I get to the bar first, bang on time. You can take the woman out of England but you can’t take English punctuality out of the woman. Miguel makes my coffee and disappears into the miniscule kitchen to tip some brown sugar into a tiny espresso cup for me. I roll my eyes at him and he says he’s decided to order some sachets of brown at last. ¡Por fin! I’ve teased him often enough about it.
His bar is above a swimming pool accessories shop, it’s near the crossroads up towards Periana, and it’s easy to park. Adriana has collected Lola and Charo in Málaga and they are on their way to pick me up. They park, Spanish-timetable, late, as expected, but I just can’t assume that will happen so I’m always first to arrive. The noise levels increase as my three friends clatter up the wooden stairs and order their coffees, very specific, very demanding, very un-English. We’re not kissing or hugging, unusually, and the first of a hundred conversation topics is THAT virus.
After coffee the Spaniards want to visit the nearby English supermarket, and for the umpteenth time I explain that the name “Arkwright’s” comes from a TV comedy series, and the origin of ‘wright” as a maker, an artisan, such as a wheelwright. Lola loves studying English and has a thousand questions. Adriana has not a word of English but makes a beeline for Gale’s lemon curd, ignoring my plaintive reminder that it is nothing like as nice as the farmshop lemon curd they bought last year on a visit to my Dorset pueblo, Shaftesbury. Then the biscuit aisle for Scottish shortbread, then the array of Twinings teas. Finally we grab bread for our picnic, and carry our goodies out to the car.
Up the hill and then off onto the track up to Adriana’s campo house. First along the parallel track to open the stopcock so we will have water. Not only for our next coffees, but more importantly so we can water some of her trees. It’s why we go up there, officially. That’s the pretext, but it’s mostly just for the companionable picnic and conversation. Stopcock opened, she padlocks the box and jumps back in the car. We turn and the track snakes higher up to the junction where her chain blocks the access.
The pretty drawstring bag is removed from the glove compartment and the bunch of tagged keys is produced. Lola, Charo and I carry on chatting while Adriana fiddles with the padlock. One topic is put to bed and another starts up, until suddenly we realise that she is still fighting the lock and the chain remains firmly in place. Lola leaps out to help, to equally pointlessly try every key in the obdurate padlock. Puzzled, Adriana peers into the drawstring pouch, and we tip out all the odd keys that can accumulate as if drawn to each other and reproducing in the bag. There is nothing the right size. Never mind, it’s only a short walk up the remainder of the track, and we sort out our bags containing our contributions to the shared lunch before stepping over the chain and climbing the slope.
Arriving on the terrace with its spectacular view of the lake and the mountains, we fall to our usual tasks, bringing chairs and the table round to the side with the view, while Adriana went to open up the house. Lola regales us with a story and we are laughing as we unstack plastic chairs. Suddenly we see Adriana’s face as she frantically works through the bunch of keys. None of them works in the front door. The lock remains as uncompliant as the padlock had. You can almost hear our brains working it out … we have mountains of food and drink but no knives, bottle-openers or plates. We have plenty to eat but no access to the bathroom or the kitchen. We settle around the table to think, spreading out bread, cheese and olives on the paper they were wrapped in. Adriana phones her son; he was up here last weekend, but he says there was no problem with the keys then.
It’s early March and the sun beats down. The cold meat I’ve brought, a speciality of my pueblo, needs a knife. Charo’s stuffed peppers are not finger-food. We can’t make the planned salad. But we fail to make an alternative plan, as the conversation meanders over new ground, and the last bit of cheese gets finished off. Finally one of us, I don’t remember who, suggests that we take ourselves off to a venta, a rural bar-restaurante. The food gets bundled back into the bags, the chairs and the table are returned to their places, and we make our way back down to the car, stepping over the unyielding chain.
We contour round the mountain track and head off in a different direction. Adriana takes us through Periana and along to los Baños de Vilo. This is the Axarquía, the inland area east of Málaga. Not as well-known as the hotspots west of the city, not so popular with incomers. Our secret. These are the mountains I see from Colmenar. These are the hills, draped with fruit trees and wandered over by goats, that are my stamping-ground. As always, the Spanish women are puzzled as to how their guiri-friend, the foreigner in their group, has explored these out-of-the-way tracks, when they haven’t.
We cut through to los Baños de Vilo, a Moorish tower and pool with natural sulphurous water. In the hot sun the smell of the sulphur was rank and we were not tempted in to bathe. Back in the car, the cheese and olives now a distant memory, our driver and guide took us on to the hamlet of Guaro. I’ve often parked there for the varied hiking trails, the route up to the dramatic Zafarraya Pass, and the renowned restaurant which is where we now head. A shared banquet of scrambled eggs with young garlic shoots, soup made of local freshly-picked asparagus, and a salad the size of the mountain across the valley.
Then a hike, a stop to eat the tasty strawberries Charo had brought, and back to the car (there may also have been the theft of a fat lemon, warm to the touch, for each of us). Down towards civilisation just as it gets dark. The whole day has gone, and the full moon rises behind the palm fronds. Miguel’s bar is closed now but we cross to the other one for a final coffee before jokingly bumping elbows instead of a goodbye kiss.
It wasn’t the day we’d planned, it wasn’t the long afternoon relaxing in the kitchen and on the terrace of the campo house. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” as Robert Burns wrote. It couldn’t have mattered less.
© Tamara Essex 2020 http://www.twocampos.com