Workaway Venta Valero – 23rd Feb to 5th March 2016

Workaway Venta Valero – 23rd Feb to 5th March 2016

Tuesday 23rd February – Workaway – Venta Valero

Des, our new boss, suggested that we start our stay with a visit to Alcala la Real. The town has an impressive fortress and was a strategic stronghold during medieval times and subsequently occupied by the Moors in 713. Thereafter, Alcalá was the scene of frequent battles between the Moors and the Christians. This tumultuous period lasted until 1341 when Alfonso XI gained control of the town. The crown established an abbey here which was deemed the headquarters from where to launch a major offensive on Granada.

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So after a leisurely breakfast and a tour of the grounds, off we go. Venta Valero is at 1000m so this might explain the tough cycling yesterday but also results in incredible views across the surrounding valleys. After the scenic drive we wander around the market and see the library and the park area where there’s a music festival each year.

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After a stop for coffee and cake we do some shopping and head home. Des needs to head off to Malaga this afternoon to pick up his wife who’s flying back from the UK so we’re left in charge of the animals and set about our first mission. We need to sort and tidy the shed so it’s more organised and has room for all the tiles left from all the recent tiling work; these tiles are currently strategically placed in various locations including the front yard, 2 opposite corners of the backyard and one of the downstairs bedrooms. We also need to move all the tools out of the house, into the shed and organise and tidy the 2 downstairs bedrooms so that one ends up empty, ready to be tiled. Finally we need to get rid of all the rubbish and we even have a cardboard bonfire.

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Shed: before and after.

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It’s a great job, like a mini makeover. Very satisfying indeed. Then it’s dinner and blog time arghhhhhhhh 3 hours later and another blog is published.

Des comes home with Chris. We think this should prove to be an entertaining stay since there’s constant banter between them. They are great fun, interesting and constantly poking fun at one another. Apparently Des spent most of the outward journey worrying about the oil warning light which turned out to be an open door warning – it seems Des might be visually challenged!

 

Wednesday 24th February

Des and Chris have a Spanish lesson this morning so Daz and I get on with our chores – we’ve got a list now. After we finish tidying the front yard, Daz starts sanding the metal framework that covers the front yard and supports a number of vines, this is in preparation to paint it.

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Meanwhile I dig over the flower bed and remove the weeds.

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In the evening we cooked our favourite easy go to meal, spicy Zanzibar fish soup.

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Chris, the raw vegan, has a soup made of red pepper,tomato, olive oil and dates which she whizzes up in a blender for 10 mins, this adds enough heat so that it is edible without losing the nutritional value of the ingredients! Apparently raw vegans can heat food up to a maximum of 48 degrees Celsius. We had a taste, and it was very tasty. We sit around the dinner table sharing a glass of wine and chatting. They’ve had a wealth of different experiences in their lives and it’s interesting and poignant what brought them to this ‘Home in the sun’.

 

Thursday 25th February

Today we attack what is to be the ‘yoga room’. Currently it is full of Des and Chris’s worldly goods but we need to organise and clear it. This entails making a space to move in, then sorting out all the boxes and stuff so it is packed/stacked properly.

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By the time we are finished there is room to do yoga and swing one or two of their cats!!

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In the afternoon we go back to gardening and painting the vine trellis. During the evening we catch up with the first 2 episodes of Happy Valley and then watch the 3rd with Des and Chris. A chilled evening!!

Chris and Des plan to run yoga holidays here. They have 3 ensuite bedrooms downstairs (we’re in one and it’s very comfortable), the other 2 still need work; the one we cleared on day 1 needs to be tiled and the other one is full of furniture. Upstairs there’s the huge yoga room which will need a new floor and off that there’s another bathroom and 2 storage rooms. Then over the other side of the house Chris and Des have their own annex with bedroom,bathroom and a sitting room with kitchenette.

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Friday 26th February

Today is another day of digging and painting. I finish digging the front plot and Des asks what’s next and then shows me the 3 low-walled gardens at the back. So I start another plot.

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Fortunately the soil is fantastic and so the fork slides in and turning it over isn’t too tough. And the dug over parts look fabulous – very satisfying.

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Meanwhile Daz finishes priming his vine trellis and then does a little woodwork.

