Thursday, 22 November 2012


It was in the Andalusian town of Jaen, on the way down through Spain to our new life in Frigiliana, that I decided to avoid the East-West coast road which was renowned for its perilous twists and turns and, instead, head across the Sierra de Alhama on a route which looked pretty simple on the map if, perhaps, a bit longer.
Darkness fell more quickly than expected and, when we were heading happily for the town of Velez on a minor road, the tarmac surface ended and the headlights caught an ominous sign....  DESVIO...Diversion.
 I followed the direction indicated and, as we bumped along an uninspiring track for some twenty minutes, I started to worry about the low petrol, Eve started to worry about the trailer, the boys started to worry about their bicycles.
 Suddenly our progress was barred by a large plank propped up against a boulder right in our path on which was painted, in even more ominous red ...VIA CORTADA ....Road Cut.
 It was when I attempted to reverse, in order to go back the way we had come, that the trailer coupling snapped.
 Eve told me I was an idiot, the children started crying. I got out of the car and looked around with growing despair. We were on a bare mountain top with no sign of civilization in sight, a few skeletal olive trees casting eerie shadows in the weak light of an unhelpful moon.
 I  had no idea where we were nor what to do.
 Would we have to spend the night in the car ?
 Did we have water to drink ?
 Did we have anything to eat ?
 We could abandon the trailer but not the bicycles, that was made very clear. We could risk losing the record player, our collection of LPs, my valuable reference books, even my typewriter but we could not, on any account, leave the bicycles to the mercy of the savage bandits who might emerge any minute from nearby hidden caves.
 By torchlight we transferred the more valuable possessions to the car and, as we were tying the bicycles down on the roof, we heard a strange distant rumbling.
 Eve voiced the unnecessary opinion that it might be a herd of fighting bulls. Nicolas suggested a nastiness of giant bats, Matthew a haunt of disturbed ghosts. It was none of these.
 Quite unexpectedly, an enormous lorry loomed up out of the darkness and stopped, dazzling us with its headlights.
 The Guardia Civil ? Were we trespassing on government property ? Might they arrest us ? Or worse, were we in the presence of the feared bandits who would rob us, dispose of Eve and myself and kidnap the children to demand a ransom from Major Bill and Doris ?
 Eight very beefy, merry men got down from the vehicle, grinned at us, laughed at our predicament and asked us where we thought we were going ?
 'Frigiliana,' I said.
 More hearty laughs. Lots of comments we did not understand. We didn’t suggest it but,  as one man, they bodily picked up the trailer, loaded it on the back of the lorry, took the bicycles off the car roof, put them on the lorry as well, and signalled us to follow them.
 I have never driven so fast, nor so dangerously.
 'You have to keep up with them ! They could get away with everything' Eve, normally cool, calm and collected was in a panic.
 'Not our bicycles ...' the tears were about to flood the car.
  Down a steep rough road, onto tarmac, a straight run into a dimly lit town.
  'This must be Velez' Eve said hopefully, studying the map in her shaking hands.
  It looked terrible. Very few street lights, no neon signs, one empty bar, the whole place lifeless. We were being led to our doom.
 The lorry drove through it at speed.
 Eve found a pen and noted down the lorry’s number, then a mile or so out of the town we lost them. They just disappeared round a bend in the middle of nowhere again and we were faced with a fork in the road. I stopped the car, got out, stood in the still of the warm night air and heard the lorry in the distance.
 'They went that way ! '
  We were off again.  I put my foot down flat only just avoiding pot holes,
  'Not so fast, we’ll crash !'
  'All our worldly goods,' I said.
  'And our bicycles....'came a chorus from behind.
  Suddenly, gloriously, the moonlit sea was there in front of us and, a hundred yards along the coast road, the lorry parked, waiting.
  We purred along after that, passed the familiar fields of sugar cane on our left, the Mediterranean on the right and on down a short hill to the fishing village of Nerja, then up the twisting mountain road to Frigiliana.
 Midnight, the village still alive with people.
 Our saviours unloaded the trailer and the bicycles, refused recompense of any kind and drove off still laughing.
 With a few essentials, and the bicycles, we made our way on foot up the steep cobbled street to the place we had rented. The landlady, with a circle of women friends, was sitting knitting and chatting outside the front door.
 She told the boys the bicycles would be safe if left in the street, but they did not believe her, so she led the way through her living room to the stables at the back where they parked them next to a disinterested mule.
    The journey was over, we had survived, we went happily to bed, exhausted, and the next morning, under a blazing sun and bright blue sky, started our new life among people who had not only been incredibly helpful but whom we would discover did not consider anything important except total enjoyment.

 If it was not enjoyable it would be ignored. 

Sierra de Alhama.

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