Tuesday, July 31, 2007



I finally had a close encounter with a wild boar... No pun: it really was a huge pig. I was wondering if I would ever get to meet one and now my curiosity is satisfied.

It happened in the early hours of Sunday morning in the mountains above the Poqueira Gorge. During the whole of Saturday I had hiked from Trevelez, a beautiful walk partly in the shade of forests, reaching Capileira just before sunset. I found a field to camp in that was reasonably comfortable. Sometime after midnight I was woken by the sound of galloping. A large creature was running at full speed towards me and I jerked in alarm. My thought processes went something like "What's that? Is it a dog? No, it's a boar. I'm in trouble!" but already the boar was retreating. Without slackening its terrific pace in the slightest it executed a neat U-turn and hurried off the way it had come. I was amazed by the creature's size, but clearly they are more gentle than their reputation: it must have been shocked by my presence in that lonely place. I grew more nervous after the event and wondered if I should pack up and descend to Capileira, but tiredness got the better of me. My one precaution against its return was to unzip my sleeping bag to make escape easier!

At dawn I rose and passed down through three of the most famous and picturesque villages of the High Alpujarras -- Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira -- stopping for coffee at the last one. All three are extremely quaint and steep and good places to view tinaos, an architectural feature typical of the Alpujarras, a short bridge that crosses from houses on different levels and forms a roof over the alleys. I left Pampaneira early and walked along the base of the western flank of the Poqueira Gorge. I wanted to visit the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of O Sel Ling. Yes, there's a Tibetan monastery in Spain! I found the path that led up to the place but it was hard work climbing to the summit of the mountain. The sun was at its fiercest, there was no shade and my water was running low. Halfway up I thought I might have to turn back, when a car descending from the monastery stopped and the driver gave me a wide brimmed straw hat and a bottle of water! I was touched by this generosity and sufficiently reinvigorated to continue upwards. I reached O Sel Ling in the middle of the afternoon and wandered the site before praying for an hour. Praying in Buddhism is easier than in most other religions: the process is mechanised. One simply turns a prayer wheel clockwise to activate the mantra written on the side. The prayer wheel at O Sel Ling is enormous.

My pilgrimage over, I found a field to rest in just below the monastery. Here I planned to spend the night. The view southwards was already magnificent but when the sun went down it turned into one of the most astounding vistas I've ever seen: the entire Alpujarras below me like a single warped loaf of ciabatta, the sea glimmering beyond, the full moon rising in the east, the evening star glowing through the fading sunset in the west, the lights of Cañar on its mountain ledge, even the lights of occasional cars moving on the mountain roads far away. I can't say I had a spiritual experience at O Sel Ling but I certainly had a powerful emotional one, and the emotions involved were mixed: the beauty was overwhelming but the loneliness was intense too. I feel regretful that I couldn't somehow 'capture' the moment. But that's life, of course. Such things are ephemeral by their nature.

Monday morning I walked down before dawn, stopped for a brief rest in Carataunas, yet another delightful tiny village, and continued to Orgiva. Here I treated myself: coffee, beer, food and a bed for the night. The first bed I've slept in for more than a month! A ceiling above me: very strange!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Ham and Hospitality

I'm in Trevelez, the highest village in Spain, staying at an official campsite that is probably the highest campsite in Spain. I'm on the highest level of the campsite. So I'm high. But not as high as I was when I went to the hippy camp near Orgiva a month ago... Poor joke.

Sore legs are mine, as I've been walking a lot. I walked a lot when I was staying in the Valle, taking every opportunity to visit the surrounding villages. I remember a long hot tramp back from Ugijar and two much more pleasant hikes up to Montenegro, one with Djembe the dog, another with Barbara, a German visitor to the Valle. But Trevelez is a base for much more serious walking, up into the Sierra Nevada, mountains that frown down at the Alpujarras in the same way that a metaphor frowns down at a simile, or a simile frowns down at a smile... Well not quite that way.

I left Cadiar late and couldn't find the path to Berchules: it was too dark despite the moon. So I slept in a field just beyond Nechite (another pretty Alpujarran village) and listened to the sounds of the night -- chiefly the echo of hunters' guns and the squawks of unknown animals, probably birds. The Spanish love hunting. It's slightly disconcerting: there's always the worry that a hunter might shoot a wild camper by mistake. There were many shooting stars. And once a rocket... The Spanish love fiestas. In the morning I walked up to Berchules, a fairly short distance but uphill all the way under a blazing sun. Although it was early in the afternoon, Berchules was preparing for a celebration of some kind. Rockets went off and loudspeakers blared distorted flamenco music.