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He uses some pallet wood to cat proof a well head. Today the 3 piece suite is returned – a week ago they left it with a company to be reupholstered – and what a fabulous job they’ve done. Chris and Des bought the material from a family business, the Fabric Factory, Finchley. I love it!

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In the evening after cooking chicken schwarma we watch the rugby – France V Wales. Des was brought up in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire so he’s a Wales supporter too! A pretty dull game though.

 

Saturday 27th February

Yesterday morning we started the day in T-shirts but it got progressively colder and by late afternoon it was raining hard. This morning there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground. Thank goodness it’s a day off and we’re visiting Cordoba. In Cordoba we visit the Mezquita and the old Bridge.

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Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called “El Puente Romano”. But Cordoba’s hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this was when work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.

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We walk around the town and visit a Moroccan style tea house and we also see the Moorish style houses and courtyards, many have a central courtyard with a fountain.

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Then we go to a large food market for a late lunch – very tasty.

We head home and watch the rugby, England V Ireland then we watch a film, The Way, most enjoyable.

 

Sunday 28th February

When we wake up this morning there’s an inch of snow on the ground. Today it’s a dedicated lazy day. Excellent!

 

Monday 29th February

Today I asked Darren to marry me!! Lol only kidding. Today I do more digging and Daz does so many chores I can’t keep up. I think he cat-proofed the second well with pallet wood; deconstructed the sort of ‘scaffolding tower’ and reconstructed in the yoga room, sanded the window bars and started to paint them.

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Tuesday 1st March

Today more digging for me whilst Daz finishes painting the window bars, paints the shed door and then does some bike maintenance on our bike and the 2 belonging to Des and Chris. Once work is done we decide we should explore the village. Actually the only things in Venta valero are 2 bars so there’s probably only one way this will end!!! The first bar, Meson El Galope, only has one customer, a slightly eccentric old man in hunting clothes.

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We have a couple here with tapas then head to the other bar, Bar Miguel. Here we have many more and attempt complicated conversations about our bike and travelling with the locals. I stagger home via a couple of ditches and collapse in bed.

 

Wednesday 2nd March

Today I sand and stain the patio table and chairs whilst Daz applies the final topcoat of white paint to the vine framework.

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Then Chris and Des return from their Spanish class and take us out to Priego de Cordoba. This prosperous olive-farming town stands on a plateau overlooking the rolling hills of the Subbética Mountain Range, and is famous for its baroque churches, in which the convoluted patterns are elegantly incised into the stone façades, such as the Iglesia de la Asunción and the Iglesia de la Aurora, from which a cloaked brotherhood sets out on a procession every Saturday night, singing songs and collecting alms.

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All this magnificence was made possible by the town´s 18th century silk-production boom, the main monument to which is the Fuente del Rey, an extraordinary fountain in a leafy park with numerous large pools and no less than 139 spouts surrounding a statue of Neptune.
The old town is built around the Arabic castle at the edge of the escarpment. The castle is XIII century with reconstruction in the XVI century. There is a large prayer tower and six other smaller towers. The Church of the Asuncion is a XVI century Gothic Mudejar temple remodelled in the Baroque style in the XVIII century. The main altarpiece is Renaissance. the sacristy chapel is known as a masterpiece of the Spanish baroque. The tower dates back to 1541.

After looking round we stop in a square to enjoy the sunshine whilst having a drink and some tapas. This area of Spain is very beautiful and one advantage – no mosquitos. Apparently they don’t like the olives!

 

Thursday 3rd March

Our last working day. Chris and Des go off to their Spanish lesson and we do a few chores. I finish staining the patio table and bench.

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Daz levels the garden plot that I dug over the other day and then we move some boxes and furniture from the downstairs bedrooms to the yoga room. So once the last downstairs bedroom is tiled Des will be able to distribute the bedroom furniture which is next door. Then all that remains will be all the boxes and furniture in the yoga room which need to be unpacked and sorted. Chores done – hardly took any time so we have time to watch the last 2 Homeland episodes and then do some Michel Thomas Spanish.

In the afternoon once Des and Chris return from the dentist we all get in the car and pop over the hills towards Montefio, to a BBQ at friends of Chris and Des, Robert and Sabina. They have a house in the hills which they have been renovating.

