Week 6 – Extremadura to La Mancha

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This week we travelled from Extremdadura where Stuart was able to get in a day’s fishing and on into New Castile. And in our own quest to see the flat plains of the Meseta, we followed in the trail of the brave knight Don Quixote of La Mancha before turning south to visit the beautiful city of Cordoba. It was also the week we experienced our first night of ‘wild’ camping’, the first of many hopefully.

And the highlights:

Belly Boating in Extremadura – Posted by Stuart

Trying to find some fishing in Portugal and in Spain has been a real challenge. In Portugal, each tourist information person shrugged or thought I was mad or both. Apparently fishing wasn’t possible although if we were really lucky and went to Porto we might get the official permit somewhere, somehow, from someone. Needless to say, given the bureaucratic mountain to climb, we didn’t see a single fisherman in our time in Portugal.

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In Spain it seemed equally difficult but Helen Googled and found the answer- a company called Extreme Predator Fishing in Extremadura. With a name like that how could we go wrong? Nothing like catching an extreme predator to liven up the day. Several calls to Craig at EPF showed that it was indeed a challenge. He’s from the North of England but has been happily settled in Extremadura for the past 14 years – though is still known locally as el guiri (the foreigner). He knows the ropes for getting a licence but even still it would require his business to make a three hour drive to obtain the required permit. Of course we said yes and Craig trusted that even though there wasn’t time to take my payment in advance that – after he had gone to such lengths for us to get the licence – we would indeed turn up as promised to their base in Talarrubias, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

We were to fish nearby in Embalse Orellana, one of eight major lakes created in the 50s and 60s as hydro-electric schemes. In total there are more than 1500kms of lake shoreline in the area.

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We met as arranged and after a couple of beers, the issue of where we could stay – given there are no open campsites – was sorted.  Craig and his assistant Justo drove ahead of us in their landcover and led us, in the pitch black night,  to a piece of waste ground outside the village saying we could camp there overnight. They thought it unlikely that we would be arrested (wild camping is illegal in this area) but if the guardia civil knocked we should just say we knew Justo. A slightly nervous night followed but it was all OK and we weren’t disturbed thankfully.

What I had signed up for was a day of belly boating. Wearing a pair of chest height waders, sitting in a giant inflatable ring. With the aid of flippers, (I kid you not) off we paddled into the middle of an enormous lake to catch bass and pike.

 

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I can’t say I immediately grasped what was required to head in the desired direction.

5-ok-now-for-the-other-flipperAlthough I thought my pirouettes were spectacular I was repeatedly told to ‘make like a mermaid’ and to ‘take it easy’. Easy for them to say.

6-almost-setAnyway we paddled up and down, tracking the fish on our echo sounders (really!). Craig’s exasperation with my technique was evident when he said I had the touch of a donkey- a little harsh there I feel.

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Much of the fishing is done with short rods jigging small lures just off the lake bottom. Craig and Justo caught quite a number of fish before I finally caught a small pike followed a bit later by another. And that was it- no bass and no more pike although at one point Craig’s expletives were followed by an explanation that he had watched an enormous fish on his echo sounder head up off the bottom towards him like a torpedo until it surfaced between his legs- a large turtle. Apparently they can give a nasty nip!

The day in these amazing surroundings with the sun beating down, the bird life all around and Craig and Justo patiently shepherding my around was a great introduction to belly boating.

8-craig-and-justo-belly-boat-supremosCraig and Justo were brilliant and their tales of 60 Lbs carp and 30Lbs barbel make me think I might do this again someday but I may need more mermaid lessons and learn to fish less like a donkey.

For more info contact Craig at www.extremadurapredatorfishing.com

PS  – And while Stuart spent the day fishing, I busied myself sorting out the van, making dinners in advance, doing a stock take on the kitchen cupboards….no that’s a lie. That’s what I thought about doing before becoming immersed in Series 1 of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and having finally od-ed on DVDs, I finally started this knitting project  (an inspired birthday gift from daughter Regan) below which is causing me some tension (geddit) because very soon now it looks like I’m going to have to start using more than one colour. Now that looks seriously tricky.

The challenges on this trip come in many forms.

