We saw one of the best sunsets last night and it does tip the scale a little more than all the others we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Not because it was absolutely spectacular but because it silohuetted the Atlas mountains of Morocco, the first port of call in Africa. From Tarifa you can see the outline of the mountains clearly and on a wind free day they say you can see the houses too. We’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a wind free day today, 30 degree temps and cloud free skies, what a start and I bet if more Mud Island crew knew about this weather the place would have been over-run by northerners.. there is no local chippie though! Bought 1kg of sized prawns for €6 yesterday and feasted on them fresh from the skillet with garlic butter and lemon, eat your heart out Rick Stein… Just updated the Spain album with more pics but left off the prawns as you need to get here to experience that…
2009-10-24 to 2009-10-27
We left Cordoba at 8am so that we could make our way to Trevelez – Spain’s highest settlement. The scenic drive through the Granada Province was that of 150 million olive trees, planted in straight rows, and the unmistakable fragrance of olive oil.
The Rough Guide to Spain told us that ‘if we see one city in Spain, it must be Granada. For here, extraordinarily well preserved and in tremendous natural setting, stands the Alhambra’. The Alhambra was the palace and fortress of the Nasrid sultans, ruler of the last Spanish Moorish kingdom. Walking through the Alhambra was a surreal experience. The buildings are so well maintained that it feels like we were living in he times of the Moorish rule. The Palace stands in contrasting strength to that of the Alcazaba (The military defence/watch tower). It is the most ruined part of the fortress but still impressive. Its tallest tower stands 130 meters high and overlooks the entire city of Granada. The Generalife was a shaded, leafy garden refreshed by running water and elaborate water fountains. The grounds consist of a luxuriantly selection of shaded patios, enclosed patios and walkways. We unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to visit the inside of the palace as all of the slots were booked up. None the less, we enjoyed the elements of the Alhambra that we did see.
We continued our journey to Trevelez on precipitous, windy roads. We climbed to 1500 meters before eventually reaching the quintessential Spanish village of Trevelez (pronounced Trebelth), which is nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The reason we ascended to such heights was in order to get some altitude training in before the big climb in Morocco. Trevelez is traditionally the jump-off point for the high Sierra peaks and that is exactly what we tried to do – get to the top of Mulhacen (3 481m). We were welcomed warmly into the village by the very helpful locals. As you know, between Kirk and I, our Spanish is extremely limited; we needed to get some beers and bread before settling in at the campsite. We made our way to the information kiosk and were pleasantly surprised when greeted by an expat who was now residing in the village. He was helpful in pointing us in the right direction to a supermarket. Mvubu negotiated the steep village roads to a car park in the middle of town. Kirk and I then went on foot to seek out the supermarket. We were taken back with the helpfulness of the locals. They may not be able to communicate in English but went out of their way to make sure that we had everything we needed. A little old lady escorted us to the Tabac to ensure that Kirk got his cigarettes, smiled and went on her way. Really lovely people. The campsite was great. It is run by Ricado and his wife Alex. They too were very helpful in that he is a professional Mountaineer. They had recently submitted Jubal Toubkal in Morocco and gave us some very valuable insight into what to expect and how to negotiate the climb.
We attempted to summit the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada but fell short by 250 meters. Kirk and I had done quite a heavy hike the day before (we found out only after that this walk was more difficult that the highest peak) and were feeling rather exhausted. We managed to get to 3150m before making a wise decision to turn around so to avoid doing the last bit of the descent in the dark. Along the way were some truly spectacular sights. The peak still had some snow on it from a recent snow storm and waterfalls cascaded into nearby rock pools. This provided the backdrop for our lunch break. We arrived back at the campsite at sunset truly exhausted but satisfied with our attempt. We had walked for 11 hours!
We left Trevelez after 3 days of heavy exercise and decided that a rest on the coast would be a good idea. We headed south but before hitting the strand decided to pop into Mijas on Sally’s (our neighbour from North End Lane) behalf. It is a beautiful village set in the mountains with the most exquisite views of the Mediterranean Sea. Junior had the opportunity to pose with the donkeys and Mvubu basked in the glory of being photographed with Mijas in the background. We headed to Marbella, renowned for the rich and famous, booked into the local campsite and caught a bus into the town centre and met up with Dan and Natalie for dinner. We were treated to spectacular tapas, seafood paella and great company right on the beach with the Mediterranean lapping at the shore. Thanks guys!
We visited Ronda on recommendation and were very impressed by its beauty. Ronda is split in half by a gaping river gorge which drops sheer for 130m. Still more spectacular is the Eighteenth Century Bridge, Puento Nuevo, which straddles the gorge, while tall whitewashed houses lean from precipitous edges.
We visited the bullring and again were taken back by its beauty and history. This particular bullring is recognised as the first purpose-built space for fighting bulls in the world. The Ronda bullring is considered one of the most picturesque. The first fight took place in 1785. It is an elegant building highlighted by the two-storey arcaded of Tuscan columns.
The beach was calling and so we started the journey to Tarifa where we plan on spending the next 5 days chilling on the beach and working on our much needed tans. Tarifa is renowned for its wind! There are amazing wind farms that stretch for kilometres into the valleys. The wind turbines have a strange air of elegance about them. Windsurfers and kite surfers from all over Europe come to Tarifa to surf in the Atlantic Ocean where the wind never seems to stop. We have been very fortunate with the weather. Spain is experiencing some unusually hot weather for this time of the year. Perhaps it is preparing us for what lies ahead.
With the silhouette of the Atlas Mountain range during the day and the city lights of Morocco shining at night, just across the straights, reality has set in that the true African adventure starts on the 2nd of November when we submerge into Africa and arrive on the coast of Morocco.
