Wild South Showdown!

I love people. Honest human people. Little evolved apes who imagined and learned how things work. I also hate people. People annoy me more than anything. Last night I saw a drunken chav smash in the video screen of an intercom with his empty bottle. Why? Who knows. I also despair when I see the sleep walkers.  People somnambulating through life, happy with the basic and uninterested in the wonderful. Little boring people with little boring lives. Maybe I'm jealous. The girlfriend and boyfriend of eight years. The constant to and fro from the local village where they don't do anything but just eat with their families. The sphere of interests: football, going out with friends, attending family get togethers. Status Quo. I'm probably jealous but it can sometimes make finding people to connect with a chore. I mean really connect with, not just pleasant toleration or friendship. People who don't do things. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Wasting the shining lives that they've been lucky to have received from the great lottery of genetics. This is not to say you can't just have a weekend lazing about at home with your friends. Good griefing God no, that's wonderful too. But why not savour other fruits. The big burly beautiful world, hell, this country, has so much to offer that it ignites me into a froth that Thaddeus Stevens would be proud of when people choose to ignore it, or worse don't think to enjoy it. Spain has problems: financial corruption, political ineptitude, bureaucratic dopeyness, a slacker than optimal work ethic; but it really has the potential to be the 'best' country in the world if it can sort its act out. Spain is an ever-refilling glass of quite the finest wine.

Hilltops and White Walls

 Almeria is an odd province of Andalucia. It can be found hiding down in the south east, near Murcia, and is only really buzzing in the summer months. It's dry and the land is only really useful for greenhouses and sunbathing. It's useful having a friend whose family decided to buy a house somewhere warm. It is as underrated as Barcelona is overrated. It deserved some attention.

Lying about 550km from Madrid is the strangely disjointed area of Mojacar and its environs. The sun rises over the sleepy silvery Mediterranean and lights up the first port of call - Mojacar Playa. It's a strange, pleasingly brash artificial construct of holiday villas, restaurants, retired English people, golf courses and a long beach. Mostly everything is in English. Benidorm - minus the clientèle - came to mind. About 1km back from that area Mojacar Pueblo (the old town) covers a little moutainette like a white cubist marmalade with orange groves at its base. Despite the ever present underlying hum of English-pandering it was refreshingly more authentic then the beach area. Little winding streets with ivory walls leaking bougainvillea.

'Oh you two speak Spanish very well!'
'Well thank you.'
'You're not from here then?'
'We live in Madrid.'
'Ah, yes.'
Pop, a bottle of cold Navarran Rose wine and tapas looking over the huge terraced central plaza; one side town, the other side a view to the expansive plains between the Sierra Cabrera, that acts as home for Mojacar Pueblo and other little settlements, and the Sierra de los Filabres further inland. 

The Sierra Cabrera is a smashing little mountain range. Rarely has such a 'small' little fin of rock had so much character. Before climbing into its peaks, a scruffy little information board underwhelmingly informs you that a few parts of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade were filmed here. Up past the wide-reaching views (even the snow-capped Sierra Nevada of Granada was visible) and multitudinous abandoned shepherds' huts the walker is slowly swallowed up by dry scrubby humps. Mother Nature's vegetation is functioning at a bare minimum and the paths are dusty orange. Indiana chose a good location. It is a fierce landscape even in winter. Parched. Wild Western even...

At a kink in the mountain range is another oddity, the village/residential community/Star Wars colony of Cabrera. A small colony established by a Briitsh eccentric called Peter Grosscurth on the heights just over twenty years ago. He had a vision of rejuvenating the whole Cabrera area; an area inhabited since the neolithic times. It was his brainchild and although he died in 1993, the area has continued according to his original vision. Every building, from small house to hilltop palace, has been designed in a particular cubist/Moorish way - with complimentary mosaicked onion domes, and all painted in a terracotta colour. The result is a bizarre and alien town, half-populated and full of 'to-be-finished' places. The crisis has hit the village hard, as has its odd location. The sensation is one of tragic but grandiose dreams and passion for a place. Portmeirion a la Española. 

The Cape of Agate and its Cowboys

Strung out along the coast and seeping inland in a series of dry, fuzzy valleys, is the UNESCO biosphere, Cabo de Gata. It's another less than normal area of the country. Three types of built-up area are present: little white fishing villages or agricultural towns, newly constructed beach/golf towns, and abandoned or partly built ventures that have ceased because of the massive financial crash. The driving in winter, sweeping up and down through sea-vistas or open plains with shoddy farmyards, is lonely and private. A national park just for you.

La Isleta is one of the aforementioned villages. It leans out into the sedate Mediterranean on a narrow low-lying spit. The houses are built to the shore. The walls of rock that backdrop the settlement are sandstone coloured and look like Morocco. A tiny restaurant - La Ola - sits next to a minute harbour where boats bob up and down. The menus have a Quality Street style map of the fish that are available in the area. Next to it a handwritten sheet of the fish that have been caught that day. As happy jaws clacked down on fresh squid, tuna, sardines, prawns and all manner of fish not available in the UK, the sound of Spanish was mixed in with German. Further down the cabo is the lively little villa town of San Jose, curling around its two beaches. Dead in the winter; the sand still soft and the sun still bright in the sky but lacking its summer power, this, in my eyes, was the place to be in January.

Leapfrogging the Sierra de los Filabres and the ocean of shimmering greenhouses that can be seen from space, Almeria City raises his bulky head. The six and a half hour bus slinks first through the Tabernas Desert - the most famous of Spain's three. A wavy badlands of cream-coloured sandy terrain, it was this area that played host to the cracking six-shooters and jingling boot spurs of Clint Eastwood and his fellow actors in the sixties when Spain was ground zero for the filming of the brilliant Spaghetti Westerns. Here and there are dotted little 'villages': Western Leone, Texas Hollywood and Mini Hollywood. Sets and settlements constructed for filming; they were thought of so fondly that, in the case of Mini Hollywood for example, lots of local extras clubbed together and bought it and ran it as an attraction. Either way, it is a strange place that I intend to revisit in the summer for the full effect.

Three years later and there's always something else, always something new. A new town. A new mountain. A new sea. A new taste. No more sleepwalking. Open your eyes.