Tag Archives: Dehesa of Extremadura

Travels in Spain, Murcia

Costa Calida Postcard

““Do you like that?” I’ll say in surprise since it doesn’t seem like her type of thing, and she’ll look at me as if I’m mad.  That!?” She’ll say, “No, it’s hideous” “Then why on earth,” I always want to say, “did you walk all the way over there to touch it?”  but of course…I have learned to say nothing when shopping because no matter what you say…  it doesn’t pay, so I say nothing.”  Bill Bryson – ‘Notes From a Small Island’

It was our final day at my sister’s place on the east coast of Spain and it looked very much as though the sun was going to make a reappearance so after breakfast we drove south into the Province of Murcia, the Costa Calida and the resort town of Lo Pagán.

On the way we drove past salt water lagoons, separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land and now a site of carefully managed and intensive salt extraction.  It turns out that this is the biggest and most important site for sea salt production in all of Europe.  I didn’t know that!  The flamingos did and there were flocks of hem paddling about in the shallow water and expertly fishing for salt water shrimps!

Spain lo Pagan Flamingo

It reminded me of what else Spain is famous for (other than flamenco, bullfighting and El Cid).

First of all olives because Spain is the world’s leading producer of olives and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees (more than three hundred million) and nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter and the world’s leading producer of table olives, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.

Next – Serrano Ham because go to Extemadura in the west and you will drive through fields of grazing Black Iberian Pigs gorging themselves on acorns in preparation for being turned into the Spanish gastro specialty, Jamón ibérico. Iberian ham products are processed throughout Extremadura, making this region the country’s leading producer and in a sparsely populated region about a million hectares of open range are used by over one thousand-five hundred livestock breeders.

One of the fascinating things about the world’s great food it seems is the way they are a product of geography and Spain is a classic example, salt from the Mediterranean, Olives from the sun baked plains of Andalucia,  Jamón ibérico from Extremadura and Rioja wine from the vinyards of the north.

Lo Pagan Murcia Spain

I didn’t know what to expect of Lo Lo Pagán, would it be stylish like Alicante or utilitarian like Torrevieja?  As it turned out it was somewhere between the two, leaning towards Alicante I would say.  We stopped for a beer as the sun burned through the thinning cloud and then walked along a causeway which extended a mile or so into the lagoon.  It was a lovely walk in the weak sunshine with statuesque flamingos on one side and see-sawing fishing boats on the other.  At the end of the causeway there was a pumping windmill, idle today, but nothing else except an opportunity to look out to sea before turning around and walking all the way back.

The weather was good and I was almost tempted to suggest a swim in the sea but I could tell that no one else would be terribly enthusiastic about that so I said nothing and we returned to the car and drove to a shopping centre at La Zenia.

I am not a big fan of shopping as you know and fortunately neither is Mick so we left Kim and Lindsay to browse the shops and we went for a beer and a bocadillo!

In the late afternoon it started to rain, just a little drizzle, but we didn’t mind it was our last afternoon and evening and next morning we would be returning to English drizzle anyway.

It had been a good few days in Spain especially because I was able to confront some of my prejudices about the Levante region of Spain.  I have to say that it is unlikely ever to become my favourite but I was able to scrape away at the surface of ex-pat life and appreciate some of the heritage and history of the region and I look forward to going back again!

Lo Pagan Spain

Travels in Spain – Trujillo and Francisco Pizzaro

“…the breed of men who conquered a continent with a handful of adventurers, wore hair shirts day and night until they stuck to their flesh, and braved the mosquitoes of the Pilcomayo and the Amazon” –  Gerald Brenan

In the hilltop town of Trujillo standing above the sunburnt plain there stands a statue of a man who changed the course of history – Francisco Pizarro the illegitimate son of a Castilian soldier who, five hundred years ago,  left his home to seek his fortune in the New World.  With fewer than two hundred troops and a few dozen dogs and horses, he conquered the vast empire of the Incas and the Spanish colonisation of South America had begun.

