Monday, June 01, 2015
We have plenty of hills of our own in Alicante. Looking North from our front garden we have the Sierra de Salinas (1238m/4061ft) and the Sierra de Xirivell (810m/2657ft) is to the South. Indeed the garden itself is at about 605m/1984ft but over the border, into Murcia, the Sierra del Carche is higher still at 1372 metres or 4,500 feet. Maggie has tried to get us to the top a couple of times before but today we finally made it. To the very top, to the geodesic point. Admittedly we didn't walk, we went in a little four by four, but we got to the top.
It was pretty crowded and very cosmopolitan at the top of el Carche. There was a Swiss man with Argentinian, Mexican and Belgian clients for his parascending "course." Down the road a chap, probably Ukranian, was assembling his hang glider before hurling himself into the void. There were two Spanish cyclists and I think the chap on the scrambling bike was Spanish too. Then there were four Britons.
On the way up we stopped off at a Pozo de Nieve, a snow cave built in the XVIIth Century. Before the advent of fridges and ice making machines people built these big holes in the ground, lined them with stone walls, well over a metre thick, and used them to store ice. The one we saw today apparently goes down twelve metres though, as the conical roof has now caved in, it's a little shallower than it was. It sounds as though ice was big business at the end of the XVIIIth Century. For instance, Valencia, the city, used two million kilos of the stuff each year. The ice was used mainly for medical procedures, principally to bring down fevers. Ice was even exported from the port of Alicante to Ibiza and the North of Africa.
The caves worked like this. In Spring, when it was reckoned no more snow would fall on the high mountains, men would climb to the high slopes, dig up the snow and take it to one of the pozos where it was compacted to form ice. It must have been cold, hard work without modern tools or fabrics and wearing esparto sandals! When the well was full they would cover the ice with earth, vegetation and timber. In summer the men would return to the ice wells, cut the ice into blocks and transport it, by night, on the backs of mules and donkeys, to the nearest large town where it was sold. I heard something on the radio about sthe research done on this commercialisation of ice and snow caves. The researchers explained how, in some places, there were chains of snow caves which allowed the hauliers to work in relays and so move the ice more quickly down to lower ground.