La Mata village life

It is eight fifteen in the morning. I am walking around the Parque Natural, listening to early birdsong and admiring pastel shaded spring flowers. The air carries the scent of pine. In the morning light I can see badger trails, and I watch the water rushing along the narrow canal from the sea into the salt lake, fish dancing and shimmering just beneath the surface. At my approach, a kingfisher darts into her nest on the bank. When I reach the bridge, a group of sturdy eucalyptus trees provides shade and I stand under one for a moment out of the direct heat. After a sip from my water bottle I amble along the walkway to a nearby hide to look at the lake. Sandpipers scurry along the shore in search of food, while a colony of ungainly flamingos dip their necks like a hundred miniature crane booms, scooping up millions of tiny artemia organisms into their crooked bills.

A lizard dashes in front of me as I approach the vineyard area. As well as the vines, there are fig trees, vegetable plots, and huge aloe cacti whose rings of yellow flowers at their edges look like the gold-studded earlobes of a green giant. I breathe in the heady scent, now of lavender and rosemary; wild barley sways in a sudden cooling breeze, purple ‘viper’s tongue’ plants snake their way across the sandy track, and shy rare orchids hide in the scrubland to my side.

I cross the road and head for the beach. The sun has already warmed the air. Eight kilometres of uninterrupted pale golden sand stretch ahead of me. Waves caress the spaces in between my toes, nothing but paw prints and bird tracks lie in front of me, and behind me, esparto grass sticks up awkwardly like an adolescent boy’s first stubble.

I turn towards the dunes. As my feet sink into the soft sand, a Woodchat Shrike with chestnut brown, black and white feathers startles me as it flaps cheekily across my path. I soon reach the end of a street, lined with scarlet, golden and damask pink bougainvillaea, and bright orange geraniums.

It’s a Wednesday and market day. Crowds amble past stalls offering flowers, plants, cured hams, vegetables, clothing and footwear. I buy a week’s fruit and vegetables for fifteen euro before approaching the main street. The smell of cigarettes, brandy and coffee emanates from tiny bars; shouts and chatter burst like machine-gunfire above the rustling of newspaper pages being turned. I inhale the aroma of tobacco from the estanco, of musty wine from a bodega, andof mouth-watering freshly baked bread from the panadería.

By nine thirty I can’t resist this enticing mix and sit at a roadside table for a café con leche and a tostado con tomate. From my vantage point I can see the local butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer and newsagent.

Town smells give way to jasmine, privet and stephanotis on my way to the watermill park where I pass old folk resting on the benches, watching children sail boats on the man-made lake; a soothing waterfall gently tumbling from one end provides a light current. I reach the boardwalk, the pulse of the village, where every day inhabitants and visitors promenade up and down its length, from the oriental-looking bar at the southern end, past a dozen beach bar/restaurants and shops, to the main square with its Virgen del Rosario church. It finishes at a spot where upturned fishing boats rest among the bright red and white plastic tables and chairs of a beach café.

Today is a fiesta day. Firecrackers rend the air, destroying the peace of the early evening and rousing us all from our siestas. A procession starts from in front of the church, the devout rocking from side to side under the weight of the holy statue they are bearing aloft. A coach deposits a group of jubilados – retired people returning from a day excursion. They are bubbling with fun and laughter, looking forward to being home for the evening festivities. Bands parade the streets where tables have been set up for thirst quenching beers and hunger appeasing tapas, including a giant paella being prepared on a trestle table, while decorated horses give rides around the sports court to children in their best party clothes.

Later, just as I was planning on going to bed, the unmistakeable sound of flamenco guitars, wailing voices and the intoxicating rhythm of drums draws me outside to watch dancers tapping and clacking and thumping and whirling. I sit on my terrace looking down at the main square, where people are still milling around at two in the morning, carrying tired children, pushing prams, still chattering and clattering and laughing as they wend their way home through the narrow streets . A heavy full moon silhouettes tiny boats on a sparkling sea; the lights of large ships are strung out along the distant horizon, whilst on the embarcadero with its round watch tower, revellers are still dancing, drinking and laughing on the same place where Romans once disembarked after sailing from their homeland across the Mediterranean.

Not every day is a fiesta or market day, but otherwise, it’s been a typical day of village life.

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