I’d only been home from Italy for a day when me and my partner Miki set off on our Motorhome, The Boomobile, inland towards the Spanish town of Cazorla. This beautiful place has hosted a Blues festival now for nigh on twenty years, and it’s somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for a while, but my own gigs have often clashed, so this was the first opportunity we’d had.
We broke the four hour journey by overnighting by an embalse, or dam, built in the 80’s, resulting in a beautiful vivid green lake in the middle of a hot dry wilderness. A cafe by the shore was a welcome sight, serving ice-cream and beer to die for, and we undertook a huge walk around the dam and surrounding landscapes to assuage our guilt at pigging out!
The following day we hit the road again, making a stop in a village called Tiscar, which means ‘Mountain Pass’ in the Berber language, a reminder, like so many in Andalucia, of the Arabic influence of the past. The winding road, before disappearing into a tunnel in the rock face, passes the Sanctuario de Tiscar, an old monastery, and opposite was a large parking area where we pulled over.
A steep path and stairway cut through the rock led down to the Cueva de Aguas, an unbelievably beautiful place, where a thirty foot waterfall thundered through the natural caverns into an oasis below. It reminded me of my time on the island of Dominica in the rainforest there. To get to the falls, one had to bend almost double and pass through a fifty foot tunnel to reach it, making it all the more enchanting for that.
Not content with the punishing journey to and from the caves, we noticed an imposing stone watchtower atop the rocky cliffs that loomed over the Sanctuario. It had been the last Arabian refuge in the area until the Christians took it form the Muslims in the 14th Century. As we climbed the cliffs a little, I noticed, seemingly clinging to the sheer rockface hundreds of feet above, a metal grille staircase disappearing up into the distance. Further exploration revealed an entrance, unmanned, over grown, but passable, that led us to the base of this amazing metal construction.
Without a thought, we made our way upwards, on and on, higher and higher until we were within the foundations of the ruined tower itself, with no safety net, but, oh, what a VIEW! Stunning scenery stretching for miles, the rooftop of the monastery far below, the motorhome a speck in the distance. A tough climb, especially on the see-through grill of the staircase, but worth the effort.
The Watchtower at Tiscar
We eventually arrived in Cazorla a full three days before the festival was due to start quite deliberately, as we wanted to explore it as fully as possible before everybody descended on the town later in the week. It turned out to be a great idea, because Cazorla had so much to see and do, and the surrounding countryside was magnificent for exploring and long (and punishing!) walks.
The castle of La Yedra watching over the town was a great visit, and a legend connected with it told to us by the guide has given me a new Witch Cross song, so you’ll have to wait until our third album to hear what it is!
We parked up on the big open space where the Market is usually held at the bottom of the town, and one could follow the river up to the old Plaza through a beautiful riverside walk, the myriad waterfalls and overhanging trees providing a welcome respite from the unrelenting Spanish sun. However, pretty much everywhere we walked was uphill!
We had a couple of days before the music started, so we planned a couple of hikes….more about them in Part Three!
It’s only about an hour up the road, but I’d never been before, so we decided to take the Boomobile, our art & music studio on wheels, up there for the weekend, free of the internet and well, everything really. It proved to be a great idea. Parked by the bustling harbour, we spent the time exploring this lovely seaside town and its many treasures, on foot, and by boat. Treasures such as ….the immense and expensively-restored Castillo de San Juan de Aguilas, perched atop a vertiginous cliff rising out of the sea, not for the Cardio-impaired! (They’ve built an impressive glass-walled lift shaft for the last killer 300 meters, but sadly seem to run out of money before they could purchase the lift to go in it!)
….the dual windmills that sit on opposite hills rising out of the town, as if waiting for some modern Don Quixote to come tilt at them. One is restored to former glory, sails and all, the other still a little worse for wear, and recipient of the some of the relentless graffiti that blights the town.