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We arrived safely in Bilbao at 8:30am. The sun was just making its appearance as we disembarked and navigated our way to the Guggenheim Museum – repeatedly reminding ourselves to drive on the right-hand side of the road. The GPS took a while to get its bearings but eventually got us to our desired destination. The Guggenheim museum is an architectural masterpiece that is easily recognisable. It has a futuristic charm and the sculptures are lifelike but not true to size. We headed east after leaving Bilbao and made our way to Benasque where we were to spend a couple of days exploring the Pyrenees Mountains. En-route we stopped in Pamplona where Mvubu had a taste of what it would be like to be a bull as we slowly drove through the narrow streets of the old town and watched people disperse when they saw him coming. We stopped off for some groceries before heading in the direction where we were to spend our first night. We drove and drove and drove. Again the GPS had some wonderful ideas and decided to take us on the narrowest roads that meandered through little hamlets and the heart of rural Spain. We settled for the evening in Camping Aneto (1400m) where we faced temperatures that neither of us was expecting. It dropped to -3 that evening so we took out our winter gear and wrapped up warmly. We cooked Spaghetti Bolognese for dins in our awesome ‘kitchenette’ and climbed into our abode for a well deserved rest.
We were hoping to do some trekking in the Pyrenees for the next few days but much to our dismay we woke up to grey clouds and mist. Rain had set in and was there to stay for the next few days. Our plans had to change as trekking was no longer an option – far too dangerous for us non-experienced climbers.
We decided to get in the car and head south to Zaragoza. We found a campsite about 4 kms outside of the city centre. It was brand new and could not be located on the GPS. We were looking rather lost until a very kind Spanish lady offered to drive ahead of us and show us the way. It was pretty isolated so we settled for the evening and made the most of the dry weather. Cooked dinner and went to bed early as we were hoping to get an early start and make further progress to the South.
We woke up to sogginess again. It had rained all night. Luckily there was a break in the clouds so we got everything organised and were packed up and ready to go in good time. We continued our drive south where we planned to spend a night in Toledo. En-route we stopped off in a small town called Medinaceli. It was something of a ghost town as we did not see a solitary local. The quiet streets were full of ancient mansions that displayed their coat of arms above their doors. Medinaceli is most famous for the triple arched tower – Arco Romana – that stands proudly at the entrance to the old village. We strolled along the streets and found our way to a dilapidated Moorish castle that now houses the Christian cemetery.
We continued our drive south and decided to stop off in Madrid except we couldn’t get into the city! The GPS had a mystical black hole in it and did not seem to contain any of the maps for the city centre. We drove around the outskirts of the city for at least an hour before deciding to pack it in and head for Toledo.
The city of Toledo sits on a rocky mound isolated on three sides by a looping gorge of the Rio Tajo. The Alcazar is one of the first buildings that you see as you head for the city. We navigated our way to the campsite, set up and took a stroll into the city. The rain had not given up but that did not stop us from going forth and exploring the cobblestone streets and seeking out the historic monuments. Toledo is a beautiful city that houses many centuries of history. The rain had dampened our spirits and we needed to get back to camp so that we could cook dinner and get ourselves sorted for another early departure.
The ghosts of Toledo were definitely trying to communicate with us last night. The wind and rain was quite unsettling during the night but seemed to ease off towards the early hours of the morning. We were all packed up and again hit the road towards Cordoba. We drove for 4 hours and entered the historic city. We headed towards the Medina Azahara, a vast palace complex built on a dream scale by Caliph Abd ar Rahman III. It is nothing but mere ruins today as for many centuries after the revolt of Berber mercenaries it has been pillaged from and looted for building materials. The palace once stood 2000m long (yes…2km!!!) by 900m wide. Very extravagant!
We headed to our campsite where we chilled for the rest of the afternoon. Kirk’s ankle has been playing up…too much driving perhaps. We spend the afternoon doing some washing and general housekeeping. We had bought a whole lot of groceries that needed to be packed away.
We decided to treat ourselves to some traditional Spanish tapas for dinner. We asked the receptionist at the campsite for a local place and she sent us on our way. It was very local…not a tourist in sight (apart from us). Armed with the Spanish phrase book I attempted to ask for a table for 2. The response was a blank stare followed by loads of hand gestures. Kirk and I have decided that in order to make the most of your experiences in a country it is imperative to learn the language. (We will start learning Spanish soon so that we can get the most out of South America). We managed to get by with the phrase book and had a delicious dinner with complementary aperitifs at the end of the evening.
We had a well deserved lie in this morning and made our way to the city centre of Cordoba. En-route we stopped off for some traditional Churros and hot chocolate. A truly decadent treat but most certainly worth it. We headed for the infamous Mezquita – the grandest and most beautiful mosque ever constructed by the Moors in Spain. We entered through the Patio de los Naranjos and spent some time photographing the water fountains and Calle Herrero. The patio resembles a classic Muslim ablution court which now preserves the orange trees. These fountains are no longer for practical use and are purely decorative. Cordoba is beautiful. The avenues are lined with orange and date trees, a homeless man will never go hungry or get scurvy for that matter. The people seem so much friendlier here and we have actually seen the locals. We head to Granada tomorrow morning for some long awaited trekking in the Sierra Nevada.
It was great having our friends see us off en route to Portsmouth, made the anticipation and excitement more real. The ferry made a detour during the early hours of the 18th without us even knowing the better. One of the passengers went into labour at about midnight and the ferry had to change bearing and head back to the Devon coast to allow an airlift to get the passenger and assume new born to a hospital on the mainland. A new life for one and a great metaphor for the start of our new life.