Wednesday, 27 May 2020

My father's land. Episode 1: hunting

I started writing this series of Posts through conversations with my dad in presence and… That’s how I leave it. Dad, I can’t consult you doubts anymore, may you rest in peace.
Thank you, I have struggled to get back to writing.

My dad didn’t have any ambition in getting out of the village whatsoever. He was close to his parents, he liked hunting (by hand), dominoes and his job. My dad was a doctor.

During the 50s (in the XX century) to be a doctor, with such a respected contract (medical) in a humble village of La Vera region… lived with… certain comfort, being at the same time very highly regarded and respected. (The agents of the authority will assist the Holders of this card, keeping in all cases the due considerations), was written at the bottom of the card of the Official College of Doctors.

The first place my dad went to as a doctor was Yanguas de Soria, and the second Aldeanueva de la Vera (towns in areas of Spain).

In Aldeanueva, he looked for a house downtown, of which we occupied the last floor. It didn’t have “running water”. Every morning, we would bring up pitchers of water for cooking and personal hygiene. During that period, there were people whose job consisted of doing those tasks and there were professions such as the aguador (water carrier), that were very popular at the time.

In front of our house there was a plot that ended in the road, a road that we would call today camino(dirt road) given that it was made of soil. That kind of roads required the job of the now forgotten peones camineros (road workers).

That was one of the biggest issues of the region up until the 70s, communications. The roads, or trails rather, always full of rough paths and not very well taken care of, made the trips slow and uncomfortable. This was the main reason why the isolation of the area and progress took so long in coming.

Dad would wake up early on Sundays. He would wear corduroy pants, a wool sweater, a pair of mountain boots and a hat. Dad always protected his head with a hat. Before leaving the house, he would adjust his worn leather cartridge belt to the hips, checking that he had half a dozen of type 12 cartridges. The night before, he had prepared and loaded up all the cartridges with the press he had inherited from his dad, who lived in the nearby village of Losar de la Vera.

Hunting was quite a craft at the time. It required preparation and knowledge on different matters. It was a blend of professions rather than a hobby.

Once he was ready, he would take his leather pouch, as a bandolier, and checked that he had his wine boot, some bread and meat inside. The only thing left for him to do was to pass by Bartolomé’s farmyard, where he kept Day, his hunting dog.

Day looked like a pointer, but my dad could never quite figure out what his real breed was. A friend from university in Salamanca (I believe my dad told me his name was Julián, also a doctor), left him for my dad to take care of him when Julián was sent to work in Valladolid. Dad received him 4 years before I was born and died when I was 10. Day had just turned 14 when he stopped running after the balls, we would throw at the road for him to take.

Dad actually preferred to go hunting. He wasn’t really bothered if someone went with him every now and then, but he would always tell me: “Carlitos, hunting requires focus and silence. Day and I are enough. We don’t go to the stubbles the same way we would to a romeria…”. He mentioned “stubbles” in a generic way, but he would usually go more around the hollows and small cliffs, the stubbles were way further away from the village.

Dad always hunted a la mano (by hand) as he used to say; al salto (oppressive hunting), as it is said in a more academic way.

He would walk out of the village, go down the trail that bordered the gorge of los Guachos (place name) and usually arrive even further from the junction with the gorge of San Gregorio (place name). Dad always loved walking. I would always tell him that he liked walking more than hunting, to which he replied: “you’re such a joker”, smiling, but never denying what I had said. I never saw him angry for not having caught a prized catch.

There were so many days he would come back home empty-handed, others, however, with a partridge or a rabbit. The feast was when he hunted a hare.
Dad gave a special value to hunting a hare. The thing, though, is that he liked better eating rice with rabbit, but he thought it had much more merit to hunt a hare. Dad was very happy outdoors, in the open, walking and “shooting at   something, when the opportunity arises…”, as he used to say.
What really filled him with happiness, was to be in contact with nature.