I have a problem considering all graffiti as art. Some yes, but to blanket all of it with this moniker is to bestow on it a worth that frankly 90 % of it does not merit. Some uneducated git spray-painting that his bird who dumped him is a puta is not art, it’s ugly, and moreover criminal damage. The harbour wall that faces the sea however has some marvellous graffitied (is that a word?) murals on it, but there’s no fun in it when you’re actually allowed to do it, is there? Mm…..
…..The Don Pancho boat trip, what a wonderful way to spend 7 euros! The whole experience was pure entertainment, and I’ll tell you why. Firstly, the lady in the kiosk whom Miki bought the tickets off was extremely friendly, secondly, as we sat in the pointy end waiting for others to embark, we were witness to some great cabaret: one guy let slip a ten euro note which the girl taking the money failed to retain, and it fluttered into the drink, causing the Captain to (impressively quickly) assemble a long handled net and go fishing for money, successfully too. I managed to restrain myself from asking if we’d be fishing for 50 euro notes once we were in deeper waters. It didn’t end there though, one would-be passenger alighted on the deck minus one flip-flop, which ‘flip-plopped’ into the water also! True to the saying that the sea gives up its dead, the soggy footwear was rescued, this time by judicious and speedy use of a boat hook by another crew member. I turned to Miki and said “If we’re having this much fun before we cast off, it’s gonna be worth the money!”
The whole crew were great, and clearly loved their job, or at least gave a superb impression of doing so. Smiles all round, and the guy tasked with the commentary on our jaunt up the wilder coastline to the north of Aguilas was passionate about his subject. When the sleek dorsal fin of a dolphin broke the surface off our port bow, he was about as ecstatic as we were. I can only say it was mesmerizing. Time after time it buzzed our vessel, playing with the wake, darting off, leaping out of the water to our cries of childish delight. Witnessing a dolphin in the wild makes one regress. It reduces life to a microcosm of simplicity, to something almost Utopian. It speaks to the very depth of your being, of freedom, innocence and sheer, unadulterated joy. I’ve swum with dolphins in Venezuela, but they were in captivity, more’s the pity. This is were they belong, and seeing one exuberant, dancing on the waves where it’s supposed to be, is a privilege, and something I’ll never forget.
The great thing about disappearing for a few days in the Motorhome is, you can choose what your backyard looks like on a daily basis if you fancy. We were perfectly happy to stay put for most of the time at the foot of the castle.
After exploring the town in the mornings, I’d often just sit by the boats and read…tranquility doesn’t begin to describe it. Actually it really doesn’t because the seagulls sounded like a bunch of women at the January sales, but, it was relaxing, honest!
We took the Boomobile out into the mountains North of Aguilas too, for the hell of it, got lost, ended up on a road that…well, ran out of road, in a place called Cuesta de Gos. When I say ‘place’ it’s intentional, it wasn’t big enough to warrant being called a village. The tarmac ran out, and there was a church. Not fancying taking 3.5 tons of Motorhome on a gravel track to who knows where, I turned it round, and purely by chance spied a quite wonderful statue under an almond tree. Remember – we were totally in the middle of nowhere. We discovered it was a statue to, and the initial resting place of, the Internationally known Spanish actor and director Paco Rabal, who had a huge career in Spanish film and received numerous awards. Miki thinks she may have actually seen him attend the Alfas del Pi film festival many years ago, and indeed he was part of her consciousness throughout her whole life in Spain. He’d died in 2001, and this memorial had been erected 10 years after his death. He had been born here, in this quiet, beautiful and unassuming valley. On our travels, we often stumble upon wonderful little moments like this, and that’s part of the beauty of it.
I’m going to close this post with Paco Rabal’s own words, translated from the Spanish, and which are inscribed by his feet on the statue.
Dublín, we thought…yes, why not? And lo, it came to pass that we booked our trip to the Emerald isle. Had we known what awaited us, perhaps we would have booked something a little less problematic. Like Afghanistan.
It started as we rolled up at the car park that we had diligently prebooked. It was locked. A sign informed us that they were at the airport and would be ‘a few minutes’. A few minutes came and went and we decided to phone them. He’d been there all along. Apparently, the booking hadn’t been taken. Even though, on my two previous visits there, he’d urged me to ‘book direct’ because it was ‘better’. Mmm.
