Brian’s Farm

Brian’s Farm

Bumping along dirt roads, the rear mirror filled with dust

Crossing dehydrated stream beds, impassable in the wet

Gate after gate, opened and carefully closed

Until only the lonely cluster of welcome awaits

Embracing, kissing, laughing, relaxing

Nothing had changed, at least not that we wanted to see

Cold cans cracked, news exchanged, it felt good to be together again

Country Roads had brought us home once more

Wood fire crackling, the smell of roasting lamb

Smoke in our hair, the taste of cheap red wine

The air throbbing with the sound of Hot August Night

And we were as one, and it felt so very, very good

It was not quite dark, when alone I walked up the hill

Intoxicated with the beauty of the southern sky

The smell of the night breeze in my face

I didn’t ever want the night to end

Sitting on a rock, still warm from the summer sun

Listening to the rustle and occasional squeak in the bush

Recalling so many nights of carefree abandon

Loving one and loving all.

I wrote that piece a few years ago, as part of an assignment for an Open University course in Creative Writing.  The particular task was to recall a beautiful personal memory and to include all the five senses.  I called it ‘Brian’s Farm’ and it was loosely based on my memories of a period in my life in Australia, during the years 1971-6.

When I knew Brian, he was in his mid to late twenties.  When he was eighteen he bought a track of undeveloped bush near Guyra, about 70 km north of Armidale in northern New South Wales.  I seem to remember that he had about 3000 acres, but I could not swear to that.  His land was partly undulating, before backing up into the hills, and it included mineral rights to a river that flowed down from the hills, and contained evidence of gold and sapphires.

Now, when I tell you that Brian spent the first two years on his land living alone in a tent, while he slowly cleared a small area of bush to create some paddocks for sheep and horses, you can start to realize that he was an exceptional individual, of true pioneer spirit.  He was of medium height and not heavily built, but he oozed strength.

I once met his father, a stocky balding little Englishman of florid complexion. I think that he was an English teacher in Armidale.  I don’t remember his mother ever being mentioned.  I suspect that his father helped him with the funds to buy the land.  In those days, undeveloped bush land cost only a few dollars an acre.

Brian’s first building that he erected was a large wool shed, with a kitchen attached and containing a wood fired oven.  At the back, he added a second small building, containing a shower unit and toilet.  With the door open, the view from the toilet across the valley was stunning.

The shower unit was a marvel of engineering.  The water from the roof of the woolshed was captured in a huge tank and from there it was pumped up the hill to another similar tank.  From there it flowed with some force to a boiler above a wood fireplace.  A cold shower was available at any time, but before having a hot shower, the water had to be heated.  The shower room was large and had a ceiling shower head of enough diameter to allow six people to comfortably shower together.  Brian encouraged communal showers, ostensibly to economize on water!

When Brian completed the woolshed, he started work on a small bungalow for himself, and that was where he was living when I first knew him.  At that time, he was offering the opportunity to spend a week in his woolshed for a quite modest cost.  And of course, it not just gave Brian some additional income, but brought some social opportunity into his otherwise hermitic existence.

Visitors had the opportunity to ride his horses, to go rock climbing, and to prospect for precious stones and gold.  For those who doubted the existence of treasure in the river, Brian would show his jars of topaz and gold nuggets.  And there was of course the wildlife, with lots of red kangaroos, kookaburras, and plenty of snakes.

The nearest ‘civilisation’ was The Red Lion Tavern in the tiny village of Glencoe, about 25 km north.  Any visit to Brian’s farm was not complete without an evening in The Red Lion, with its roast lamb, washed down with copious glasses of Aussie red.  How I would love to be able to turn the clock back to those days.

The Red Lion Tavern in Glencoe

But life moves on, and there have now been nearly 500 full moons since I left Australia on my South American travels.  I am yet to return.

I lost touch with Brian; keeping in contact was not as easy in those days of writing paper, envelopes, stamps and snail mail.  I did hear that he married and then was once more on his own.  It would have been a lonely life for a woman, especially if she was a city girl.

Occasionally I wonder what he is up to these days. Could he still scale Chimney Rock or do a forward roll over two wool bales, like we used to

Once upon a time…

Green Point

For access to open spaces, fresh ocean air and multiple sporting facilities, Green Point, Cape Town, is by far the best place in which I have ever had the opportunity to live.  I suspect that I will never find better.  And add in friendly and laid-back people, affordable food and wine, and a Goldilocks climate – never too hot, never too cold.  For me, it is perfect.

From our eyrie on the slopes of Signal Hill, it is about 600 m to the Green Point shops, restaurants, bars etc. and across the road is the edge of the sporting and recreational park, with the Cape Town stadium, two cricket grounds, an international standard athletics track, an 18-hole golf course, a rugby club with several pitches and a beautiful park, with lakes, abundant birdlife and a plethora of native flora.

And beyond the park is the ocean and a wide promenade, that stretches as far as I would ever care to walk.

An early morning from our balcony

One day recently, on my usual daily walk past the rugby grounds, I noticed that several huge tents were being erected and each day after, more and more tents were being added.  The event was the Cape Town rugby 10s tournament, also incorporating a netball and beach volleyball competition.  All in all, there were 100 rugby teams, 40 netball and 40 volleyball, all competing over three days.