It is a magnificent statue, matched only by that of mighty El Cid in Burgos, and I challenge anyone not to admire it.  Here is the gigantic figure of Pizarro  sitting astride his proud giant of a horse dominating the entire square of Trujillo, head up, beard jutting and plumes flowing as though trying to stay attached to his helmet whilst at full gallop.  The statue captures and epitomises the flare and the audacity of the conquistadors and in his hand he carries a menacing sword but in a message that here was a man who lived and died by the sword the statue has no scabbard which seems to suggest that he rarely ever put the blade away!

Catalonia Wooden Door Detail

Trujillo is a city on the Tozo River, a tributary of the Tagus and is sited on the only hill for miles around about forty kilometres east of Cáceres.  Although the Autovia passes close by it is not an especially busy tourist city so when we drove in and followed signs to the Plaza Mayor we found parking unexpectedly easy just a few metres away from the main square.

The pace of life in the plaza was delightfully slow with a just a few visitors wandering around and others sitting with local people in the bars and cafés around the perimeter. It was pleasantly warm but I would suspect that in high summer this large exposed granite space can become almost like an anvil for the sun and it would be important to find a spot in the shade.

Trujillo has apparently always been a tough old place. “Its inhabitants normally survive on pillage and trickery…” wrote El Idrisi, an Arab traveller, in the fourteenth century – and pillage and trickery were what the Conquistadors did best.  They sent back shiploads of plundered gold and filled their home town with elaborate mansions.

All around the square there are grand palaces and mansions and outside the sixteenth century Iglesia de San Martín in the north-east corner is the reason why, a great equestrian statue of the famous Spanish conquistador.  It is an interesting coincidence that many of the sixteenth century explorers and adventurers who carved out the Spanish Empire in South America came from Extremadura and as well as Pizzaro, Hérnan Cortés, who defeated the Aztecs and founded Mexico, Hernando De Soto, who explored Florida, and Pedro de Almagro, who accompanied Pizzaro, all came from this harsh south-west corner of Spain.

Francisco Pizzaro was born in Trujillo and became a conquistador who travelled along much of the Pacific coast of South America.  I imagine he wasn’t an especially pleasant man – with an army of only one hundred and eighty men and less than thirty horses he encountered the ancient Incan empire and brutally and quickly conquered it, killing thousands of natives, including the Inca King Atahualpa and stealing immense hoards of gold, silver, and other treasures for the King of Spain and for himself including the Inca King’s wife who he took for a mistress.

As a consequence of Pizzaro’s adventures, Spain temporarily became the greatest, richest and most powerful country in the world and as well as conquering Peru and founding the city of Lima, he also added Ecuador and Columbia to the Spanish Empire thus providing immense new territories and influence and spreading Roman Catholicism to the New World.

TheMission-Filmszene-16836

We walked out the Plaza Mayor and followed the steep cobbled lanes as they twisted their sinuous way up past buildings constructed of attractive mellow stone, past the inevitable Parador and more churches and mansions until finally we were at the top at the Alcázar of the Moors who controlled this city for five hundred years before the Reconquista.

Inside the castle we walked around the high stone walls glinting in the sunshine and stopped frequently to admire the uninterrupted views over the sun-baked dehesa of Extremadura spreading endlessly in every direction in a ragged patchwork of agricultural green, gold and brown where distant villages float on the vastness all the way to Portugal and stunted oaks and olive trees provide the only cover in a harsh terrain.

Walking back down to the plaza was a great deal easier than the energy sapping climb but we got lost in the cobweb of tiny streets and surprised ourselves by emerging at an unexpected entrance to the square which was jam-packed with cars on account of it being the end of school for the day and parents were collecting their children to take them home.

It was a little past lunch time and we were overdue something to eat so we examined the menus at the pavement restaurants and when Kim was satisfied with our choice we found a seat in the sun and ordered some local dishes and a glass of cold beer.

Francisco Pizarro