Anyway ,no harm done, and we arrived in good time. However, my ire was further raised when, finding a space on a table in order to fill my tray at security, some Bolshie Irish git started…
“Dere’s a queue here y’know”. I looked him squarely in the eye (at least I think I did, he was a bit pissed) and said:
“Don’t worry mate, I’m not stealing your place, I’m just unloading my stuff, it won’t go without you! ” ooh, he didn’t like that. He had a rebuttal:
“Some people have no manners!” I just burst out laughing. He didn’t like that either.
“Just get over yourself mate” I replied…
The fun in security didn’t stop there, as continuing the habit of a lifetime, miki was stopped and asked to empty her bag, revealing the usual culprit , a metal tin containing some art supplies.
“What is this?” Asked the security woman
.”Coloured pencils” said Miki
“What is biological pencils?” She responded. We were going to be a while, I could feel it. Luckily, one of her compatriots had been gifted with half a brain so the peseta finally dropped, but not before she insisted that she’d thought they were tattoo needles. I didn’t realise a prerequisite of joining airport security was that you had to be whacked off your tits on hallucinogenics…..
They seemed to be a little over zealous with the sizing of the hand luggage. You know the company. It rhymes with Brian air…anyway, the woman came along checking all the bags with a cardboard box, then, when we got through passport control, everyone…and I mean everyone, had to put their case in the dreaded metal frame. This is the frame that old ladies get their cases stuck in and the airport staff watch impassively as they risk heart attacks trying to remove them. But it really took the biscuit when my partner was asked to put it in by one member of staff, and then again by another two minutes later. We refused. What did they think it was? Expanding chuffing luggage? Undeterred, we soldiered on. Convinced our troubles were behind us, which in one sense they were, as the guy who’d heckled me at security had failed to get the jump on me when the gate was called, but….there was so much more to come. The majority of the flight was uneventful, save for the fact that the inflight magazine uncharacteristically offered three different meals at nearly 50percent off. Too good to be true? Well, yes as it turned out, as they didn’t have any of these fab meals available. Go figure. Well, we started our descent, approaching Dublin. It looked a bit dodgy outside, and Miki was getting worried. ” don’t stress” I told her,” it happens” , and truth be told, I’d had plenty of bumpy descents, but then I noticed the engines revving again and the unmistakable feeling of ascending. All this time we were fed zero info. Eventually, the captain said.:
“Er…we can’t land at dublin due to bad weather, we’ll probably have to divert….somewhere. “. This deliberately vague stance went on for some time and I began to wonder idly about the fuel capacity of a 737 and indeed how many airports there were to the west of Ireland before we hit the new world.
Finally, we started to see lights. A lot of lights. A big city. Doesn’t look like Galway bay, I thought to myself. The captain enlightened, and stunned us.
“We’re about to land in Liverpool . We’ll give you more info…..later.”
So, a little bit diverted then. A different frickin’ country. Now it was going to get really fun.
It was unbelievably hair-raising as we came into land, he was fighting it all the way. My guess is we had to come in on approach unbelievably fast, so he could maintain control against the savage winds. all I know is, he stomped on those brakes so damn hard I felt like I was meeting myself coming back. It is the only time I’ve ever applauded a pilot and meant it.
Eventually ‘the cap’ emerged from his cockpit, not to take the applause, but to deliver, well, no information at all actually. It appeared he was as much in the dark as we were. Well, when I say ’emerged from his cockpit’, peeked around the door would be a more apt description. He addresses us on the mic , having a running argument with one guy, trying to explain why we were denied landing at Dublin. Apparently, the whole of Ireland closed down as we made our descent, as did all UK airports North of Liverpool .
There were no free drinks, no refreshments of any kind for at least an hour. One stewardess gives away her own water after arguing with ‘number one’ (HEAD STEWARDESS WHO MUST BE OBEYED!) about the morality of witholding supplies.