Now I have played in a few rugby 7s competitions, in my very amateurish and much younger days, but I had never heard of rugby 10s.  The game involves ten players on each team – five forwards and five backs, and each game has two 9-minute halves, with a 2-minute half-time.  The rules are similar to rugby 7s.

And typical of anywhere one finds rugby, copious volumes of beer were consumed, and the Cape Town event sported, what was reputed to be, Africa’s largest beer tent.

The rugby event, as seen from the air (photo from internet)

Two days later, the tents, and all evidence of the rugby event, had disappeared, to be replaced, outside the football stadium and surrounding roads, by the construction of temporary facilities for the Cape Town leg of the Triathlon World Cup.

This event is held over two days, month by month, in several cities in both hemispheres.  There are four categories in the competition, with the elite competing over 750 m swim, 40 km cycle and 10 km run.

The swim in the cold water of the Waterfront harbour (photo from internet)
The cycling over laps along Beach Road (photo from internet)
The eventual first and second in the elite female category (photo from internet)
With a sprint to the finish by the football stadium (photo from internet)

As with the rugby competition, all evidence of the complex facilities had disappeared within two days.  On the third day, I found several strange metal strips on the forecourt near the stadium, each with protrusions at intervals.  There were two groups apart, but at angles to each other and not parallel. I was quite puzzled.

The next day, I found that barriers had been added, but I still could not imagine what they were for.  This time I found a park employee, who explained that when there was a football match in the stadium, the whole area was fenced off, and all spectators had to pass through the barriers to be searched for alcohol, drugs, knives, guns etc.

Sure enough, the next day I found that the whole area had been fenced off.  It was not obvious at the start.


This weekend, there is a limited-overs cricket match taking place.


And of course, tonight there will be the football match at the stadium.

It seems that there is never a dull moment in Green Point.

I like it like that… 🙂

Mérida to Cáceres

We decided to continue as far as Cáceres, some 74 km to the north of Mérida, spending the nights in Aljucén, Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano.

About 5 km north of Merida, we passed around the Proserpina dam – El Embalse de Proserpina.  It was built in the early days of Mérida, to supply water to the city across aqueducts.  The aqueducts have long been in ruins, but the reservoir, with its 12m retaining wall, still exists.

El Embalse de Proserpina

At one point on the route, we saw in the distance the couple with the cart.  She was strapped in and hauling, while he was ahead, walking with a perceptible limp.  A little later we passed them: they were sitting some distance from the path.

Aljucén is a very small village with one bar and a rather strange Casa Rural – Termas Aqua Libera, at which we turned out to be the only guests.  From the street, there was nothing unusual about the place, but once across the threshold, one was transported to Roman times.  It seemed to be quite an authentic copy of a Roman villa, and we were shown where we could select from a choice of Roman togas to wear, if we were interested in dressing the part.  We respectfully declined the opportunity.

When we went out some time later, there seemed to be a party going on, with several couples dressed in Roman gear, with lots of flashing legs and thighs.  But when we returned a couple of hours later, all was quiet, much to Lotta’s relief and my disappointment; I had never before been to a Roman orgy and I still haven’t.  One can but live in hope… 🙂

The highlight of the next day was our encounter with the pigs, black pigs, hundreds of them, in a huge open range paddock: the black pigs that produce the famous pata negra ham.  The black Iberian pig, or cerdo negro, are apparently the only pigs that naturally seek out and eat mainly acorns.


But like most pigs, they are very curious, and want to smell you and perhaps taste the salt on your legs.  Now I was brought up with pigs, so nothing new there, but I suspect that Lotta would have preferred to have seen them from the other side of a fence.  She was quite happy to eventually cross a cattle grid and leave that massive paddock.

The place where we stayed in Alcuésar was also quite strange.  I had only vague instructions that led us nowhere, so we stopped in a bar to ask directions.  After another caña, the very helpful barman drew us a simple map on a serviette: it turned out that we had been quite close, but not close enough.

But when we found the street and the right block, we could not see a door.  I asked an old toothless man if he knew where the entrance was and he immediately scuttled up a side-street and rang a door bell, signalling that we had arrived.  An elderly aristocratic-looking lady answered the door, hustled us in and in a whirlwind of introductions and instructions, swept us in and out of rooms, up stairs, down steps and along corridors until we were in a small apartment that was ours for the night.  I was quite disorientated.

Thankfully our exit was close by, via a side door of the house, which it turned out occupied an entire block of the town.  It must have been a rich family that built the house and perhaps the aristocratic lady was a descendant.  We never did see her again.

We managed to navigate our way from the apartment into the town and back again, without once getting lost.  And when we returned, who did we see watching television as we passed a large room that served as a lounge?  The couple with the cart!

Somewhere in the house was the little apartment

Between Alcuésar and Aldea de Cano, we came across several Roman milestones.  A Roman mile was the distance that a legion would march 1000 paces, a pace being each time the left foot struck the ground.  It was the origin of the English mile, and each Roman milestone had its distance from Rome engraved on it.

