Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

elvalleborder elmaestro triptoworkatalayah

 

 

 

I have written about Jesus before. A good friend, the Maestro of the rotovator, the chain-saw and the heavy-duty strimmer. I first met him about twelve years ago in Jose’s bar in Restabal. Strong as an ox, apparently daft as a brush but with an insight into people that was both accurate and faultless, generous to a fault, it was him who appeared in the upstairs bar one morning in the early hours, leading a mule. It took the whole bar to get the thing back down the stairs, it was obviously terrified of walking forwards on marble stairs and let us know just how scared in the time-honoured manner.

The first time I saw him I thought he was a member of the Spanish Legion, there are several ex-members in the valley. Somewhere I have a picture of him, brown as a berry, with his shirt open to the waist, his hirsute six-pack there for all the world to see as he has a beer after a long day in the campo. He was one of three brothers and it was the sight last night of his youngest brother walking in the dark many miles from home, that prompted me to write this. It would tickle Jesus pink to think that anyone cared enough to write about him. All three brothers lived with their mother. The youngest contracted cancer and died young. Jesus’ other brother never got over this and started to walk, at all hours, in all weathers to destinations known only to him. He is a good-looking lad, tall and slim and with long hair like a biblical prophet. I have never heard him speak.

Jesus seemed to be more stoic about the loss but he spent more and more time in the bar. For the first few years it didn’t seem to affect him, he was still always ready for a laugh and we roared away many a night. He was a good-looking bloke but never had any permanent relationship with a woman, or impermanent come to that, but would tell me hilarious stories about his forays into La Luna, the local house of ill repute. It was rumoured that more than one of the girls there, as well as a few of the local girls, had taken a fancy to him and wouldn’t have minded looking after him, but it seemed to go over his head and he stayed with his mother and very happily so, he told me on more than one occasion. Whether he was looking after her and his brother or his mother was looking after the pair of them I don’t know, but it seemed to work. He continued to do the work of a peon for Jose who regulated his alcohol intake and found him jobs to do. With the arrival of Aya in our family we stopped going to the bar on our way home from work in the evenings and I was shocked when I next saw him a couple of years later. I’m not given to exaggeration and I can assure you that he looked seventy years old. His frame had shrunk to nothing, his cheeks were sunken and grey and his eyes bloodshot and hollow. I greeted him as always and pretended not to notice his condition and the spark came back into his eyes. We joked as before but when I discreetly asked Jose what had happened to him he replied that his liver was virtually destroyed and he had just been released from a period in hospital. He got better over a period of time, put on weight and went back to work, although not as the ox he had once been. Then just before Christmas I went into Jose’s bar and asked after him. He died two weeks ago, his liver gave out, Jose’s son Cristian told me. I wish I had known, I feel remiss not having gone to his funeral, but they bury people within twenty-four hours here in Spain and we hadn’t been told. And now his brother is to be seen wandering far and wide at all hours of the day and night. Although I have never spoken to him or even heard him speak, I hope that he and his mother communicate and will come to terms with the tragedy of their family.

One of our clients left his mobile phone in the security area of Malaga airport during the very zealous body and shoe searches that they carry out prior to boarding these days. He wrote to us and asked if we would be in the Malaga area in the next few weeks and if so could we pick it up for him. As luck would have it, Carmen wanted to make yet another trip to IKEA and this would be a good excuse for me to do something else other than follow here around the store gradually losing the will to live. So I told the client that it wouldn’t be a problem and congratulated myself quietly on a crafty body-swerve.

Came the appointed day and after dropping Aya off at the school bus we made our way down to Malaga, not too bad a drive as it is all motorway, but I have recently developed a phobia about Spanish motorway road signs and could be heard deriding them all the way there. I love the one that says that you must keep one hundred metres between vehicles. That means that only ten vehicles are allowed per lane per kilometre. As there are two lanes, that brings it up to twenty vehicles every kilometre and it is enforced for sixty kilometres. So inbound to Malaga, a city of seven hundred thousand, there are only twelve hundred vehicles allowed on that sixty kilometre of road. Impossible, but you can bet your boots that the Guardia Civil Trafico will fine you if you break their code. There are myriad road signs on the motorway, prompting thoughts that the road planners work on a commission basis with the road-sign makers. Probably they are related.

