Cape Cat and the Strummer

Cape Cat and the Strummer

So now you’ve met Amaya.

We were invited to spend a day with her and her husband, Miguel, last weekend. They live in Almeria but spend the weekends in the house they used to live in and still own in a tiny pueblo about an hour’s drive south from our cortijo. We were thrilled to be invited but had no idea what to expect.

El Pozo de los Frailes (The Well of the Friars/ Monks) is a one-horse town in the Cabo de Gata area of Almeria province, sitting in the lea of Spain’s highest volcano (El Frailes, thankfully now inactive). El Pozo is a couple of kilometres inland from its swankier neighbour, San Jose, a charming little resort developed (sympathetically in the main) around a small harbour and the destination of mainly Spanish holidaymakers or weekenders, barely discovered, it seems, by the Ingleses.

I had wondered how Cabo de Gata (Cape Cat (she-cat to be precise) got its name. A long look at the map at close range or even at twenty paces and it doesn’t look anything like a cat to me. Added to which there seem to be no more cats in residence than is the norm for Spain. But there we are. No matter the scant relationship with cats the Cabo de Gata is spectacular, a wide, wild space stretching 50 kilometres or so up the coast from just north of Almeria and edged by a dramatic rocky cordillera running close to the sea.

Our route there was straight across that great plain of plastic that has featured in previous blog posts. Close up, this is a strangely eerie, shadowy world of opaque tents, shabbier than they had seemed at a distance, a few forlorn houses and the odd encampment possibly of travellers or perhaps seasonal workers living in plastic shanties here and there. It’s all really a bit gruesome and incongruous too, when you think that the purpose of all that ugliness is to produce beautiful fruit and veg. About 12 kilometres and you’re across the plain and cresting over the cordillera with its impressive peaks that divide plastic plain from pristine sea. Phew!

We found Amaya and Miguel’s house – by accident really since a local we stopped to ask had no idea where it was! But in a place the size of El Pozo you’d struggle to get lost. And off we set for a day of adventure, starting with a walk along the coastal path to marvel at the views. Difficult to describe but the magic is the emptiness and the wildness, the long vista of craggy coast with high cliffs interspersed with gullies concealing little sandy bays popular for swimming in the summer, but with never a lounger or sunshade in sight. Nope, this is unsullied and it stays that way. The Cabo is a ‘Parque Natural’ – not a national park but a reserve, privately owned by Dona Pakyta (recently late (in the deceased sense) of Almeria but her family still around), with restrictions and protections preserving its status and use; it’s also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Back in the days when rainfall was more abundant they grew wheat here on the strips of low-lying land between the foot of the hills and the sea. Now there are cactuses planted in neat rows, the prickly pear variety grown to feed the goats. A new one on me – nature is always full of surprises.

Driving out of San Jose after a stop for a beer and tapas, to restore us after the walk and as an  appetizer (lunch was planned for about 3 pm), we passed a bar run by friends of Amaya and Miguel and she mentioned that Joe Strummer of The Clash had been a regular there years ago when he used to visit San Jose. Apparently his ex-wife and his widow (two different people) are still regular visitors. And they come together – how’s that for the sisterhood! This was a perfect example of how small the world is (or how well-traveled, ubiquitous even, Mr Strummer was). We explained our own link with Joe, who was also a regular visitor to Skye. A small plantation of trees has been planted in his memory on a hillside between Orbost and The Maidens, one of our favourite walks in northern Skye, with the plaque saying simply: Joe Strummer, 1952-2002.

It seems, after all, that the cat thing is total nonsense and the Cabo de Gata name comes from agate, the mineral, which used to be mined here. Much more banal and much less romantic! Could be the agate thing is nonsense?

Now, for lunch – and gorgeous George……