Wednesday, July 20, 2016
And I forgot to buy cheese
Castilla la Mancha is Don Quixote, El Quijote, country. A lot of it is a gently undulating plain covered with wheat, maize, sunflowers, vines and olive trees. There are other crops but as I couldn't identify them we'll pretend they don't exist. It's not that far from home, around 350kms. Most of the way I drove along long, arrow straight ribbons of almost empty tar surrounded by yellows, greens and earth redder than Tara. I drove with the windows open and a rebellious strand of hair whipping my face. I like aircon in cars less than I like shorts. I gurgled with delight at the openness of it all and the shimmering heat. I really like the flatlands of Castilla and it's dead easy to imagine Pancho, Rocinate and the Don trotting across the landscape heading for the next village. In Alicante and Murcia we have scattered houses all across the landscape, somebody told me it's because of the Moorish irrigation system, but in much of rural Spain people live in villages rather than in isolated houses. So La Mancha is generally empty land peppered with villages.
I thought this little snatch of poetry from Caminera by Enrique de Mesa sums it up nicely. Apologies for the translation.
Sol de mediodía. Castilla se abrasa.
Tierra monda y llana: ni agua, ni verdor,
ni sombra de chopo, ni amparo de casa.
El camino, blanco. Ciega el resplandor.
Noonday sun. Castilla bakes
Pared and flat, no water no green,
neither shade of poplars nor the protection of home.
The track, white. The brightness blinds.
On the day I set out the news was full of stories of an ola de calor, a heat wave, and one of the places predicted to be as hot as hell was Ciudad Real. In the end it wasn't that bad, it only got to 39ºC, but it was warm enough. The Tom Tom and Google maps were both confused as to the location of my hotel. The reason, it turned out, was that it was in the dead centre of the city in a pedestrianised zone. I asked a policeman for help and I followed his car up restricted entry roads. He left me on the paved area outside the hotel and the only way out was between a newsagent's kiosk and a flower stall and across a couple of pavements. Ciudad Real wasn't exactly boring, nice enough city, but not a lot to look at. In fact, for something to do, and to sit in the cool, I went to the pictures, Infierno Azúl, the one with Blake Lively and a shark - it was watchable enough.
On the way home I went to Aldea del Rey, Almagro, Villanueva de los Infantes and the wetlands near Daimiel. Almagro is famous for a theatre season, for a colonnaded main square and for a "Shakespearean" type theatre but all the villages I went to had big red stone churches, the grand houses of rich families, rows of white houses with balconies and fancy ironwork and shops with impossibly old fashioned window displays. It wasn't that sunny but it was plenty warm and I wandered around taking snaps and drinking copious amounts of non alcoholic beer and a sort of hand made lemon slush puppy called granizado. The bars were, like Andalucía, very generous with the tapas.
Daimiel, as well as being a village is the name for one of Spain's fifteen National parks. It's a wetland fed by the Guadiana River and a place with lots and lots of wildlife, particularly birds. I got there at around three in the afternoon and I fully expected that it would be locked firm shut but, although the information office and the shop were closed, there was nothing to stop me wandering around to my heart's content. Nice place I thought.
And that was it, a bit of a jaunt, something to break the routine for a couple of days.
Just a note, it's a long time since I drove along it but I think it's the A9 in Scotland, possibly the bit in the Cairngorms looking at a map, that is just lovely to drive. Good surface, swooping bends with the occasional stag to be spotted alongside. The N322 from Villanueva de la Fuente to San Pedro doesn't have as many stags but that's a hoot of a road too.