Getting Out And About
Harry King retired from corporate life in Britain to live in Spain. He would do so all over again if faced with the same decision and now lives near Alicante. He is the author of a number of books on Spain.
Going to live in Spain is not just about a physical change. A few weeks after landing in a new country the shock of a different culture, changes in attitude and frequent frustration can have an adverse effect on one’s well-being. Isolation, feeling powerless and finding fault with everything are classic symptoms. The blow can be cushioned if an understanding has been reached beforehand about Spanish ways. Understanding the symptoms, too, can also help. The first stage is a honeymoon period, which everyone experiences. It can be followed by a period of feeling inadequate, lonely, withdrawn and wanting to go back home. By being positive, becoming more assertive, you will soon find you can deal with situations and start to feel more relaxed. The final stage is feeling at home, embracing the new culture, enjoying a social life, getting out and about.
Of course there is the sun worshiping and the cerveza drinking but that novelty soon wears off. With time one needs to develop a more positive attitude to life, an attitude that says, ‘Get out, learn about the country, develop new interests and meet new people’.
LEARN ABOUT THE COUNTRY
Learn more about Spain. It’s different! The real way to learn is to travel.There are other methods, such as reading books and tourist guides, which are colourful and informative. Watching travel films, too, have their place. But it is only by going to see somewhere that a true appreciation can be obtained. There are places where you can enjoy the sun, the sea and the mountains. Places where you can benefit from the climate and keep in shape with your favourite all year round sport. Where you can discover local history and monuments, travel down hidden byways and forest tracks, participate in local fiestas, meet local people ... and much more.
Learning about the country falls into a few predictable steps. Firstly explore the surrounding area by going inland and developing a deeper understanding of its history, culture and ambience. Secondly, as a minimum, visit the two major cities of Barcelona and Madrid. Thirdly, do what many residents of the Costas do – get away from it all by going to northern Spain, preferably in the summer to get away from the searing heat.
Jump into a car and go! On minor country roads the traffic is amazingly light, even in the height of the holiday season. Go 20 kilometres inland and there is virtually no traffic on the roads throughout the year. Go inland and experience the real Spain.
Driving a few miles inland; the buzz of the coast disappears. Park the car and just walk in the countryside and you are immediately struck by how calm everything is. Of course you hear the sounds of nature: birds singing, strange rustlings in the long grass made by some unseen creatures, the breeze in the trees overhead, but at other times there is almost complete silence. Go higher into the mountains, stop for a few minutes and just listen to ... nothing.
The further inland, the more unspoilt it will be. Some of villages have hardly changed for centuries, inhabited by families who have always lived there, the properties being handed down from generation to generation. Their way of life is very different from that on the coast. Herdsmen still lead their flocks out to the grazing grounds; farmers gather their crops of olives and almonds. Life stands still! Use trips inland as a learning experience.
High in the mountains of the Costa Blanca can be found well preserved snow wells called neveras. They were built in strategic locations to catch the snow as it drifted into dips or hollows. Dug deep into the ground, and lined with stone, they had an access door and a conical roof to keep out sunlight. Stone steps or iron rungs enabled the pressers and block cutters to reach the bottom. The size and solid construction of neveras are truly amazing. Snow was commercially harvested, compacted in the nevera and left until summer, when it was cut into blocks of ice. In the cool of the night the ice was carried down the mountains by mule, donkey and cart to distant villages and towns.
Where there is a large old farmhouse, there will always be a well, an oven and a threshing area known as an era. Threshing and crushing of cereals was achieved by means of a metre-long, tapered stone pulled over grain on a flat surface. Some farmhouses had separate accommodation for workers, a small church and a place for children. The animals were held in an open area attached to the house that faced south with a windowless north wall. The key however was a well with water, for without it no one survived.
Legacy of the Moors
Mozarabic is a term used to describe narrow stepped trails which cross over mountains from valley to valley. They are true marvels of engineering zigzagging down into the depths of the deepest ravines and up the other side. The trails are characterised by thousands of steps with supporting walls in tricky places. Many have withstood the ravages of time and lack of maintenance. They are best seen in the Val de Laguart south of Valencia.
The authorities built round lookout towers along the coast in the 16th century to provide early warning of pirate raids. Raids by ships from Africa were quite common. After the final expulsion of the Moors in 1609, the raids became so frequent that the authorities had to take steps to combat them by building towers and by providing a fleet of defensive ships. In 1636, the pirates, after pillaging Calpe, took nearly all the population back to Algiers. They were released many years later when a ransom was paid.
The windmill is one of the images of Spain made famous by the story of Don Quixote. Windmills need the best possible location to utilise their power source. Remains can normally be found on high ground near villages on the coast or on top of cliffs. Near the coastal town of Javea, there are remains of over ten on the cliff edge. Many windmills date from pre-Moorish times. The wind caught sails which were made of canvas, and turned wooden shafts with gears attached to flat stones for grinding wheat.
There are 150 windmills, or remains of windmills around Cartagena. Many can be seen from the motorway. Some have been restored to full working order, but others are no more than circles of stones where once the wind turned sails. They were used for grinding grain or for raising water from underground to irrigate the fields. During the latter part of the 19th century windmills were increasingly built to raise water for crop irrigation.
Today a new type of windmill dots the Spanish landscape. Thousands of tall, elegant, white windmills used for power generation: more than in any other country in Europe. The amount of energy from Spain’s wind-powered generators exceeds the amount of energy supplied by its seven nuclear power stations: 7,681 megawatts of power are supplied by wind power compared to 7,606 megawatts supplied by nuclear power. The majority of Spanish electricity comes from water power (16,731 MW), followed by coal-powered generators (11,425MW). The capacity of wind-powered generators depends on weather conditions. Periods of peak demand, usually when it is either very hot or very cold, often coincide with periods of low winds.
All creatures great and small
In the country, strolling among pine trees, walkers should watch out for the Processionary Caterpillar Moth known in Spain as the Orugas. The moths lay their eggs in white cotton wool like nests in pine trees easily visible from paths in the countryside. On hatching, the caterpillars make their way to the ground in a nose to tail chain in search for the next place in their life cycle. Don’t touch them or poke at the nests or let animals near them. They cause a nasty rash and give off a dust which causes respiratory problems for adults. Children can become ill. cats and dogs have been known to die. The traditional natural antidote for the rash is vinegar, although olive oil and lemon juice are also recommended.
The only poisonous snakes found in Spain are vipers. They are very easy to recognise with a triangular head, brown-yellow in colour, with a wavy black line down the spine and dots on the side. They measure 60cm and avoid people. Snakes are very active in warm weather, especially in the middle of the day and may be found basking on a rock. Be careful when you sit down! Do not move rocks and remember that snakes live in walls. The bite of a viper needs urgent medical attention.
Spain has a plentiful supply of honey. Indeed exclusive shops sell many varieties. In the country, bee hives are best avoided. Small wooden hives, well signposted, located in sheltered warm places in the mountains are home to the honey makers. Keep moving, leave the bees well alone.
Mosquito bites leave painful, red, itchy blotches. Although in our latitudes any subsequent illness is moderate, the bite of the mosquito can cause problems for animals as well as humans. The females need to take blood to mature and lay 200 to 400 eggs in stagnant water. Therefore avoid abandoned containers, flooded gutters, puddles, and water troughs that contain tepid water. On the other hand clean ponds with fish will eat the larva of the mosquito. Eliminate stagnant water for it is indispensable to their reproduction.