Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tricky trails and shooting stars

When we cycled down to Olvera yesterday we locked the  bikes at a small roundabout at the edge of the old town. The road to the town's disused station was signed from it. This was fortuitous as the station is the the starting point for the Via Verde de la Sierra. It also has overnight parking for motorhomes a bit cheaper than the campsite. Our 'All the Aires'' guidebook warned that the access road was steep and narrow and might be difficult for larger vans, so we a look at the route to check it out. The narrow road had a skip and a cement mixer just to add extra hazard and the gradient looked about 15%. We decided to stay put at the campsite for an extra night. After all, we agreed, it was quiet and had a lovely position and at €17 euros was not expensive. 

It is true that the site was almost empty when we had left it, but by the time we arrived back it was filling quickly with Spanish families in caravans - mainly couples in their thirties with pre-schoolers and tweenies in tow. At first we put this down to the forthcoming weekend and the good forecast, but the ebullient atmosphere and excited hubbub seemed exude more of a holiday mood. "I wonder if the Spanish have 'All Saints' as a public holiday, like the French," Gill mused. Our portable oracle soon confirmed that this was indeed the case. I like it when kids are running around the place. We spent years travelling as a family, not so much in Spain, but in Italy and France - and it is heartening to see a new generation of parents enjoying the outdoor life with their children.

When went foff or our cycle ride yesterday we had the place to ourselves, by the time we returned.....
Next day, by mid-morning off we went to cycle the via verde. This proved a little trickier than we anticipated. Gill is prone to vertigo and going downhill on very steep hills on her bike can trigger it. She took one look at the way the road to the station plummeted downwards and felt very nervous about it. We had a plan B. The road north from Olvera seemed to provide alternative access. It was somewhat longer, and down a steep but not vertiginous, descent. When we arrived at the place shown on Google maps as another way to access the via verde it turned out to be a rutted farm track. So, back up the hill we trundled. There seemed to be only one option left. I offered to ride both bikes down to the station and Gill could walk the half kilometre or so to the start of the trail. I was just locking my bike at the bottom of the hill, about to trudge back to bring down Gill's, when she came into view gliding gently down the steep slope having plucked up the courage overcome the dizziness and nausea.

A very steep and narrow access road to the Via Verde
After something of a shaky start, the trail itself was lovely. It is metalled and quite flat. There are many short tunnels, over thirty apparently in so many kilometres. We cycled for an hour perhaps covering a little less than half of its length, of course we had to backtrack the same distance. Add to that the detour down hill at the outset and the six kilometres there and back to the campsite and we probably covered about 25 kilometres. 

Once you get there the cycle trail is brilliant

It runs along the valley below Olvera
Action shot...
Many tunnels - minimal lighting - but most are only about 300 metres.

The trail runs through beautiful olive covered hills
Like yesterday, the weather today has been perfect. In the light of late afternoon the sky became a deep velvet blue, and the most mundane things, a yellow wheelie bin, or flaky ochre painted wall, took on an unearthly glow. 

Sometimes southern light can transform the mundane into the magical

view from the cooking stool..

of the Cadac

grilled pears

Gill brings the accompaniments

Creme fraise and rosemary honey

washed down with a crisp Rias Baixas to counteract the sweetness

bought locally in Galicia - stylish, and about 4 euros - scrumptious and cheap - that's what we like!
Evening faded to twilight silhouetting the Sierras' jagged peaks; above, in the inky blue, stars appeared one by one. Gill has downloaded a great app called Skymap. Merely by pointing your phone at the night sky it gives the position of all the stars for your location, date and time. So the two bright objects low on the horizon to west turned out to be Mars and Saturn, almost in alignment. I was determined to take a photograph; they looked so beautiful hanging there above the dark mountains. The phone camera could not pick them out at all. I fetched my Canon DSLR, the low light outfoxed its auto-function and confused the electronic focus utterly. So I set everything to manual and guessed the speed and aperture based on years of messing up photos on my old 'analogue' Pentax. It worked! The stars are not razor sharp, but for handheld on a slow shutter speed,, I think the results are quite good.


with its faint companion, Saturn, above and to the right.
I am pleased I have a record of what was a special moment, for when I look at the picture in future I will recall not just the dark mountains and the bright planets above them, but also the soft air, the sound of people chatting and laughing, children playing and momentary silences broken by a lone cicada. That sound is so evocative of Southern Europe in autumn. On hot summer nights you get a cicada wall of sound, a massed choir. On cooler evenings like tonight just one or two cicadas rasp; It sounds plaintive and a little sad, like a lament for the passing year. I remembered summer nights when we camped together with our three children in a big secondhand Cabanon frame tent. It was a pig to erect in the heat, but it allowed us to camp for weeks in Corsica, Sardinia and Elba. 

I felt happy to be sharing tonight with all these Spanish families, though twin wheeled caravans and SUVs have supplanted our mode of transport - an aged Nissan Bluebird estate and faded frame tent. I recalled that years ago I wrote about one of those trips, or at least one memorable evening in Elba, to be precise, I wondered if I could track the piece down, and I did, and here it is.
Rosselba le Palme - dusk
So you believe that at the end your whole
life flashes by. Instead I'd rather cling
to one dear scene, some sentimental thing,
a talisman to fend my fading soul
from bland oblivion, not paradise
regained, but heaven in the here and now.
Across the smoke-grey limestone hills look how
the colours change as slowly daylight dies -
first golden, then peach-pink, now dusky mauve;
aquamarine, the eastern sky; the sea,
a deep turquoise. Amongst our wine and laughter
the first stars sparkle quietly; above,
a plump moon dotes on human revelry:
bliss is now - not desultory hereafter.

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