Lively river

The liveliness of the Rio Guadiana is astonishing after six months of living in Almería – Europe’s most arid region. We’ve come from a baked orange coastal zone to a riparian idyll teeming with life. The gentle hills that girdle the river are lush and verdant and the river itself is alive. Fish leap from this dynamic river whose current runs furiously, changing direction every six hours with the tides 22 miles downstream. On the flood tide the river runs back upon itself and on the ebb it races down to the sea at even greater speed, carrying tree trunks, branches and innumerable bamboo stalks.
DSCI0412 - CopyThe riverbank is cacophonous with birdsong. There are blackbirds, sparrows, finches, tits, and even more species whose names I don’t know, filling the air with their orchestra of song. The house martins that nest in astonishing number in the gables of buildings in the two villages joyously flit along the river, dipping low to the water, catching insects to bring home to their babies. Egrets and herons patrol the banks, the herons flying like prehistoric pterodactyls and landing silently on the river’s edge. A pair of geese lives on the small beach at Sanlucar and there, and in Alcoutim, three species of duck, including a dozen or so big black and white and red Muscovy ducks make their home.

One day, a baby bird lands on our deck, resting mid-way across the river. Its parents fretfully call to it. One flies away in the direction of the other bank, wheels and comes back, pleading with the youngster to carry on. The other parent perches on our pulpit, pleading, begging ‘Just a little more baby, just a little more’. The little one rises up and flies off, flanked by its devoted parents. We watch, hearts in our mouths, as the baby dips closer to the river surface the farther it flies from us. We will it to make it the last tens of metres to safety. It alights on the deck of a small yacht anchored close to shore. The parents alight on the guard rails and the coaxing begins again.

DSCI0417 - CopyAt dusk, as the songbirds return in vast numbers to roost and the egrets fly upriver, the insects come out. And with them come the bats. These are bigger bats than I’ve seen in the wild before. They fly along the centre of the river, avoiding the masts of the yachts at anchor, eating their fill of insects.

At Sanlucar and Alcoutim, the house martins are a joy to behold. The air is filled with the sight and sound of parents, racing to and from their nests. Every house, every eave is festooned with nests and the piercing songs of adults is accompanied by their swift swooping as they seem to know no fear, diving and banking and loop-the-looping like cocky fighter pilots.

The bleating of small herds of goats and sheep compete with birdsong, the sounds of the former accompanied by the ringing bell around the neck of the lead animal. These ovines, black, brown, tan and white, spend their days resting under olive trees, shaded from the hot sun.

IMG_20150511_094909There are other animals too, no less interesting for their lack of size or cuteness. One morning a huge green grasshopper sits like a bowsprit on the prow of the dinghy as I motor ashore. Another day, we come across a small snake and stand back while it crosses our path. And then there is a larger snake, about four feet long, on the side of the road, nothing left of it but its transparent patterned skin, its long long back bone, and hundreds of tiny delicate ribs not much bigger than nail clippings. There are little green lizards, half way up walls in the villages, scuttling among the undergrowth and across paths farther out.

And the ants. Big ants, little ants, always busy busy ants. Lily stops me every few minutes to watch a tiny ant carrying a giant leaf or petal. Once, when we have a picnic, someone drops a piece of cheese from a sandwich and a platoon of ants marches up and carries it away, manoeuvring around weeds and grasses, and dragging it up and under the boardwalk to their garrison below.

Food grows in rude abundance here. Not just in the cultivated fields of potatoes and cabbages and other vegetables, and in the groves of oranges, lemons, almonds and olives that grow along the riverbank and far up into the hills. There is wild food in abundance. Almond, olive and orange trees grow wild, or in old abandoned groves. There is a profusion of wild fig trees, as well as pomegranate and kumquat trees. The fig trees are heavy with not-yet ripe fruit and the kumquats are already juicy and delicious. I’ve been assured that wild vines spiral up the trunks of eucalyptus trees and great bunches of grapes can be plucked from the eucalypts later in the summer. Mint, fennel and rosemary grow wild and in abundance, as do spinach, alexanders and wild carrot. And in the river there are fresh water mussels and clams. This is a forager’s paradise.

DSCI0423 - CopyOn the trails that wind through the hills and along the riverbanks the profusion of wild flowers caresses the senses. The meadow-covered valleys between the gentle hillsides are riotous with colour. Pink, purple, blue, magenta, violet, yellow, orange, red and white wild flowers fill the air with their heady scent. The sight and scent of the flowers is accompanied by the steady buzz of bees feasting on the nectar. Beehives dot these hillsides, where beekeepers collaborate with bees to make honey from these flowers and to contribute to the pollination all that grows in this paradise.

