Friday, 5 November 2010

Moving House

For all my devoted fans and avid readers, please note that all blog entries from now on will only be on the following link:

Los Castanos Official Blog

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Going out with Peter Jones (or Peter and his birds)

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about with Peter Jones.

A day in the company of this (in)famous research biologist is entertaining and informative. If you are just a dabbler with birds, you will learn a lot. If you are a card-carrying twitcher, he can still teach you something.  No interest at all? You are guaranteed a fantastic day full of laughter and fun, fascinating insights into Andalucian culture, flora, fauna, geology,  and, there's always Good Food.

All this hype may lead you to suspect I am somehow in his pay but no, I am just an ardent fan and very grateful to him for giving so much joy to so many of my guests at Los Castanos.

Spanish White with new born
Andalucian Red

Peter took us to a secret valley where Andalucian Reds grazed, Spanish Whites and their newborns mooched, and frogs lurked in a pond. (I stole this picture from you, Peter. Hope you don't mind!)

The first bird of the day was easy to spot and recognise - an ostrich.

After that warm-up session, we needed Peter's eagle eye to tell us where to look and what to see. Even the griffon vultures, largest bird in Europe, were hard for us amateurs to see even when Peter told us where to look.

Up there, says Peter. Where? we follow his pointing finger desperate not to disappoint him.
Up there!!
And then we saw them through the lens of his powerful telescope. Four griffons and another lurking shyly behind. Such a thrill to see them so clearly.
Griffons Vultures perching

Many birds followed - from the enchanting Meadow Pipit to the Black Redstart, Firecrests and Flycatchers. Little birds, hard to see without guidance. Here, you try!
This is why we need Peter!

There it is - lurking in the undergrowth.


For more information on this fantastic and generous and funny man, go to his site Spanish Nature
And, for his newly formed and vibrant Andalucia Bird Society, click here.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Sin semillas! Por fin!

At last, "sin semillas" have arrived in Ronda!

This may seem of little importance to those of you living in California or England where you have had seedless grapes for years. (how do they propagate?)

But, here in Spain, where it is of the utmost importance, they have only recently appeared.

Why important?

Because the luck of the 46 million citizens of Spain depends upon being able to consume twelve grapes, "las uvas de suerte", in twelve seconds at midnight on New Year's Eve to the chimes on the bell in Puerta del Sol in Madrid. If you can't do it, you've had it. Might as well hibernate for a year.

And, up until the recent addition to supermarket shelves, it has been almost impossible except for those with very large mouths and/or an exceptionally weak gag reflex!

Just try eating twelve thick-skinned, large-pipped, outsize grapes in twelve seconds and see how you do!

At Los Castanos, I confess that we cheat on behalf of our New Year's Eve guests. Uncertain whether the distribution of luck applies only to the Spanish, we think it wise to provide our guests with cans containing twelve tiny, peeled, pipped grapes so when the luck is being given out, they stand a good chance of gettting some.

But, when Los Castanos welcomes 2011, our guests will perform the ritual according to tradition thus assuring a great year for all!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

I long for a real comment!

I must get at least twenty comments every day on my blog posts but they are all hilariously inapt.

Somebody said "ha are you really serious about this?" in response to my video about how to make a Spanish Tortilla, 

A walk in the Sierra de las Nieves prompted this: "Hi there, I identified your webpage via Google although looking for very first aid for any heart attack and your publish looks very useful for me." Ha!

My erudite analysis of why Spanish windows have iron bars on them elicited "a great way to make tons of money online writing blog"

My tongue-in-cheek posting about Shopping and Sightseeing in Cartajima, prompted this incredible response: "Thank you for share very good info. Your website is goodI am impressed by the information that you have on this blog. It shows how well you understand this subject. (Cheek!) Bookmarked this page, will come back for more. You, my friend, ROCK! I found just the information I already searched everywhere and just couldn’t find. What a perfect site. Like this website your website is one of my new favs.I like this info shown and it has given me some sort of commitment to succeed for some reason, so thanks."

I love this one. My article on the Balinese Feast in the Andalucian Mountains prompted the hilarious comment "Another tragedy in the making. I guess we won’t stop unless we have destroyed everything."

I would really love to believe all the nice things this person said about the Rocky Road to Ronda: "Thanks a bunch for this guidance fabulous write-up; this is the sort of component that keeps me though out the day.I’ve long been wanting around on your web site soon after I over heard about them from a close friend and was thrilled when I was capable of unearth it immediately after looking for some time. Being a serious blogger, I’m delighted to determine other people taking gumption and giving towards the neighborhood. I just desired to review to exhibit my gratitude for your personal post as it’s incredibly inviting, and many freelancers will not get the credit score they deserve. I’m confident I’ll be back again and can deliver some of my good friends."

These pseudo comments come from people with websites promoting contraceptive methods,
penis enlargement, sites with "information" about different medical conditions.but mostly how to get rich quick by posting to other people's blogs.

A peddler of diet pills commented on the Sierra de las Nieves walk, "I can’t say that I believe the entire post in general. Could you please show me what study material you have used when writing this blog post (magazines, textbooks, articles etc.)?"

Live sex chat said "Thank you." That was nice.

"Considerably, the post is actually the greatest on this precious topic. I concur with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your future updates. Saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the extraordinary lucidity in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay privy of any updates." I love such enthusiasm about my walk in the Sierra de las Nieves! Unfortunately I got exactly the same comment from several others. I was downcast.

