Archive for May, 2010

Trekking in the Aragonese Pyrenees

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Nice post on the forum by Paula on trekking in the Aragonese Pyrenees.

The Spanish Pyrenees in Aragon is an ideal summer vacation target for those who appreciate traditional villages and scenic trekking. Above 2,000 meters, the air stays fresh and fly-free even during the hottest spells of July and August. On your walks along the well marked tracks and paths, you encounter gorgeus lagoons and waterfalls accompanied with cool views to the glaciers of the mountain ranges of Posets, Maladeta and Monte Perdido.

Somewhere on the River Pisuerga

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

TIERRAS DE VALORIA by titoalfredo.

Somewhere on the River Pisuerga, Valladolid, in spring. By Tito Afredo on Flickr.

The Spanish phrase “aprovechando que el Pisuerga pasa por Valladolid” (“And now since Pisuerga crosses Valladolid,…”) is a popular way to point or acknowledge a non sequitur since the river has no bearing with the following “consequence”.

A flock of sheep in Castilla

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

REBAÑO Y TIERRAS by titoalfredo.

I liked this photo of a flock of sheep somewhere in Castilla y León. By Tito Afredo on Flickr.

George Orwell in the Monegros

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

secs b4 d'storm by batiskafo.

George Orwell fought during the Spanish Civil War in the Sierra de Alcubierre in the Monegros on the Aragonese Front, during the freezing winter of 1937 (above photo by batiskafo on Flickr). He famously described his experiences in Homage to Catalonia. Unlike the diaries he wrote in the very late 1930s and 40s, which have a truly remarkable number of entries on natural history, he wrote unsurprisingly little on wildlife during his time in Spain. There are, however, a few interesting nature-related passages:

THE days grew hotter and even the nights grew tolerably warm. On a bullet-chipped tree in front of our parapet thick clusters of cherries were forming.  Bathing in the river ceased to be an agony and became almost a pleasure. Wild roses with pink blooms the size of saucers straggled over the shell-holes round Torre Fabian. Behind the line you met peasants wearing wild roses over their ears. In the evenings they used to go out with green nets, hunting quails. You spread the net over the tops of the grasses and then lay down and made a noise like a female quail. Any male quail that was within hearing then came running towards you, and when he was underneath the net you threw a stone to scare him, whereupon he sprang into the air and was entangled in the net. Apparently only male quails were caught, which struck me as unfair.

…and on the geography of the Monegros:

As the road struck into the sierra we branched off to the right and climbed a narrow mule-track that wound round the mountain-side. The hills in that part of Spain are of a queer formation, horseshoe-shaped with flattish tops and very steep sides running down into immense ravines. On the higher slopes nothing grows except stunted shrubs and heath, with the white bones of the limestone sticking out everywhere. The front line here was not a continuous line of trenches, which would have been impossible in such mountainous country; it was simply a chain of fortified posts, always known as ‘positions’, perched on each hill-top. In the distance you could see our ‘position’ at the crown of the horseshoe; a ragged barricade of sand-bags, a red flag fluttering, the smoke of dug-out fires. A little nearer, and you could smell a sickening sweetish stink that lived in my nostrils for weeks afterwards. Into the cleft immediately behind the position all the refuse of months had been tipped–a deep festering bed of breadcrusts, excrement, and rusty tins.

and on the hills and the lack of birds

Often in the mornings the valley was hidden under seas of cloud, out of which the hills rose flat and blue, giving the landscape a strange resemblance to a photographic negative. Beyond Huesca there were more hills of the same formation as our own, streaked with a pattern of snow which altered day by day. In the far distance the monstrous peaks of the Pyrenees, where the snow never melts, seemed to float upon nothing. Even down in the plain everything looked dead and bare. The hills opposite us were grey and wrinkled like the skins of elephants. Almost always the sky was empty of birds. I do not think I have ever seen a country where there were so few birds. The only birds one saw at any time were a kind of magpie, and the coveys of partridges that startled one at night with their sudden whirring, and, very rarely, the flights of eagles that drifted slowly over, generally followed by rifle-shots which they did not deign to notice.

On stripeless tree frogs and snails

Spring was really here at last. The blue in the sky was softer, the air grew suddenly balmy. The frogs were mating noisily in the ditches. Round the drinking-pool that served for the village mules I found exquisite green frogs the size of a penny, so brilliant that the young grass looked dull beside them. Peasant lads went out with buckets hunting for snails, which they roasted alive on sheets of tin.

