I caught the 8am bus out of Granada to Malaga. I had determined my route to the farm the night before. It was a going to be a journey of less than 200 miles but a three-bus day, at the very least, if all went as planned. I had just enough time in Malaga to buy a my next bus ticket to Torre del Mar and a café con leche para llevar, then board at 10:30am. I arrived in Torre and asked the guy behind the ticket counter if the bus to Cutar was coming at 1pm. “Cutar? No hay bus de Cutar aqui. Vas a buscar un otro compania. Estamos ALSA.” Hmmm. When Jeannette had sent directions to their farm she had mentioned to not get discouraged because, “They might tell you the bus doesn’t exist, but it really does! It’s a company called Valle Niza.” Still, maybe there’s another bus station for the Valle Niza bus, I thought. The agent was incredibly adamant that only ALSA buses arrived at his station. He would know. Off I go with my overstuffed – feels like I’m carrying a large load of bricks – bag in search of another bus station. I walked too far, stopped in the church square and asked a man at the little snack kiosk if he knew of the Valle Niza bus station. He didn’t. Then a man approached the kiosk, bought a pack of cigarettes, and told me that he works in the tourism industry in town and has heard of the station. He’d take me there. I thanked him and off we went. Turns out, after walking another eight blocks, that the place he was thinking of was completely closed. It was Saturday, he noted, even the tourist office was closed. He suggested that I take a cab to the next town over where Jeannette had told me the exact location of the bus stop. I could, I thought, but I also knew it stopped in Torre del Mar. I would find it. At this point I had about 45 minutes to kill until I missed the bus that absolutely no one had heard of, but I knew existed. I start to head back to the station where I arrived and asked a cab driver if he knew of the Valle Niza bus. “Si, llege a la una.” Yes! That’s the one! He assured me that it came to the one and only bus station in town. So, I return to the bus station to wait. Sure enough, a little after 1pm the Valle Niza bus pulled up and I hopped on. I could have done without the walking tour of Torre del Mar with my massive mochilla in tow, but it had all worked out. Next and last stop, the farm.
Antonio picked me up in Cutar, the bus’s last stop and just one town up from Benamargosa. He drove a quick two minutes down to the farm – Finca La Loma. On the way, I learned that Poli (Antonio’s nickname) was born in Benamargosa and has lived in the area his entire life. He speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, maybe a bit less. I told him he was lucky to live in such a beautiful place (in my best espanol), because it truly is stunning. When we arrived at the house, Jeannette told me to help myself to a big pot of rice and curried lentils because they (Jeannette, Poli and Max, a WWOOFer from Boston) had just finished lunch. I ate and then followed Max down to our guesthouse. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Needless to say, the guesthouse is lovely. I have my own room, the kitchen is completely functional except for the lack of an oven, and the views of the landscape are gorgeous. Little towns, each house painted white, dot the countryside and are interspersed between terraced rows of mango, almond, grape, lemon, orange and avocado trees.
At 3:30pm, Poli, Max and I piled in Poli’s van and headed to their lemon grove – through tiny Cutar where the streets are so narrow the van’s side mirrors almost graze the houses, and across the dry riverbed. Max and I weeded, plucking the “mala hierbas” from the dirt, while Poli cut down a diseased tree with his chainsaw. Max has been working with Poli for the past two weeks. He filled me in on a typical day at the finca:
8:30am – Meet Poli at the house and head out to work. (Weeding, painting, picking lemons and avocados and hauling firewood are all tasks Max has helped with.)
10:30am – Break. (Or as Poli says, “Una pausa”, while he lights one of his Chesterfield cigarettes. Followed mintues later with another.)
11:00am – Back to work.
1:30pm – Lunch at the house with Jeannette and Poli while Alicia, their 15 month old baby, takes a nap. After lunch, free time to read, write, nap, explore…
3:30pm – Back to work.
5:30pm – Return to the guesthouse, relax, cook dinner and get ready to do it all over again manana.
