Regional Rivalry

The Franciscan Monastery in Morella also has an exhibition called “The most Beautiful Villages in Spain”, starting with a large map of Spain with the locations highlighted and then one big display for each of the 36 chosen villages. It was very nicely done and quite useful for the traveller planning their trajectory. However, most striking was the total absence of beautiful villages in Catalunia as well as the Basque Country, according to the map! They just stopped short of redrawing the boundaries of Spain…

Sometimes, silences speak louder than words. Seeing both these exhibitions in one room makes me realise just how little I know about Spain. There is a hard side to Spain that doesn’t reveal itself easily to the passing tourist but it nevertheless subtly permeates everything you see and it creates the cultural base for today’s society. I don’t know why, but somehow I feel a connection between that history and some of the things we have seen along the way: on a large scale there are huge destructive projects such as the ‘Sea of Plastic” or other ones that were started and then abandoned half way through, such as many half- built hotel complexes or housing estates or major road works we have seen along the way – many bridges lead from nowhere into nowhere, standing solitary in the middle of a wild landscape. Frank calls it ‘planner’s blight’. We’ve also seen airplanes ‘ploughing the sky’ above the areas where the climate probably has already been changed due to all the greenhouses. It looks very much like chemtrailing – another large-scale project with no regard for individual health and welfare.



On a smaller, but no less potent scale, the way dogs and other animals are treated here seem to speak about one aspect of the Spanish character. Some weeks ago, we saw a horse lying in a field, watched over by another horse. The lying horse was dying, but the other horses on the field looked not far off dying either – you could count their ribs and there was very little food and no water for them in this hot and arid climate. We went to a nearby hotel to alert someone of the dying horse. The woman in the reception said she knew the owner – it was one of her neighbours. It’s not the first time that a horse dies on the field there. She would not ring the owner for fear of being bullied by him, neither would she let us use the phone to ring him or the police, for fear of the number being traced. She was near tears saying this. A passing delivery-man promised to ring the local police on his mobile.

We wonder what the legal situation is regarding animal rights in Spain.




We move on towards Catalunia along a national route that runs at the top of a long ridge, with stunning views into wide plains, framed by impressive rock formations. We are heading for Siurana, a place that was recommended to us by Christoph, the climber. Since his other recommendations were so superb, we don’t want to miss out on this one…

Once we leave the national road, we’re on tiny and very windy ones, single track up into the hills. Almost instantly, the climate and Fauna changes, the temperature drops significantly and it actually starts to rain properly.

As the light fades, fog rises. It is dark by the time we arrive in the car park above Siurana and we are wrapped in in a dense blanket of fog. The cold gives us a welcome chance to light our stove for the first time in two months! It’s so nice to be in a toasty warm van hearing the patter of rain on the roof! Incredible that only four or five days ago, temperatures were over 44 degrees! We lie in bed speculating about what this place will look like in the morning once the fog lifts.

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Traveling in space and time….

For those who are interested in our travelling route, my recent entries have been a bit higgledy-piggledy. Our actual route was Valencia – Chulilla – Montanejos, and then we came to a town called Morella, visible from far away, looking very impressive as you approach it.


There is a big castle high up, and the town, like so many others in this region, is draped below the castle like a skirt.

Compared to other towns in the area, Morella looks wealthier, with big old houses lovingly restored. We spend an hour walking around the castle grounds and admiring the panoramic view from its lofty walls. The adjoining church building has an informative photographic exhibition about the concentration camp Mauthausen. We ask about the connection of this exhibition to the town and learn that Spanish antifascists from this region were deported to Mauthausen. It’s not easy to understand the Spanish subtitles by the pictures, so I am not sure whether Franco was involved in the deportation of his own people, or whether they joined the French antifascists to fight Hitler’s regime and thus fell into the hands of the German army. I resolve to research this, especially about the ‘Commando Poschacher’, which keeps being mentioned. The exhibition was created with photographic evidence drawn from three sources: the inmates themselves who managed to keep or smuggle some photos out of the camp, the SS who took photos of the camp, mostly showing it in a better light than was the reality, and finally the American liberators.

