I truly love Spain. Not the Costa Brava-Malaga style Spain, although those places have their own beauty as well; I mean real, raw, harsh Spain.
Extremadura in August was always going to be a challenge. Searing temperatures, bleached swathes of nothingness dotted with only a few olive trees or oaks, whose acorns feed the revered black pigs. Long straight roads all to ourselves for it was two in the afternoon when we arrived, a time when everyone was sensibly asleep. Eagles soared on the thermals, creating beautiful arcs in slow motion, spying the ground for a tasty rodent, but nothing else was occurring. Nothing at all.
Life slowed to a manageable pace, of eating little, drinking a lot, lazing in and out of sleep by the pool and summoning up the energy to visit ruins and architecture left by the conquistadores. A week passed in this fashion, with a story or two to tell, before moving on to Portugal - a country surprisingly beautiful, green, mountainous and puzzling. It was here I passed into my 41st year without a bump or a glitch, a smooth transition aided by lunching on a precipice, swimming in an icy cold river and barbequeing at the yurt, washed down with unmentionable amounts of Portugal's finest fizzies.
We swam in rivers, lakes, the high side of dams and the municipal swimming pools feeling very foreign, not a word of Portuguese between us - and Spanish does not help at all. With a splash of English, a try of French and a fair amount of pointing and international signing, we got about, had fun, got laughed at and laughed it off. We were certainly outsiders in this part of the world.
We drove back through Spain, stayed in castles, wondered about cathedrals, walked the cities battlements, and ate oniony gazpacho which stayed with us all day. We taught the kids how to siesta, to eat jamon, to try out their newly acquired Spanish words and to swim. They learnt about scorpions and gecko's, Romans and medieval towns, they spotted stork nests perched on top of religious buildings and spiders the size of their hands, they moaned about the towns and revelled in the space and cool waters. They drew pictures, collected stones, rated the serviette holders of various bars, tried lollies and ice creams alien to them and watched intently at the boys and girls of their own age.
They learnt, we learnt, I relaxed while he is still horizontal - and we are planning our way back, maybe one day forever.