Springtime migration

Travel

After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain again. While this may be universally true, we’ve been waiting for the rain for over 9 months in Andalusia. Contrary to the other European locations, the percentage of rainy days accounts for 10% tops throughout the year.

This has profound effect on the ecosystem, including summer wild fires and decreasing bird population, especially the migratory species, looking for the rest after the long way to or from Africa through the Gibraltar Strait. The month of March though brought immense amount of water, as well as Sahara sandstorms twice, turning the Andalusian landscape into an orange-ish, muddy moonscape.

I went on a weekend trip to my beloved Conil de la Frontera on the Cadiz coast, also known as Costa de la Luz. The heavy rain was gone by then, leaving vast greenfield areas and welcoming the migratory bird species from Africa which came here for the nesting period, alongside the all-year-round inhabitants.

Conil is situated in between La Janda and seaside lagoons which are a great foraging area for egrets, stilts and other wading birds, previously mentioned.

I took some time to hide and train my amateur photographic eye to witness the common egrets cohabiting these areas with glossy ibis, and even more domestic species like pigeons or sparrows.

Alongside the coastal line I could also spot a curious wagtail observing the agile shore swallows and different gull and shy plover species. As the current changed every couple of hours, I could see their intensifying fishing attempts or giving up and resting on the shore.

I couldn’t miss visiting the glossy ibis colony in the Playa de Castilobo area. I was happy to see the colony growing in number, gracefully flying around the fields and sharing the foraging area with stilts and common egrets.

Around this time of the year, as I walked nearby the Atlantic beach meadow, the cattle was enjoying the company of the cattle egret, smaller in size and gregarious in its nature. I’m fascinated by the cohabitation and comensalism of these two species and since then, anytime I see a bull, a cow or a horse, I look out for the cattle egret around!

Coming back to the ibis colony, I could also see how well they share their territory with crows and rock pigeons, picturing some incredible everyday moments of living on the rocky tower block!

I am very glad that my bird-eye view becomes sharper each time I look around, being able to recognise and take a shot of a resting kestrel, comparing to my previous year’s photos.

Last but not least, among the springtime migration, there was a purple egret – a stunning, colourful bird alongside with terns and gulls, preparing for the nesting season and quite territorial. I won’t forget the bird attack I suffered on Iceland, not knowing about the close nesting location of the Arctic tern.

So, happy springtime birding and remember about the safety of the birds, yourself and distance to the nesting areas. Don’t joke with the tern!

Birding in the Osuna Triangle

Travel

We arrived in Osuna the night before and set foot to explore the town itself, which proved to be very interesting, given the historical importance and quite recently, having starred in the popular series of ‘Games of Thrones’ as a mediaeval fantasy scenery. After discovering the town’s culinary and architectural gems, we went to sleep early to be on time for the exciting Field Meeting of the Andalucia Bird Society.

The morning was quite chilly, cloudy and foggy and we started to worry how this may affect our birding day. We set off onto a SE-715 road passing by the Antequera – Sevilla railroad through vast cereal fields and olive groves. Despite the clouds we could already see numerous red-legged partridges, buzzards and kestrels on the way.

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Our first stop was on the rail bridge from where we could set scopes into a very interesting scene happening at the cereal field. There was a great buzzard male displaying and above we could see a black kite approaching and foraging not too far away from the male and a group of females. Given the fact that me and my partner come originally from Poland where, despite the historic presence and abundance of the species, great bustard became extinct in the early 70s of 20th century due to DDT usage and the industrialisation of traditional agriculture. Having read that Spain and Portugal nowadays account for the majority of great bustard’s European population, we were very excited to see this bird for the very first time, and even more so: displaying! We spent some time there observing the situation until the male gathered the females closer to the olive groves, not too keen to share the details of their potential mating scene. Unfortunately, we were slightly too far away to hear great bustard’s mating calls, which may seem like exploding, flatulent sounds. 

On the other side of the road, we also observed a dramatic scene of red-legged partridges approaching the rail trucks, frequented by the speed train to Seville. Fortunately, the partridges fleed the danger and hid in the bushes, joining a tea party of wild rabbits. 