DSCI0424 - CopyArriving in late April, we have missed some harvests and not yet arrived at others. But our stomachs are filled with delicious sweet oranges, we cook with oranges, lemons, rosemary and fennel, and I drink fresh mint tea every day. We pick kumquats as we walk along and we will the tens of thousands of figs and almonds to ripen soon.

Each day we discover some new wonder in this bounteous place, and I’m afraid my poor writing has barely captured the richness of life on the river.

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Semana Santa

Here in southeast Spain Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, is a time of penance, prayer and processions. On Thursday we took the bus into Almeria to watch one of the processions, and it was memorable.

DSCI0067We found the perfect viewing spot amongst the seated enclosures set up all along the main shopping street and gazed in wonder at the spectacle as it went past.

These Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions have a history dating back to the 16th Century and the Spanish Counter Reformation. Local parishes, civil groups and other organisations have their own confradias, fraternities responsible for the care and maintenance of elaborate statues of Jesus and Mary, and preparing throughout the year for these Semana Santa processions. There are 23 of these confradias in Almeria, and throughout the week there are two, three or more processions each evening and night.

The Nazarenos, or penitants, are hidden behind masks and pointed hats, wearing long robes and capes, rosary beads, and some carrying crosiers, bibles and other Catholic symbols. Although to our eyes the costumes are disturbingly similar to Ku Klux Klan, their symbolism to these Spanish penitents is entirely unrelated. The tall pointed hats carry the same symbolism as church spires and cypress trees in cemetaries – carrying the penitents sins up to heaven. And the masks perform the same function as the enclosed darkness of the confessional, hiding the identity of the penitants and allowing for private penance behind the mask. At the procession we attended, the Nazarenos all wore black and white, but other groups in different processions wear purples, reds and other bright colours.

The Nazarenos walked slowly down the street in formation, followed by altar boys swinging thuribles of incense, that familiar smell of Catholic ritual filling the air. Behind the altar boys came the large statue of the suffering Christ, carried on the shoulders of more penitents, hidden underneath heavy velvet cloth. And behind them came the brass band, playing piercing and mournful music.

DSCI0074In the old days, only men were allowed to process in penance, but these days women participate too, and some of the leaders of the groups were clearly women, judging by their footwear and finger rings! Some penitants were accompanied by their children and I was amused at one point to see a mother and father, each with a child, stop, pull out baby drinking bottles from their swaths of robes, and give their children quick drinks!

DSCI0078After the Christ statue came the women, dressed in widows garb, with high mantillas on their heads, rosery beads wrapped around their hands. They in turn were followed by more altar boys swinging thuribles and then a statue of the suffering Virgin Mary, carried on the shoulders of more penitants draped in velvet, and another brass band.

DSCI0083Like the little boy with his dad, in an earlier photo, I was also particularly taken by a woman in her late 60s. Despite the penance and the seriousness of the occasion, she was wearing her sexiest shoes and was having a bit of lighthearted a giggle with the pointy-hatted man to her left!

DSCI0090On Good Friday, the girls and I attended another procession in Aguadulce. This was much more low key, without the elaborate dress, and was more akin to Good Friday services that I am used to in Ireland. After a prayer service in the church in Aguadulce, a large crucifix with the crucified Christ was carried from the church by about ten men. They were followed by fifty or so penitants, mostly old women and men, who proceeded around the streets of Aguadulce, praying, singing hymns and stopping every couple of hundred yards to do the Stations of the Cross and say the rosary.

The Blessed Virgin in Almeria

The Blessed Virgin in Almeria

We’ve returned to our pagan ways aboard Carina this morning. The Easter bunny came in the night and hid chocolate eggs and rabbits around Carina‘s deck and on the pontoon. The girls have been kept busy searching for the chocolate before it gets melted by the hot spring sun!!

Happy Easter everyone!

Preparing to move on

With only six weeks until our planned departure from Aguadulce and the start of our 2015 cruising season, we have been taking advantage of my father-in-law’s car to get some much needed jobs underway.