Carlos, son of Teófilo

Active Tourism, an eco-awar family enterprise from Extremadura: Conyegar

Monday, 24 July 2017

Practical photography in nature

I have known Montse since we met in the photography course of the Foundation training and employment of Toledo in the fall of 2016. It was all casual, since the very beginning.

My parents have a family business in Toledo, in particular in the street of “arroyo”, close to a Photo Studio, which makes all kinds of social works: weddings, graphic reports of family and other social events… Through a small window I see their photos when I walk to the bar terrace “Pararrayos”. I always focus on the photos that were taken outdoors, in gardens or on the streambed of the Rio Tajo.

“Pararrayos” bar is the meeting point with Luis and Yolanda. Nearly every Sunday morning, we meet to stablish our weekly excursion with the purpose to discover our surrounding nature.
During this excursion, I am in charge of the graphic reports, the result was not good enough that was the origin of my interest in the course. It upset me to contemplate a photo representing not what motivated me to do it.

-"Pedro, Hello… can you talk?"
-"Yes, Montse, what’s up this morning?
-"... well, the point is that we discussed the good quality of the content when we took the course of the Foundation in Toledo, but we would have liked to complete it with something more focused on our interests..."
-“Yeah, so true. They gave us some knowledge about settings, very interesting composition and camera settings, but I missed something regarded to a monograph on photography of nature."
- "That’s the fact. I have found an solution to our request in Caceres, in particular, a village located in the southern slope of the sierra de Gredos. They teach about monographs of photography in nature, up to a maximum of 4 people."
-"Feel me great.  If you don't mind, Luis and Yolanda come with us and we share hobbies, while spending the weekend surrounded by nature."

Environment of “chozo de cabreros”
It’s ten in the morning and we are having a coffee on the terrace of the “Pararrayos” bar.
Montse, from Aranjuez, just come. The day is bright with good visibility. We drink quickly the coffee and head excitedly to a chozo in Gredos. The idea of these experiences in Extremadura that combines nature and photography have attracted us from the beginning. We slept in a traditional accommodation of the cabreros Gredos. We carry sleeping bags as we are meant to sleep in cots. Exciting. We are going to enjoy in a very straight way the contact with nature.
Carlos is responsible of Conyegar and photographer, he is intended to give us a photography workshop in nature.
He emailed us the program and we will perform two convenient excursions on Friday and Saturday, having a meeting to assess the experience on Sunday morning; all of this surrounded by Oaks and mountain gorges with a flow of clean and transparent waters.

Path access to the mountain
- "good morning to all four. First of all, thank you for your interest and enthusiasm shown in these two days. We are going to see and comment on what we've done these two days".
Carlos has brought a laptop to the Chozo and in a USB memory he has organised folders with the work of Montse and mine. In another, there are photos of the group with Luis and Yolanda, who will recall from the memory of our stay.

He shows us a photo taken from a wetlands in the pico Almanzor with a zoom lens and reminds us: "telephoto is our ally to highlight reasons for interest in nature..." and states his explanations based on arguments about framing of images taken in these two days in the lands of the region of La Vera...

I am at home reviewing the notes of the book of field that Carlos gave us to write down questions during the photography workshop. It has been very intense and practical. Living with friends an unforgettable experience.

Pedro, photographer and a lover of nature. Julio 2017

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Athy - Cuacos de Yuste, an Irish in Extremadura

Aidan, it's late than 8 a.m. Get up, please!
It is my father's voice that whenever I travel is very nervous.
"As long as we get up at 8.30 a.m. to leave home at 9 a.m., we will be in time at the airport," I told him last night at dinner, thinking that it takes around an hour from Athy to Dublin.