I caught the bus to Trevelez and enjoyed the ride along winding roads, higher and higher. A sign outside the village proclaims it as a significant home of 'Ham and Hospitality'. Trevelez is divided into three parts, the bajo, medio and alto sections. The alto is the smallest and most engaging, a cluster of maybe 20 houses on a conical hill. I walked up to No.10, Calle Fuerte, which seems to be the highest house in the highest part of the highest village. The path to Capileira begins near here. Tomorrow night I'll probably be sleeping closer to the stars than I've done before. Sleeping outside has its disadvantages as well as its pleasures: this morning I woke to find a dead ant in my left ear.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The Excitement is Mountain...

I have just left the Valle de Sensaciones and now plan to head north. I said goodbye to everyone and walked out with a tear in my eye (or was it sweat?) for the dusty walk to Cádiar, but halfway there I managed to hitch a lift and so my feet were somewhat saved. Hitching in the Alpujarras is remarkably easy. Tonight I intend to begin walking higher into the mountains, first to Bérchules and then to Trevélez, the highest village in Spain. It should be cooler up there. I'll probably sleep under trees, if there are any available. It never seems to rain here so sleeping outside is much more pleasant than back in Wales...

Far away from cities, the quality of the light after sunset is quite different from what I'm used to. A few days ago the community went for tapas in one of Yator's tiny bars. Walking back we passed a small group of people conducting some sort of religious ritual by the side of the road. The mountains shone very strangely in the light of the half moon. Everything looked unreal to me, whereas in fact it was more real: I was seeing the landscape in a more natural way. It affected me strongly, I'm not sure why. I can't explain it very well.

Although I love it here, I'm looking forward to walking over the Sierra Nevada to Granada. My feet are itchy and not just because of the mosquito bites!

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Hammocking It Up...

A quick postscript to my last entry... It seems that I have problems with my e-mail and I'm not receiving messages sent to me. Therefore I recommend people using my hotmail account instead if they wish to contact me:


I don't really feel like Robinson Crusoe in the Valle, as I have claimed on one or two occasions. I feel more like a character from The Ebb Tide by Robert Louis Stevenson. And if that's one literary reference too many, I'm sorry but it's what I do... :-)

Friday, July 20, 2007


Salty Salads

Last Friday I caught a lift from the Valle to the town of Ugijar with two Austrian sisters who live in Granada. I didn't spend long in Ugijar because I saw the bus that heads up into the village of Yegen and so I jumped on that. I wanted to go to Yegen to see where the writer Gerald Brenan lived in the 1920s. Up steep winding roads went the bus: Yegen turned out to be a pretty village, a confusion of narrow alleys and white houses, and I went into a bar and had an interesting conversation with the barman, who claimed that his father was a close friend of Brenan's. I saw Brenan's house, but the experience was dampened somewhat by the fact I've never read any of his books! Surely I will remedy this situation now.

From Yegen I walked back to Yator down the nicest path I've discovered so far. Halfway on the route I found a settlement called Montenegro: a tiny church, a house or two, a homebuilt castle in a sort of Gaudi style and a treehouse. Not dissimilar to the Valle but with better views across the southern Alpujarras! I went back yesterday to watch the sunset over the mountains. There was a girl in the turret of the castle but she didn't need rescuing! I went with Djembe, the farm dog, an ebullient but good natured creature. Djembe lives in uneasy peace with the farm cat, Funky, who seems to exist on an exclusive diet of lizards and cicadas. As if in a variant of the traditional American song, Funky and Djembe aren't lovers.

Animals thrive in the Valle... A small owl hoots all night in a tree above my head, wild boar play in the mud beyond the dam, rats climb up and down the bamboo, colourful birds flap and squawk, and once I saw something that looked like a racoon... I have been watching ants. They are not as intelligent as I had been led to believe. Rahma believes that large ants are 'kind' and small ones 'nasty'. I remain unsure of the precise difference.

I went with Achim for a meal at Ricardo's falling down house. It resembles a shrine on the inside, full of religious pictures and ornaments. I had gazpacho and a massively salted salad. Ricardo drinks wine all day and night. I don't. Two German women turned up at the Valle a few days ago. I am probably going to move on elsewhere soon, maybe on Monday, higher up into the mountains. Then maybe I'll walk to Granada. We'll see.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Dulcimer Nights

Even when the French are hippies, they still manage to be intellectuals... The two French guys turned out to be excellent company and very interesting individuals, chess players, devotees of Boris Vian and Raymond Queneau, as well as fine musicians and good cooks. We had a couple of music nights at the Valle, playing a selection of drums, ocarinas, thumb pianos, didgeridoos and various stringed instruments. Probably the most fun I've had since I arrived...

The neighbours directly opposite the entrance to the Valle are English. I went to buy some eggs from them. They have goats who have recently given birth. The baby goats are very funny! This is a very beautiful part of the Alpujarras but it seems that soon it might be spoiled. There is a lot of new road building in the area. I feel I am seeing Yator and its environs for the last time before it changes forever...

