Monday 7 September 2020

Lakes, Mountains and a Rabbit!

June 2020

With lockdown restrictions removed and freedom of movement once again allowed, we were eager to get out and about.  During lockdown we had talked about places we wanted to visit and high on our priority list was to visit our family in Tolox. 

Caminito Del Rey from the aeroplane
We also wanted to visit El Caminito Del Rey, a beautiful walkway pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge near Ardales to the northwest of Malaga.  We had flown over this area a number of times coming in and going out of Malaga airport and were intrigued by the sheer beauty that we saw from the sky.

So, we contacted family in Tolox to make sure that it was ok to visit, hired a car and booked hotel accommodation.  The only part of our trip that we couldn't do was visit El Caminito as it was completely booked up until end July.  Not to be put off though, we still planned to visit the reservoirs and the town of Ardales.

Plan of our road trip
Heading off early Saturday morning, we collected the hire car and set off for the reservoirs.  The plan was to visit the reservoirs first, then head on up to Laguna de Furente de Piedra, a large salt lake renowned for its colonies of flamingos, come back on ourselves taking in Ardeles and then on to El Burgo where we were staying for the night.

Judging by the terrain on the maps, our journey should take us through some beautiful mountainsides and landscapes and as navigator, I just hoped I didn't get us lost as turning around on mountain roads is near on impossible!

Embalse del Conde de Gualdahorce
First of the reservoirs to visit was Embalse del Conde de Gualdahorce.  We knew that it would be special, but I don't think either of us was prepared for the sheer natural beauty before our eyes.

Whilst the photos are lovely, they do not do the reservoir justice as there is no way you can capture the peace and tranquillity or the smell of the trees or the gentle tweeting of the birds.  It was as if we had found a piece of paradise and neither of us could quite believe.

We could have quite happily stayed there for the day, but we were on a time schedule so as much as we wanted to stay, we had to press on.  Poor Mark, trying to drive whilst appreciating the beauty along the road was torture for him so we did make a few stops along the way so that he didn't miss out completely on the beautiful scenery.

Views and a rabbit!
By the time we reached the north of the reservoir we were ready for lunch.  We're not used to getting up early in the morning and it had come as bit of a shock to our system.  That and I'd only had one cup of coffee!

So, we stopped at a restaurant situated on the side of the road.  We didn't have high expectations but so long as we could get a sandwich and a drink we would be happy. 

How wrong we were.  The food was absolutely delicious and the portions were overwhelmingly generous.  I ordered what I thought was going to be a tapa portion of Paella.  No, it was a full on large pan of Paella for one!  Mark ordered rabbit.  Usually, when he has this it comes in either a stew or chopped and fried.  No, we were in the mountains of Andalucia at a restaurant clearly frequented by locals, so the rabbit came semi whole.  Basically, half a rabbit on the plate.  It came as a bit of a shock and it was a bit disturbing watching Mark eat it, but he assures me it was delicious!  Lunch over and we had a wander to stretch our legs and walk off a bit of lunch and appreciate the beautiful countryside.

Suitably refreshed we headed off to our next stop, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra.  This is a wetland, north of Malaga that is used by the greater flamingo for breeding and claims to have the largest colony on the Iberian peninsula.  Upon arrival, we climbed to the viewing point with a sense of excitement.  Mark had read up on the Laguna and had been looking forward to going there for some time and as it was a clear day and you could see for miles and miles, we hoped to clearly see the flamingos.  But, what a disappointment.  Whilst the views were incredible, the Laguna was almost dry and there was only a small flock of flamingos huddled together in a small area of water.

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

Oh well, some you win and some you loose and clearly,  visiting in the June heat is not the best time!

Time to head to our hotel for the night in the small village of El Burgo, which is north of Tolox and on the northern edge of the Sierra de las Nieves mountain range.  To get there we would go through Ardales, a pretty little white village perched on a hillside and then up and over the mountains set behind it.

What we hadn't appreciated was that to get to the mountains the other side, you literally had to go to the top of the village, through very very narrow winding streets.  It was an experience!  To start with it wasn't too bad, but we knew it was challenging when we passed through a street and the people sitting outside a bar having a quiet drink had to move their table and chairs back so that we could get through.  You could feel all eyes on us and a sense of 'bloody tourists'.  Needless to say, with such challenging streets the opportunity to stop, park up and have a wander around didn't appear.  

On our way out of the village, we felt a bit better after we got stuck behind a local's car, reversing out of one of the side streets.  Back and forth he went trying to get round the corner without scratching the car.  Poor guy, his final humiliation was when he swapped places with his wife and with one manoeuvre she reversed the car out and zoomed off up the street.