Next time on the internet, I come across two things: one is that there still is a large quarry firm in Mauthausen with the name of Poschacher, with no mention of its connection to the concentration camp. Presumably the inmates of Mauthausen were used as forced labour for this company. But there is no easily accessible information on the internet that corroborates this. The only other thing I come across when searching for ‘Commando Poschacher’ are internet sites that claim the Holocaust was a hoax!


This is a picture from the exhibition. Recently liberated inmates, still in their prison uniform, help to gather evidence of the atrocities, the day after liberation.

Mauthausen is in Austria. I am reminded of an experience I had when I was on my gap year, travelling through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, busking to make a living, singing yiddish songs. It was in Austria that I had a potentially dangerous experience, when I sang in a large town (can’t remember which one, it might have been Salzburg), and a man pushing a bicycle came towards me, shouting at me at the top of his lungs: “You jewish Pig, didn’t you get the message the last time, we don’t want you here, you can p*** off and take your dirty music with you!”

I remember not knowing what would happen next, feeling slightly frightened that he would become physical but he just carried on past me, pushing his bike and swearing, so I carried on playing, not stopping and neither contradicting his belief that I was Jewish. What really shocked me was that this happened in broad daylight and NO-ONE said anything to him, or even to me afterwards. People just watched and condoned by their passive watching, some even nodding their heads in agreement. I’m not Jewish, I’m German and as a generation that followed the Holocaust, I acutely feel the pain from what my people did to the Jewish people. Being shouted at like this in broad daylight with no-one reacting was very insightful, allowing me to experience what it must feel like to be threatened for your race, colour or creed.

We left Austria that night, and I have never felt drawn to go back there.

I cannot believe that people would want to deny the horrors that have happened, but it’s obvious when looking on the internet that denial is in full swing.

For photos of this chapter, including some from the exhibition, go to Flikr

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There are a few drops of rain on the windscreen as we drive through the darkening landscape but it doesn’t amount to anything that could be called rain. When we arrive in Chulilla around 11pm, the air is still really hot. The next day starts about as hot as others have been at mid-day. Neither of us have ever experienced this kind of heat. There is a really hot wind that makes everything inside our van hot to the touch. The metal sink feels like it’s had the sun shining on it even though it’s been in the shade. Touching the glass of the oven door feels so hot that I check whether we inadvertently left the gas on! One local woman says it’s reached 44 degrees in the shade! It really is like living in a sauna. Lucky for us that we don’t have to work (we see others who carry on with their hard physical work despite the heat!), so we can park up in a quiet spot by the river and alternate lying in the shade and reading with submerging ourselves in the fast-flowing, freezing cold water.

The next day, temperatures have come back down to a pleasant 25-30 degrees, and we go on a walk in the beautiful gorge below Chulilla, walking along the river until the little lake called Charco Azul. The water is very cold and clear. We take a refreshing swim and head back.


For more photos, go to Flikr

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Finding a place to stay in or near big cities is always difficult, and sometimes we end up going to an official camping place, mainly to ensure the safety of Emma. When we come to Valencia, we find Valencia Camperpark, which has everything you hope to get from a place like this – internet, washing machine, nice hot showers and a quiet place to stay. In addition to that, they have a pristine outdoor swimming pool, which is a blessing, as temperatures are around 35 degrees now!

P1070576   P1070573

The crew is incredibly friendly and everyone is very happy to work there. The campsite is conveniently reached from the motorway and access to the city is easy via the metro. We end up staying three nights instead of one. Eugenio, the owner of the campsite, passionately loves Valencia and tells us so many things to see and do there, that we could easily have stayed a month. It is indeed a beautiful city, which we explore on our bikes for two days, and we sample the local cuisine too in a restaurant, called Di Fredo, recommended by Eugenio. Frank lies on the floor of the main post office to take a picture of its domed ceiling and nearly gets clobbered by the security guard, and on one of the main squares, we see an amazing mosaic made of seeds and blossoms. The old city centre is large enough to get thoroughly lost in all these little streets with cafés and cobble stones. But we feel drawn to smaller places up in the hills, so once we have done all our washing and had a good stint on the internet, one evening we say good bye to Eugenio, Rocio, Iris and Kike and set off towards Chulilla.

