Andalusians in Spain

The reason I didn’t blog last week was because we were in Spain, enjoying my special birthday present from Neil – a horsey holiday!!

I’ve had my eye on this holiday for the longest time and, when Neil asked me what I wanted for my 50th, after much dithering, mentioned this and he agreed.  The company I used, Unicorn Trails, specialise in worldwide horse holidays and are brilliant – they arrange everything, including travel insurance (which includes ‘horse-riding’ cover) and flights, if required.  The lady I dealt with, Danni, was amazingly helpful and no question was deemed too trivial.  We left for our holiday on Monday, and returned Friday evening.

The owners of the holiday place, Los Olivillos, Donna and Tony, renovated the ‘finca’ (farmhouse) that came with the property so it could be used as holiday accommodation.  They have 13 horses, including a colt, and they’re all Andalusians.

Not only was this our first time in Spain (though I think Neil may have been, briefly, while in the Navy), it was also our first time using a budget airline … the infamous Ryanair.  OMG!! Talk about charging for every flipping thing!!!  The only good thing – they fly from Bournemouth Airport, which is about a 15-minute drive for us.

The flight was ok as flights go, and we arrived on time.  Instead of hiring a car, we opted to be met by Jeff, who helps run Los Olivillos, together with Donna and Tony.  He’s a lovely, white-haired gent who used to work with horses, mainly in the racing circuit, in the UK.  The journey was about 1.5 hours and the surrounding scenery was breathtaking … it’s all so vast compared to anything in the UK.

Los Olivillos is situated in the Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Mountains Nature Reserve, to the east of Malaga, and the last part of our journey up the mountains was extremely off-road – very bumpy and nerve-wracking!  Never been so glad to arrive at a destination.  Tumbled out of the car and saw the most glorious scene as the setting sun lit up the mountains.

Tony showed us around the finca ... 2 double bedrooms, a single room, a bathroom, kitchen and small lounge area.  A side door by the lounge opens up to amazing views of the mountains, and a path leads to the garden with swimming pool and orange trees.

Entrance to finca...

... opens straight onto double bedroom 

Curtained doorway to smaller double bedroom

Curtained doorway to single bedroom with single bed, which Gordon insisted on having!

Door to bathroom; bathroom ceiling (the other ceilings are similar)

Gorgeous picture in bathroom

Open the side door to this amazing view!

Path leading to garden... and back to side door

Garden with swimming pool

Orange trees in garden

The middle and bottom row are pictures of their horses

Because of our location, all meals are included in the price, and there was no stinting on anything.  Everything was superb.  They grow their own vegetables, Donna bakes bread, makes jam – fig, also passionfruit and banana jam, which was lip-smackingly yummy!  Apart from boiled eggs Tuesday & Friday, each meal was different.  We had our meals with them, in their kitchen, and were made to feel very much a part of their family.  Oh, their son, Ricky, was there too; he’d come out to Spain for a month or so, and was still there almost 6 months later!  Don’t blame him …

Next morning, Liam and I got ready for our first ride, with Donna leading us.  I had a handsome bay called Huerfano, which means ‘orphan’ as his mother had died when he was 5 days old.  They’d hand-reared him, and he loves people!  As usual, I had to fight my ‘mounting-up’ issues, but they were so patient with me … very reassuring, and didn’t make me feel at all silly.  Glad to report that I mounted up without looking a fool.  At 16.2hh, Huerfano’s the biggest horse I’ve been on.  Liam’s horse was a pretty grey mare, Alma; of course, he mounted up with no drama at all.

These horses require minimum contact, so of course there was Liam and me constantly adjusting our reins, asking Donna if we were holding them properly … This trail ride was different from the word go – the terrain was steep, rocky, sheer drops, streams … very exhilarating.  We made our way to a place called El Acebuchal, the lost village.  It was involved in the Spanish Civil War, and these mountains were one of the last places to hold out against Franco.  To stop the rebels using the village for supplies, the residents were made to leave, which they finally did in 1949, and the place fell to ruin.  15 years ago, in 1998, one of the original families decided to move back, and gradually the place was restored.

The bar

We stopped at the bar for drinks and cake.  The owner of the bar is the son of the couple who started the renovations in 1998.  It felt wonderful, tying up the horses at rings meant just for that purpose, and sitting under the canopy, shaded from the sun.  When it came time to leave, there was a low wall we could use as a mounting block, and I got on with no problems.  As Liam was mounting up, it occurred to me that I had yet to break out my camera; I’d been so taken with the scenery and the actual ride before that I hadn’t thought to take pictures!

View from the back of Huerfano

Liam on Alma

Can't really see it, but its a steep drop off the edge!

