Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Thursday, 24 March 2016


In Spain they say that before you die, you should have a child, plant a tree, and write a book. Of children, I have three; of trees I have several and of books I have written none – I do have a couple of blogs, though, even if they are rather less well cared-for than the children or trees.

The starting point for today’s ramblings is one of my trees. I spend a lot of time in my “garden” – a better term, I suppose, would be managed wilderness – just gazing at the trees. It is the most relaxing activity that I know of.

One day this winter I was admiring my unpruned, 20+-foot high almond tree –  my favourite – when I noticed that the branches on one side formed a concavity, as if they were embracing something, something immaterial. Continuing my contemplation, my eyes fell upon an olive tree some four or five yards to the east of the almond tree and about two yards further down the slope that forms my garden. I then realised that what the almond tree was embracing was the shadow of the olive tree.

Compared to the almond tree, the venerable olive is small – yet its almost imperceptible shadow had conditioned the growth of the mighty almond tree. Probably you can now see where this is going, and it’s probably nothing more than a commonplace, but let’s continue anyway.  

How many times have we heard or used the expressions ‘to live in someone’s shadow’, or ‘X’s genius overshadows that of his/her contemporaries’? This is an obviously negative observation regarding those in the shadow – indeed, what is a shadow but a certain absence of light? The best example that springs to my mind is the fact that George Harrison was definitely overshadowed by the genius of Lennon and McCartney. If you listen to the songs he was allowed to record for the Beatles albums up to, and including the White Album, you can almost always detect a plaintive, perhaps whining, tone to his voice and his songs tend to be rather sanctimonious criticisms of the listener. Yet listen to the songs on the Beatles’ last two albums and you will hear his skills as a composer and lyricist flower. As the colossus of Lennon/McCartney’s influence began to crumble and its shadow to wane, George Harrison began to flourish and gain confidence.

But a shadow can be more than just an absence of light. It can mean shelter; it can mean safety. It can be a benign, nurturing space in which to develop and grow. Here in Andalusia, finding yourself in the harsh, blinding, burning summer sunlight can be less than agreeable. In fact, it can literally be dangerous. In summer, I tend to seek out the shade as I walk in the streets to avoid heat exhaustion and/or sunstroke.

As children, we find ourselves under the protection of our parents, other family members and teachers. If we are fortunate, their love, wisdom and kindness will nurture us physically, emotionally and intellectually. If the opposite is true, we will become emotionally, intellectually and even, perhaps,  physically stunted. These imperceptible, yet powerful, influences will shape us, for good or ill, for the rest of our lives, just as my olive tree has shaped the almond tree.

Just like shadows, human relationships condition us and those that surround us without our realising it. Let us take care, therefore, of the emotional shadows that we cast. May they always be of the positive, nuturing kind and never of the kind that leads to the withering of others because even when we are dead and nothing but a memory, the shadows that we cast will still linger in the minds and hearts of others.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Trip to Cuenca - Homeward Bound

Wednesday was the day we returned to Sanlu. As teachers, both of us had the whole of Easter off and as such were able to travel in the first half of the week when prices were lower. Still, it was with a heavy heart that we packed and left La Antigua Vaquería.

Our first stop, as already advanced in my previous post, was the Restaurante Isis
The restaurant. Image from the Hostal Isis website
for brekky. It was rather disappointing - perhaps due to a lack of communication, as different terms have different meanings in different parts of Spain. In (at least) Andalusia a café cortado is an expresso with a mere dribble of milk. It would appear that in the Restaurante Isis café cortado seems to mean an expresso with a whole udderful of warm, caramelised milk. The toast, however, was excellent and the owner's wife's pyjamas and fluffy slippers up to snuff. At least standards hadn't slipped there, then!

We breakfasted outside on the deserted terrace. In my first post on Cuenca, I mused whether plants were sentient beings. I sincerely hope not. We subjected the nearby potted plants to unbearably exquisite torture by pouring the undrinkable coffee into their pots, à la Mr Bean. I doubt if El Ocejón would have survived a millenium on such a nauseating diet.  The sufferings of sentient vegetables were, however, soon forgotten as we were treated to yet another display of eccentricity. 
The terrace.  Image from the Hostal Isis website. unfortunately for the
owner, the pyramid's ratios are not those of Gizeh.

