Our adventure began in Pizarra, in the Málaga province of Andalucía, Spain. I say that for convenience, but in fact the place where we’ve been staying is around 5km away from Pizarra, up in the surrounding valley with gorgeous panoramic views of the hilly landscape and little villages nestled in between. But more of that later.
Once we arrived at Málaga airport we met up with Brian, one of our Workaway hosts for our first Workaway experience, and the part owner of the aforementioned property up in the Guadalhorce valley. Barbara, his wife, was back in the UK for the first week of our stay so we met her a little later on. On the drive from the airport we stopped off for tapas at a small restaurant in a village called Villafranco. Food is generally a good way to start any adventure, but tapas are a particular favourite, so needless to say I was pretty damn happy at this point.
When we arrived at what would become our temporary home for the next few weeks, we were greeted by a symphony of dog barks and wails (one of the dogs, Vita, is known as the singing dog, although she usually reserves her songs for when she’s hungry). Five dogs, five cats, three horses and a bunch of chickens and ducks too. As someone who had to beg her parents just to have a pet hamster when she was a kid (sniff sniff), this was quite a shock for me. Becoming accustomed to the constant animal fur on my clothes, on the furniture, on the floor and, worryingly often, in my hair, was not a smooth or easy journey. In fact, to suggest that I have become at ease in such an environment would be overstating it. As I type I can see three bits of dog hair in the corner of the room, and it has taken a lot of willpower to stop myself from going and getting the dustpan and brush.
There’s another volunteer here at the moment: Mimmi, from Sweden, and she also had a couple of friends staying/volunteering for one week, so the place has been pretty busy with both humans and animals. Mimmi is great with the horses, having studied horsemanship in Sweden for three years, so she spends a lot of her working time with them. We tend to work for around 5 hours each day, between 9am and 2pm. My working morning usually involves gardening, cleaning or painting. Gardening sounds quite good but with 4.8 hectares there is a constant battle against the weeds so much of my ‘gardening’ is in fact the less glamorous task of weeding! Phil’s taken to the lifestyle very well, and has proved particularly useful as he’s got the strength for more strenuous outdoor jobs. I’m pretty sure he was a lumberjack in a previous life – one of his favourite tasks is chopping down trees and sawing up logs for the fire.
Afternoons are usually free time, which we’ve filled with various little activities – walks in the local area are a favourite, particularly for Phil who never gets bored of climbing up the craggy hills. (I’m a fan of that too, though manoeuvring my way down is not such an enjoyable task). Common sights on walks around the valley include lemon trees, cactus, dogs (both owned and wild), donkeys, horses and goats. There is a riverbed that cuts through the valley, though it is fairly dry at the moment as there hasn’t been much rain in the area recently, so that makes quite a nice walk. One afternoon we inadvertently made some new friends in the form of three dogs who had also been sniffing around the riverbed. One of them was a black Labrador, another was a tiny but very friendly little black and white dog, and the last dog (and I have to admit, my absolute favourite) was a gigantic beast of a dog, which must have been a cross between a Mastiff and, judging by the size of him, a bear. The pack followed us, or perhaps I should say, led us, for almost half an hour before they finally left us again. I’m pretty sure we’ll always be in their hearts.
I’m happy to say that Norwegian Airlines had no beef with me bringing my yoga mat with me as part of my hand luggage, so yoga is another key afternoon activity. The sun usually goes down around 6.30pm here, and although we’re fairly shaded – given the location/terrain, the property itself is set on about three different levels – the top level remains sunny even late into the afternoon. With its views out across the valley, this is a pretty good spot for my afternoon yoga. Rosie the Rottweiler, possibly the friendliest dog in the world, often follows me for this. It’s nice to have a yoga buddy but unfortunately a number of sun salutations have been interrupted by her planting herself down on my yoga mat. Turning myself the right way round, coming off the mat and then trying to coax her away jars the routine somewhat, but what can you do.
Pizarra itself is a pleasant little village. It’s fairly modern but what it lacks in historical sights it more than makes up for with colourful streets, houses, churches and parks. It is a fairly strenuous walk, but well worth it. The walk down to Pizarra only takes around 45 minutes, and you pass a fresh mountain spring on the way which allows you a short break as well as a tasty drink. The walk back is a slightly different story. Because the property itself is high up in the valley, most of the return journey is uphill, and the last 15 minutes in particular is a relentless walk up steep hills. There are plenty of small cafés to choose from in the village, but our favourite by a long way is a little bakery which sells delicious coffee, cakes and biscuits to eat in or takeaway. (I’m not gonna lie, I usually end up eating one of my takeaway cookies on the walk back. I feel that the hardcore walk justifies it…)
We spent one weekend in Málaga, as it’s only a half hour train journey from Pizarra, and the hostels are pretty cheap in low season. It seems a shame that Málaga is known primarily as being the capital of the Costa del Sol, where Brits come to drink, speak English and get super sexy sunburns, because in fact the city is very pleasant just to walk around and it does boast a number of notable sights. The city itself seems to be proud of (and very keen to broadcast) the fact that Pablo Picasso was born there. The Picasso Museum hosts a number of his works (though don’t expect to see any of his most famous pieces, which unsurprisingly have been snapped up by larger galleries elsewhere in Spain and the rest of the world), and is worth a visit. The Cathedral, too, is impressive, and close to both of these attractions are the remains of a Moorish castle, the Alcazaba, which sits atop a Roman Amphitheatre which was only (re)discovered in 1951.
We spent a nice weekend strolling through Málaga’s streets, which, if you look above the many charming cafés, tapas bars and clothes shops, are crammed with colourful houses with balconies overflowing with plants. You’ll often find yourself bumping into churches as you walk around too; at the end of many little streets we found ourselves facing a bright and pretty church. Needless to say we had plenty of delicious (and cheap!) wine, coffee and tapas, though I’m not too proud to admit that on Saturday evening we fancied nothing more than a cheeseburger and chips at a cheap and cheerful restaurant along the very popular Plaza de la Merced. We were both pleasantly surprised by the lack of tourists and the plethora of Spaniards in the bars and cafés. Churros are clearly a popular choice for Spanish families, so for breakfast on Sunday we joined the post-Church-going families in having a plate of churros for breakfast. Not the healthiest option, sure, but they were delicious.
Last weekend Brian took me, Mimmi and Phil to a nearby nature reserve – Guadalhorce River Estuary Natural Area – which has stunning views of the river (called Guadalhorce, if you didn’t guess already) that cuts through the valley. It is a great spot for birdwatching in the summer but unfortunately the eagles and vultures migrate to Africa during the winter so we didn’t see any on our trip. Regardless, strolling along the river and taking in the views made for a lovely afternoon in the late January sunshine. That brings us up to today, Monday 26 January. We’ve got another week here ‘Workaway-ing’ with Brian before we meet up with my parents who also happen to be cruising around Spain at the moment!
Until next time – hasta luego!