A typical Roman miöestone

Prior to Aldea de Cano, we passed through an extensive area with bridges and stepping stones, even though the ground was bone dry.  Apparently, it was a swamp when it rained.

Dry, but sometimes  not so…


When we arrived in Aldea de Cano, there was a sign on the door of our Casa Rural to say that our hostess would not be there until two hours later.  So, we settled ourselves down in the sun, outside a nearby bar, and quenched our thirst and ate some tapas.  We were soon joined by an old farmer, who obviously already had had a few drinks. He was delightful company.  At one stage, he disappeared and emerged with some more beers for us, and later I reciprocated.

In the meantime, we had been joined by a little kitten.  It watched us, but never got close.  When I tried to stroke it, it quickly retreated.  The farmer said that it was a street cat and he wanted one for his farm, to keep the vermin under control.  He tried to tempt it to come close, but to no avail.

The rodent hunter

That night we finally met the ‘strange couple with the cart’.  I had arranged for the owner to serve us dinner, and when we sat down, the couple emerged from a nearby room.  It turned out they were indeed German, quite shy, but passionate about hiking.  He was a web developer, quite a ‘geek’ and I don’t recall what she did.  They did not live together, but were ‘married’ in their passion for hiking.  I rather liked them.

The next morning, we left early and stopped at a bar on the edge of the village.  And who came in, just as we were about to leave?  Nope, wrong this time.  The old farmer, he of the kitten, arrived to have his early morning drinks with his mates, before setting off to his land.   I’ll never forget how his face lit up when he saw us and I am sure that mine was a mirror image.  We chatted for a few minutes before we had to set out.  The memory of the old farmer is ingrained in my memory.

The path to Cáceres was long, but uneventful, and eventually we wended our way through the industrial suburbs and the centre of the city, and finally up the steep hill to the Plaza Mayor and the old city.  Our hotel was just off the Plaza Mayor.

The old city from the Plaza Mayor



The weather was starting to get quite cold overnight and we were not equipped for late autumn in Northern Spain.  To come, there would have been the historic cities of Salamanca and Zamora, but they would have to wait for another day.  So, we headed to Madrid, and eventually back to Uruguay.


When I first started walking to Santiago de Compostela, I was aware of the legend of Saint James, one of Jesus’s disciples; of his preaching in north-western Iberia; of his eventual return to Jerusalem, his arrest and beheading; of his two faithful followers taking his body to Galicia, and his interment there.  But to me, it was just a legend, an interesting tale, but bearing little relevance to any historic events.  To me, Galicia seemed a long way from Jerusalem.

But until I went there, I had not realized how developed and sophisticated was that part of Europe in that era, with its nearly 1000 km of straight paved road, running from south to north, allowing the rapid movement of armies and the transportation of gold, silver, other minerals and crops to the waiting ships in the south, and on to Rome.  I had seen Roman ruins in Astorga in the north and Sevilla in the south, but walking on the former Roman road for day after day, and seeing the remains of the Roman city of Mérida, caused me to change my view: perhaps there was some credence in the legend of Saint James.

We walked across the Puente Romano on a beautiful early autumn afternoon, past the Muslim fort, and up the hill to the old town.  I had reserved the same hotel, where two years previously I had become stuck in the elevator, and was eventually hauled up and out by the owner.  It was no surprise that he had no hesitation in remembering me, when we checked in.  And he assured me that he had had no further problems with the elevator since my incident, but just in case, he gave us a room on the ground floor.

The modern city of Mérida has been built on top of the walled Roman city of Augusta Emerita, originally founded in 25 BC, in the reign of Augustus.  Hence the origin of the name.

A model of Mérida, as it was in Roman times

The original Roman street and block layout has been maintained, and there are several places in the city where one can see the original street surface.

A section of an original Roman street

Mérida had an impressive amphitheatre and an adjoining theatre, the latter which has been partially restored and is still used for productions.

The amphitheatre
The stage of the theatre
And the restored seating

Throughout the city there are several other impressive Roman remains, including Trajan’s arch, the Temple of Diana, the aqueducts, and outside the original walls, the well-preserved circus used for chariot racing.

Trajan’s archTrajan’s arch
Temple of Diana
The remains of one of the aqueducts that carried water to the city, seen just after sunrise
The Mérida circus (photo from internet)

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Visigoths replaced the Romans, and they in their turn were conquered, in the 8th century,  by the Muslims from North Africa.  The Islamic control of Mérida lasted until the 13th century, when they were defeated by the Christians.  At Granada, in 1492, the last resistance of the Muslims in Spain was eliminated.

The Alcazaba, the Muslim fort, as seen from an island in the river
The western wall of the Alcazaba, as seen from the Puente Romano

In the legends of Saint James, there is no mention of the route he may have taken on his return to Jerusalem, but it is likely that such a traveller from North-western Iberia would have passed through Mérida on the way south, to continue by boat to the Eastern Mediterranean.

I remain to be convinced that the legends of Saint James are anything other than legends, but I need no convincing that Mérida is a most interesting city.