As we sat, minding our own business and quietly killing the plants with the Isis' own particular interpretation of Agent Orange, my Dark Lady decided to have a cigarette. Our table did not have an ashtray, so she went to the next one along and got the (used) ashtray from there. Among the detritus of the burnt offerings to the goddess Nicotiniana was a rumpled 1.5-inch stub of a slim cigar. We had been at our table for about 20 minutes, drinking black coffee and in the Dark Lady's case, smoking, when a couple of families emerged from the hostal and sat around the pyramid. The father of one of them took a seemingly nonchcalant stroll around the terrace and then took his place back at the pyramid.

After a while, he started to steal shifty glances towards us and after a bit of scratching, fidgeting and leg-crossing and re-crossing, he stood up and sidled past us again, muttering to himself. I began to get worried. Was he an axe murderer? Did he think that one of us was someone famous and was coming over to ask for an autograph? Was he a jealous husband who thought I, or indeed my Dark Lady, had been rootling around with his wife? Or, quite simply, did he have The Fear? He had The Fear. His mind was made up. Purposefully, he approached and, towering over our table, he muttered "Good day", snatched up the cigar stub, retreated a couple of metres, straightened it out and started to smoke enthusiastically, if somewhat defiantly.


Unanswered questions still pullulate in my mind:
1) He didn't exactly look like a tramp, so why pick up a second-mouth cigar?
2) If it was his own cigar, why had he left it in the first place? It had the concertina shape of having been put out dliberately.
3) How long had it been there?
4) Why didn't he just light up a new cigar and save himself the embarrassment?
5) If he had The Fear and was so in need of a nicotine hit, and had no more cigars, why didn't he just buy a packet of ciggies from the machine, or ask for one from my Dark Lady? 
6) Did he realise that he was making a spectacle of himself in front of his family and an appreciative public?

Before he came back to eat what was left on our breakfast plates and lick the Agent Orange from the potted plants' fast wilting leaves, we paid and departed. 

A nice church, Almodóvar del
Our plan now was to return home via Úbeda and Baeza, two historic cities in the province of Jaén, Andalusia. This time the idea was to avoid motorways, which we did most of the time. Indeed, in one case we unwillingly avoided a motorway, of which more anon. 

First stop on the way back was a little town called Almodóvar del Pinar where we bought a packet of fine pork scratchings and a loaf of disappointing bread. Curiously, it must be the only town in the whole of Spain that doesn't sell lottery tickets. We found  this out because it's a tradition in my Dark Lady's family to buy such a ticket in one of the places visited when on a journey. We gleaned this information from the ciggy shop lady, who was unable to give us an explanation as to why no-one sells lottery tickets there. It's not even as if the locals don't play the lottery - they go to the next town along to get the tickets. 

A typical street, Úbeda
This was the last stop before Úbeda, a couple of hours later. During the journey the Google Maps Witch managed to direct us off a motorway, take us on a route in more or less a figure of 8, through a couple of post-apocolyptic industrial estates and in sneering triumph, deposit us back on the initial motorway about three exits further down. We had asked her to take us to Úbeda avoiding all toll roads and I think that this was her final hissy fit before we switched her off. Obviously, if you'll pardon the pun the journey had been taking its toll on her, too!
Façade, Hospital de Santiago,

Úbeda. Hooray! We arrived at about 15.00 and the city's shops - including all of the chains - were closed for lunch, as were the churches and historic buildings. Unfortunately we had very little time to see anything. Anyway as the Easter processions were also about to recommence, we got back into Mr. Bubbles and drove off to Baeza for an ice cream in the main square before the final couple of hundred km back to Sanlu.

Thus ended our trip. We had, as the Spanish saying goes, been left with with honey on our lips. In other words what we had seen and experienced in Cuenca and Jaén had less than scratched the surface of what was to be enjoyed there. As the great thespian and politician Arnie has so expressively declaimed on several occasions, "We will be back".

