Weekly Photo Challenge : Off-Season

Alpujarra is a historic natural region on the Southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Andalucia, Spain, situated east of the famous city of Granada. The Sierra Nevada range stretches about 80km from West to East, and includes two of the highest mountains in Southern Spain, exceeding 3400m in height.

On a visit there in mid winter a few years ago, I was expecting snow covered slopes, blending in with the characterful white villages of the region. On the contrary, there was only snow on the highest peaks, with green to yellowing landscape everywhere, which appeared very much off-season weather to me.

Off-Season is the prompt on the weekly photo challenge this week and images of the region during this time are my response to the prompt………..

……….the journey continues………….


off-season off-season-9 off-season-8 off-season-5 off-season-4 off-season-2 off-season-3 off-season-7

Weekly Photo Challenge : Masterpiece

Built in 1889 as a fortress, converted to a royal palace in 1333, the Alhambra in Granada, Andalucía in Spain,  has seen may changes over time, yet remains a masterpiece, and is my response to the “Masterpiece” prompt for this weeks “weekly photo challenge”. With a relatively plain exterior, the theme of “paradise on earth” becomes evident once you come across the reflection pools and intricate detailing within its walls. Craftsmanship of the highest calibre, without the aid of power tools, makes this a masterpiece worth visiting……………….the journey continues………..


Weekly Photo Challenge : Inside

Hmmm…Tuesday evening, I guess a little late but not too late to still make a submission for this weeks “Weekly photo challenge : Inside”. Looking at the number of responses to the challenge, almost 500 already, this is a popular topic :-).
My post for this challenge is about the inside of the Grand Mezquita – Cathedral in Cordoba – Southern Spain.

The site was originally a pagan temple, then a Visigothic Christian church, before the Umayyad Moors converted the building into a mosque and then built a new mosque on the site. After the Spanish Reconquista, it became a Roman Catholic church, with a plateresque cathedral later inserted into the centre of the large Moorish building. The Mezquita is regarded as the one of the most accomplished monuments of Islamic architecture. It was described by the poet Muhammad Iqbal:

“Sacred for lovers of art, you are the glory of faith,

You have made Andalusia pure as a holy land!”

I was there a few years ago, camera in hand and managed to get some shots of the inside of this amazing building and its numerous columns, some of these images make up my post for this challenge.

……….the journey continues……..

Weekly Photo Challenge : Path

I’ve been away for a few days, and am back today heading straight into this week’s new photo challenge – path.
I figured that with my being away recently, it was rather appropriate to do a post from far away :-). So, settle yourselves down, fasten those seatbelts we’re heading off to Spain, yep! Northern Spain, to an area that is called the Asturias. My visit to the region started off in the regions capital, a place called Oviedo, and shortly afterwards I headed off to the village of Proaza. Wonderfully scenic area, with numerous activities. I can see some you wondering what all of this has to do with path – well, obviously, there was a path from South Africa to Spain, and another to Oviedo, and another to Proaza :-).
But the post is about the path I took on a hiking trail in the mountains of the region. The path was well signposted and climbed very steeply from the street level neighbouring village. Very soon it became apparent that this was not just an ordinary path, but one that was literally cut into the mountainside, and in some instances, tunnelled through it, and in others even notched into it. The notches were quite narrow, barely high enough to stand in, with quite a precarious ledges, not to mention daunting overhangs, there was even a handrail fixed to the rock face for holding on. The interesting thing is that because the path winds its way along the contours, you can’t see too far ahead, so you don’t really know where it’s heading to, because of the blind corners. As a result you just seem to keep moving forward, and just go whoaaa!!! when you start heading back, somehow going uphill just seems a lot easier :-). Clearly, not for those who suffer from vertigo, or whose fingers start tingling when they so much as even stand on a soap box:-). There were a few mountain goats in the area, that made it look so simple with their more than adequate 4×4 climbing gear :-).  Fortunately for me, I could get by with just treading very carefully, holding on when I needed to, and just take it all in….absolutely incredible……The journey continues……………

Today’s challenge images are of moments along that journey………….

