Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Smokes and stinks

We have driven away from the Palacio de Prelo feeling sad to leave such a beautiful and cherished place. Antonio and Alicia have created a polished quiet and elegant retreat in their medieval manorhouse. It feels like being in a private house. They found it many years ago, took years to negotiate its purchase from the existing owners, a small family of three women one of whom was really severely diminished in all capacities, and her two relatives fiercely protected her rights. The house was falling to pieces, but had two altarpieces in the chapel, and these of museum quality. One shows the Holy Family and was perhaps a shrine to healing. The other shows St Benedict of Sicily – a beautiful black man who is the patron saint of slaves. These two glories had also been protected and cherished by the owners and are still there to be seen – almost miraculous survivors from several hundred years ago. You would not be surprised to see them in a cathedral or national museum, but to be honest they have more power here, being so quiet and accessible, with no-one but yourself to sit and stare at them.

A model of the manor house, with the chapel on the left hand side

Earlier in this trip I have observed the huge birds which circle in the thermals over the peaks. I thought they might be eagles, but on deeper consideration I have come to the conclusion they are goshawks. Their underbellies are pale. They appear mostly in ones or twos, over the great tracts of forest.

We were discussing the general shortage of birds in these uplands. Antonio says it is due to the wildfires which sweep through. I am such a poor ornithologist I cannot identify more than a very few – blackbirds, magpies, LBJs, and some egrets and gulls in the marshes. Antonio says the fires just wipe everything out. They are terrifying, with all the eucalyptus trees which are planted, but even the pines burn like fireworks. One farmer he knew refused to abandon his cattle as a fire advanced and managed to save them all. Yesterday on the news it said a fire at Javea had been deliberately set in three places. These fires can leap across motorways – no cut or firebreak will stop them. Pine cones explode in the heat, hurling themselves 500m, tiny bombs of flame which spread the damage. You can see whole mountainsides where the eucalyptus has burned and then started to regenerate.

Yesterday was very quiet… we swam in the sea at Tapia, buffeted by innocent-looking surf waves, losing our footing as they pushed past us and over us, because the sand underneath had deceptively hidden undulations of about sofa-size. Lunch in the port was delicious and cheap. The sun shone. We had a quiet day, and I am sorry to say nothing very amusing happened.

Today we are setting off towards the east… staying tonight in an hotel at Comillas, and then trying the tent out for 3 nights to explore San Sebastien and Vitoria. Rain is forecast. But for now, we are sitting in a cafe by the harbour in smelly Navia, where the paper-plant pumps out plumes of stinks and water-vapour, as it mashes lorry-loads of eucalyptus into newsprint or something. Luckily the wind is in the other direction at the moment.  

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