Friday, 10 April 2015

A Trip to Cuenca. Day 2. The Second Waterfall and Meetings with Remarkably-clad Individuals.

And so we left Tragacete, but not without driving along a river bed that was also officially part of a road.

A question: When is a Citroën not a Citroën? Answer: When it Fords a river. Oh, what scintillating wit!

Next on our list of to-dos was a visit to the Ciudad Encantada, or literally Enchanted City. To get there we had to growl up a narrow mountain road behind a pair of camper vans. Still, it gave us time to admire the view. When we arrived, our enchantment dissipated like dew-laden gossamer in a gusty gale. You had to pay to get in. We didn't, so we didn't. 

Climbing back into trusty Mr. Bubbles, we began the drive back and I had plenty of time to admire El Salto hydroelectric power station. Its architecture is breathtaking - more like a monastery than a power plant. Unfortunately, the road is so tortuous and narrow that my Dark Lady was unable to park, so we took no photos. Luckily however, the job had been done magnificently by JR Regaldie for his blog. This link is definitely worth following!

By now, camera fatigue had also set in, so by the time we got to our next port of call, a trail leading to the source of the river Cuervo, few photos were taken, but here they are. 

On the way up, we passed a family who clearly took this outdoor adventuring lark seriously. The degrees of seriousness were, moreover, reflected in the dress of the individuals. The teenage daughter was in jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of trainers and the mother in a nice tracksuit and trainers. The father, however, was a man on a mission. He had a determined look on his face and obviously meant to out-Livingstone Livingstone in the exploring game. He sported tight-fitting lycra leggings (he was definitely nowhere near being in the Linford Christie league), fluorescent walking shoes, technical T-shirt and jacket, a torch, whistle, compass and mapholder hanging off his belt and all of those little pockety things in his backpack bulging with energy bars. Perhaps that's what Linford Christie... No, let's not follow that particular train of thought!

The waterfall with a secret...
My Dark Lady, myself and most of our fellow walkers were as irresponsibly dressed as the daughter and with our recklessly rash attitude towards the correct garb for survival in the great outdoors, richly would we have deserved any natural disaster that might have befallen us. To this day, I don't know how we survived or found our way along the well-kept and clearly signposted wooden walkways. When I look back on my foolishness, I tremble to think what might have happened. Anyhow, in the best traditions of Mallory, Hillary (no, not Clinton, the other one!) Tensing and The British Climbing Man, we persevered and were rewarded with a sight and sound that made the 1-km walk worthwhile. The photo is merely a taster of the experience. The sound of the water cascading over moss-clad rocks into crystalline pools was entrancing. Hats off to the Dark Lady for her choice of Easter holiday destination! 
And the waterfall's secret? next to a viewing balcony I spotted a water company manhole and, following its orientation, espied a line of younger trees and undegrowth marching up the hill in a straight line. My conclusion? In times of drought, water is piped to the fall to preserve its flora and fauna. What a wonderful idea!

It was now getting late and time to head back - we had about 100 km to travel to get back to La Vaquería, or about 250 if we took any notice of the Wicked Witch that had possessed my Google Maps app.

Back in La Melgosa, a very friendly old lady told us how to get to the village's ghost restaurant ("you can't miss it!"), or to another one in a nearby village. We decided to try the other one, as we had passed the place where the locals claimed the village restaurant was several times and had seen no sign of an eaterie.

To get to the other village we had to drive down a - yes, you've guessed it - rutted farm track in the dark. 

And promptly we got lost.

We could have gone the long way round on proper roads, but where's the fun in that? 

Luckily, it turned out - as even hypereconomical Citroën C4s need diesel occasionally and My Dark Lady's was down to its last 8km - we found a petrol station whose manager rather cautiously directed us to the Restaurante Isis. We, however, found the food to be good, plentiful and cheap, although the hostal itself seems to get mixed reviews.

