Morning Walks With Juan

August 20, 2008 By: erik Category: Extremadura, Family, Photos, Spain 797 views

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Walking TrailMy father-in-law, when on vacation in Extremadura, gets up at 8:00 every morning to go on long walks around the countryside. Marga and I went with him on short walks a couple times in 2006, but we went out at night a lot that year and you don’t really feel like walking 10 km at 8:00 when you’ve gone to bed at 5:00. In 2007, Marga went with him almost every day. This year, Marga wasn’t feeling very well, so we didn’t go out much and I was free to go walking with Juan almost every morning. As Juan says, “If you don’t go walking in the morning, all we do here is drink, eat, and sleep. You gotta do something to burn some calories!”

In Extremadura in August, the early morning is really the only time that exercise is possible because it just gets too hot. This year was much cooler than most years. Several times when we set out at 8:00, it was pretty chilly. But we always ended up sweating and spending the second half of the walk with our shirts off in the warming morning sun.

All the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone.Lichen Rocks

This rock formation jutting out of the fairly flat ground had some cool lichen formations on it. At the ground below the rock, there were lots of plastic flower bouquets. Normally one bouquet would mean that someone died there, so when I saw a dozen, my first thought was “Dear god, what happened here!?” But I didn’t think much about it. Juan said that he brought his wife there once and she had the same thought I did, but he let her simmer in intrigue for a week before explaining that a lot of people brought the ashes of their dead relatives to this place, and that’s why they also brought flowers. I can maybe, kind of understand bringing flowers to a gravestone to make it prettier, but to an ash dump site? Weird. Nothing makes people more superstitious than the death of a loved one.

One of Juan’s favorite pastimes during these walks is spotting hares, rabbits, and quail. He can’t read the screen on his mobile, but he can spot leporids on the horizon like an eagle. I am the opposite, of course, so I saw very few hopping blurry blobs. Every 10 minutes or so, he’d say, “Look! A rabbit! See it? Nevermind, it ran behind a tree.” Normally the critters were out of sight before I even knew what direction to look in. The few I did see were hopping across the trail 200 meters in front of us. The only one I saw closer than 200 meters was about 100 meters away in a field. As we approached, Juan whispered and pointed to it. When he did, you could see the hare’s black ears flatten across its back, almost completely hiding it below the level of the grass. Juan whispered, “Pretend like you didn’t see it. We’re going to walk another 100 meters and I’m gonna jump over the fence and go get it.” Riiiight. You’re going to leap over a barbed wire fence and go kill the metaphorical definition of “fast” with a stick. But darned if he didn’t squeeze through the fence and go Elmer Fudding on aftew de wascawy wittle buggew. Of course, by the time he got to where it had been, the hare was long, long gone.

These cultural differences still amaze me. Juan grew up poor in an environment where no opportunity to have a good meal should be ignored. Rabbit is a very common meat in Spain, and hare is a delicacy. Once, when I was driving one night in Extremadura, a rabbit made a bad decision and left its life on my bumper. Juan was in the car and said, “Stop the car! Let’s go back and get it! We’ll have a feast tonight!” I, of course, thought he was joking and kept on driving. Only later did I realize he was serious. When a rabbit runs in front of his car, he swerves towards the rabbit.

Hare Hunting Juan

Fudding around in the grass with a big stick.

Hare Hunting Juan

Does this make him my fudder-in-law?

Hare Hunting Juan

In case you didn’t believe me about the fence. I stayed on the sane side the whole time.

Old Cork Bee Hives

He took me up to a clearing where some people used to keep bees and explained that these boxes made of cork were how the bees were kept.

Walking Trail

Some of the paths were wooded…

Gold-lined path

But a lot of them were open like this. I liked the gold lining this dirt road had.

Olive Grove

An olive grove on a hill.

Old Cortijo

This is the corner of an old cortijo. Cortijos are large structures where the owner of a large piece of land lived, but also with housing for the farm workers. Sort of like a mix between a castle and a plantation. Juan really likes this place and kept saying how great it must have been in its time, saying things like, “Look! The road at the front entrance even had cobblestones!” and “Look! Even the workers’ one-room houses had tiles on the floor! Almost no one had tiled floors back then.” “And tiles on the roof, too! Nobody had those either!” I was taking all this in and thinking medieval serfdom, with the lord and his serfs. So I asked, how long has this place been abandoned. Juan replied, “I’d say about 50 years.”

Unbelievable. More on this in another post.