Suddenly, several fire trucks are brought alongside…”don’t be alarmed” says the cap,” it’s to protect the refuelling dude from the winds.” ..and there’s me thinking they’ve come to pump some free drinking water on board.
The Captain says, in answer to a torrent of passenger questions:
“I can’t say whether its a yes or no to free refreshments or hotel rooms, but my instinct is definitely not! ”
Amazingly, they start selling drinks and snacks, they are now making money out of our misery. After about two hours, some passengers opt for the last chance to leave as the captain offers to escort them to the terminal building. Even as I write this, the plane is rocking crazily on the Tarmac, we’re not going anywhere yet. It transpires that there is only one dispatcher here at Liverpool at this time of night. It’s now 2.18 am. There are a number of other planes that have been diverted here, and one guy to deal with them all, which he has to do, in person, in turn. The people that have disembarked need bags from the hold apparently. All are removed in the gusting winds, sifted through, and returned to the hold. Not that there’s any great rush, we’re not going anywhere, anytime soon. One interesting aspect was that the mouthy git who accosted me at security was one of those who chose to disembark. He also felt it necessary to go and confer with the Captain several times. Self important arse. Liverpool has my sympathy.
It’s now 2.30 am, the captain has returned. What further fun has the night in store for us?
It appears we are not alone, as I think Michael Jackson once sang. There are fifteen planes here that shouldn’t be, not counting us, which makes me believe that the two flights that left Murcia before us, bound for Glasgow and Newcastle respectively are here as well. We are in a miserable queue of misappropriated aircraft waiting to complete their journeys. We are in a weird kind of aviatory limbo, where our only sustenance comes from a team of stewardesses plagued by internecine strife and low supplies. Eight planes are ahead of us, and I draw some crumbs of comfort from the knowledge as we rocket down the windswept runway once again, that there are still seven behind us. This time, Dublin is kinder to us, and allows us to land. It’s gone 3am, and we head to the car rental counter where we discover their staff, predictably have given up the ghost and gone home. We bite the bullet and go to get a taxi, but we have to join a queue. Outside. In the cold. And the wind. Eventually it’s our turn, and we are confronted by the most hyper guy I’ve ever seen who must be out of his gourd on angel dust, pcp or something. He is dangerously manic, drives suicidally, and curiously, for a taxi driver who is Irish, and not from Mumbai, has absolutely no clue where the Travelodge Dublin south is. I kid you not. He dumps us where he thinks is right, after frightening Miki half to death by succeeding in driving more scarily than our flight could ever have been, and zoomed off with the words “you’re on your own.” I imagine he was found this morning wrapped around a Belisha beacon listening to Ebeneezer Goode on his iPod. At least, one can hope.
Naturally, the Travelodge where he dropped us was not the one in which we were booked. Thankfully the night bloke graciously gave us a complimentary room, once we had proved to his satsifaction that we should have been at the other one and had already paid. Not that it took the sting out of handing over twenty five euros to our kamikaze taxi driver for the privilege of being dumped in the wrong place. It was twenty three actually, but he sped off without considering the old fashioned principle of giving change.
He certainly didn’t deserve a tip. The only one I would have given him would have been: “Don’t ever drive a car again”.So today, we pay another ten euros to go back to the airport to get the car we should have had last night. Except it’s not there. We have to get a shuttle bus to where it is. So we do, and then we go into the office to pay. It rejects my credit card. It rejects Miki’s credit card. Finally, using an obscure rarely used one in the bowels of her purse, we are finally able to pay for the damn thing and drive away. We’re in the correct Travelodge right now. It’s raining, then it’s not. But it’s always windy. Yep. It blows.
This week is very special for me. It is the first time my Dad has been over to visit me where we live in Spain. We thought it was about time, and my sister and I clubbed together to bring him over as an 80th birthday present last year. We finally agreed on a date that didn’t clash with any Derby County football Club fixtures!
One great thing about having him over is that I manage to get out and about much more than I normally would, and get to see where I live anew through different eyes. I do believe it helps in appreciating everything we have.