We arrived at IKEA and had the obligatory breakfast of bacon butties, the only thing that makes the trip tolerable for me, and I soft-shoe shuffled off to the airport.   There my troubles began. The only car park available was about three hundred metres from the entrance to the terminal and once inside, after asking just about every staff member on duty, I was directed to the Lost Property department, as far away as it is possible to get from the terminal entrance. I must add here that I confused everyone I asked, and unknowingly gave the correct name to the task I had set myself. How? Spanish for Lost Property is ‘Objetos perdidos,’ and I was asking for ‘Objetivos perdidos,’ which roughly translated means ‘Lost causes.’ And so it nearly proved to be.

I knew as soon as I approached the desk that I was in for the long haul. The man behind the counter was as big a jobswuth as it is possible to get. He appeared to be a Neanderthal, put there to guard the treasure trove of lost property in his cave, and to make it as difficult as possible for the genuine owners retrieve their belongings. This wasn’t the first time that the phone had been asked for, the client’s brother-in-law had been there the week before and had had no luck, and I saw why. I had all the paperwork necessary, and there was plenty of that. I had an email authorising me to collect, a copy of the original claim form, a photocopy of the owner’s passport, my identity card and pages of emails relating to the lost phone, and I speak Spanish.

‘I’ve come to collect a phone, here is the paperwork,’ I said.

He shuffled through the paperwork and said,

‘There’s no photocopy of your ID card.’

‘I have my ID card here, you can make a photocopy with that machine by your right hand, it’s a photocopier.’

‘Can’t do that, it’s only for office use.’

‘This is office use, you need a photocopy for your files.’

‘But you have to make it’

‘Open the door and I will’

‘You can’t come in here.’

‘Where’s your boss?’

’OK, I’ll make a photocopy.’

Photocopying was done and then;

‘We’ve got lots of lost phones here.’

‘This is a lost property office, I expect you have. It’s a black and silver Nokia.’

‘We’ve got lots of black and silver Nokias.’

‘Here is the lost property report with all the details.’

‘How am I supposed to find the right phone without a reference number?’

‘You give all lost items a reference number, look in your files. You haven’t sent the reference number to the person who lost the phone. It’s not in the paperwork.’

‘When was it lost?’

‘Twenty-fifth of January this year, look in your records for that date.’

‘Uh?’

‘Open the log for 25 January.’

‘We don’t have a log, everything is on the computer.’

‘Well, search the computer for 25 January and then look for Nokias.’

‘Right.’

Ten minutes of looking at the back of his head and then, ‘Here’s the reference number you want.’

‘I don’t want it, you need it to get the phone. Can you go and get it, please?’

‘It’s not here, it is in the warehouse.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘Here’s a map.’

The warehouse was on the other side of the airfield, but to get to it you had to leave the airport in the opposite direction and retrace your steps to pass under a tunnel and go into the vortex which is the baggage area of the airport. Having worked in Customs I know these make the Labyrinth a walk in the park.

While he had been trying to find a reference number I had noticed a wad of papers on his desk entitled ‘Atomic Structures.’ It was written in English and so as soon as I had the reference number I asked him if he was reading them. He replied that he was, his eyes lit up, the sloping forehead miraculously assumed an Einstein configuration and a smile beamed out from the hitherto sullen countenance. I asked him if was reading for a degree and he replied that he had just finished his degree in Food Sciences. Here at last was someone who was interested in him and realised his worth. We had a chat about this and that, he was now a completely different chap and I decided not make the comment that had been formulating in my head about part of his course involving putting his brain through a mincer and instead asked what he was doing working in a Lost Property office.