For more photos, go to flikr

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There is a striking difference between a valley that has water and one where the river has dried up. It is not always clear what happened first, whether there was no water and thus the plants perished, or the water left because the plants perished – maybe through a fire. One day, we drive through a devastated area where a fire has killed most of the trees and bushes for many miles. Only the skeletons of the trees remain, reaching into the burning sun, while the earth beneath crumbles to dust and the riverbeds look like they haven’t had water for years. Each plant is dry and fighting for survival in the hot wind. Farmers have chopped down the dead trees and piled them up along the road… We come through abandoned villages…


The valley without trees and water, after a devastating forest fire…

Once everything has burnt and dried up like this, I imagine it would take a lot of time and effort to replant and reforest the valley, to bring back the water (if that is ever possible) and re-inhabit the village. This makes me appreciate just how dependent we are on the presence of water and trees, and how fragile it all is.

Not far from there, we visit the prosperous town of Montanejos, situated in a lush valley, covered in trees and with several rivers running through it. One of the rivers is fed by thermal springs, reaching a comfortable 25 degrees – a magnet for Spanish holidaymakers who spend the day picnicking in the shade and hanging their feet in the water, while the children play in the shallows. The water is crystal clear.

Swimming has been a constant joy on our journey, and every time I go swimming I think of two people in my life: My mother, who was an avid swimmer, especially outdoors and textile free (being German!); and a close friend of mine who only recently learnt to swim as part of a plan to learn various things that she thought she could never do. Depending on the water, one or the other comes to my mind – if the water is a freezing knee-deep torrent where you dip yourself in, gasping and hanging onto stones so as not to be flushed away, I take my mother with me. She would have done this too. If however the water falls gently into a Jacuzzi-like pool, I have my friend with me and we sit and chat as we frequently do in the Golf and Country Club’s Sauna and Jacuzzi in Devon.


Frank relaxing in a natural Jacuzzi

This morning, I went swimming in a beautiful Gorge, with my mother and my friend :-).

The water was 25 degrees, and there was a 200m stretch deep enough to have a proper swim. Just us and the birds were there to enjoy the calm and clear water. Later in the day, Frank and I discover a lovely place where we spend a couple of hours sitting in the dappled shade reading books, interspersed with  cooling down in the lovely pools of water.

Photos of the ‘Jaccuzzi’ in Montanejos on Flikr

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Alex and Africa in Alcoy

(Israel, si estás leyendo esto, por favor envíenos un correo electrónico !!! Nos gustaría estar en contacto contigo!)

The Paper Chase leads us to Alcoy, a big town (or little city) in a lush valley. We find a great parking place next to Parque Romeral, just below an enchanted looking dilapidated house. Frank goes off to find the cigarette papers and I use the time and quiet to write and to practice the bandoneon. It is great to have got back to a regular rhythm of practicing about 2 hours per day.

About lunchtime a young man, Ernesto, knocks on our door. It is unusual for people to contact us – generally we are the ones that open a conversation. Having been alerted by his friend Israel about us parking up by Parque Romeral, he has come to see our van. It is his dream to one day have a van like this and go travelling, once he has finished his studies in design.

We get chatting to them both, and one thing leading to another, we arrange to meet in the evening to be taken to a Fiesta in town.

When they come to pick us up we are quite a group; Israel has brought his 5 year old nephew Alex with him, and Ernesto’s girlfriend Minerva is there too. Along the way we stop off a few more times to chat with people we meet, and one of them joins us for the fiesta.