Last week Julian took the sails and the spray hood to a sail maker in Almería for repairs. The sails have some small tears and rips – on the canvas and along the seams – that will turn into big rips if not dealt with soon. The spray hood shelters the cockpit from head wind and spray. I have never been able to sail with it in position, as the plastic windows are so weather beaten they have lost all transparency. Julian is tall enough to see over the top of the spray hood when at the helm but, being a short-ass, I have to helm with the elements in my face! When we removed the spray hood for storage before Christmas, one of the window panels cracked from old age. New transparent plastic should make for more pleasant motoring and sailing for all from now on.

Another day last week Julian drove to the chandler in Almerimar to stock up on items he will need when the boat comes out of the water in March. During that week he will thoroughly clean all those parts of Carina that sit below the water line – hull, keel, propeller and rudder. He bought five litres of anti-foul – enough for two coats of paint that will protect the underwater parts from sea-critters. He will also replace the old sacrificial anode with the new 2.5kg one he bought. Gradually, the anode dissolves away into the water, thus protecting the metal parts of the propeller and the engine from corrosion.

The next big purchase – both in terms of size and cost – is new anchor chain. We currently use half chain-half warp, and the chain is old and rusting. We want to move to 100% anchor chain and this week Julian plans to look at some chain for sale in Roquetas de Mar.

All of these jobs would be much more difficult and more expensive to carry out without having access to a car. Although we find living without a car in general very easy – we don’t even think about it – there are times such as now when having a car comes in handy! So, thank you to my father-in-law for letting us use his while he’s visiting.

And where do we plan to sail in six weeks’ time? Well, we’ve narrowed it down to east, west or south!!

Conversation with a five-year old

‘What’s that man doing?’ Lily asked me one day before Christmas, as we walked along a street in Almeria. We had walked past the friendly, grandfatherly-looking beggar who sits on a street corner not far from where I work.
‘He’s begging for money’, I told her.
‘Why?’
‘Because he has no other way to get money’
‘Why doesn’t he get money out of the bank?’
‘He doesn’t have any money in the bank’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because if he did have money in the bank he wouldn’t be sitting on the street corner in those torn old clothes begging for money’
‘Why doesn’t he ask his family for money?’
‘Maybe he doesn’t have any family. Or maybe his family can’t help him. Or don’t want to help him’

She’d exhausted this line of questioning so struck from another angle.
‘Why does he want money anyway?’
‘To buy food I suspect’
‘Why doesn’t he just get food from the shops?’
‘Well Lily, you coming shopping with me and Daddy, don’t you?’
‘Yeah…’
‘And the last thing we do before we leave the shop is pay for the food with money’
‘But maybe if he asked them they might give him some food’
‘Shops don’t work that way’
‘Why doesn’t he pick nuts off the trees?’
‘Lily, look around. Do you see any nuts on the trees here? They’re all palm trees’.
‘Well then why doesn’t he go to the beach and pick clams or mussels? Or get sea beet? Or blackberries?’
‘First of all, not everyone has learned how to forage for food like you and Katie have. And second, there’s very little to forage around here. We’re living in a coastal desert. It’s not like Devon or Brittany or Galicia where people can just pick food when they want. Not much grows here’ (I neglect to mention the billions of euros worth of fruits and vegetables grown in poly-tunnels all along this coast by large agro-industrial multinationals. Matters are complicated enough)
‘He could go to where there’s wild food’
‘How?’
‘On the bus’
‘Ah, so now we’re back to the original problem. He’d need money for the bus’
‘He could walk’
‘It’s a long way. His shoes don’t look sturdy enough for a long walk. He needs money to buy new shoes. And besides, he’d need food to give him energy to walk all that way. Remember what we learned about food and energy in your human body book?’

Now she finds a new solution.
‘He could get a job’
‘It’s not easy to get a job’
‘You have a job’
‘Yes, that’s true. But for some people finding a job isn’t so easy’
‘Why?’
‘Well, he might have had a job once. Maybe he lost his job because the company couldn’t pay him anymore. Or maybe he lost his job because he became ill, or something bad happened to him. I don’t know’
‘Maybe he got fired because he was late for work’ (Perhaps I shouldn’t tell the girls I’ll get fired if I’m late for work!)
‘Well Lily, people lose their jobs for all sorts of reasons. And then maybe when he lost his job he couldn’t afford to keep his house any more. And maybe no-one else wanted to give him a job. Bad things like this can happen to people for all sorts of reasons. And besides’ I conclude, ‘He’s an old man. He shouldn’t have to work any more’

Lily absorbs all of this information. I think she’s confused by the man and probably a little frightened by his circumstances. He looks about Granddad’s age – he probably is someone’s granddad. He affects her in a way that other homeless men don’t, because his grandfatherliness is familiar to her.

