At last, we were off again to the sun soaked paradise where our newly
renovated Moorish house
nestles at the top of the Poquera Gorge in the Alpujarras. It had taken
a long time to achieve our dream, two long years more than we had foreseen
when we took our first steps to freedom. We had also had to wait a long
time for our flight. A ten hour delay trapped with the great holiday-making
British public in a hi -tech palace geared towards maximum profit. The
complimentary vouchers we had been given by the airline worked out at
50p each per hour and could not be redeemed at the bar. Much of the waiting
time was spent people watching, an interesting even awe-inspiring activity
in July in an airport departure lounge.
There was the all-male Welsh rugby squad, travelling as a group of twenty
or more, loud aggressive and threatening. They claimed far more than their share of
the cramped and
crowded waiting area, and sported a dazzling array of designer footwear.
adorned with plastic engineering, sculpted and tinted to fit some kind
of heroic vision, a rainbow
of colours textures and patterns. The fans strutted and sprawled and let
it all hang out for each
Unsupervised screaming children hurtled dizzyingly around the concourse,
fittings and each other, ignored by flight attendants who clumped authoritatively
through the halls
in big shoes, self-concious and probably deeply resentful of their enforced
Overweight and ageing female holiday - makers had, by contrast, abandoned
commonsense and squashed themselves into garish and fiendishly inappropriate
tight, too short and too distasteful to contemplate for long.
We longed for the moment when we could jump into our hire car and leave
them all behind,
back to the mountains where such horrors are rarely seen.
We arrived at day - break, just as the sun began to paint the tips of
the Sierras in red and gold, and were yet again astonished at what we
had achieved. Here was our glorious eagles eyrie perched on the edge of
the village, balconied 1800 metres above the Mediterranean, the sea and
the distant. Rif mountains just visible between the summits to the south.
We gazed out over this splendour, this peaceful tranquillity, and once
again felt at home.
We had always enjoyed hard work and the fruits of our labours, but there
came a time when we began to question the way we were having to live.
We had found ourselves with our lives spinning out of control and with
no time to enjoy them. It seemed that we were having to pedal faster just
to maintain ground. Like much of middle-management in Britain, we had
to pedal faster and faster, year by year. We had finally became weary
and bored. We wanted to get off the wheel.
So one spring, as we planned our longed for summer break, we became intrigued
with the stories we had been told about the amazing property deals to
be had in the Alpujarra mountains, in Andalusia, sunny southern Spain.Escape
perhaps? As confirmed Hispanophiles we decided we should go and investigate.
A finca in the hills for 20k sounded very attractive. We had the contact
numbers of a couple of people who acted as property agents in a place
called Orgiva, and we made arrangements to meet them there in July.
On the map we saw that Orgiva lay well away from the Costas, away from
the hassle, the hype and the high prices, sheltered from all that was
hectic by the Sierra Lujar to the south and the Sierra Nevada to the north.
Further reading suggested that this area may well offer what we sought.
Apparently musicians artists and writers had been drawn to the place for
decades, attracted by a rural tranquillity that we hungered for. An alternative
culture of cosmopolitan expats was quietly thriving in Las Alpujarras,
the foothills of the great Mulhacen. If the likes of Picasso, Segovia
and Gerald Brennan had found it a conducive crucible for the creative
spirit it may very well do for us!
It certainly sounded promising. From Malaga we had first headed inland
to the Ronda area to spend time with some old friends who had had
a house there for years. We felt we should explore Andalusia thoroughly,
although we knew that property values near Ronda were significantly higher.
Sadly our friends were called away to a family emergency before we arrived,
so we had to explore all on our own.
We found the scenery becoming ever more dramatic as we followed the winding
road up from the coast towards the plateau where Ronda lies. Our friends
had found us rooms in a small friendly pueblo, one of the many little
white villages perched within a landscape of truly primreview proportions.