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It has 2 self contained apartments which they rent out. The apartments are lovely and Robert has done much of the work himself. We sit on the terrace and nibble on bread and olives as Robert fires up the ‘brai’, so called because Robert spent a lot of years in South Africa growing up and then also time in the police force over there. Sabina is Polish and they both have PHDs in linguistics which they got in Sweden!!

The food is soon ready and we enjoy a lovely meal looking out over the hills and sipping on chilled red wine. A lovely afternoon and a beautiful secluded setting, with the sun blazing. It gives us another look at life in Southern Spain, and we are very impressed.

 

Friday 4th March

Venta Valero to Antequera.

 

Distance 97.77 km
Max speed 55.0 kmph
Average speed 16.9 kmph
Total 2282.25 km

 

Today we say farewell to Des and Chris. It’s been a fabulous 10 days. A break from cycling with home comforts, a beautiful setting and good company. I think we needed the break. And we feel as if we’ve re-invigorated Chris and Des. They’ve been faced with this ‘seemingly’ never ending list of jobs which becomes a drag. But for us, just dipping in for a week or so is a novelty and very satisfying. We are up and breakfasted, packed, including provisions of bananas and chocolates from Des and Chris and ready to hit the road by 0930. It’s a fond farewell as they wave us on our way, only to pass us on the road ten minutes later on the way to their Spanish class. We hope to see them again hopefully in Seville later in the month if they can find pet cover!!

The plan today is to get as close to Antequera as we can – perhaps all the way. Then get a train from Antequera to Ronda where we are spending 3 days canyoning and via ferrata!

 

We’ve ummed and arrghed about the route we should take to Antequera; we need to get to Montefrio. Yesterday Des and Chris kindly drove us an alternative route and because the road surface is good and there’s only a couple of hills, it’s the one we pick. And it’s fabulous. There’s a gentle climb out of Venta Valero before a swooping downhill to our first proper climb of the day towards Montefrio.

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It’s only about 3km but it’s early and soon has us blowing. But then it’s down to Montefrio and around to pick up a river valley that takes us to our lunchstop in Loja. The scenery is spectacular, miles of olive groves, hills and in the distance some snow capped mountains.

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The sun is shining and there’s barely any traffic. Montefrio looks beautiful today and it’s been mentioned in National Geographic; one of the World’s top 10 scenic villages.

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Around 1130 we cycle into Loja.Loja is another fortified town; so it’s on a hill with cobbled streets. So we abandon (park) the bike outside a church. We then climb up into the town and find lunch in a quiet square.

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On the way back to the bike we walk up to the Alcazabra of Loja. The Alcazaba de Loja is a defensive construction from the Nazari period, which is visually connected with the network of watchtowers that are distributed along the border of the kingdom of Granada. many of its walls and towers, after a recent restoration are still standing today. Built in the Muslim city of Medina Lawsa, the fortress was a preeminent center of political and military life, and was a key part of the Granada conquest. It is the most significant historical space of Loja. The views from the top are outstanding.

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We set off again and soon we are climbing as we follow the roads that run alongside the motorway towards Antequera. Daz finds it particularly tough on one hill and we pull over and sit on a bench in the shade for a while to get our breath back. Then I start to lose my moja. There’s still 21km to Antequera and we’ve already done over 70km. The routemaister gave us total mileage of 88km – WRONG!!! Finally we make Antequera – it’s been tough but incredibly pretty. A really good day and this is certainly an area we need to return to when our travels are done and we’re ready to settle down. It’s got great weather, a relatively low cost of living, hills for walking, cycling and motorcycling – definitely potential!!! We stop at McDonald’s for the free WiFi ( and two McMeals!) and find some cheap accommodation in the centre of town. A final couple of hills sees us wearily at our hotel. After a little lie down we do have a little wander around the town centre.

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Saturday 5th March

Antequera to Ronda

Distance 25.48 km
Max speed 40.8 kmph
Average speed 14.1 kmph
Total 280.43 km

 

We start the day with a little sightseeing in Antequera.

The first sighting of Antequera in the distance is that of a typical medieval town, with the spires of her many churches and the walls and towers of the great Moorish fortress silhouetted against the sky. Spread out in the valley below lie rich farmlands irrigated by the Guadalhorce River. For centuries this has been one of Andalucía’s most fertile areas, and is currently a leading producer of asparagus, cereals and olives. In summer, its fields turn brilliant yellow with sunflowers.

