Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Arrival in the Sierra

(After the bus journey from Ubeda it’s about 10 pm when I arrive in Villacarillo. There are no taxis to be found, despite a friendly hotel manager making phone calls for me, to try to find one. So I set out to walk the few kilometers to my destination.)

The night is warm. There’s a thin covering of cloud so I cannot see the stars but this covering means there is no chill in the air and gives a sense of protection. The road slopes downhill which I am glad of for despite all my attempts to travel as lightly as possible, my backpack feels heavy. From time to time, a car sweeps past, and I go from one side of the road to the other depending on which direction it comes from, so that I will be clearly visible. The light vanishes and I am on my own again, but it is never completely dark, I think there must be a moon somewhere up there, shedding its diffuse light for I can see the road quite clearly. I can also see dark shapes on each side of the road, the little olive trees, but their outlines are murky.

Warmed by the cloud wrapped sky, and the rhythmic movement of walking, I feel an immense peace in this darkness and solitude, moving towards my destination, only 8 kilometres away. And I do not feel alone, for apart from the bordering olives and the warm night itself, I am accompanied by the sound of crickets, a soft whistling in the sloping fields on either side. These little insects come out at dusk and turn evenings soft with their liquid flute- like sounds. These sounds, and the delicate sharp scent of the air, a mixture of herbs, olive leaves and the earth itself, along with the feeling of being high above the valley and so, close to the quilted covering of the sky, give the feeling of walking on air, despite the backpack. After a day spent in trains and buses, and waiting hours for the next bus to come that would take me just a little closer to my destination, it is deliciously invigorating to be physically moving, slipping into a rhythm, accompanied by that gentlest of night sounds, the crickets. And to know that I am close and moving closer all the time, to my goal.

I’d gone perhaps two thirds of the way when a car came up behind me but instead of passing me, it stopped. A door opened and the driver asked me where I was going. When I told him, he gestured to me to get in. He had a friend with him, another young man. What luck! They dropped me off in a deserted street on the edge of the village, while I overflowed with muchas gracias and shouldered my backpack.

The air was still, the street was silent, the houses looked old and welcoming. Then a woman appeared, carrying a plastic bag, heading for the refuse bin. She stared at me as if I had dropped out of a parachute, from another time. I seized my chance, greeted her with effusive buenas noches, and asked the way to my street. She gestured down some steps, and to the right, and I picked out the word ponte. Turn right at or after the bridge. So I did. The street did not appear to have a name, but I felt it was the right one. And then, there was the tree, at the side of the building. I got out the key and the small torch, slid the key in the door, turned on the power at the mains. I’d arrived. It was just after midnight. 

Street view from my balcony

I’d been told that A, one of the neighbours, spoke French, and I should go to him if there was anything I needed. And he turns out to be an unfailing source of assistance. He says he has some mail for J, the owner, and I go to collect it from him.

The sloping hall inside the front door leads up to his garden – he has vines, an olive, an orange tree, and one that’s Japanese and its fruit looks like peaches. Another whose name he searches for in French, almendra.......amande, I say, yes, he agrees, amande. He shows me his little hut, where he likes to go pour être seul le matin, pour la tranquillité. He raises the shutters on the little windows and sunlight falls onto the table, where there’s a pile of purple garlic cloves and a heap of garlic skins. Dried peppers, so dark red and purple they are almost black, hang from hooks on the wall. He offers me some, but I decline and say I probably won’t be cooking in the few days I’m here.

View from A's garden

When I go, he asks if I’d like some raisins, and cuts me a big bunch. He makes wine, he says. But the quality – well, it depends on the weather. Last year’s cold weather was not good for the grapes - or for the orange tree. Its leaves shrivelled and there is no sign of any fruit.

Just inside the front door, stands a large sack full of bread. Long baguettes protrude from the top, and the sack is packed tight with smaller, round loaves, not odds and ends, but complete and untouched. Un ami a des moutons, A explains. I wonder if the bakery gives him their unsold loaves from the day before, for these are not the odds and ends and leftover scraps that are found in most households.

A few days later, when we are both on the weekly bus to Villacarillo, he tells me more about his friend, who is a shepherd. He lives outside with his sheep during the summer, though in winter, he has an arrangement with a friend, and sleeps in his house. He moves the sheep to different pastures, when necessary. It seems that Spanish shepherds have long standing rights of way where they can move their flocks from one pasture to another and possibly there are public grazing grounds, although I was so intent on listening to A I forgot to ask him this. Young people nowadays he says, do not want to look after sheep or work in the olive groves. They prefer to go to the cities and find better paid work there - if they can of course, for unemployment is very high. So it’s often migrant workers from Africa who work on the land. And they work hard he says, but they spend very little. They save most of their earnings and send it to their families.

I like listening to A talking in his soft voice, and I like the way he describes events without making judgements, or erecting emotional barricades around any particular argument. A has blue eyes, and they often look out into the distance, where the olive trees are dotted in rows as regular as needlework, draped over the hills, sweeping down the slopes, dark grey-green stitching against a background of pale, dust-coloured earth. And beyond these hills, there’s the mountains, with tree-covered areas of pale and dark green, white and grey rock on the pointed peaks.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

Spot of luck(?)having a French speaking neighbour! His garden sounds lovely,complete with garden shed - Spanish style.
Love your last photo!


Anonymous said...

Your description of your 5 mile walk? in the dark of night..the plodding footsteps and the rythmn, so descriptive and imaginable. I think we were in the dark of the moon last week, the new one is only just visible.