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From there, we came back on the road, and climbed up the second rail bridge, leading our way towards Arroyo del Alamillo where we took a nice stroll on the field road, which offered interesting sightings of the calandra and crested larks, singing cheerfully in their nuptial flight. An old field well attracted a beautiful male kestrel to sit back at the outpost, observing potential prey. During that walk, the sun went out, and we noticed numerous species including once again great bustards, black kite, but also stonechats, booted eagle, corn bunting, marsh harrier, swallow, white wagtail, spotless starling, blackcap, spotted flycatcher and iberican grey shrike, notorious for its horrid habits of impaling its prey. Although one may argue it’s actually shrike’s culinary art of cooking a la Michelin star chef. 

After taking this nice stroll, we went to stop by some abandoned buildings close to Lantejuela, inhabited by various pigeon types: feral pigeon, collar doves and woodpigeons. Most of us carried packed lunches and after a short stop, we decided to take a break at the picnic area next to the Ornithological Observatory in Lantejuela and skip visiting Venta for lunch. At the end of the day, the curiosity of spotting more birds prevailed over hunger, as usual!

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The Observatory is situated next to the Laguna del Gobierno, a part of the Complejo Endorreico de Lantejuela which serves as a water basin for the migrating and wintering species when the area lacks water, like this year. We all noted that this year the whole region of Andalucia has been missing the rain for a very long time, except for 3 days of showers in 9 months’ time! This is a serious ecological threat to the region, including the lives of multiple wading species. 

We weren’t sure if the Laguna would be open but a friendly employee of the site let us in for only 3 EUR/person. 

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Laguna del Gobierno consists of several basins, coming from the residual depuration of Lantejuela, using an innovative, ecological way of water management through algae and microspecies helping to clean up the water. We could see the effect of it by having various species residing at the cleaner basins’ area. I was particularly lucky to catch the flying flocks of glossy ibis, and greater flamingos in my camera lens and later on, set the scope into the following interesting species: shoveler, gadwall, pochard, white-headed duck, black-necked grebe, cattle egret, ruff. As we strolled through the area, we noticed also Cetti’s warbler calling and spotted a colourful pair of common waxbill, an introduced species from the Atlantic Ocean and Subsaharan Africa. 

In one of the lagoons we saw a green sandpiper alongside with avocet and black-tailed godwit foraging, using very specific movements of its legs to search through the mud for its food. It was a very special moment to watch this intimate scene. 

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At the end of our visit, the employee showed us his stunning photos and a taxidermy workshop, and gave us a flamingo feather for good birding luck!

On the way back we met a group of local birdwatchers, admiring marsh harriers and griffon vultures in flight, and we stopped in a few spots in search of sightings for the birds of prey and the birds of steppe. In the afternoon sun, we saw ravens, goldfinch, linnet, and most likely, an Eurasian eagle-owl taking off through the olive grove but this couldn’t be confirmed.

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Back in Osuna, we could also see a pair of white storks, so popular on the Sevilla fields, and also, a honorary resident of various churches in Osuna. The couple was preparing their nest with a lot of care, which resulted in a few beautiful pictures we managed to take. In the evening, we bumped into some fellow friends from ABS enjoying the nightlife in Osuna, and the next day, many of us returned to the first rail bridge in search of the great bustard male but without much luck.



Sierra de las Nieves – El hombre, la tierra y las montañas

Music, Travel

January marks my birthday (not to mention a slippery slope from the Dry January resolutions) and since a couple of years, also a surprise trip or retreat related to it. Knowing how much I like unknown destinations, my partner planned this year’s surprise very well, so until the very end I had no idea where I’ll spend celebrating another year of health, prosperity and being alive. After last year’s municipal confinement where we couldn’t really go on any trip beyond Malaga, this year he could take me on a road trip all the way to the high mountain retreat in Andalucia’s Sierra de las Nieves (‘Mountains of the Snow’).

We stayed at the mountain hotel at about 700 m above the picturesque town of Tolox (visited with a local hiking group just before the confinement in 2020) and I considered the road trip up above a part of the exciting surprise, leading through steep and extremely winding camino.

