeda in the background (the view from our patio is similar), and also, on our patio, a Trumpet Flower or Angel's Trumpet, Brugmansia arborea,  brightens the view during our noon time meals.