High Plains Drifter

On the way south through Zamora province there are fields of beans – chick peas and habones which are somewhere between broad and butter beans, big and tasty. We’ve run out of vines as the land gives way to cattle and pig rearing under the cork oaks whose acorns make the ham from around here so tasty. As it happens I’m on Route 66, Autovia A66 and it doesn’t feel much like our trip in Arizona and Nevada except for the amount of road kill. It’s a fairly empty motorway – why can’t the animals dodge better? Sight of the day – sorry still no stopping – comes just south of Salamanca where the road crests a slight incline and there are the Sierra de Gredos still covered in snow. The road passed Béjar and there were signs to La Covatilla ski resort. Then after another gentle climb – no hairpins or gear changes – there’s a sign for a pass at 1192 metres above sea level. These really are high plains in the west of Spain – the film title I borrowed wasn’t actually one of those spaghettis shot in Tabernas in Almeria province. As the road continued my attention was drawn to a stunning piece of music that was totally unfamiliar. I’d enjoyed the company of Catalunya Musica until halfway across Aragon and had then managed to retune to RTVE’s classical station. That’s the national broadcaster – BBC equivalent. I caught a bit of the announcement that it had Anne Sofie van Otter and the Swedish Symphony orchestra. I later traced it to be Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Song: a Cantata in two parts. I’m listening to it now on the RTVE podcast and it’s even better without car noise.

The A66 progresses into Extramadura which is the most famous region for Bellota ham but I was very surprised by the number of newly planted fields of vines and of vines planted as infill between rows of olive trees. I stopped for a coffee and mentioned my surprise to be told that the whole area had been revitalised in 1999 when Extramadura finally got its own denominacion DO Ribera del Guadiana so quality and prices had risen and farmers were encouraged to plant more vines. It was a hesitant conversation given my shaky command of the language but informative. Most of the new vines are in Badajoz province at the east end of which, now on the N432, I enter Cordoba where the only planting to be seen throughout the whole province is olives with the exception of a few grapes around Montilla south of the capital and in – it seems – a dozen other villages where the wines are classified as Montilla-Moriles and have a striking resemblance to sherries and a similar variety from fino to the sweet Pedro Ximenez. I have occasionally taken a sip of fino from a bottle labelled CB Alvear only later to appreciate that it’s a Montilla not a sherry.

20170508_152136[1]So I arrive in Rute just after three which seems like a good time for lunch before shopping. I recall that nice restaurant and bar we used to go to – Venegas, just up the road from Mercadona where my shopping is planned. So I go in, order a beer and ask what they have as tapas or small raciones and lo and behold they have carillitas de cerdo. These are pigs’ cheeks and became one of Dee’s favourite dishes. Coming from beside that large amount of bone the meat is really tasty and tender. These were served in a sauce with almonds. And how appropriate that he should be watching over me from the counter.

A week’s shopping completed I then drove on through Iznajar and turned right along to La Parilla, right on the border of Cordoba and Malaga provinces. The last part of the journey was a bit hazy and I thought I might be tired or my cataracts were getting worse only to realise that insect spatter had nearly obscured the windscreen. I’ll give it a wash tomorrow.

The house is still as lovely and welcoming as I remember. IMG_2438

There’s a bit of noise from the olive oil cooperative in the village but otherwise just the birds and the rustle of a light breeze in the trees.

I’m unpacked, a week’s washing is on, finished and out to dry and writer’s corner has been established and occupied in preparation for the real task to begin tomorrow.

Oh and the pool area still looks attractive but the sun’s gone off it now and I’ve been busy. And horror – I have to cook for myself tonight!


More Canyon and kicks on Route 66

Grand Canyon Post cardSunday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to go back and see more of the Grand Canyon in full sunlight. And what a difference! Colours were brighter, shadows more intense and it seemed even further and deeper down that we spied a wiggle of the Colorado. We bought some Junior Ranger gifts for the grandchildren in the visitor centre which doubles as a small museum of the history of the Grand Canyon village.

Kolb Studio




We then walked down to the Kolb Studio a tribute to two brothers who made a small fortune out of filming and photographing pioneer activity in the canyon and selling prints to the prospectors. The lengths they went to in order to get their footage would make a modern day risk assessor apoplectic – but then we’d never have had this amazing archive so sometimes you do just have to forget the rules.

We set off along the rim footpath which announced itself as “easy walking” rather than taking the Bright Angel Trail which descended into the canyon but was described as a day-long trip for experienced hikers. We didn’t have a day and we’re not in that good shape. As it transpired the easy walk needed quite a lot of puff as there were some sharp inclines that required people younger than us to pause by the side of the track to get their second wind. It was well worth it though and took us to the memorial to John Wesley Powell claimed as the first explorer of the Grand Canyon. Well he might have been the first white American explorer but the Havasupai and Hualapai have lived in and around the canyon for some 800 years. Each time you reach one of these strategically located lookouts you see different aspects of the gorge with informative explanatory plaques.Grand Canyon 2

Proposed-GC-hotel_thumbWho knew there was an abandoned uranium mine called the Orphan Mine? I then learned thanks to The Guardian that there are proposals to reopen it which have brought howls of protests from environmentalists about the effects of uranium mining on the scarce water supply in the canyon area and on wildlife. Nor did I know that when it first closed there was a proposal to build a multi-storey hotel actually inside the rim – artist’s impression on the right.

Hopi danceOn our return via the shuttle bus to Grand Canyon Village we were presented with a display of dancing from the Hualapai outside the Hopi House one of the main attractions of the village. They were energetic and slightly threatening and reminded us of the Ainu dances we’d seen in Hokkaido.

We then set off back towards Vegas early in the afternoon and as we approached the interstate opted instead for a drive along self-proclaimed with monotonous regularity “historic” Route 66.

Route 66The road itself was great – empty of traffic except for a Havasupai Reservation Police jeep at one point – surrounded by rolling hills and agriculture and then we came to the sign “Entering Seligman”. Obviously you’d have to be a hermit not to have heard “Get your kicks on Route 66”. I think I first remember the Chuck Berry version but Nat King Cole did it first and the Rolling Stones and many others followed. In a fabulous piece of municipal self-promotion Seligman claims to be the heart of Route 66. It’s fabulous – low buildings line a broad street. There are Harley Davidson outlets and repairs shops, lots of them. There are hotels, motels and roadhouses. There is the famous Road Kill Diner: motto “You Kill It, We Grill It”.

Seligman sign  Seligman sundriesRoad Kill Road Kill interior

Dee waiting on 66 After waiting in vain for some fresh road kill and having a beer in its dollar bill papered interior we chose a German themed diner opposite with good craft beer – Dogfish Head IPA – where do they get these names? We had lunch served by a lady with such exquisitely coiffed hair that she would not have been out of place in a 1950s movie.

Dogfish Head beer