Sierra de las Nieves welcomed us with the fresh, almost dizzying winter air. At the resort, we learned that this area is a well-known retreat for people suffering from respiratory diseases, as well as modern day symptoms of burnout. Not that I currently suffered from it, still we treated the weekend stay as a preventive measure, indulging ourselves into the nature: birdwatching and enjoying ‘0 km’ picnics (eggs, local produce) in the high mountain air.

We met less than 10 people in total, over the three-day stay, and most of them were very active elderly hikers and trail runners. One of them, a local, looking at the majestic landscape, complained that nowadays there is very few birds of prey in the area, while many years ago vultures would be soaring to the sky over the snowy peaks. Truth is, that we didn’t spot a single bird of prey but still, very colourful and exciting species such as: a golden oriole, red crossbills, black redstart, wood nuthatch and a great spotted woodpecker. All in all, there were more birds than humans wandering which made the trip worthwhile. Not to mention the quantity of sheep and goats roaming freely through the mountain ranges.

Sierra de las Nieves inspired us to continue binge watching a series ‘El Hombre y la Tierra‘, discovered earlier this month on Youtube, from the Spanish RTVE archives. The show is presented by Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, a popular author from the 60s, who lost his life in a plane crush while approaching Alaska for the filming of his new series about the North American nature. He is considered a living memory of many Spaniards, the one who hijacked the theory of evolution to the programme even during Franco dictatorship, and the Youtube documentaries were uploaded during 2020 lockdown, maybe to cheer up everyone at home. Despite the fact that >50 years passed from some of the episodes, the stunning film techniques, the suspenseful narrative (a meme to some, nowadays) and his sheer love for nature prevailed and continues to inspire. I even considered learning an opening theme, which is a challenging symphony piece.

Happy New Bird

Personal, Travel

December was a month full of highlights: despite 2021 being another year in pandemic, we made it through and made the most out of it, focusing on discovering the local gems of Andalucia and learning more about the cultural and biodiversity richness of place we live in.

This month we had a few visitors, including friends and family, which was great but equally intense, so we took a few days in between to be alone, in the brand new place for us: Jerez de la Frontera, and Trebujena marshlands. We set the direction to a picturesque road passing through Teba, Campillos, Olvera and Algodonales where we could spot lagoons perfect for flamingos as well as the mountain ranges known for the griffon vultures presence.

In 2,5 hours of slow drive through the sunny landscape of Andalucía we reached our destination. Even before, I heard great things about Jerez for being a true capital for sherry wine and lively tavernas locally called trabancos. A very first bird metaphor was used for tapas on our very first visit: as each tapa arrives with un gorrion (common sparrow), a shot of a locally distilled sherry. The city itself is best to experience through walking, and stopping by randomly at those places, or entering one of the wine bodegas today often converted into great restaurants, like La Carbona. 

Jerez is famous for its Royal School of Equestrian Arts as well as the Cathedral which was very nicely decorated a weekend before the Christmas. After spending a day in Jerez and sobering well after those tasty ‘sparrows’, we changed the scenery to join our first Andalucia Bird Society field meeting in Bonanza.

Bonanza is a part of an equally interesting sherry town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (we haven’t discovered yet), located at the mouth of Guadalquivir river entering the Atlantic Ocean, and opposite to the Doñana National Park. What strike at the very beginning are the huge ‘icebergs’ of salt, Salinas de Santa Teresa, abundant in that area and strategic material since the ancient times. Very close to it, we stopped by Laguna del Tarelo where the very first sightings were confirmed of the wintering and residing species of wading birds.

Thanks to our guide of the day, Juan Martin Bermudez we could see a daytime sleep of the Night Herons (who are foraging at night and have some interesting courtship behaviour of gifting a female with a green branch), as well as the appearance of a very rare, endangered species of the Marbled Teal (currently <55K species worldwide).

White-headed Ducks (coloured as the name mentions), Coot, Little Grebe, Grey Herons among other wading birds were seen on the water, while the Osprey and Red Kite appeared higher up the sky. We were very grateful to the fellow members for pointing us to the interesting sightings thanks to their scopes, which we hadn’t had at this point.

