The La Viñuela reservoir in the heart of the Axarquía has capacity for 165 million cubic metres of water. It provides water for irrigation to hundreds of farms and drinking water to thousands of homes.
Up to the 26th of February – six months into a nine month “rainy season” – it held just 35 million cubic metres: 21% of capacity. So the promise of a week or more of rain seemed heaven sent.
That means yes, it is going to rain. We’ve had a proper rainy old Saturday, from Friday afternoon through to Saturday afternoon in waves of light drizzle, 3 minute lull, torrential downpour, steady drizzle and start again.
It is quite something to see this. The villages are so up and down, they have so many narrow alleys and steep, stepped streets that the whole thing becomes a water park. There are drains and vents bubbling and overflowing, terrace drainholes spouting waterfalls from three stories up, rivers gushing broadly across the street, damp spatterings from every overhand. There is so much water in every direction you expect the whole compact village to lurch, tilt sideways, wrench loose and float away.
Quite a lot of the land does. A real humdinger of a storm brings a fair bit of erosion with it; we have landslips and rain damage. The landscape here has been built by erosion aided and abetted by humanity’s unending urge to chop down trees and light fires, and barely slowed by our counter-measures of terracing and replanting. Everywhere you look you see the marks of water – the sculpted limestone, the steep valley sides, the deep gullies of busy little mountain streams.
It is probably not the time to go for a walk. I can vouch for the experience of being caught in a violent thunderstorm high up on the ridge of the valley being fairly unpleasant. My companion on that day insisted, “Foot on the accelerator, lets get home!” But an on-off rainy day isn’t always a bad walk; you can have beautiful patches of light and shade; the land can seem wonderfully fresh, the cloudscapes beautiful. If you get high enough you might even get above the cloud and look down on rainbows!
That said, on the occasions when I have persauded others to come out in the teeth of the weather they are not over-enthusiastic. I tend to find them putting their hoods up and heading away. Been in Spain too long, I guess, got a bit nesh.
I must admit, as the rain hammers on the shutters and pings off the railings, now I am too. Brrrr.
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).