Jose is kind and peaceful man, a friend who lives over in Spain. He walks everyday around the hills and ramblas (dried river beds) of Mazarron in the region of Murcia. He always walks with his two dogs Amy and Robbie and lives closely with nature, seeing things most others miss. Sometimes he takes us with him on these walks and on each occasion adventure never seems far and nature much closer. Here is an account of one such walk:
Walking the White Cliffs with Jose
Out with Jose, in nature, finding heart shaped rocks and stooping to taste herbs straight from the bush;
painting symbols with purple minerals in ancient mines, taking long legged strides towards the
sky; opening nature like the pages of a children’s book, well thumbed and cherished, yet lonely on the
school shelf. Fantasy translates and the fascination of unfettered, child-like innocence blows down
the Spanish valleys.
With Jose dried up river beds spring back to life and blossom returns as old friends from great travels,
together we scramble on mountainsides through fresh seams of black crumble earth seeking white
crystals of calcite. Rare gales have cleared the sky, pushed clouds to never never and we are left with
blue, hanging uncluttered and serene. Bathing in its stillness.
Acacias stir as we pass, dropping yellow flowers landing in the shadow of my arm. These
great winds are blowing pine cones towards Africa. The fragrance of wild herbs fills our lungs with a
new mornings hope and gladly we surrender ourselves to the day. Without purpose or cause, only
breathes and beats and moments stretching out in a line.
The fine red dust enriches the skin, cloaks us in the landscape, clings to our sweat; a familiar smell of
fresh blood, of raw iron and earth. An old air raid siren kicks up a mournful wail that hangs around, our
minds jolt back to fascist bombs falling like poisoned metal rains, rebels hid in caves and times of
mechanised war, but it’s just the lunch bell for the tomato plantation workers below.
Jose knows no ordinariness within living, no normal route to meander, his trails lead ever up
and each one has it’s own legend; taking in derelict mines and cottages, fossil beds, Roman hideouts and
beaches made of bullets and coves where smugglers still hide. He takes us to the points where the
bravest fishermen will not venture, crevasses where even mountain goats don’t tread. His small
backpack is filled with ancient nails and hand-made ropes, alien carved stones, sandals
woven from dried palm and a mad old shepherds treasure tin filled with owl feathers and gold teeth.
He still shivers for the ghosts of dead carcasses drying in the sun, their white bones picked clean by small
jackals and hooded vultures.
We rest for water in a donkey cave, shaded and fresh, the nearby well has retreated as the desert creeps
closer to the sea. Jose tells us that as a child he cared for animals more than people and still does. He
lived in the old country and never knew of Surinam, Turkey or differences between people. Each year
he watched the crops grow, the seasons change; swimming in the ocean each day and not returning to
shore unless threatened by his mother.
Jose raised cattle and took care of many Alsatians and Mastiffs from the Canary Islands, which he picked
up whilst on national service. A reluctant soldier who would not swat a fly. Although inhabiting the
archetypal warriors frame, from mythical Trojans he surely descends, his jaw alone could fell an ox; his
army days only led to a greater interest in cards games and laying under trees. He became accustom to
the sound of different guns and now sits on his porch sipping strong coffee, commenting on the calibre
of rifle used in the nearby valleys, as the Sunday hunters shot everything in sight and drag the local
families of wild boars towards oblivion.
Jose spends most weekdays seeking semi-petrified woods for his log fire and always takes a flask of tea.
He sits on the bends of dried rivers over smoothed ripple rocks where come the November rains
white water will flow again. For a short time only, things will be greener and
clover will carpet his land. He explores the thousands of caves cut from limestone and hides rocks
shaped like animals to know he has visited each one. He seeks treasures in the ruins of old shepherd
houses and when the tides are just right, extracts the purest of sea water to dry as salt on the copper
plates above his fire. He takes tea with his loving dogs, listening for the bells of the local goat herd,
fearing their feral packs of shepherd dogs. He kept a pet owl for a time that only left him when a suitor
took over a nearby tree. He is as generous and caring as the nature that surrounds his life and that is
more than enough.
Over dried stones we climb, disturbed for a while by the wild goats that roam.
The Billy, all squared pride and flamboyance in spiralled horns, flares its arrogance through it’s nose and
trots off in a cloud of dust and battered Rosemary. The dogs run wilder up here, far off we see them
galloping like race horses, in their element and ever curious with endless enthusiasm; both bearded,
kind and bitches.
At the summit of the white cliffs over Mazarron the views are rich and vast. We stand in customary
awe of such a sight, for a time in silent reflection, just taking it all in. The sparkling ocean with forested
peninsulas spilling into the waves and vast swathes of barren ochre land, only interrupted by areas of
green rolling hills, like giant sleeping lizards reclining in the plains and the occasional distant cobalt
mountain range, all jagged and mighty. One diamond snowy peak reigns the rough horizon, the Sierra
Nevada, off south towards Granada.
White washed windmills punctuate the arid flatness below, for many years sat just watching the wind,
sail-less monuments. Tomato fields, fincas of olive trees and lemons, whole swathes of almond trees in
blossom, all sit in man-made geometric patches; some grace old terraced orchards and haciendas built
with white wattle and daub and red tiles. Rampant Bougainvillea almost eclipsing their roofs.
We see the ancient port of Cartagena, where the Phoenicians traded salt and Hannibal battled the
Romans for supremacy and pages of history. We make out the shadows of a battery of hill top guns
built by Franco, pointing out to sea and only fired in vain; the old monasteries and prisons that dot the
northern hills, inhabiting crests and bluffs. We also see our tiny dot of our a car by the snake-like
road that cuts and winds through these remote parts where the ramblas are stretched
out like networks of veins.
There are birds up here living in the crags and caves, blackbirds with orange beaks, they never venture
below and play all day in the thermals diverted by the vast wall of chalk and limestone. They rise and
dive, graceful and carelessly involved in unbridled play, occasionally venturing our way, flying low to
see what we are. It’s a joyful sight to see them take on the open skies. We wonder where they have
come from and where they are going? How far they migrate? And why they would leave such a place?
Jose points out El Dorado, hidden in the setting sun and the tremors of the Mediterranean, its treasures
now surely exposed. The first star drops out, our sign to head for home, to find a small rock cottage,
sheltered from the wind and laugh around a candle and carve our names in the rafters; spill wine on the
stony ground, dried out thyme clinging to our socks; our skin alive with experience.