In the February/March 2015 edition of The Green Parent magazine, Louise Kinnaird writes about nurturing empathy and compassion in children. Children as young as 14 months are able to offer help to others and by six or seven years old they can take another’s perspective. She writes, however, that it may take until late adolescence ‘for a child to begin to empathise on societal issues that they cannot relate to, such as homelessness or discrimination’ (p. 31).

I believe that, as parents, it is our duty to encourage and nurture empathy and compassion from the start of our children’s lives. We need to encourage kindness, helpfulness and sharing and, over time, our children will learn to put themselves in the shoes of others. We also need to have conversations with our children that encourage them to consider the feelings of others.

I don’t think Lily empathised with the man. She wanted to solve his problems. She was searching for solutions – probably to find a way to make him more like us. I wanted to introduce her to some of the underlying reasons why this man – and the many other homeless men and beggars we encounter – was begging in the street. I don’t know his story, but I wanted to offer Lily some possibilities, so she could begin to understand the challenges he faces and could begin to see past the unshaven, dishevelled old man on the side of the street, and see his humanity, his dignity and his fierce will to survive.

Another day I might have brushed off her initial probing questions. I might have been in a rush to get somewhere, I might have had something else on my mind. And if I had brushed her off, Lily would have lost an opportunity to look a little deeper into the world, and I would have lost an opportunity to know my daughter’s logic and rationality and concerns. But on this particular day I had the patience and the time to listen to Lily and to have a serious conversation. I don’t expect her to understand the root causes of poverty or homelessness (I certainly don’t). But I hope that by allowing conversations like these to take place, both of us can deepen our empathy and compassion for others.

Someone took my lemons

You know the saying ‘When God gives you lemons, make lemonade’? Or, in my case, lemon curd. But what happens when those lemons are taken away again before you have a chance to do anything productive with them?

We faced such a dilemma this past week when plans we had in place since early August changed suddenly and unexpectedly. Nearly five months earlier we had been asked to house and dog sit for a week at New Year so, despite our general lack of short- or medium-term planning, this week had been set in stone. We eliminated all other possibilities and honed in on making ourselves available to do this favour. And now that we had that week set in stone, we decided to plan accordingly. The girls and I would be off the boat for the whole week, leaving Julian free to get on with a huge number of jobs on his to-do list – sanding, varnishing, spring cleaning the lazarette, repairing the sails, etc. He would visit us in the apartment and spend some nights with us, but most of his week would be devoted to the boat.

Carina in a state of undress

Carina in a state of undress

I, meanwhile, planned to take advantage of being in Almeria to do lots of fun things, which are otherwise too expensive when we have to factor in the price of bus journeys from and to Aguadulce. And, of course, the girls were wildly excited about the prospect of taking care of a dog for a week, and that experience would have been amazing for them. In addition to all this fun, I planned to complete the first draft of my book before we moved back aboard Carina. With a TV in the apartment, I planned to let the girls watch one movie each evening, giving me one and a half hours of writing time, and to continue writing for two or three hours each night after the girls had gone to bed. That would surely put the first draft of the book to bed too.

Twenty-four hours before we were due to move into the apartment, unexpectedly and for reasons unrelated to us, the plans changed and we found ourselves adrift. What were we to do? The maintenance and repair jobs would now be much more difficult to accomplish with us under Julian’s feet. And, as I’ve written before, the simple tasks of cooking, cleaning, and day-to-day life take so much more time on a boat, so the time for fun activities and writing were now drastically curtailed.

First we got annoyed. And then we got practical. Rather than viewing the changes to this long-planned-for week as ruinous, we reassessed our priorities and we set about achieving what we could. Instead of thinking of it as a week, we saw in front of us eleven days until I had to return to work. Julian’s boat jobs needed daylight and my writing could be done after dark. The varnishing of weather boards and the oiling of the boat’s external teak needed to be done at a certain time of day – after the early morning dew had lifted, but early enough so they would dry before the evening dew descended.

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

Weatherboards drying in the early morning sun

I took over all the household chores that are usually shared or done by Julian – cooking, cleaning, laundry, food shopping. When Julian attempted to clean the heads one day I shooed him away – no point him wasting time doing jobs that I can do. I involved the girls in all those activities, taking their maths and English books to the launderette, so they could work while we waited. Many of the chores had us off the boat for considerable lengths of time.

