As you may know, we went travelling for 5 months in the second half of 2015 around the USA and Cuba, but first we wanted to spend some time getting to know Spain a little more, so before going to the USA, we started with a 6-week trip around Spain in July 2015 when we left Granada and headed north to Alajar in the province of Huelva.
Although I’ll be posting more on this trip in future, read A Slow Spanish Summer to find out where else we went on the Spanish leg of the trip.
Alájar is a small village which we chose because we wanted to start somewhere quiet in the countryside and we hadn’t been to the province of Huelva before. We had had a busy 2015 until that point and so wanted to make the most of the countryside tranquility. The most active we got was reading, sleeping, sunbathing and even a bit of Spanish grammar studying, which I inevitably started with great gusto, but soon dissipated into simply reading, sleeping and sunbathing which seemed much easier to focus on in an increasingly hot summer.
What struck me most about Alájar was that it was probably like many other small villages across the country. Perhaps nothing special if you have lived there or somewhere similar all your life, but absolutely delightful if you’re still a newbie to such places and although we had travelled a lot in Andalucia in our 18 months living in Granada, one of the reasons for this trip was to get to know other parts of Spain.
We stayed at the lovely Posada de San Marcos which was perfectly situated on the edge of the village. If you like walking in the hills, this part of the world is beautiful, but my wife and I much prefer the extreme sports that are wandering around new places looking at interesting things and people-watching in a bar with a coffee or a glass of the local vino. So it’s with this in mind that I’ve put together a snapshot of the things I saw in the village over the few days that we were there:
1) Lovely old lady sitting under the tree. I got the sense that this square hadn’t changed in years and that this little old lady had been there for most of them. She got very excited when a young girl went up to her to say hello. The lady patiently and happily listened while the girl talked and talked. Admittedly, she was probably the grand-daughter, but she could equally have been a complete stranger chatting away. Either way, it was very sweet to see
2) Lost tourists looking for a restaurant that might be open around 6.30pm
3) I saw a rather shifty-looking, guy who could easily have been Tom Waits’s long-lost identical twin, chatting away to anybody who would listen about whatever, but somehow always ending up asking them to buy him a drink. In English, as well as Spanish
4) I love the big, stonking crucifix in the middle of the square. Lest you forget that this is a Catholic country!
5) Like everywhere in Spain, there was construction work going on. There were a few skips scattered around the town, but instead of being a symbol of ‘la crisis’, I got the sense in this village that the work that was going on was welcomed and appreciated as a positive thing. Skips full of an optimistic future, perhaps?
6) Cars parked in every nook and cranny possible. It’s a very small village but for some, the old ways are still the best, as we saw a man passing through the main square on his horse and there were also two guys coming home on a donkey and cart after working in the countryside
7) How many rooftop TV aerials does a small village need?!
8) Looking like he’d just walked off the set of the Sopranos, a man who thought he was (and could well have been) the local Godfather showing off his flashy new Audi sports car to his friends, who still live in the village and probably had a much less impressive car themselves. I imagine when they were kids, he would have been showing off his new bike to them too, knowing that they couldn’t have afforded one.
9) A boy of about 10 kicking a ball around in the street in between cars passing by and dreaming of being the next Cristiano or Messi. Quite happy playing on his own. Focusing on his own 10000 hours of keepie-uppie skills
10) There wasn’t a lot of streetlighting, so at night, the village took on a slightly mysterious air. Were there any ghosts around?
11) I loved the beautiful, old buildings (see the ‘mysterious abandoned house’ photo below). Although some were in definite need of a little TLC, they added to the historical flavour of the village.
12) Two guys practising flamenco at the table next to us for a gig later that night in the same bar. In between taking orders that night, the waitress kept stopping to clap and shimmy along with them. Not sure if she was flirting with them or auditioning, but either way, it was fun to watch
13) Church bells ringing. A lot. And seemingly at random times.
14) A new-agey guy in his 20s with huge and very orange orange baggy trousers stomping up and down the main street, stoned out of his mind. Maybe he was looking for the flamenco show?
15) We tried canasta. Tastes like alcoholic sultanas. A bit too sweet. And just a bit too easy to drink…
One of the reasons I love people-watching is the opportunity to make up stories based on who and what you see, so it’s quite possible that there was no ‘Godfather’ or that the shifty looking guy asking for drinks was actually the owner of the bar trying to sell drinks. The truth isn’t the point here. It’s just a bit of fun.
And after Alájar, we headed north.