Month: May 2016

María Auxiliadora

It seems like the Spanish eat nothing but meat and potatoes, so for my second dinner in Ronda I just went to the first Italian restaurant I could find for a salad and some pasta. It was on a side street, no Trip Advisor sticker, they sliced their lettuce with a knife (although the salad was good), the wine tasted like it had been sitting around for awhile. But it was a decent meal, and just as I was finishing, a parade went by! First I saw the little girls in their first communion dresses (and the boys in their snazzy little suits), then I heard the band. It was a good procession put on by the Parish of María Auxiliadora. I was the only one eating in the restaurant that early, so the staff and I went out and watched, along with everyone else in the street.

The two floats were carried by a bunch of young men with turbans on their heads to pad them. The main float has a little plaque: “Viena 1683” – an antique baroque “carroza” for this annual fiesta. They were heading towards the church for the last day of the fiesta, where the new communicants would be presented to the Virgin.

Girls Boys Kids las-senorasauxiladore-float2 auxiladore-float

The Devotees of Maria Auxiliadora
The Devotees of Maria Auxiliadora
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Ronda – the Town that just Drops Off

Ronda-valley

The thing about Ronda in Andalucia is that it’s a nice Spanish town that suddenly just drops off. It’s in a foothills-y type area. The train climbed a little out of the Antequera junction (I was coming from Granada) as the olive-grove country that got hillier and hillier, but there weren’t any hairpin turns and switchbacks. I walked from the station to a block of sensible, fairly new (70s?) family apartments, pulling my rollerboard easily along a flat pedestrian area between two boulevards. After hanging around until evening, napping and enjoying the privacy of having the place to myself, I took the perpendicular pedestrian street to the historic Plaza de Toros. The whole town was out, mostly just strolling (looks like the Italians aren’t the only ones who enjoy the evening passeggiata.)

Ronda-passegiata

Eventually I found the bull arena – the oldest one in Spain and basically a big round white thing. After that, the end of the city.

Ronda-valley-cliff
The valley showing a bit of cliff and town on the left. There was a lot more valley towards the west (the right), which I may capture today before the sun is as low as it was when I got to the viewpoint.

I had to look at the Google satellite images to understand how Ronda is situated on a plateau cut in two by a deep canyon formed by the Guadalevín river, which turns right after cutting through the town and runs under the bluff to irrigate the valley below the city.

The "New" Bridge
The “New” Bridge (“front”)

So I suddenly found myself gazing down into a beautiful valley full of fields, hearing the distant sound of goat bells. The cliffs provide a special habit for cliff-dwelling birds, and I watched some alpine swifts and kestrels doing their unbelievably competent flying stunts. (There was a sign identifying the birds; apparently there are also peregrins but I don’t think I saw any of those.)
Eventually I walked back towards the town and found the bridge, and another valley on the other side.

ronda-canyon
The canyon through the town. The back of the bridge is behind this shot.
Looking towards the "upper" valley
Looking towards the “upper” valley

The question today is whether to climb down to the bottom, which I think would involve climbing up again, but maybe there’s a bus … In the meantime, these are just my first impressions. I’m just spending the day here (Tuesday May 24) before heading off to Gibraltar for another quick stop, but no doubt I’ll be viewing some more geological wonders as I see more of Ronda today.

Los Alpujarras

scenery1

 

path-to-bus-tree

I’m finally taking a “day off” or at least a morning off to just sit – probably followed by an early siesta (a.k.a.  “going back to bed.” ) I’m in the lounge at Casa-Ana, a beautiful guest house in a village in the Alpujarras. These are foothills of the Sierra Nevadas outside of Granada. It’s an ancient agricultural area of tiny villages now gaining new life from European ex-pats and tourists. Rather than trying to blog this trip chronologically, I’m jumping to my current location.
For the last two days I’ve been tramping the ancient footpaths between the villages. This is perhaps the best walking I’ve ever done: spectacular views, varied terrain and civilization every couple of hours. These paths go past meadows, orchards, down into little forested river valleys, and past streams and acequias.

Not sure why these grow both in Spain and New Mexico; have the same question about Prickly Per
Not sure why these grow both in Spain and New Mexico; have the same question about Prickly Pear

The guest house has a binder with a set of walks. For the last two days, I just chose one that looked short – to the next couple of villages, for example. Those pretty much give me 6-8 miles a day, walking from about 11 am until about 5 pm with a nice long lunch/coffee break in the middle. Dinner later is in the next village from where I’m staying, itself a 20-minute walk along the paved highway.

I think this is my "home" village Ferriola as I was leaving it to head up to the next village.
I think this is my “home” village Ferriola as I was leaving it to head up to the next village.
path-grove
Path along an orchard
signposts
Although the paths are ancient local paths, they are also signposted and blazed for walkers.
This leads to a sparkling mineral fountain right outside of my town.
This leads to a sparkling mineral fountain right outside of my town. To Californians, “camino” means any street, but I just realized the root is “caminare” – to walk.
The water wasn't too bubbly, I think because streams are running high due to recent rains. Strong mineral taste just like the water from the tap at the guest house.
The water wasn’t too bubbly, I think because streams are running high due to recent rains. Strong mineral taste just like the water from the tap at the guest house.
After walking for awhile, you come to a village all stacked up on itself.
After walking for awhile, you come to one of the villages – all stacked up on itself.