We flow along with the pace of these people, unhurriedly strolling through town and taking in the sights. The central square has many tables out where young and old people alike are drinking and chatting. We join that crowd for a while before going up the hill to a place to eat but find it is closed, so back down to somewhere else that has benches out in the middle of the street. We leisurely share a dozen Tapas and Frank and I strain our ears to keep up with the conversation (there is a dialect here, Valenciano, which apparently is similar to Catalan, which in turn has many elements of French in it). Eventually we arrive at the Fiesta well after they have started, it’s almost midnight. Little Alex, who’s been running around us all evening like an excited puppy, is finally flagging and falling asleep in my arms. We walk down to the river and then take a taxi back home.

The next day, they knock on the van at 10 am to take us on a walk. Alex greets us with a big bear hug – it feels like we have known each other for many years. We wait for Ernesto who turns up with his pet white rat (!) and then we set off down towards the river. For 6km we follow a beautiful winding path through the woods along the river, accompanied by the sound of nightingales. Along the way, Alex is hunting for flowers (we successfully persuade him to leave the orchids), running before us, then behind, then by the side… he must cover about three times the distance to us adults! The rat gets passed from person to person, and our gentle stroll is accompanied by gentle conversation. It really doesn’t feel like we only just met. There is no trying to find out about each other, there is just being with each other, as if we’re longstanding friends.

Before we know it, the 6km have passed and we come to a series of waterfalls, creating pools on various levels. While we chill out there, a marathon passes us – over 1000 people running 48km in this heat (it is over 30degrees)!!!


After an hour or so of watching fish, paddling in the water, sharing some food and climbing up the waterfall, we set off home along a different way, joining the Via Verde, a 50km long railway track running between Alcoy and Gandia, built in the 1960s but never used as a railway. What a waste of public money – all those tunnels and bridges! But nice that it has been reopened for cyclists and walkers as a green pathway.

Later in the evening, we have all of them round for dinner. It’s our first big candle-lit dinner! We take the big table outside the van, Frank cooks a lovely chicken and we make two kinds of salad. Israel comes with two children, Alex and his 7 year old sister Africa. Ernesto contributes a Russian potato salad, and they bring along another friend called Carlotta. We have such a nice time with all of them. Africa is a hoot – she obviously tells very funny stories – we don’t always get the punch line, but the other adults fall about laughing. Alex is very cuddly, hopping from one lap to the next. At midnight, Frank and I fall into bed after a lovely day of food, fun and friendship – not to mention a 12 km hike!


We’ve been intrigued by the house next to where we are parked, wanting to see it from inside. The next day, Israel introduces us to one of his friends, Gonzalo, whose family owns the house. Like many houses in Spain, it has an inheritance dispute hanging over it, so no-one lives in it and it’s gradually falling down. But the garden is well tended by Gonzalo’s uncle and aunt. We arrange to see it in the afternoon.

We expect the people to be a bit surprised and distant that their nephew has brought along some travelling folk to see the garden, but they are incredibly welcoming and proudly show us the walled garden with its many vegetables, fruits and herbs. It also has a greenhouse for snails!!! Looking inside it reminds me of our garden in Totnes on a wet summer morning – everything is full of snails! We leave with armfuls of vegetables and herbs and an invite to come for dinner if we return to Alcoy one day.

Maybe we should return another year towards the end of April, to join the Fiesta of ‘The Moors and the Christians’, by all accounts a very colourful event. Here is a photo from one of their brochures:


That night, after a heart-rending good bye from Alex and Israel, we set off towards Valencia.


for more photos, go to Flikr

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I’ve noticed recently that I seem to be fearful of more things than I used to be, and that by always listening to that fear, my world gradually shrinks. It is an imperceptible process, but from one year to the next I notice a difference, especially as I see young people do things that I used to do at their age but now find scary. I can get into a habit of remaining within my own comfort zone. It seems like one would constantly meet new challenges when travelling, but even so, it is possible to shrink away from anything that feels slightly daring, and to just cruise along and make do with what feels easy.