Passing through the vast marshlands of Trebujena, we made the next stop at the Esteros de Guadalquivir which offered us a great hide and sightings of Greater Flamingos, Black Redstart, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Redshank, variety of Plovers, Pied Avocet, White Storks, Slender-billed Gulls and Caspian Tern. Up the river, we also so large vessels heading all the way to Seville, and, at a closer sight, we managed to see a Velvet and Common Scoter, occasionally passing through Andalucia during wintertime.

This great birding experience, combined with a jolly pre-Christmas atmosphere among the ABS members made us think that Santa should really get us a scope this year to continue our fantastic field discoveries. Upon our arrival from this trip, we wrote a special letter and few days later, probably thanks to the express postal services of the local Collared Doves, we got it!

Our first local birding trip got us to Guadalhorce on a New Year’s Day to celebrate the 2022 arrival, hoping for the better to this world of humans and animalia, and gave us a delightful day of observing both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Grey Herons hunting for the moles, gregarious Stilts, and the best of all: another time a Velvet Scoter!

To top it up, one of the fellow birders pointed us to the unforgettable scene of the Osprey-gourmand eating up his fish on the outpost. Apparently this particular Osprey returns since 16 years already to Malaga for the wintering season from Germany. Learning about it, it felt very emotional to be a witness of all the birds, and more what’s happening around us all the time. What a way to start a year and wish that everyone finds their own Happy New Bird! Believe me, witnessing the nature’s beauty and collecting sightings is much more precious than any NFT collection out there.

Vulture Culture – around Estepona and Casares

Travel

This autumn we had a lot of reasons to discover our fascinating Costa del Sol region further, thanks to our friends who moved to Estepona for a few months. Willing to spend some time with them, we headed for a weekend there, combining the urban, coastal and hiking highlights, including birdwatching some of the most impressive species out there: a Griffon Vulture (Buitre Leonado in Spanish).

Estepona is a ‘garden town’ of Andalucia, influenced heavily by its coastal location nearby the Gibraltar Strait. Founded its first civilisation during the Bronze Age, nowadays it is a picturesque Andalucian town with a lot of vegetation, flower plants and art all over the place.

There is about 14 km of a coastal path meandering around various gardens. About 30 buildings in Estepona are painted with the original murals, or encrypted with of some piece of poetry on its elevations. The beauty of it soothes so much, that we felt relaxed as soon as we found a parking slot. Probably the only stressful part of staying in Estepona. You can also choose to arrive by bus, frequently passing from Malaga or Cadiz/Algeciras/La Linea.

We took a stroll around the city centre, watched the orange trees grow their first fruits of this season, and took a lot of new pictures from different angles. Estepona offers a lot of daytime attractions apart from being a very picturesque town (an Orchidarium, Selwo Aventura among others), while during the night, there is a lot of romantic restaurants offering wine tastings and tapas.

The proximity of the Gibraltar Strait creates an interesting microclimate and marks a historically important location of Estepona in between the continents and the seas. During our long walk with our friends, I was able to catch some magic moments of the sun setting down somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side of the Strait, and some interesting seagull flocks too.

The next day, we drove a very pleasurable, winding road all the way up to Casares, a picturesque ‘white town’ in the mountain range of Sierra de Bermeja. It is famous for various reasons: a birthplace of Blas Infante, a staging ‘sponge town’ in Mario Bros 64 from 1996, and for being inhabited by a large group of Griffon Vultures.

We took a circular hiking path around the town, where we admired magnificent views over Gibraltar Strait, as well as Sierra de Bermeja, heavily affected by a large wildfire this year. The damage took over 100 000 m2 and lasted for over a month until its full extinction. The saddest thing of all is that it was not a simple effect of the climate change (wildfires happen in this region quite often). It was set on purpose by some monstrous beings, who knew how difficult the extinction may be in the steep mountain range, in the weather conditions of a strong wind blowing from the West. A single drop did not fall during 10 initial days of the extinction and only thanks to a heavy fall which happened afterwards, the fire got under control. It is a very painful memory of this summer 2021, knowing that one brave firefighter lost his life, among hundreds of wild animals inhabiting the forest and thousands of the inhabitants had to be evacuated to a temporary shelter.

