Moving sand, ebbs and flows

Personal, Travel

Last month I visited Poland for an extended period of time and a series of family reunions, wedding celebration of my friends, and spending quality time after all. The timing was sensible too, as a lot of important matters happened in my family during this period. Even more so, I was so happy to stay with them for a few days in the magical place: Słowiński National Park on the Baltic Sea coast.

In June, it was still a fairly reclusive place and I managed to walk more than 30 kms on the fantastic trails next to the dunes, sea and divine forests. Słowiński National Park is a vast coastal area including the surrounding lakes Łebsko, Gardno and Dołgie, which were created from the bay areas by the ‘moving dunes’ formed by the currents, winds and erosion. There is nothingness and so many things to see at the same time. Like a perfect meditation.

Walking towards a 16 km beach trail to Rowy, you can spot remnants of the forest inundated by the moving sands and there is evidence of having at least one village, Boleniec, covered entirely by the migration of sandy dunes. I managed to explore also the forest trail towards the lighthouse of Czołpino. It offers fabulous panoramic views towards the Rowokół mountain (known for Pagan rituals), the sea and all of the surrounding lakes and forests.

Słowiński National Park means a lot to me: it is a place where my father used to take me as a child and there was literally no one in the area, as it was a remote, post-military terrain with a lot of protected areas. I saw the beauty of nature, my first bird sightings and the Baltic coast covered in the snowy and icy layer, too. It was a magical place for all my family where I spent a good portion of my summer holidays and always felt the mystery of the abandoned villages, fantasising about the life under the sand.

This made me think about the nature of life and death, and the passage of the sand, as in the time capsule. Nowadays one can wander around the swampy Łebsko lake and discover the restored village of Kluki where all the roads end and the lake water ebbs and flows to the historically preserved housings. There is nothing left from the time where the native inhabitants, Słowińcy, used to live there – only a heritage museum. Now, it’s been over 11 years that my father passed away and I didn’t dare to revisit the place which connects me so much with his memories. I felt very connected and complete going there once again, reconnecting after the grieving period.

I also managed to visit Słupsk, a town where my parents met and we had a lot of friends, so I naturally spent time with them during my childhood. Now most of them are gone, too, but the town is flourishing with culture, lively city centre and I did not feel sad for most of the stay. Naturally, it was always a beautiful town but riddled with problems.

I was really impressed how green, cheerful and beautiful restoration it underwent from the time that I remember the town as post-industrial, unemployment-ridden town not living to its full potential and fantastic location close to the sea, national park and lake district where eagles, owls and wading birds nest during the summer. I do believe the recent

I only spent four days in the area, and still realized how many memories rest within my brain for this special place. The memory of the smells of the pine forests, the feeling of the sand under my feet and blowing to my face, and the music of the sea wind, choppy waves brought up the best, childhood happiness time to me, what I needed now.

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!

Costa de la Luz – tribute to the sun

Travel

Last week the summer officially started, bringing long, intense days, scorching sun, smell of the sea and the appetite to discover new places around. As soon as the travel between the provinces had been allowed, I set myself to my revisit my beloved Ocean, the part of Andalucia called Costa de la Luz. After last year’s visit to Tarifa, I always wanted to return there as much as I could. 

Leaving at the sunrise, the roads were still pretty empty and it was such a pleasure driving slowly around the steep mountains nearby Marbella, changing naturally into the landscape of vast fields, Atlantic forest and dunes as soon as you leave towards the Cadiz province. From time to time I could see the birds of prey or even vultures hovering in the sky just above the car.

Passing by the white towns of Vejer and Barca, I chose my first destination: Conil de la Frontera. At the end of May there was still only a handful of people visiting and it allowed me to enjoy the vast Ocean beaches almost alone, something hard to imagine during the high season. I took my Mom with me as she loves this type of places and it was a great reunion for us to spend a few days together in such a scenery. Conil is one of the most picturesque ‘white towns’, founded by the Phoenicians, famous for the Spanish Reconquista and for its almadraba fishing method. 

The appreciation for the local cuisine led me to check the menu of various taverns, who compete for the most creative tuna dishes. My absolute favourite in Conil would go to Taberna Chanca, full of creative yet simple tapas. I rarely repeat places when travelling, but I enjoyed it so much, I returned there after 2 weeks, this time with my partner. I only hope that the traditional method has the appreciation for this magnificent species. Even the local Virgen del Carmen is blessing the fishermen and the tuna itself.

From the natural paradise lens, another place that completely blew my mind was the endless lagoon on Playa de Castilobo with an ancient Moorish tower, currently inhabited by Hermit Ibises, re-introduced by the group of local ornithologists. Its colonies once existed all over Europe, North Africa and Middle East, and currently it is considered one of the most endangered species on our planet. There, you can hear and watch a few couples, producing synthetic, squeaky sounds and breeding happily – it is a treat for bird watcher’s eye. 

On the way between Conil, Palmar and Barbate there is also a lot of hiking trails around the Natural Park of Brena and Marismas, leading through steep ocean cliffs and forests. I met no one there, except from a few rabbits and a hoopoe! If the visibility is good, it is quite easy to observe the other side of the Gibraltar Strait, and Atlas Mountains in Morocco. 

During my second trip, I stayed at the laid-back town of Zahara de los Atunes, where again I spent a lot of active time on the beach, hiking and enjoying the local 0 km cuisine. A special mention goes to the Taberna del Campero for a lovely treat, heart-warming patio where not only humans, but also doves have their special place. The waiters were quite mindful of the pair of doves, nesting on the patio, disregarding the comment of some customers about the presence of the birds. They simply said “Yes, there are doves here. They live here with us. And they have little chicks now, that’s why we put them a special nesting cardboard to help them out”. 

The importance of being respectful, not only to the local towns visiting, but also the animals living there, like the mentioned tuna, gekkoes, spoonbills, storks and herons one can notice when spending time next to the lagoons and beaches. The South of Spain has an incredible offer for the nature lovers and slow travellers – we cannot destroy it with the new wave of massification of the tourism. And here comes my tribute to the sun, sand and sea.