We nearly didn’t make it though. The weather was so bad in England on Friday when we were due to leave, the plane was delayed by over and hour, and by the time we arrived in Spain, the airport in England was closed! I don’t think Dad could have picked a better week to escape the weather, as we watch reports on the BBC of power failures, 20 foot snowdrifts and even deaths with growing disbelief.
Ignoring the old beleaguered homeland and its plummeting temperatures, we’ve been swanning about in the roadster visiting places of interest such as Agua Amarga, Garrucha, Mojacar and Carboneras. It’s wonderful to spend these days together, and finally get to show him where Miki and I have made our home.
This entry has very little to do with music, but I wanted to share it with you anyhow. Miki and I decided to ‘supersize’ our daily visit to the swimming pool in Vera, by turning right instead of left after our swim. I’d spied an ad in the local free paper which mentioned a mysterious ‘pink house’ which served a number of interesting comestible for just a euro each. Everything. Just one Euro. I conveniently ignored the fact that it would probably cost us 20 euros in fuel to get there and back as it was tucked away off the Autovia in a place called La Concepcion. I ignored it because of one magic word in the ad. Waffles.
As any of you who have read Cafe Crem will know, we became addicted to the waffles served up by the Waffle house chain in the States, so it was imperative that we at least try something similar to ease our craving. It was also a chance to go for a blast in Smartie, which I had studiously cleaned the day before.
Top down, with Donald Fagen‘s luscious Morph the Cat album insinuating itself from the speakers, it was a wonderful afternoon out. The Smart Roadster really revelled in the winding roads that greeted us as we left the highway, and I was reminded of what a pleasure it is to own a maneuverable little rag-top like this down here in sunny Almeria. It’s driver’s heaven – miles and miles of empty roads!
When we finally arrived at our destination, we found that the food was great, not just the waffles, but the falafel and baguettes too. But the Pink House was much more than a cafe, it was treasure house of the bizarre and peculiar!
Egyptian beds, Moorish chairs and tables jostled for space with a fully complete beautifully carpentered pulpit and staircase and female shaped lounge chairs that perhaps started life in a brothel. It was a very cool place, and a perfect stopping off point on a drive out.
On the way home, Miki wanted to photograph the Yedesa factory. It’s a bit of a local oddity. It looks to me like the owner lives on site, in a Moorish styled house complete with prayer tower, and he’s livened up his factory by painting it in a host of colours and surrounding it with trees!
All in all, it was great to get out and about. It’s something we forget to do, and it’s easy to take for granted what a great part of the world we live in. We should always make time to enjoy it.
A weekend of near-normality for me, as I traded my Football-related gig for a regular one, this time flying to Berlin for a show with BC SWEET. The flight was at a fairly civilised time, but even so, the fact that I had to fly from Alicante meant I still had to get up around 6.30 a.m.
I was met in Berlin by my driver Stefan, and we then headed from Tegel airport to another Berlin airport, Schonenfeld, where we would rendezvous with the other guys in the band, who had flown in from Luton, UK. The stock answer when you ask any of the promoters staff how long the drive will be is always “about an hour” but it was the wrong side of two when we finally arrived in a town just 10 kilometers from the Polish border.
The show took place in a large sports centre only minutes from the hotel, which was handy. We were part of a multiple bill that featured othere stars of the 70’s including the Bay City Rollers, Ohio Express and the Rubettes. We’d pulled the 11 p.m. slot, so I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep before the show.
The gig went well – the German audiences for these kind of gigs know how to party – and by the time we’d done, changed etc, there was little time for me to get any rest – I had to be up at 3.30 a.m. for Stefan to drive me back to Berlin tegel for my 7 a.m. flight. I don’t sleep well on planes, but I was so exhausted, I drifted in and out of an uneasy sleep as we crossed the Alps and headed south. The prospect of a two and a half hour drive home from Alicante didn’t fill me with glee either, but the prospect of a smiling Miki and a warm bed prompted me to drown myself in coffee and hit the road!
Another one down, next up, in direct contrast, a solo gig five minutes from our house!