The girls and I went for long walks on the beach. As well as taking our balls and bats and new origami set (I love it!), I took my pen and notebook and, while the girls played at playgrounds or played games with other kids, I squeezed in what handwriting I could, ready to transcribe to the laptop once the girls were in bed.

When we were at home, we stayed as much out of Julian’s way as possible. He sanded, varnished and oiled. He removed sails. He cleaned the decks and the cockpit. Sometimes the girls helped, but when helping turned to hindering, I took them away again.

And Julian took them away from me, late in the afternoons when the light was fading and he could no longer work effectively. Sure, I had dinner to make, but I also managed to write.

I’m going back to work tomorrow and I have to admit that neither of us has achieved what we had hoped. I’m still roughly 15,000 words from the end of the book. And Julian has accomplished only about 20% of what he would have expected to if he had had the boat to himself. This week we’ve also had to contend with having no electricity for two days due to a fault on the pontoon, and a blocked toilet that Julian’s had to take apart.

DSCI0035

But we could look at it another way. I’m 6,000 words closer to the end of the draft than I was before December 28th. Carina’s exterior woodwork is in better condition now than at any time since we have owned her. And we’ve had experiences that we wouldn’t have had if we had been in Almeria all week. Lily and Katie have met and played with lots of children at the local playgrounds all week. Katie and I spent a morning visiting Bill and Rosemary on a neighbouring boat. Jesus, on the boat across the pontoon from us, gave us a bucketful of freshly caught red sea bream. And yesterday morning, while out for my walk, I met Katie and Kalle, a young German couple living and travelling in a VW camper van, and they spent the afternoon aboard Carina with us.

Things don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. Unexpected changes can occur, leaving you feeling stranded. And we did feel stranded at first, when our five-months-in-the-making plan was turned on its head with no warning. But if there’s one thing that sailing teaches you, it’s that you can’t rely on plans. Weather systems and unexpected boat problems can alter the best laid plans. Friends we’ve made along the way this past year have had their sailing plans curtailed by, in one instance, a split wooden mast that needed to be replaced, and, in another, the need to install a new engine. But what can you do? Go with the flow, make the most of the opportunities you have and, if your lemons are taken away, you better have some recipes for a bucket-load of bream up your sleeve!

Blowing in the wind

By Julian

‘An Englishman, an Irishman and an American go to a football match.’ This may sound like the start of a bad joke but it happened on Saturday. Many things have occurred to us as a result of coming to Aguadulce. The chain of events that has put us here seems both random and fateful. There we were, sitting in L’Aber Wrac’h, northern France, making plans to investigate various French rivers where we might spend the winter, when I looked at the weather forecast and the tides that would carry us out of the channel to sea. It was as if some greater power was saying “Here it is. You have the perfect conditions to go to northwest Spain. Go across Biscay, do it now or you should forget it, the stars will not align for you in this way again.” Those conditions sped us to Galicia and, with all our inexperience, we rattled along. Even as we approached Spain and a thunderstorm raged around us a little patch of stars stayed above our heads and the sea was calm. The fog which followed lifted at dawn to let us into the sweet smelling Ria. The memory of that herbal smell off the land is stronger than both the sights and the sounds, as beautiful as they were.

Once we were across Biscay it became almost a certainty that we would try to get to the Algarve but, beyond that, our heads were filled with numerous options. Several places in Portugal, southern Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco and even further afield, east and west, were considered. Then another random, or fateful, occurrence: Martina’s cousin Sean and his wife Yvonne moved from Ireland to Almeria to teach English for a couple of years. This completely unconnected event changed everything. Aguadulce, near Almeria, was always going to be on our list of places we would consider, but so long was the list it was unlikely to be where we would end up; it needed an extra something to stand out. However, the chain of events and experiences seemed to suck us towards here as though we had crossed the event horizon of a black hole; someone had turned on a giant cosmic vacuum cleaner; the Death Star had us in its tractor beam and Chewbacca was growling hopelessly at the controls. Still, when we stepped from Carina in Aguadulce, instead of Darth Vader we found a friendly marina, a nice town and we were next door to a beach; perfect for swimming, with a lovely children’s playground.

The football match was Almeria versus Athletic Bilbao. I am the Englishman, Sean is the Irishman and Joe, Sean’s boss, is the American. It will not surprise many people that three blokes went to a football match but it sure as hell surprised me. I have spent 40 years on this Earth without managing to trouble the gates of a football stadium. I was a match-day virgin, a true 40 year old virgin. Thanks to Sean’s season tickets we sat behind the goal as a fast paced La Liga match unfolded. It was quite a first match to witness with Bilbao in the Champion’s League this season. To hold onto the analogy, it was like bypassing the girl next door and going straight for Penelope Cruz.

