July 16th Benahavis , Marbella

WOW! Today saw the most incredible river gorge system and had an amazing time at Benahavis, situated just 3 miles, beyond the glitz and glamour of the popular tourist and celebrity resort city of Marbella. Benahavis is a Spanish mountain village situated between Marbella, Estepona, and Ronda, approximately seven kilometres from the coast. It is dotted by an impressive 9 out of the 60 golf courses in the Costa Del Sol and is renowned for its restaurants, it is often called the dining room of the Costa del Sol. On the southern face of La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, Benahavis is one of the most mountainous villages on the western Costa del Sol. Situated near the resort beaches as well as the spectacular mountains of the Serrania de Ronda, its terrain is traversed by the rivers Guadalmina, Guadaiza, and Guadalmansa. It is place of great natural and historic beauty, such as El Cerro del Duque, Daidin, and the Montemayor Castle.

The town itself is surrounded by natural parkland, and retains a typical sleepy Spanish “pueblo” feel. La Zagaleta, an exclusive gated residential estate and country club overlooking the village, lies within its municipal boundaries, and contributes to Benahavis’ status as the richest municipality per capita in Andalucía, which is also clear from the rather luxuriant cars that cruised past us. In recent years there has been extended development of the village and the surrounding area with many hundreds of dwellings being built, not only reducing the percentage of local inhabitants, but also despoiling some of the beautiful landscapes in the mountains and approaches to the village.

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We arrived at 1pm at the car park to a stunning view of the mountain crags and cliffs, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures reaching 36 degrees; a climbers dream world. As we made our way down to the start of the trail, quite a few locals had beaten us to the large river pools that populated the valley gorge, many of which can be jumped into from great heights from the cliff edges. So we thought we would get stuck in too! A smallish jump of 5 metres to start off with into the turquoise waters of the river Guadalmina was a very refreshing and exciting way to start. I took my trainers off, rather disconcerted by the chance of them dragging me down a bit when I jumped in. Gosh, what a refreshing feeling that was to jump into such cool, clear waters after the short walk up to it. We then wanted to further pursue the trail down the river but were stopped in our tracks due a bridge being built overhead, and we were told that it would open up again later in the week or next day, so a rather vague answer. Nevertheless, we went back up and decided to pluck up the courage to jump off the 10metre cliff into the river pool! I was genuinely excited about it, although daunting at first, it was so much fun feeling the freedom of doing it, I can’t describe it! Truly euphoric.

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We all video recorded it with an underwater Olympus camera, will post up a link to it here soon. I jumped twice in the end! As we walked back up the car, we noticed that the red tape had been removed, and presumed that the bridge had been put up. So we refreshed ourselves and headed back up, after the girls flirted with some rather fit looking passer-byes, of course I was much too embarrassed to participate! I then jumped off the larger cliff edge for another thrill before we headed downstream. Many fish populated the large pools of water as well as the main river itself, and were busy avoid our clumsily placed feet. Emma remarked how amazingly good our ancestors would have been good at navigating the river with ease and being able to stalk their prey with subtle movements. We quite fancied the idea of ancestral Homo erectus picking their way through the same pathways, many thousands of years ago. The sight was amazing as we carefully picked are way downstream, hundreds of mating dragonflies danced in unison with their partners and they mated in mid-aid, such a delicate ritual and myriad of colour. Blue, black, fuchsia and emerald green filled the air like sheening confetti. This rather large one pictured below was dead unfortunately after its mating orgy, male dragonflies with compete with other males to mate with as many females as possible before dying.

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One part of the river revealed a mangrove-like back setting that was truly stunning. Couldn’t resist having a photo!

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We eventually got to a more enclosed cave-like part of the river gorge that was far more quiet and serene. We were all so excited to be seeing such beauty and found it thrilling in plunging into the deep darker waters. As we swam the rock formations above us were deeply grooved and shaped by water percolating through it, dripping on our heads which was a welcoming refreshing drink.

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Like the scene from 172 days! Don’t fall on us rock!