‘There’s no work in my field of expertise,’ he replied.

This. sadly, is the problem with a lot of students these days, here in Spain. They are qualified up to the eyeballs and can find no work. So, having gained a degree, they go on to do a Masters and then possibly a Ph. D. And there are no plumbers or bricklayers to be found.

I digress. I followed the map to the south then did a one-eighty on a roundabout and headed north, under the tunnel and into the mass of hangars, warehouses and plant that lies behind the efficient running of an airport. The nearest I could get to the building I needed was five hundred metres so I walked across numerous other plots until I found it. There was a large notice on the door proclaiming that it was closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I thanked my lucky stars that it was Thursday. I approached the counter with trepidation. There were two more jobswuth’s there and they couldn’t decide who was going to talk to me. They stood there with their heads bowed and silently studied their steel toe-capped industrial workboots. I eventually broke the stalemate and spoke to one of them and he passed me on to his workmate. Fifty-fifty chance Ron, and you get it wrong, I thought. I gave him the reference number and he asked for all the relevant paperwork again. He scrutinised it and I asked him if he spoke English. He didn’t and so I translated for him. It could have been any old rubbish, he wouldn’t have known. He was so obviously confused as to what he had to do that I began to wonder if I was the first person ever to have got this far in an attempt to reclaim an item of lost property. My chest swelled a little and I looked around for hidden cameras. He led me off to an office in a restricted part of the warehouse and sat me at a desk and told me not to move. I started getting twitchy. Head bent, he started single-finger typing on his computer. Goodness only knows what he was doing, he had the reference number, he had all the relevant paperwork, all he had to do was give the phone to me, get me to sign for it and I would have been on my way. But no, he continued to tickle the keyboard and then ceremoniously picked up the phone and called a minion, if there was anyone lower that he on the minion scale. A chap appeared and the whole process began again, scrutinising of indecipherable paperwork and then he disappeared for a full thirty minutes and returned with a plastic evidence bag with the correct reference number on the outside and a black and silver Nokia inside.

‘Is this the one?’ he asked.

‘Yes it is,’ I replied, not really knowing whether it was or not, never having seen it in the flesh before. But it fitted the owner’s description and the reference numbers tallied, so I took it and hoped for the best.

‘Can you sign on that electronic pad, please?’ I was asked.

So I did, and nothing seemed to be happening, so I did it again and again and then the man staring at the screen said.

‘You have a very long name.’

‘Yes, I have,’ I replied, took the phone and made my way back to the calm and sense of order that IKEA is blessed with, in spite of its dreariness.

A day of Lost Causes indeed!

 

 

I never fail to be amazed by the valley, especially at the changing of the seasons.  It is getting on for autumn now and the oranges are just beginning to change colour from green to a yellowy orange.  It is a little bit early for this but we are enjoying an Indian summer which has lasted for most of the month and looks set fair for another couple of weeks, albeit we had snow on the top of the mountains during a cold snap of a couple of days last week.  I have been remiss, as usual, in my writing, but the introduction of yet another business, this one offering total immersion in English (www.elvalleingles.es)  and with the summer rush of rentals, as well as having our daughter on holidays, I have had no spare time time.

My daughter has now started ‘big school’ at the International School in Almuñecar and this means a twenty-two kilometre drive down to Velez Benaudalla every morning to put her on the school bus which takes her from there to Almuñecar.  All very exciting for her and a chance for her to talk to all her friends during the journey there and back, and to chat with me during our drive down the mountain.  At the moment they have closed the motorway so my usual quiet drive down the old road has become a bit more crowded as all the diverted traffic is using it.  Once I have put her on the bus and had my cup of tea and read the local papers in one of the bars in Velez, I drive sedately back to the valley.  I say sedately as the round trip traverses 4000 feet and this has to be done twice a day.  So, 8000 feet a day, a fair old climb, but that’s what comes from living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  The trip down is no strain on the van  as eighteen of the twenty-two kilometres are downhill, but the drive back has the temperature gauge in my battered Kangoo rising as steadily as the road.

