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.
Rain all day today. According to Aemet we should be getting a soaking with four days of rain – right over the weekend of course. Perfect weather for frogs.
I am not complaining. The farmers and their families all say ‘the land needs it’. It may be true but can be a bit annoying when the rain is dripping down the back of your neck and you have discovered there’s a hole in one of your trainers, but still, this year they are right.
We get around 500 to 600 litres of rainfall from September to May, on average. This winter, though we’ve had just 200 litres, and we are already nearly halfway through February. So four days of rain is very welcome, especially the steady heavy drizzle that has settled in, because the water will soak into the soil and build up the ground water. This is much better than the spectacular storms of September, which show you erosion in action as the hot dry land bounces water, soil and rocks down the valley as fast as it can go. It could be worse – just over the border in Granada province they have drought problems due to being in Malaga’s rain shadow – that is, the rain blowing in from the Mediterranean drops as it hits the Sierras Tejada and Almijara, leaving the northside of the mountains dry.
I bumped into Antonio, a villager I know, coming home today. I should say coming home for the second time – I’d got halfway up the hill before I realised I’d left the milk in the car and diverted to the village shop to save a longer trip. I was absolutely soaked; I got to the shop wondering why I never bring an umbrella and I’d worn trainers instead of boots. I came in and Antonio gave me a stern look then broke into a cheery grin. “Beautiful weather!” he said. “I’m so glad. The land needs it.”
“Not much like Sunny Spain, is it?” the tourists groan as they huddle around the gas-heaters in tented ‘open-air’ bars as the rain patters on the cover above.
“La tierra la necesita…” – the land needs it – sighing villagers, struggling up the hills with umbrellas tell each other “Ya ve…”
We have been getting weather recently. The “100% chance Precipitation” kind, interspersed with a couple of lovely sunny days. Summer-only tourists find it odd to see the clouds here and shocking to endure rain, but in our sea-to-mountain landscape fogs and rolling clouds are very much part of the scene.
Okay, so the oppressive condensing fog – which glooms-out the mountains, the valley, the village, the house next door and leaves the cars crawling along in second gear – the mountains is not really a big thrill.
But even fogs have their moment: one early morning in late June – well into the hot season – I was climbing the Huerta Grande and was delighted to find a thickening mist cooling my hot muscles, blowing across the path, confusing the thread lacewings who were making their brief appearance just then. In summer it’s a privilege to be in cloud!
When storm clouds gather on the mountains threatening a valley still brightened by sunlight the drama of the scene is wonderful.
Often low-lying cloud, clinging to the hillside and valley bottoms, rolls slowly inland, until hilltops are turned into islands and higher villages find themselves perched above a sunlit sea of mist.
As rain and mists clear, the damp earth smells fresh and clean, the colours look more vibrant, the small birds – warblers, thrushes, finches – are active again – everything seems renewed. Perhaps the Axarquia is most beautiful after rain?
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).