Salobrena – Ten Days at Villa El Paraiso
The morning sun is rising over Salobrena, painting the darkness with rainbow shades of red, pink, orange and yellow. It slowly unveils the giant fog bank blanketing the cool waters of the sea. From our vantage point on the hill the huge, puffball, coverlet of cloud seems to stretch all the way from Salobreña’s sleepy harbour to Africa’s distant shores. Morocco – one hundred miles dead ahead from where I sit and type on the villa’s patio.
It is quarter to eight in the morning and we have not long said goodbye to my daughter and her family. It suddenly felt like the last ten days with them had flown by as swift as the winter winds that were waiting for them back in Scotland. The sun still hiding in the East as they packed their suitcases into the hire car at seven a.m. and headed for the airport.
I wish their flight could have been just an hour or two later, so Gem could have caught this one, last Salobreña sunrise before they left. The morning air is chilly after a while, and I wrap myself in the blanket she has been using. The image of her sitting here, wrapped tight in it’s folds makes me smile as I watch the sun for her. As I type the bright, distant orb of fire, finally breaches the morning cloud. Surging clear and into the sky in seconds, as it floods the quiet Saturday morning with rosy light, and the first, gentle stroke of heat.
Marley bursts into a frenzy of barking at my side, chasing the doves who had been cooing softly from the hillside behind the house. She has been in full, mountain, guard dog mode ,since we arrived here a week past Wednesday. The villa is on an old Finca, and there are a good few acres of terraced hillside around us that she has been free to roam during our stay.
The terrace paths are overgrown, and walking on them raises a heady scent of aromatic herbs into the ramblers nose. Rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme – it makes me hungry to walk there, all the delicious flavours of the mediterranean in every step.
Today though Marley is tethered to the terrace. I feel sorry for her, denied her natural born instinct to patrol the borders. Enjoy her last few hours of freedom. But the obstinate furry one has been enjoying her freedom just a little bit too much. Reluctant to come into the house, even for the night. Crying at the door the second anyone is up in the morning. She adores this little piece of paradise as much as the rest of us have.
A couple of days ago when we were all going on a trip into Salobreña to the beach she refused to come when called. Tearing off across the terraces. Stopping to throw us “Catch me if you can!” glances, like the bolshie, naughty teenager she is.
That day we went without her. Leaving her plenty of water and a fully fenced doggy heaven to roam around in at her will. I’m sure she had a great time while we were away, but boy was she happy to see everyone when we returned four hours later!
Still…that was two days ago. And I don’t trust the stubborn beast to come willingly in three hours when it’s time to leave. Animals always seem to know when something is happening, and I’m sure her spidey senses will tell her we’re leaving for good. Sending her charging off through the thorn bushes where the human “thin skins” can’t follow.
And so she will spend her last few hours here tethered to the terrace. Listening to the birds call and the dogs bark. The smells and noises floating to her across the valleys, and up the hills. So happy in this place that we want nothing more but to buy it and add another mountain dog or two to keep her company.
Our grandson has decided the villa is our house. He is only two still, and has only ever known us to be in the van. So this, he logically figures, must be “Noni and Poppy-Jay’s house”. We joke that we’ll need to come here for a couple of weeks every year. Just so he can come and visit us at “home”.
But, much as we love it, much as this house on the hill feels very much like “home”, we know we won’t come back next year. Or any year after that either. The call of the road is too strong. There are too many places still to be seen. Too many corners still to turn.
I thought it would be hard to leave here today. But now that the family are gone it is suddenly easy. The restlessness that has been gone all week has settled back in my stomach. Not gone after all. Merely waiting, quietly in the wings, until we were alone again. Soothed into a quiet slumber by the presence of children, grand-children. But now, with them gone, I itch to be back on the road again.
In three hours Daniela will come to collect the keys, and Jay will have the unenviable task of driving Iggy back down the steep, narrow, worn, switchback to the main coast road waiting below. It was a nerve-wracking experience on the way up, and I nearly jumped out of the van at one point as we rounded the last few, barrier free twists to the villa. It really is not a motorhome friendly road, and I am just glad that Iggy is only 6 metres long!
Having made it up in one piece we weren’t in any hurry to go back down again, so we’ve spent most of the week just relaxing up at the villa. We took a couple of trips into Salobreña though. Sam had a hire car, and would run everyone else in while Jay, Marley and I walked down to the main road. It’s only five minutes into the town in a car, and by the time we reached the bottom of our hairpin road Sam would be back to pick us up and take us to meet the others.
The town is as pretty as the tourist guides say it is. The massive hulk of the old Moorish fortress dominating the skyline. Spiralling steeply down from it’s flanks twist the idyllic narrow, cobbled streets of the traditional Spanish villages. Winter whitewash fading to black around the edges as the clock ticks down to the springtime re-paint. Gorgeous coloured flowers spilling from windowsills and down stepped lanes. It may be February, but it’s twenty-two degrees in the shade, and nobody told the butterflies there are places where they only flutter in the summer.
There are plenty of tavernas, plenty of supermarkets, a beautiful playground for the little ones. The shingle beach is long and clean, the tourist apartments slightly neglected in their winter emptiness. A large outcropping of rock provides stunning views among the remains of old WWII gun emplacements. We stare up into the hills and find the archway of our villa entrance – standing alone in it’s grounds above the blue waters of the sea.
We have Menu del Dia, and the waiter plays peek-a-boo with my grandson under the tables. He seems a bit frosty when we first arrive, but by the time we are leaving he is putty in the little one’s hands. We talk Spanish, we eat Spanish food. His smiles get wider. There are free tapas with our drinks. A free glass of Baileys with our coffees to say “Gracias!” for our custom. He brings a final glass “Sin alcohol. Para el niño.” Without alcohol. For the boy.
Another day we all do the twenty minute walk down to the little beach below the villa. It’s an easy walk down, but Sam takes the car to ferry everyone back up again. It’s a nice walk, and the beach is pretty. Small and stony with rocky outcroppings at either end, and an old tower on the hill above. But the experience is marred a little by the vans spread out across the whole area. A few look as though they are in permanent residence. Others are in little clusters. We’re not sure if some of the vans are on their own private property or not.
It has the air of a community, and my family tell me if I’d not been there to explain the ways of some vanfolk to them, they would have immediately turned away. Their initial feeling was of intruding. Of being outsiders stumbling into the middle of someone’s home. Chairs were sitting beside open doors. Someone’s dogs chased along the stones, running up to us barking as we walked along the beach. The owner watching from a van up on the path.
We climbed the rocks on one side and found lots of cigarette ends, discarded plastic gloves sitting in a hole near an old firepit. My granddaughter set off for the other rocks, looking for rockpools and crabs. As we followed a man arrived and got into a wetsuit to go fishing with a speargun. Surprising everyone with his sudden, full frontal nakedness as he shook his way into the suit.
My garanddaughter returned from her crab hunt to say people had been defecating on the rocks so she had just turned back.
And now Jay is bustling in the kitchen behind me. Gathering together our belongings and ferrying them out to the van. Iggy is parked just up the hill from the villa, as the entrance arch is not high enough for him to get onto the drive. It is time for me to finish writing. Time to grab a last water wasting shower. Time to sweep the floors, straighten the chairs, and drink one, last, coffee on the patio of the villa El Paraiso. The sparkling blue waters of the Meditaranean stretched out below me. Africa calling me, unseen, from the other side of the curving horizon.
Yesterday a paraglider flew over our porch. A giant shadow that turned into delight and joy as we watched him soar over our heads and westwards into the blue. Today we will follow.