After pulling weeds for a while, Max and I picked just enough oranges, lemons and avocados to last all of us at least a few days. We piled back in the van, dropped off a few fold-up lounge chairs at their other guesthouse in Cutar, and headed home. The next day was Sunday, the only day we don’t work, so we told Poli and Jeannette that we’d see them early Monday. Jeannette said to pop in if we needed anything.
Jeannette leaves food at the guesthouse for the WWOOFers breakfasts and dinners. The contents in the cupboard and fridge are very basic, but I think it’s only fair to divide the food into two categories – the staples and the special staples. The staples: milk, pasta, sugar, tea, coffee, beans, (super sweet) tomato sauce, eggs and oil. The special staples: oranges, lemons, avocados, bread, jams and chutneys. What makes the special staples special? They’re either fresh off the tree or homemade by Jeannette. Fresh baked bread, homemade plum jam and apple chutney!
Max and I talked while I unpacked and settled in. We decided to walk to Comares, the highest town as far as the eye can see, the next morning (Sunday). It’s about 6 km from Cutar and boasts even more amazing views. Por que no?
In the morning, Max and I set off without asking for directions. How hard could it be? We could see Comares from our guesthouse. I figured it was safe to assume that the main road would lead us there. I mean, where else would the main road go? We walked and talked. About Max: He grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina but moved to Boston in high school. He graduated from Oberlin last year. He’s been traveling for over two months. He had a wonderful time Turkey, (now I really, really want to go), and he loves music and art. When I packed a little backpack for our walk, I tucked in Max’s recorder along with my fleece and water bottle, in the hopes of a little pausa con musica. We walked and talked more. We veered off the main road because it appeared to head down the other side of the hill and instead we took the dirt road up and up and up. About three hours into our walk, we were positive that we’d taken the long road, to say the least. Over four hours later we walked into a restaurant in Comares, finally! I hadn’t thought to bring any money and Max only had 70 centados, but the kind owner took pity on us and gave us a beer for half price. Before heading back, we sat in the sun and Max played a few tunes on his recorder. He played quite a mix – kicking off with the Titanic theme song, Old MacDonald somewhere in the middle, and the National Anthem towards the end. The walk back wasn’t nearly as long, but it was nevertheless an adventure. We hitchhiked a short way with the help of a Scottish man, walked down to the river bed, and then directly and very steeply up without a path to our guesthouse, through grape and mango fields. I was certifiably dizzy by the time we got back. I had never felt that way before. Was it lack of food and water or was I just reeling from the fresh air and sunshine? Maybe a bit of both.
Today was my first full day of work. This morning we cut cana (a relative of bamboo). Poli is going to make a fence for Alicia so she doesn’t wander off the porch. Poli did most of the cutting with long clippers, then Max and I stacked the cana into big piles. About an hour into working, Poli asked us if there was a crescent moon last night. Yes, Max thought so. But “por que?”, we wanted to know. Apparently, according to Poli and local legend, if you cut cana during the crescent moon then you’re at risk of getting a bad case of swollen testicles. Something about the combo of the cana dust and the crescent moon made our morning task a bit ominous. Although Poli didn’t seem too worried to begin with, considering he spearheaded our cana cutting project. I told him that I was lucky and had nothing to worry about because I don’t have testicles. He replied (in Spanish, always) with, “True, but women don’t usually cut cana, so no one knows what happens to them” (or something along those lines). Okay then!
There’s no wireless on the farm. Rightly so, but it means that I have to save my writing on a disk, walk a half hour into Cutar and then download it onto my blog. I’m going to try to make a habit of writing everyday, but posting is another story. After working all day today, I am tired. Tomorrow I might be even more tired. Plus, Max leaves bright and early tomorrow and it will just be me until I leave next week. I’ve got my work cut out for me. With all that said, it’s getting late and I need to rinse off the cana dust. I’ll post this manana, I promise.