Category Archives: Outdoors

History Is Happening All The Time

Pont Romá Mallorca

It would feel safe to say that the island of Mallorca was inhabited well before the Romans came to settle. In prehistoric times, in the Neolithic period, there was life on the island, mostly in caves, it is said. At around 2500 B. C. and up to about 1400 B. C., one speaks of the pre-Talaiotic period, coinciding with the bronze and iron ages, when people settled in caves and man-made Navetes. The Talaiotic period covers the time between 1400 B. C. and the arrival of the Romans, at around 123 B. C., when Talaiotic settlements were built with impressive towers and robust fortifications.

The Romans changed all that. It seems that they first arrived on the Northern shore of the island. Settlements were made in Bocchoris near what today is Port de Pollença, and Pollentia, near today’s Alcúdia. The Pont Roma (Roman bridge, shown here) in Pollença dates from approximately 400 A. D.

The North of the island must have had its attraction for the early settlers just as it has today, what with Port d’Alcúdia, Port de Pollença, Formentor, s’Albufera and the scenery between the Badia de Pollença and the Badia de Alcúdia, embracing the Peninsula de la Victoria. One might assume that the Romans did not play golf nor practiced kite surfing nor cycling, but they may have done some bird watching, mountaineering or rock climbing, just as you can do today in this popular part of Mallorca.

If you should be looking for accommodation in the rural area of Alcúdia, there is plenty of accommodation for rent, such as can be found at Alcúdia villas. Enjoy an encounter with the past when you savour your holiday.

Advertisements

Skiing in Spain

andorra.jpg

Skiing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Spain because of its southern latitude. When most people think about Spain, they think rather of lemons, bullfights, palmtrees, flamenco, sangria, beaches, sun and hot weather. But snow? Only people in the know think of snow when it comes to Spain.

In reality, Spain is a relatively mountainous country and “high” in elevation, only second in Europe to that of Switzerland. Let’s take that in for a moment. The average altitude of land in Spain is higher than that of France, Germany, Italy or even the Scandinavian countries. There are lots of mountains in those countries, but Spain? Yes, Spain has mountains to boot, and snow to go with the mountains, as a satellite photo, courtesy of NASA, illustrates quite clearly (the photo was taken in the Spring of 2006, I believe. And muchas gracias, NASA).

spain_nasa.jpg

There are 14 regions in Spain that cater to the skiing enthusiasts with a total of 39 ski stations. And, in my opinion, some of those regions compete easily with the best of any European ski resorts.

In effect, the number of options in Spain to go skiing is quite profuse. The two main and favourite options are the Pyrenees and the mountain range of the Sierra Nevada. The Pyrenees are in the Northeast of Spain and help delineate the Spanish borders with France. The Sierra Nevada is in Southern Spain, above the city of Granada.

Some claim that the Sierra Nevada range provides the best snow and longest skiing season in the country (5 months). Apparently it is possible to ski there in the morning and then travel a short distance to sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, obviously depending on the season.

If you’re considering a skiing holiday in Spain, the main destinations to consider are probably the following:

In the Catalán Pyrenees: Baqueira Beret, Boí Taüll, Espot Esquí and La Molina.

In the Aragon Pyrenees: Astún, Candanchú, Cerler, Formigal, Javalambre and Panticosa.

In Andalucía: the Sierra Nevada, east of Granada.

You’ll also find some good skiing in the mountains to the north of Madrid in La Pinilla, Navacerrada, Valcotos and Valdesquí.

Further north there is skiing in La Rioja at Valdezcaray, at Alto Campo in Cantabria and at San Isidro in León though none of these stations are geared up to large scale tourism like one can find in the Pyrenees and, to a lesser extent, in the Sierra Nevada.

And there is Andorra, which of course is not Spain, but from abroad, you might consider the Andorran ski resorts just the same: Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig, Soldeu, El Tarter, Pal and La Massana.

All of the above resorts have had good skiing conditions during the six weeks since New Year, and most of them are ensured to have snow for good skiing until the end of March, under normal conditions. For up-to-date snow availability in Spain you might want to check on the internet, such as on j2ski.

And don’t forget to build your first Spanish snowman.

The Annual Sopelana Beach Race Near Bilbao

sopelana_beach.jpg

Every year in September, the Spanish go crazy, at least since 1999. No bulls this time, nor tomatoes. Nudity, yes, nude bodies, and a race along the beach. Okay, not all Spanish, but some.

Last Saturday marked the 9th annual “Sopelana Nudist Race/Patxi Ros Trophy”, a 5,000 m run on Barinatxe Beach (also called La Salvaje), located between the villages of Sopelana and Getxo (Vizcaya), near Bilbao in northern Spain. 136 men, women and children took part in this year’s race. 

