25.08.19 — Journal

Caudete de las Fuentes

At the end of my last blog post, I mentioned that I had a plan to head off somewhere to spend the long weekend (el puente, as the locals call it), but that my plans weren’t fully finalised. In the end, however, I did manage to organise a carshare at the last minute and headed off to the chosen destination: Valencia!

After first visiting the city alone last year, this time I was met upon arrival by my friend Roberto. He’s currently back in his native city before he returns to Madrid next month to start a new job, and so he was able to put me up in his family’s flat for a couple of nights. I say a couple of nights, however, as our plan was to split the weekend into two, spending two days in the city and two in a small village in the Valencian countryside.

Our first two days in the city of Valencia can be summarised quite easily: we did nothing.

The first two days which we spent in the city of Valencia can be summarised quite easily: we did next to nothing! Discounting an excursion to the pharmacy, a shop to pick up a birthday gift, and an attempt to find bus times to said small village, we spent the first 48 hours cooking, moping around, and chatting away to some of his friends who came over.

After much drama trying to find the bus times for our trip out to the village, we eventually (after power-walking through the horrifically humid midday heat) boarded the bus out to where we’d be spending the next couple of days: Caudete de las Fuentes. We’d be staying in Roberto’s grandparents’ old house, now used by the family for the occasional escape from big-city life.

The centre of Caudete de las Fuentes, including a shop some palm trees, and the corner of a church.
The church spire in the centre of Caudete de las Fuentes.

Arriving at the tiny village, our primary concern was grabbing some food in order to throw together an evening meal, and so we wandered through the dainty streets and to the little village shop. It did, in a way, remind me of my home village, Worsthorne, only that Worsthorne is at least within walking distance of the next big town. Walk out of Caudete de las Fuentes, however, and you can expect to be walking for a good few hours before you come across much else!

With some food in the house – which was gorgeous, I have to say, but more on that a bit later on – we dragged out a stereo system, poured ourselves a glass of wine, and spent the evening listening to music in the back yard. It was a lovely evening, made even more relaxing as I had decided to leave my phone on airplane mode for the weekend such as not to be disturbed at all.

The golden sunlight of the evening illuminates the old walls of the buildings surrounding a courtyard.

The sun set as we listened to a selection of jazz, acoustic, and even some Édith Piaf.

The spire of the village church, visible and illuminated by the evening light over the rooftops of the old buildings of the village.
A lantern casts long shadows on one of the exterior walls in the courtyard.

As the evening wore on, the extreme nature of Valencia’s summer climate reared its ugly head, and the sticky heat quickly turned into a biting chill. Luckily, said extremes didn’t affect the interior of the house, as its walls are solid stone and a good few feet thick! This meant that we were able to comfortably finish our drinks inside, after which we both headed off to bed.

The living room of the house.

The following day, we had two main activities lined up: exploring some abandoned houses on the outskirts of the village, and setting up a system of lights in the back yard. The latter was of great interest to me, as those who know me will know that I have harboured a deep fascination and appreciation for lights and lightbulbs my entire life.

Over the last few years, with university and then work life taking over, I haven’t really had much chance to explore said love of lighting – except through lighting up a castle my dad built and integrating lights into a university project. Imagine my joy, then, when it turned out that Roberto has also spent the majority of his life tinkering around with lighting!

I shall, however, leave the story of our lighting creations from that evening for another blog post – there’s certainly enough photos to warrant it! For now, however, let’s stick with what we got up to during the day…

In preparation for the night’s lighting spectacular, we ascended into the amazing loft space where Roberto stores all of his lighting paraphernalia. We weren’t to actually take anything out of it until the evening, but it was a staggering space to be; poking around amongst boxes and boxes of lightbulbs, electrical knickknacks, and a plethora of old tools and oddities.

An old chest topped with glass knickknacks and hidden under the rafters of an old roof.
A selection of old tools and objects hung off the wall in an old loft.
An old incandescent lightbulb burns in the loft of an old house.
An arrangement of Christian crosses on the column of an old loft.

This collection of crosses in the centre of the loft was somehow rather unsettling.

A collection of ancient objects and tools in the rafters of a loft.

Once I’d taken my share of photos (there were many, many more than just the ones posted here), we returned to the house and rustled up a spot of lunch. After this, we headed out and through the winding streets towards the day’s first activity: exploring an entire neighbourhood of abandoned houses.

Roberto explained to me that the houses began to spring up in the early 2000s, with the development concieved as a luxury neighbourhood for guiris (that’s us, by the way, the English). He explained that construction began in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, when pretty much any property which was built was immediately snapped up.

Unfortunately, none of these properties were ever finished, with work being abandoned as Spain suffered the brunt of the crash. We also discussed that it seemed like a strange and perhaps foolish decision to attempt to create such an extensive complex of large dwellings within such a tiny and isolated village.

