Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Granada - what a reason for a song!

We exit Toledo for Granada without any problems this morning with Michael driving and me navigating. There is an amazing amount of road-works being undertaken in Spain as we travel through the country. One can only wonder at the cost of such an expansion program where motorways are being constructed over earlier much smaller highways that were never designed to carry the loads demanded of them today. The upside of this is of course that there is plenty of employment for those in this sector as well as the investment in public infrastructure. Additional to these jobs are the large number of people employed by the highways department who we have watched trimming roadside vegetation and collecting the rubbish that drivers and their passengers toss carelessly into the landscape. The result is a highway road network that is in good condition and clean and well-kept.

Spain is certainly far more serious about alternate energy sources than many other countries we have observed (including Australia). We see huge wind turbines all across the open plains and the ridges. Far from being a blight, they are barely visible unless they are in large concentrations (we saw one wind farm that had more than 100 turbines!). The other source that we see today is banks of large solar panels. Not one or two – more like 30 to 40 banks at a time generally sited down on the lower open plains.

And yet in direct contrast to these clean and green activities, we pass many large factories and plants as we cross the central plains of Spain today spewing out huge volumes of fumes and other effluent into the open skies about them. I am sure that this activity is causing far more damage to the ancient constructions that dot the landscape than the ravages of time and the climate have done to date!

We drive through vast tracts of planted olive trees – at first set out in a checkerboard effect interspersed with open land, and then as we travel further south, the spacing between individual trees gets smaller and the previous open space is replaced with grape vines as this is an area of vast wine production. In fact we pass the winery production plant of the wine I drank last night! I can only imagine what this patchwork effect looks like from above and wonder whether there is a pattern in the tapestry of its weaving!

And then we come to the real excitement of the day. We are nearing the city of Ciudad Real when the traffic bunches up and crawls to a snail pace. We pass a couple of highway police directing the traffic into one lane and we assume a crash. How wrong we were!! Then we see the National Guard – lots of them, complete with balaclavas and machine guns at the ready. They are now directing the traffic and have cones, tape and even spikes all laid out. At the point of traffic control, one guard selects vehicles for further inspection and as we near, blows his whistle and begins to direct us to the area off to the side, then realises we are very obviously tourists (the right hand drive is a dead give-away!) and waves us through. Those over on the side are having identification, vehicle papers and vehicle contents scrutinised. Past the stop point, there are four guard vehicles set across the road to form a chicane that you need to negotiate to move on. Wow – I wonder whether the bomb blast yesterday is any reason for this! These guys were serious and none of them were standing around idly. How I itched to get a photo – but as it became clear what was happening, I let the camera (that I constantly carry on my lap when I am not driving) drop to the floor – god knows what the response would have been if I had been seen clicking away!!!

Past Ciudad Real there is a strip along the highway that sports brothels and ‘clubs’. All have large parking areas that are screened from obvious view. I guess this is one answer to keeping this sort of activity away from sensitive areas such as schools and residential areas!

The day is very overcast and we pass through light patches of showers from time to time. As we travel yet further south we see huge clouds spilling down the mountain side and the weather begins to really set in. Although the car thermometer tells us that it is 8.5°C outside, a light dusting of snow clings stubbornly to rocky outcrops and is sprinkled across the tops of olive trees on the higher exposed slopes. Where these olive trees are planted on steep slopes, farmers rake the stones from the ground in circles around individual trees so that the slopes look like they are decorated in figures of eight! And Spain is most definitely a home of olives and olive oil if the vast areas under plantings are anything to go by.

As we come in to Granada there are a couple of interesting observations – signs are being duplicated in Arabic, the Sierra Nevada ranges come in to view (snow capped of course) and the traffic all of a sudden becomes thick and slow! The directions to the Hotel Universal are very clear and we arrive promptly and without stress. As the afternoon draws to a close, I get the feeling that this is a bit of a party central though and I hope that the exuberance of other guests dies down later so that we can sleep as it looks like we will have a full day again tomorrow!

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