There is a special place about 30km from Màlaga. From Estaciòn de Càrtama, a little town at the foot of the hills overlooking the valley of the Guadalhorce, you cross the high speed railway and then wind your way up the hills for 8km until you get to a little chapel where the tarmacked road stops and you find yourself looking over the crest of the hill into the next valley. In one direction the land rolls out down to Malaga and the sea, in the other three directions, there are hills and valleys as far as the eye can see. There is a sense of space up here that makes you feel on top of the world, and the silence around you is only broken by the visits of larks and hoopoes in the day and the occasional owl at night.
The first time we come here is when we are visiting Jane on the day before my flight to Germany, about a month ago. Jane used to be my daughter Yolanda’s class teacher many years ago. She left her job at the Steiner school to come and live up in these hills, lovingly restoring an old ruin into a beautiful set of houses available for B&B.
Much hard work must have gone into Las Nuevas to make it what it is – several beautifully arranged, self-contained B&B houses, set in a rambling garden leading down to an infinity swimming pool. There are almond trees, avocado trees, lemon and grapefruit, and Jane has a vegetable garden too. The house is west facing, so every night, you can watch stunning sunsets from the terraces. This area has 300 days of sunshine per year!
Jane is a lovely host, and it is really nice to catch up with her and tell her about both my daughters’ work and study plans. We share a meal together, and then Frank and I walk back to Emma to have an early night, as we have to get up before dawn for me to catch my flight the next day.
The second time we head for the Ermita, we are not so lucky – we’ve been Marooned in the garage for a while and as it turns out we’re only on a very short outing, as when we get to Estaciòn de Càrtama, we discover that we need to return to the garage for more repairs (for the full story of this, read the previous chapter)
Anyway, clutch properly repaired, leaking radiator hose replaced, we go up the hill again… Just before we arrive at the Ermita, the clutch pedal is exhibiting the same sticking problem as we had before we went in to have the clutch replaced!!! We get up to the car park and I just go to bed, despite the fact that it is only 6pm – I just can’t think of the implications of this new breakdown, having just spent the best part of 1000 Euros, only to be faced with the original problem! The next day, we go for a walk, taking in the beauty of our surroundings, knowing that we will have to go back to the garage for a third time!
We meet a few of our nearest neighbours. All of them British… There is Steve, a pensioner who lives just beneath the top of the hill with 25 strays, who tells us that people just come up here and drop their unwanted dogs. Maybe that accounts for some of the dogs, but to our eyes, it looks like some in-breeding might have swelled the numbers too. Steve is very friendly and offers to have a look at our clutch problem, but we have already rung the garage who kindly agreed to send someone up to diagnose the problem and escort us back down the hill. We don’t know what we would have done in the last month if we hadn’t had the support of this very friendly and competent garage!
On the other side of the Ermita lives a couple with 8 horses. I’ve been communicating with the horses a few times across the distance, but we really want to see them close up, so we take a jar of Frank’s marmalade and go and introduce ourselves to the couple and their beautiful herd of horses. It turns out they are not really ridden much. Strange, to think of keeping eight horses, just to have them standing around. They probably have to go to work to earn the money just to feed their animals….
On our way back from another visit to Jane’s house, she sends us along what she calls the ‘pretty-cut’ (as opposed to ‘short-cut’). This is a beautiful, partly shaded walk from Jane’s Finca back to the Ermita. Short-toed Eagles are circling overhead, and we come across a very green lizard – or is it a gecko? We pass a few beautiful houses and also a very well tended garden in the middle of nowhere. The mind boggles as to how people get to these places to do the work that obviously has gone into them.
When we get back to Emma, we feel quite hot, so we hang a hammock between the trees nearby and chill out, watching the land fall away beneath us and the sky slowly turn every shade of colour from yellow to deepest pink as the sun sets.
Our third visit up to the Ermita is under a better star. The clutch problem has now been completely solved, thank god, and we have not only a new clutch but also the hydraulics for the pedal have been cleaned and old parts have been replaced. Emma is moving smoothly up the hill and we are very happy to be here a third time, finally without worries about her engine!
Soon after our arrival, a British couple stop on their way past. They live in three caravans on a little patch near Steve (the one with the dogs). They say that friends of theirs who are friends of Jane’s told them about us. So the word is out that we are up here! They invite us for lunch the next day, but then they mention coffee and tea, so we are not sure if it was a lunch invite or just drinks. So, just in case, we have a little salad and soup before going down there – but then it turns out they are offering us a veritable feast! Well, we have our second lunch, some great conversation in a lovely place and stagger back for a very long digestive siesta!
One day, we accompany Jane on a trip to Àlora, a beautiful and vibrant Pueblo Blanco 10km east of the Ermita. While Jane is doing her errands, we have a little time to stroll through the town, before returning home another way.
We stop by the ‘Country Store’, which, as its name suggests, stocks everything from Heinz Baked Beans to local artisan ware, like rush-woven waistcoats and baskets, traditional to the area. We stock up with local honey, pollen, and garlic, and Frank gets given a bag of Seville oranges, so there will be more Marmalade production in the near future 😉
Then Jane says we are going to drive up the riverbed to visit Luke and Gemma on our way back home! And indeed, she has not exaggerated – we are driving up a riverbed!!!
The Arroyo de Ancon is a legitimate road for many people as it turns out – it’s quite a busy valley with many houses. The river is dry now, but there are days when the rain comes down hard and the road is under water and everyone is cut off. In wintertime, people who live here stock up with food.
You really have to know your way – it’s a rough road and there are many turn-offs and no signs at all. Somewhere, we turn off into a smaller riverbed, the Arroyo de las Piedras del Torre, rumbling over rocks until we get to a sharp bend where we stop to visit Luke and Gemma. We have a look at their place, a little hidden paradise with three mobile homes and a beautifully terraced and tiled open space in between. Luke is actually Ian’s cousin, the ones who invited us for a feast the other day, and while we are there, they turn up too.
We set off again with Jane driving up the Arroyo – a real test on driving skills, up steep gravelly slopes, round sharp bends that can only be mastered with a three-point turn, but Jane stays cool, drives skilfully and delivers us safely back home to Emma. What an experience! Paris-Dakar, here we come!
On our last night, we invite Jane to a BBQ at ours. Frank has made one of his famous Ratatouilles, and we grill some excellent fresh mackerel. We have a great time, sitting outside by the fire-wok, eating, watching the sunset and telling stories from our lives. As it gets colder, we move the embers into the stove inside and sit around the roaring open fire on our newly made box-benches.
The stars are out in full splendour when we bid a fond farewell to Jane.
For a few more photos, go to our flikr album
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