Desert, Donkeys, and Clint Eastwood

Trip Start Apr 25, 2007
Trip End Oct 03, 2007

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I was told that from outer space, astronauts can see the great, plastic sheets that cover the vegetables growing in the Almeria region, and I believe it. As far as we could see up into the foothills on our way to Cabo de Gata were giant rectangles of plastic, shimmering in the sun. I wondered if this was what we would be surrounded by during our stay in the natural park, but luckily once we turned off the road and headed for Las Negras, the ugliness soon gave way to the wild beaches and coves we had seen in photographs. Gone were the mega developments that hang onto every inch of much of the Spanish coastline, and instead we found a landscape that looked stark, pristine, and deserted.
On the website we had found a studio to rent for 35 Euros a night in a village called Las Hortichuelas. After a quick lunch in a beachside fish restaurant in Las Negras (12 Euros for six sardines - yikes!!), Cunera, a Dutch woman who owns the studio, met us and we followed her to her village. Cunera had been coming to Cabo de Gata since she was a child, as her mother had been using the house in Las Hortichuelas since the fifties. Cunera turned what was an antique shop next door into a studio apartment, all on a ten acre piece of property five minutes from the beach in the foothills. Cunera had obviously put a lot of time and love into her house and the gardens, and we were enchanted by it all. Everywhere we looked there was something beautiful: flowers, plants, small statues, ceramic pots, antiques, paintings, was perfect for us. To top it all off, there was a donkey, two little dogs, a cat that actually wanted you to pet it (unlike the stray cats who run away), and Cunera was thoughtful and welcoming. She offered us beer, and we sat on her terrace to take it all in.
Excited to get back to the beach, we set off the next day to a village called Las Isleta de Moro. Since it was a Saturday, it was crowded, but compared to the Costa del Sol, it was nothing. It was still a small fishing village, with a few restaurants, and the beach was framed on all sides by rocky outcroppings. We splurged and bought a small cooler, so our day was spent swimming, lounging, and enjoying the occasional cold one. That night we were excited to be able to use the little barbeque, and had sausages, peppers with sea salt, and a bottle of red wine. After dinner we took some cucumbers to our new friend Estrella, the donkey, who was white and lovely. She loved our nightly visits and would bray excitedly when she saw the couple with her cucumbers coming to see her.
The next morning we were greeted by our new dog friends Haba (fava bean) and Concha (shell) who licked us and wagged their tales at us until we were awake. After breakfast on our terrace (mmmm, the best pear yoghurt), we drove to San Isidro to the Sunday open air market that was a mixture of Spanish, Moroccan, African, and Lithuanian stalls selling vegetables, CDs, clothes, and shoes. We found Lithuanian and Moroccan grocery stores, as the workers who pick all the vegetables come predominantly from these two areas, as well as from parts of Africa, making for an interesting mix of people in this agricultural town. We also found our way to Nijar, a historic town in the foothills selling mostly pottery and knick knacks, and then ended up lost on a dusty, fascinating mountain road in the middle of nowhere for about an hour, the only other living things being a hundred sheep and their shepherd.
On Monday we drove to Rodalquilar, a village and beach in the next valley over. We noticed something above the town built into the hillside and went to explore. One of the abandoned buildings said "Guard Block C", so we thought we had stumbled upon an old prison (but why in English?). Cunera later told us this whole area had been the site of the spaghetti westerns, such as "A Fist Full of Dollars", and what we had seen in Rodalquilar was a gold mine used as a prison in one of the movies. I saw how this area could pass for Mexico, as it reminded me of the area around Guanajuato, Mexico, where I had once lived. The landscape was full of prickly pear cactii, red, dusty earth, and I could imagine Clint Eastwood squinting into the sun. We made our way to the beach, which was much more deserted than Isleta de Moro with ruins of a fort at one end, and we spent another lazy day swimming and reading.
We had planned to stay in Cabo de Gata only three nights, but thanks to Cunera, her hospitality and great conversation, we stayed five. We knew we had to leave, but our days on those wonderfully empty beaches, the stark beauty of those mountains, and the luck we had finding such a nice home in Las Hortichuelas made us want to stay for a long, long time. We reluctantly said goodbye to Cunera, Haba, Concha, and Constanza the Cat, went to visit Estrella the Donkey to give her one last cucumber, and drove through the mountains towards Murcia.
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