Just outside Antequera town, we visit one of Antequera’s most impressive sights, the dolmens, located in a park to the west of the town. The most spectacular of these is the Cueva de la Menga.

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These megalithic mass tombs, made of huge slabs of rock, were created by the original Iberian people and date back 5,000 years. There are many such dolmens in Andalucí­a, but none as large as the Cueva de la Menga. When it was excavated in the nineteenth century, many hundreds of skeletons were found in its inner chamber.

We also visit the recently excavated Roman baths, the magnificent Renaissance church of Santa Marí­a la Mayor Church, the Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the 19th century bullring, and the Arch of the Giants, built in 1585, which leads up to the 13th century Moorish castle. The views from the castle are spectacular.

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After sightseeing we head back to our hotel to book out. The train to Ronda is at 2pm so we have a cup of coffee or 2 enjoying the hotel’s WiFi before heading to the train station. We’ve got plenty of time and take a leisurely cycle to the train station and we tell the ticket man that we’ve had our bike on Spanish trains in the past so all is looking good. But disaster – there’s no train. There’s engineering works and instead of a train there’s a bus for the first leg of our train journey. Daz is convinced (well 50% convinced – yes his words not mine – does 50% convinced = clueless?) that we’ll get the bike (in its fully constructed glory) in the large baggage compartment of a coach, because Daz has decided it’s a coach not some shitty bus. I’m against such a plan and since there’s a train at 6pm suggest we cycle to the first stop, then get on the train. So off we go, it’s only a 20km bike ride and I laugh in the face of such a short distance. And actually it’s flat and dull and easy and short. Our train station is Antequera Santa Ana and it’s a one horse town. There is nothing here but a huge, state of the art train station, it’s actually like an airport terminal. Most bizarre. It’s only half 2 so hours until our train but Daz says this is on the mainline to Madrid so there might be an earlier train. So we go in, have to put on bags through the X- ray machine, and go to the ticket desk. OMG there’s a train to Ronda in 9 minutes. I leave Daz to complete the transaction and go to fetch the bike. The lady manning the x-ray machine makes some comment – does she expect me to put the tandem through the scanner? No just the bags – so off they all come and through they go including the bag with the knives in!!! After the scanner it’s over to the escalator – yes Daz takes the bike down the escalator, then up an escalator and surprisingly we’re actually on a train to Ronda! The rough hilly terrain we pass through is very lovely.

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After we check in to our hotel we go in search of food and realise what a gem Ronda actually is. We visit the bull ring, the viewpoint at the edge of town and the new bridge.

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Despite being Andalucía’s fastest-growing town Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town. It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre. Visitors make a beeline for the 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge, which straddles the 100m chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.

 

Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, today glimpsed once a year at the spectacular Feria Goyesca. Held at the beginning of September, here fighters and some of the audience dress in the manner of Goya’s sketches of life in the region. Legendary Rondeño bullfighter Pedro Romero broke away from the prevailing Jerez ‘school’ of horseback bullfighting in the 18th century to found a style of bullfighting in which matadores stood their ground against the bull on foot. In 2006 royalty and movie stars were helicoptered in for the Goyesca’s 50th anniversary celebrations in its small bullring, while thousands jammed the streets and parks outside. Otherwise the bullring, Plaza de Toros, is now a museum, and visitors can stroll out into the arena.

After a stroll around some of the sights, we concentrate on finding food. We’re in a restaurant and 3 American ladies sit at the table next to us. Outside in the square there’s a practice run for Semana Santa, (The Easter parade), men carrying a heavy float. We explain what’s happening to the Americans and then we chat about our travels. These ladies are on a tour of southern Spain and Portugal. They are from Texas, Florida and Michigan. It’s pleasant to chat and they tell us about a bull farm they visited locally, it sounds very interesting.

We head to a bar we saw earlier, it was packed with a band at the far end. It’s still packed. We’re not sure what’s going on but everyone seems to know everyone else, so we’re wondering if it’s some sort of family celebration.

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Anyway we’re enjoying the atmosphere when someone offers us some tickets. She offers them at half price so off we rush (the show has just started) to find the venue. The place is packed and has a ‘sit anywhere’ policy – so we end up standing, watching from a balcony – The Pasión – a musical creation of our folk traditions, a fusion of Easter and flamenco. Incredible – it was very moving!

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