Community: It’s all about pulling together and sharing

Fire by the roadside, Competa You might remember that towards the end of June last year, we had a large wildfire on the outskirts of my home village of Cómpeta.  This event prompted me to write an article about what we should do about fire prevention and self protection in the event of a wildfire.

Yesterday afternoon, I was on my way home from Málaga when, just before the turn off to my house, I spotted a large plume of smoke, not far away.  Instead of turning towards my home, I carried on up the road towards Cómpeta, and only about 750 metres further on came across a burning hillside.

It was quite surreal as there was no-one else around, yet clearly it appeared that the fire had been burning for at least some minutes as the whole hillside looked to be alight.

I drove past the fire, turned the car around and pulled to the side of the road to call the emergency services (the number to call in Europe is 112) to give the exact location of the fire.

There was nothing else I could do, and I didn’t want my car being in the way of the emergency services, so I took this short video (only about 7 seconds) and then headed home to spread the word.

The fire is not only by the side of the road, but look at the flare-up near the top right of the frame.

After only a couple of minutes I had posted on Twitter and onto my own East of Málaga Facebook page, where I know that lots of local people follow me.  Within no time at all, that post had reached 6,000 people and had been shared 40 times – with lots of comments tagging others to let them know.

THAT’S THE POWER OF COMMUNITY and I am very proud of the community that has grown up around my East of Málaga blog.  

So I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU to each and every one of you and, to those who don’t follow my Facebook page , I’d like to invite you to “Like” the page, click on “Get Notifications” and join in with the community.  

I usually post a couple of times a day, and share many more photos over there.

C7 fire helicopter over Competa

C7 fire helicopter carrying water to douse the fire

As for the fire – well, I went back a couple hours later – after the helicopter had left, and the fire appeared to be largely out, though the fire fighters were still there, doing their job.  

Well done, guys and THANK YOU!

The fire is out, but the fire-engine is still near the untouched house

The fire is out, but the fire-engine is still near the untouched house

Fire fighters on the smouldering land, checking for flames

Fire fighters on the smouldering land, checking for flames

What’s YOUR experience of a community all pulling together for the good of others?

Celebrating the Malaga Blues

Today, bringing a whole new meaning to the winter blues, on my East of Malaga Facebook page we are celebrating the “Málaga Blues”.

This is a series of photographs taken around Málaga province, showing skies, sea and doors in various shades of blue.

Rio Chillar, Nerja

Part of the river walk of the Rio Chillar, Nerja

One of the best ways to cool down on a hot summer´s day is to take a walk along the Rio Chillar from Nerja.  Unusually for Andalucía, this route is suitable for walking during June, July and August, as there is plenty of shade, plus the river to keep you cool.

Casa Antonio, El Acebuchal

Blue door and sky in El Acebuchal

Closer to Frigiliana in terms of distance, this mountain hamlet is a world away from the hoards of holiday-makers visiting the Costa del Sol.  You can discover this delightful blue door in the Lost Village of El Acebuchal.

Entrance to Calle Marquis de Larios, Malaga

Entrance to Calle Marquis de Larios, Malaga

Held every year in August, the Málaga feria is one of the largest fairs in Spain with millions of people joining the fun throughout the week.

Zafarraya Pass, Spain

Zafarraya Pass

In 1979, a cave was discovered near to the Zafarraya Pass, with a subsequent archaeological dig unearthing the best preserved remains of Neanderthal man (radiometrically dating back 30000 years) ever found in Western Europe.

Stairway to Heaven

Could this be Frigiliana’s own “Stairway to Heaven”?

This house with it’s heavenly views can be found in the upper part of the white village of Frigiliana.  There is no motor vehicle access up the steep streets to this part of the village, which remains largely how it must have looked hundreds of years ago, when the village was occupied by the Moors.

Catamarans at Torre del Mar, Spain

Weekend sailing festival in Torre del Mar

Last summer I had fun photographing the colourful sails of the catamarans at the sailing club in Torre del Mar.

Canillas de Aceituno

View across Canillas de Aceituno towards Lake Viñuela

Lying in the shadow of the largest mountain in the Axarquía region, there has been a settlement on the site of  Canillas de Aceituno since the Moorish occupation in the 8th century, when the main industry was the growing of mulberry trees for silk production.

