Thursday, 26 February 2015

A hawk filled walk near Hawksworth and Horsforth

Not having a job has its perks. After returning from finishing the Camino de Santiago this Autumn in Northern Spain, I have rediscovered the immensely satisfying feeling of adventuring on one's very doorstep. The experiences in Spain and afterwards in Morocco were exhilarating, eye opening and occasionally quite profound and propelled me to travel more in my native country upon return.

That is an interesting and refreshing effect that travel can have; the changed perspective when back in familiar territory, the desire to keep the freshness, alertness and positivity of travel with you like carrying an ember from a warming fire to a needed new wigwam.

So with this imported angle from the Camino and Al-Andalus, Christina and I set off amongst a familiar terrain of red-brick houses, pebble dashed tower blocks and inner-city green spaces. We zig-zagged past student houses and the cities tarmac arteries towards the old village of Horsforth. Popping into some beech woods, we stopped for some nuts and fruit on the ridge of what seemed to be an old quarry. The impressive scar was being re-populated by silver birches and brambles. Circling the periphery on the tyre marked mud-ways and then jutting down past the shed-sized rocks; the detritus of A.R.Briggs' quarrying, Christina remarked that the place had an eerie edge to it. Perhaps it was the absence of people in what was a once busy site, maybe the treeless land felt unnatural to be in after the woods.

We continued past the burnt out skeleton of a building, through a 6 foot piece of pipe, onwards past some fly-tipping (which I have never understood, the recycling centre is 5 minutes drive away on Kirkstall Road). We exited the woods near the ring road; its monotonous roar disrupting after the trees had successfully blotted out most noise.

Following the road towards Hawksworth woods, I noticed a scattering of white feathers ahead of us on the grass between road and pathway. Nudging my ambling partner, forewarning the potential presence of a recently nabbed avian, our eyes followed the trail of plumage into the beech hedge on our right hand side. In a moment of elongated confusion, surprise and shock, we locked eyes with a predator. The Sparrowhawks amber eyes burned up at us from the non-existent cover of the sparse hedgerow. Part-comedy, part tragedy; a single white feather protruding from its beak betrayed the hawks innocence. Had it have been filmed, a fitting voice over for this airborne hunter would have been a mumbled, alarmed "Oh! Erm. Bugger, you've caught me". We were caught in each others stare for maybe 2 seconds, but it is now forever etched into my brain. A closer encounter with a wild bird of prey will be a long time coming, if at all.

It flapped frantically, awkwardly reversing out of the hedge into the wasteland on the other side, carrying the white dove in its talons. Feeling slightly guilty for disturbing its mealtime, but elated at the same time at having this extremely close up encounter in such an urban setting, we walked on  underneath a red Kites gaze. Back to well deserved cups of tea and reminiscence of the mysterious encounter with a surprised Sparrowhawk. There is wild all around.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Gitano guitar

Listening to Camarón de la Isla's Leyenda del Tiempo, the legendary and game-changing Flamenco album from 1979 transports me instantaneously back to an extremely hot day in the start of July this summer. On the extreme outskirts of Barcelona, having passed less and less tourist infiltrated barrios' on the train out from the Arc del Triomf metro station, we walked a mile or two down a dirt road back in the direction of the city centre, heading towards a petrol station, whose vague whereabouts I had managed to acquire via (an highly useful digital tool for hitch-hikers) .

Standing in the 40 degree heat, wearing a tee-shirt on my head and trying to thumb a lift South with the occasional traffic that passed through the rippling expanse of car park, I felt a tad ridiculous. Ridicule however, quickly turned to frustration and general disparagement. Sprinting over to the sole lorry parked up, the signs were promising, he was heading direction Tarragona, he could understand my pigeon Spanish but he only had space for one. We weren't desperate enough to split up so that lift never came to fruition.

Some time later, Juan in his van turned up, shades on, aircon blasting and moved his electrical goods into the back, making space for us up front. The feeling of moving after standing so still never fails to lift the spirits, and not having to extend our arms was a nice change as well. The music was just as encapsulating as the fact we had gotten the lift, it was competing against and winning the air conditioning for best vibrations in the small cabin. Juan fitted seamlessly into the imagery of the Flamenco conjured up, albeit with a modern twist. The rawness and energy of this mystical Spanish folk music made him speak up. The journey could have been a quiet one, Juan was perhaps not a man of many words, but he spoke with an apparent love of Camarón and his music. A love I was only later to discover resonated throughout almost the whole of Spain.

