The kind barman first reminded me I was in la provincia de Granada, so my preferred milky coffee was not un café nube but una leche manchada. He then reminded me to take care driving the last 15 kilometres. True, visibility was not great but it didn’t feel as though his warning was necessary. That was at about 1200 metres.
The winding A-395 road up from Granada probably has some spectacular views. I wouldn’t know. I didn’t even bother to stop to take a picture. I’ll just insert a picture of a white sheet of A4 paper instead. The dashboard pinged and the display changed to tell me that the temperature was 0°C.
A barely-visible post at the edge of the road stated that the altitude was now 2000 metres. Solidly trapped within the clouds, visibility was about 2 metres and snow was blowing across the road. My ears popped again.
At 2500 metres I reached the village of Pradollano, heart of the Sierra Nevada ski resort. It carried on snowing gently.
Some of the parked cars were already under quite a lot of snow. Others were carefully wedged between 8ft snowdrifts. The friendly receptionist said he thought I’d be fine for getting out tomorrow. “This isn’t a lot of snow” he reassured me, as another car silently disappeared from view under its ever-thickening cover of snow. Ah well. Que será será. I’m here now.
First stop – chocolate and churros. Another small ambition ticked off – chocolate and churros in the high snowy mountains.
The skiers were out doing their thing despite the weather. They’d paid such a lot for their lift-passes that it would take more than this to keep them indoors. I checked out the price of a gondola ride up to the higher station. It was €17 round-trip which the ticket-seller suggested wasn’t worth it as the views were non-existent. Optimistically he said that tomorrow morning should be better.
Walking around in thick snow feels very strange here in Spain. This resort is, of course, completely organised for these conditions. Paths were cleared, bars were warm and inviting, and the chair-lift had a person whose job it was to hit each chair hard with a mallet to clear the snow off it for the next passenger, while a second person swept away the snowy heap that collected below Mallet-Man.
It was all ridiculously pretty. With the Christmas festivities and Kings’ Day over, the majority of the visitors were young Spanish snow-boarders and older German skiers. One British family dragged an unhappy 10-year-old (shouldn’t it have been in school?) who was cold, under-prepared, and frightened of the staircases because you could see the drop through each metal grid. In the pleasant Sherpa restaurant a group of Polish youngsters hugged mugs of hot chocolate and looked suspiciously at the single portion of churros they shared.
Mid-afternoon and it seemed to be brightening up. Either there were more skiers and snowboarders out on the slopes, or we could simply see more. Whichever, it was time to wrap up again and emerge from the hot-chocolate-warmed nest.
Even for a non-skier it’s a great place to visit. Plenty of viewpoints to watch the experienced skiers swooshing confidently past, and other corners to laugh with, not at, the school-groups and beginners as they flounder and fall. Gondolas and chair-lifts whizz over-head, a babel of languages swirls around, the urn of hot chocolate is kept busy, and another batch of churros is dropped into the hot fat. Tomorrow maybe the sun will shine again.
This wonderful country throws up so many bizarre contradictions. Sunday I was walking in the hills, climbing up to the Zafarraya pass, bathed in sunshine, too hot in a thick t-shirt. Monday, just two hours from home, I was kicking through the thick snow, grateful that my walking boots were keeping out the wet slush, flicking the falling ice flakes from my hair and face. #SpainIsDifferent
Tuesday morning. It had snowed overnight and the cars were covered. It’s my second winter here but my first visit to serious snow. I had no ice-scraper in the car. But permanently in the boot, optimistically, was a beach-mat, towel, and (hurrah!) a pair of plastic flip-flops. As a make-shift scraper, the flip-flop worked just fine to clear the snow.
Inside the car, the dashboard helpfully informed me it was -2.5°C. I edged the car forward from the snowy parking verge towards the snowy road. A bleeping sound alerted me to the approach of the snow-plough. I decided to let him lead, and we descended, slowly and safely, in convoy, to the bar at 1200 metres. The barman gave me a big smile and turned to make me una leche manchada doble en vaso without me ordering. I felt like a returning hero, safely back at Base Camp. The adventure was over until the next time.
© Tamara Essex 2014
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
A surreal moment as I was inching my way up the Sierra Nevada road. RNE1 (a Spanish radio station) was doing a phone-in for people to mention silly place-names. Most were in Spain but as I climbed past 1750 metres a man phoned in to say he had just been to England and there was a town called Clitoris. Managing not to swerve off the perilous mountain road, I slowed (even more) to concentrate on his call. He explained (in Spanish) that the town was called Maidenhead (my home town) and claimed that this translates as “clitoris” (which is, apparently, the same in Spanish as in English). I think he meant “virginity”. But he had the radio presenters in stitches!