Donna in front of me

On the ride back, we passed a few groups of walkers; one guy even stopped to take pictures of Liam and me!  As Donna said, we’d become tourist attractions *lol* Everything was going swimmingly, and we were about 15 minutes from home; just past the stream, Donna suggested a short canter.  I decided to take leave of my senses, and agreed – don’t ask me why, my cantering is total pants, and I haven’t had a proper lesson at it in about a year!  I didn’t prepare, didn’t shorten the reins … off we went, Donna and Liam ahead of me, doing great, me doing not-so-great … and I fell off.

Landed sideways, head did not touch the ground, but my left butt cheek took the brunt of it – Ouch!  Donna was brilliant – she looked after me so well; Liam was a star, stayed strong, reassured me (he’s usually quite emotional).  Thing is, in the mountains, phone reception is quite sporadic, and Donna couldn’t get a phone signal.  When I finally managed to get to my feet, with Liam’s help – Donna wouldn’t let me rush it, but insisted I take my time – I came over all light-headed … not sure if I passed out, but next thing I knew, I was on my back with Donna telling me I had to get up.  She helped me over to a rock, and I sat with my head between my legs.  Anyway, she got her neighbour who was just at the top of the path to take me back in his car, while his brother led Alma home, and she led Huerfano back.  Her neighbour, Antonio, didn’t speak a word of English but his kindness and generosity spoke volumes to me.

I, of course, felt very silly, convinced I’d ruined the holiday and wasted Neil’s money – let’s just be dramatic about the whole thing!  But at dinner, Tony welcomed me to the ‘falling-off-the-horse’ club (this, to date, is my 3rd fall) and recounted a few instances when he’d come a cropper.

Next day, I felt stiff and still sore, but decided to get back on.  I was surprised that I didn’t feel worried about mounting up, just wanted to see if I could because I couldn’t lift my legs very high.  I had a different horse, Nina, a grey mare, about 15.2hh (Biscuit’s height) – as Tony said, not so far to fall!  And had Jeff, Ricky and Liam all helping me get on, which I managed to do – yaay!  Jeff was leading us, and off we went, Liam on Alma again.  Apart from tensing up each time Nina so much as attempted a trot, I felt ok.  We rode past where I’d fallen off, and a little way beyond.  I was fine on level ground and going uphill, but found downhill difficult and uncomfortable.  After about 30mins, we headed home.  With Liam standing ready to catch me if I stumbled, Ricky holding Nina, and Jeff standing by Nina, I managed to dismount quite smoothly – double-yaay!

I didn’t ride again after that, as I thought I’d better have my back checked out by my osteopath first, and didn’t want to aggravate anything and not be able to manage our flight home.  On Thursday, Jeff took Neil and the boys down to Competa – I was hoping I’d be ok for that, but didn’t go as I was feeling queasy and icky; I think it was because of the ibuprofen I’d been taking, and I don’t usually take much in the way of meds.  But Gordon took lots of pictures for me, and he and Liam bought me a beautiful turquoise necklace.

View of Competa from car park

Church of La Asuncion, built 1505

Interior of the church

On their return from Competa

View of Los Olivillos; on their way back from Competa

Apart from my airhead moment, we had a wonderful time, and I’m glad we went.  The weather was amazing … couldn’t believe we were baking in the sun, in November!  Neil enjoyed himself immensely, doing lots of walking; he even walked to El Acebuchal – almost a 3 hour round trip!!  Why?  Because there was wild boar on the menu!  Our only disappointment was we didn’t see an eagle … though Neil did, much to our disgust *lol*

Sunset - 5th Nov

Sunset - 7th Nov

I especially liked how Jeff took Liam under his ing, and showed him horse-related stuff.  Liam helped get the horses’ breakfast ready in the mornings, and went with Jeff to feed the 2-year-old colt, who didn’t eat with the others but stayed in his paddock as he rather fancied himself.  I think my favourite part was watching the horses come up for breakfast – Jeff and Liam would put the food out, then Jeff would go and let each group out of their respective paddocks, and they would come galloping/trotting up themselves, heading for their places … though some would try their luck and go to the place right by the gate before being reminded where they really should be.

Huerfano leading the breakfast charge

The 2 year old colt

We’re all agreed, we’re definitely going back; when we do, I plan on doing things properly and sensibly!

Huerfano and me

Back to Malaysia

Last time we went as a family was in 2006, a few months before my mum passed; the last time I went was in 2007 for her memorial ceremony. After that I had no desire to go back, even though I still have family there, but without my parents, especially my mum, it just wasn’t the same.

Now, with the boys being older and curious enough to reacquaint themselves with their extended family and meet new members, we felt the time was right. And it’s been a loooong time since we’ve had a long holiday away.

Gordon only had 2 weeks for Easter break, and Neil couldn’t take any longer than that off work … 2 weeks seemed long enough until we got there then, wow! Talk about trying to squeeze as much as was humanly possible into the suddenly short 2 weeks. It was great seeing my family again – oldest sister and her family, my aunt, cousins…

Our hotel was more like serviced apartments with loads of room – a living/dining area, 2 bedrooms, kitchen, 3 bathrooms, a utility area with a washing machine (which meant I didn’t have a huge pile of washing to sort through when we got home!) We had a great view of the KL Tower – the 6th largest communications tower in the world (M’sians are obsessed with statistics *lol*), and the Twin Towers.

