Yes, I know I said I’d update on Monday but it’s been a busy old time as we start the push homewards. We still have a week or two of blogging to do, so don’t go getting your hopes up for a bit of peace yet. Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. Actually, now I think about it…
Anyway, on to the Algodonales re-enactment of the battle against the Napoleonic forces of May 2nd 1810!
The hard work was done on Friday, as we said in our last post; the stalls were set up, the roads were closed and spread with sand & straw. (A good move with so many donkeys around). When we arrived in town mid-morning, families were strolling the streets in the sunshine and there was an atmosphere of relaxed anticipation. And the Spanish really do enjoy a family day out; there were babies in pushchairs, right up to shaky grannies on sticks and everything in between. Toddlers toddling, visitors visiting and teenagers er… teenagering; that thing they do when they’re secretly checking each other out, but not too secretly so that the other party gets the idea, but when challenged they say “I SO wasn’t, whatever made you think I care what YOU think?” God I’m glad I’m old.
The air was filled with the sweet smell of frying churros and the not so sweet smell of overexcited donkeys taking children for rides round the square. Refreshing home-made sangria was on sale in frozen earthenware cups – keep them as souvenirs or take them back for a one Euro refund.
Although I said the Town Square above, it was more of a long rectangle. This lent itself well to the two ‘armies’ who soon appeared circulating in opposite directions shouting insults at each other – fortunately in Spanish & French so our delicate ears were not offended. The Spanish ‘army’ consisted of all sorts, elderly gents with sticks, wiry old ladies with a glint in their eye and dozens of youngsters dressed in peasant costumes with lethal looking knives dangling from broad-buckled belts. Many of the gentlemen may have been watching too much Pirates of the Caribbean, judging by the headscarves and earrings…
In contrast, Napoleon himself would have been proud of the French army. Immaculate uniforms, brass buttons reflecting the sun and medals aglow, they made a formidable force. Well… as long as you didn’t look too closely. The opposing forces closed on each other to the sound of the speakers blaring Carmina Burana on repeat. Then the muskets were brought to the front lines and…pardon? What was that you said? My ears still feel like they’re stuffed with cotton wool from the loud reports as they let fly. There was some serious gunpowder malarkey going on – each musket produced a huge bang as smoke shot six feet from the barrel, and flames and more smoke exited sideways from the trigger-fingers of each slightly-shocked looking soldier!
The attacks came in waves, finally ending in hand to hand, fist, knife, teeth and club combat right in front of us. When the smoke cleared we were treated to the sight of the victorious French standing among scores of dead villagers to the boos of the crowd – who finally remembered that actually everyone was Spanish and it had been a damn fine show so then they all cheered to the rafters. A flag was unfurled from the church window as a wreath was laid at the town’s memorial to those who perished in the real 1810 battle. There must have been a lot of sand blowing about because I think I had something in my eye as they sounded the last post.
It had been a long hot day in town – so we retired back to Vince for a nice cup of Tetley’s and bed. Unfortunately we then endured the usual Spanish nightlife when you stay on the edge of town. Frogs croaking, dogs barking & drunken conversations at tops of voices. We can forgive them this once though as it was the town’s big show and it had gone off with a bang – literally!
Since then we’ve been back on the road as we wanted to have a look at one of the Via Verdes near to us. These ‘green ways’ are cycle paths formed from old disused railways, and they criss-cross the whole of Spain. This particular one – the Via Verde de la Sierra – is around 38k long and follows the path of the Guadalete River through the nature reserve of the Peñon de Zaframagón. We tackled it from both ends, starting at first from Puerto Serrano, the quiet end where there is nothing but an abandoned station and a small visitor centre. As we sailed Vince into the tiny car park, one of the staff emerged waving his arms frantically, so we expected to hear the Spanish equivalent of “You can’t park that thing in ‘ere mate!” We couldn’t have been more wrong – he explained that yes, the car park was a bit small for Vince’s bulk, but that there was a patch of hard standing round the back of the old buildings, or we could slide him between the olive trees in the grove next door. We were welcome to stay overnight if we wished, and once parked he’d be glad to give us a map and a quick talk about the highlights of the area. How refreshing! We dropped an email to his boss today to say thanks.
We limited ourselves to a 5k cycle up the track and back as we’d arrived in the early afternoon and it was extremely hot. We stopped for a lovely picnic lunch overlooking the gorge before pedalling home again.
Yesterday we travelled to a camp site at the ‘busy’ end of the greenway, in the town of Olvera. Although this was three miles away from the start of the cycle track, we needed a campsite as we’d been off grid for a record seven nights. We’d had services at Algodonales but no washing machines! This worked out well (for me) as I swanned off to do a 45k cycle trip while Gill did all the laundry. In fairness she did get a day off from my incessant chatter so it was win-win.
The only downside to travelling along the beautifully surfaced, billiard-table level former railway track was that it wasn’t. It wasn’t beautifully surfaced as my bitten tongue and lost fillings will prove, and it certainly wasn’t level! I should have been suspicious when I barely pedalled for the first 10k; it was only on my (red-faced & puffing) return that I checked and found that from Olvera to Zaframagon where I turned round and came back, I’d climbed a total of 862m. I think you’re supposed to start at Olvera and finish at Puerto Serrano then get a taxi back with your bike in the boot! That would be downhill all the way.
The highlight of the bike ride was the visitor centre at Zaframagon. There, they have an extremely powerful webcam which the guide pans and zooms to show you Europe’s largest colony of Griffon Vultures. You can zoom right in to see the chicks flopping about in their nests. Conditions here are ideal for vultures with vertical cliffs to nest in and soar over, and plenty of carrion for them to spot with their incredible eyesight. In fact, I was the only person there so the poor young lady had to go through her whole presentation in a 50-seat auditorium just for me! It meant I could ask lots of questions, so she soon de-frosted and we had a good chin-wag about these amazing birds, which (I discovered) live for about 32 years, raise one chick per year from the age of five and mate for life – to the extent that if a partner dies, the other half of the couple never ‘re-marries’. See? I was listening!
To bring you right up to the minute, we’re now south of Granada sitting by a reservoir getting our breath back after a trip into the Big City for a food shop. Looking at the pics I’m sure you’ll agree that the Béznar Reservoir is a pretty pleasant place to spend a quiet night before heading back to the coast tomorrow. We want to have a look at the Cabo de Gata Nature Reserve as we start to head east and eventually north for the ferry home.