This rural idyll

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IT’S easy to forget that Almeria is a rural economy.

Bright lights along the coast illuminate restaurants and chiringuitos, summer holidaymakers wander by at a snails pace with towels over their shoulders and streets are filled with noisy traffic. Yet drive inland for 15-20 minutes and it can be a step back in time.

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I used to live somewhat in the middle of nowhere half way up a mountain (or down depending on whether the glass is half full or half empty.) Nobody ever passed by and walking the dogs was a chore as to get anywhere meant a steep walk up or down the aforesaid hill before flat ground could be reached and then at the end of the walk a steep walk back up or down again.

Not that I have anything against hills and mountains mind, its just that familiarity breeds contempt especially if a few too many sherbets were imbibed the night before; leaving the summer morning sun to beat down on my poor sore head.

Now it’s a village life for me and what a picturesque old village it is, sitting alongside a rambla with a square and a bar, little vans beep their horns and sell all manner of items bread being the obvious, fruit and vegetables, gas bottles and very scary clothing ideal for anyone oblivious to what’s ever been in fashion.

Each evening the village goes alfresco with the men congregating outside smoking and discussing the day’s events. The women wisely sit elsewhere chatting and sometimes doing each others hair or nails.

Walking the dogs is now much more fun as within moments of leaving the house we are exploring tiny paths that wind through little fields and allotments, the dogs race through ancient gurgling waterways as the life giving water is distributed fairly to each little plot of land.

Gentle climbs sometimes lead to ruinous abandoned houses, I scrump and feast on wild blackberries, luscious dark figs and plump purple grapes. Higher still and we follow wild boar and fox tracks through thirsty almond trees and scrubby undergrowth. Come January looking up from down below these seemingly winter bare hillsides will have pink or white fairy lights where almond trees blossom.

Mornings and evenings villagers walk up the rambla to the fuente to collect drinking water; I too make the trip and the dogs splash around in the old washing area. In my pockets I carry carrots and apples as my new found friend lives under the shade of a huge fig tree. My new friend is a donkey whose Spanish name I can’t even pronounce let alone spell here so I just call him ‘Donkey!’

A friendly and docile chap; he either loves my company or it’s just the carrots as when he sees me he trots over and nuzzles me to say hello. The dogs at first were puzzled by this huge beast and yapped at him but now they come and sniff noses with him and wait patiently for me as Signor Donkey crunches away on his breakfast.

The village is alive now with holidaymakers who have opened up shuttered houses for the summer and this would be the ideal time to hold the village fiesta. But no, that is held in the depths of winter and I remember last January looking on bemused as a giant unheated marquee was put up in the square. Band members huddled around the fire in the bar until they could not leave it any longer and out they went to perform in the freezing night air.

Men and women of a certain age shuffled around wearing winter coats trying to look elegant dancing that eternal fiesta favourite the Merengue. I better buy some long johns and start taking lessons now!

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