Was this Spain itself projected through the tinny speakers? Cigarette smoke wobbled from side to side in the cabin as Juan told us of the Gypsy's early demise through alcohol and drug addiction. Tragic, passionate, fiery and shrouded in mystery, I was in a semi-trance and only snapped out of it to make sure we exited at the right time in order to stay on track for Almeria, which is incidentally the birthplace of collaborator and fellow Gitano, Tomatito. As a parting gift, Juan offered us a CD, a copied disc in a rough plastic cover. I carried this gift throughout our 2 month hitch-hiking, volunteering and exploration adventure, managing to keep it safe and intact.

I played it when we arrived back in the UK, expecting a red and yellow wave of mystery and power to wash over me, instead I was greeted by terrible modern Spanish pop music with Euroclub beats blended together in some horrible musical comparison to Spain's current crisis. Perhaps Juan wanted to musically show us what Spain meant to him through Camarón de la Isla but also project the change that has occurred to his country to us when we arrived home. 

Camerón de la Isla - La Leyenda del Tiempo

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Reflecting on life without travel but with knowledge

Its been a long time since I have posted anything on this now seemingly decrepit blog, the journey I was busy typing up at one point is now a memory of ups, downs and reverberations that have seemingly rippled through the past few months, with changes in living circumstances, mindset and relationship status taking place.

The incense that burns slowly on top of a borrowed record player is a brief olfactory escape from the grey sky that blankets this corner of Leeds and does nothing much to enhance the higgledy piggledy roofs or to brighten the bin-filled alleyway that this rented room looks down onto.

Although the scenario may seem somewhat desolate, with paperwork regarding council tax benefits and ideal freezer temperature's strewn around this work surface that hasn't seen much work at all, a time of change is ahead, internally and externally. Feeling less cloudy headed by spending more time sober and running again for the first time in years is a definite boost.

One thing about getting 'older' is that not only do you find out what you like and can actively pursue it, but you realise that opportunities are there to be had, or in some cases to be lost. I find myself waking up after a heavy night involving some form of intoxication, feeling as if I have wasted my time and that there could have been productive things to be done instead. Being pro-active is something that I think most people struggle with from time to time, and although I still haven't found any way to solve this, I do feel more ready for everyday life, having faced challenges that not everyone would normally go through in the past year.

Reading is something that helps me stay in a frame of mind to actually do things, in a way it's a form of escapism from the problems of day to day life, but at the same time it's almost as if it is a change from the dreary routine and offers a different perspective on real life by immersing in something fictional or otherworldly altogether.

This summer, Christina and I will be going on an adventure that has been a long time coming, ever since our long meandering talks around the Christmas period and our strolls out on Ilkley moor, where strange rock carvings and even more mesmerising frozen waterfalls tickled the moist moss below. Back to the paradise that is Southern Spain, to show somebody who will truly appreciate the rugged beauty, sustainable lifestyle and ultimate freedom that I now associate with this part of the world. Then on to Italy, where hopefully we will avoid places like Campania, where the powerful underworld runs everything and see some of the beautiful countryside surrounding Christina's sisters dilapidated abode, which we will be (skilfully) renovating, with her artists touch, which can be seen on The Opposite Wall.   

Then onto new pastures, in the form of Bulgaria, which, according to the HelpX website has an influx of alternative thinkers and radicals surviving there, in what can only be described as fluctuating and unsure times for a lot of people. Why this is, I don't know, perhaps cheap land, or reverting back to the old ways, which I assume are still practised to a certain extent in this part of Eastern Europe. Either way, I am curious to see how this part of the world is, after visiting and thoroughly enjoying Serbia in 2011.

Although as always, all plans are subject to drastic change, this is a basic layout for the period between June and September, after which studying will be a concern of mine again, after a couple of years studying life, and how to go about wanting to learn, which is the main priority.

I will keep posting general thoughts, possible new music, some political ramblings and other crunchy little bulbs of goodness over the next few weeks.

Take it nicely.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #16

..My relationship with my hosts had gotten stronger as you would expect, and I felt quite at home with their company although I may not have agreed with everything they believe in, we can find common ground. One thing I had been enjoying immensely was the food, Inge seemed to spend the majority of her time around the kitchen, possibly due to her bad back, and conjures up some magnificent dishes, all with home grown or local organic produce; rabbit stews, chicken soups, spelt wheat loaves and various other items have been laid before me on the table in huge quantities, with 3rd servings being commonplace.

Amongst some of my regular tasks, which included opening and feeding the chickens and geese, moving the sheep and their pen and feeding the rabbits, during the first week I replanted some suffering onions and helped install a drip-irrigation system, collected firewood higher up the mountain, with the Junta's (council) strimming and cutting of the roadside aiding us, planted and irrigated three rows of potatoes, Alpujarran style, with the water cascading or trickling down through small channels, using stones to change its path when necessary.