On the way to the airport, a bunch of advices and tips collapses my brain. I'm already 20 years old, yet it doesn't seem like that.
My father and I got to the airport terminal at 10 o'clock. The plane leaves at 11:15 a.m., so I am on time. Our farewell is in the up and down area of ​​travelers. I see him heading to his work, while I stand up.
I walk to the terminal and I find Erin in the queue. He beckons me to his side. I skip 7 post of the queue. Erin and I have been friends since childhood.
We board on time. Today, we treat lavishly ourselves and fly with Iberia. In 2 hours and a half flight, we landed in Madrid.
In the terminal of Madrid, a professor of the University waits for us in a car. It takes two and a half hours to reach our destination: Cuacos de Yuste
The trip has been enjoyable. Ricardo, who is professor of ancient history, has been telling us the program of the summer course of medicine, as well as describing some specific features of the places where we are going to. He lets us know that tomorrow morning we will do a route of senderismo interpretado (Hiking interpreted) by the mountain. We need to rest well.
In the visit to the cloister of the monastery of Yuste
8 a.m. in the morning. Ricardo is standing by the bus, while he checks we are all there. I sit next to Erin and we see the photos of yesterday afternoon from our visit to the monastery of Yuste. We were surprised by the lush surroundings of oak forest around the convent. The cloisters seem to be an essential part of the scene of Charles the fifth's retirement. We were trying to figure out those days of this long times ago.

The bus stops. It's half past eight.
We have just passed the riverside and there is a 4x4 of pink color that play a big contrast to the countryside. A man with a hut stands up in purple T-shirt, he stares us. He must be the guide.

Hiking Sierra de Tormantos
"Good morning everyone and welcome to the Extremadura region", he greets us once we are gathered around his company car. He explains us our surrounding environment and the differences between rivers, gorges, torrents and streams. He tells us emphatically that the course of the gorges is a singular feature of the geology of this area.
After some brief instructions that we must follow in our route, we begin the walk along the left streambed against the sense of the current.
As we go, we start to be far from the gorge. The path becomes narrower because of the surrounding shrubs and oaks. I take a photo of Erin's backs, which is a shot with a network of trunks and branches which reminds me to a neural structure. As I look at Erin's back I remember when we decided to study medicine on a boat trip on Lake Ennell.
"Attention those of the end, who have been delayed ..." Carlos's voice brings me back to the reality, the group guide of Conyegar.
We have reached a bend in the path where a torrent falls sharply. There is a small space where the twenty or so students are having a sandwich, while we listen to a story about the maquis (Groups of resistance to the dictatorship in Spain from 1939 to 1965) of this region. I connect this story, in some way, with the experience of the resistance movements of my country.

"Gentlemen and ladies in brief moments we are about to land at Dublin airport the temperature is ... “Aidan, wake up! It's more than eight o'clock! "This time, it's Erin nudging me.
I look out the window, it's raining. The drops of water from the glass take me back to the torrents and gorges of Extremadura.

Aidan, June of 2017
Active Tourism, an eco-awar family enterprise from Extremadura: Conyegar

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

May Long Weekend

The plane of Airfrance runs through the Charles de Gaulle runway from Paris. Finally, I get to sit in this futurist space of Business class. There was stop and go traffic in the A1 route to the airport, heading from Rue Renoir in Saint-Denis. It is 24th of April and my pace of life has been frenetic since 10 days, due to the new marketing strategies. My head is spinning among the several photos, slogans… The Airbus A321 is taking off. The plane is in the air, I recline the seat. The fatigue is taking me over. I look the watch: 9.08 p.m.
I have been got up by a soft hit while the flight attendant is informing that we have already landed in Barcelona. It is 10.04 p.m. The enterprise car is waiting me in the terminal, Santiago drives. While we are in our way, the email inbox shows a Sara´s new. She confirms that we have booked our accommodation in Parador de Plasencia for this long weekend. In addition, she attaches me information about two enterprises and their contacts that can manage a couple of activities. This time is a wonderful chance to live with the representatives of the region for four days. I send thoroughly emails to the enterprises via Tablet, to see what kind of experiences they can offer me for this four days. Beforehand, I excused my rush about the matter.

