Yesterday saw a flock of some 20-30 Choughs, flying over from Corumbela side towards Sayalonga.
Coming from Sayalonga to get to Cómpeta the shortest walking route given that you shouldn’t walk the main road, (it is neither pleasant nor safe) is the wide, well used track that runs along the top of this side of the valley ending at Portichuelo, one of the upper entrances to the second town. You can reach it by heading up the hill that rises on the right hand side from the main road to Cómpeta and is used by many to find a space to park; at the top the track goes left and winds on and on and on.
We went in the early afternoon – a bit hot for walking – but we were in no hurry, kicking up dust on the quiet road, enjoying the views, admiring the villas. These are rural lands, alternating between small farms or country houses bedded in among the vineyards and olive groves and little knots of (often) foreign owned villas, many of which are beautiful.
If you go left at the ‘Lagarjita’ lizard sign, you join the track that winds down to Bodegas Bentomiz. This is the home of the gorgeous Ariyanas wines and is worth a visit – they do almost daily tours and wine-tastings, as well as an elegant restaurant serving wine-centred lunches. We went the other way – up and on to reach the ridge and continue towards Cómpeta.
The vines leaves are just taking a hint of yellow as we head into autumn, but the grapes were still being dried into raisins in the white-walled paseros, darkening to a rich sweet red. Looking across the valley the breadth and depth of this ridged and channelled land striking. It is easy to forget how long and deeply this region has been farmed and, eager to reach the natural park, miss the beauty of the vineyards and olive groves on all hands.
We reached the ridge, opposite Corumbela, with wonderful views of Cómpeta and Canillas de Albaida ahead.
Our route was enlivened by a pair of kestrels in airborne courtship display: we heard the sharp cries, saw them tangle in midair, land briefly and then they flew again.
In these tamed lands you are not likely to see anything wildly unfamiliar, but the garden escapes mixing with wayside plants are very pretty. And Cómpeta is more beautiful than ever in the evening light.
The spotting started about 10.20 am (I know, I was out) and didn’t stop until about 11.30 pm. During that period the valley from the Sierra to the coast filled with cloud (fog lights on). We had drizzle, rain, heavy rain, stair-rods and waterfall weather.
This is boot weather for the simple reason that the narrow streets are often stepped or cambered so that the centre of the street becomes a riverlet. The edges of the street are dry but they also receive the spouts loosed from every terrace in sputtering fountains. You can feel when half a river is roaring by outside and tumbling in a waterfall down the steps that the whole village will tilt, heave, and float away like a blocky white Arc heading towards the Med.
The next day it was windy and sunny; the day after, sunshine dawn to dusk.
This is not remotely untypical here. We have quite reasonable rainfall in the “rainy season” of September-May: an average of around 500mm in Sayalonga. That may not sound a lot but can feel like it because it all comes at once. We have a lot of hot weather and are near the sea – no wonder we get a lot of thunderstorms. They are always hard to predict but cluster on the mountains. Rising steeply from sea level to the Sierras, with dozens of deep cut valleys and gulleys channelling any weather into micro-climates the landscape was built by torrential downpours and encourages them! I have sat in the sun watching a thunderstorm that was hammering Cómpeta – barely 10 minutes away. I have left Salares in sunshine and then fought my way over the Fogarate ridge, barely able to see through the sheets of rain, the thunder growling in my ears. To be perfectly honest, I like the drama.
It is not that we never get sustained rain. We often get to see heavy swathes of cloud hanging on the mountain or creeping up the valley; you can be enjoying the sunshine in Sayalonga while Corumbela, across the valley, needs fog-lights and raincoats. And although it usually doesn’t stay for long, you can be unlucky. I have had friends who, after hearing how walkers I had been out with were sunbathing in the February (honestly) had booked 10 days in March … and got 9 days of rain. There was the October when I spent three weeks watching the grey rain and the delighted farmers and thinking glumly that the November walking I’d planned would be a bit damp. (I was lucky – the left at the end of the month having brought all the flowers out). Or there was the wet winter of 2009-10 when it seemed to rain non-stop from December to April. We changed walking routes because the rivers were unpassable. Lots of water damage with landslips and pipes exposed. The Mill below Canillas and the bridge and La Peña bar at Árchez were flooded. But although it sometimes rains for a while, its the violence of the rainstorms you notice most.
The force of water causes a lot of damage (erosion never stops) as well as flash floods at the coast, both regular problems. If you have ever driven on the autovia and wondered why the pathetic trickle you are crossing above deserves such a huge riverbed, this is the reason: narrow it and flash-flooding will get the town. In the same way after every rainstorm you must take the winding roads more carefully because great rocks may have come down into the track around the next tight corner. Erosion is something you learn to adapt to here, with retention walls, water channelling, bridge and the like: the tarmac roads get maintenance because without it they fall away; farmers bank their land or lose it.
And then it stops and the sun comes out. At least it is pretty well guaranteed – even after a rare wet winter – that you’ll get back to warmth and very steady sunshine. You can never guarantee that it won’t rain, but it’s a fair bet that rain today will be followed by good weather tomorrow. (Fingers crossed).