Friday was without included excursions, but I elected to go on an optional one - and it proved to be well worth the effort and expense for me and for the handful of Saga clients who also decided to come. We had a splendid day out in Las Alpujarras, a high mountain region lying (going eastwards) between Salobrena and the port of Motril, and (going northwards) between the coast and the Sierra Nevada. Like Frigiliana further west, this too was an area where Moorish tradition and defiance lingered much longer than elsewhere. It still has a feeling of remoteness, so you can well imagine that determined guerrillas could withdraw up these thinly-populated slopes and not be defeated for years, if ever.

Leaving our hotel, we drove east, down past Salobrena town, then along the coast to where the motor-way to Granada branches off northwards. Up the motorway we went, through a deep and dramatic gorge, then, once beyond that, we left the Granada road and veered north-east, soon finding ourselves amid the heights of the Alpujarras, which rise to around 6000 feet. The Sierra Nevada, on the far side, reaches nearly twice as high, up to close on 12,000 feet. The loftiest point, Mulhacen, still retains its Moorish name, and is visible from Pampaneira, the first of the mountain settlements at which we stopped. There were still traces of snow on the peak - and it was the 16th of June.

Pampaneira is a quaint and pretty little place. Nevertheless, I was aware of being distant from the tourist coast and at higher altitude - 3000 feet or thereabouts. The sun was shining and the sky was blue - but the air was cooler. An agreeable spot to visit on a summer day - but what on earth is it like in winter? Bleak and cut off by heavy drifts of snow, I suspect. Indeed, they sell postcards depicting the villages in that very condition.

We were already on high land in Pampaneira, but were destined to go up even higher, to the most famous and elevated of the mountain outposts, a village called Trevelez. It is 5000 feet above sea level and is celebrated for its scenery, its pure mountain air, its hams (which are cured by exposure to this same pure mountain air) and its trout, plucked from a clear and fast-flowing yet chilly-looking stream. I was glad about the trout when it came to lunchtime, because I am not fond of ham, however widely reputed.

In Trevelez we were left on our own for an hour or two, so I took a short walk down the main street of the very small town and out into the country for a little way as far as a bridge over the stream which harbours the trout. Then I retraced my steps to the town square, chose the most enticing of the restaurants, and enjoyed a luscious juicy trout, fresh from the running waters a few yards away.

After going our own ways for lunch our party then reassembled, and we were led on a tour to see where the special hams come from. They are kept in great barns which are partly open to permit entry of the mountain breezes and their magic curative properties, and are hanging up there in row after row, hundreds of them, until the time of their maturity arrives. The hams are very popular for Spanish Christmas dinners, and customers for them flock to Trevelez from all over the country as the season of the Nativity approaches. As I said, I am not a ham fan, so am unable to comment on the quality - but several thousand connoisseurs cannot be wrong.

On the way home our coach stopped for us to view a rural waterfall and later for refreshments. We all agreed that our venture into the Alpujarras had been a most unusual and informative day out. Our comments (and presumably those of previous clients) must have reached the ears of the Saga management, as I understand that this excursion will in future be one of those included in the Salobrena holidays.

On a one week trip you only have six full days. In some places these can feel like six months, but not in Salobrena. For me there was lots to see and I could have found plenty more to do had I stayed longer. The sixth and last day - the Saturday - was now upon me.

In the morning I went on the third and final of the included outings, a half day one to the very Spanish market town of Orgiva. This place is on the fringes of the Alpujarras, so the road to it went part way along the route we had followed the day before, though we did not travel so far or so high. However, we did drive through the gorge again, which I was happy to do. After a coffee break and a stroll around Orgiva we were supposed to move on to a settlement called Lanjaron. I can relate nothing about it, since it proved to be inaccessible, due to a road blockage of some sort. Instead, our driver was kind enough and enterprising enough to take us a longer way home to Salobrena, giving us a mystery tour of the town of Motril, hitherto merely another name on the map. It looked like a pleasant place.

My last afternoon at the Hotel Salobrena was passed happily having a farewell swim in the now warmed up pool, then sadly on my packing. While engaged in this doleful activity I turned on the T.V. for diversion - and was confronted on Sky News with pictures of disgruntled travellers strewn all over Heathrow and other U.K. airports. Apparently the computer (do they only have one? no back up?) which centralises the air traffic control operations for the U.K. had crashed, causing widespread and increasing chaos. Well, that was inspiring. The chances of the confusion all being cleared up by the time of my own departure (i.e. the morrow) appeared poor, to say the least.

Of Sunday 18th June 2000, the less said the better. It was a long, long day - but I did get home eventually, about seven hours later than I should have done. Saga did their best for us, but obviously the situation was not of their making and was totally unpredictable. We were therefore picked up from our hotel and taken to the airport at the scheduled hour, so that we were on the spot for when our respective planes were ready to take off - provided that they turned up in the first place. A number of airports were involved, so there was no uniform length of delay it could be one hour or ten, no one knew. I met up with Gloria and John, a couple whom I had got to know during the Alpujarras excursion, so we pooled all the vouchers which the airline had given us and spent the day together, mainly drinking Spanish wine. At last, after seven hours in the airport, we flew out of Malaga bound for Manchester. The day was not one I would choose to repeat - but at least it happened at the end of my holiday, so that I was not deprived of any of my short stay in the fascinating land that is Spain.

I reached home at 11.25 p.m., having been rescued from Manchester Airport by the ever-reliable Jack's Taxi.

 
 
 
 
     
     
     
   
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