Both of the two enterprises answer including interesting ideas. Carlos, responsible of Conyegar, addresses me a perfect solution to spend the Saturday and Monday, as well as, giving me possible options for the Sunday and Tuesday return. This plan fits accurately my necessities. We will get to learn about the surroundings, gastronomy, a glance of the history and legend of the region through activities in Comarca de la Vera that ranges from interpreted hiking and 4x4 routes.

On early Saturday, Carlos picks us up in Jaraiz de la Vera with a minivan. We are heading to Cementerio Alemán that locates in the road Caucos to Monasterio de Yuste. The place is well-indicated and easy to find. The experience is worthy to live thanks to our guide that explains us either the stories surrounding the origin of the cemetery or the several buried soldiers. The knowledge and narration of Carlos about the matter immerses us in the various stories of those buried there.

Graves from Cementerio Alemán

I have already step out from AVE in the Sants Station (Barcelona). Santiago waves in the hall of the station. We get to the parking where the enterprise car is. Along our way from the airport, the memories of our visit to the goatherd house (chozo), the route along villages that are historic-artistic ensemble, and that tasty stew of goat in the middle of oak grove with the fern blanket are in my mind. Not least to mention the view of the singular canyon, that is remarkable from the region, as well as, the landscape over Tajo from the viewpoint of Parque de Monfragüe.

Monfragüe, El Tajo
I can feed these memories of the legends and stories of the region thanks to the blog of Carlos, who narrates the experiences and investigations about the Comarca de la Vera.

Active Tourism, an eco-awar family enterprise from Extremadura: Conyegar

Monday, 24 April 2017

An easter day

Hello, we are Ana and Javier, and together with our three sons (4,7 and 10 years) we have been visiting La Comarca de la Vera for several times. We enjoy to experience new things in this part of the region. For the last times, we have booked canoe rides and activities in a tree-top adventure park, and these were very enjoyable.
Instead of this kind of tourism for our last trip to the region, we found a different option thanks to Carlos. He is in charge of an enterprise that promotes Active Cultural Tourism -a term that we have never heard about before. Carlos told us that is a combination of guided tourism and revisited trekking that he holds in his routes all over the region, either on foot, or by bike, or by 4x4.
No matter what the environment is, the route is always guided by an expert that explains the surroundings including nature and ethnography background. This description had caught our attention and we asked Carlos to send us details about the trekking route in order to take the stroll with our three sons.

Carlos replied us the same afternoon with all kind of details about the route. The route goes through an oak forest, where mosses and lichens grow wildly, and finishes in a very special place chozo de cabreros where having lunchtime based on traditional meals of the region. A “chozo” is the typical housing for goatherds that climbed the highest picks of mountains with their cattle in summer.
He attached pics and tips about the equipment, as well as a schedule of the day journey in the email.
Our expectations were met satisfactorily. The route was suitable in terms of distances and slopes for our children, who enjoyed specially going through one of the so-called canyons of the region.
Along the stroll, we could watch different varieties of trees and plants. Beetles such as “toros del sol” and ants drawn the attention of our children.
Hiking Interpreting with family
Grabbing some food in the chozo located in the mountain landscape gave us an experience that matched perfectly with the whole day, the biscuits of pomelo for dessert delighted us.

Active Tourism, an eco-awar family enterprise from Extremadura: Conyegar

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Forgotten Bridge Route (part II)

I have arrived to the lands that my father used to work. They are all fenced. I find it difficult to orient myself and find once more those references that remain nebulous in my memory.

I ask some men I see who are herding cows whether they know Paulino el “menguas”´s house.
“You are menguas’ kid, aren’t you?”, yells the eldest one while looking at me up and down, “wait for my Juliana to see you… damn! she´s not gonna believe it!” he rushes away and, unexpectedly, he turns around in a sudden move shouting: “take a look at your father's house, which is that one over there where we keep the cows!”