Fortunately, we could see how the nature recuperates, after all. The trees and the whole ecosystem, although so heavily damaged, seem to be recovering slowly. The aftermath of that fire may still affect Costa del Sol in many unpleasant ways – making the winters colder and the summers hotter, reducing the mild  microclimate known around the world.

We were fortunate also for another reason: on that day, several couples of the Griffon Vulture were hovering in the air surrounding Casares. Because of the proximity of a few motorway junctions and local roads, the local ornithologists created a special Vulture Feeding Stations where the birds can safely enjoy their prey. One of these stations is located close to Casares and this is why we could notice these powerful and very helpful animals. The town of Casares seem to like them as well, decorating various outposts (e.g. the church towers) with the vulture silhouettes.

Looking at the vultures a bit more closely, we could observe a special nuptial flight, when the male flies above the female, just before the mating. Hopefully next year there will be more of them welcoming us. This weekend trip was one of those mini breaks, when you can focus and appreciate the nature around you, and nothing else. Especially in the good company of your friends, spending their autumn in such a pleasant, special part of the world.

All the birdsongs of Doñana

Travel

I must have mentioned that autumn marks one of my favourite seasons in Andalucia. The heat in the air becomes bearable, the morning and evenings bring refreshing breeze and between September-October we can see most of the migrating bird species from the North of Europe. Some people migrate too, escaping short and dark days, carrying their caravans all the way to the Southernmost part of Spain which can be easily observed by the types of traffic on the motorway linking Spain and Portugal.

Mild(er) temperatures make it easier to hit the road, as well and enjoy the ride in the sun. Mid-October we visited Huelva Province’s gem for a weekend: the National Park of Doñana, one of the most spectacular outpost to observe wildlife species, almost undisturbed by the human presence. Until the 1950s there were more wolves than people around here which speaks for its wilderness.

October proved to be not the best season to visit this area though, especially after this year’s extremely hot and dry summer season, as the wetlands attracting thousands of migrating birds, were still dry. We mostly saw ‘wild’ horses and ‘wild’ cattle – distant cousins of the North American mustangs, brought there by the colonial forces all the way from the Huelva province, nowadays co-habiting the land with horse keepers from the peculiar town, El Rocio.

El Rocio is a spectacle of its own: build in 20th century, looks like a movie setting for the western type of films, and in all honesty, it is a bit of a Spanish Wild West. Inhabited by less than 2000 people on a daily basis, is known for its religious celebrations around the last weekend of May, as it attracts millions (!) of Holy Brotherhoods from all over Europe, to celebrate the existence of the Virgin of Rocio. It is then also a place where a lot of drinking and bravado happens all over town, contrary to what the guides from the National Park would like to see.

There are no roads nor cobble stone in El Rocio, it is all covered in sand and people mostly ride horses all over the village. Watch out for them even in the night when the Holy Brotherhoods celebrate singing chants and drinking a lot of wine! The traditional character of El Rocio makes it hard to see any culinary spots other than the most typical Spanish food, not even a pizza place. No wonder why pope JPII praised its conservative, religious character wishing that the ‘whole world be like El Rocio’. After the initial few hours in town, we were rather overwhelmed by the religious chauvinism, and escaped to visit the natural side of Doñana.

Early in the morning, we took a trip along the National Park, spotting dozens of deers, bores, spoonbills, storks and partridges. Despite the eye for the species, we weren’t able to see the Iberian Lynx, a species which lives a great success of re-introducing on the Iberian Peninsula for the last 20 years. From 12 to over 2000 of inhabitants, between Spain and Portugal! Still, they are endangered, mostly subject to being hit by cars on the local roads, which don’t respect the signs ‘Paso de Linces’ and a recommended speed of 40 kmph.

On the other hand, we were able to see roaming birds of prey, including the red kite – not so common anymore in Spain. Birdwatching continues to be the most relaxing and rewarding, mindful activity after long weeks of working with code and text. Only after two days we notice how the eye accommodates to the new stimuli!

