Perhaps strangely, now that my most used airline Ryanair has relaxed its rules and actually acknowledges that a woman is nothing without her handbag, I have finally downsized my camera equipment.Hang on, what am I talking about? What I mean is that a trimmed down version of my gear weighed in at 8 kilos, including my laptop and an external hard drive or two and a Speedlight flashgun. With a lightweight bag, my keys, tiny plastic bag of toiletries and basic travel essentials, the lot struggled to come in under 10 kilos. Often it was above and I approached the airport a bag of nerves. Would I or wouldn’t get away with it? For the most part I did, collapsing in my cramped plane seat and trying to squeeze the said bag under the seat in front.
This meant paying for hold baggage if I wanted anything more with me than a few pairs of knickers along. As we all know, hold baggage is exorbitantly expensive, often more than the flight itself. I tried to avoid it by wearing a fisherman’s vest with loads of pockets and shoving as much as possible in those. All of this added to my stress, gave me neck ache and made me extremely sweaty in the process.
So this Christmas, I finally sold the bulk of my pro equipment to finance a small mirror-less camera coupled with an impressive pro lens, make Olympus. I congratulated myself when it won the photographic product of the year award. I spent days trying to understand the menus which are totally at odds to my Nikon ones. I emailed support and they were very helpful. But I did not have a great idea of the quality of the images as most of time I aimed the lens at my duvet or fireplace just to check the settings and focus.
It rained non-stop in Liverpool. I am not a great fan of grey photos.
The day I arrived back in Spain, lightweight and totally relaxed by Ryanair’s amazing (in that it took them so long) change of customer policies, it was announced that Castellon Airport, the laughing stock of Spanish waste and mismanagement will be a ghost no more. It is to be given the light of takeoff! Hopefully the airport that cost 150 million to build and 30 million a year to maintain, without a plane to its name, will be able to hold its head up high at last.
The local government has awarded a generous contract for the next 20 years to SNC Lavalin, a company with an admittedly mixed pedigree who is purportedly “interested in working with local authorities and communities to support the local economy”. However, better than the other bidder Marina d’Or, who kind of got Castellon into this mess in the first place by declaring bankruptcy halfway through the airport construction. Their pitch was based on making Castellon Airport a Chinese freight hub for Europe. Phew! What a lucky escape.
In celebration of this welcome news that has all of Atzeneta buzzing, I took my new toy (well it looks like a toy to me) on a a trip through La Desierto de las Palmas with Miguel the ironman as chauffeur. We got up at the crack of dawn, actually I did, he was late, but it all worked out perfectly. From the rising sun to a lunch to never forget.
Las Palmas is an absolute paradise with spectacular views across to the sea and Benicassim. Very verdant, it appears to be in a microclimate. I say this for while it was admittedly sunny up at my masia, a bitter raging wind made it feel like minus 20. Once in the Desierto however, it was decidedly spring-like and even a few almond trees were in bloom.
I was disappointed that my favourite watering hope, called appropriately enough La Desierto de las Palmas was closed. It is great place to enjoy a bowl of steaming mussels and admire the sea views as well as the evocative ruins of the old convent down below.
The winding roads here are idyllic, hugging the hills with drops to the valleys below and remind me of the fabulous Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn film on the Spanish Riviera “To Catch a Thief”. There was a fair bit of traffic for a weekday, and a scattering of keen lone bicyclists, peddling furiously in their spandex shorts. How on earth do they manage these mountains, I thought, admiring their calves?
Afterwards we drove down to Pou de Beca below the Desierto and sat on the terrace in shirtsleeves munching on organic almonds and drinking a local red wine from Useres. It was hard to believe it was only January.
I have been here many times and on each visit it just gets better. The owners, chef Nico and wife Sonya could not be more welcoming. They are members of Slow Food and source their produce ecologically from the immediate area. We had an amazing meal consisting of crayfish soup followed by pike. I think it was pike. Sorry. Then their deserts, which are light and of course home made. I am especially fond of the lavender ice cream, aromatic, crunchy and lean on sugar. I would be, wouldn’t I?
That evening I downloaded my photos onto my laptop and was over the moon. Ok, the sun. Looking at the rich images and going over the day, I could not but help thinking that this secret area of Spain is like a Spanish Provence, even down to the mistral wind which so happens was that biting cold one blowing around my masia earlier. Just like in Provence, it is famous for clearing the skies and imbuing them with the piercing blue you see here. It also has a disturbing habit of blowing my shutters off their latches, almost always at night when I am trying to sleep.
I look forward to the progress of Castellon airport and hope it does not go the way of Cuidad Real Airport . I also look forward to sharing this enchanting corner of Spain with like-minded travelers. For me, this is the future hope of El Maestrat. Preservation through appreciation.