Saturday, 24 September 2016

Walking with the gadgette, Volume 5 September 2016
  A change from Madeira, my dear, this year we have been to the borderland between Portugal and Spain, flying to the former, staying in the latter but visiting the former too.
The hotel is in Isla Canela, a recently developed holiday area, next to the Atlantic, miles of golden sand but fortunately not too many bars and no discos, ideal for us older Anglos.
The holiday itinerary include three walks through areas of interest to nature lovers and in spite of the heat we finished them all.
The first walk took us back into Portugal, across the River Guadiana, the border. Portugal, being sensible, has UK time so crossing over the bridge makes you an hour younger.
There were eight of us in the group, all about the same age and we were led by a young Spaniard called Rafa. Handsome and bronzed he broke all the ladies hearts. More important he was an expert, knowledgeable about flora and fauna, particularly the birds of the area. He has a degree in law but makes a living guiding tours and writing books about the bird life of Spain.
                                                   Rafa, our guide and walking expert.
We were taken to the town of Alcoutim, a small place on the river and enjoyed a walk along the "Via Algarviana", not bthe whole length, it's a bit like the West Highland Way.
                   Alcoutim on the right, Spanish Sanlucar de Guadiana on the left.
The walk, once through the town, took us through scrubland, very dry. Had Clint Eastwood, complete with cigar and blanket appeared down a dry gulch we would not have been surprised.
The walk was about 5.3 miles according to theliterature we had been given. My faithful NAKOSITE pedometer said 5.8 but three pedometers built into fellow holidaymakers iphones said the distance was 7.5 miles. Mostly flat with some short climbs on good hard tracks, quite different from the Cheviots.
The area is poor for agriculture but we saw several interesting trees; Cork Oaks, grown for their bark. The bark is removed every 9 years, with great care, Umbrella Pines, grown all over southern Spain in the 16th century to provide timber for ships to fight the English! mastic bushes, home to the lynx, fig trees, olive trees, fennel, carob trees and another shrub which has very sticky stems and is used, apparently, to make Chanel No 5 stick to the skin longer!
Rafa spotted a distant snake eagle and we also saw at least two species of lark, Sandwich terns, Dartford Warblers and egrets.
                                    Umbrella Pine..............
                                River Guadiana.........................
                                      The area produce honey, by the ton.
Back in Alcoutim we had lunch looking over the river before taking a gentle three hour ride by boat down the river to Ayamonte on the Spanish side and a bus back to the hotel.
                  Spain on the left, Portugal on the right and as both are in the EU no border points.
Next day was hot, 34C, something we Northumbrians rarely have to deal with. The walk was flat near the coast at a town called El Rompido. The footpath was on sand or boardwalks, through stands of Umbrella Pines, all grown for those wooden ships of yesterday but now a source of pine nuts. Pine nuts are difficult to prise out of the cones and it is not a popular job, sounds a bit like cauliflower cutting in England, mostly done by workers from Eastern Europe.
We were accompanied today by Maria, Rafa's apprentice. A young lady working towards qualifying as a tour guide. Her English, like Rafa's, was excellent, learnt waitressing in London.
The walk was really a bird spotting stroll, we saw hoopoes, spoonbills, whimbrel, plovers, warblers, whinchats, stilt, snipe, red shank, red rumped swallows and sparrows. And a stork's nest, the stork had migrated.
                              Make way for the Segways. There were many cyclists too

A distant egret

We lunched in El Robido before taking the bus back to Isla Canela. It had been a very hot day, several members of the group were quite exhausted but the lady I christened Pristine Christine was living proof that "horses sweat, men perspire but ladies simply glow" She had not so much as a hair out of place, mascara and lipstick in perfect condition.
This walk was also 5 miles long but again the pedometer on iphones claimed a little more.

The third organised walk was to a Spanish National Park, Donana. Very close to the Atlantic coast its main features are the sand dunes that rise to 100 metres. Like most sand dunes they shift, but this has been stopped by planting them with umbrella pines, thousands and thousands of them. Franco made use of his prison population to create a vast forest.
              Sky of blue, sea of green, and not a submarine in sight.
The track was sand, soft sand and very hard walking too but Rafa led us round gently with frequent stops, mostly to admire the few non umbrella pine trees. We saw juniper trees, eucalyptus which had been grown for a local paper factory, an occasional pine and low bushes, including the "curry plant" which smelled of..................
One short stretch of dune had been left in its natural state and we walked to the top of it for lunch, looking out over the Atlantic as we ate.
Rafa donned his disguise as the last of the Mohicans and pointed out the tracks of boar, fox, lizards and an Egyptian Mongoose. We spotted an army of ants crossing the trail, just like the ones in Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Today's birds included a booted eagle, winchat, swallows, yellow legged gulls and, best of all, four young hobbies resting up before they crossed to Africa. The region also supports Ospreys, both in transit and permanently. Of course we didn't see one.
                             Sea of blue, trees of green but not a submarine was seen. The boat is fishing for clams, illegally.
After a four mile hard walk on the sand we went o a town called El Rocio. No tarmac, the roads were sanded. The bars had hitching rails and high bars so that cabelleros could drink their beer whilst still in the saddle. In places it could have been a set for a western.
"Grandad", an olive tree supposedly 800 years old, still going.
                            El Rocio church, the town is a major pilgrimage site.
On other days, with no organised walk we amused ourselves with a trip to the local town of Ayamonte to admire its narrow streets and shops selling tat. Another day we took a boat trip round the Isla Christina which has the largest fishing fleet in Spain and a shipyard and mussel beds. Doesn't sound it but it was interesting.