Eventually, we spent some time at the vast, Atlantic sandy beaches, almost empty around this time of the year. The water was incredibly warm and pleasant to bathe and swim and we managed to get some last tan this year. We are definitely returning to Doñana sometime in the winter/spring, hopefully to see it more wetland species and less of the horse bravado.

As ondas da Ericeira

Travel

After a longer break from posting here, I am coming back after a few exciting but intense weeks which didn’t leave much space for reflecting by writing for pleasure. Exactly a month ago I spent a few magical days in the windy capital of the waves (ondas) in Ericeira, making it my first stay in Portugal since over two years.

How did I end up there? Long story short, this year I moved jobs and joined one of the leading no-code companies operating fully remotely, and my starting date coincided nicely with the very first onsite meeting face to face in this beautiful place on Earth. Working remotely does not mean you are disconnected, or get distant with the people you collaborate with. I could experience that first-hand, only one week after I started.

Logistically, it must have been a great effort to organise such a meeting safely and coordinate the arrival of 140+ people from 20+ countries all over the world. It all worked out to my amazement and was also a very first large social gathering I attended. Thankfully, the agenda consisted of different activities: meeting people in various contexts: joint meals and workshops and then enjoying very social activities but and also focused on self-balance and discovery, such as yoga, morning trail runs or surfing.

I joined a historic walk around the town to learn more about it. Having spent one summer not that far away from here, in Obidos, I knew the region quite well, but not Ericeira itself. Home to several world championships in surf due to very special waves conditions, it is mostly known by experienced wave lovers from all over the place. I wasn’t brave enough to give it a try yet, remembering my first attempts during that summer 2009 which resulted in knee injury.

I enjoyed the morning trail run though, encompassing the town from different angles, and passing through the historical sites. A fishing harbour is located next to the Pescadores beach, above which there is a number of picturesque houses, named after the fishermen or their trade. Next to it, there is also a tiny, magical chapel of Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem and a church of São Sebastião serving prayers to the seaman and their return, or as they name it ‘good death’.

Each year, during the local festivity dedicated to the Lady of the Good Trip (or we should say: Return), a procession from the sea is organised, bringing the Virgin on the boats from the ocean, in a specially decorated boats, followed by the walk on the streets covered by a colourful sand mosaics. I can only imaginee the harship of the sea life in the past, now looking at the powerful currents and winds in this area. Probably no one in the past would imagine that the crazy waves would attract ones thousands of adventure seekers.

During its hundeds years of the history, Ericeira became home to many travellers. For instance, traders from far away Macau would influence the architecture of the noblemen houses, bringing a little bit of Chinese culture to Portugal. Hundreds years later, Ericeira became a strategic point of further departure to the Americas for the Jewish people fleeing the horrors of the WWII, thanks to the Portuguese Consul Aristides de Souse Mendes.

The powerful sound of the waves, the harsh history or this place and the direct exposure to the ocean energy recharged me a lot while I kept getting to know so many new people from all around the world, sharing a context of the collaboration in such an unrealistically beautiful place.

Finally, we spent a day in a place I used to call home: Lisbon.I had a chance to revisit familiar and new places during the treasure hunt activity, and ending up the day at the sunset boat trip around the Tejo Bay. Some things changed, some remained the same – isn’t it a truism about all of us?

On the trail run path, I saw a poem, coming from Fernando Pessoa’s O Guardador de Rebanhos (The Keeper of Sheep), and I fell in love with these words immediately. Enjoy it, if you understand, and if you don’t, enjoy the sheer sound of the Portuguese language,.

O meu olhar é nítido como um girassol.
Tenho o costume de andar pelas estradas
Olhando para a direita e para a esquerda,
E de vez em quando olhando para trás…
E o que vejo a cada momento
É aquilo que nunca antes eu tinha visto,
E eu sei dar por isso muito bem…
Sei ter o pasmo essencial
Que tem uma criança se, ao nascer,
Reparasse que nascera deveras…
Sinto-me nascido a cada momento
Para a eterna novidade do Mundo…

Creio no Mundo como num malmequer,
Porque o vejo. Mas não penso nele
Porque pensar é não compreender…
O Mundo não se fez para pensarmos nele
(Pensar é estar doente dos olhos)
Mas para olharmos para ele e estarmos de acordo…