We played Ozric Tentacles full blast on the car stereo and found it to
be the perfect orchestration for such uncompromising countryside. Vast
bleak and awesome, the mountains lay around us like semi-subterranean
dinosaurs. Sheer rock faces blazed and glittered in the sun, shimmering
in a haze of heat. At night the hills loomed massively against a velvet
firmament littered with stars, made even more huge by the distant clusters
of light from the tiny pueblos dotted amongst them. How could whole communities
survive in such isolation, cut off in so desolate an environment we wondered.
We loved it but knew that living there we would feel oppressed by the
sheer scale of the place.
We explored Ronda town. It was small, elegant and friendly. There was
clever street theatre of a sophisticated kind, with spectacular fireworks
and special effects which all the people flocked to see. Rock and Roll!
There were sumptuous paradors set on the edge of dizzying precipices down
which Christian slaves were once hurled to their deaths by the Moors.
There were palaces in the old Moorish quarter which were once frequented
by the Emperor Ferdinand and his infamous queen, Isabella. There were
beautiful Alhambra-style gardens, built by monks and watered by tiled
fountains with formal rills. Shady courtyards filled with flowers and
canary song. Pedestrianised areas where designer boutiques jostled for
space alongside churrerias producing delicious churros y chocolate. Seafood
restaurants spilled onto the pavements, resplendent with silver service
and tantalising aromas. And, of course, the bull ring, set like a sinister
temple of architectural splendour to the darker side of human nature.
It was a great place, but very expensive. Our arrival in Orgiva was thus
somewhat of a contrast. Set within the river valley of the Rio Guadelfeo,
on an escarpment overlooking green alluvial fields, from a distance the
town looked an imposing and attractive place. Whitewashed buildings clustered
red-roofed together, pierced by the twin gothic towers of the church.
At street level however, it presented a rather different face. Utilitarian
and rather run down, it was busy but definitely unpromising. Dilapidation
was everywhere evident in the crumbling walls and overgrown lots near
the town centre. The people looked neither confident nor prosperous. Taking
our bearings we identified one of the two hostelries as a potential stop-over.
We had arranged to meet one of the property agents there the following
day. It was oppressively hot in the river valley. The surrounding mountains
concentrated the heat and we needed refreshment. We took a table on the
terrace of the hotel and ordered cold drinks. Before they arrived the
flies were driving us crazy and the traffic fumes were burning our eyes.
We began to notice the clientele. Bohemian types, mostly Northern Europeans
or American, with that self-concious insousiance typically described as
'cool'. Alarm bells rang in our heads that this may not be the ideal place
for us after all.
We became aware of a young woman of about twenty five or so, accompanied
by two filthy and ragged children of perhaps three and five years old.
She was decked out in the extreme of alternative fashion with stylishly
ragged and colourful clothing and dreadlocks. Maybe she was an Andalusian
gypsy we conjectured. We watched as the two children, hot hungry and ignored
became increasingly fretful. Suddenly, in a rough Mancunian accent, the
young woman loosed a torrent of abuse at them. She was an English Crusty!!
Another lemming!! Our hearts sank.
We knew about these people from our own home town. They littered the pavements
and parks with their diseased dogs and innumerable unkempt progeny. They
became aggressive and abusive when they were refused handouts and were
at best a vaguely threatening nuisance. It was one of the hazards of urban
life in Britain we were looking to escape from. They were one kind of
lemming, we were another. We checked out the rooms in the hotel. Noisy,
hot and cramped, with one loo and bathroom to each landing of six rooms.
Not really conducive to rest and relaxation.
So we headed out of town up the mountain to where it may perhaps be cooler,
and certainly more peaceful. The road wound upward, ever upward, snaking
its way across gorges filled with orange trees and past sheer rock faces
sprouting agave and prickly pear. Gradually we relaxed and began to take
in our surroundings. Fierce, wild, harsh, unforgiving, but also lush,
fervently fertile, this febrile country seduced us with it's fragrant
blooms and fruitfulness. Parts were bronzed as a mirror, reflecting the
sun back to itself, electric with insect life, reverberating with tree
frogs in the midday heat. We found a place to stay. Calm, clean and comfortable
with the essential luxuries of a swimming pool and a smart bar-restaurant.
