Diary 2004

 Home Up Gibraltar

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Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) over the night of the 5th & 6th January is a much bigger celebration in Spain than Christmas Day itself.  Every town or city in Spain has a major procession to celebrate the visit of the kings to the baby Jesus.  In the case of Rota, the kings arrival is spiced up with a little help from the military as, just as night is beginning to fall, they land by helicopter at the local football ground.

The procession is made up of around 50 floats, bands, horses, in fact just about anything you can think of.  In addition to the sheer spectacle, a major function of the procession is to shower literally tons of sweets and small toys on the children (and quite a few adults) of Rota.  For the entire night each float almost continuously throws a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sweets into the crowds as they pass.  In fact the only thing more inexhaustible than the supply of sweets seems to be the children's (and their parents and grandparents) desire to collect them.  Pushchairs, bags or anything that can be used as a container are filled to the brim.  Even we came back to the boat with a carrier full of sweets.  Seriously, they were being thrown at us.  We had to catch them or they'd have hit us - honest.

 

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Winter settled down into a routine of learning Spanish, pontoon parties and working on the boat.  It has taken us a year of living on the boat to begin to get her the way we want her and we live in the hope that in future the winter workload will be much lower - check back on this site in 12 months to see if we were right!

 

We did find time though to visit Jerez and see the Andalucian horse displays, which even for someone with no equine knowledge or experience, is truly, truly remarkable (but no photos allowed).   We also visited the Sandeman warehouses which gave Lindy an opportunity to dress up as Orson Wells.

For a quick view of the city sites we jumped aboard the tourist bus.  An open topped double decker, previously the property of Strathclyde district council.  We've found this a really effective way of getting a feel for the layout of a new city and an idea of some of the places we might  want to take the time to go and see up close.  In Jerez it was made more interesting because all of the streets are lined with orange trees that were heavy with fruit and tended to keep you ducking and diving if you really didn't want to become marmalade yourself.

 

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We also took a couple of weeks out to go travelling inland. With some more help from Stella (who used to work in a travel agent), we booked discount hotels in Sevilla, Granada and Ronda.  She and her husband even gave us a lift to Sevilla to get us started and saved us having to catch the 07.00 bus. 

Sevilla is a remarkable city with so much going on and so much to see it's difficult to put much into words and our photos hardly do it justice (ditto Granada).  As well as all the Alcazabar , the Cathedral, drinks at the Alfonso XIII we also had some excellent tapas and our first experience of real Flamenco - how can just clapping be so good and so difficult?

Train to Granada - nb:  those of you who have been used to commuting into London with Connex SE will be amazed to learn that trains can in fact be clean, punctual, with numbered seats automatically allocated as you buy your ticket and a generally pleasant experience.

Granada is really all about the Alhambra, which should really be Ahambras in the plural because there is just so much within the walls - any one section of which would be worth a whole day trip anywhere else.  The Alhambra with the Generalife must be the most complete example of evolving Moorish architecture anywhere in the world.  The other thing that Granada has going for it is free tapas.  Buy a drink, get a free tapa, simple as that - and the drink is no more expensive than anywhere else.  Now sometimes the free tapas are a little on the mean side (eg potato crisps at one of the tourist bars on the way to the Alhambra), but at others they're really good and changed every half hour or so, which means that after a few drinks you have had a complete free meal (Via Colon on Calle Colon - if you happen to be in Granada).  Though when they're that good you tend to start ordering anyway - which is really the point I suppose.

We picked up a hire car in Granada and drove over the Sierra via the old hill town of Antequera to Ronda with its spectacular viaduct over the gorge.  It's from this bridge that the fascists were thrown alive during the civil war according to Hemingway in For Whom The Bell Tolls.  There didn't seem to be any fascist throwing whilst we were there, but after all this time they've probably run out.  It was though very, very windy, wet and cold.  Dinner at Tragabuches, which has a Michelin star.  The prices at first looked very reasonable until we discovered that each dish was a kind of mini tapa and you required several to form a meal.  So actually not reasonably priced at all, but excellent nonetheless.

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Back to Rota,  Samarang and the luxury of having a car to go where we liked for the rest of the week.  This was the week of Carnival and Cadiz was rated as one of the top three places in the world after Rio and Venice so our first trip was there, but the weather was so bad not much was happening apart from the occasional oddly dressed person propping up a bar.  The next day we drove back to Ronda for lunch to meet Sue and Jane, friends from England who are trying to buy a hotel here.  Then Thursday back to Sevilla to a Van Morrison concert.  Now, we are both big fans of The Man and his voice was still great, and the band was really tight, but his lack of connection with the audience and his apparently desperate rush to get off stage made the whole evening quite sterile and left us feeling just a little short-changed.  You can buy a lot of CDs for the price of two E60 tickets and a trip to Sevilla!  Yes Van, it was bloody cold, but those of us sitting in the audience were cold as well and you were being paid to be there!