Balcony blue - Cómpeta, Spain

Balcony blues in Cómpeta

My final image is from my home village of Cómpeta, showing a pretty balcony, filled with flowers, against the deep blue painted windows as their background.

Head over to Facebook,  join in with the fun – and post your own Malaga Blues onto the page, if you have any!

The Lost Village of El Acebuchal

El Acebuchal, Spain

El Acebuchal isn’t so much a village as a 17th century hamlet within the unspoilt mountains and natural park of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama.

Situated close to the border of the provinces of Granada and Málaga and coming under the control of Cómpeta, El Acebuchal is actually nearer to Frigiliana in terms of distance – yet a world away from the hoards of holiday-makers visiting the Costa del Sol.

The name comes from the Arabic “acebuche” meaning olive, and even though we know of its existence since 17th century, it is thought to have been inhabited long before then.

Mules in El Acebuchal

El Acebuchal was an important staging post on the ancient mule-trading routes between Competa, Frigiliana, Nerja and the inland city of Granada.

Fresh fish caught on the coast and locally grown crops including tomatoes and raisins were traded for chickpeas, wheat, lentils and other goods not easily available in the nearby mountains.

Life was hard for the inhabitants, as it was in most of rural Andalucía, but became even more difficult when they were caught between the Franco regime and guerrillas in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Authorities had long suspected the villagers of supporting Republican rebels hiding out in the mountains, by providing them with food and refuge. In truth, the villagers were literally caught in the crossfire, and hassled from both sides.

In the summer of 1948, the villagers paid a heavy price for their isolated location in the mountains when the Guardia Civil ordered that El Acebuchal be cleared of its 200 inhabitants, who were forced to flee, leaving behind their homes, belongings and livestock.

The abandoned mountain hamlet soon fell into disrepair and eventually into ruins, becoming known locally as “The Lost Village” or “Pueblo el Fantasmas” – The Village of Ghosts.

Casa Antonio, El Acebuchal

Antonio's initials in stone = El Acebuchal

Fifty years later in 1998, Antonio García Sánchez, son of one of the original villagers, returned with his wife, Virtudes and family to restore a couple of houses in the village. Once these were completed, they rebuilt a further five houses and the tavern when they noticed an increase of rural tourism in the area.

People were starting to return to El Acebuchal.

This family’s adventure became contagious as other former residents turned their attention back to their old family homes to begin their restoration, so that today, all 36 houses, the chapel, tavern and cobblestone streets have been returned to how they once were.

If you head to El Acebuchal and discover the tavern during the morning, you will probably find Antonio and some of his family gathered on the shady terrace opposite, performing some of their duties.  The tavern restaurant serves dishes appropriate for the mountain environment: choto (kid), lamb, wild boar, rabbit and venison, with delicious home-made cakes and bread.

Inside Bar El Acebuchal

Inside Bar El Acebuchal

Step inside the tavern and you will find the walls proudly lined with old photos of El Acebuchal and its former residents.  Whenever I visit, I always find myself lingering a while, trying to imagine what life must have been like for these people.

With only a handful of permanent residents, most people you see around the streets are visitors, hikers or holidaymakers staying in one of the village rental properties.

El Acebuchal

The countryside near to the isolated hamlet is almost deserted except for the crumbling ruins of long-abandoned cortijos.  There are plunging ravines, tinkling streams, mountain slopes covered with pine trees and the rocky crags of the mountain tops reaching up to the blue skies above.

This area is ideal for visitors who want to get away from it all …. and you can certainly do that in El Acebuchal as there is no telephone reception, no shops, credit cards or internet.

Rural tourism has breathed life back into the village which has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. 

How to get there:

There are main two routes to El Acebuchal.  You can get there from the Cómpeta-Torrox road (A7207), where you turn off near to the Km 8 road marker. Follow the direction signs for El Acebuchal.   Here you will face a 6.5 kilometre un-made mountain track to the village.  It’s not for the faint-hearted as there are no barriers, but it’s certainly drivable – and you don’t need a 4-wheel drive to do it.  Along the way you will drive through a stream and see spectacular scenery.  It’s quite an adventure!

Alternatively, the more popular and shorter route is from the village of Frigiliana.  Take the scenic back-road towards Torrox, and after two kilometres you will see the turn-off sign to Acebuchal on your right.   This road is asphalted – except for an easy 1500 metre section near to the village.