Looking back on the lakes
The journey through the mountains to El Burgo was pretty spectacular, with constantly changing scenery and landscape.  There were a couple of times where I couldn't look because of the sheer drop down the mountain side, but most of the time I was able to enjoy the view.  They were so spectacular that we had to stop so that Mark could just soak up the scenery as well.  There are no words that can do this justice, so the photos will speak for themselves.

Looking forward to the mountains 

Road to Tolox
Next day we headed off to Tolox where we were going to stay for a few days.  Our plan was to spend a day catching up with family, a day walking in the mountains and then on our last day I had an appointment at the local town hall to get copies of my Dad's birth certificate and any other information I could glean about his family.

The journey to Tolox took about an hour and again took us through stunningly beautiful countryside, high up into the mountains overlooking deep gorges and valleys.  I always feel quite nostalgic when I near Tolox, knowing that my Dad would have walked these same roads and paths at some stage during his life in the village and even though I've only known my extended family for a year or so, I get a sense of joy at the prospect of seeing them again.

Ladies of Tolox!
We spent a wonderful day with the family at their 'campo' which is a small holding just outside the village and over a very long and lazy 5 course lunch, we got to know Juana and Jose's son Miguel and his three sons, Anna's husband David and their two daughters and Juana's sister-in-law Anna.  The food was superb, the wine flowed and the chatter, whilst at times was a bit stilted and interspersed with google translate, was lively and interesting.

Back in the village that evening Mark and I were having a night cap in the square, reflecting on what a great day we had had and how lucky we were to be where we are in life.

Up early the next morning, we set off for our walk in the mountains.  Anna had told us the previous day about a lovely walk we could take up to the Hermitage of La Virgen de la Nieves which is set in a large pine forest and which would take us about 3 hours there and back.  

Just a gentle stroll!
Leaving the village we decided to take the dirt track rather than the road as this way you get to experience more things and as it had recently been cleared, should be relatively safe.
It was a good choice, as it gave us glimpses of the mountains, streams and small holdings that would have been missed had we walked along the road.  Walking along the dirt track, with only the sound of birds and the occasional dog barking, there was a real sense of time standing still and a glimpse of how life would have been.

The hardest part of the walk was when we reached the end of the track and had to rejoin the road to access the hermitage.  With an incline of about 45 degrees, it was rather challenging on the legs and lungs.  

The pineforest and Hermitage
Walking into the forest was a welcome relief from the sun, but what hit us most was the smell.  Not the usual smell of pine, but more a cedarwood smell that wafted past us with the gentle breeze.  Taking time to sit in the forest, absorbing its beauty and views was a pretty special moment for us, particularly as we were the only ones there so we had it all to ourselves.

Walking back to the village along the road was a lot less spectacular, but it was a lot quicker as by this time we had worked up quite an appetite and thirst! 

Beautiful umbrellas of Tolox
That evening we had dinner with Juana and Jose in their favourite local restaurant.  Nothing too fancy, but a lovely family run place where everyone knows everyone and you get the warmest of welcomes.  Walking through the streets, we admired the beautiful crocheted umberellas that are made every year to brighten up the village and Juana had particular pride in pointing out hers to us. 

Next day we met Anna and headed up to the local town hall for our appointment with the Encarni, the towns registrar.  Anna explained that I was tryng to piece together my family history and wanted a copy of my Dad's birth certificate and if possible, any information on my grandparents that was available.

To appreciate the next bit, I have to set the scene.  In a small office there is a desk with a computer, keyboard, phone etc and at the side of the desk is a photocopier.  On the far wall behind the desk are bookshelves with leather bound folders and it turns out that each leather bound folder is the keeper of births, marriages and deaths of all occupants of Tolox, going back to goodness knows when.

So, asking for details of my Dad's birth date, his full name, the names of his parents and typing them into the computer to cross reference with the leather bound journals, I was able to get information on my family that went back as far as my great great grandparents on both my grandmother and grandfather's side.  I also learnt that my Dad had a sister who was born four days after the start of the Spanish Civil War and was named Libertad. My Dad had mentioned a sister who had died at a very young age near Barcelona, but I never knew her name. To say that all this information blew my mind would be an understatement.  I initially went in hoping for a copy of his birth certificate and came out with generations of family history and I will be forever grateful to this lady for giving up her time to give me all that information.

The story so far!

After a final lunch with Juana and Jose out in the countryside, it was time to head on back to Estepona, reflecting on what a road trip it had been and whilst it wasn't officially an Offbeat Adventure, it was none the less an adventure!

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