Colourful Entrance………………

Yesterday, I took an unconventional approach to this week’s photo challenge, so I figured that maybe today I should post a second, but one that was more conventional. But, then I decided why not add another perspective to the conventional approach, and add something from a previous challenge too. So, this is a hybrid of two challenges, colourful from a couple of weeks ago, and entrance which is this weeks topic. This ones going to require some intercontinental travel, so fasten your seatblets were off to Europe.

Barcelona, Spain is where we are headed, Torre Agbar (Agbar tower) is a 38 storey building for the Agbar group, a holding company which has interests in the Barcelona Water Company. Designed by french architect Jean Nouvel in assocaition with Spanish firm B720 Arquitectos. The building is located between Avinguda Diagonal and Carrer Badajoz, near Place de les Glories Catalanes, which marks the gateway to the new technological district of Barcelona, making it very appropriate for the Entrance Challenge. Nevertheless, to stay with the conventional approach, I’ve included some images of the what you could call the “understated” entrance of the bulding. the buiding is lit at night by some 4500 led devices that generate luminous images on the glass facade.

Todays images are of the entrance and other areas of the building, all of which were taken at night, whilst the illumination was operational. The journey continues…………………………..

Jamones…..fit for a Queen….

I must confess that when I first started looking at visiting the Alpujarras, I had no idea, maybe I should correct that, I did not notice that Jamon Serrano (cured ham) was such a significant export item from the area. The obvious reasoning behind my not even taking notice of that fact is that I dont eat it… 🙂 so highley unlikely that its something that would have jumped at me while I was discovering what an amazing area this was for hiking.

So imagine my surprise when as I got closer to the villages I was travelling to, I started noticing these huge pieces of Jamones hanging in shop windows, out in the open inside some shops, but very much in what I would refer to as front of house. Pardon me for my ignorance about how these things are dried, and the merits of how it is done. And the closer you got to the higher villages, there seemed to be just more and more of it whereever you looked. So, when I arrived one morning at the breakfast room of a pension I was staying at, I was confronted by a whole array of these stands laden with Jamones, literally surrounding the table, small ones, big ones, pink ones, darker ones, wetter and drier ones, all just hanging out there with a little cup below to collect any residue that may be dripping off it. You almost had to weave your way around to get into the chair. Fortunately for me, I dont consume any ham, so having breakfast being overlooked by these huge pieces of Jamon was extremely unusual, perhaps a tad out of the ordinary, almost a little over the top for me. But, spare a thought for the poor dude having ham and eggs for breakfast, bet he was feeling a bit imtimidated, being overlooked by these huge Jamones that were probably still running around not too long ago :-(. No offence intended to those that enjoy these Jamones, this is just my perspective.

So I figured, this was significant enough to read about, and flipped through my trusty lonely planet Andalucia….and sure as nuts on page 362 under Trevelez were all the facts, neatly laid out and amongst them the one that I obviously didnt notice……So lets look at all three…Trevelez at 1495m claims to be the highest village on the mountainside, it is a frequent starting point for accents of the high Sierra Nevada – I would have noticed the first  two :-), and it produces some of the countrys best Jamon serrano which is trucked in from far and wide for curing in Trevelez’s dry mountain air. See, now thats the one that would have gone right over my head like a speed read 🙂

I’ve read that the significance of the region for producing Jamones of the best quality is reinforced by the fact that it has the Royal Seal of approval, making them fit for a Queen. Once you’re aware of the facts, the whole picture comes together, throughout the region are buildings with signage noting the building is a Jamones reserve, presumably a holding area fro the already cured jamon, or perhaps just a larger space where it is cured . Once again, I must emphasise no offence intended to Jamones lovers………………………………

The journey continues………………………………………Todays images are of some of the buildings I came across, and yep! a close up of some jamones …………………..



Taha de Pitres……….. a hike through seven villages

Once you’ve spent a day or two becoming familiar with the vicinity you’re stationed in when you’re visiting the Alpujarras, your appetite for more of the same increases exponentially. So, from the occasional ramble between little viilages, you venture out into the slightly longer hikes, like the one I described in my blog of yesterday. The ease of getting around, and the simplicity of the access is quite liberating. Yes, this is mountain territory and the weather can close in any time, yes, some of the tracks are quite steep, and some of the surfaces quite corrugated, but something about the place makes you feel adventurous and explore more and venture out further.

