Monday, 13 November 2017

A day in the life of the High Plains Drifters

Well here we are in the Mizala Valley, in Andalusia, in Southern Spain for our five month housesit. It was a bit of a surprise when we turned off the motorway to discover that the little village of Mizala was so …. little. More of a hamlet really, actually more of a little hamlet. It has no shop, no restaurant, no bar and only about 10 people. Although we have only seen three. So there goes the opportunity to sit around chatting, eating tapas and drinking with the locals.

To get to our lonely finca we have to leave the heaving streets of Mizala and continue on a progressively deteriorating road that goes from loose tarmac to dirt track with potholes over the 3 kilometre drive. It’s pretty remote. There are some nice ex-pat neighbour's about a mile back up the track but that’s it. The track stops at our house and, as far as I can tell, our address at this housesit is:

The last house in Mizala Valley, 
A few kilometres down the dirt track from Mizala,

So, picture any spaghetti western and that is pretty much where we live. There’s scrub, tangleweed, cactus, dirt, cracked earth, loads of old ruined fincas, limestone karsts, fissures and dried rambla (river beds). We live in a valley with 200/300 metre sides It has a few old terraces (no longer farmed) that are dotted with olive trees. The silence is ridiculous. No traffic, people, crashing waves, industry or anything apart from your own echoing voices and twittering birds.

The sun breaks over the mountains and light the valley at about 7.30am at the moment and the mountains turn from silhouettes, to gold, to orange and as the sun strengthens. It is beautiful and rugged and since nearly every day is sunny the first few hours of any day are glorious. Nights draw in pretty quickly and by 7.00 the huge night skies show themselves. No light pollution – just hundreds of stars and eerie silence and occasional bat.

Its not an easy place to live. It has solar but the input and storage is not quite enough. There is no mains electric so we have to be a little careful once the sun goes. Anything that drains power needs the help of the new generator. Water is mains but intermittent, so we have 30,000 litres of storage tanks to keep us hydrated when city hall is trying to save money. The finca itself is run down or being done up. Depending on your view point. There is a lot of land and its full of lots of things that are stabby and want to hurt you. But that’s why its remained looking like this since forever.

It’s a grower, this place. It’s so different from many places we have been in. Sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes it’s frustrating or boring. But then other times it makes you feel fantastic and free.

Rachel had to leave a little time after we arrived to fly back for a wedding of her dear friend Pam (Pammington) to Eric. So whilst she jetted about and enjoyed a party, a wedding and the company of old friends. I had to spend a few evenings getting drunk with Helen (the host) and her daughter and son in Law - Anna and Johnny. Good fun.

We have to go shopping once a week for provisions and get rid of rubbish which involves a 30 kilometre driver to Garrucha or Vera. The first couple of times we also took the opportunity to spend a little time on the nudist beach tanning our bits. But lately there’s been a bit of a chilly wind down at the beach so we have had to stop that shenanigans.

We are trying to build an online teaching presence and have signed up to several sites and are slowly getting clients. If this works out we can theoretically take them with us wherever we go and never have to make the decision of where we will actually put down roots again. It’s a very different feel to teaching in person but allows us to be masters of our own hours etc. So that’s us tied up for 3 or 4 hours a week. Workshy? No. Actually NO!

Given an opportunity to do stuff we want to do then we are both really hard working. We have been doing stuff around the place both for our own physical/mental wellbeing and as a nice surprise for Helen who, I think, gets a little overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do. Do date we have been repairing the track and filling in potholes and ruts. Hard graft made easier only by singing of slave tunes and supping of cool refreshments. We have cleared the cactus garden of weeds and I got covered in little spines that left me sitting in a bath shaving my body hair like a drag queen to get them out and scratching for days. We have weeded the drive, cleared the palms and tidied the debris. Rachel has started a herb garden and is now overrun with tomato plants. We have both re stone walled a patio area and are removing old olive trees and seriously pruning those we leave in attempt to rescue the dying orchard. And we have created a love shrine to have our wedding renew ceremony in (more on that in a later blog). So we are keeping busy, losing fat, getting fit and starting to enjoy this latest adventure.

Oh I forgot, not sure how, to mention the dogs we are looking after. Rosa (aka Edna Snippypants – a canine librarian type who is smalled than the others but feisty as fuck forever making Phil yelp). Phil. Big lumbering, lovable dolt who looks like he is made of straw and seems to constantly get in the way of us wherever we walk because he likes some kind of human contact. Finally, Pod, Walks on tip toes the who time. There is a something of Steve McQueen (the Cooler King o the Great Escape) about him. There's a big enclosed area that he is always escaping from. Hes very friendly and patient and stubborn as heck. These three very different personalities are both amusing and worrying. They have hundreds of acres of unrestricted playground to run around in and chase rabbits through and that’s exactly what they do. Sometimes going missing for 8 or 9 hours at a time then turning up gasping for water and exhausted. I am sure we will be reporting more on them in the future.