The water itself was again a deep turquoise/green colour and was welcomingly warm. Every time we rounded the corner new, stunning sights met us, and the views of the high La Serrania de Ronda mountain range, dotted with pine trees and scree slopes, contrasting against the deep blue sky-perfect weather. I sure did get a good tan that day! One of the pools looked like the scene from a Georgio Armani perfume photo shoot, was too tempting to ask someone to do a pose and throw their hair back! Lots of swimming, many “oh my gosh isn’t it beautiful’s” and many photos. We eventually reached the dam and soaked up the warmth from the sun at the top/ The bridge had literally just been put up and was not yet open to the public, but nevertheless, was up there and had enabled us to have the most incredibly fun afternoon.

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During the late 1990s, the Junta de Andalucía constructed a dam on the site of an old marble quarry, and now for much of the year the once ever-flowing Río Guadalmina is merely a dried-up river bed, but not here! Who would have thought that this tiny secluded little gorge, hidden from the “costa del sol” tourists would have been literally an hours drive from where I live? I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Southern Spain to go and visit it, its free and fun! It’s a bit tricky to get to, but there is plenty of parking and the walk to it is only 5 minutes. I will post up a map for you to follow, but its probably best to punch in the poscode to the town, then follow the bridge over towards the La Serrania de Ronda mountain range.

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Here is a 1:25000 map as promised, enjoy your adventures!

mapa benahavis

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Ants, Wasps, Lizards and teeth

July 15th

Well, today has been rather interesting. Though I would get some macro sequences today, getting up close and personal with the insect world. Ants were up first, so I filmed some of the larger ones running up and the algorobo tree, or fairy tree as I like to call it, busy preparing for a days foraging of literally anything that is edible. I’ve seen these remarkable insects take lizards, birds, crickets, beetles, other ant species, to a more vegetarian diet of flowers, leaves and most popular of all, seeds. Perhaps it’s the rich lipid and protein content that they favour. If they’re lucky enough to get access to my fruit they will do, my suitcase was full of them eating my plumb. Really fascinating creatures, the way they manoeuvre themselves across the branches and trees in such a coordinated manner, without disrupting the flow of traffic- wish drivers in Spain would get the hint! The drivers’ brains during the summer here are seriously frazzled, and are a real danger to people. Equally interesting was the wasps nest I found, which resides on a lavender plant rather surprisingly. I’m yet to see if they still reside within it, but judging by the two wasps I spotted nearby, I’m guessing so. The lizards were also active, and their iridescent blue tails, flicking as they dart away from any incoming sound. It’s quite tricky to get any footage of them at all! Would be good if I could get some asking footage of them though, when they are still a little weary from their daily torpor- animals that lower their metabolism and heart, ventilation and breathing rate during the day for short periods of time. This evolutionary adaption is common in animals living in hot, arid climates which try to avoid overheating and reduce energy expenditure whilst keeping cool. They are then able to maintain their body temperature within the thermal neutral zone- a range of environmental temperatures at which an animal can perform metabolic processes efficiently. Hence why the Spanish have a “siesta” every day! Also got my tooth filling today, first time I’ve been to the dentist for any filling at all, so wasn’t actually nervous! Now I can chomp away at my watermelon, mmmmmm….