And so ended our second day in Cuenca - with a delicious meal served by the owner, a Ray Liotta lookalike whose pj-clad wife held sway at the bar. These (eminently respectable, non-revealing) pyjamas are a constant in tripadvisor reviews. Indeed, she was still wearing them the following day when we stopped there for brekky, although swanning around the place in pjs in the morning somehow seems more natural to me than holding a soirée in them with dining clients at about 9 at night.   

The best of company, beautiful countryside, adventure, both on foot and at the wheel, good food, friendly locals, plus the occasional eccentric. Who could ask for more? A perfect day, indeedy.

A Trip to Cuenca. Day Two.

Mesón Herminio, home to the 
pork scratchings and red wine 
Having slept well in  La Antigua Vaquería, We set off in search of brekky. As La Melgosa is an extremely small village with no sign of a café (we later found out that it had a café and a restaurant, but were unable to find either during our stay), we headed back towards Cuenca. Just like most cities, the first thing you come to when entering the city is a business park-cum-industrial estate. Experience has taught us both that the best food is usually to be found in the cafés and restaurants in such places, so, we hauled up in front of Mesón Herminio. 

Imagine our surprise when we saw, as soon as we entered, a barbecue going at full throttle with the eponymous Herminio manfully stoking, scraping, prodding, flipping, chopping and  chanting out the finished orders. Meanwhile, the locals were avidly breakfasting off barbecued black pudding butties, freshly barbecued pork scratchings and belly pork, &c. &c. &c. I though for a moment I had died and gone to heaven! I then thought better of it and ordered a piece of toast and the worst coffee of the trip so far. The coffee was far too milky and tasted burnt. Little surprise really, as it seemed that the breakfast drink of choice was either beer or red wine. Probably the waiters could barely remember how to make it. Still, it was an interesting experience as I imagine that this was like a distant memory of the coaching inns that were omnipresent across Europe until the age of rail travel.

Once we had fortified our inner man and woman, we set off on our adventures - and promptly got lost. The young lady from Google Maps was playing up again, to the extent that she took us round in a circle on two different occasions. This was probably due to the fact that we had almost given her high blood pressure the night before with our antics in the city centre and she was getting her revenge.

Eventually we managed to find our way into the Serranía de Cuenca mountain range, part of the Iberian system, which is truly breathtaking.

I refer you to David Bowie, 'nuff said.
The first surprise was the road to Uña. It was here that the feeling that we had somehow fallen through a wormhole and popped out in the USA.

Having left Uña behind, we headed to Tragacete where we took to local tracks and spent hours walking, driving and exploring. 

First up was the route to find the head of the river Júcar which eventually disembogues, some 500km later, in Valencia.

A view of the Júcar, about 2km from its source. As you can see from
 the bare trees and bushes, Spring is stil on its way.  

Taking the well laid-out and well-maintained footpath, we started our walk to the first major waterfall on the river's course. As we did so, we passed constantly by such scenes as the photo on the left. Needless to say the urge to have a wee was sore upon us as we walked along.

A bladder-bursting km or so later, we arrived at our first waterfall of the day. Here's a short video:

Another tourist has a Thelma 
and Louise moment. And, as it 
is Easter, the Baby Jesus sends 
a Divine sign, too
 After a brief rest, it was back to the  sturdy C4 in search of other    adventures. By  now, and as usual, our plan had gone out of the window    and fancy took its  place. No wonder the Google Maps lady is always    getting into a strop with us!

 The latest whim was now to look for a 1,000-year old pine, el Ocejón so it was  time to negotiate rutted logging tracks for a few miles and, once again, we  were back in familiar territory. Familiar, that is, from seeing numerous  American films shot in the endless(?) US forests. It turns out that in some  parts of the mountain range there are actually bears ambling around. We  didn't see any - or hilbillies à la Deliverance, thank heavens. To date, our  only Deliverance moment has occurred near Aracena, Huelva. But that,  as  they say Dear Reader, is  a whole nother story. 
Mr. Bubbles enjoys a rest

A logging track, reminiscent of Deliverance.
Looking up El Ocejón's 28-m trunk towards its
 28-m crown.