Dry creek bed

Some of the days we went on new discovery missions, picking paths Juan had never been on just to see where they went. He’s like a human GPS (and I had my iPhone 3G), so there was never any danger of getting lost. Several times they turned out to be dead ends and we had to backtrack, but almost always we’d end up on another path that he knew about. One day on a discovery expedition we came across this long, thin grove of trees that were all much taller than the normal holly oak, olive, and fig trees. When we got closer, we saw that they followed a little creek bed that was dry in the summer. Weird.

Solar Panels

Just this year, solar panels are popping up all across the Spanish countryside. We saw quite a few in Extremadura (look at the sky and you’ll see why) and even some in the cloudier Basque country on the trip home.

Huge solar panel

Pretty huge. Check out the car parked in the shade. They seemed to have rotation systems built in so they can “sunflower”, but they didn’t seem to actually work. Some were pointed away, some straight up, etc.

Juan is excited about showing off the Extremadura lifestyle to my parents when they visit us in August next year. He’s all the time talking about “Paul would like this. Paul would like that.” The walking stick I was given for the first few walks was way too short, so I found another one on one of the treks. Grandpa trimmed and sanded it a bit for me and it worked very well. So it was determined that Paul and Betsy (my parents) needed walking sticks for next year. On the last day, Juan said, “No walking sticks today. Only a hatchet.” About 1.5 km from home we ventured off trail into someone’s almond grove and Juan started hacking. The first one we got was the best, with a nice form around the handle. He explained that it’s important to cut the wood when it’s green and then let it dry out for a year to stiffen and get lighter. We ended up coming home with five potential walking sticks from almond, holly oak, and olive trees.

Cutting a walking stick

Chopping at the base of the branch.

Trimming branches

Trimming little branches of the main branch.

Strange Rock Phenomenon

A very, very large percentage of the land that we walked through is full of small rocks. In some places there are about 10 baseball-sized rocks in every square meter. With my limited knowledge of geology, I cannot fathom how this could come to be so. Any ideas?

Fuzzy Fungal Infection

This fuzzy fungal infection interested me.

Far from town

On the last day, carrying a hatchet and extra sticks, we went the farthest away from town. We climbed up the nearest mountain ridge enough to see over the other side to get a full 360º view. By “mountain ridge”, I mean similar to what you see on the horizon in this photo. This is looking back at Higuera de la Serena, the town we stay in. You can barely see it in the middle of the picture. Here’s the full version.

I leave you with a little bit of wisdom Juan gave me about walking up hills.

He who climbs like an old man arrives at the top like a child.

I suppose the reverse is true as well.

  • Looks like the resolution on your iPhone camera is pretty good, but the colours look a bit off to me. White balance settings need looking at, maybe?

  • iPhone camera settings consist of a shutter button and a popup asking permission to use your current location for geotagging. That’s it.

    Perhaps they could be repaired later on the computer, but I didn’t care that much. There’s not much color in the Extremadura landscape in August anyway. The grass, dirt, and sheep are all a dirty yellow.

  • We are looking forward to seeing Extremadura for ourselves. I think we’d better do some getting in shape before next August. A custom made walking stick will certainly help. Please thank Juan and Ramón when you get a chance.

  • Extremadura is an entirely different Spain, as far as I’m concerned. Rural southern Spain is quite unlike northern urban Spain.

  • I really felt a connection when you described how your in-laws get excited about the idea of showing your family how things are in Spain.
    My wife and her mother are always saying similar things like, “your parents are going to just love this-or-that” or “When they try so-and-so they’ll never go back home.”
    I don’t have the heart to tell them that my wife’s in-laws, when responding to questions about how soon they will come to Spain, over the phone, are just ‘being polite.’

  • Your folks aren’t interested in visiting your adopted country? That’s a little sad.

    But my in-laws will never ever leave Iberia, so I understand the type of people that don’t travel.

  • The sad part is that they aren’t they type who have ever said “Why travel?”
    Even with five kids, we always took long trips, even outside the U.S.

    The fact that they won’t be coming to Spain for awhile isn’t sad to me, it’s actually kind of a relief. But not what you think. It’s complicated to explain why hardly a day goes by that I don’t imagine going to visit them where they live in California, but I shudder at the thought of them actually coming here.

    I don’t know why. I can hardly explain it to myself. But, I know very well the tone of voice that they use when speaking to my in-laws, and it’s just not going to happen anytime soon. But, who knows, maybe I’m hearing what I want to hear, and they’ll show up and surprise me.

