Friday, 6 July 2012

Going on old holidays I've already been on

Well I didn't get my new job and my heart-rate is still odd. I have been feeling better but I still get the odd moment of swimmy head. It happened again this morning at work and since I hadn't run since last Saturday I took this to mean it had nothing to do with running so I went out a wee one this afternoon. Oh it was good to get out.

The air was warm and humid and the grey clouds swirled around Arthur's Seat. I found myself thinking about our climbing trip to El Chorro  c.1997. As there's little prospect of any holidays for some while I thought I might like to go back and enjoy an old one over again.

We did lots of climbing at Alien Rock and really liked it and were working our way up the numbers and over onto the scary leading wall. It was time for a hot-rock holiday abroad. We thought as far south in Spain as we could get seemed a good idea to try and get good weather in March, and neither of us drove so we needed to go somewhere we could stay and the climbing was there. We settled on El Chorro, 30 miles in-land from Malaga.

When we arrived at Pablo Ruiz Picasso airport it was pissing with rain. Our rucksacks were filled to the brim with ropes and iron-wear and we had smaller rucksacks on our fronts.  We went to the train station to get the train to El Chorro but all they could tell us that we could understand was that it wasn't running. Still we had the number for the guy who ran the refugio we were going to stay at so we phoned him up. He was coming into town anyway to get some things. We were grateful to climb into the back of his pick-up. He had quite a lot of things to do so by the time we got to El Chorro it was dark. If I remember right we had a bottle of wine and some muesli for tea in a tiny dark room and fell asleep. During the night the rain came through the roof in some places, but we were able to move things around so nothing got wet.

In the morning the sun was out and we set off to get to some easier looking climbing. To get there you had to go through a railway tunnel,along the side of the rails,  which I wasn't keen on. It was very dark in the tunnel, partly because it was bright out and partly because it was long. The whole thing really made me nervous so I moved as quickly  as I could and fell right over something at knee height which seemed to be a concrete block with an iron spike on the top. I jumped up again pretty quickly, still mostly focused on getting out the tunnel in case a train came - but when I got out in the daylight I realised I had hurt my leg really quite badly. I'd hit it hard right on the knee cap which was bleeding and I had cuts down my shin. Pretty soon I couldn't bend my leg. Not good for climbing. I belayed Peter up a climb or two but then we called it a day.

There were a few climbers and a few back-packers back up at the refugio. The back-packers were Australians on their round the world odyssey. It seemed senseless really. They were just wandering around with no plan, no agenda. I like an activity based holiday myself. This one I spent a fair part of walking around with a stiff leg and drinking wine every night. After a couple of days I could climb a bit on easy climbs but Peter had to do all the leading. Unlike at Alien Rock (which I thought of fondly) the bolts in the rock weren't nice and regularly placed but were miles apart, meaning if you came off you faced a long fall. It felt cruel. We were novices and the only ones wearing climbing helmets (but we kept wearing them anyway) and the place was full of huge multi-pitch walls that made you giddy just looking up. To add salt to the wounds there were some very good climbers there - making it all look easy. So there was your fear - and then there was the shame of your fear.

There were 2 Aussie climbers at the refugio, a couple, that consisted of a tall athletic man and a tiny ex-ballerina woman. They were friendly but their climbing was chilling. We climbed up near them one day. She was trying to lead a 6c that she had previously top-roped. He was shouting her on. 6c means you just get tiny little dimples in the rock for your hands and feet, or it did on this climb. She was panting and focused, flew up the wall but then took a big fall, went for it again, and again, "Come ON!!" bellowed her partner, "I really want you to get this!" Serious stuff. We were still in our helmets. I felt like I could hear the Dad's Army theme tune wherever we went. Our army seemed a little...sub-optimal.

Peter did really well and led lots and lots of climbs on long, long run outs. I botched my way up after him with one functioning leg and one stiff one for propping on things. Still the weather was nice and we got in a bit of rhythm. It was just a nice place to be. For a few days in a row we went up climbing on a face called the Arab Steps, which was about an hour's walk uphill through the forest to get to.

Peter got bitten by something strange on his ankles and the bites swoll up and went bright red. For a couple of days we tried to ignore them but then they turned black. We went to the tiny village shop to try to buy something and after a lot of pointing and consulting a phrase book we managed to get some anti-histamine cream for his bites and some aspirins for my sore knee. I didn't think aspirin was really the best idea but that's all they had. Thankfully the anti-histamine cream stopped the bites from evolving any further.

After the first week, sadly, it started to get a bit wetter and I think we had a few days off. By then some new people had arrived at the refugio, in particular a couple of guys from London who were really nice; Simon and possibly Sebastian. Simon was a salt of the earth kind of guy, big and strong and kind of humble and Sebastian (if that was his name, it was something posh) was little and wiry and funny. There was a climb in a cave in the rock face called Poema de Roca which we reasoned might be kind of dry despite the persistent rain. The rock was fairly dry but kind of greasy and it was the most terrifying crumbly stuff. You could break it off in your hands. It didn't make for confident climbing. Still it was something to do. As we were standing around chatting we suddenly heard the most terrifying loud clatter (its hard to describe) and realised that rock was falling from the walls above. We all ran up to the wall and pressed into it or got into the cave. It was like being tiny, tiny animals with a huge predator about. When the noise had stopped we timidly gathered again but our nerves were gone for the day and we decided to repair to the small bar where everyone in the village seemed to collect for a few drinks at noon every-day. There were construction guys building a hotel nearby and they'd go in there at lunch time and drink short drinks and have a sing-song with hard-fast clapping interspersed. Then go back and man the JCBs.
We drank there all afternoon and well into the evening and made our way back up the road in the pitch black. It was amazing we found our way.

The next day we made our way back to Malaga and found a room for the night so we could be up to get our flights in the morning. We went out with the intention of spending all our pesetas so ate well and trawled around some bars, sampling local wines...In the morning we discovered the Spanish hangover cure of chocco y churro ...big doughnuts for dipping in hot-chocolate. And then we flew home.

I wonder why this is in my mind now? I remember at the time someone asking me what I did and being so sick of the job I was in at the time that I dodged the question so I wouldn't have to speak about it at all. I'd applied to do a nursing course but hadn't heard back yet. Things go wrong and then they go right and then they go wrong again. I don't know if they end up on a right or a wrong.

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