El Montanero it was called but we had seen nothing yet. From this base
we met up with the property agents and were taken on various Wild Goose
chases into the surrounding valley areas, mostly on unmetalled roads and
without exception all of them untenable propositions.
We had begun to get to know the place a bit and to be more aware of how
different one district was to the next. Eventually we ventured higher
into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the real Alpujarras, and realised
that this was a world away from the sweaty squalor of the valley floor.
Here water was fresh, sweet and abundant. Crystal clear it gushed from
fuentes (fountains) in every village, tumbled down barrancos and trickled
eternally through the acequias, the irrigation channels first built by
the Arabs. These small water courses were visible from some distance because
of the verdant growth they promoted. Trees, meadows, orchards of olive,
almonds and peaches, all flourished in proximity to the water. We moved
further up the mountain to perhaps the penultimate village. The people
here were mostly the indigenous population, but only just. By day coach
loads of visitors arrived and a more varied mix was hard to imagine. Through
it all the locals remained shy, friendly and courteous. Unflappably calm
and positive in outlook, they were always peacefully approachable. Here
was spectacle of an entirely new kind. This was even worth a longer look,
so we stayed on. Americans jostled with Germans French and Japanese, all
encumbered with rough guides, twitchers manuals, telephoto lenses, fifty
league boots that required a Kings Ransom and all emanating a gung-ho-give-it-a-go
Granadian pensioners poured of the package tour buses into the craft shops
and cafes. Dudes on mountain bikes compared kit and fitness levels. Rich
Costa dwellers parked their Mercedes and over-dressed women-folk at the
pavement cafes. And through it all the locals drove their mules, their
delivery vans, their perambulators and their grannies, gossiping happily
and going about their business. This place seemed to have that happy balance
of stability and frisson for us. Tranquil yet vibrant. Rural simplicity
as a frame-work for cameos of a truly cosmopolitan flavour. But sadly
this area was well out of the range that our property agents operated
in, so we just hid out and enjoyed our holiday, resigned to the failure
of our main objective. Gradually though over the next week or so a sense
of urgency began to grow in us, like an insistence voice that called and
called to us. Initially this caused irritation as would a persistent fly
or similar nuisance. But being practised in our sense we became able to
focus on the source of the irritation and to look for a solution to it.
We don't accept failure readily. We really liked the place, it seemed
to like us, we felt safe, free and alive but there were no houses to look
at here, and certainly no state agents to resort to. Then one day as we
spun down the mountain hair-pins, a sign-written hoarding suddenly flashed
electric significance for us. Yes, that was the name of a holiday agency
we'd heard of which had once dealt in properties, mentioned casually in
conversation a fortnight ago! And yes, that was the end of the thread
we began to follow and that was how we found our new home.
It was the last property they had on their books and had been empty for
four years, neglected and ignored as the holiday agency had mushroomed.
Once owned by an American media personality whose family had no interest
in the place after she died, the house had lain forlorn and forgotten
under a blanket of grape vines, ivy, and climbing roses, like a sleeping
beauty. It was ancient, cool and cavernous, with thick stone walls and
the usual flat roof of launa, a form of impermeable mica perhaps a vernacular
equivalent for of our familiar thatched cottage. Originally it had been
two houses and was very large by village standards, with three bedrooms,
two sitting rooms, a spacious kitchen diner and two bathrooms. There were
two terraces, a shady tinao, and a large patio. It was quaint, quirky
and characterful and it welcomed us. It hugged us and stroked us, purred
at us and offered us shelter from the storm. We had a preliminary strictural
survey carried out and put in an offer, rather lower than the already
reduced asking price, and then we waited.
© Maggy P. 2001
Part Two of the Spanish House
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