The idea for a nudists’ race was started in 1999 by a certain Patxi Ros, who wanted to combine his two favourite pastimes into one public event. The Basque Country Naturist Club (ENE) took over the race in 2003 and renamed it the “Patxi Ros Trophy”. According to the group’s website, the purpose of the race is “to promote the Naturist way of life and to develop a healthy life style along with Naturism and sports”.

The group also added that the race helps to teach that “the concept of nudity is more than and goes beyond sunbathing, swimming and beach.” The race involved running down the beach and back, which also allowed the participants to admire fellow racers on the home stretch.

According to the group’s website, Rule No. 1 is: “Participants by all means are to run in full nudity, and are only allowed to wear a cap or hat on the head, sun glasses, socks and footwear. Any participant not conforming to this rule will immediately be disqualified and asked to leave the race by the organisation members”.

And the winner was … last year’s champion, Fernando Suances, with a time of 18 mins. 21 seconds. That’s not a bad time considering the track surface.

At least, you don’t have to worry about what to wear next year, should you want to come to Sopelana in September 2008.

 

Have You Heard of Gran Gimnesia?

cabrera.jpg 

 

The beauty of the Balearic Islands is that it is an archipelago. There are so many islands, and each one is so very different from the next one.

 

I haven’t counted them all yet, but there are at least a hundred islands and islets in all. There are the four principle ones that are of any considerable size and these are inhabited: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The islets surrounding the four big isles are protected and mainly uninhabited; one of them (Cabrera, the biggest of the little ones) is declared as a Spanish National Park. Cabrera itself is again surrounded by several other islets.

 

Of course, it was not always that way. Some 100,000 years ago, perhaps 200,000 years, one presumes that all these islands were connected into two large land masses, one, combining Menorca, Mallorca and Cabrera and spanning some 8,000 square kilometres, resulting in an island called Gran Balear, or Gran Gimnesia. The other island was Gran Pitiusa, combining Ibiza and Formentera. Both islands were separated by a marine canal of a span of 70 to 80 kilometres. We can’t go back in time, but we now have the means to travel across water.

 

Today, it is Cabrera where I suggest you go to one day, if you have not already been. The Parque Nacional del Archipiélago de Cabrera used to be under military rule for defense purposes for the last sixty years, but a few years ago, was returned  to the auspices of the Civil authorities. Cabrera is now uninhibited, save for a small contingent of keepers of no more than ten or twenty souls. Nature is amazingly well preserved on the islands that form the archipelago of Cabrera, for the simple reason that the long time tutelage of the Ministry of Defense has prevented tourism from coming and spoiling it.

 

Cabrera is now home to a great number of animals, ranging from eagles to falcons, cuckoos to owls, swans to seagulls. Over 120 species in all, just birds. Birds migrate from as far as Madagascar, India, the Red Sea, and Africa. Apart from birds, there are untold numbers of maritime animals from turtles to seals, dolfins to morrenas, whales to tuna. On land you find hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits and lizards. Of the podarcis lilfordi you will find 80 % of what is left in the whole world, here in Cabrera. That’s a large size lizard (see photo below).

 

podarcis_lilfordi.jpg 

 

You can go to Cabrera by private boat. Only 50 boats are allowed on any one day. You have to make reservations well in advance. Or else you can make a boat trip from Colònia de Sant Jordi, near Santanyi. Trips leave daily at 09h30 and return at 16h30. Fares are 35 € for adults, or 18 € for children up to 10 years old. You have to bring your own food, as there are no facilities on the island such as bars or chiringuitos, thank God. Or you can book your comida from the ferry boat people at 10 € per person, which is likely to be paella and a soft drink. The boat trip stops at the Blue Grotto, called Sa Cova Blava, on the way back. Don’t forget your camera. Telephone 971.649.034 for a reservation.

 

Have fun chasing those speedy lizards, but don’t touch them. No, they are not poisonous, but they are very fragile. To save their skin, they surrender their extreme body parts rather than being caught. And you would not want a lizard to have its tail amputated, do you?

 

And let me offer my thanks to the G. O. B. More about them, soon. And more about the other Nature Reserve close to Mallorcan shores, Sa Dragonera, also soon, in a blog near you.

 

Palunya

my_uncles_country.jpg

I am showing you here a detail from a painting done by Fred Ward Tjungurrayi.

I love art. I have been collecting art ever since I was a young man. For the last ten years or so, however, I have become somewhat disillusioned by Contemporary art. Since then, I have begun collecting some Aboriginal art, mainly from the Western Desert area of Western Australia, and a place called Warburton in particular.

Fred Ward Tjungurrayi is an indigenous painter from the Western Desert in Western Australia. The painting is titled My Uncle’s Country and measures approximately 183 x 135 cms. It was painted in 1996 with acrylics on canvas, in Warburton, in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia.

