We set off in reasonably good time - for us - managing to get away before 11 o'clock. Usually, only a tight deadline, such as catching a ferry, can get us up and moving at unearthly hours. Even Darwin doesn't stir til after 9am when he's been woken by the breadvan, which beeps its horn loudly to catch the attention of our elderly neighbours. (As if they'd forget that it came every day at 9.15.)
After we'd been on the road for half an hour, the awful fact that I'd left my camera at home hit me. Such a pang - I thought we'd have to turn round and go back, but fortunately, Mateo had picked his up and whilst it's not in the same category as my own, it was far better than nothing and meant we could stay on the road.
It was hot - another very hot day after the drop in temperatures last week that had us pulling on long trousers and adding blankets to our beds - even with the air conditioning in the car, the sun was quite merciless and I did fret a little that the beach might have been a better option under the circumstances. And then Ruy began to feel travel sick...
We encouraged his bravery until we arrived at Quesada - a pretty little town, set in impressive surroundings just at the edge of the Cazorla natural park - where we stopped.
It was a super-friendly little place with a nice central park with fountains where we stopped, visited the farmacia for travel-sick pills (anti!) and then ate crisps and had drinks in the shade of the many trees there. Darwin attracts children like little flies, followed by their respective guardians (usually grandparents) who want to talk and know who you are and where you're from and where you're going and what you're eating for lunch, etc! By the time we left, we felt like everyone knew our business and would talk about us for days to come...I guess they don't get that many families dropping by - mainly walkers and ramblers who look too busy and focused to stop and chat - and certainly few bilingual children who are happy to chat in English to each other then swap to Spanish to speak to the little children about Darwin.
Ruy felt much better very quickly so we took our intended route - the minor road between Quesada and Pozo Alcon - passing by Tiscar, another incredibly pretty little village where the Virgin Mary appeared once and where there is now an impressive sanctuary on one of the nearby hillsides. Just past this, there is a little sign to la Cueva de Agua - the water cave - that I'd read about before we left, so we pulled off the road and parked up in a small area where a pathway led downwards amongst divine-smelling pines. Unable to resist a pine forest for a picnic spot, we picked up our lunch bags and set off.
Part way down, there was an entrance to a small tunnel, about one meter high, which was the way through to the Cueva de Agua. It smelt cool and inviting and there was a delicious stream of water running along a channel coming out of the tunnel. Could be a good place to have a picnic too.
The cave wasn't an underground cavern type, but an opening with natural standing platform towards the top of a steep rocky gorge - at the rising of the river Tiscar - and it was a magical find.
|Waterfall and deep, deep pool beneath|
|The cave - where sometimes concerts are performed - now that would be a treat!|
We stayed there for a good two hours and in that time, there was only one other group of people there, just leaving as we arrived. We couldn't believe our luck to have this fantastic place to ourselves! We explored and photographed and looked at the shrine halfway up the sheer rock, wondering how it got there; we had our picnic, played in the water - feeling cool and smug, considering the 37 degrees that would have hit us had we been in the sun - and picked figs from the many trees that grew there and then Cesar and I had a brief siesta.
And that wasn't the end of the day. Oh no, the Cazorla Natural Park is extensive and we only visited the southern tip, but goodness me, it was truly spectacular. In parts, it was like the best bits of Asturias - steep mountain roads, deep gorges, great rocky outcrops and all surrounded by indigenous forests imparting rich, peaty, piney, earthy smells - only, unlike Asturias, a stunning blue sky peeping through the branches at all times.
Eventually, we turned another bend in the road and saw a familiar sight in the distance and sudden, dramatic change in the landscape; ahead of us was Jabalcón - a large mountainous rock that rises out of nowhere - just nearby the area of Granada that wowed us last November when we came to stay in Violet's Cave. We were approached Pozo Alcon - just north of Lake Negratin - and whilst we've never visited it before, over the past twelve months or so, there have been a number of houses for sale here that have caught my eye - so it was with some interest that we approached it - our hearts set on a delicious 'helado' each. I fancied one made from yogurt with berries, Cesar and Romy wanted pistachio, Ruy eventually chose 'Dulce de Leche', which is like caramel only better, and Mateo had his inevitable lemon. Pozo Alcon was feeling tired - all the streets were full of bunting and flags, signs of fiesta - clearly the fiestas had been good but had finished the night before. It was as if even the insects were tiptoeing around, mindful of the after-effects of four days of celebration, and the streets were all but deserted. However, we found our ice-creams and they were particularly good; we also spied one of the houses I'd had my eye on and even managed to raise the owner to show us around. It was rather lovely but lacked outside space. I think we'll have to revisit Pozo Alcon when it's recovered from its mass hangover - to judge it on our visit would be unfair.
We drove on - having promised the children another river-paddling session - and just past a campsite (noted for future reference) we turned off into huge pine forest that lead to a river just south of a small embalse and drove along a sandy road til we came to a bridge over the gorge. A little sadly, we discovered that the river bed was completely dry but it didn't really detract from us enjoying the open space and hunting for wildlife - oh, and eating salsichon and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches as the sun set and the moon rose over the reservoir.
|Moon over La Bolera embalse|
We eventually turned the car homeward taking the more direct route home. How sleepy the fresh and mountain air made us all and how well we all slept last night. The natural parks of Jaen still have lots to offer - we really only just scraped the surface of exploring them - so yes, we will be going again!