 

Our final venture with the car was back to El Corte Ingles in Jerez to order the Tempur mattress we'd been considering for some time.  If you haven't heard of, or tried, Tempur then find a department store that stocks it and prepare for a slightly other worldly experience.  Tempur was developed as an offshoot of the space program to equalise pressure under acceleration and is the nearest a mattress can possibly come to making you feel in suspension.  It is, of course, not cheap, but Samarang is our home and one year of falling into the cracks between pieces of hard foam is enough for two people with dodgy backs.  One of the "interesting" things about boats is that nothing off the shelf ever fits, so when the mattress finally arrived a couple of months later we immediately set about E1000 worth of Tempur with a Stanley knife.

 

As you would expect, by now our command of the Spanish language was becoming  formidable.  It was around this time that I ordered a whisky in a bar, insisting to the barman that it be served without ice-cream as this was the traditional way of drinking it in Britain.  At the same time we were having some photos framed for the boat and Lindy returned to the shop to check whether  her pictures were clever or not!

 

To Chipiona with Robert and Kate for the last day of Carnival there.  The sun was out at last, but still cold enough for us to wonder how some of the girls in Rio-esque costumes managed to get through the day without frostbite.  We noticed later though that each float had an integral bar as part of its' equipment, so presumably they were well anaesthetised by mid-afternoon.  We lost count of the number of floats and groups taking part in the procession, but it took hours to pass any given location.  The timescale was significantly extended as each troupe paused 15 minutes or so in front of a judges podium to perform their set piece - most of which carried a satirical political message which went well above our ability to understand with our limited Spanish.  We did understand the one complaining about the (huge) quantity of dog poo on the streets though!  

It was on this day that our (13 month old) camera packed up, so no photos.  It was to be 6 full weeks until the main Nikon dealer in Barcelona could get around to even look at it.  Now we have been Nikon fans and users for 25 years plus, mainly because of their awesome service/support capability right across the world, but they do now seem to have lost the plot.

 

We had become avid Flamenco fans since our first exposure in Sevilla and Jerez, which is only just up the road from Rota and is very much its spiritual home and a centre of its modern development.  We had the opportunity to see a Flamenco/Ballet version of Romeo & Juliet and to go to the concerts of Jose Merce and Vincente Amigo - we could spend years trying to handle the complex multiple rhythms that underpin this amazing music.  The quality of the music and the artists engagement with the audience throwing into even more unfavourable focus the Van Morrison concert we'd attended earlier!

The other thing that we'd become a fan of was the Iberican black pig, particularly the hind legs which, when they have been cured for a minimum of 13 months, produce the most succulent of all hams, the ultimate being the acorn-fed "Belotta" with an almost caramel taste.    

We'd been prevaricating for months, but we finally took the plunge at around this time and bought our first whole "Jamon" and the frame in which to mount and carve it.   Buying the second a month or so later required no such prevarication.

 

The final big event of the winter/spring was Semana Santa (holy week).  Every night during the week, culminating in the night of Maundy Thursday and Morning of Good Friday, life size sculptures, some over 500 years old are brought out of the churches as part of tableaus of the Passion and paraded around the towns.  These tableaus weigh tons and are carried by groups of around 50 guys who train for this event for months, considering this a great honour to have a 'place' each year until they retire.

The Spanish people of course turn out all night for these processions, but unlike Reyes Magos and Carnival this is a slightly more sombre and quiet affair, with suits, black ties and dark dresses being much more the dress code.  No photos of course - thanks Nikon.

Back in the marina the winter village community was beginning to break up as boats got ready to commence their travels.  We were to be one of the last to leave - still waiting for that camera - and it was a very strange feeling as our friends and their boats slowly  departed to be replaced by other boats who'd made an early start from further up the coast.  It was a strange feeling.  A little like living in a village for a long time and watching all your friends move away, except that in this case they were also taking their homes with them as well, so that the landscape and landmarks were changing as well.

And then it was our turn for farewells, not too many, as most of our winter friends had now left.  So a final BBQ in the boat yard where Riitta & Johan had just confirmed that they did not have osmosis, and a late spaghetti and garlic evening with Wolfgang and Sylvia which ensured that we remained safe from vampires for several days.  They were heading in the opposite direction so it was a toss up as to who got their wing first - in fact it was us.

Saying goodbye to the departing yachties  had been ultimately not too difficult as it's really part of the lives that we have all chosen to live.  Saying goodbye to the friends we'd made ashore was somehow much more of a wrench.   So an early night (for us) of tapas in El Puerto with Rob & Kate who hopefully will come sailing with us later in the year when Kate returns from the USA.  And finally late night tapas and drinks aboard Samarang with Stella, who we really hope to meet up with in the early summer in Majorca where her father has a house and boat.

Up Gibraltar

 

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Last updated 5th June 2017