The views are stunning.

As I leave Velez I pass waterfalls, caves and stalagmites open to the elements on the cliffs below the town.  The cliffs are covered in all kinds of wild flowers and are stunning, some of them part of a Nazari garden which the public can visit.  As this is near sea level on the Costa Tropical, to my left are plantations of exotic fruits such as mangoes, avocadoand custard fruit, with grape vines and banana trees scattered here and there.  As I start to climb these plantations are replaced by more scrubby un-irrigated hillside with thyme, rosemary, sage and camomile growing with wild abandon, while above them are stands of wild Mediterranean pine trees, releasing a marvellously fresh smell which fills my lungs and senses with what can only be described as joie-de-vivre.  I stopped the other day to take some photos of Rules reservoir, still nearly full even after an exceptionally hot summer, and surprised a wild boar rooting about for tubers above me on the hillside.  I didn’t see him, or her, but it sounded big.  They grow to around one hundred and twenty five kilos  hereabouts and it is extremely unwise to bother them, especially the sows when they have a litter of young with them. They taste delicious.  A little higher and the Sierra Nevada comes into view, the spa town of Lanjaron and the mountainsides of the Alpujarras lit by the morning sun, which gives crystal-clear visibility allowing me to see for tens of kilometres along the southern edge of the mountains as they stretch away towards Almeria.  Our side of the mountains, the western side, means that the prevailing winds from the south west are forced to rise by the eleven thousand feet peaks and the precipitation gives the valley a verdancy which always surprised people expecting Andalucia to be parched and dry.  The eastern side of the mountains above Almeria are indeed parched and there you can still see film sets which were used to film westerns, including the famous Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood.

Once past the Rules dam and reservoir the old road parallels the motorway and to the left are three bridges, a stone bridge from the mid 1800’s built using an existing structure, a steel bridge of which I can find no details of but which is still used to service the old main road from Granada to the coast and the new motorway viaduct was opened about five years ago.

Then I get back on to the motorway and pass the Tablate gorge, again with three old bridges next to one another, one of Moorish origin from the 16th century, one from the mid 1800’s and one built at the beginning of this century.  Tablate is now deserted but was the scene of the last big battle between the Moors and the Christians in the 16th century.

The whole drive is fascinating and full of history and fantastic scenery, from tropical orchards to mountain scrub.  The Sierra Nevada mountains are snow-covered from November to May, and during this period the ski-station is open offering great skiing, well above the tree-line and from where, on a clear day, you can see across to Africa and the Rif mountains of Morocco.  I have to remind myself sometimes not to get blasé about where I live and to appreciate anew how lucky I am to be in such a paradise.

 

 

Tablate bridges

Tablate bridges

 

Izbor bridges

Izbor bridges

This year I will be looking at the world through rose-tinted eyeballs.  One, because Spain is starting to rise from the ashes, I hear on the BBC.  And two, because after my vetrectomy, everything is rose-tinted post-op from the blood hanging around in my eyes.  I have had the chance to sit back a bit and take my nose from the grindstone and see what is going on.  House prices are ridiculously low at the moment and if anyone has any money they want to invest there is no better time for buying a property in Spain.  Some of the sales that I have made recently have been startling, at prices so far below the asking price that buyers almost feel like upping their offers after they have been accepted as they feel guilty for having made such a low offer and having had it accepted!  I certainly feel sorry for people here as they are brought back to harsh reality after the bubble burst four years ago, but they are getting a realistic price for their properties and will have to forego the Rolls for a while.  And that includes myself, I let my house go for 60% of its value because I wanted some cash at that time, (to re-invest in property of course.)  So come on down to the Lecrin valley and see it at its best, full of oranges and lemons and verdant in the extreme.  Loads of snow on top of the Sierra Nevada and last Friday I was down on the coast and the sea and sun were kissing each other.

