Category Archives: Environment

The Joys of Camping

Delicate cloud in the Alpujarra

The Chaima – Big Tent

Sometimes there’s no other way to get to those off-the-beaten-track places.  Sometimes there’s just no substitute for sitting out under the stars, on a hand-made stool, by a wood fire, eating fresh-baked bread and listening to the muleteers or cameliers singing call and response songs accompanied by a motley assortment of improvised percussion instruments.  (“Where did my big soup pot go?!”, shouts the cook, Samir – “and where’s the big washing up bowl and my best wooden spoon, for goodness sake?”

Yup, sometimes you’ve just got to let go of fear of insects, face your apparently dyspraxic inability to master tent pitching (or just let a crew member do it!) and take the plunge.  It’ll be fine.  Really.  You’re not the first, or will be the last, to find the idea of a few nights under canvas daunting.  But you’re about to join the club of I-didn’t-know-I’d-like-it-till-I-tried-it.  Welcome!  مرحبا  Marhbaa!   Think the sunniest Glastonbury you can imagine with far less people and no mud.  Think Berber kilims and cushions, tajines and mint tea.  Think of waking up to the sound of the sea, the chirruping call of the bulbul or goat bells tinkling on the hillside.  Oh, alright, you might get woken by someone tripping over the end of your sleeping bag if you’re sleeping in the chaima, rather than tucked up in a one/two person tent – but then they may well fetch you a cup of coffee or tea to sip while you gather your thoughts ready for the day.

Our camps are managed with typical Berber panache – these people have been nomadic or semi-nomadic for millennia – and it’s an unbeatable experience of this ancient way of life, as well as a means of getting to those before mentioned off-the-beaten-track places.

If I’ve inspired you enough and you want to give it a go here’s some information on our easy Morocco trek  (with some moderate bits).  Quote Marhbaa (welcome in Moroccan arabic) and we’ll extend the early bird discount to you….  Go on!  You know you want to!

Bismillah! Increase your word-power!


Taking a draught of water in the Jebel Siroua – bismillah!

Bismillah! – if you’ve trekked in Morocco you’ll have heard it – it’s used like bon appetit in French or ¡que aproveche! in Spanish.  In reply people often say hamdullah or alhamdulillah.   These are all terms expressing thanks and gratitude for what we’re about to receive.  Bismillah, meaning “In the name of Allah” or “In the name of God” is the shortened form of the Basmalah. This is a full Arabic phrase: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim meaning “In the name of God the Most Gracious the Most Merciful“.  Alhamdulillah, translated as “All Praise and Thanks to God” is used so frequently in Arabic-speaking countries that it might better be understood as meaning “thankfully,” “thank goodness,” or “thank God” as used in English.  Which is to say that not all Arabic speakers who use the phrase are consciously praising God when they say it.  Hamdullah teams up so naturally with bismillah that it swings in like bitte after danke, and prego after grazie.


The Basmalah rendered into arabic script

Cool or what:  The Iranian authorities permitted an album of songs by the English rock band Queen to be released in Iran in August 2004, partly because the song Bohemian Rhapsody contained several exclamations of the word Bismillah.  Freddie Mercury (known by the snappy moniker Farrokh Bulsara to his family) was born in Zanzibar to Indian Parsi parents and was proud of his Persian ancestry.  Other rockers and rappers have also used the Basmala – from the Wu Tang Clan to Mos Def at the beginning of each of his albums, Lupe Fiasco in Food and Liquor and Rakim on his track from the 8 Mile soundtrack.   On a more controversal and irreverent note Busta Rhyme sampled the Basmala in the chorus of his single release Arab Money

Here’s another one for you – insha’Allah: “God willing”.  Any European asking for specific weather prediction, precise times of departure, or just what might exactly be happening when we arrive at… will often be delivered an insha’Allah as part of the possibly hazy reply.  We have a version in Spain – ¡ojala! – which paired with mañana gives you some idea of the relaxed cultural attitude you can expect both in the Iberian Peninsular and in the Maghreb.

Here’s some information about the next Siroua Trek 2018 and the easy Atlantic Coast Trek 2018 from Essaouira

¡Hasta luego!  Ma’a salama!


