A short summer jaunt to Andalusia

It’s a long way from Catalonia to Andalusia so it’s no wonder it’s easy to feel that they are completely different countries. But after a fourteen-hour journey, including six hours on the Talgo, from the Pyrenees to the small Almerian town of Albox I was beginning to feel that they are in different continents! A warm Andalusian welcome at the hotel, “there’s no kind of hurry, settle yourself in and you can eat anytime you like!” restored me though and early the following morning, with a midday train to catch, I explored the pretty town centre.

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But my real interest was up in the sierra. I haven’t been to this part of Andalusia before but found it very similar to the western Alpujarra region around Motril, where we spent one warm Christmas in the early ‘nineties, that is to say, several years before Chris Stewart made the region famous! Here just beyond its eastern extreme the region is notably drier. La Alpujarra is proud of its Moorish roots and atmosphere, indeed the landscape and land use was strikingly similar to those in the Anti-Atlas ranges on Morocco, where my wife studied the indigenous Berber agriculture.

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The ‘Rambla’ de Albox is a dry riverbed that runs up into the mountains for several miles, giving ‘road’ access to the numerous small houses and their surrounding orchards and gardens. These tiny, irrigated plots are a classic feature of this landscape, as are the one or at most two story ‘cubist’ houses. It was curious to note that about half of these had been done-up, evidently by their British or other foreign owners, complete with ornamental gardens, while the remainder reserved their efforts entirely for fruit and vegetables!

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The agriculture here would appear to be based on use of marginal land and I presume that this is owner occupied, rather than the great estates that one otherwise associates with Andalusia and much of central Spain. The distribution of the dwelling all about the valley couldn’t be more different than that of my home in Catalonia, where isolated houses are very rare indeed and the history and pattern of property ownership is different on both counts, being based around a system of familial ownership of farmland; the tradition here is for the eldest offspring to ‘inherit’ and run the family farm, while the other siblings is set up with a cash lump sum, which is often used to gain an education and/or capitalise a business, hence the notorious Catalan flair for entrepreneurialism! But I also saw the impact of new, large-scale agriculture, as huge plantations of olives crises crossed the mountainsides on reclaimed land.

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Meanwhile, it is curious to speculate the impact of such a large influx of extranjeros on such a remote and rural community. The extent of which became apparent after inspecting post-boxes that line the roadside; the names here are: Grainger, Casa ‘Jack’, Smith & Hanrahan, unreadable, and finally Marshall!

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The head of the valley is dominated by the huge XVIII century temple of the Sanctuaries de Nuestra Señora del Buen Retiro de los Desamparados del Saliente, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in south-eastern Spain. Pilgrims from all over the region, travelling on foot or horseback, converge on the site on September the 8th each year, progressing up the last leg during the previous night. Today though, in late June, it is deserted.

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Crossing over the Sierra de las Estancias the outlook changes completely, however, as huge plantations of olive and almond trees completely cover the landscape while the inhabitants are huddled together in compact villages like Los Cerricos.

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This is a vast, somewhat intimidating landscape, difficult to catch on camera. In the very far distant, out of the picture, the peaks of the Sierra Nevada shimmer in the haze – or is it my imagination!

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I was glad to be over the great plain, and near to the autovia that would which me off to catch my midday train home, but it was market day in Chirivel and after a long, lonely trip I couldn’t resist stopping to bask in the warmth of human company!

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