On the cold, wild crocuses and mountains

The weather was mostly clear and cold; sometimes sunny at midday, but always cold. Here and there in the soil of the hill-sides you found the green beaks of wild crocuses or irises poking through; evidently spring was coming, but coming very slowly. The nights were colder than ever…..

I hate mountains, even from a spectacular point of view. But sometimes the dawn breaking behind the hill-tops in our rear, the first narrow streaks of gold, like swords slitting the darkness, and then the growing light and the seas of carmine cloud stretching away into inconceivable distances, were worth watching even when you had been up all night, when your legs were numb from the knees down, and you were sullenly reflecting that there was no hope of food for another three hours.

Teruel truffles

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I thought this documentary by Escarabajo Verde about the booming truffle industry in Sarrión, Teruel was fascinating.

Truffles have had a positive effect on the local environment as 3000 hectares of holm oak have been planted in recent years, under which the truffles grow. Government subsidies  have aided the oak reforestation and truffle cultivation in unproductive hilly areas since 1987. There are now some 4,500 ha of truffle orchards in the surrounding county and 530 members in the local truffle association. The truffles, which are harvested using trained dogs, typically fetch local cultivators average prices of 5oo euros/kg, although retail prices of high-quality specimens may reach twice this amount. Sarrión has achieved the mutual goals of biodiversity conservation and improving the rural economy.

I’ve put together this brief guide to Truffles in Spain: Spain produces around 35% of world black truffle (Tuber melanosporum – trufa negra) output. Some 10,000 people are involved as harvesters…

The wolf child of the Sierra Morena

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

I’ve just come across the remarkable true story of Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, a boy who spent 12 years as a boy living with wolves in the Sierra de Cardeña in the Sierra Morena. His story is now being told in a new film entitled Entre lobos to be released in October. have written this description of him:

Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja was born on the 7 May 1946, and remembers being taken away at the age of 7 by a man on a reddish horse. He believes he was sold or hired to tend goats, a not unusual arrangement for children of that age. It also wasn’t unusual for goatherds to live up on the mountains with their animals and only visit human habitation every few years.

Marcos Pantoja left on his own

Marcos worked with an old goatherd for possibly several months before the man died, but in that time he’d learnt to fend for himself in the mountains, looking after the herd of goats and ensuring they bred successfully. He made friends with wolves, and lived variously in a cave, an old hut, and a hut that he built himself.

I don’t have time to translate this at the moment but this description in El País of how he befriended the wolves is truly remarkable:

–Yo estaba preparado con el cuchillo. La carne que yo no quería se la llevaba a los lobillos. Los padres no me dejaban, pero como veían que yo les llevaba de comer, cogieron confianza. Yo olía como ellos. Cuando yo quería que vinieran, cuando me veía que no tenía salida, empezaba a aullar. Venían varios lobos y, como se daban cuenta de que estaba perdido, se tiraban a mí dando saltos y me cogían los brazos con la boca hasta que yo reía. Empezaban a jugar. Luego me señalaban el camino hasta la cueva de ellos y, desde allí, yo ya sabía irme. Me divertía yo solo con los animales.

Y se entendía con ellos. Con sus mismos sonidos. En cuanto uno menos se lo espera, Marcos, hoy, coge una hoja del suelo y se la pone en la boca. Pij, pij, pij… El ruido que hace el águila. Y también imita el de la perdiz macho. Y el de la perdiz hembra. Marcos era uno más en la naturaleza. “Dormía con la zorra. La zorra era la primera que se metía debajo de mis piernas cuando había tormenta o llovía”. También vivió un tiempo con una camada de ratones, a los que daba leche de cabra. Y siempre planeaba por allí algún águila, a la que le troceaba los conejos o perdices que atrapaba. “Ponía la presa en un plato de aquellos de corcho y más contentos… Acariciaba a las águilas, las besaba, y se iban más contentas…”. Janer, el antropólogo, analiza estos pasajes: “Marcos no inventa, pero cubre con la imaginación su necesidad de saberse querido por alguien”.

Fantastic photos of bear cubs

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Miradas Cantábricas have published this lovely set of images of a pair of bear cubs they encountered in the Valle del Narcea in Asturias.

Also on bears: El futuro del oso en el Pirineo requiere doblar su población hasta los 40 ejemplares

Ramón the lynx

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Kiko Veneno is one of my favourite Spanish singers. Most of his songs are playfully delighful flamenco-tinged songs of love, but here he is singing a tribute to the Iberian lynx, Ramón el lince, though it is also a love song.


Es un gato grande con los ojos grandes
que al mover la cola transmite emoción
de largas patillas con sus zapatillas

da un salto muy grande y entra en acción