I decide to do something about that by finding one daring thing to do per day. Not stupidly dangerous, but out of my comfort zone. This can be anything from sitting on a wall, dangling your feet over a 20mtr drop, to asking someone a question that I otherwise wouldn’t have asked. Only I know what takes me out of my comfort into a challenge, and it may seem like nothing to someone else.

Frank had to ask me five times to look relaxed before he took this picture!


My comfort zone was fully challenged when he then proceeded to sit on the same wall. It was nothing to him, but I felt faint for the next half hour, I couldn’t even watch him do it. The mere idea of it was too much.

We both live to tell the tale.

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The Paper Chase

In this chapter, I hand the pen to Frank. It has to be written by someone who knows the excitement of collecting things. I simply couldn’t do it justice.

We wake the next morning to the sound of nightingales. Ruth gets stuck into her bandoneon practice, while I set off for the imposing castle that overlooks the town of Banyeres de Mariola. I text Ruth from the castle walls and she confirms that she can see me through the binoculars. On my way down, I discover that there is a paper museum, a section of which is devoted to Cigarette papers. For more than thirty years, since my touring days with Moving Being, I’ve been on the look-out for unusual cigarette papers as I have a good friend in Cardiff who’s been collecting them since his days of driving buses to India in the 60ies. The museum doesn’t disappoint, and I take a lot of photographs, which I am eager to show him.


I strike up a conversation with the curator, who informs me that the next town, Alcoy, was formerly a major centre for cigarette paper production. I’m very excited by the thought of adding to the collection and suggest to Ruth that Alcoy should be our next port of call. When we park up, we go in search of internet connection to catch up with the election and I notice a tiny antique shop on the way back. The following morning, while Ruth is again practicing her bandoneon, I set off for the said antique shop. Sadly, although there was a light on in the lower part of the shop, I’m informed that the owner is away and only the jewellery part is open. After a bit of pressure the shopkeeper agrees to phone her boss to ask if he has any historical cigarette papers in stock. The next thing I know she’s laid four boxes on the counter, priced from €1.20 to €20 per packet. I go for the cheaper ones and make a selection, hoping they’re ones that aren’t yet in Derek’s collection. What I am able to do is take pictures of the more expensive ones, which might encourage him to visit Alcoy himself one day. That evening, on our way to a fiesta with people we’ve met, I spot another antique shop and come away with a further five packets. Result!

For more pictures of Frank’s ‘Paper Chase’ and the castle in Banyeres, go to Flikr

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Moving swiftly on…. for a change

Alpujarras – Cabo de Gata

It is quite a wrench to come away from the western part of the Alpujarras. We slowly inch back down the steep hill from the Buddhist centre – so slow that every Serpentine turn gives us another chance to see all the places we have been to and made friends in, all the way from Salobreña to Capileira. We truly had an adventure here!

Once back on the road below Orgiva, we turn left into new territory. After a few miles, we find a spot for the night in one of the unused loops of the old road that weaves alongside the new road. It turns out to be a really good spot – no-one uses the road for anything anymore, it’s just a dead end. We hear some animals snuffling outside in the night – maybe wild boar? And we find the remains of a large white dog close by, totally parched and half eaten.


As we travel eastwards the next morning, the landscape changes from very green and luscious to drier and hotter. We stop off by a little ravine. As soon as we turn off the road, we are enveloped in a magical atmosphere. The air is hot and dry and still, and it is humming with insects. A bird I have never heard before sings on the other side of the steep valley but I can’t spot it (later that day, we come across bee eaters, so maybe that’s what it was). Time stands still in this valley. Somehow I feel we might be meeting a snake, but walking along the stream, all we find are frogs, of all sizes and shapes, making a racket.


A falcon is feeding its young in a nest high up above us in the corner of the bridge. We scramble up a pile of stones to try and get a better view of the nest when Frank disturbs a snake. I only see the tail end of it as it quickly slinks out of reach, slithering under stones and dry grass towards the stream.

