We nearly adopted a dog, or more accurately, a DOG. The adorable young canine that came to greet us at the campsite was already the size of a grown labrador, but judging by its paws, it still had a lot of growing left in it. This was going to be a seriously big animal.

It looked underfed. We were told by a Norwegian/English couple who had been taking care of it that it had been abandoned there a few weeks earlier.

Impossible not to fall in love with it, or him, as it turned out. This was the most gentle, affectionate dog you’re likely to meet.

DOG very interested in Charlotte’s exercises

It took less than a week for him to adopt us, including two days when we were the only ones there to feed him. He went wherever we went, walking mostly right next to us while we walked. He would wait for us to get out of the shower. He allowed Charlotte to remove his ticks, even from sensitive areas like ears and eyelids. We took him to the lake which was only a ten minute walk away, because we could not figure out how to make him stay behind. Once there, he went wild, splashing and jumping up and down, going into the water a little bit further each time until he had figured out what this new world was.

Photo: Charlotte.

At a restaurant near the lake, a British couple took a fancy to him, but they could not take him. And they looked at him some more. A little later, they watched as we took him to the water’s edge, watched as he approached other dogs. We had explained to them that we could not keep him and he would surely end up in a shelter. As we walked back to the campsite, they said they would give it some serious thought.

The next day, we went shopping. When we came back, the dog was nowhere to be seen, which was unusual. We waited for him to show up, but he didn’t. He never came back and we resigned ourselves to what had most likely happened: the British couple must have come and taken him. In the end, we were relieved. This was now out of our hands, the dog had been adopted.

We could not have taken him. Surely. Right? But we did miss him.

Meanwhile, we had done some 4×4-ing. A route found on Wikiloc took us on unpaved roads and tracks through orchards, fields, open country, cave dwellings and a sleepy hamlet where only a toothless old man stared at us, visitors from another age. From an abandoned monastery a trail wound down to a dry river bed. We saw places to camp everywhere.

Charlotte navigating a river bed

But Charlotte had also, during a walk on her own, found a spot by the lake, accessible only by 4×4, that she said would be perfect for our first night of wild camping. We left the campsite, set up camp by the lake, drank wine and watched the day come to an unhurried end.

Morning on the lake is pure bliss. One becomes aware of the vastness of the silence by what punctuates it: the occasional song of a lone bird, the humming of a passing insect, the lapping of a wavelet that is pushed onto the shore by a thermal breeze that is just beginning to develop, a seagull dropping onto the lake in a clumsy attempt to catch something that has caused the water to ripple.

As the sun rises further, the breeze picks up, the lapping becomes continuous and the gull, seemingly unaware of its webbed feet that are nowhere near as effective in catching fish as a good pair of talons, continues to circle and drop into the water without ever catching anything.

The previous two paragraphs were written, quite fittingly, in the present tense, because it was the only tense available to me as I was writing them. In hindsight (this is where you know present tense is over) I can say that this was bliss not just because of the silence and the beauty of the scenery, but for one more reason that I was not aware of at the time of writing, the most important one of all: nothing else existed. No desires, no worries, no regrets. Nothing.

The thing about bliss is, you get used to it, and then it slips away. Curiosity lies quietly in wait and then, emboldened by the time that has passed, it steps forward, offering the seeds of change.

Into the Cazorla mountains. Photo: Charlotte.

We moved on into the Cazorla mountains. Charlotte had found an unpaved road or track that coincided partly with a GR (long-distance hiking trail). We decided to follow it. The road wound up, higher and higher, and just before we reached the highest point, we found a spot where we thought we might camp and spend the night. But clouds gathered, the wind was cold, it didn’t look good.

Photo: Charlotte.

We thought of three cyclists from Galicia that we had met on our way up. One of them had already suffered a broken frame, which had been welded in nearby Cazorla. So it’s a steel frame?, I had asked, looking doubtfully at the oversized tubes. No, it was aluminium. It would have to hold. Were these brave souls going to find shelter from the rain that was coming?

We continued down the other side of the pass and arrived at a campsite on the Guadalquivir river. We had a drink in the bar while outside, the rain came pouring down. Other people around us talked. A tv hurled a talk show at us with people all speaking at the same time in rapid-fire Spanish, because everybody was trying to get a point across but nobody was listening. Schoolchildren were excitedly shouting into payphones, the only way to reach their papas and mamas and abuelos since there was no coverage for their cellphones. With all this noise around us, I thought whistfully of the silence that had been. Bliss lost, irretrievably.

