Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The colour south

 Canjáyar to Beas de Granada, 72 miles, Camping Alto de Viñuelas, €15 per night, 2 nights. 

I mentioned a couple of posts ago how driving northwards made me disconsolate. There are lots of aspects of Mediterranean culture to be cheerful about, but I concluded that the thing I missed the most back home, and lifted the spirits when I return, is the colour, the place's infectious brightness. 

As we drove back towards Almeria through the unfrequented eastern end of the Alpujarras, by this reckoning I should have been feeling gloomy, for the hills are almost universally a dull beige colour, but the landscape, which should be monotonous, is in fact thrilling. Partly this is to do with scale, but also aspect. The scale is epic, the tawny hills stretch out in front of you like a gigantic wrinkled hide. It feels huge because the road snakes across the contours part way up the slope, so you see the landscape from an unusual angle as if it is tipped forwards towards the onlooker. One moment you are staring at a peak rising in front of you, the next peering down at a white village far down in a steep sided valley as if you are travelling on a slow motion rollercoaster.

The Desert of Tabernas - Europe's small patch of proper desert.
Just in case you are unsure which country you are in...

View from the cab,  shadowy hills  and the reflection of  maps and petrol receipts - the marvelous and the mundane.
The day was fine, sunny with clumps is white cumulus floating across the deep blue sky; their smoky shadows dappled the bare boulder strewn slopes. So, perhaps it's not the colours of the south that I am addicted to but its intense light which can transform dull, mundane things into something that catches the eye. I will miss its vibrancy. 

Our plan was to double back towards Granada driving through the western part of the desert of Tabernas. The area is so arid because it falls in the rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada. There must be artesian wells, for every so often the bleak terrain suddenly sprouts a big patch of olive trees and a white boxy village in its midst, with a clutch of tall palm trees thrown in to compete the sense of exotic Araby in Europe. It is a landscape of odd juxtapositions. A lone ancient castle surrounded by a few acres of state of the art solar reflectors, looking like something from a Bond movie. 

bare rock

and occassional patches of forest
Even the landscape itself has unexpected contrasts, the valley floor waterless as the Sahara, but on the western slopes of the mountains above, pine forests with a faintly nordic look. As we approached the town of Guadix, the sense that the terrain is suffering some kind of identity crisis increased. Less than quarter of an hour ago we were driving through a desert. Yet now suddenly, it's Switzerland! A small forest of yellow leafed spindly poplars provides foreground colour for the towering bulk of the Sierra Nevada's second highest peak, the Horcajo de Trevélez, which, at 10,341 feet, by mid November was dusted with snow. 

Autumn colour and the first snow on the Sierra Nevad

We stopped in Guadix for lunch. Gill has downloaded a French app called 'Park for Night' which lists as an additional feature motorhome friendly car parks where you can't park for the night, but are places to stay if you want to stop off for a brief visit. It works, the car park was huge, and a mere two minute stroll from the town's historical centre clustered around the imposing Baroque cathedral.

The historical centre is a two minute walk from a large moho friendly car park,
Our Lonely Planet guidebook made Guadix seem interesting, an ex-ceramics town with a substantial Eighteenth century architectural heritage and a 'barrio cuevas', a district of troglodyte houses that are still inhabited. So, here follows a quick picture tour of Guadix and its unusual charms.

Guadix Cathedral - big baroque and...

even by the style's usual exuberant standards - inventively curly.
The episcopal palace is situated in a beautiful arcaded square next to the cathedral

A more sober church - perhaps earlier, but with a later baroque portal?

Small pink palace

a large Moorish Alcazabar

Light! colour! chimney pots....

Low whitewashed houses led to the barrio troglodyte
The cave houses are still inhabited - it was odd to see chimneys sticking out of the rocks

The narrow alleys were slippy, but less dangerous than the  traffic choked streets without pavement. (Pete lines up shot).

pretty -  but cliched I guess

The more charmless aspects of Guadix were difficult to photograph. Perhaps the seemingly murderous intent of the drivers was due to our arrival coinciding with that moment in mid afternoon when the entire Spanish population, having finished their extended lunch, all try to return to work simultaneously. In Guadix however, pedestrian anxieties are heightened by a sonic peculiarity.

By some freak accident of geology, the cobbled streets of Guadix produce road noise that can only be described as an odd, rodent like squeak Cars produce big ratty squeals, apart from when cornering, when they emit a piercing screech, like plugging a kitten into the mains. Even our trusty sandals sounded a bit hamsterish as we scurried along the cobbles dodging the traffic. The pavements in the old town were either non-existent, or nine inches wide, so with cars careering towards you emanating a high pitched squeal, pedestrians are reduce to sneaking along the skating rink slippy cobbled streets glued to the wall, or risk a sprained ankle by slithering down traffic free, vertiginous alleys. No amount of venerable architecture or cute troglodyte housing could save Guadix from being anything other than a nerve-racking experience. We were relieved to reach the van with all limbs fully functioning in their usual vaguely arthritic fashion.

The colours though - the heavenly light that transfigures a humble line of laundry against an ochre wall into something vibrant and memorable;  all trivial annoyances evaporate, and you forget the traffic and only remember the colour south, because you can capture it. Tyre squeals are not photogenic, so those, you forget. It's an interesting thought, the extent to which memory is shaped by our predispositions.


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