It’s a hard life for the inhabitants who work the land. One ex-pat told me that the area was extremely poor during Franco’s time. People moved to Grenada but kept their property here, and now they often return during the summer to work the land and host family visits. Other people from this area moved after the war to Germany, France and Argentina. The ones who chose post-war Europe did very well there and have come back to build nice houses on their land here. (A good description of this rural life can be found in Chris Stewart’s book Driving Over Lemons, which is the book that gave me the idea of visiting this area.)

An acequia with a little footbridge
An acequia with a little footbridge

One thing that’s fascinating is ancient technology. I’ve found two examples of that here: the first is the irrigation system that has been maintained since Roman times by the Romans, the various Moors, and now the Spaniards. This consists of channels (acequias) cut into rock or built along hillsides. I’ve found many that still seem to be in use. In the meantime, some of these channels are being replaced with PVC piping: much easier to maintain. Nevertheless, apparently each town has at least one person whose job it is to walk the acequias every day looking for breaks and ruptures.

Hillside acequia coming into my village.
Hillside acequia coming into my village. (All that miserable rain last week has resulted in lots of wildflowers.)
Newpipe-old-acequia
PVC Piping along an acequia that’s been built up with concrete. One lady told me that the piping is affecting some old microclimate flora that used the seepage from the open channels. (Also interesting to me that these folk use a wider, thicker gauge of piping than Moldova used for its new village water supplies — there are some  big economic differences between these two rural areas.)

Dry stone walls are also very common here. I passed a couple of guys maintaining one, tapping the stones into place (felt like it would be impolite to take a photo, lacking the Spanish to start a conversation and ask nicely.)

dry-stone-wall
Dry-stone wall – this one looks pretty old. This is one of the main building methods up here: retaining walls, house walls, path maintenance, etc.
My room with corner windows. I open them around 6am in order to hear the dawn chorus as a go back to sleep until 8 or so.
My room with corner windows. I open them around 6am in order to hear the dawn chorus as a go back to sleep until 8 or so.
Since the guest-house is on several levels, there are lots of little patios.
“My” patio: Since the guest-house is on several levels, there are lots of little patios. I was very happy when it finally got warm and dry enough to wash out & dry that white fleece jacket.

Village on a Cruise Ship

IMG_5204
Every day a towel sculpture – this was my favorite. My cabin steward was a woman from the Philippines who has to leave a 4 year-old and a 12-year old at home, but her job is also paying for her own orthdontia!

The cruise turned out to be better than I expected due to the large number of solo travelers on board. We had an NCL staffperson who helped us get together every evening, after which we would go to dinner and/or shows. Also, on this ship, it was possible to say that you wished to share your table and dinner, and that was another way to meet people. My Trimet hat drew the notice of a couple from Gresham who knew what Trimet is – we had conversations every day.

garytheastronmer.com
garytheastronmer.com Note: possible RG/AG speaker, works for free…

It was an interesting demographic. Many people do transatlantic crossings on a regular basis. I learned a lot about how to get a good rate on one of these (wait until the last minute if you can.) Many people were world travelers. One of these world travelers gave astronomy lectures on board – he was teaching people how to use a sextant, and gave an interesting talk about the meridian lines built into many Italian basiicas, which track the sun’s rays coming through pinholes high in the church walls. Some people spend so much time on cruise ships, it really opens up the idea of a cruise ship as a retirement home (!)

For a mere $20, 6 oz of hard liquor - best bargain on a ship where drinks can run $12-$15 apiece. (I didn't finish it all...)
For a mere $20, 6 oz of hard liquor – best bargain on a ship where drinks can run $12-$15 apiece. (I didn’t finish it all…but everyone else did!)
Sailors are still superstitious (Look for the special little prayer in this photo.)
Sailors are still superstitious (see the little prayer in this photo.) I came down here every morning to get that first cup of coffee.
Reading-on-deck
Found a bit of time to get a little further into the thriller.

This crossing was fairly mild. We had moderate seas most days, which rocked me to sleep. One day in the middle of the ocean was “slight” – glassy and smooth. Didn’t see many cetaceans or birds, although we had a hitch-hiking Brown Booby, which unfortunately didn’t make it – it disappeared soon after I took this photo (competent as it looks here; may have gotten knocked into the side of the ship while trying to fish in the ship’s side wake.)

booby-in-flight

In case anyone's interested, here's what the bathroom looks like.
In case anyone’s interested, here’s what the bathroom looks like.

More Funchal

Now that I’ve got bandwith, here’s a little more eye candy from this island in the Atlantic.

Funchal-harbor
Start of a port day: Sunrise over Funchal Harbor.
little-cars
Can anyone tell me about thise cars?
ground-cover-flowers
A pretty ground-covering flower
Funchal-market2
Mercado dos Lavradores from upstairs
Scabbard-fish
When I saw this fish, I said “I’m not eating this!” But I had it for lunch, and it was good. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_scabbardfish
Funchal-market1
Mercado dos Lavradores
wierd-wicker-sled
A strange tourist activity invented in the 19th century. Funchal makes wicker stuff, so they make wicker sleds, wax the runners, and pilot tourists down the hill.
swan-house-2
Swan House

Funchal reminded me of Capri, another island (but in the Mediterranean Sea.) People have gardens wherever they can, which I saw when I descended the hill in a cable car. Funchal grows a small, sweet banana, which I had on my Saberfish along with some passion fruit (not in season, but they do grow it there.)

Bananas Garden IMG_5160 IMG_5161