  • I’m curious as to the language with which your parents and in-laws communicate so well that they can imply things with tone. I have the double-edged curse/blessing of monolingual parents and in-laws that will never communicate anything very serious without going through me or my wife. It’s not that we mistranslate anything, but that the difficulty of the language barrier helps muffle the extreme differences between them were they to actually speak to each other fluently.

    Do your in-laws have any interest in visiting California? That could be just as wild/stressful as your folks visiting you in Spain. It’s still weird to see both sets of parents together. Presumably yours at least met at your wedding? Or not?

  • Uncle Neil

    I suspect Juan was hunting hare, rabbit, and quail when he was ten years old. Was he? Did he use a tool to kill animals when hunting? At what age was he first using a gun? What was the first weapon he ever owned? A .22 or 20 gauge or what? I bet he will enjoy talking with you about it. I don’t see any cultural differences. Despite my parents I was hunting small game as a teenager. Everyone I know was hunting small game as a teenager. Minnesota has a system for road kill for your home use. If you hit it yourself you call in to let the Department of Natural Resources know that it is not poached. Everybody signed up is called on the phone the moment someone else hits a moose, deer, or bear. Yum. It is a huge amount of work to do a good job quickly on call like that especially in the summer. Has Juan ever had bear? What do they do with old horses there?

  • A little inquisitive, aren’t we, Uncle Neil?

    I don’t think Juan is much of a hunter or a firearm user outside his several years of battle-less mandatory military service. At 10 years old, Juan quit school and was picking cotton full time. His “toys” as a kid consisted of whatever was free, i.e. rocks and twigs. Not even a rubber ball. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure he’s never owned a weapon. First of all, I don’t think there was enough money, and second of all, the US second amendment is exactly what you don’t want when trying to run a dictatorship. Seeing any cultural differences yet?

    A lot of the area we walk through are hunting reserves. Hunting wild boar with packs of dogs is very popular down there. But I’ve never seen Juan take any interest in that. The brother of one of Marga’s aunts (by marriage) is big into hunting and has boar heads hanging in his house and a big kennel full of hunting dogs. Juan neither condemns nor condones such hobbies (because that’s what hunting is for these people); he’s just uninterested.

    I suspect he’s never eaten bear, but they eat some crazy stuff in Spain, so I could be wrong. I wouldn’t mind trying some bear meat myself.

    And I don’t know the fate of horses. Perhaps my veterinarian wife knows.

  • Uncle Neil

    Erik you misunderstand. I am talking about gathering food, rabbits and quail, and wondering what is done there. Here when I was a teenager the tool I used the most was slingshots I made from flat tire innertubes, parts of an old shoe, and a tree branch. My buddy and I also set snares, traps {deadfalls made from sticks and rocks}, and created and fired black powder in a waterpipe. It is hard to gather or harvest meat without a small caliber .22 rifle or revolver. It is easy to get hurt bad by a hog or a goat or worse do a messy job dispatching them without. Juan never obtained hare, quail, or rabbit?

  • I’ll have to ask him about his success rate and hunting experiences. I’ve never heard him talk about it and I haven’t asked. I’ll let you know.

  • My parents and my in-laws have not met in person. My wife’s parents lived in the U.S. for several years before she was born.
    Then, my mother-in-law decided it would be nice to come back to the U.S., not when we got married, (she was against the whole idea) but after I had worked for 3 years with the same company, and finally got a real vacation, and was headed to Miami Beach during springtime, to spend some quality time with my wife: Her mother decided it was the absolute best, and only time, that she should come and visit us.
    Of course she couldn’t come when we visited MY parents, but when we were actually going to have a chance to enjoy ourselves, by ourselves.

    My father speaks ‘border Spanish’ and Brazilian Portuguese. My mom speaks high-school French. My Mother Inlaw understands enough English to know what they are saying, without really being able to have a conversation with them, and definitely without picking up on when they are being too nice to just simply say, “No,” but instead speak all the nice things that they assume she expects to hear, which most people in Cali, and a lot of Brits, know really means, “No.”

    So, I guess I’m saying that my inlaws, and most of the time my wife, don’t pick up on the ‘tone’ so much. I wish I could say that I don’t intentionally mis-translate anything, but I’m not about to tell my mother-in-law that my parents don’t take her invitation to stay at her place in Madrid seriously, nor are they actually making any plans to come to Spain,

    …nor did they actually find anything appetizing about her description of cured ham, (even if they are the type of people (gross) who would love eating too much of it, if they ever did come here.)