Home Alone in Cartagena

Sun 18 Aug 2013 16:16
We walked the ancient and recently beautifully restored City walls that
first evening. Enjoying the very tastefully developed aged, Spanish Oak
avenued promenade before turning into the city and walking through the
shining, marbled paved street of Calla Mayor. Lots of restoration now going
on, for every time a spade is put in the ground it clinks on something Roman
or earlier. For centuries, at least until the last couple of decades they
seem to have been content to build on top of whatever was there! Calla Mayor
has some real gems from the 17th and 18th centuries but of course as is so
often the case in these warm climes the streets, thankfully car less, are
narrow to make best use of the shade, so the architecture is best viewed
whilst reclining the body from the waist up at an angle of 45 degrees. Not
the most comfortable of positions but it does have the benefit of hiding the
sometimes garish shop fronts that line the ground floor from view. I was
quite taken however with the bright yellow and orange fronted children's toy
store which went by the name The Imaginarium and had two keyhole shaped
doors, one for adults and the other for those of shorter stature. Dotted
around the city are well executed, life size bronzes, some seated on
benches, some in groups of two or three, some 'strolling' alone midst the
throng, all depicting people their lives and trades in this historic port.
There are lots of interesting piles of old stones with a history to tell and
a Roman Amphitheatre discovered quite recently in the middle of the city
when someone's spade clinked.
I'll not bore you with the routine of the last four days which have been
largely devoted to boat maintenance and cleaning. There have been evening
forays into town, the food has been sampled and the fish, unsurprisingly
found to be good. I shall not waste away.

I designated Saturday as exploration day and pulling on all the appropriate
gear I set off on my bicycle between the mountains to the flat plain beyond
and the inland sea known as Mar Menor. 170 sq. kilometres of a salt water
accessible from the Mediterranean by just two narrow canals, its greatest
depth no more than 7 metres and most of it a good deal less than that, far
too shallow for us to venture in. I aimed for the town of Los Alcazares and
as I sat in this not unpleasant spot drinking the juice of half a dozen
freshly squeezed oranges and surveying the place, the people and the sea, I
felt quietly satisfied to have completed the outward, 20 mile leg relatively
easily. No cars on the two or so mile long front at Los Alcazares. No high
rise either, the majority of the housing one or two stories most of it
private. Every third house or so flaunting a fabric pictorial of the
Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Her feast day being the 15th August, but this
being Spain it seems the whole week is a holiday. It got me wondering just
what it was that she had assumed but it turns out that in 1950 Pope Pius XII
(I suppose if you are going to have a Pope that's a pretty good name and as
he was the twelfth it must be particularly popular in those circles.)
stated, "By the authority of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Catholic
Church (oh yeah!) It is divinely revealed dogma that the ever Virgin Mary
was bodily assumed to heaven" (on the 15th August?).

Good job the plumber wasn't coming, can you imagine the conversation,
Isaiah, "Just to confirm Mary, I'll be over later to repair that leaking
water duct." Mary, Sorry Isaiah I'm being bodily assumed up to heaven this
afternoon." Isaiah, "Bloody hell Mary it's been in the diary for weeks."
Mary, "Sorry Isaiah the Lord has called." Isaiah becoming agitated, "Well
can't you put it off?" Mary "No, the Lord has spoken." Isaiah, "Well it's
buggered up my day, can I come and watch?" Mary, "No, it won't be confirmed
for two thousand years." Isaiah, "Blimey and people complain that I keep
them waiting."
Los Alcazares is a gentle place. The sea laps gently on the sand, each
gentle, pale blue ripple appearing to apologise to the sand for being
brusque. The holiday makers seem to be mostly gentle folk of a certain age.
They totter by some on sticks others cleverly managing to maintain a level
of balance whilst supporting protruding bellies giving them a strange toes
out shuffling sort of gate. Small groups of I assume widows pass, mostly
plump but often with a thin one in the group. She seems to have the same
amount of skin as the others but the juice of her as been sucked out leaving
the skin in uncomfortable folds like an ill-fitting curtain. Occasionally an
old couple will pass holding hands in a vice like grip. Is this what happens
at a certain age when most things and people have passed on they are left
clinging to the person they fell in love with all those years ago, having
spent the intervening years battling to put up with them, now that there is
not much else left romantic love returns?
What are these gentle folk doing in this gentle place any way tottering
across to the soft and gentle sand with their chairs and parasols, sitting
there all day then tottering back at the end of another gentle day. Is it
just a way of passing time before the total obscurity of old age leaves them
(those that remain) slumped as I saw one very old lady on the house side of
the boulevard, her days of sitting on the gentle sand over, chair just
before her front door, life now just memories of her previous tottering's.

