El Vagabundo: A Trek to thee Tabernas Desert ov Spain

Thee grayest glooms and ecological dooms of the English country waste has of late drawn my owns lifesblood from out from me involuntarily leaving only woe and work to be done. So one night alone in a highland haus, perplexing my vices and mulling over the noise in my mind, I set upon an escapade into Europa. Downtrodden by my failed attempt to spend a fortnight in France during the truffle season, I knew the medicine I needed now was Sun, Sand, and Heat. My souls core temperature had dropped, and I grew impatient. These wanderings were immanent, it was only a matter of when.

The pilgrimage to the Desierto Tabernas came after an excursion in Northern Africa, initially planning to spend time moving between the Alhamilla, the Spanish Desert and the Sierra Nevada, now became a single focused movement across the land to the badlands of northern Almeria. The journey actually had it roots in Malaga, from where I touched ground and greeted the sea as an old friend. Bathing in thee warm rays of the long missed gold medicine, neath the fronds of Palm, I strayed along the beach, brimming with euphoria, my spirit cooking in sweetest simple pleasure without a worry on my mind. A few cats straggled the sea stones and pathways looking for morsels. I carried one that I came to remember as ‘Amber’. In the forenoon I bent my steps through the gardenias and tree alleys, parrots flitting in their canopies, past a Roman theater now a bull fighting arena, and on towards the climbing cobblestones where stood the Alcazaba of Málaga, a fortress no longer at war, ruled only in the dominion of feral felines and echidnas. Striding the pathways with precious and slow step, rising above the medina, climbing the fortifications and walking the walls edges until the setting sun. This evening was spent atop the massif, overlooking the sea and harbor, alone with my feelings of strangeness and comfort. Upon the twilight and descending on the other side of the casbah into the groves of fig and pine, I found two adequate trees to tie up my hammock where I would spend the first night. Nocturnal fauna slumbered in the branches above, hunters, gatherers, spined and fury alike, co-existence. A gentle sway of the net coerced me to a few hours sleep before the night became chilled and I could no longer rend it from my bones, awaiting thee dawn like elixir of life.

The following day began my crossing of the Alboran Sea to Morocco. 8 days spent from the North to the South nearly 1500 ground kilometres traversed in return by Camel, by foot, bus, and 4×4. Returning via the Gibraltar strait between Tanger and Tarifa. This frontier crossing was far easier than I assumed it may be, knowing of the high restriction between crossings between Spain and Morocco. The prospects of climbing four barbed wire walls, and running from policia was remedied by a simple flash of the passport, though the situation seemed different at the Nador-Melilla frontier which is made by land. Thousands of Moroccans try to leave the country everyday and flee into Europe for a better life, and my heart sympathizes and empathizes with their plight, but in another can not see the merit of Europe as a paradise. Nevertheless, venture I would, seemingly through time, from the medieval towns of northern Rif, off the boat into the market streets of Tarifa, slumbering a night in a hostel, not understanding a single word of Spanish other than Hola, then setting course through Algeciras, to Malaga, and finally finding Almeria by nightfall. Drained of magnetic energy from the almost constant travel, I tramped out to the caves and coves overlooking the dark waters of the Cala de San Telmo and climbed in sandals the dusted bluffs until finding a suitable sleeping chamber with the right pitch for lying down with tumbling to my death. The place conjured up memories of the badlands of southern California. The slopes effervesced with the aromas of green tea, sage, and ganj, though none of these were present to my knowing, an olfactory hallucination if you will.

By sun up I was well on my way, after overpaying for some caffeine, finding the easiest route northwards I made it to Tabernas and found my bearings. Lacing up my New Mexican cowboy boots, I once again left the civilization behind, and hitched a ride to the main crossings of highway. A Spanish couple heading to Fort Bravo took 7 kilometers down the road, and from then on I was alone in my walk. A mock encampment called Western Leone was billboarded on the side, and I have somewhat of a fascination with the wild west aesthetic so I tramped out to the village, replete with stables to saddle down a horse, perhaps a prospect for a return journey, a ‘bar’ and saloon. I straggled towards a cabin where a buxom blonde was modelling on the porch railings, a darkly tanned native Spaniard sat at a distance on a gallows platform as another young lady climbed to meet him. At first exposure to this odd scene, I thought mayhaps an erotic western fetish film was being made, as an old woman came right towards me and ushered me out in her own tongue for not having a ticket, I acquiesced and was soon exiled from the non-existent ghost town. Only a few hundred feet beyond this carefully maintained confine, I discovered the remains of a real settlement, an old diner, and a building bearing the words ‘Pension Coyote’. The whole place was in shambles and I staggered down to meet a grove of naked Mediterranean cork oaks, their skins shedding on the desert floor. Then descending a scree into a parched riverbed, a tabernas-sierra nevada desert route for horseman. I did not meet with outlaw ranchers or banditos however, and became aware of the remoteness of where I now walked. Small cave pockets jutted into the sides, while others walls crumbled, and grew over with thorns. Scaled lizards scurried from crevasse to boulder shades or sat over top sharp edged shingles. Along the way I came to another ruined encampment built of the mud and stone that was available here, then trekking for another hour and looping around a massif of steep desert bluff, and taking the higher ground back towards the panoramic cliffs. I met with an intriguing insect known as the Red-striped Oil Beetle or (Berberomeloe majalis), known for excreting a poison from whence it’s name came. A male was stalking a female as I watched their mating ritual winding around flora and pebble. Finding myself soon back the the higher bluffs after walking some twenty kilometres or so, I rested on thee heights and scoped out a place to pitch the hammock for the night, then carefully scaled down the sides. The ghost town would do just fine, four teepees were erected on a hill, rendered with mud for permanence with door opening facing the quarters. I chose one facing the moon and tied my hammock to the inside posts and fell to sleep.

After a rough night, my skin burned from the day before and I made my escape at sunrise, walking out of the desert, another two hours into Tabernas. Unfatefully and to my ignorance I came across the much warned of Processionary Pine Caterpillar, a bane to dogs and humans who come into physical contact with their hairs, or under their gossamer nests where airborne dusts can be breathed in quite easily. I noticed a line of some thirty odd caterpillars attempting to cross the road, and in my confusion, picked them up to avoid them being crushed as some of the already had. Thus my fingers then had the microscopic hairs embedded with them and touching the right side of my face to clear sweat, the hairs and venom was then on my eyes and around my jaw. The next 6 hours were some of the most painful and uncomfortable, as I tried to keep the eye masked from direct sun, with a strip of silk I ripped from my shirt, I still had to travel back to Malaga and get my flight out of Spain that night, thus I went through the whole ordeal with a swollen eye, weeping poison and enduring the stares of the masses. This was an unpleasant end to my journey but I take it lightly, a law of nature, and am on my way to healing it. Returning to the shire, broken, burnt, poisoned, and bedraggled, I must have been quite the site at the border. My Spanish hermitage has imparted a longed for solitude, and peace of mind. The prospects of a return later in life are likely, though next time no more buses, i’ll be riding outlaw on horseback, or at least… a mule train.

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