Zagan the motorhome’s been well fettled this week, and has settled in alongside the villa we’re house sitting near the 3000 inhabitant town of Valle de Abdalajís in Andalucía, Spain. Ju’s cleaned out half a ton of Saharan sand, which even coated the contents of the under-seat cupboards, having found its way in through air vents. I’ve taken the carpets out and scrubbed ’em, drying them out under the hot sun we’ve had the past few days. I’ve applied a fourth dose of sealing compound to some small leaks we have at the end of the exhaust, and we’ve a few other minor repairs to make. Other than that, I need to clean the under-van lockers from sand, dust and bits of tree, and then Zagan will be spanking gorgeous.
It’s Holy Week here in Spain, Semana Santa. From high up in the villa, looking down over the terrace to the surrounding olive tree-studded and smooth green wheat fields, the steel-grey rock of the sierra behind the town rises up above us all. We’ve been in the villa a week or so now, and each day the drums have beaten out from the valley, practising in the day before hammering their way around the town at night. Until last night, Maunday Thursday, we’ve stood up here peering down, unable to see anything happening in the twisting, narrow streets below.
Spain’s been Roman Catholic since, erm, the Romans were here. The 3000-person strong town has a small ethnographic museum with flint arrow heads and tools from the stone age, a stone carved in the Roman era and scenes of donkeys and old tools which look quaint, but which would still be in active use over in Morocco. There wasn’t much in there from the Moorish period, the 700-odd year rule of the Muslims when much of Spain and Portugal were Al-Andalus, but from the sounds of things the village was pretty small in that time. It’s since grown outwards, spreading whitewashed, terracotta-tiled roofs in the lee of the sierra which shades it from the evening sun.
The Semana Santa processions have been going on, effectively, for ever. Last night we were lucky, the villa owner’s daughter and her Spanish boyfriend took us around the town for a tapas-beer/procession viewing sandwich. That’s my kind of culture folks! Being sped around the town’s tiny streets in a 46 year old Seat, heading from unpretentious tapas bar to tapas bar, supping cold Cruzcampo and tucking into the tiny, delicious, beer-soaking meals as we went. It seems a stroke of genius to me, to eat steadily while you sup a few drinks, and the quality of the meat, veg and seafood dishes surely beat the choice of crisps, scampi fries and pork scratchings in the pubs back home!
Knowing we fancied a look at the procession taking place in the town, the Seat flew about the town, with me sweating in the back, thinking of times we’ve got our motorhomes stuck in such intestinal streets across medieval Europe, **shudder**! Finding a tiny parking spot, which didn’t really exist, the four of us stood on a bend just as the procession lumbered into sight. The enormous paso, the float carrying a life-sized Jesus struggling with his crucifixion cross, was carried by a small army of local men in purple shirts and medallions, an agrupaciones. These guys are part of a local brotherhood, which could be 800 years old around these parts, and still going strong despite what we were told about how the local youth view religion.
As we watched the white-gloved agrupaciones, a bell ring signalled the lowering of the float to the ground. On a street-facing balcony a series of men stood and, hmmm, quietly wailed over the scene below. A hundred people, men, women and children, stood in silence watching, breathing in the incense being wafted around. I’m an atheist, so the religious significance of these events doesn’t apply to me, but the power, history and grace of the thing isn’t lost on me, it was moving to witness, an honour. Once the remorseful wailing was over (with a few eyes being lifted skywards at times in the watching crowd), the bell rang and the float was heaved back onto shoulder. Rocking from side to side like a sleeping baby, Jesus was hauled off up the road, followed by a band. And we hauled ourselves off to the next tapas bar.
Ha! Ju’s just flicking through the Spanish TV channels and found a Spanish-dubbed version of Crocodile Dundee, so we’ve entertained ourselves watching Mick Dundee sounding distinctly un-Australian! The weather was on too, showing a Spain mainly covered in sunshines and fluffy clouds. Temperatures in nearby Malaga and Cordoba were knocking on 30 degrees, but it’s pretty cool here today, no dip in the pool today for us. The TV’s now showing the Good Friday procession in Seville, the streets packed with people as more huge paso are carried about, one of which has a life-sized statue of a horse. The agrupaciones on the screen are sporting costumes we associate with the racists, the Ku Klux Klan, but the Spanish Catholics had the pointy, face-covering hoods first, beating the idiot white supremacists by many centuries. We chatted about the fantastic stone elephants, shouldering the old Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen, which were rendered a kind of embarrassment once the Nazi’s adopted the swastika carved into their sides, which we’d also seen embedded in the mosaic floors of Roman villas.
Anyway. What’s happening? Not much, if I’m honest with you. We’re a week into what’s likely to be a six week house sit (through trustedhousesitters.com), and are relaxing into it. At first it felt very odd being here. Not just the fact we were in a luxury villa, but the fact we were paying nothing to be here. It seemed someone would knock at the door (or rattle the locked gates) and demand to know what we were doing here. That’s not happened, of course, and a new daily rhythm has formed in Team Zagan. Our usual rituals have taken a back seat. With no map prodding and guide book fingering, driving and parking, filling and emptying Zagan’s various liquids, we’ve found new things to take our time. Dog fussing, feeding and walking. Pool cleaning. Plant watering. Writing. Listening to Radio 2. Reading books, supping beers and cooking. Ju’s got a couple of runs in, and we’ve ambled down the hill into town a couple of times to look around and get supplies up in the well-stocked Dia supermarket.
The villa owners have even offered us the loan of a car for a few days (insurance in Spain applies to the vehicle, not the driver) but we turned them down. Why, I hear you ask? I guess after so many months driving the length of Europe, from the UK to Croatia to the northern tip of Norway and down to the Sahara, we’ve had enough of driving for the moment. We’re happy wandering about on foot or even just staying in the villa. The view’s incredible. How long it will stay so, we don’t know. Our budget’s taking a reverse hammering too, as we’re only shelling out for supplies and the odd tapas nosh-up. Ju spotted another three month house sit also near Malaga, this one with no pets even, which would only cost the gas and electricity we used. From a purely monetary perspective, it seems realistic anyone willing could live for a few thousand quid a year in elegant luxury, which is just plain weird.
OK, signing off, happy Easter folks! Jay