Iberian filming

July 13th

Well, it’s been a very strange start to the morning, all cloudy! It’s been like that during the mornings, very peculiar for this time of the year, still I don’t think the flora will be complaining. I went off to get some stock footage of the Northern side of the mountains and to my utter delight and surprise I heard the bee-eaters! They were a few lining up along the electricity pylon as usual, but their numbers seem somewhat reduced compared to the previous two years. I remember during 2012 when they had dug out their nests from the side bank behind the log cabin. Perfect loose rocky/sandy loam soil for them to lay their eggs. Unfortunately the blooming goat farmer has built up an allotment for his vegetables and fruits, and in doing so frightened the colony off from returning. Really upset about that, now that I actually have the capabilities of filming them! Oh well, guess I will have to rely on stalking techniques towards the colonies up on the pylons for now. Didn’t work very well today though, they didn’t fancy a strange two-legged pale girl with a three-legged tripod coming up underneath them. Still managed to see them de-sting a bee though, really want to get it on camera though. SO tricky now that they are so high up. I do actually have some stock footage I took with my old Canon 1000D hooked up to my laptop with some encoded programme that would allow it to directly transcribe moving 720p images onto the computer desktop. Brilliant bit of software, thank you to whoever put that up! I will get the link up for any 1000D users out there. They’re quite easily spooked are the “abejarucus,” but when you get up close to them, you can really appreciate what a stunning bird it is. A small, copper brown cap, a striking black band across its face along its beady amber eye, making it look like a masked jet fighter. Its breast is often a cream/yellow colour but I’ve seen variations with a melon pink shade which are quite gorgeous. Their backs are splashed with tropical turquoise; the whole effect making them truly exotic-looking and a real treat for any keen birder. Their beaks are straight and moderately thick for its notorious wack to de-sting the bees and wasps it catches. Of course its diet is not only restricted to Bombus terrstialis, but will also feed on dragonflies and beetles. Their speed and agility in the air is what also makes them incredibly difficult to film, nevertheless it is remarkable to see them zipping around and diving at 180 degree angles in order to target such small prey. They indeed resemble multi-coloured jet fighter pilots. I remember hearing the sound of their torpedo shaped bodies speeding past me once when I sat quietly for them to fly over. Gosh, I had my Coolpix Nikon camera back then, a poor x3 optical zoom didn’t justify what I saw, but hey, that’s where all my passion for photography started! Here was the image I took with it that, at the time, I was very proud to have captured given my limited technology.

 

Got some nice mountain shots at least, not amazing footage of the birds, but still have time. I reckon I should get some tomorrow in Malaga when I go to the dentist at around 5pm. Got to get my fillings done if you must know, never had a problem with my teeth in my life, and I don’t eat sweets and very little chocolate or sugary things (apart from fruit), so was more than a little surprised! But I guess its bets to prevent it from getting worse in the future. It’s only very small, at the surface. Maybe some shots of the old buildings and streets, perhaps some street performers. Not wildlife but anything has to be interesting! I hope I can find it. Then Wednesday I’m off to Marbella to do water/cliff diving with Emma, Alana and Caroline, which is really exciting! Caroline has an underwater camera so that should be quite fun! Will let you know how that goes. Then I think Thursday I should be going to the caves at Nerja, so getting busy now. It’s getting quite warm here now, was 35 in Madrid today, can’t complain though! Better than the cold ANY day, I’m definitely more a tropical bug.” Speaking of bugs, I was eaten alive last night by mosquitoes at a friend’s house, I think I look like I have chicken pox!

 

Ps: Meant to mention last week, saw a Monarch butterfly at the Paloma Park in Benalmadena, such a bizarre sighting! It must have escaped form the local an yet still rather distant “mariposario” which houses over 4000 butterflies from around the world. Must say though, these amazing insects are trans generational and can travel u to 40,000km during their annual migrations to Mexico!

 

Bee-eaters, kestrels and Short-toed eagles

July 11th

It’s been a week since I landed at Malaga International airport, and I already have a partial tan. Aside from my melatonin functioning properly, I was jubilant and positively excited by the sight of my two beautiful short-toed eagles about 7pm yesterday evening. I was beginning to think that they had not migrated back over to the same territory! The large female was nowhere to be seen, only the two smaller previous juveniles. They have indeed grown! Both were gliding above the thermals up along the North-Western edge of the valley, then sauntered a little closer above the pine tree so I was lucky enough to get a shot of them.

