Saturday, July 24, 2010

Theft - Headlong - The White Tiger

Being in Spain - in my internet free zone at home - means lots of time to read.

So, I had a nice Peter Carey book. It was called 'Theft: a love story' (2006) and described variously as a tale about art (and art dealers), scams, relationships - and apparently a story that would make the reader laugh.

Well, although I enjoyed it, as I enjoy all Carey novels, I didn't find it at all funny. Sad and immoral but not funny. Perhaps I've lost my sense of humour.

But having read that, it reminded me of another book I had bought some time ago, one about art history.

I searched through all four bookcases - but could I find it? No. So after repeatedly looking in them all over again, I finally found it hiding at the back of a cupboard - which also has books in it - four bookcases naturally not providing enough space so other furniture has been appropriated for books.

Michael Frayn's Headlong (1999), and short listed for the Booker Prize in that year. I remembered the general plot, but not the detail, so happily sat down to plough through it again.

Plough through it was the word. I enjoyed it the first time around, but was I ever fed up this time with reading about Breughel and iconography and iconology. Or was it iconoclasts? How to ruin a decent plot with really too much academic/intellectual content. Or maybe once bearable maybe enjoyable, yes, but - never again.

Anyway, having finished with art - history and dealers and crazy relationships - onto a totally different book. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, (2008) and a Booker prizewinner. Yeah, ok, I do end up reading Booker nominated or winning novels.

It was a good read. Very black humour and totally amoral and utterly enjoyable. Try it. Probably the best of the three.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Round the town and down the coast

No history today - but some urban and coastal walks.

There are quite a few geocaches in the Rincon de la Victoria/La Cala del Moral area. They are all easy to get to and easy to find, and involve a shortish but pleasant walk.

First at Rincon is the Casa Fuerte de Bezmiliana, which dates from the second half of the eighteenth century and was built as part of the coastal defence system in the area. This also included the nearby Torre de El Cantal, which I mention below.

Nowadays it hosts exhibitions, and other cultural activities and provides a pleasant place to wander in the centre of busy Rincon.

Fortress at Rincon

Moving onto another urban area - La Cala del Moral, somewhere we've driven through but never stopped. This was a nice easy multi-cache which started at the church, then visited a tranquil plaza, and ended at the spectacular fountain which marks the entrance to La Cala.


Fountain (trip to the top was FAR too high up!!)

The remaining two caches were posted by the same family, and are within easy walking distance of each other on the limestone promontory of El Cantal. This is between Rincon and La Cala, and underneath are the famous Treasure Caves (visited via Rincon).

We visited the Treasure Caves years ago, and we've been through Rincon and La Cala so many times, but I never knew this promontory existed - it's quite well hidden from the road - and the walkway is an absolute gem.

The short promenade was converted from the old railway line a few years ago and is cut deep into the cliff and has three spectacular tunnels. But there is also a cliff top walk - so you can take the cliffs one way and return on the promenade. The railway line was built in the early 20th century and ran from Málaga to Torre del Mar, and was then extended up into the hills to Ventas de Zafarraya. It seems Spain had their own era of Beeching cuts - it was dismantled in the sixties.

This was such a brilliant walk with wonderful views. Finding pots of tat treasure is fun, but what really makes geocaching worthwhile is getting out to places you wouldn't otherwise visit. El Cantal is definitely one of my favourite cache spots. Thanks to the SanBa family for showing us this absolutely beautiful location.

La Torre de El Cantal

Looking down on the walk

Don't know how I made it over this bridge - looked full of holes from underneath

Gone fishin' ?

The beautiful promenade

... and again ...

Oh for a swim!

Pausing before entering one of the three impressive tunnels

See how the tunnel was carved out of the rock?

And back around down to the beach

Oh, this must have been tea !! Or supper, or dinner or whatever you want to call it. Anyway, a perfect avocado.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


First - congratulations to Spain on your deserved win and your first World Cup. May you have many more successful tournaments.

No more football. From Spain's glory of today to part of its glorious and spectacular past a few thousand years ago at Carteia - one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have seen for some time.