Camel caravan near M’Hamid, Morocco



Cabañuelas – Andalucian weather prediction?

Delicate cloud in the Alpujarra

Cloud gazing during walking excursion siesta time…

Meteorological prediction is pretty important for us – whether walking in the heights or planning work on our land.  We live at 850m/2788ft on the south side of the second highest mountain range in Europe and our walking routes take us right up to the peaks, with Mulhacen at 3482m/11,423ft crowning the top.  ‚ An unexpected cold snap can shrivel newly planted seedlings, a dry hot summer means lots of extra irrigation in the heat and a sudden change from warm and still to windy and cold can mean (at the least) that you sincerely regret not packing that extra woolly in your back pack.  Believe me, weather can change scarily fast at high altitides this far south!  One minute, comfortably dressed in a vest and walking shorts, you’re staring at an approaching cloud, the next you’re diving for your waterproof, zip-on legs of your troos, gloves and snood while battling a wildly flapping pack in a white-out complemented by sideways icy rain.

Unexpected snow, Sierra Nevada

Unexpected snow in the Alpujarra, Sierra Nevada.

Local Alpujarra folk often use a truly arcane method of weather prediction called the Cabañuelas, based on observation of daily conditions throughout August. This is then related to each month of the following year.  I’ve had the system explained to me several times by my friend Ramon, the gardener at Cortijo Romero, who understandably puts great store in planting almanacs and such things.  The cabañuelista predicts for his or her local area in a radius of up to 80km.  Predictions are derived from assorted phenomena like types of clouds visible, wind direction, characteristics of the sun, moon, stars, or the appearance of mist and morning dew.  Animal behaviour can also count as a sign of rain to come; for instance the appearance of flying ants or doves bathing.  The rooster crowing during the day means a change of weather. while cats running and jumping are a sign of wind (or an invasion of field mice?).  In a further attempt to hedge bets, other indications of rain include creaking of furniture, soot falling in the chimney, smelly drains, damp appearing on the flagstones and weeping grape vines.  (They’ve been to my house!)

Walking in the Alpujarra Granada

Walking in the Sierra Nevada at 1500m

The Cabañuelas are cunningly designed to give several shots at predicting the hoped-for rainfall:  weather for January 2015 is not only predicted by conditions on August 1, 2014, during the Cabañuelas de Ida from 1 – 12 August, but also on 24 August, during the Cabañuelas de Retorno in the next 12 days, when you count backwards through the months, according to my Alpujarran sources.  And THEN the next 6 days count for two months each day – so the morning of 25 August also corresponds with January 2015, the afternoon to February 2015 and so on.  The last chance for the agriculturalist to bolster his confidence in the security of favourable weather to come is on 31 August which… Yes! – you’ve guessed it, divides into 12 two-hour-long slots and counting backwards again, means that January 2015 is predicted by the last two hours of August 2014.  Gottit?

Although there is a great deal of skepticism about this highly empirical system, most agree that it is ancient – some claiming that it dates from as far back as 35,000 years BC.  More scholarly sources refer to an 11th century document which mentions the placing of 100 cabañuelas throughout a neighbourhood of Toledo during the festival of the Tabernacle.  As prediction of weather has been traditionally associated with Jewish feasts, including this one, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the superstition comes via the Sephardic Jewish community in Spain.

I feel I need to put on record that this year the 1st of August in the Alpujarra dawned bright and clear, but surprisingly cooler than the last few weeks.  There was a lot of wind late afternoon… and the kittens have been running about a bit.


Cloud inversion below the GR240, Sulayr Long Distance Path.  Above Niguelas, Sierra Nevada, Granada

For those who read Spanish: more confusing information including date charts at Cabañuelas es. Wikipedia

For those who read English: some confusing information not including date charts at Cabañuelas Wikipedia in English

And finally:-

Q. What do you call a person who speaks many languages?  A. Polylingual

Q. What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speaks one language?  A. English.


I love Wellies!

