Planes, plants and the AP7

Planes, plants and the AP7

Natasha has been visiting – so lots of blethering and much less blogging since Thursday. A long weekend was all that could be spared – so now back to the routine.

But first, the airport run. She flew home from San Javier airport, on the coast about 25km from Murcia and around 120km from here. A piece of splendid autopista takes you there in 90 minutes. The AP7 is one of the more incongruous bits of Spanish road infrastructure (the P means Peaje – so, you pay!). A perfectly good autopista just a little further inland, the A7, has been taking the traffic up to Murcia for several years. All that was needed was a spur across to Cartagena and from there up to San Javier. But no, a spectacular new 100km of motorway was built, complete with three substantial tunnels (actually that means six as there’s a separate tunnel for each carriageway), tollbooths and barriers, a patrol at each junction – and so sparingly used by the Spanish that it’s almost devoid of traffic. The toll is the thing – at €13.90 it’s pricey compared to the euro or two charged on the handful of other toll roads in the country.

Hang the expense, this morning we were on the road early, picking up the AP7 where it starts, near Vera. It weaves its gleaming way through dramatic landscapes of coastal plains and rocky sierras with peaks of extravagant shape, blown by years of wind and hollowed out by rivers long dry. The sun had been uplighting a few purple clouds over the shore as we set off from the cortijo. By the time we crested a hill above the little coastal town of Aguilas, it was rising on our right as if surfacing directly out of the sea, dripping liquid orange, its glow turning the sierras further inland to a warmly burnished terracotta.

The plains are crowded with crops, grown on open ground or under polythene: mats, tunnels or massive tents, all made of polythene. Every square metre that might stand a chance of hosting a pepper or a potato, a tomato or a tangerine, is planted. The open planting is a feast for any obsessive compulsive, relentlessly regular rows raddled across valleys, up slopes, pleasing to the eye but a little spooky in their straightness. Monday morning and the workers are out in the fields – picking, planting, pruning, ploughing, and probably doing a lot of other things that don’t begin with ‘P’.

They’re trimming the olives, cutting back old growth and re-shaping their velvety green crowns so that they, too, are even and squat, carrying their load of foliage on wizened trunks. The almond trees are finally changing from leggy dark brown to pinkish-white, the blossom frilly and sticky like candy floss on the trees. As the days lengthen and the cold nights of December and January ease back, nature is full-on, ready to respond. And what a sight it is.