I wonder how I felt this snake at the start of our walk (it was the first time since our journey that I have felt like I might see a snake)? Maybe we are much more connected to nature than we think, able to sense the presence of other animals around us, even when we can’t see or hear them…


Cabo de Gata – Cala Higueras

Cabo de Gata has probably the driest landscape I have ever come across. Having come from the luscious western end of the Alpujarras, this is a shock to our system.

We stay one night near La Isleta, but unfortunately are driven away the next day by a horrible stench of sewage that seems to hang over the water…

San José is a nice little town and it has a place for campervans right in the middle, near the beach. We spend a couple of nights there, enjoying swims in the sea, but otherwise generally wilting in the heat… We try to make an excursion to Cala Genovese, a beach that is supposed to be very nice, but as we come over the top of the hill at the start of the 3km long dirt road, we see a long line of cars all across the plains, so we decide to abort this plan – not happy to share a beach with up to 1000 people, however nice it may be – the dirt road was like a motorway in a traffic jam!

We really try to become friends with Cabo de Gata, especially as it had been recommended to us by so many people along the way. But the heat and the incessant hot wind, combined with the aridity of the landscape takes a lot of our energy. It is lovely to be able to go swimming, but beyond that, somehow we fail to connect with the place. I keep thinking we are just not looking at it in the right way, but after three days of trying, we decide to give in and leave for greener pastures.

As soon as you come away from the national park and travel up northwards, you are back in the ‘sea of plastic’. Go down to the sea to escape the plastic and you are confronted with horrendous sea resorts, miles and miles of ugly hotels, real eyesores, and all the accompanying bars, clubs, shops, etc etc., mostly catering for the Brits. Not just our collective incessant hunger for fruit from Spain but also our need for sun from Spain has really destroyed this region. It’s like looking at the worst of British culture in a distorted mirror. The next 30 kilometres of our journey are thoroughly dreadful.

We had just given up on finding anything remotely nice to stop for the night, when we come around a little rocky outcrop to find a beautiful hidden beach where about 6 other campers from Holland, Germany and the UK had stopped for the night. A little haven in the midst of all this trash. A beautiful sandy beach and warm water invites us for an evening swim before turning in with the setting sun.

Tourism can be so brash and have such a heavy impact, or it can be very quiet, in touch with nature and appreciative of its beauty.


Cala Higueras – Moli de L’Ombria

We wake up early, after a hot and humid night. I go for a quick dip in the sea which unfortunately Frank can’t join as he’s battling with another bout of bladder infection. Today we plan to clock some miles, so we set off as the sun comes over the horizon. We can’t bear any more of the horrendous seaside resorts from yesterday, so we head straight for the interior, towards Lorca and from there past Murcia and northwards, travelling sideways along the many different Sierras and crossing vast plains. It is hot and very windy. I’m normally happy with temperatures up to 30 degrees – I think it was probably around 35 degrees at midday! Every now and then, the road goes up and up and then straight away down and down, and we find ourselves in yet another vast plain. Spain certainly has a lot of rock, and a lot of plain! There are also a lot of castles along this route – every little town seems to have one. I wonder how much fighting used to go on between these towns. The castles all look very well kept, almost as if they are still in use! We find out later that we have just missed a festival called ‘the Moors and the Christians’ which, judging by the photograph at the tourist office, is very lavish and colourful. In some towns they re-enact fights!


We make several stops, one for the internet, one for lunch and Siesta and the last one in Villena, to decide which direction we are going to take at the next big fork – towards Valencia, or into mountains, woods and nature? Frank would like to go to Valencia, so we decide to ask the internet a few questions before making a decision.

Looking for an internet café, we bump into a group of people, part English part local Spanish, who meet every Wednesday in the town square for a cup of tea or a beer and an informal language exchange. We join them for a couple of hours of entertaining conversation, as well as getting local recommendations as to where to go next. One man says, go to Banyeres, there are trees, you will like it there.