So, when I picked up a leaflet “Exploring the Alpujarras” with Elma Thompson – Taha de Pitres – Seven Villages, the decision to do it was obvious. In hindsight, when I think about it now, 7.5km over donkey and similar tracks, is not really a long hike, though when you think about walking between seven villages, it somehow feels a lot further than it actually turned out to be. The route that links these villages, is ancient as it follows the medieval caminos that were used before modern transport dictated alternate access. An extract from the leaflet reads ” do not expect to find shops or even bars in each village – though you will find an abundance of drinking water”. So, backpacks packed with munchies it was off to the start. Ironically, the walk starts next to a bar/restaurant on the min road. just in case anybody needed topping up to avoid any withdrawal symptoms from the abstinence over the kilometers ahead :-):-).

The route starts in pitres, and it doesnt take long to realise why alternate routes had to be found for modern transportation, the first downhill part was literally a slot cut into a bank, which you soon realise is in excess of 2m deep….a bit daunting if the banks were a bit unstable, but its been there a while so it shouuld be fine:-). Before long, all of 20 minutes later, you reach Mecina. The significant thing about the closeness of these two villages, is how the altitudes differ, Pitres is 1245m, and Mecina 1027, yep! 218m difference in height!! hopefully that will emphasive how steep that bank must have been.

 The route continued to Mecinilla, then on to Fondales hich turned out to be the lowest village of the route at 930m. A short while later you cross the Puenta de Fondales (bridge), and the route leading to Ferreirola at 1005m starts the climb back up the slope. Interestingly, as you approached each little village there was always a group of three or for village elders I assume just hanging out there having a chat. They paused mid conversation, nodded an acknowledgement and just continued about their conversation. Along the route you encounter fruit and nut trees, amongst them almonds and oranges, and houses as described in previous blogs, though with quite high density, packed closely together, with very narrow roads in between and tunnels that are called “tinaos” where buildings straddled the road at the upper level. Houses were kitted out with flower boxes, and planting, chainlink screens, and even an outdoor hammock with an incredible view. Your instinct is to just buy a place and move there 🙂 and trust me, I lingered for a while at every te vende (for sale ) sign I stumbled upon.

Ferreirola was the next village followed by Atalbeitar at 1139m. There are numerous “hito” (marker posts) along the way, so theres no reason to feel like you’re lost, occasionally the route joins the GR7 hiking route through Europe. From Atelbeitar the route takes you to Portugos at 1303m before the circuit is completed when the path returns to Pitres. The hike was a wonderful way to discover so many little villages with populations all below 500 and not even exceeding a few more than one hundred in one case. Something that one becomes familiar with in this area of villages with tiny populations is how few people one sees. This is further amplified during the Spanish afternoon siesta, during which I walked through a few of the villages, the place was deserted except for a few hospitable street cats who decided to hang around to provide a friendly welcome to visitors who didn’t quite get the idea of the siesta and chose to go on a hike instead  :-):-)……..the journey continues……………………………………………………………

Which brings me to todays images, taken along the route of the seven village hike…. ………..my thanks to Elma Thompson for her comprehensive and explicit directions which made this hike very enjoyable..:-)

paradise for hikers with musical diversion along the way…………………

Once you find a place to stay in the Alpujarras, and you’ve taken a little time to orientate yourself, you begin to realise the extent of the connection between the surrounding villages. The caminos I was describing in yesterdays blog, just have a way of connecting every village to the next and more. So its like this multitude of necklaces that all laid over one another and the villages are little beads each with its own little community, sometimes as small as 104 people. The roads obviously are a secondary means of connection but the distances are substantially longer, as they have to wind their way along contours ascend and decend where the slope makes it possible etc. So you can imagine with all these caminos, this is absolutely a paradise for hikers. But this was winter, so there were not so many of them about, in fact very few, but fortunately for me the weather was being super polite. Beautiful sunny days, just below 20 deg C, perfect hiking conditions, and a multitude of hiking options, long routes, short routes, climbing ones, descending ones, ones that passed through villages along the way, and more. Bubion, and the other two villages I visited are situated on the Precipice of Poqueira, essentially a steep cliff which meets a river at the bottom of its descent, and starts climbing on the opposite side. One of the routes takes you along this steep slope down to the river, where you can cross a bridge and head over to the other side where you can ascend again to the top of the slope on the other side.