It has been a funny year, very busy with our new language school and also with the house rentals.  There has been no rain since May, although the reservoirs were full to the brim after the rainiest winter I have ever seen here.  Here at the moment it is glorious, bright blue skies, with temperatures around 17ºC during the day and 3ºC at night, making the lake steam in the mornings.  There isn’t much snow up on the Sierra Nevada, but the snow cannons make for good skiing.  Nothing of great consequence has been going on, the crisis is over we are told, but people are being a bit cautious with their money until the feel-good factor returns.  Except for  the vendors of houses who are offering ridiculously low prices now in the hope of getting a quick sale.  So come on down, it’s the best time for a bargain you are going to get as all is set to be sunshine and light next year as we haul ourselves out of the crisis.  If you know of anyone who needs to learn English, pass them the details our website, www.elvalleingles.es and they can learn in relaxed surroundings with great teachers and staff.  And if you want to buy a house at knocck-down prices, see www.lecrinvalleyproperty.com

What a strange year this has been as far as the weather is concerned!  But at last the real summer has arrived, there is no sign of cloud or rain in the forecasts and temperatures are well above 30ºC.  The sea is comfortable for an extended swim or snorkel and the beaches are choc-a-bloc at the weekends.  At least we are able to go to the beach in the afternoons after work on the odd afternoon and that is a great bonus.  Nothing better than a swim late afternoon and a beer and tapa as you watch the sunset over the sea.  Just like good old Blightey but here you can do it for four of five months of the year, not four or five days!

Extremely hectic this year.  Having to fight for every booking but house sales getting a little better.

I keep seeing a strange man on the side of the road on my way to work in the mornings, dressed in an Arctic gilet and a Peruvian woolly hat.  And as the temperature is around 80ºF in old money he looks strange in the extreme.  The second day I saw him he was standing at attention with a hookah stood at his side, also at attention, the pipe neatly curled around its brown enamel body.  And a hookah and a half it was, it came halfway up to his waist.  If he had been smoking that all night in the campo, and I suspect he had, and if he had been smoking the valley’s brand of Mary Jane, he was lucky to be standing and not hovering a few feet above the ground.  He didn’t have it this morning but he seemed bent on a mission as he sort of loped along the road.  Will have to ask around.

Long time no write.  I don’t know if people think that is a good or bad thing, but rebus sic stantibus applies as beginning a new business, having our daughter around over the summer holidays to look after and the crisis have conspired to make things busier than ever.  We are in the process (in fact have run pilot courses) of starting a new company called Inmersion Total Idiomas, or Total Immersion in Languages  We offer courses where the students come to valley and are only spoken to in English, for example, for the duration of their stay.  They have lessons in English, stay with English families, do activities such as walking in the hills, cooking or painting, again with English speaking instructors.  They can practice skills such as conference participation, meetings, telephone speaking or anything else that they may need in their social or business lives.  At the end of their stay they will probably go away with a blinding headache, but it will be a blinding headache in English.  And I say that it is in English as that will be our core business, but we will offer whatever language is needed – Spanish, German, Arabic, French; you name it and we have or will find a teacher for it.

Life in the valley has been as ever, but very hot over the summer.  We have had the regulation September downpour which this year left us unmarked as we were sandwiched between Malaga and Murcia where they really suffered, including loss of life.  The crisis is biting hard and unemployment here in the valley is very high, especially for those under twenty-five.  Maria Jose is still with us and doing a sterling job, but Lidia has gone off to Barcelona to a different job in tourism there.  We now have Jacky with us and she is helping out in both companies.  The owners are here in force and it is good to see them after often long periods away.  I hope to be able to write more often, but make no promises.  Keep sweet one and all.

This morning the news read that 17 Spanish banks have been downgraded by Moody’s and the pound is rising steadily, up 4% this month.  I keep saying it but the market here really needs exploiting and if you have any readies this the way to throw them.  I have sold a couple of houses for a real song his week and there are many more on the market.