A detail of the trunk. each layer
 of bark = 1 year.

 After quite a long time in the presence of this amazing being,  sitting between its roots or just soaking up the atmosphere and  contemplating the surrounding trees, we carried on to new, and  as yet unknown, destinations. 

 I also took away with me two questions: 

 1) If the rest of El Ocejón's contemporaries and innumerable  other generations of surrounding pines have been cut down and  replaced either naturally or by man, Why has El Ocejón been  spared?

 2) If - as some believe - trees and plants are sentient beings,  how much anguish has this tree suffered and will continue to  suffer as it presides the cutting down and dragging off of  generations of companion beings that share its  genes?

 It doesn't bear thinking about, so I'll stop there.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A Trip to Cuenca. Day One.

Setting out early(ish) from Sanlúcar, in My Dark Lady's Citroën C4, aka Mr. Bubbles, we drove the 600+ km to Cuenca on the dual carriageways and thus avoided being led into temptation by inviting signposts pointing to places of interest.

Our destination was La Antigua Vaquería (literally the Former Cowshed, or for the more poetic among us, the Bygone Byre ) in La Melgosa, a small village about 6km outside Cuenca. Click here for photos from their own website. The hostal was amazingly clean and well-run. Its owners managed to combine helpfulness, discretion and friendliness perfectly. We were shown up to our spotless room
A room with a view, indeed!
with an en-suite bathroom and perfumed towels. Opening the blinds on the window, this is the sight that met our eyes. 

After a refreshing shower, we set off for Cuenca with a view to seeing the famous casas colgantes, or hanging houses. We didn't actually reach that particular goal, so here is a rather dramatic photo published on the website. Click here to see more photos of the houses.
Objective number two was to see one of Cuenca's famous Easter processions where statues of Christ and his mum are paraded around the streets accompanied by penitents wearing pointy hoods and tunics. It is said to be quite something. Unfortuntely, we didn't have the patience to hang around for it, but we did take some pretty photos of the cathedral, the main square etc.

An aside: anyone who has seen films about the Ku Klux Klan or the Spanish Inquisition will be familiar with the garb of the penitents. Another aside: the Mediterranean tradtition of carrying painted idols around towns as a sprigtime celebration of rebirth and fertility goes back as far as Ancient Greece. 

Penitents in all their 
sinister glory. Image
 courtesy of

Here we can see one of the local penitents swilling a swift beer before putting on his hat and working both it and his sins off with a bit of candle-waggling idolatry, with a blithe disregard for the 1st & 2nd commandments: 
"“You shall have no other gods before Me.
The 16th-century façade of Cuenca's
 Gothic cathedral. 
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them." Exodus 20, 3-5 (New King James Bible).

It all seemed rather hypocritical to me but, hey, we are talking about religion after all - and the Romish Sect in particular.

The Cathedral's 16th-century façade was obscured in the 18th century by a new one, this latter being demolished in the 20th century. This also led to a lot of restoration work being done on the façade that we see today. In fact most, if not all, of the decorative carving is new.

Detail of one of the Cathedral porticoes.  Note the lancet arch's  new
 stonework compared with the eroded interior

A view from one of the archways
in the  main square towards the
 steps leading down to the river 

Above: a view of the main square from the Cathedral Steps
Below: the rooftops of the former Sisters of Mercy 
Monastery, now home to the FundaciónAntonio Pérez.

It was then literally onwards and upwards to ontinue exploring. So we arrived at the Fundación Antonio Pérez which was closed.

Nevertheless, from the street above it, the roofs of the different buildings that make up the former convent where the Foundation is housed made a pretty picture. 

