It was the first outing of the Senderistas after a break in August. Thirty people turned out to go on a walk along the water channels above Lanjarón, a village of some 3200 souls, which is now famous for its brand of mineral water. Lanjarón is a town of hotels and it looked as if it had been spruced up, and recovering from the pandemic slump in visitors. From above, it appears very neat and ordered. Disciplined in its land use, it nestles at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, but below the town there is a sharp drop and then a mountain bluff cuts the foreground with a sharp edge.
There had been some rain the previous week, so the atmosphere was humid in the morning and very hazy. Mist drifted around. Soon we were on the hill, and the water was gushing along one of the acequias, historic water channels, that contour the hill, always remarkable to see after the dry summer days; the water never dries up, being fed by snow melt, and then still filtering down in August and September, after all the snow has disappeared.
Having been rather inactive lately, I found that the climb was quite demanding. There are three of us aged 69, and all were attending. Luckily the group is always very disciplined and no one goes ahead, and there are frequent pauses, as well as the stop for breakfast, and tentempié de media mañana. Before long the gradient began a gradual descent to a shady river, where lunch was taken at the official Spanish time of 2:30 pm.
After that, just a long contour on the opposite side of the valley, always along the acequias. These valleys are famous for the chestnut trees, but quite a few of them had died, whether from old age, or ironically from lack of direct rainfall in such a well-watered area, no one knew. Below, a herd of a hundred goats was resting in an enclosure.
Descending towards Lanjarón we passed quite a few mountain houses with splendid views to the south. Near one of these a couple of kittens ventured out as we passed by. They were probably in cat adolescence, not fully grown, but not so tiny. But the remarkable thing was that when the group paused in the shade a bit further down, someone noticed that the kittens were pursuing us. Completely unfazed by the size of the group they came tumbling down the mountain path, about 300m from the house. Someone produced slices of ham which they devoured quicker than a robber’s dog. We had some difficulty in shooing them away when we continued.
There is no doubt that kittens at this age are very entertaining. Recently I have only had the street cats which my neighbour feeds to contend with, leading me to describe cats as ‘soulless beasts’, which a friend found very amusing, but is based not only on the experience of these very suspicious and untrusting street cats, but also on a lifetime of keeping cats. But these ones were most amiable, exploring, tails in the air, not minding being picked up, but wriggling free; the best word I can find is sparky! That is for me ironic, as the first cat I ever had was called Sparky, so maybe this is an ancient neuron sparking alive again!
Well, the definition of a good walk with the Senderistas of Archidona is that it will be about 20km long and involve some thousand metres of ascent, and that at the end you will have bruised toes, some blisters on the heels, aches of various kinds in the legs, a light sunburn, eyes smarting from the bright light, and a limping gait. Most of all you will deserve a hot bath, and the following day you will only be able to hobble about. On these criteria, this one was a success!
Finally we were on the outskirts of Lanjarón and instead of the usual visit to a café for refreshment, we sat on a ledge and filled our bottles with cold water gushing out of a pipe into a stone trough. It tasted good, and any doubts about whether it was potable disappeared when a succession of locals came with five litre bottles to fill up.
At last some of the ladies decided to take off socks and shoes and bathe aching feet. This provoked a terrific critique from a stout elderly lady who had arrived to fill her bottle. The essence of this was that it was vulgar to wash ones feet at a source of drinking water, even though no contamination was taking place. It became endless and over-heated until Mario, our leader, told the lady concerned that her vituperation was being directed at his mother, and that it would have to stop. It did.
It is interesting how memories from walks in the past can suddenly well up. I remembered how once in the summer holidays in my first school in Lancashire, the deputy head and myself took a group to the Glen Shiel area in western Scotland. At the end of a hot and tiring day, one of the boys complained: “My feet are knackered, my legs are knackered, my back is knackered, my shoulders are knackered, my eyes are knackered ….”
My reply:”I wish your tongue was knackered!”
I have come to enjoy these outings. All the walks are pre-tested by the monitors. It is safety first, and a good first aid kit is carried. My socialisation has been gradual, but a step along the way, a staging post in unfoldment, a grand complement to a hermitic existence. And like the acequias, so beautifully designed to take advantage of geometry and gravity, life-giving.
sturdy chestnut tree