Tell me – would YOU dare to drive along an unmade mountain track with no barriers?

Space Oddity: Searching the Night Sky for the International Space Station

International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132 (Public Domain)

One of the joys of a hot, summer evening for me is the opportunity to have a swim after the sun goes down, before hopping into bed.  I always make sure that there are no outside lights shining from the house and, because we live in the countryside where there is virtually no light pollution, on a clear night it’s a great place for star-gazing. 

The most awe-inspiring sight has to be the Milky Way, the luminescent band of light made up entirely of stars, clearly visible in the Andalucían night sky.

There are other cosmic masterpieces to be seen at certain times of the year when our planet Earth passes through bands of dust and debris that circle the Sun.  We see these as meteor showers, and a perfect example is the Perseids (a prolific meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle), which occurs around the 12th August each year.    Once again, I will be floating in the pool, watching these tiny fragments of space dust hurtling into our atmosphere at enormous speed, before burning up, to provide magnificent celestial fireworks.  

Much slower are our own Earth-launched satellites which drift lazily by.   There are so many satellites circling the planet these days, that you can usually spot one within a few minutes.  Their speed is deceptive though, because the satellites are very high, they actually have to maintain about 18,000 miles per hour to remain in orbit.

640px-STS-116_spacewalk_1Image credit: STS-116 spacewalk 1 by NASA (Public Domain)

But the object I’m always fascinated to see tracking overhead is the International Space Station – a man-made habitable satellite which serves as a microgravity research laboratory.

Flying at 27500 kilometres per hour (that’s an average speed of 7.65 kilometres per second), the ISS maintains its orbit at an altitude of between 330 km and 435 km.  With an approximate size of 110 x 70 x 20 metres, the International Space Station (ISS) reflects plenty of sunlight and is usually the second brightest object in the night sky (after the moon), so is easily visible with the naked eye.  

14797031062_180d1002fe_zImage credit: NASA Flickr CC

Just look at the amazing view from the ISS!

One of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station recorded the above amazing photograph of the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) on July 26, 2014.  Part of France can be seen at the top of the image and the Strait of Gibraltar is visible at bottom, with a very small portion of Morocco visible near the lower right corner.

I’d LOVE to take photos through this window!

640px-STS130_cupola_view1Image credit: NASA STS130 cupola view (Public Domain)

How can you get a good view of the International Space Station as it passes overhead?

Well, the first thing you should do is try to get away from the light pollution of a town or city, on a clear night.  If there is cloud cover you are unlikely to see anything.

The ISS looks like an incredibly bright, fast-moving star which can easily be mistaken for an aircraft.  What distinguishes it from an aircraft is that it has no flashing lights.  The light we see from the ISS is reflected sunlight, meaning that the best time to observe the craft is in the evening, not long after sunset or in the early morning, before sunrise.  

The next thing you should know is that the ISS always passes overhead starting from a westerly part of the sky, but not always from the same point.  It can be low on the horizon for some passes and very high for others.

640px-STS-129_Zvezda_sunriseImage credit: NASA STS-129 Zvezda sunrise

When can you observe the International Space Station from where you are?

To see the current position of the International Space Station click HERE.  Once you click through to that page, not only can you see what the astronauts can see, you can also view the ground track of the next orbit of the ISS.

Next, you need to click HERE and at the top right of the upcoming page you will see a box that says “Your location” and underneath that the default location is shown as New York City.  

Type YOUR location in the box, hit SEARCH and you’ll get something like the image below.  (This is the image I found last night when I did the same thing – that’s why it shows Spain).

ISS visible pass over Spain

So now you can see a list of the next sighting opportunities for YOUR location (on the left of the page), with the green bars indicating the brightness of the ISS on its pass.  The list contains all visible passes of the ISS during the next ten days.  If you select a particular pass, you can get more information about it.

In the photo above, you can see that for my location in Cómpeta, Spain there was an ISS pass last night (Friday August 8th) at 9.44pm lasting 5 minutes and 29 seconds with 2 green bars for brightness.  My next best chance to view the ISS is next Saturday night (16th August) at 11.19pm.

Let me know if you’ve ever seen the ISS.  Do you watch for it regularly?  I know I do!