A view from the street next to the Fundación.
It was now time to leave the old city, with most of its treasures unvisited and pending a further trip. Tums rumbling, we looked for a place to dine and ended up in a pizza place, American Piccolo where we shared two delicious pizzas. Our sojourn at the restaurant was spolied, for me at least, by the arrival of other clients. We arrived early and this, coupled with the fact that that most people were in the old part of the city, meant that we had the pick of the tables.  Halfway through our meal, another party of people arrived and chose, out of all of the empty tables, the table behind us. Then another family arrived (complete with a seven-year-old, iPad-toting brat) and sat opposite. My question is this; if the restaurant was practically empty, why did they have to come and take the tables next to us??? Sometimes I despair of this herd mentality, especially when it directly affects my digestion.

Anyhow, having finished our meal, we decided to go back to the hostal. Easier said than done. We got lost several times looking for the car and tried the patience of the the woman in my phone's Google Maps to breaking point. Finally, we found Mr. Bubbles and, after several adventures in the city's narrow streets, we escaped into the suburbs and drove back to the bucolic surroundings of La Antigua Vaquería for a good night's rest.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

What To Do on A Sunny Thursday in Cádiz

Visit the Museums.

Façade of the Centre wit the bay in the background. Image 
courtesy of
Today was the turn of the Centro Cultural Reina Sofía. Luckily, this centre has nothing to do with the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid and as such is free. The centre is housed in a mid-18th century buidling that was once home to military engineers and now houses a whole host of cultural organisations: the Vasallo Museum, with a permanent exhibition of the Cádiz-born sculptor's works, the Royal Hispano-American Academy, reflecting the city's close ties with the New World, The Cádiz Atheneum, the Military Library, The Féderico Joly Foundation, the Galván Press, the Municipal Culture Foundation and the permanent exhibition of the Aramburu Picardo legacy.

The stairwell - a detail.

When we entered, we were greeted by a helpful receptionist who recommended that we start on the third floor and work our way down, so ignoring the impressive staircase we took the lift to the third floor. The lift opened onto a flat roof that gave magnificent views of Cádiz and its bay, so magnificent that I risked taking a panoramic photo of the scene that presented itself before us.

A young Detectorist?
The tower on the right is part of the building and is known as a veedor - literally a seer. Most merchant and military houses in Cádiz were built with such towers so that the interested parties could see what was going on in the Bay - mostly merchants anxiously awaiting the arrival of their ships from the Americas or elsewhere, or naval types wondering when the next horde of British prototourists (i.e. the Royal Navy) would descend upon the city, drink the place dry and then set fire to it.

But I digress. The Aramburu legacy is mainly a collection of paintings collected by the Aramburu Picardo family. Originally from the Basque Country, the Aramburus were a family of bankers who eventually sold the business and donated this collection to the city. Among the paintings, two particularly caught my attention. There was this one on the left, whose subject, commented my Dark Lady, looks remarkably like Toby Jones.

And the one on the right, a charming portrait of a young boy, and his parrot. 

Apart from the subject, what really drew our attention was the frame. Made to look like bamboo, the black blotches to be seen are small works of art in themselves, depicting oriental scenes.

On the subject of BBC lookalikes, both the little boy with the parrot and this young girl, presumably both members of the Aramburu family, bear an uncanny resemblance to 1980s Dr Who actor Colin Baker. Compare and contrast.
Colin Baker, the 6th doctor. 
Image courtesy of
A 19th-century Aramburu, 
looking as if she's on 
the naughty step.

It was now time to waft downtairs to the Vasallo Museum. Juan Luis Vasallo was born in Cádiz in 1908 and died some 78 years later in Madrid. The museum has a permanent exhibition of numerous pieces in bronze, stone, clay, plaster etc. Below are two photos of Vasallo's marvellous clay version of Don Quixote. It is only about 3 inches tall and inexpressibly moving. Observe the hands; they are reminiscent of El Greco paintings

Among the many other pieces were a study of the hands of Cádiz-born essayist, poet, journalist and all-round writer José María Pemán. As most of the exhibits in the whole building are hands-on, more of which later, a certain bollocks-talker couldn't resist this hands-in visual joke.

The crystal chandelier lighting up
the paintings on the wall - all very
Charley Pride.
It was then time to take to the stairs again, admiring this wonderful chandelier as we did so.                                  