This leads us along a little road past Biar, another town with a castle, to a magical camping space just below Banyeres de Mariola, another town with a castle.

We have never felt the benevolent presence of trees so much, in contrast to their absence in the last 4 days. They really are mankind’s friends! The whole climate has changed in the last 20 km. The hot dry wind has disappeared. It is great to arrive in a place where it is green and quiet, where there are trees and you can sense a river nearby, where the air carries the smell of wild fennel and my bandoneon accompanies the rich and juicy sounds of nightingales!

More photos for this chapter on flikr

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The night we were parked up in Capileira – the little village high up in the Alpujarras – I had a powerful dream in which a buddhist monk gave me a blessing, using a thing I had never seen before (when I googled it later, I learned that it was a hand-held prayer wheel). We had knocked on his door, and when he opened it, he looked quite wild and angry at having been disturbed. But this didn’t stop him from giving me a blessing. He stood at about 3 metres distance from me, holding the thing in such a way that it was deflecting divine energy from the sky directly onto me. I felt it shooting into my solar plexus with a strong, flame-like quality. Upon waking, I could still feel the energy and felt that it was coming from the direction of the hill across the valley – which houses one of the oldest Spanish Buddhist communities.

Some days later, we drive up a 7km steep and narrow dirt road, to visit the Buddhist centre, to find out if anything there relates to my dream… (we don’t recommend drivers of large vehicles to do the same! There were some very tricky moments where the road dipped and immediately rose back up, in such a way that it was hard not to scrape the spare tyre). This is a place of outstanding beauty! The views are incredible – down the valley you can see Orgiva and across the hills you can see the sea.

That night, we feel a strong current of energy flowing through our van, through us and down the hill.

The following day, we go out to explore.

There is a great sense of peace here. The community has designed a walk past a number of statues and Stupas. At the start of the walk, there is a big prayer wheel. It says that it has been loaded with 165 Billion Million mantras, and that just turning the wheel once is more effective than several years of retreat. It begs the question why anyone would ever go on a retreat then – simply turn the wheel every couple of years instead! 😉

We are happy to soak up every blessing available, so we both turn the wheel on our way up and again, for good measure, on our way down. Nearby there is a series of little wheels too, also embossed with the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung, which we spin. Further up the hill we walk clockwise around the big Stupa and lie down in front of it, as this too is supposed to bring good energy into you. It is beautiful to lie on the warm flagstones and hear the cicadas and see the prayer flags wafting in the flowering tree.

The walk culminates high up on an open plain with a statue of Tara, a female boddhisatva, who is placed on a lotus flower plinth in the middle of a pond. It is a gorgeous statue, and the serenity and power emanating from her is palpable.


We go even further up, to the top of the hill, from where we have a fantastic view onto the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada and down into the valley of the three pueblos Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. The location of Tara more or less fits the direction from where I had felt the energy coming from in my dream some days before. But it was definitely a male monk who had given me the blessing.

On our way back down, we go a little bit further into the community. Some areas are out of bounds, to allow those on retreat to remain private, but we meet the cook of the centre, who is resting and reading in the shade of an old oak tree. The cook is the first man we meet up here, and unbelievably he looked just like the monk of my dreams. He has exactly the same face, although this time he is very sweet and gentle and smiling. I’m speechless to be meeting someone who I have never met before except in my dream three days previously. Frank, unawares of my realisation but aware that I am somewhat quieter than normal, strikes up a pleasant conversation with the cook and they chat about food and the area for about half an hour, and we offer him a jar of Frank’s recent batch of lemon marmalade, before returning to Emma.

Just when we are ready to tackle the steep descent, Anne, the Norwegian director of the centre, comes up in her 4×4 with food for the week and a couple of visitors in the back. We have a chance to tell her how much we have appreciated the beauty and the peace of the place.


For more photos of this chapter, go to flikr

Here is a link for the Buddhist Centre’s web page:


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