Another thing has happened that will no doubt amuse many of those who know me. I am a large hairy bloke, not the sort of person you would expect to find spending an hour on a Wednesday and Thursday morning sitting in an apartment with two young Spanish ladies, aged 26 and 28, discussing clothes and shopping, a copy of ‘Vanity Fair’ open on the table between us whilst we sip cold mineral water. However, that is exactly what I was doing last week. Thanks to Sean and Yvonne, Martina has fallen into a job teaching English, so she has passed these two eager students on to me. I am really enjoying the experience. Would this have happened given a prevailing southwesterly four months ago? We have been truly blown in on the wind.

Now for the most amazing thing: my dad has said that if the girls and I fly to England in January he will take the ferry and drive back to Aguadulce with us. Since meeting Martina over ten years ago dad has come to our wedding in Edinburgh and on a sailing trip to Cherbourg, France; but both those events were nine years ago. My brother persuades him to drive to Cornwall from time to time. If things work out and my dad leaves England to stay with us on the Costa del Sol that will truly be an unexpected highlight of this strange chain of events.

Sweet Water

The other side of the Rock of Gibraltar

The other side of the Rock of Gibraltar

With our minds made up to look farther afield for a winter berth, we didn’t see any point in hanging around Gibraltar. Shortly after 10am on Thursday we motored out of Queensway Quay and set a course of 075˚, across the Costa del Sol to Almerimar. We considered hopping along the coast, taking four or more days to reach our destination, but decided instead to do it in one long sail.

The day was hot and there wasn’t a breath of wind. It was uncomfortable at the helm, but the bimini, while providing no relief from the humidity, did give protection from the sun. The day was uneventful. After a few hours the shipping lanes were far to the south and our only companions were pods of small but very energetic common dolphins that thrashed and splashed in a manner I have not seen elsewhere.

As light faded I took the first night watch. The Sierra Nevada stood majestically to the north and from dusk until dawn, without let-up, lightening streaked across the mountains. Long after Julian and Katie had fallen asleep, Lily sat with me in the cockpit, enthralled by the distant light show.

But those weren’t the only lights. It was a moonless night and the sky was clear. A billion stars twinkled in the sky, with some of the brightest (Orion’s Belt among them) reflected in the calm sea. It was spectacular, and made me vow, not for the first time in my life, to learn some astronomy. Three times during my watch shooting stars streaked across the sky, one of which I caught only by its reflection in the sea.

Dolphins swam alongside intermittently through the night, leaping and breathing loudly close to Carina, their path underwater streaked in phosphorescence. It was another enchanting night sail.

I slept for four hours and swapped places with Julian again at 4am, this time only to keep watch for two hours. The nights are now long and when Julian woke me at 7.30am to say we would be in Almerimar in half an hour, they sky was only just fully light.

Here the land slopes gently from the sea to the base of the mountains, which rise dramatically beyond. Those slopes are covered for tens of kilometres in the white plastic sheeting of the poly-tunnels where much of Europe’s fruit and vegetables are grown. They are not particularly pleasing to the eye, but without these, consumers in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere in northern Europe would not enjoy year-round cheap tomatoes, peppers and other Mediterranean-produced foods.

Almerimar is a pleasant resort town, much of it given over to hotels and resorts that cater to northern European golfing tourists. The marina was pleasant enough, with an active live-aboard community – though having to remember to bring toilet paper to the toilet block every time was quite annoying!

After a day of resting and exploring Almerimar we took the bus to Almeria, to meet my cousin and his wife, who moved here from Ireland earlier this year to teach English. The bus journey was long, expensive and unreliable and we couldn’t imagine doing it more than once a month.

We took advantage of my cousin’s car to check out Aguadulce, and town and marina only five miles from Almeria. We were impressed with what we saw. Returning home to Carina we worked out and compared the costs of spending winter in Almerimar and Aguadulce, factoring in bus prices, electricity costs, Internet, and so on, and figured that they worked out about the same. When Aguadulce marina confirmed by phone the next day that it had a six-month berth available, we took it. We motored out of Almerimar on Monday afternoon for the short fifteen mile hop to Aguadulce – the place that will be our home for the next six months.