Tag Archives: History

Cami de Cavalls day 13 – Talaiot Ho!

Saturday 25 September 2021 – I was going to do another silly schoolboy thing and call this post “Cole Porter”, because the destination of today’s walking is Cala en Porter and I’ll use any tenuous link if necessary – as you’ll no doubt have noticed if you’ve been reading this blog for more than a day or so.  However, this got overtaken by events and an even more tenuous link, and you’ll just have to read on to find out about it. Won’t you?

(Well, you could get a hint by the usual short cut of viewing the highlights on Relive, I suppose.)

We took advantage of being in an apartment to have a Nice Cup Of Tea as part of breakfast (note to all socialists everywhere – proper tea is not theft), and generally made an effort to finish up those bits of our recent supermarket purchase which wouldn’t survive another day. Then we checked out and started on the day’s walking on a day which the Met Office promised to be partly sunny and rather warm (up to 28°C); it was certainly very humid. It stayed that way. Unfortunately.

The Cami de Cavalls organisers have done a very impressive job of trail marking. It’s very clear that a lot of effort has gone into making following it as straightforward as possible (or, of course, sometimes left or right). For example, there’s a hugely useful interactive map, which we Jane used to make sure that we knew where we were and where we had to go next. And this comes in handy when the signposts from the Cami’s organisers fall perhaps a little short of perfection.

(To be fair, it’s extremely rare that the route is not very clear; we came across an instance later in the day when the signs ran out and the interactive map was useful, and this was the first time that the route onwards was not pretty much obvious.)

The route leads upwards out of Sant Tomàs

and into nice views and fairly open country.

The first of these pictures shows our first sight of the end of the first of today’s two stages, Son Bou.  We passed something that we thought was possibly evidence of a very successful harvest of the main crop round here – stones (you’ll have to read through the blog to understand how witty this is)

and what we  decided was a “before and after” advert for the use of the harvest.

There were some more actual cavalls

wasps on the nest

a sow and (we posited) her piglets

as we entered a wetland which, we read, was the second most important after the Albufera area we’d passed through on the first day of our walking.

The photo above shows another view of Son Bou, which we entered shortly after, with our first ever viewing of people actually riding horses on the horses’ trail.

Son Bou itself is another seaside town (bigger than I had realised until I caught sight of it), and is a bit of a mixture of handsome houses

and less classy aspects.

It was the end of the first of today’s two stages, and so we started up the next one, theoretically a short hop to Cala en Porter. Of course, we’re in ravine country here, so the “hop” involves going up

and up

and then – well, bless me! – down

you get the idea, I’m sure.  I’m not going to belabour the point. Except maybe I will. Being in ravine country gives rise to some great views

and as we passed the bottom of the ravine – unsurprisingly a seaside cove – we saw evidence of previous mining activity

which, presumably, was to do with what looked like significant mineral content in the rocks hereabouts.

Having got down to this cove, we climbed again and found ourselves in open country

leading to today’s diversion, which was considerably more interesting and impressive than I had expected.  Menorca has a very significant megalithic (Talaiotic) heritage, which we’d first come across in our visit a couple of years ago. (I mention the Talaiotic word to help you understand the title of this post, by the way.) The Cami360 booklet mentioned a couple of sites worth a visit near the trail, so off we set to have a look.

The first is a sepulchre site, with a dolmen – one of Menorca’s oldest megalithic structures – a tomb that originally had a long corridor that one had to crawl along to get to the burial space.

and other impressive stone work surrounding it.

Some what further along the track is a site called Torre d’en Galmés.  From the view we got across the fields as we approached, I was expecting just, you know, this tower.  It’s actually among the most significant Talaiotic sites on the island, and much, much, bigger than I had expected. Indeed, it’s so significant that you have to pay to get in! You can read details on Wikipedia, but here are some photos wot I took:

There’s now research which indicates that at least some of the Talaiots – piles of stones whose purpose is actually unknown – might have something to do with early understanding of astronomy;

a collapsed Taula (“table”) which is in a space which had religious significance at the time;

a burial cave;

and olive oil mill/press;

and a hypostyle chamber (sadly with the roof no longer completely extant).

It really is a huge site; it knocks into a cocked hat any of the sites that Jane and I had seen on our previous visit to the island. It was quite awe-inspiring, even for me, though I was wilting quite considerably in the heat and humidity of the day.

After this, we walked into Cala en Porter, which was gently downhill (until another fucking sharp uphill section which I really didn’t want to have to deal with)

but which, of course, led to some decent views across the fertile valley at the base of the ravine we were basically going down (except for the bloody up bits).

