We drove on to Almirimar and took the motorway to save time. We drove across Almiria, a once very impoverished area of Spain, because the area was so arid and dusty that the Spaghetti Westerns were filmed here. Now, from the lens of a passing satellite, Almeria Province is one of the most recognizable spots on the planet. The roofs of thousands of closely packed greenhouses form a blanket of mirrored lights beaming into space. From the motorway all we could see for acres around was the sight of these plastic coated buildings tightly packed together. As ugly as this area is, we felt that we had to find out what grows here and what has passed to create this terrible blot on the landscape.
Almeria has become Europe’s winter market garden and the greenhouses cover an area of 135 square miles. Farmers here have become rich and shopping centres are springing up so they have somewhere to spend their money. Immigrants from as far away as Mali, Columbia and Ukraine have flocked here to work on these plastic coated farms. During this winter you almost certainly ate tomatoes and courgettes that were grown here along with lots of the fresh fruit you would have in your fruit bowl. The crops grown here will never touch soil and they grow from bags filled with oven-puffed grains of perlite stone. Chemical fertilizers are drip fed to each plant from computer controlled vats in each room. The different vats hold potassium nitrate, magnesium, potassium sulphate, calcium nitrate and phosphoric acid and the plants get exactly what they need. There is so much money being made in this area that these farms are spreading into the nearby Granada Province.
The money to pay for the development of these farms comes from the EEC but scant care is being taken as to the long term health problems for the people living in the area that may be caused by the vast amounts of chemicals that are leaking into the soil and we can only hope that the British supermarkets are adequately testing these products before selling them onto us. I have never seen Tescos, for instance, advertising that they get any crops from the Almeria area of Spain.
We drove past all the plastic and arrived on a 7 euro a night aire which is very close to the beach and have enjoyed the welcome we received from Pedro and Lisa,his Bradford born wife. The town of Almirimar is a short bicycle journey away and we have enjoyed our four day stay here.
There is a flourishing small port in the centre of the town and on the outskirts there is a national park and on the huge lake many water birds enjoy the peace of this protected area. I cycled all along the lake side and got a few insect bites for my troubles but it was worth it to be able to get so close to such beautiful wildlife.
We have been checking the weather and we have decided that we will turn back so we can continue with our original plan of exploring Portugal, starting from the South of the country and slowly heading north and then exiting so we can travel along the north coast of Spain. However, a joint decision that we would visit the coastal city of Almeria meant that we would extend our eastern journey a little further before turning back.
We arrived in Almeria and on the outskirts we spotted a fascinating looking castle perched high on a hill overlooking the city. We drove past the large port there and along the front to a carpark that was going to be our home for the night. We knew that there were no facilities here so we arrived with our water tanks full and our waste tanks empty. Tom was feeling very sorry for himself because the bites he got when we visited the lake were really irritating him and we were all suggesting different things he could put on them to relieve his distress.
We walked all along the promenade past lots of stalls selling all sorts of wares and walked all the way back to the port. It was a beautiful, warm day and because it was a Saturday then we were walking along beside hundreds of families, couples and assorted groups of people and the atmosphere was very pleasant indeed. There were lots of groups of youths along the beach doing acrobatics by launching themselves off a very large plastic ball, half buried in the sand. It is times like this that makes you a little wistful that you are not young enough to take a turn to do even a simple somersault so we just watched and enjoyed the show.
We arrived at Alcazaba, the very impressive Moorish castle and when we went to pay for entry and the person in the booth only wanted to know which country we were from and said “there is no charge”. How unlike Britain! We spent quite a long time exploring this very interesting, historical fortification and the views from the ramparts gave us a view all over the area.
We found the cathedral and walked through the narrow streets of the old city.
Despite the fact that we are in Spain we enjoyed a superb meal just outside an Italian restaurant before returning to our vans having enjoyed another excellent day.
From Almeria we have headed north up the A92 motorway and climbed and climbed and we were soon 1300 meters above sea level and snow covered mountains off to our left didn’t look that much higher than we were. The scenery changed and everywhere was covered with distorted rock peaks and barren land. We intended to overnight at Guadix because there is an area of caves in the rocks that were inhabited in the time of the troglodytes and many of the caves are used as dwellings now. Our book showed that there is motorhome parking by the Hospital but the security guard steered us towards a parking area a little further out of town. The area was deserted and although it would have been OK for a night’s stop none of us felt that it was safe to leave our vans whilst we explored the area.
So we drove on another couple of hours to get to El Torcal. The last part of the journey involved a steep climb past hair pin bends and most of the way up the edge of the road was totally unprotected. The car park here is 1217 meters above sea level and when we arrived we settled down for the night having decided that we would explore this amazing place the next day. It is difficult to describe what we walked around so I will let the pictures tell the story.
Hard to believe, despite the height above sea level,this whole area was under the sea. The limestone that makes up El Torcal belongs to a series of marine sedimentary rocks dating from the Mesozoic age and is considered to be a Karst.
The reason for the fantastic appearance due to the simultaneous working of various factors, most significantly the nature of the rock itself as the limestone dissolves easily under the environments’ different climatic conditions. We walked around the longest route and at certain points we got views of the clouds way below us.
We came across a large group of Iberian Ibox and because it was just the four of us and not among hundreds of people then they didn’t just disappear so we enjoyed this extra rare treat.
Not being able to get on to the internet has caused difficulties hence this extra long blog and why there has been a lack of news updates. It is now the 29th of January and I will catch up with our progress towards Portugal soon.