When a new geocache appeared a few miles away just over the border at an archaeological site, we decided to go and explore. Carteia is only open from Wednesday to Sundays, 10-2pm, so Wednesday morning saw us arrive at the car park shortly after 10am.

I wandered through the gate looking for somewhere to pay. There was no-one around so I walked into a building. 'Hola, buenos dias,' I said to the air. There was a reply and a smiling man came out of the back.

'Hay que pagar?' I asked. No, he said. It's free. Oh goodie. But as I was walking out he called me back. It turned out it was a conducted tour and the next one was at 11am so we would have to wait. Oh well. I asked for a leaflet about the site and took it outside to read.

Sitting on the bench, I realised that if it was a conducted tour, the geocache was obviously outside the site, not inside, so we might as well go and look for it while we waited for the tour.

I went off to find the man to tell him we would be back for 11am but he had disappeared. Then he reappeared just as suddenly - telling me to wait - and off he went again. Back he came and told us to follow him. So we did.

Next, he jumped into one of those golf buggy things, and told us to sit on the back. We did that too. Then he set off at a roaring pace and I nearly fell off. Note to anyone ever getting on the back of one of those - hold on for dear life. They are very bumpy. In comparison they make a Land Rover look like a Rolls Royce. I know what a Rolls Royce is like having been given a lift some 40 miles down the M1 in one.

Our transport

Suddenly we stopped. Our guide turned round to us, and told us that we needed to imagine what the area was like nearly 3000 years ago - without the oil refineries, the electricity station, and all the rest of the modern development.

In the 7th century BC, the Phoenicians settled on the nearby Cerro del Prado. Some three centuries later, their descendants established a new settlement at Carteia, on the promontory next to the river Guadarranque with total strategic control across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Carteia's expansion came when Rome defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars, and the Romans took over the settlement, constructing the typical features of a Roman city - the forum, a temple, the baths, the wide streets, shops and houses.

The Roman soldiers married local women, but neither they nor their children were recognised as Roman citizens. Determined to seek a solution to this problem, Carteia sent an envoy to Rome, and by 171 BC, Carteia was granted the status of free colony, the first one outside Italy.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, Carteia was occupied by the Visigoths (6th century AD), the Arabs (8th century AD) until finally, in the 14th century, it was taken by the troops of Alfonso XI of Castille for Spain.

Approach to the Roman and Punic part of the site

Steps to the forum

The site of the Roman temple surrounded by the later Visigoth necropolis

One of the fresh water wells used by the inhabitants of the settlement

The Roman baths

The 16th century Torre Rocadillo

The location of the WWII gun

The tour round the site goes chronologically, starting with the exterior Carthaginian walls and ending in the 20th century with gun batteries from the Second World War pointing towards Gibraltar.

Our personal tour - just the two of us - was around 40/45 minutes, but normally (not including the buggy ride) you should allow around an hour.

If you are interested in archaeology and are anywhere between Gibraltar and Algeciras, it is well worth the trip.

Getting there

By car
If you are driving from Gibraltar, take the road to San Roque and after Campamento, turn off to Puente Mayorga. Follow the road to the end of the village and then over the narrow hump back bridge that crosses what looks like a Dutch canal. Keep following the road through the oil refinery along the coast until you reach the signs for Carteia.

By bus
Take the Yellow Line bus from San Roque. Bus times that fit in with site opening hours are 10am and 12noon. Return journeys from Carteia are at 12.20 and 18.05. Not sure what you would do until 18.05. Sit on the beach?

Oh and we found the cache easily.


Tourist information from the San Roque council

Bus times between San Roque and Carteia

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Perfect Spanish? - habla español? (3)

Spain has been claiming much of my time recently and while I'm there I have no internet access so no blog updates.

As a result, the next few posts will be a mix of photos and anecdotes from Spain.

1 - Español perfecto

First up - I lied. I did actually go to the internet cafe - but only to check on emails.

'Hola, buenos dias,' I say, dropping the 's' as is customary in our area.