Along the hiking routes in the area it is common to find isolated dwellings called “cortijos”, most of them abandoned as people emigrated out of the area and into the villages or moved away. The abandoned buildings are quite derelict and neglected with obvious signs that the forest was taking back its territory. Every now and then you stumble upon one that has been reinstated by people moving back into that specific area.

After crossing the bridge and walking on the other side I passed a horse tied to a tree, rather strange that he was just out there in the wood in a somewhat deserted spot?? A little further, there appeared to be what looked like one of the abandoned cortijos, looking pretty derelict and completely overgrown by vegetation and bush. So I just ambled along assuming it too was just one of the abandoned ones. The next instant I became aware of something moving behind me, and before I could even register what it was, I heard this fierce barking from what looked like a really vicious dog that was held back by a makeshift leash, literally inches away from my leg. Its enough to give you a cold shiver!!  I’m not even going to think about what would have happened if he wasn’t on the leash, or if the leash was any longer!! It gives me the creeps to this day!!

It turned out the dog belonged to Eric, an old guy who had moved into this abandioned cortijo, with his fifteen cats, one horse, and rambo :-):-). We managed to understand one another through his spanish and my english, as he gestured me to follow him inside his dilapidated abode, which didnt look one bit capable of human habitation, despite the visible food packaging, and large number of long life milk containers. He took me to a space which had walls plastered with pictures of him and visitors to his enclave taken over the many years he has been living there. He carefully removed a guitar from its case and sat down to play me a tune. He insisted that I take photographs of him, and with him, and gestured to a bowl that visitors to his “abode” leave contributions in. He seemed a likeable chap, an accomplished guitarist, who just found himself an ababdoned spot along a well used hiking route to provide an interesting deviation for hikers as they made the long climb to the top of the hill on the other side. I bade him farewell, and continued on my way to the second bridge where I would return to Bubion from……………………. The journey continues………………….

Todays images are taken along that route with two of the pictures that I had taken of Eric in his no longer abandoned cortijo………………………this post is dedicated to him, long may he entertain those that encounter his enclave……….

time travel on the mountain slopes……………..

So now that we’ve finally arrived in the Alpujarras, lets stay and look around a little. Yesterdays blog brought us to the first of 3 most picturesque and popular of the numerous villages in the region, 3 towns which have been known to conserve the “morisca” traditional architecture of this historical region.

The towns are interconnected by ancient “caminos” or “camino reals” – way or public right of way which used to be the only measns of travelling between the towns prior to the introduction of modern roads. I’ve read somewhere that these were also the routes that donkeys were used to transport goods along. Its difficult to imagine, because in some areas the caminos are pretty steep. Some of these caminos are actually part of the GR7 hiking route that almost traverses from one end of Europe to another.

Pampaneira is quite a small village -Altitude 1152m,  population 324, yep! no typo 324! ok! maybe its increased a bit by now, but its pretty significant either way if you consider terrain and the effort it takes to get infrastructure to and from here. With a town that size you can imagine finding your way around is pretty easy, and with the next village Bubion visible on the upper slopes, it goes without saying that one tends to just wander in that direction after having had a good look around. The route goes past the church and then climbs up to the higher part of town, past the  public laundry. If you’re having visions of a whole bunch of speed queen coin operated machines, think again :-). This is the traditional public laundry with back to back washing troughs under an enclosure, open 24/7 :-). (see image on yesterdays blog)  With only 324 people the wait can’t be too long.  The route continues past the last houses and soon becomes the old dirt road which ascends steeply between fruit trees, chestnust, walnut, almond and other tree laden fields staggered on embankments along the slope. The human intervention on these natural slopes is very obvious. The fields were interconnected by a complex network of drains, most of which are still operational to this day. Not even 45 minutes of ascending and the lower houses of Bubion come into sight. As you move further into Bubion, the fringes of the next village Capileira become visible.