Considering the appalling English used by all commenters, I was a bit miffed by one saying "You’re polishing yor skill as a writer. Carry on!"

But I long for a proper comment. Please somebody, say something!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Update on the Green Rocks of Ronda story

New insights into the rocks of Ronda Serrania!

Not only are they aesthetically pleasing being of a delightful greenish hue which blends charmingly with the pine trees as one drives up from the coast (see Previous blog for details) but recent research reveals that they could play an important role in reducing climate change.

Peridotite lines the road from San Pedro de Alcantara to Ronda
 Dr Peter Kelemen of Columbia University and others have discovered that enormous quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide can be stored cheaply and permanently and completely safely in this rare rock formation.

Peridotite outcrops appear in just a few places on Earth where the rock has squeezed through the seventy-odd kilometres of the Earth's mantle to ooze out onto the surface.

The Serrania de Ronda is just such a place and it is comforting to realise that, vast as our global problems seem, there are still solutions being found. This particular one is still in research phase but with great potential.

If you Google "peridotite and carbon dioxide" you will find scholarly articles on the subject.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Shopping and Sighseeing in Cartajima

With a population of just over a hundred, Cartajima is a fraction of the town it was a hundred years ago when there were about 1000 residents. Young people leave now for lucrative jobs in tourism or construction on the Costa del Sol and return only for festivals when the population swells to probably 300.

There used to be several bars and shops but just two bars and a couple of little shops remain.

In the square below the hotel on the left of the yellow postbox, is an “estanco” run by Marie Carmen whose husband, Juan, is the clerk in the Town Hall, the large building opposite the church. Maria Carmen sells candy and tobacco and bits of stationery and stamps.

Next door (the house with the postbox) is Catalina's. She is the mother of Juan the postman and you will never meet a friendlier person. She loves having visits and welcomes visitors warmly. If you need to post something, push the door open and ask Catalina or her daughter Joaquina. Juan the Post lives in Ronda buts comes every morning to distribute the mail.

Descend the steep road on the right of the postbox, turn left at the bottom and you will find a little shop. Until recently it was a bakery with a wood-fired oven but it became too much for the elderly couple running it and the son did not want to take it on. They close for siesta from about 2 – 6 and are open in the evenings. They welcome visitors. This is run by Juan the Town Hall’s parents.

On Calle Ancha – the wide street lined with orange trees with the school at the end – about half way down on the right hand side is a “cien pesetas” or “veinte duros” (the equivalent of one hundred pesetas). These cheap stores are to be found in every Spanish town and village and they sell a remarkable array of just about everything. If they don’t have what you want, they will go to Ronda to get it for you!

And that’s it for commercial enterprises apart from the two bars of which more on another occasion - except for the famous Hotel Los Castaños of course! Not one of the businesses mentioned above has a sign outside so you have to push doors open and ask.

As for sightseeing, the church is our only monument. The original foundation was built in 1505 shortly after the “reconquest” of this area from the Islamic people who lived here since 711. It is uncertain whether there was ever a mosque here or not but the church would certainly have been built on top of it. Severe damage was inflicted on the church during the Civil War and it was rebuilt in the 1950’s and restored in 2009. If you would like to see inside and it is locked, just ask me and I can take you to get the key from Asunción who looks after the church.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Michelle Obama will be within six kilometres of Cartajima today!!

Michelle Obama will come within six kilometres of Cartajima today on her way to visit Ronda. But she will never know we are here! The map certainly wouldn't reveal the secret.

Who would be idiotic enough to open a hotel in a village that is not on most maps! Many people, including bank managers, agreed that I was nuts when I decided to do just that. But for me it was one of main appeals of Cartajima.

Perhaps because it is undiscovered, it is a little paradise of a village. Surrounded by a vast landscape of chestnut forests and craggy peaks, it is a quaint place. Villagers cling to their traditions but take quick trips into the twenty-first century before retreating once more to the ancient and familiar. These flirtations with modernity are often surprising – a baby born out of wedlock no longer carries a stigma, few widows lleva el luto for the rest of their lives, every house has a large television which is on most of the day.

But they still stare when foreigners appear in the village. They don't understand why they come; the concept of a vacation is alien. They are even more puzzled when they realise that the strangers are clearly intending to walk to the next village just for fun.

When I opened my little hotel right in the middle of the village in 2004, they agreed with my bank manager that it was an odd thing to do. After completing the construction and all the finishing touches, I invited them to an Open House so all the villagers could come and poke about. But the concept is still hard to grasp – to go to another place to pay to go to sleep? Why would you do that?

Similarly, the locals would never pay to go out to eat and yet Cartajima has the best for miles around. Spaniards from the cities and foreignors who come to stay comment on the excellence of the food at the local bar where Baltasar and Amalia serve traditional Andalucian fare: simple salads lightly dressed, delicious fried fish, aubergine chips, and, Amalia's finest hour, divine green peppers fried in olive oil and drenched with sea salt. The vegetables come out of Baltasar's garden and on many occasions he sends my guests off with a basket to pick their own peppers.

Cartajima is a taste of traditional old Spain, authentic Andalucia: the simple food, the incredible vistas, the eagles overhead, the quiet trails between villages, the sheer beauty of the place. See for yourself - if you can find us! Michelle didn't!