The next day, with the rain clearing and the sky opening up, we returned to where we might have spent the night and hiked up to a nearby peak.

We then backtracked some more and found the three cyclists at a mountain refuge that they had retreated to when the storm broke. Getting there had been hard going: those who had gloves found that these were soaking wet in no time, whereas the one who did not had to deal with hands that froze and skin that burned as they descended. They had previously cycled in the Pyrenees, but this, at the end of May, was new to them. When we saw them at the refuge, it was already afternoon. They were reluctant to get going again. In fact, they were splitting up: one was going back to where they had started, while the other two had decided to attempt once more what they had wanted to do before the rain had made them turn around.

We spent a few days at a campsite on the outskirts of Cazorla that was a true Garden of Eden: terraced, grassy plots with trees everywhere: almond, olive, walnut, fig. The trees attracted a wide variety of birds, which treated us to a symphony of songs. No need to do anything, just sitting and listening to the birds, catching a glimpse of them, was enough – who would need anything else?

Photo: Charlotte.

The owners, a Dutch couple of self-proclaimed hippies, bought what was basically an undeveloped hillside in 1981, planted trees, made honey which they sold on local markets, started receiving guests and ended up building a very untypical campsite. No mass tourism here; in fact, due to the steepness of the terrain, large campers and caravans cannot be accomodated and cars are mostly left at the bottom of the hill.

We drove up twice to an area in the mountains that is known for vultures nesting in holes in a cliff, to watch them leave their nests, quickly gain altitude in a thermal, go off to find something dead to feed their chicks, and return to the nest, often in spectacular fashion: wings drawn in, feet dragging, or else flying fast with a tailwind, straight at the rock, and pulling up at the last moment to lose speed and arrive at the nest with barely a movement of their wings.

Photo: Charlotte.

The first time we went there, we drove through the old part of Cazorla on our way out, where the streets are so narrow that traffic through them is regulated by traffic lights. With good reason: there were spots where we passed with only a couple of centimeters left on either side of the car.

The second time, we avoided the old town by branching off onto a 4×4 trail before getting into town. This way, we gained height rapidly, at the price of some back and forth manoeuvring in switchbacks that were simply too tight. The ground was mostly dry, but here and there were tracks a car had left in mud. Even while going up, I decided not to take the same way down.

But at the end of the trail, where we had thought we’d continue onto an unpaved road, there was a gate. Closed. Locked. Clearly intended to keep people from going from the road onto the track, it was effectively keeping us from doing the reverse.

So we left the car there and walked for an hour to where the vultures were. We had passed a turnoff where another trail went off into a different direction. I was thinking we might try that on the way back, it would probably take us in the direction of a town called Quesada.

By the time we reached ‘vulture point’ the clouds had come together in a very menacing way, and suddenly, I realised that we were in a bad spot and rapidly running out of options. If it were to rain, which looked more certain by the minute, the way we had come, with its steep slopes and mud in various places, might become dangerously slippery. The way forward was closed by the gate. The other track that we had seen looked promising, but there was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be another one of those gates at the end where it met the road.

To reach the car, we had to walk back for an hour. A lot can happen in an hour.

We took some comfort in the knowledge that we had food and water in the car. If worst came to worst, we could always stay put and spend the night on the mountain.

We reached the car amid uninterrupted thunder, but it had not yet started to rain. We had discussed various scenarios; this was one of them. We were going to go back the way we had come, without losing any time.

It turned out a skin-of-your-teeth kind of thing. In the critical part of the descent, still early in the afternoon, night fell and the scattered rain drops that had been falling until then suddenly turned into a massive hail storm. But with the worst soon behind us, we could gradually relax. We made it back OK. There would be rain and thunder for the rest of the day, so in the end, the only thing we regretted was having left our towels out to dry at the campsite.

Charlotte had booked another flight to the Netherlands from Malaga, so with less than a week to go, we started heading back to the coast. Impressive landscape most of the way: it seemed that Andalucia has only one type of tree and it is everywhere. As far as the eye can see, naked brown hills dotted with dusty green patches. We have only once before seen monoculture on this scale. In large parts of Malaysia, it is the oil palm that, in exemplary symmetry, has replaced all other life forms. In large parts of Andalucia, where foxes and deer and lynxes once trod and roamed and whatever else they did, it is the olive tree.

The pretty side of olive groves.

As I am writing this, the sun is setting over the olive trees, but immediately around us, we see Spanish Pine and a lone fig tree. This will do for the night. Tomorrow, we will be off to find something else. What will it be? Bliss? Excitement? We will see.