Back on the ground floor, it was now time to visit the Féderico Joly Hohr Foundation. The late Féderico Joly was chairman of the Cádiz-based Joly newspaper group and upon his death bequeathed his library, including his desk and papers therein, to the city of Cádiz. and here it all is. Amazingly, his desk is not behind a glass screen and you can actually pick up his notebooks and read them and, if it takes your fancy, try on his sunglasses and sit behind the desk, pretending to be a newspaper magnate while gasping out the word "Rosebud".

Joly's desk...

...and papers.

And so ended our visit to this charming building with its enchanting collections, all the more enjoyable because you can actually touch and interact with almost all of the objects. A great afternoon out and definitely worth a second visit.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Inland from the Guadalquivir: Ducks, Drakes and Meres

After exploring the banks of the Guadalquivir[i], This weekend we turned inland to explore the countryside surrounding the town of Espera. To our surprise, we discovered a set of three meres, the Complejo Endorréico de Espera, that are home to a wide range of birdlife, both aquatic and otherwise.

Far in the distance, Fatetar castle dominates the countryside.
Turning off the main road, we took a dirt track towards the meres. Click here to see a map. As we took the track, to the left we coud see Espera's Fatetar Castle rising above the emerald green fields, more of which later.

We then took the track towards the wetlands. Today we were in Burbuja, my Dark Lady's Citröen C4, which was completely at home with the conditions. 

Scrubland, farmland and newly-sown fields.

Burbuja, parked up and watching over a complex of rabbity residences.
Leaving the castle behind,we forged on along well-maintined dirt tracks towards our destination. As we passed the undulating hills of farmland, we were amazed by the sheer number of birds to be seen: partridges running across the road as we approached, finches of every descrition wittering away in the bushes and trees, and marsh harriers hovering above us in search of a tasty hare or rabbit, whose warrens are to be found everywhere. 

Indeed, we were lucky enough to see two harriers involved in their aerial mating rituals. 

For a more exhaustive list of the flora and fauna to be found, click here. The common names are in Spanish, but they are accompanied by their Latin names, too.  

Bad joke: Q.;What do you call a man with a load of rabbits 

stuffed up his fundament?

A.: Warren.
The vastness of the landscape is truly amazing, yet the rolling hills make it seem more familiar and intimate than the endless plains that conform the Guadalquivir valley that lies beneath the foothills.

Soon we arrived at our destination. The first of the three meres, Laguna Hondilla, is completely fenced off and has no path around it, so we started to walk towards the second, Laguna Salada de la Zorilla.

Laguna La Zoriilla Salada.
If the truth be told, there was not a lot of birdlife to be seen, but we could certainly hear it; quackings, splashings, plashings honkings, flappings, tweetings, twitterings and witterings filled the air. In fact, it sounded frighteningly like one of the bird-brained Wednesday morning meetings at the august educational establishment where I have the honour and privilege to earn my crust.

Moreover, with just a phone camera, it would be well-nigh impossible to take good photos, but there are plenty to be seen in the links I have included above. 

After a walk around the mere and the surrounding countryside, it was time to head back to the car and explore the castle. 

Like many castles in Andalusia, the town's cemetary nestles close to the walls.
Fatetar Castle. you can just about see the tower on the left.
Although the rocky outcrop doesn't look particuarly high, the road leading up to the castle from the town side was quite steep and had to be taken in first gear. The view, however, was worth it, but not really woth photographing. Seen one alluvial plain, seen 'em all!
I did take some photos of the castle and its environs.
A piece of decorative stonework,
probably replaced during restoration.

An interesting limestone formation
A set of doorways and an arch. All very
       The entrance to the castle.
       Once serving as a church, it
         is now a museum.

Then it was back into the car and off to find somewhere to have a well-deserved coffee before returning to Sanlu to watch from our balcony the sun set over the neighours' houses.

And so, dear reader, to bed.

[i] BTW, Guadalquivir is a corruption of the Arabic, Guad-al-Kebir, literally big river, or in Spanish Río Grande – a name I’m sure that lovers of Westerns will be more than familiar with.