As you might have guessed I'd had another six oranges squeezed for me whilst
I mused and being refreshed decided that I would take the route over the
mountains back to Cartagena (which by the by we've learnt to pronounce as
Kartahenya). The first fifteen miles were fine through the plain, whose dry,
reddish soil supports all manner of fruit and vegetable cultivation and
going by the number of dead bodies on the roads considerable numbers of
rats. As I cycle through small villages in the foothills there are few
people abroad and even fewer cars. I reach La Union an appropriately named
old mining town, for the mountains around have for centuries been the source
of many metals but there is little active mining now. Some of the old mines
are open as tourist attractions, mostly the industrial detritus rots on the

From La Union if you are not using the pass the route is steeply up to
around 3,000 ft. at its highest point. There is little alpine zig zagging,
here the road may zig or zag once or twice but generally it is just up. The
first climb is exhausting a brief downhill respite the second as bad. Then
back down almost to the coast to be faced by a monster. Around seven miles
only ever upward, turning my eyes to the peaks I wondered if I had just a
little faith could I be assumed, not to heaven but perhaps to 3,000ft from
where I currently pedal. No, I just keep pedalling up this vertiginous road,
through these hard edged sand and limestone mountains, passing areas of
scrub, old mine workings and spoil heaps. Heat haze shimmers off the road a
recalcitrant breeze (blowing of course against me) occasionally swirls dust
across the hot tarmac. I start to feel strange, my breathing inevitably
laboured, leg muscles straining but now it feels as though I am cycling
through treacle and not half way up yet. The beginnings of cramp in my right
calf muscle, then just above my left knee. I keep pedalling to work it off
but slower now. I have to stop. With difficulty I lift a leg over the saddle
and the all muscles in both legs cramp up, excruciating pain. No help in
this deserted place, must go on, reach the top and it will be downhill most
of the way to Cartagena. Gritting my teeth I try to move my stiffened legs
and eventually manage a Douglas Bader like gait. Waves of nausea sweep over
me leaving my head reeling all the long three mile trudge. I'm there! Easing
a still cramped leg over the bike I start it on a downhill run. Forty six
miles per hour show, I don't care I must take on fluid (I wrongly assume)
promising myself at the first habitation I see I will stop and beg, borrow
or steal fluid. Six miles down with another six to go to Cartagena I see
some sort of truck stop. Pushing in through the dusty door a dozen booted
and grimy, overalled labourers sit lunching two more with beers at the bar
"aqua por favour" I croak. I down a litre but feel worse. Struggling to a
seat in the far corner of the establishment the litre of water returns into
my helmet. "Pardon, pardon" I weakly proffer as one of the beer drinkers at
the bar strides to a fridge and puts two cans of sickly, sweet pop of some
sort in front of me and gestures to drink very slowly. My legs lock up again
and my flesh tingles as I shake uncontrollably. Ten minutes of lightly
sipping the sugary fluid and the symptoms start to ease. My head starts to
clear, the cramps ease, the shivering and trembling die down. It was not
lack of water that caused my discomfort as my befuddled brain had thought, I
had become acutely hypoglycaemic, blood sugar levels dropping way too low,
the body starting to close down functions. It was bad, really bad but thirty
minutes later feeling a lot better this kindly chap would not let me buy him
a beer and insisted on sticking the bike in his car and driving me the last
few miles. The owner of the greasy spoon refusing any payment for what I had
regurgitated or ingested. One meets real kindness in the oddest of places.
My new found friend spoke not a word of English (nor did anyone in there)
but on arriving at the Port we shook hands and clasped shoulders like
friends of many years. I will never meet him again but his kindness will
never be forgotten.

More food, shower, sleep and by eight that evening I'm almost as good as
ever. Just as well for at 23.30 I'm off to a concert at the hall adjacent to
the Marina. Boat tasks tomorrow, Lynn returning on Monday I'll bend your ear
further as we head northward and eastward.


The crew of Pamarzi