I also cleared a patch of notoriously tough Spanish brambles, cleaned the swimming pool, which was a very tedious and tiring task, and planted various sunflowers here, there and everywhere. Both the physical aspect and the psychological aspect combined to be a draining experience, with the supremely bright moon coming out when my thoughts wandered to existential matters; globalisation, homesickness and how to light the stove without any matches.

The first week provided a good introduction to life at Semilla Besada, and it continued much the same, only with me having spend the majority of the next week with Bruno, the quiet, rough, knowledgeable Belgian who had spent the past 20 years there in Andalucia, since arriving at the tender age of 16 with no money and no Spanish. He was a builder by trade but seemed to be adept in many areas, be it killing animals, drinking copious amounts or other common Alpujarran pastimes. Bastian had told me brief snippets of his life outside of his temporary building work at La Chaparra and he seemed to have personal complications but he is a pleasure to work with, I have never seen anyone with such a passion for cement and spirit levels.

We had also been on two stone collecting missions further up the mountain, for building the steps and to be used as the drainage system around the bunker/larder we were building. At the natural mine, there were some lovely stones, huge chunks of marble, small rose quartz pebbles and perfectly flat stones stones, which Bruno exclaimed were perfect for building. The second time we were there, 3 golden eagles, presumably 1 female and 2 young, glided overhead, curious as to what we were doing on their part of the mountain. They flew swiftly over us and into the mist that shrouded the Rio Lanjaron barranco.

My first weekend off was a welcome break and to lie in till 9 seemed like heaven, something else that I didn't want to take for granted upon my return to England, along with a raised appreciation of wine, good food and sustainability. What occurred to me whilst wandering through the foothills, with my worn down adidas' aiding my Spanish adventure again and getting consequently filled with bits of the various prickly bushes that are so abundant on the Alpujarran slopes, is that Christopher McCandless' notion that 'happiness is only really when shared' applied to my scenario perfectly at points in my trip. Naturally, I wasn't as isolated as McCandless, not even nearly so, but compared to my home life, still a gigantic turnaround. Instead of walking through woods that I know like the back of my hand with my girlfriend or my friends, I found myself traversing steep valleys by myself, with a stick in my hand in care I should have another encounter with a hostile canine, and stopping once in a while for some water and to take in the ever-changing views.

It is these views of the tiny white-washed splashes on the surprisingly green gradients of the Sierra de Lujar and the Sierra de la Contraviesa that make me yearn for companionship. A view shared is a view to be enjoyed, to remember together, to be silent in astonishment or to loudly express ones joy at such imposing chunks of earth.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #15

(Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will get back on track with them)

..Then we ate, a feast of spaghetti and sauce, more than enough for 4 people, which we washed down with some celebratory glasses of wine. I told them bits and bobs about myself over the food and was I would be cracking almonds that afternoon, as a gentle introduction to work on this conspiracy-theory fuelled, remote sustainable dwelling.

After said almonds were cracked, I was shown around the main lower garden, a maze of fenced-off vegetable patches, olive terraces and various animal pens, including the geese and chicken runs, the large rabbit cage, containing 20 or more black and white (edible) fluffballs, and the 2 sheep in their enclosure at the bottom of the garden. All these were joined together with little paths leading here and there, with the platform that David (the man who lived here previously and the one whom we lived with) had done some form of martial arts/meditation on, at the heart of the garden, surrounded by fruit trees and pleasant smelling bushes.

My hosts seemed nice enough, the semi-typical alternative type that this part of Spain seems to attract in abundance, possibly due, in part, to Chris Stewart's 'Driving over Lemons'. Over the next few days, I was to learn that my reading on conspiracy theories and occultism was nothing compared to what they believed and practised for the most part. Personally, I like to keep an air of skeptisism about such matter and, although it is clear to me that the world is becoming something uninhabitable due to various powers in place, I find it hard to believe in fables such as the lost city of Atlantic or the pyramids being constructed by 'aliens', although it certainly makes for interesting and dynamic conversation. On a more down to earth note, before our evening meal of cheeses, hams and bread, I fed the rabbits with a mixture of plants and weeds collected from around the garden, doing 2 jobs in one.

I had been at Semilla Besada almost two weeks and it had gone incredibly fast, it seemed like only a day or two ago since I was in Granada with John. I'd settled in reasonably well and had definitely been putting my hours in; Monday to Friday, working from 9ish til 2 then working 3ish til 7-8. However I had been sleeping well in the caravan that I called home. I lit the stove every night then read till the heat had peaked in my box of delights, then I crawl into my sleeping bag, comfortable and warm, only to wake up shivering every morning. The temperature sure did drop at night and when the clouds descend.

For 3 days it rained quite significantly on and off and we even witnessed some snow; in April this must be a rare occurance, but to wake up and see the immense Sierra de Lujár iced with the snow, the radio antenna its cherry on top, or the frozen grass crystals around Paco's sprinkler made waking up in a fridge slightly more bearable.