KL Tower - daytime and nightime

The location was fab; walking distance (even in the heat & humidity) to shopping malls and a fantastic foodie street, especially busy in the evenings with a huge range of restaurants, albeit all Chinese. The boys did well, sampling different foods. Liam, who used to be such a fussy eater, was determined to try as many new things as he could and I must say, he did himself proud.

At night, this road is transformed into a seemingly never-ending food street

We made like tourists (!) with lots of sight-seeing and a spot of shopping. We visited the Bird Park, a free-flight, walk-in aviary with so many different species of birds walking about unrestricted, although some were fenced in. We were there for about 2 hours, not enough time to see everything. Close by was a butterfly farm but had to give that a miss as we’d run out of time.

Vulturine guinea fowl

Victorian crowned pigeons

Purple swamphen

Feeding station

Ibis

Brahminy Kite

Peahen & 2 chicks

Birds nesting in trees directly above us

Loadsa storks!

Flamingos & a couple of pelicans

Carolina duck

Silver pheasant

Hibiscus, national flower

Feeding lorikeets

Twin Towers ...

Standing near the base, looking right up

The one thing I’d been looking forward to the most, was visiting Batu Caves (‘batu’ means ‘stone’ in Malay), a system of limestone caves. There are 3 main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest one is known as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave; its ceiling is over 300ft high! There are temples built in and around the caves, with the main one dedicated to Murugan, Ganesha’s younger brother; their parents are Shiva and Parvathi.

There are also temples to Ganesha, Hanuman and Vishnu ... In the Hindu religion, Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, so there is always a temple or shrine to him in every temple, regardless of who the main temple is dedicated to.

Ganesha's temple

Temple to Vishnu

Hanuman

Batu Caves has the tallest Murugan statue in the world, standing about 130ft high!

Murugan is a popular deity among Tamils (he was my mum's favourite) and is worshipped throughout the year, including ‘Thaipusam’, a festival celebrated mostly by Tamils on the full moon in the Tamil month o ‘Thai’ (Jan/Feb). ‘Pusam’ refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvathi gave her son a ‘vel’ (lance) so he could vanquish the evil demon, Soorapadman. According to the legend, the demon used many tricks and deceits to get the better of Murugan, until finally he changed himself into a tree. Murugan threw his ‘vel’ at the tree, splitting it in two, and defeated the demon. But when Soorapadman genuinely repented and begged forgiveness, Murugan was merciful. When he asked to serve Murugan, the god changed the split halves of the demon into a peacock (his vehicle) and a rooster, which adorns his banner.

The only way to reach the shrines in the Temple Cave is to climb 272 steps!! But we did it, even me, not any fitter than when I climbed them 6 years ago *lol* But we did have lots of breaks in between, which helped.

Off we go ...

In the Temple Cave ... about 300ft above us ...

Inside the caves ... more steps up to the main Murugan temple ...

The far end of the Temple Cave, which opens up to the sky ...

The part the boys enjoyed the most was seeing the hordes of long-tailed macaque monkeys that have free roam of the place. The cheeky things know that only orange plastic bags contain fruit and flowers (offerings for the gods) and try to snatch them from people. One did grab a Pringles tube from a little boy, ran off with it and settled down to enjoy the crisps!! There were loads of adorable baby monkeys …

Eating coconut in the caves...

In the end, the 2 weeks didn’t seem long enough. The 2 Sundays we were there, we had lunch at my sister’s with her family, which was chaotic fun with a 1.5 year old, a 23-month old, and a 6-year-old; another evening we had dinner at my oldest nephew’s place; yet another day it was lunch with my aunt and cousins; I spent a couple of days with my sister while Neil and the boys chilled by the pool.

Most mornings, we had a visitor outside our room window, a mynah ... not sure if it was the same one each time but I liked to think it was ...

The day before we left, Neil decided to go up the KL Tower ...

There was a bit too much haze to get a clear view, but that's Batu Caves in the distance

The last night we were there, we had one heckuva thunderstorm. The rain came down so heavily, we lost sight of the KL Tower and could hardly make out the buildings across the road. The lightning was spectacular, the thunder awesome and then there were flash floods!! The road across from the hotel turned into a river! The traffic was horrendous after that – so glad we weren’t out – and still hadn’t cleared when we went to bed about 9:45pm!!!

 The KL Tower is in the space to the left of the trees!!

We arrived back home in the early hours of Friday morning (12/04), about half past midnight, after a 13hour flight (not including the transfer at Singapore) and a 2hour coach trip ... think we're over the jet-lag. And now, it’s back to work for Neil, college for Gordon, and back to our routine for Liam and me. Though I feel I could do with another break to get over the busy 2 weeks we’ve just had ;o)