It was our day for animal life, it would seem: pigs, piglets, horses – and then Jane spotted this little fella:

the first tortoise (Galapagos aside) I can ever recall seeing that wasn’t a pet.

We also had our first sight of Cala en Porter

which looked pretty high, for a cove, and made me wonder how much further uphill we’d have to walk later. Correctly, as it turned out; once we hit the end of the track and got onto tarmac, the trail led up – and then we had to walk slightly further up tp get to our hotel.  As I mentioned yesterday, this is a medieval castle first built in 1971.

There had been some doubt as to whether it was a one-star or 5-star hotel. I can now dispel that doubt: one-star, but this is not necessarily disastrous.  The proprietor, Rafael, is clearly a rogue, but he seems to be on top of his business.  He got us organised and into our rooms (air-conditioned! thank Christ! as I was fair wiped out by this stage) and, very shortly after, equipped with beer and other refreshments. The place is not posh, but it has its own charm. The interior décor is fairly unique – here is the upstairs “sitting room” from which the bedrooms lead off:                           

The bar/breakfast room, complete with Rafael and Mrs Rafael

and the place is not short of character.

Once the early evening arrived, we had tapas here – very good – and then retired for our usual administrative time – blogging or working out what the morrow would bring,

The diversion to the Talaiotic sites had extended the day’s walking from the expected 10 miles to 14, and added a few extra metres of ascent as well – we climbed 298m, some 45m more than the diverted walk. So we’re now up to a total of 121 miles, with two days’ walking – another 20 miles or thereabouts – to go. I expect them all to be hot and sweaty, but we are fundamentally enjoying ourselves, even during the uphill bits.  Do come back tomorrow to see how we got on, won’t you?

Oman Day 2 – The Cattle Market

Friday Feb 22. It was a chilly dawn; the wind that had whistled and moaned during the night had dwindled but not desisted, so our early (0600!) breakfast, while excellent, was taken quite hastily. Ironically, the tea we were offered by default was – you guessed it – Twinings Earl Grey, which made something of a mockery of our smugly eschewing packing it so that we could experience the mystery of the Arab world. However, the free supply of Earl Grey was always very welcome.

Very soon after breakfast we bundled ourselves into the relative warmth of the car to take us to our first item on the day’s agenda – a cattle market in Nizwa.

The sunrise, though cold, was pretty

and led to some lovely views over the mountains.

So, off we bumped (honestly, neck and core muscles get a thorough workout travelling these tracks; even with the expert driving of Rashid, I was still banging my head on the window pillar occasionally. I hereby apologise to Hud Hud Travels for the resultant damage to their motor).

We had to make an early start in order to get to the Nizwa cattle market (which happens every Friday, that being the start of the weekend in these here parts) whilst there was worthwhile action taking place. And action there was – a central platform around which sheep, goats and cattle were paraded with auction staff trying to conclude deals with the surrounding crowds. Here are a couple of photos, but to understand the dynamism and noise of what was going on, see the video below.

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

Nizwa Cattle Market Scene, Oman

A video gives a much better idea of the considerable bedlam quotient of the market.

Then Rashid took us around the souk which adjoins the cattle market site, which has many conventional types of market stall,

Nizwa Souq scenes, Oman

but also features racks of dates (of which there are some 38 varieties in Oman):

Buying Dates, Nizwa Souq, Oman

(and there’s a booth where visitors are offered coffee and dates);

Coffee and Dates, Nizwa Souq, Oman

a local sweet called halwa;

Buying Halwa, Nizwa Souq, Oman

which always contains saffron, alongside a selection of other sweet ingredients;

Halwa flavourings, Nizwa Souq, Oman

live birds and other animals (some for eating, some for pets);

Buying and Selling animals, Nizwa Souq, Oman

Buying and Selling animals, Nizwa Souq, Oman

even guns are for sale

Selling guns in Nizwa Souq, Oman

Buying and Selling Guns, Nizwa Souq, Oman

though one wonders, sometimes, if people have the right idea!

Buying and Selling Guns, Nizwa Souq, Oman

It’s not at all clear why the trade in guns is so brisk, since hunting is forbidden in Oman. Still, boys will be boys, eh?

There are plenty of stalls selling tourist fodder,

Nizwa Souq scene, Oman

and we spotted this group of old chaps sitting around and talking among themselves.

Nizwa Souq scene, Oman

All in all, Nizwa on a Friday morning is a busy and buzzy place.