He points behind my back; I turn around and see the building that was my home once, quite abandoned, but its structure remains just as I remembered.
I stare at it… my sister and I used to get out of that house every morning at 7:30 to go to the village, along the same path my father used to take the beasts to work the olive grove. We used to leave him in the second curve, taking the way that the goats used, to the left, that soon led to the village along the left side of the “garganta” (wild stream), us walking upstream.

We walked surrounded by oak trees, the leafy ferns caressing our calves; those ferns which play the leading role in the undergrowth of the region whose memory has marked my memory ever since, along with the day we decided to go down to the “forgotten bridge”
“-Pedro, father has told us not to go there”
“-Sister, let's go and you'll see how loaded the ‘garganta’ is, after the rains”
We go up the muddy path and we lie down on the upper platform, leaning over the stark edge where the parapet was supposed to be. “Do you see, sister, how spectacular the waters flowing downstream are? Look at the depth underneath the bridge, it must be three metres at least.”
My sister turning around while lowering her head; an ashlar tearing down under her and her falling down into the air, are the nightmare that still remains in my thought.
My father determined my leaving the village in the early 50s.
First Plasencia and Salamanca were my destinations during the following nine years, and Barreiros, Chrysler, Renault and, currently, Matra factories were my following destinations.
Mother tells me that father was very proud of his son, the industrial engineer. He left his staff on the base of the bridge arch, at the left bank, two days before lying down on his bed, never to stand on his own again.

A strong voice behind my back breaks my thoughts: “It’s Pedrito, my Pedrito, come ‘ere, kid, you are already a man, aren’t you? Now, you are a bit scrawny, don’t you ‘ave enough to eat? How long will you be ‘ere? You staying for lunch? I have that tomato soup you always liked so much...”

-”I am really thankful, Juana; I am having lunch with my mother in the village”.

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The Forgotten Bridge

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Forgotten Bridge Route (part I)

My 93 Saab circulates smoothly along the A5. I am on my way to meet my origins. I come here to remember the moment when I came into existence, and my experiences in Extremadura.

I was born 63 years ago now in a house with granite stone solid walls, completed with mud bricks. I still remember the dark wooden beams, as I enter the living room, sustenance of nail-covered wooden planks where the roof tiles (tejas de tejado) used to sit.
Those thick beams which were used as pegs for domestic and farm implements, aroused my curiosity about the way these tools had gotten there. How many men and how much strength would have been necessary to place them there? That mysterious thought used to accompany me before falling asleep.

The house was part of a cattle ranch where my parents, as sharecroppers, lived taking care of beef cattle, working a plot of olive grove and gardening a rustic vegetable garden. The abode used to have
Stay, bedrooms; Today
three rooms. The entrance area, where the fireplace used to be at the back of the room, in the posterior wall of the entrance. On its right, two rooms connected to each other and separated by a thin partition wall which was built with homemade mud bricks. A concluded in its lintel with an ash tree branch that supported a heavy piece of fabric instead of a door enabled the passage between rooms. Out of these two, the biggest room, which was closer to the front door, was where my parents and my little brother used to sleep. My sister and I shared the room wich faced the North, where we could, at least, enjoy a larger window than the little one in my parent´s room.

Our dwelling extended to a stable on the right side where a couple of mules used to be; my father was very fond of these animals, which he treated as fellow sufferers. It took me many years to understand a quote that he used to tell me while looking at them with certain amount of resignation: “Whatever people may say, these animals are intelligent: they know it is time to work, not for chatting or other today´s trifles ” As I recall, I was around seven years old when I heard him say it for the first time. It was February, I know because Carnival had just passed and, soon after that, was when my sister and I discovered the forgotten bridge.

Traditional housing sharecroppers, in Extremadura. Spain

(to be continued: part II and the end)
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