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!

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