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      August 2011 > Andalucia to Iceland part 5: Kites & Cherries (or Will the Van Make It?)

Andalucia to Iceland part 5: Kites & Cherries (or Will the Van Make It?)

GaliciaExtremadura is a wide, empty place, but full of surprises. Suddenly the vast skies are dotted with birds of prey, drifting lazily. You see far more raptors here than in Andalucia – it’s as if an invisible glass wall is keeping them in Extremadura, circling endlessly like a giant mobile. We are seeing mainly kites, both black and red, but eagles too – we’ve identified the Booted and the Short-toed, although Linda has banned me from driving and trying to look through binoculars at the same time.

It’s not just the skies that are dotted. The gently undulating, open fields are dotted too – with regularly spaced holm oaks like lollipops, deliberately thinned out to create what they call dehesa – a managed landscape of maximum pasture and still enough shade for the animals under the trees (see bottom picture). The country folk of the Cádiz province (where we live), on the other hand, are great improvisers, rather than managers, and accept the landscape that God has given them and don’t try to change it. Their herds of pigs and cattle, and flocks of sheep and goats, are left to wander the green valleys and wooded slopes on their own while their masters spend their time on something more useful – like having lunch.

cherries from ExtremaduraFrom Extremadura we need to climb up onto the meseta, the central plateau on which Madrid stands, roasting in summer and freezing in winter. We travel up the long groove of the narrow Jerte Valley, one of several parallel valleys that draw you up like folds in a giant table cloth thrown over the central table top of Spain. This valley is stuffed full of cherry trees, which are bursting with bright red fruit in June, when all the villagers sit in front of wicker baskets sorting the cherries.

We’ve climbed this dramatic crease in the landscape many times. The last was in the snow of a particularly bad winter. But that had been in a 4 by 4. Now, in summer and with no justifiable reason for losing its grip, the van is struggling, and threatening not to make it to the top. I forgot to mention that Linda had not been very keen on this van trip at all – quite reasonably, I suppose, since any normal person, such as her, would have taken the 3-hour flight from Alicante to Reykjavik. But I was able to bribe her by offering extra time in Iceland for her to do her own photography at our own expense – as, if we went by van, I argued, we could stay on longer and keep the costs down.

One of Linda’s main worries, apart from being stuck in a metal box with me for ten weeks, was that the van wouldn’t make it to Iceland. Now here I think she is being unreasonable. Just because it is 17 years old and has an uncertain history (it was bought from a Portuguese man whom we never met). And just because, as we triumphantly drove it out of Portugal, after not even a test drive, the exhaust fell off and the tyres suddenly shredded and were found to be the same tyres that the van had left the factory with 17 years earlier. And just because we crawled noisily over to Seville at the pace of an injured snail, not realising that some pipe had blown apart under the bonnet. I think it’s unfair of Linda to bring all this up. It’s behind us now… At least, I think it is…

The dehesa of Extremadura
Posted: 17/08/2011 07:04:57 by | with 2 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, journey, nature, Spain, wildlife

Steve J
I agree, David - most unreasonable of her. Tell her to get on & enjoy the ride! ;)
19/08/2011 11:15:26

Trevor W
If I was in raptor country I'd park up the camper van get out the easy chair, binocs and cold beer and wollow in the sight of raptors in flight.
17/08/2011 09:48:23

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