Fred Ward Tjungurrayi, born ca. 1948, is one of the highly acclaimed Aboriginal painters. His work can be found in some of the more respected collections (i. e. Holmes à Court, UWA, Gabrielle Pizzi), and now mine, here in Mallorca, Spain.

Australian Aboriginal dot paintings often depict landscapes, as in a plan or a map or an atlas, giving some orientation for the nomadic foot walks and marches that Aboriginal people had to undertake from water hole to water hole. Water holes are sacred sites. In the painting, the artist connects water holes in his uncle’s country where he is now custodian, north-east of Kiwirrkurra, in the heart of Pintupi country, in the Western Desert.

Palunya. That’s how it is.

Greetings From the Rainforest

cuyabeno.jpg

 

We have news from our daughter Kilina, who is spending a summer volunteering in Ecuador. After one month of working in Hacienda El Porvenir, at the foot of Cotopaxi volcano, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, and a number of hikes and horse riding expeditions, she has now gone off on a four day excursion to the Amazon rainforest, still in Ecuador.

 

She had to go back down to the capital, Quito, from where a small group of about 15 IASTE students from all over the world set off to Reserva Cuyabeno, close to Ecuador’s borders with Colombia.

 

Upon being met by their guide they were transported by motorized canoe to the camp, the Cuyabeno River Lodge, in Amazon National Park.

During their explorations they will be able to observe the exotic flora and faunæ (monkeys, river dolphins, etc.) peculiar to this unique environment. Apparently there are 15 species of monkey and well over 500 types of birds in this area. With luck they might even spot a giant anaconda on the Hormiga River, a tributary river of the Laguna Grande.

 

On a hike through the primary rainforest, guides will introduce them to various medicinal plants. They will also have the opportunity to observe monkeys and parrots, among others, and they might even possibly spot a jaguar. They will also run across various animal tracks (tapir, armadillo, paca, puma, etc.).

rainforest.jpg

The group is expected back in Quito on Monday morning. From there, it will be back to Cotopaxi for Kilina for another month of slave work (sorry, volunteer work).

 

What fun.

 

We sometimes forget what a lovely planet this still is, despite it all.

The Moroccan Hollywood

ksar-ain-ben-haddou.jpg

 

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee met again, at the end of June, in New Zealand.

I looked into this whole business of UNESCO World Heritage sites and was surprised to find that in Spain alone, there is this very impressive list of World Heritage locations:

Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada

Burgos Cathedral

Doñana National Park

Historic Centre of Cordoba

Monastery and Site of the Escurial, Madrid

Works of Antoni Gaudí

Altamira Cave

Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias

Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches

Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct

Santiago de Compostela (Old Town)

Garajonay National Park

Historic City of Toledo

Mudejar Architecture of Aragon

Old Town of Cáceres

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville

Old City of Salamanca

Poblet Monastery

Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida

Route of Santiago de Compostela

Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Historic Walled Town of Cuenca

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia

Las Médulas

Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona

Pyrénées – Mont Perdu

San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries

Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula

University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares

Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco

Archaeological Site of Atapuerca

Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí

Palmeral of Elche

Roman Walls of Lugo

Aranjuez Cultural Landscape

Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza

Vizcaya Bridge

Teide National Park

On this blog, I have looked into topics like the Alhambra, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and the Route of Santiago de Compostela already, and I am planning to cover other sites from the impressive UNESCO list in due course. Provided that you want to know about these things, that is.

UNESCO say that Heritage is our legacy from the past, that we live with today, and that we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America, make up the world’s heritage.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

 

That’s why today, I want to tell you about a UNESCO site not in Spain, but in Morocco. Spain’s neighboring country which at times seems so far away from us, and the site of Ksar Aït Ben-Haddou, have deserved a little attention.

Ksar of Aït Ben-Haddou (see photo above), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh, is situated in southern Morocco in the Ouarzazate province. The ksar, a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. Aït Ben-Haddou is a striking example of this type of architecture of southern Morocco.

Aït Ben-Haddou and the Ouarzazate part of Morocco are famous for being the film locations in a number of Hollywood epics, and non-Hollywood as well.

Mohamed Belghimi, in 1983, opened Morocco’s first film studios at the edge of Ouarzazate. And ever since, business has been booming. Michael Douglas’ “The Jewel of the Nile”, Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun”, Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” – were all filmed here, at the Atlas Film Studios. As were Gerard Depardieu in “Asterix and Cleopatra” and Brad Pitt in “Babel”, all filmed in the south of Morocco.

What makes Ouarzazate particularly funny is that this Moroccan Hollywood does not have a single cinema. Apparently. But you would not come to Aït Ben-Haddou and go to the movies, would you?