As for people - Angela (my sis) and Howard came out to see us for a few days which was amazing. Finally able to play host to them for a while instead of taking their hospitality. Gary and Mel (old pals) are joining us for a wedding thingy along with the neighbours so stay tuned for that one and Rachel's parents are even coming out to see us and hopefully they will provide some fun and games for us to report

That’s it for now though. Dogs have just arrived after being out for 10 hours!!!!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Back on the road again!

What were we thinking. Hard on the heels of driving an old van to Scandinavia we decide to drive our old £400 Ford Fiesta ‘Ron’ down to Southern Spain. Ron was a bargain buy bought before we arrived in England back in the spring. After driving the camper, the Fiesta seemed fast, quiet and responsive. Our somewhat rampant imaginations likening the experience to being in an electric sports car – The new Tesla perhaps!?. Just for the record – we do know it’s not a Tesla but if we enjoy it as if it was one then these two delusional idiots just saved themselves thousands. Anyway we had lots of stuff to get down to our 5 month housesit in Southern Spain including two bikes which we are yet to actually ride, so a 2000 mile road trip seemed worth doing.

We had the car checked before going and after purchasing a service, an MOT and a travel tin of sucky sweets for £151.99 and we were ready to roll.

First stop Dover, then a ferry across the channel to Calais and over the top of Paris to head South down to Dijon.  Well, what can I say about Dijon… Nothing, actually. We stayed on the outskirts, we bought some pasta at a supermarket, we ate and went to bed. Didn’t have any mustard or anything.
Leon. No, sorry, not a lot in the brain about there either apart from hundreds of keen young freerunners with as yet unbroken bones, practicing tumbles and jumps. I guess the later lessons will deal with plummeting after mis-judging a leap and wearing hoodies.

On we headed. Now, with a respectable number of miles under our (cam) belts we at last decided to leave the expensive motorways and take more of a romanticised meander through the byways of France. We finally meandered along avenues of plane trees, dipped in and out of some sleepy villages where old men played boules in shady squares. Sadly. There were no lazy day picnics with baguettes, olives, wines, meats and tartes in daisy laden fields. (I love a tart in a field!).

One particularly large detour was to Carcassonne. It sounds as cool as it is. The old town part sits atop a hill. The place is surrounded with castellated walls and a moat with statues that remind you of Shrek. Inside there are cobbled streets, turrets and windows for archers to shoot the tourists from and of which there are many. However if one ignores (accepts) there will be other people then the visitor can enjoy the architecture and sympathetic d├ęcor and have a well priced meal in one of the numerous restaurants in the little alleys and nooks of this charming place.

Montpelier. Nice city that just feels really French! It has all those lovely Louis whatever style buildings with the nice roofs and all that French style signage on shops. It’s like the picture in your school French text book with boulangeries, patisseries, tabacs and lots of French looking people doing more daytime drinking in cafes than actual shopping. There is a nice park bit and a fine square with cobbley streets coming off of it. There is also a pretty cool palace/ governmental building that sits on high with great views of the surrounding metropolis that is dotted with some monumental street art.
Montpelier: Spot the street art
Moving on we slip across the border at Mary Aqua and into Spain. Prices drop instantly. Hooray!

Since Spain is to be our home for a little while we have concentrated on getting the language under our belts. It’s so much easier than Japanese which after 18 months still had us pretty well flummoxed and we hope to come away from Spain with enough to get by in most circumstances. We are staying in a little village iin the South called Mizala. It’s about 50km North of Almeria so our drive is down the East Coast of Spain. Through Costa Del Civil Uprising (Catalan was trying to go it alone and have many a scrap with the elected government) on past some other Costa's to Andalucia (love the sound of that)

Tarragona street festival
Tarragona was an unexpected joy. We stayed with a charming young thing in a well-placed apartment and had a good nose around the city. Lovely streets, amphitheatre, sturdy walls, shady squares, an excellent walking area with all sorts of shops and a back drop of the blue, blue Med to set it off. There was a festival when we were there. It doesn’t matter what it was for since they all seem similar. Crowds of people lining the street, floats with Madonnas, noisy fireworks and ridiculously dangerous roman candles and Catherine wheels attached to effigies of dragons or bulls squeezing through the throng. Fantastic! Down with H&S.

Our final day was just a short burst along some free Spanish motorway through rugged hilly landscape. A slip road, a short stretch of B road, under a bridge onto a D road and into the Mizala Valley and onto a road that gradually wasn't. Until next time Chicas!

Yum. Tapas