Hounds of Geevor - David Kemp

Hounds of Geevor – David Kemp

Growing up in Wales meant that for much of the year when venturing into the Great Outdoors I had my wellies firmly welded onto my feet. ‚‚ As a teenager, however, I scorned folk who wore their wellies into town to do their shopping!‚‚(How gauche!). ‚‚ It took me a while therefore to realise that the girls I saw stomping round shopping centres in the UK in multi-coloured, multi-patterned gumboots were actually making A Fashion Statement! ‚‚ I blame it on the proliferation of outdoor music festivals in Britain – Glasto Chic, indeed.

Last year someone posted The Hounds of Geevor on my facebook timeline and I had to look up David Kemp’s work. ‚‚ A master of the found object, he says :-

‚‚ A friend, working on the maintenance staff at Geevor, watched a mechanical digger burying a pile of redundant miners boots, & gave me a shout, I drove over & filled my pickup with the discarded boots, not knowing what I might do with them.‚‚ This discarded footwear was to become THE HOUNDS OF GEEVOR.

“Relics of a vast subterranean workforce that rarely saw the light of day, each of these Hounds fed up to three & a half families (seven boots per dog). Released from their underground labours, they now wander the clifftops, looking for a proper job”

I also found the picture below with a Boris lookee-likee giving the whole thing scale. ‚‚ Check out David Kemp’s clever pieces at:-‚‚‚‚ and‚‚

Not-Boris and Wellie Dogs

Not-Boris and Wellie Dogs

Not a lot of people know this… One of my neighbours used an old wellie to repair the distinctive chevrons on the front of her Deux Cheveux citroen. Here in Spain the wellie is known as a bota de regar or bota de agua (I don’t think they’re very keen on the imperial war-leader, Wellington…) ‚‚ Commonly seen in these parts are elderly campesinos stumping about with azada in hand buscando la acequia. ‚‚ And the locals here still think it’s Not On to wear them in the supermarket.

I thought the welly was a truly egalitarian item of footwear (apart from the snooty Hunter range) but then I discovered Le Chameau,‚‚ as modelled by certain recently married members of the Brit nobility, which are a snip! (a snip! I say) at ‚‚ £285. ‚‚ The cheapest wellies I’ve spotted are ‚‚ £5 a pair – but I can’t gettem up my steely muscled calves…. ‚‚ ‚‚ (top tip from your correspondent: always, but‚‚ always, wear good quality wool socks in yer wellies to properly regulate the temperature of the tootsies – cotton? ‚‚ Oh no, no, no!).

In Wales the gumboot as well as being essential survival kit‚‚ is also used as an exhortation to have a go, as in‚‚ “give it welly, bach!” ‚‚ Often heard off-pitch while a scrum is under way. ‚‚ Hwyl!!!

Man On Beach M.E.

Man On Beach – Martin Elliot photos

I recently had a tour around walking mate Martin Elliot’s website – he’s another keen photographer – so here’s a wee link- ‚‚ ‚‚ Martin Elliot photos. No photos of wellies yet dispite the evil storms which have menaced The Beach Hut over the last month.

Last thoughts on Giving It Welly –‚‚A quote from Autumn Walking 2013 – “If I had known how steep the first walk was – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ If I had known how difficult the concrete path (down to Soportujar) was – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ If I had known how hot it was going to be – I wouldn’t have done it! ‚‚ Then I might not have done the last walk which was superb. ‚‚ But I did do it all and I survived and am really happy with myself!” ‚‚ Result!


Ukulele Ladies and the Silent Environmentalist

ukie_peanutsIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a ukulele is a joyful being.  Look at Marilyn Munroe… well maybe not.  The combination of piano accordion with ukulele is not traditional but seems to work for Sorrel and me.  It also lends itself to the quirky songs which amuse both of us enough to bother learning – Ukulele Lady is one of our favourites and we’ve recently got under our belt(s) Add Me by Chumbawumba.  Soon to be launched on the terrified public is People are Strange by the Doors and Shine on Crazy Diamond by the Floyd.  Nuff said.  If you’re fancy hearing a sample we’re up on the soundcloud as Las Favoritas (and we hope we’ll be amongst yours).

John_francisNow here’s a man who promotes walking and plays a mean banjo.  And I mean MEAN.  His philosophy is impressive his talks are illuminating and funny: one day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth – for 17 of those years, without speaking.  During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources.  Watch this on TED