It was time to embark on our second woofing job with Jose in the Alpujarras. His Cortijo Tesoro lies not far from the highest (claimed by the inhabitants) village in Spain, Travelez. In fact, the Camino de Trevelez runs practically past his holding.
Jose and his partner Andrea have spent the past 15 years doing up the various original stone buildings on the farm with the help of woofers. By the time we arrived most of the work was done. We had to drench the new natural tile floor with a linseed oil concoction and then paint the ceiling with lime whitewash. Under no circumstances were we to touch the oiled chestnut beams. In fact, we had to clean up some of the paint that went astray before we got there. This vexed Nigel. So he was taken away to help fix the water supply.
The cortijo is typical for the traditional Islamic architecture the Moors brought to the country of Spain from the Atlas Mountains in Algier, Morocco and Tunisia. It was the Berbers who brought their knowledge and traditions to Andalucia. This intrinsic knowledge to work with the natural materials that surrounded them in the mountains was very useful in the region of the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarras. The cortijos are made of stone, oak or chestnut beams, launa (water-impermeable breathing clay-layer), pebbles and lots of lime wash.
Typical ceiling made from chestnut beams, stones, launa and gravel:
Jose’s cooking was absolutely delicious, vegetarian meals cooked in a jiffy and tasty. He would put many a restaurant to shame with his culinary virtuosity.
He is also a very accomplished guitar player and singer. We witnessed this on our third night there when we had bought a bottle of vino tinto, a bottle of lambrusco, a lump of cheese and a big bag of crisps. Jose was delighted about the naughty supplementation of his larder. The next day he accused us of having given him a sore head. I beg you – only after 2 glasses of vino! The man needs to get out more. But we had a lovely evening under the stars of the Alpujarra.
The Berbers or Moors as they were called then also brought with them the science of preserving and making use of water, which is scarce and a luxury in those regions. So every drop needs preserving and put to its full use. To that purpose they have constructed Acequias = irrigation canals, channels, that runs alongside the mountains and to anywhere where water is needed, for example the agricultural used areas with orange, olive and almond trees, gardens and dwellings.
These acequias are now looked after by the population and maintained, because life depends on it. Sometimes you can see the original dug out channels, sometimes they are strengthened with concrete along motorways or bounded by stones. Sometimes they look like natural streams, distributing and sharing out their life-maintaining moisture along the way, so that trees, scrub and wildlife can live.
On our last night we went to Atalbeitar with Jose and his guitar and Jim, the new woofer kid on the farm. Well, ok, he is 34, and is travelling the world for the past 3 and a half years.
This night turned out to be a jam session with the resident Hungarian jazz artist, Jose with his guitar and a local on percussion. You wouldn’t really expect that kind of music in a little mountain village high in the Alpujarras in Spain, but music is a universal art and can be transposed anywhere in any form or style. And so we listened to a Spanish jazz session in a typical cortijo. This is run as an unofficial restaurant run by the Hungarian piano player and his Canadian wife.
Going for sugar along the Camino de Trevelez
During our 6-day day with Jose I was assailed with homesickness!
Well, it is not so easy to mould yourself to another person’s life-style and be confined and defined by their times of eating (too late!), habits and living arrangements (creaky single beds and door to his bedroom). So there comes a time when you want to just do as you please, flop back into your own way of life and spread yourself out again.
Unfortunately the weather had become cold and as we departed it deteriorated further. So just as well we left the high southern mountains and drove instead to the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, to Alquife.