'Hola, In-ter-net?' says a smiley woman slowly so that I could understand 'Internet'.

'Si,' I say, and then think, but only depending on the price, so added 'Cuanto valé?'

She started telling me, and then pointed to the board. Actually it's years since I used this place and I went through exactly the same routine at the time.

In Spain it's so customary to ask for what you want that you don't look for the signs first, you open your mouth instead. Presumably a hang-back to when most people didn't read anyway. Some still don't.

'OK,' says me, deciding to spend the princely sum of one euro for half an hour.

'Numero siete, s-e-v-e-n.'

'Si, valé, gracias.'

I sit down and wait for her to authorise my computer.

But I can't access gmail, so I call her over and say something on the lines of 'El gmail no funciona' or 'No puedo accesar gmail.'

She sorted that for me and helpfully told me how to key the @, which I knew anyway but said thank you.

Within the half hour, I got up and went to pay.

'Has terminado?' she asked in very clear accurate Spanish (ter-meen-ah-doh)

'Si,' I replied. 'Terminado.' Except the way I said it, it comes out ter-min-ow.

'Oh,' she said, and I'll drop the baby Spanish now, 'you speak perfect Spanish.' Presumably due to the fact that I sounded like a local.

[Note to would-be Spanish speakers - do not imitate my pronunciation, it only works in the right (countryside) areas of Andalucía, and will not get you accepted into the Madrid dinner party set. It is not the Spanish accent taught in language classes].

I thought 'perfect' was a bit over the top, considering all I had said was - how much, thanks, ok, and, I've finished.

Still I thought I had better say something to acknowledge the kind compliment, so I said thanks, and that it was probably because I had lived in Spain for a while.

'Where are you from?' she asked next.

'The next village down the road,' I replied.

'No, no, originally.'

'Oh, Inglaterra.'

Well at this point she nearly fell over genuflecting at my amazing linguistic abilities. Apparently she has an English friend who doesn't speak a word of Spanish, so me managing to string more than one word together was seriously impressive.

I confess to being rather sucky after that and somewhat unpatriotic and said that if you lived in Spain, you should speak Spanish, but lots of English people didn't want to.

In fact, I have met lots of people who live in Spain and allegedlly can't say any more than hello, goodbye, and give me a beer.

In all seriousness though, I think it is a shame that people move to a beautiful country and are not interested enough to learn the language. To me it's part of the excitement, and something to achieve, and provides a richer life. And you can tell when people are being rude about you too.

My Spanish is NOT perfect, whatever she generously said, and has probably deteriorated since I came to Gib, but at least I still try, and my great neighbours are always around to give us over-the-wall refresher lessons.

2 - El partido

I have to mention the football.

When we arrived in Spain about a week ago we were chatting - over the wall - with the above-mentioned neighbours and naturally we got around to the football. They asked if we would be watching Spain v Germany and we said that sadly the TV no longer worked. (TVs in our part of Spain don't really like all the dust, we've gone through two or three now).

As they'd done in previous years, they immediately invited us round on the Wednesday night. But over the next few days, no more was said.

Come Wednesday night, we were sitting in the patio waiting for the chicken man to arrive (another story in itself) when there was a loud bang on the door. Dressed only in a towel, I squawked like a chicken and ran inside.

I could hear some mumbled Spanish of which one word seemed to be patio. Partner was struggling with it too. Suddenly I twigged. Partido - par-tee-doh - but pronounced pat-ee-oh in our village. The match.

Partner jumped up excitedly and decided to go. I decided Spain would have better luck if I lay on the bed and read a book and waited patiently for the good news.

He trotted next door and the relatives chatting on the terrace were sent home (two doors up the street). Partner was ushered inside to the two chairs that were duly set out for both of us.

Once settled in, he was offered a beer (which he refused), and they all sat back to watch the match - which luckily Spain won.

Of course, my dilemma now is whether to watch tonight or not. Do I read another book hoping that this will give Spain that extra bit of luck?

Either way, good luck Spain. Hope you make it.