Eu não tenho filosofia: tenho sentidos…
Se falo na Natureza não é porque saiba o que ela é,
Mas porque a amo, e amo-a por isso,
Porque quem ama nunca sabe o que ama
Nem sabe porque ama, nem o que é amar…

Amar é a eterna inocência,
E a única inocência é não pensar…

Cabo de Gata – the sun, the moon and the sea

Travel

Craving for tranquility in August is a huge challenge and I believe this year most of the places saw the exponential surge in visitors, as the humanity craved holiday destinations. Paradoxically, the search of the tranquility for many of us cramped also typically quiet, rural spots. Since I have been changing jobs, making sure to leave one ship prepared to sail further and setting the sails for the next one’s course, planning our time off has been more of a spontaneous luck charm. The in between personal destination has been set for Cabo de Gata.

Known for arid, out-of-this-planet landscapes, hundreds of more or less accessible beaches, low-key caravan destination and warm, crystalline waters, Cabo de Gata still attracts thousands of travelers – mostly from around Spain, but occasional German, or French road trip aficionados can be spotted.

We stayed at the rural hotel with little-to-none Internet and mobile coverage, in the middle of the desert, overlooking the sleepy seaside village and the lighthouse. There was only one restaurant to go to, opening late at night within the 2 km of walking trail distance. There was nothing better than the walk at the sunset as well as the return in the moonlight. The smell of the volcanic, dry soil reminded me a lot of places like Canary Islands, Guadix or Atacama Desert.

Driving around the area is a sheer pleasure, especially in the morning light passing through the sleepy towns, and villages. It is worth mentioning that if the area was not protected as a national park, it would soon become a ‘sea of plastic’. Not for the pollution, but for the production. Named as one of the Netflix series Mar de Plastico describes hundreds of kilometers of the plantations in Granada, Almeria, and Murcia’s coastal provinces where the most of the produce eaten out by the European population is grown nowadays. As the area suffers from substantial water shortages, Spain is leading the way of making the most of it, using the tropical humidity and GMO to be the most sustainable in feeding the rest of the continent 365 days per year.

 

We stayed in the area of Los Escullos, famous for its oolic dunes, similar as I have once seen in the Northern part of Taiwan. The sunlight changing into moonlight in such a cosmic scenery adds to the magic, similarly as the distant calls of skylarks, cooing of the Iberian quails, and chirps of various cricket species.

The variety of fish, the plants consisting of the Mediterranean forest impressed us a lot. We even tried fried ortiguillas del mar – fried algae species typical for other remote places, like Flores where I managed to eat a similar treat. The most beautiful part of it was to observe the water plants floating freely serving the school of fish to hide and feed themselves, too! We also shared a dormitory with a friendly gecko who saved us from the tiger mosquitos.

I prefer not to name the beaches we visited, to keep the memories and places private and secret. Some of them still have remnants of the unfortunate yachts who caught a storm, and vast parking spots which are already crowded during the summer season. Some of them are rocky, some of them have pristine white sand. I don’t think Cabo de Gata needs more visitors, quite the opposite, to keep it sustainable. It is a very raw place for the nature lovers and not those who queue up for the Instagram / TikTok pose on the vulnerable oolic dune, or brag about shooting the hares, or quails. The respect for the environment, and its fragility shows up in a full scope in such a place – let’s make sure we preserve it, not even stepping outside of the sandy path when snorkeling with friendly species. I will probably return, but off the season, enjoying the total remoteness and disconnection, not even 3 hours drive from home.

How much is the fish? A weekend getaway to La Herradura

Personal, Travel

Those who know me well, know for a fact my sheer love for birds, and a guilty pleasure passion for the old-timer Scooter band. Quite recently though I found a brand new passion of this world: snorkeling with various school of fish! This post is dedicated to them, the recovery after a few weeks of feeling not too great and the happiness to be on the road again. As I tend to say, 2021 summer for my age group is again not a full-on vacation, it’s most importantly: the vac(cin)ation. All that in the surge of the new variants of the virus which you can still get in between the doses. Celebrating our relative immunity, we went to spend a weekend in La Herradura, about an hour drive away from Malaga, in the close vicinity of Nerja.