I made sangria yesterday and it was much appreciated, but I was chided for the depth of my ploughing. I often wonder if hard agricultural labour is beyond my abilities and stamina. I am coming to the conclusion that it is. In that case I'll move on soon, maybe next week. After all, I don't want to ruin my soft aristocratic hands with too many blisters!

I heard today that the second edition of my Smell of Telescopes has just been published, in Slovenia. The third of my eight books for 2007! I am hugely delighted, of course, as I consider this to be one of my best books.

There are many more photos of my travels so far on my Flickr account here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Sky Badger!

Life at the Valle proceeds accordingly. The days are hot, the nights mild and crowded with biting insects. I have moved out of my nest, which was infested with ants, and now sleep on an old sofa on a platform suspended over a small ravine. The platfrom creaks like a tiny ship or like my bones: I am still finding physical work difficult. I can't say that the passing years have made me soft and lazy -- I was always soft and lazy -- but I am stronger and trimmer after only two weeks. Rightly so, this pleases me. Somewhat.

People come and go, not like clouds, because there are none, or at least very few... A German girl named Steffi turned up. Also an interesting American called Jeff, who had sailed from the Bahamas to the Azores before coming here, a pacifist and a utopian and a guitarist, politically very engaged. Everyone in the commune takes turns to cook for everyone else. Lots and lots of salads, porridge, curries, soups, polenta, all vegetarian. Bizarrely I learned that the kitchen was partly constructed two years ago by Miss Frisbee Girl. Strange world.

Last night I looked at the stars with a French fellow and we tried to identify the constellations. I pointed out the Great Bear and the Lyre, he pointed out the Scorpion and the Badger... The Badger? I was amazed. I never knew there was a constellation by that name... Conversations here are generally a bit weird. One night the commune sat in a group and I was asked what I missed most about Wales, if anything. I gave the wrong answer -- 'Bombay Mix' -- when in fact I should have said 'My friends and/or the sea.' I am missing those things, and Hannah whom I grew very close to while living in Waunarlwydd. Dare I say I'm even missing the rain? No, I dare not.

I plan to explore more of the surrounding region soon, the village of Yegen for instance, where the writer Gerald Brennan lived in the 1920s. Yegen sits perched on the hillside high above Yator. The villages and countryside are at their best in the dusk, twinkling lights below stars, the many hued* gloom. I discovered a shortcut to Yator, a path from the valley of bamboo along the bed of a dried up stream into another valley, past tall twisted pillars of rock. Yator is a friendly village. I went harvesting capers with an old resident, Ricardo, who doesn't speak a word of English. A prickly plant indeed, as my fingertips would testify, could they but speak!

I have started writing a new series of linked stories. I still intend to write my Besteads novel in Spain, but at the moment it seems nicer to focus on producing shorter pieces. The series is called The Court of Fictional but Very Serious Crimes and involves forcing lots of my characters from other stories to attend jury service. Each story in the series will hopefully have a horrible pun as its title -- 'Lettuce Prey', 'Azure Like It', 'Black Toffee Glues', 'Tarzan at the Apple's Core' and so forth. So far I am only halfway through the first piece.

* Speaking of 'hues' I am reminded that the drummer Huw Rees is scheduled to be married in one month's time.

Monday, July 02, 2007


What a Boar!

The road beyond Cadiar was impassable on foot, so I hitched the rest of the way to Yator. I found the entrance to the Valle de Sensaciones without any problem. It's an extremely narrow valley bounded by high cliffs, a remarkable place, a maze of tree houses, clay huts, sofas on high platforms, rope bridges, fuller domes, caravans... I feel like Robinson Crusoe walking around every day! There are musical instruments everywhere, sculptures in the gardens, a swimming pool, solar panels, a bodega full of old fashioned tools. The food is tasty, including fresh olives and local wine! The project is run by a fellow called Achim and his girlfriend, Rahma. Work has been hard because I'm not used to physical labour! I have been sawing logs and making clay walls to turn a cave into a little house! In the intense heat of the day it's a wonderful feeling to jump into the cold pool for a swim!

The valley is divided in two by an old dam wall. The further part of the valley is a bamboo grove, very isolated, where I sleep. I sleep in a nest! This consists of a wooden platform suspended in a circle of interwoven willow trees. There are wild boar in the valley. I saw their tracks down by the stream. Scary at night, especially when it is so dark, but the moon has been full recently and when it rises over the mountains the entire valley is flooded with soft light. It's really rather magical. In honour of the full moon we had a Full Moon Party on Saturday night, a small but pleasant gathering with great music, beer and (inevitably) marijuana. I met a girl from Melilla who is a Borges enthusiast and we had a long conversation about the impossibility of a non-Spanish speaker ever writing a story in the genuine Borges style. I am sure that my Infamy book will convince her otherwise!

I think that the Spanish version of my book has generated some interest over here. I have just been interviewed (by e-mail) by a journalist from the EFE news agency, apparently the biggest in Spain. I guess that must be a good sign!

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