Another major tourist attraction in Nizwa is its fort. Many towns had forts to repel bands of maraudings Riffs (often, it seems, coming from Nizwa itself) but in most cases thes forts are disused and in a poor state. Many are being recontructed, and the one in Nizwa is a shining example – so much so that it was formally reopened by Oman’s ruler, the widely loved and respected Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said.

Castle courtyard outside Niwa Fort

The fort itself is the circular tower, and the building which encloses it is Nizwa Castle. The castle courtyard beside the entrance to the fort proper plays host to a variety of things – occasional displays of dancing and singing

an elegant display of the local air conditioning technology,

Aircon, Oman style, in Nizwa Fort

(porous flasks filled with water, which slowly seeps through and evaporates in the wind, cooling the remaining water in the flask – which has a cup in the neck to allow for drinking and to keep the flies out – and also the room inside);

and demonstrations of the making of Omani bread, which is wafer-thin. The making of it is very interesting – the sort of skill that years of practice makes look easy.

Inside the fort there are several exhibit rooms, including some interesting photos of before, during and after its reconstruction. If you’re not careful, you come across singers and dancers in the corridors.

At the entrance to the fort can be found four patches of light on the floor, like this one

Bottom of the defensive shaft

If you stand on one and look up, you see that there is a shaft going straight up to the top of the tower.

Looking up the defensive shaft

It turns out that these shafts guard every entrance to the fort and defenders can use them to pour boiling date syrup onto intruders. This is very nasty stuff which sticks to the skin as it burns it, so it’s a powerful deterrent.

If you go to the roof of the fort you can see the tops of the four shafts (as well as wells and access hatches to high security prison cells)

The roof of Nizwa Fort, shoing the four defensive shafts

The roof is an attractive scene

The roof of Nizwa Fort

and offers good views over Nizwa, including its Grand Mosque

Nizwa Grand Mosque

an idea of what cannon might have once fired on

Defensive emplacement

and a panorama across its huge date plantation.

Lunch was taken in Wadi Tanulf, which was (yet) another dramatic setting.

Along the sides of the wadi are some openings which have been used by people living there and tending goats – good choice of domicile, since it’s close to water, if there is any.

Wadi Tanulf Scene

There are also openings much higher up. Anyone who lived here must have been pretty fit!

The afternoon’s activity was a walk up Wadi Ghul, which we had looked across yesterday. Now we had the opportunity to walk along part of it. Rashid took us as far along as the car would go, and then sent us off to explore. As ever the geology was quite epic, with huge boulders litering the bed of the wadi

and impressive rock formations.

Wadi Tanulf Scene

Wadi Tanulf Scene

Wadi Tanulf Scene

For a country which is so dry, rain seems to cause a lot of problems. We came across this car, which (we know) is a rental car and (we think) must have been caught in a flash flood – it certainly wasn’t going any further!

It seems to be routine that after rainfall some tracks and roads are badly disrupted by rockfalls. The rainfall doesn’t even have to be torrential. Because the land is so dry, whatever rain falls just runs off immediately, hence creating a perpetual danger of flash floods. If you find a decent road surface, you can be sure that there’s a storm drain beside it to funnel the water away; and among the hills there is a lot of evidence of the erosion that shapes the landscape, even in this dry country.

After the walk, it was time to get back to our camp on Jabal Shams. The wind had died down a bit, but this was merely going from icy chain saw to freezing scalpel. I attempted to do some writing (these blogs don’t write themselves, you know) and Jane wandered off to look for – and found – some rock drawings that Patrick had mentioned (and some he hadn’t found, too!). These have presumably been done by the people living up in the mountains in times gone by, although it’s difficult to get any kind of detail.

A donkey? (above) and a camel (below)?

and a horse? (below)

But the cold drove us, after another excellent evening meal, to another early-night-with-hot-water-bottle. At least this time we weren’t having to get up at 5am, but in a more leisurely fashion so that we could depart for the next stage of our holiday – two days by the beach at Barr Al-Hikman. The promise was of warmth, which sounded great to frozen ears. Read the next gripping instalment to see how things went.

Afterthoughts: So…..Croatia, eh?

In the midst of dealing with the fallout from being away for a fortnight (laundry, mainly, though having lots of nice cups of tea also features heavily), I think it’s worth gathering our thoughts about the last couple of weeks and sharing them here, just in case it helps others planning something similar. Generally, both Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience of Croatia and would heartily recommend it (particularly the Dalmatian coast) as a walking and/or sailing destination.