The first week here on the mountain had been peculiar affair, settling in, getting into a semi-routine again after the sporadicity of hitch-hiking and being around people permanently as opposed to lots of solitary pondering en route. My spirits were admittedly undulating as the dats wore on, moments of bliss and peacefulness followed lonely cold nights, I believe a partial reason for this could be due to my desire keep on travelling, keep on moving, but I found myself static, having small urges to flee but also wanting to take my time, extend my budget as much as possible and absorb all there is. But I had only been there 11 days, I told myself, its to easy to see how people say 'the road is addictive', it may well be, but it is also severely exhausting, so in that way, a temporary home is welcome...

New reservoir, old cloud

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #14

..I rose before first light the next day, mostly due to the clocks going forward and walked through the empty streets, after padlocking my room and posting the keys back through the door. I passed the Plaza de la Revolucion, the Universidad and my aforementioned internet cafe and arrived at the marble, where I phoned Bastian as to my arrival time and at some 'churros', then hopped onto the bus headed for Lanjaron.

There were barely any people on the bus; a couple of young guys, one or two women and an extremely large chap who chatted non-stop to the driver, a balding grumpy Spaniard who cursed me as I got off the bus after the last stop in Lanjaron, an easy mistake to make for a tired Englishman.

I waited by the small petrol station, one of the last buildings in the village, surprised at how much it was here than in Granada, with my breath being clearly visible against the spectacular backdrop of the Alpujarras...the foothills of the vast Sierra Nevada.

The mountain from Lanjaron castle
 After a bit of confusion and a pleasant 45 minute wait, a white Land rover pulled up with a slightly greying lady inside, who I presumed to be Inge, my prospective host. I threw my backpack onto the back seat and hauled myself up into the dusty cabin. I introduced myself, exchanged some pleasantries, then waited in the 4x4 while Inge got some items from the local shops.

Then came that ascent up the mountain track, a route I had done countless times in the back of the old Nissan Sunny, or hanging out the window; a ten year old face being woken up by the cold mountain mist on the way to a small rural Spanish school where everything was new and strange.

How peculiar to be driving past old neighbours, the same purple Seat Marbella parked on Juaqui's goat farm, the same dust settling on the dashboard and those wonderful smells of the wild mountain plants mixed together in a subtle nasal cocktail. We shook and shuddered up to around 1350m where the same black gate leading down to La Chaparra stood.

It looked similar yet very different, my memories mixing with the altered gardens and house. To my great surprise, it was Bonita, the old dog, that greeted me, the same she had probably done so 12 years ago, albeit with more flesh on her then. I was quickly introduced to Bastian and Bruno who were busy building the bunker/root cellar and then shown to a small caravan, which would become my quarters for the duration of my stay, however long that should be.

Cold/cosy caravan

Monday, 17 September 2012

Hitch hiking and various other pastimes #13

...On my way back to the centre, I passed the graveyard which John had recommended I take a look at, but it was shut for lunch and then the Alhambra with plenty of tourists flocking around the entrance. My slightly vague memories came back to me after I strolled down the tree lined path, flanked by tiny streams on either side which leads from Plaza Nueva straight up to the Alhambra Palace.

Upon arrival in the Plaza, I spotted John and asked him how he was, he said that it was particularly bad for a Sunday and he had only collected a few 'centimos', later he announced it as his worst Sunday ever in Granada. While I was sitting with this English street artist, Rafa, his old landlord came by, shuffling in his tartan slippers, and asked if I wanted to come to his casita for a beer, to which I obliged and said I'd be there 'a las ocho'.

Before I went to Rafa's though I wandered around Granada a bit more, encountering lots of street musicians and other performers up and down the busy 'calles'; a didgeridoo player, a swing band that used props and looked like there were possibly cave-dwellers or van-livers and acoustic guitars strumming to the people paseo-ing in the plaza.

I returned to my room, then headed up through the tiny graffiti'd alleyways to Rafael's. I knocked and entered, and there he was, his house consisting of four tiny rooms, including the central living room. He showed me around his decorated little house and then set forth cooking me a 'tortilla francesa' and proceeded to put yoghurt's, fruit, biscuits and beer in front of me, which I could hardly turn down.

I ate and we had some small conversation, with him repeating questions and me repeating pigeon Spanish answers. I thanked him for his hospitality and then escaped into the night, promising to visit him if I'm ever back in Granada.

That evening John was on an ultra cheap diet, consisting of garlic, tomato and olive oil on white bread. To show him some gratitude for hooking me up with a room, I bought us some cerveza's and we sipped a few before exchanging emails and heading to our separate night time abodes.