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The kestrel has also been around, raucously kkkiwwkiiwwkiiwing away at any aerial and terrestrial intruder than he may come into contact with. I only just heard the bee-eaters last night too; began to think they had been scared by the goat farmer who had just recently set up his farm near our log cabin- what a jerk. Seriously, I understand it’s his land, but to scare away an entire bird colony which had previously nested in the bank there is most frustrating. I do also believe that in the mornings I can hear the magnificently resplendent Golden oriole trill out its beautiful melody. It’s been 2 years since I heard its sweet and pleasing song. An occasional kwaaakiii will also emanate from the reeds down in the valley- a warning call that is extraordinarily similar to the call of a kestrel. At ground level I’ve also encountered some rather fascinating insects, a coleopteran and some sort of lacewing or mantis? Was a really lovely hike to my favourite spot on the mountain, I remember well those times that I came up to get some rest bite from all the studying; to clear my head of worries. Some of my best poetry came from this spot! Although I most probably thought it was, see what you think of them at the end of this entry! (Bear in mind, I was about 14!).

Also great to read for fun again; something that did not actually happen or exists as a theory! What a relief. Got through most of it, will be reading David Aric’s “African Pursuit” later on, a really elaborately written masterpiece, and I have to admit it does have accurate geological and historical references to it. Couldn’t leave that out entirely. Football Fever still around here, even though Spain lost out big style, it wasn’t bad as Brazil’s 7-1 loss. Argentina Vs Germany final, must say that Germany do definitely deserve to be there, they placed a superlative match on Wednesday. Will be watching it at a friend’s BBQ on Sunday. Boy oh boy do I miss English doc’s and television. Spanish television (no offence to my half and other Spanish,) is 60% adverts, 20% dancing and singing host and 20% spoof comedies on what’s happened during the day with rather obnoxious music and dramatic voice overs. I mean to be fair I’m not actually watching any or would be during the day when I’m out at the beach, but during the evening I might as well sleep or read! The beach has been lovely, not had the courage to swim yet, a tad bit cold for my liking (I say this and its 32 degrees). But nonetheless. On now is actually a really interesting doc about Seville and its natural wonders, so I’m off to watch that, might give me inspiration for some sequences shots for tomorrow, I think I should perhaps stop panning everywhere! Also after the playback, the sound of the lens autofocusing and reducing the vibrations is rather annoying. Tomorrow I will be doing some more filming down by the river and maybe some swimming; see what the temperature is like. Will also plan the trip to Nerja which I’m very excited about! More about this most stunning of European Caves later on. I will also be planning a trip to Gibraltar, home to Europe’s only known wild apes (other than the holiday makers of course), as well as to an UNESCO world heritage site; Donana national park.- home of the elusive lynx! The coach tickets are fairly cheap so shouldn’t be a problem. Bueno, buenas noches!

The cheetah

Golden blades wave,

with the wind,

the smells of wild Africa

draw ever nearer.

A tawny dull coat

emerges from

the sea of grass,

then disappears

on the spot.

The Thompsons gazelle,

graceful grazes

by the Hullabaloo waterhole

with not a stir.

Head flashes up,

ears and nose twitching

for the hunter is

The birds fall silent,

the Kudu glare

for the mighty hunter is well aware.

A spotted blur

as the cheetah chases,

the gazelle flees,

against the kudu, races

but the Cheetah has

locked its prey;

tail as the rudder,

steering ever closer

to its prey,

ultimate speed

some might say.

Paw lunges out

catching the hoof,

with a tremendous pought

the jaws come clamping

around the throat,

the trickle of blood

that makes the tear stripe.

This is the Cheetah,

the fastest cat on the plain

the most streamline and acute

with a slender frame.

By:  Tania. Rose. Esteban   10s

The Spanish Imperial Eagle

He glides, cavorts,

He turns and acutes a position,

He sees nothing, blatantly swerves,

The acrobat that he is;

Dives, shoots towards gravities pull; prey.

Lost; glides in a gradient towards the heavens,

gains height in fluctuations.

He is a gliding angel, across the moors

never stopping at a first glimpse,

of the target, his target.

A tinge of lavender, a splash of mauve

as he perches, claw on prey

he lands precariously on granite.

It is hard, but cooling

as is the victim within claws,

Lifeless; as so the moor seems

but not for the Spirit,

Shadowing our realms.

By:     Tania. Rose. Esteban   10s