An abandoned billboard's various layers are exposed after it has been left unused for a long time.
An abandoned house can be seen through the missing window of another abandoned house.
The Spanish word "vergüenza", meaning shame, is graffitied onto the blocked-up entrance to the subterranean garage of an abandoned house.

As we wandered around one of the phases of the development, a particular piece of graffiti caught our eye, the one in the photo above. Although the dieresis (the two dots over the ü) may look rather germanic and suggest that the word could be German, it is indeed used in Spanish, with the word “vergüenza” meaning “shame” or “disgrace”. The connotations of such a word being slapped across the bricked-up entrance to an abandoned house designed for expats aside, me and Roberto noted how it was rather interesting to see that the author had taken the time to include the dieresis over the ü.

From here, we wandered downhill and to the second phase of the abandoned development. This was a much more expansive and complete set of dwellings, larger in size and generally much more advanced in their construction. Many were nearly complete, and we gauged that a few would have even been fully completed if they hadn’t been gutted for valuables and/or generally trashed.

A row of bricked-up and semi-compete houses.

By far the eeriest part of this area was to be found to the rear of the properties, where a recessed private road would have allowed access to the subterranean garages of each of the individual houses. The opening now served as one huge rubbish tip, littered with everything from abandoned mattresses to the broken ceramic remains of bathroom fittings that had evidently been thrown from the floors above.

The garage area between two rows of abandoned properties, with construction and abandoned ephemera littering the ground.
The rear of a row of abandoned houses, and the ground bellow littered with construction and abandoned rubbish.
A tree grows in the front garden of an abandoned house, seen from inside the doorway.

With the heat of the day getting to us, we eventually made back for the house, where we’d an evening of hanging, wiring, and generally playing about with lights awaiting us. This had to wait, however, until after a panicked visit to the village shop: we didn’t want to be left without supplies that evening and the following day! (It may be worth noting that in rural Spain, shops and the like tend to close mid-afternoon on Saturdays and do not reopen until Monday.)

As I said earlier, I’ll leave the whole tale of our evening’s escapades with the lights for a separate blog post (don’t worry, it’ll be the my next), and once I’ve done that I’ll pop the link in here

Seeing as we’ve skipped the Saturday evening, we pick up on Sunday morning and with the drama of how we were going to get back to Valencia on time for me to catch my carshare back to Madrid. The plan was that one of Roberto’s friends was going to give us a lift back to the city, but the times seemed increasingly tight, and I was understandably concerned about missing my 5pm car back to Madrid seeing as I was working at 8am on the Monday morning!

Through a stroke of sheer luck, however, it turned out that the driver of the carshare would be picking up another passenger from a town just down the road (15 minutes in a car, but like an hour on foot) from Caudete de las Fuentes. With a sigh of relief, I arranged to be picked up from there, and me and Roberto headed out for one last wander around the village, where the most interesting thing I found was this gorgeous handwritten sign – you’ll probably know by now that I’m a sucker for a nice bit of manual typography…

A handwritten sign reads "Restaurante Cris".

After we’d returned home, Roberto’s friend turned up, ready to drop me off at the service station which the driver of my carshare would be picking me up from. The three of us hopped in his car, waved Caudete de las Fuentes goodbye, and were launched headfirst into the second Ollie-searches-for-his-ride-back-to-Madrid drama of the day: how to get into the petrol station?

If you read the above sentence correctly, you’ll know that the difficult bit wasn’t finding the petrol station – we’d followed Google’s directions to a tee – but rather how exactly I was going to walk into the place itself. We arrived at the service station via a rural backroad, and found the whole complex was surrounded by two rather tall wire fences. No problem, we thought, we’d just have to circle the place until we found the entrance.

Well, it turns out that these motorway service stations really, really don’t want anyone gaining access who hasn’t driven in straight from the motorway itself, meaning there was no way for us to drive into the place. Great!

We had, however, managed to squeeze the car into the space between the two fences, and so there was only one barrier between me and my destination. What’s a guy to do then? Jump over the fence, of course!

I climb on top of a red car in order to try and jump over the fence to access the service station.

The attempt you see above, although amusing, wasn’t successful in the end, and we eventually found another section of the fence where the wire had been somewhat flattened and which I could clamber over.

Once I’d successfully broken through the perimeter of the promised land of the service station, I said goodbye to Roberto and thanked his friend, Pablo for driving his car over questionable undergrowth and allowing me to clamber all over his bonnet – I owe him big time!

Bringing to an end my rather action-packed journey, I strode into the service station’s restaurant hoping that nobody had noticed me stumbling through the undergrowth along the slip road in order to get there. I sat down at the bar, ordered myself a well-deserved beer, and turned airplane mode off on my phone in order to reconnect with the world and tell everyone about my dramatic final hours in Valencia!

In conclusion – and in stark contrast to the journey back to Madrid – I did have a lovely few days disconnecting and relaxing in both Valencia and Caudete de las Fuentes, and I can only thank Roberto, his family, and of course Pablo for putting me up and driving me around during my stay. I hope to return rather soon!