As snorkeling became our new passion and the most mindful way of getting back to health, we chose that rocky, rugged seascape of la Costa Tropical, which is the common denomination of the Granada province coast. The part of the national road N-340 is especially plausible for the type of admirer drivers who enjoy the winding curves alongside the sea and the mountains. The entry to La Herradura leads through a particularly narrow two-way street where it is recommendable to honk, announcing your presence. Despite the summer traffic, I find that in this part of Spain it is possible to get out of any situation or trouble without too much stress.

We stayed close to the hiking route to Cerro Gordo and Playa La Calaiza where we managed to spot several fish species on the same evening after our arrival. We also spent a nice evening in the Restaurant Dis Tinto, where apart from delicious food served from the mane oven, several and not trivial red wine all-encompassing various Spanish tiny wineries is on the offer. On the second day due to a strong wind we went on a hike around the Cerro Gordo ending up our passage on the beautiful Cantarrijan Beach.

As the strong levante wind decided to blow during the whole weekend producing over two-meter waves, the weather was probably the best to get a full-body tan given that the beach is primarily destined for the naturalists. I can’t answer the question of how much is the fish in there to Scooter’s HP Baxxter, but possibly I will need to return to do so. There is definitely much more to do around La Herradura and the town itself has a bit of a summer resort vibe. As we were exhausted after the summer of work, recovery and craving the nature, we focused on the hiking and nature mostly. This time of the year is poor season for bird watching, though among the rugged terrain, you will most certainly spot a kestrel,  scanning the landscape on a dry outpost bench or a falcon hovering in search of the game.

 

Cold Brew and other gems from the Little Silver Cup

Personal, Travel

 

 

January and July mark mid-year celebrations for me and my partner. Since years we keep on surprising each other with different locations or venues we visit to celebrate. This year’s July surprise was visiting Cadiz, or Little Silver Cup, given the city’s shape, light and location between the majestic Atlantic Ocean and Bahia de Cadiz.

When we arrived to the city, we literally felt as if we fell into the hot, humid broth to describe the temperature best, so for the rest of the day we stayed at the water side, not able to wander around too long around the historic city center. We enjoyed a peaceful walk as there were not too many fellow visitors despite the high season, so we managed to inhale the relaxed city vibe, its charming parks and its magnificent Cathedral. When breaking free, we don’t like forcing on ourselves too rigid plans or timelines – the magic happens when you accidentally discover something unusual. This entry is about the gems hidden beyond the first sight.

And so it happened. The next day, awaiting the boat to take us to the fascinating town Puerto Santa Maria, and wanting to cope with the humid weather, we ordered a refreshing Cold Brew at the Top Coffee Shop, ran by some very interesting baristas. We even bought the book by one of them, Yolanda Mariscal with a promising, Almodovaresque title Pide Un Deseo in order to practice our Spanish, and experience a good lesbian novel intrigue. Both challenges unlocked! 

When we arrived to Puerto Santa Maria, we were contrasted with a never-ending yacht marina (Cadiz Bay is a popular cross-Atlantic departure/arrival spot) and derelict port buildings. Passing around the quiet and rather rough-looking streets we discovered some of the quirkiest design stores and sherry wine cellars for the connoisseurs. Eventually, our ultimate hidden gem was a restaurant Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken, situated between the tidal swamps and train station.

A 17th century mill, operating thanks to the powerful Atlantic Ocean tides, was restored and converted into the Andalucian experimental restaurant and a completely out of space experience. Before entering the venue and tasting the main menu, one has to go through the rite of passage, welcomed by the glass of fino and hostia made of sea urchins and sea honey, plankton tortilla and sun-dried octopus nigiri.

I would like to keep the rest of the experience a secret to be discovered only by the curious. Enough mentioning that what you see is not often what you eat. In a Petri dish there may be a dessert. A tardigrade-resembling creature may be a razor clam. While we ate, the tide changed from ebbs to flows, and the migratory birds of the Gibraltar Strait were enjoying their crustacean menu as well. Quoting my partner, there is nothing more (to say): Non Plus Ultra.