Bubion altitude 1300, population 350. The Architectural language of the region was pretty much evident in all these villages that were literally, within walking distance of one another. So Bubion is comfortably positioned between the two. So, it was a perfectly logical place to put down the backpack for a few days, and make it a base for exploring the area. Finding accomodation turned out to be quite simple, with almost everybody in town knowing where the vacancies were :-). Chose a nice elevated traditional building, recently renovated, with a balcony overlooking the incredible valley, with daily views of the flaming sunsets. Somehow, despite the presence of cars, roads, tv aerials and even a little supermarket, you just felt like you were in a bygone era, when life was just so simple and the world was not so crowded……………  The journey continues……………………………………

Alpujarras…..you’ll never want to leave……………

Ok! we’ve done the A380 and Table Mountain thing, we’ve done the one year commemoration of the World Cup, so its back to the original program. Do not pass go do not collect 200 :-). If you’ve just joined us, and interested in finding out where exactly the original program was and is headed to, just hack in Lanjaron into your Google Earth browser and let cyberspace transport you to where we paused for a few days, while we dealt with some significant issues back here in South Africa.

Lanjaron is a little town on route to the villages in an area called Alpujarras in Southern Spain, sort of east of Granada on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The thing about travelling in Europe over our summer holidays is that its always winter there!! I suppose one doesnt really register that until the plane touches down. I dont remember what sort of weather I was expecting to find in the mountains, but it certainly was alot better than whatever I was expecting. The road from Lanjaron to Pampaneira, was much of the same as I described previously, carved into the contours of the slopes with hairpin bends aplenty. Typical of this area is the use of terraces, that are formed on the slopes by carving out shelves to cultivate crops on. The sight of sevaral terraces covering the hillside is one of the most characteristic views of the Alpujarras. The Architecture which looks like it has a Moroccan influence, interested me as it was very sustainable, utilising materails that were available in the vicinity. Stone, chestnut beams, slate, “launa” ( a type of clay found in the area). One of the characteristic architectural features area the “terraos”, which are flat roofs built consisting of a layer of “launa” packed on flat stones that are laid on beams of chestnut, ash or pine. These become the roof of the house below and the terrace of the house above, all facilitated by the steep slopes. Most of these “terraos” are crowned off with cylindrical chimney pots, each with four “eyes” something unique to this area. There seems to be uniformity of colour from the stone used to build the buildings, though nowadays whitewash is also used.

I was heading to Pampaneira, one of the three villages clinging to the side of the Barranco de Poqueira ravine. They are reputed to be the prettiest, most dramatically sited, and probably most frequently visited in the region. Here the stone houses seem to climbing onto as well as holding onto one another to prevent sliding into the gorge below. The first sneak views of these villages from the winding road confirms everything that the area is reputed to be. Interestingly when you get there, what becomes obvious is how the Church and the town square around it are accentuated amongst the cluster of buildings, in colour and height, with everything else unified in scale and tone around it. Winter, whilst the weather was good, turned out to be an incredible time to visit the region, hardly any tourists around, accommodation available easily, and lots of opportunities to explore this timeless area on foot. The tranquility, steep slopes, deep ravines, and remoteness just absorbs you completely, making you one with everything around you, where else could you hike between two villages and not see a single soul along the way? If rural living is what appeals to you, once you get here, you’ll never want to leave!! 

Nevertheless, contradictions or I suppose you could call them contrasts are all over the place, with newer buidings being built with masonry and concrete, while the modern world are moving towards more sustainable bulding, donkey sheds are placed comfortably alongside car garages, plastic chairs and tables are placed on public squares, and tv aerials fixed to the traditional chimney pots 🙂 yet the public laundry from yesteryear is still functional.

Todays images are from the region, look out for the image of an elderly woman that just walked the steep streets with wood for the fireplace on her back, framed by the concrete mixer and steel ladder, I guess some older traditions just live on………………..The journey continues …………………………..