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The Not Quite Bird of the Week Photo –

And we nearly had our bird of the week photo op because as we pulled into the main square of Tallarubias, right up here on the bell tower, we could see the bright white outlines – stark against the solid blue sky – of three black storks standing up in their nests surveying the landscape around them.

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The main square in Talarubbias

It would make a beautiful photo and, bonus for the photographer, they were standing nice and still ready for their close up. We quickly parked up and dashed back to the bell tower. But they’d gone. To Africa for the winter probably and we had just missed them.

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The stork nests in Talarubbias – alas now empty for the winter.

 

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The view of the reservoirs from the hilltop castillo close to Talarubbias

Seeing changing landscape – from the Dehesa to the Meseta:

We spent most of the last two weeks travelling through dehesa landscape – that’s the name given to the type of farming typical of this part of Extremadura.

The result is this distinctive man made landscape, pastures dotted with holm oak and cork oak trees.

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The distinctive dehesa landscape

It is the style of farming here – achieved by thinning out the heavy oak forests which would naturally cover these hills and fields to create grazing land for livestock, in particular  the iberico pigs who feed off the acorns from the oak trees. The result of their diet of acorns and grass pasture is the famed iberico ham which we have been sampling regularly.

But from the early days of planning this trip, we wanted to experience a very different landscape in Spain. We wanted to travel through the Meseta – the vast plain which covers a huge part of central Spain. The tourist guides all warn against going there. Why? Because it is so boring they say. Just miles and miles of flat landscape. Nothing to see here folks. Move right along.  Who wants to go there when there is so little to see?

Actually, in a strange way, we thought the more boring the Meseta was painted, the more interesting it sounded to us. Surely driving through here would feel like being in an American road movie – you know the sort where Ry Cooder plays along in the background.

We explained our quest to the guy in the tourist office at Ciudad Real. He understood. He likes this type of landscape too he told us and he sent us off on the trail of Spain’s great literary hero Don Quixote de la Mancha.  We followed the road to Campo del Criptana.

The Meseta stretched out on all sides.

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Molly, me and the Meseta

And then on the horizon we saw Don Quixote’s windmills….he mistook them for giants.

 

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They are pretty gigantic up close..

 

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And also very photogenic.

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The best meal in Spain so far..

And because there really are no tourists around the La Mancha area – at least in November anyway – there were no campsites open and no aires around and so, tough this, we had to stay in a hotel in the small town of Alcazar. And here we had the best ever meal we’ve had in Spain so far….it was migas again but in a much earthier form than the sophisticated version in Caceres. Here it is, the traditional shepherd’s dish of breadcrumbs, chorizo and this time, some warm grapes thrown in..

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…and this melt in the mouth pork with tomatoes and pimentons.

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From reading the menu here, we also worked out that the meal Stuart had the previous week was bull’s tail. Not mutton after all.

The spectacular Cathedral-Mosque at Cordoba –

It was a long trek to get from La Mancha to Cordoba. But it was worth it to see this…

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It is the Mesquita in Cordoba which was spectacular inside.

On a more modest scale, while we missed out on seeing the patios of the proud homeowners Cordoba – there’s an annual competition in  May – the good people of  the neighbouring towns do a nice line in tidy porches. Here’s one we sneaked a pic of.

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And finally, we can confirm the rain in Spain does not stay mainly on the plain. It was pretty heavy in Cordoba this week. Our awning took a battering.

 

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7 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Never tried Belly Boatng; sounds a bit raunchy! Might be a bit tricky on windy Highland lochs….. Pity nae big fash, but some fun experiences right enough. Tight lines for the next Euro-piscatorial adventure.


  2. // Reply

    Have enjoyed reading about your travel_ have been to Cordoba, are you going to Andalusia next ??
    I have stayed there too . Delighted you are having a lovely time
    Lots of love
    Auntie Peggy xx


  3. // Reply

    Looked a great fishing expedition sorry you didn’t catch a good one. Great photos Stuart and I think you are both going native.


  4. // Reply

    Spent past hour reading this wonderful travel log , there is a book here Helen and Stuart. Even a cookbook, I am enjoying the food experiences. Can’t wait for next instalment!!


    1. // Reply

      Thanks Emer – I’m glad you are finding it interesting. We will do our best to keep it coming!


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