Timing. July and August can be fiercely hot all over Croatia. The best time to visit is May or (like we did) September. This is the second time we’ve visited in that month and the weather we experienced was, by and large, lovely. The Croatian tourist season runs out at the end of September or very early in October and things start to wind down quite markedly, so getting hotel rooms later than September might be challenging.

Walking. Our experience of walking in Dalmatia is very positive, but it was definitely a good thing to have thoroughly researched the level of difficulty in prospect, and the levels of fitness required, before booking the walking tour. We were operating towards the top end of our range with many of the group younger (and fitter) than us… Anyhoo:

  • The tracks are plentiful and well-marked (though I wonder how many of them we would have found without having an expert guide to do this for us).
  • Most of the routes we undertook were short on shade, which means that the walking can be pretty hot work, and taking lots of water is essential.
  • The tap water is perfectly drinkable, so take your own bottles and refill.
  • Very few of the walks we did passed any outposts of civilisation, so it’s advisable to take some food with you as well.
  • Mobile signal appeared to extend over much of the terrain we covered.

Sailing. This is big business along the Dalmatian coast. There are lots and lots of sailing boats, even some small towns sport large marinas and generally this part of the Adriatic is a good place for sailing, with or without an engine (take note, however, of the section below about the weather).

Landscape. The Dalmatian landscape tends towards being mountainous and scrubby – the land is difficult to farm, being stony. So the trails through it are pleasant enough and will occasionally offer great views from the tops of hills, but are otherwise not particularly scenic and are in some cases quite challenging. Our admiration for the local people who used these trails simply to get from A to B (often with their livestock, and often despite advanced age) grew day by day! We followed a couple of trails through woodland, which were more rewarding.

Townscape. The cities we visited all had old towns, which are all worth looking around. The towns and villages are by and large somewhere between pretty and handsome – well-maintained, tidy and picturesque.

Money. Croatia is no longer the cheap destination it was, but it’s not too expensive, either. In the towns, debit cards were widely accepted in shops, cafés and restaurants, and it was easy to find ATMs. You might find places that will accept Euros, but it’s best to have local currency (Kune) available. If you’re off the beaten track, you’ll need cash to be able to buy anything.

Eating out. Tourism is an important industry in Croatia and so there is usually a plentiful supply of cafés and restaurants in the towns, with English spoken and good service.

Cuisine. As you’d expect, there’s some good fish on offer, and seafood (especially squid and octopus). But emphasis tends to be towards meat and potatoes – the vegetarians in our group had some difficulty getting anything more imaginative than a plate of grilled mixed vegetables on occasion. For non-vegetarians, a couple of traditional dishes are worth seeking out: Pašticada, a slow-cooked beef stew; and Peka, a baked dish of meat and, yes, vegetables, cooked under a dome in barbecue coals. But there’s no problem finding more cosmopolitan fare such as steak, pizza or burgers – the burgers I had were very good, and served without bread, which I prefer.

Drinking out. You’ll find that most restaurants have a limited selection of wines and what is offered is likely to have been made locally or nationally. Croatia has a well-developed wine-making tradition and the local wines are perfectly good without being stellar. Local beers tend to be of the lager persuasion and are perfectly good.

Liqueurs. Something of a Croatian speciality is the production of liqueurs based on local produce – one we found to be very nice is based on sour cherry, but you’ll also come across walnut liqueur and something called Prošek, which is grape-based and quite sweet, among other variations such as olive and cornelian cherry. These are quite often offered as a welcome drink and I think it’s polite to sample at least one…

Bloody Cruise-Ship Tourists. Many of the larger or more attractive towns in Croatia are magnets for the big cruise liners – Dubrovnik and Split have a constant stream of them during the holiday season, for example, and Trogir during the height of the season is reportedly an utter zoo. So you may find that such towns are crowded during the day.

Bloody weather. Actually, for the most part our weather was pretty much perfect – a bit hot for me for going uphill, but sunny, warm and lovely for sitting outside when eating or drinking. But the Bura wind that we experienced is capable of wreaking havoc on sailing boats and travel itineraries. I was grateful for the experience of our captain to know it was coming (it took many others by surprise) and plan accordingly; if you’re considering sailing in the Adriatic, this is the sort of thing that can become very suddenly of very great pith and moment. Having said all that, and with the benefit of hindsight and no havoc having been wreaked, we’re glad to have experienced it; apart from anything else, the Bura clears the air and the visibility after it died down somewhat was vastly improved.

For anyone interested in sailing, walking, history, archaeology and/or pretty places to visit, the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is somewhere that we think should be high on the list. We hope that these thoughts, along with the descriptions of our various vacation days, help in understanding the possibilities that Croatia presents to the tourist.