Christian Tomás Colón Garnica

Yo, Jan Nimmo, Glasgow, Escocia, quiero saber dónde está Christian Tomás Colón Garnica. Digital art: Jan Nimmo ©

Christian Tomás Colón Garnica, a student at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normalista Teacher Training School, Ayotzinapa, Guerrero is from La Zapoteca, a poor barrio of Tlacolula. Tlacolula is in Oaxaca State, a southern neighbour of Guerrero. Christian went to study in Ayotzinapa because his parents could not afford for him to continue studying at home and in going to the Normailsta school he would have the opportunity to continue studying and have bed and board provided while he was there.

In an interview for Oaxaca Quadratin his sister in-law, Juana Pérez Gómes, describes how the family have been absent from home as they have been searching for Christian since he was forcibly disappeared along with 42 of his fellow students on the 26th of September 2014. This has meant that the only income to support the family has come from what they earn from a modest little shop. His father is a labourer who earns £28 a week. All of the disappeared Normalista students come from low income families so there will have been many sacrifices along the way in the search for their missing sons. That said, in a show of solidarity, the residents of the barrio, who are just as poor as Christian’s family, along with the local authority in Tlacolula and community members, collected money to help with the parents’ travel expenses to Chilpancingo and Iguala. Read more about it in this article in Imparcial Oaxaca, here.

Christian’s family have searched Guerrero, and, like all the other parents, want him home alive. They are people of faith and hope that their prayers to the Virgin will be answered.

In this piece I have used a background image from the stone carvings from the Mixtec ae-archeological site at Mitla not far from Tlacolula. I first passed through there with my husband, Paul, many years ago now, and vividly remember the bus journey through Tlacolula on the way to the site at Mitla… we had visited Teotitlan del Valle and Santa María del Tule to see the 2000 year old tree there. In the top right hand corner I have incorporated Paul’s sketch of that journey which he made in his diary. In subsequent trips I stayed in the city of Oaxaca and each day visited the small towns round and about the Valle Central making sure that my visits coincided with market days or cattle fairs. The markets are good place to meet people selling anything from fruits and vegetables to handmade objects. In the portrait I have included the image of an alebrije style carved wooden lizard which I bought on one of these trips.

Tlacolula-Mitla. Drawing: Paul Barham ©

Tlacolula-Mitla. Drawing: Paul Barham ©

This spring a Mexican student, Ramiro, contacted me from Eugene, Oregon, USA regarding an event that he and others at Eugene4Ayotzinapa were planning to host with Normalista parents during their awareness raising tour of the States, Caravana 43. He had seen the portraits I was making on the internet and wondered if I would be happy for them to use my portraits for their event. I was, of course, both delighted and moved, so agreed and sent him the files. The great thing about making digital art is that it can be uploaded and printed anywhere. When I finish the portraits I hope to be able to work with Eugene4Ayotzinapa to have aware raising exhibitions in High Schools there.

Ramiro told me he was from Oaxaca, and it was only after I had published the portrait of Christian online that Ramiro got back to me and told me that he too was from Tlacolula. He might be far away from his home town but he is demonstrating the same spirit of solidarity as his fellow townsfolk in Tlacolula.

In the portrait I have incorporated the lyrics of a famous Mexican song, Canción Mixteca, a song for the homesick, for those sad to be far from their homeland, the beautiful Central Vally of Oaxaca, La Tierra del Sol (land of the sun).

Canción Mixteca

Que lejos estoy del suelo
Donde he nacido.
Inmensa nostalgia
Invade mi pensamiento.
Y al verme tan solo y triste
Cual hoja el viento.
Quisiera llorar,Quisiera morir
De sentimiento.

Oh! tierra del sol
Suspiro por verte.
Ahora que lejos
Yo vivo sin luz.
Sin amor.
Y al verme
Tan solo y triste
Cual hoja el viento
Quisiera llorar,Quisiera morir
De sentimiento.

Miguel Aceves Mejía

Mixtec Song

How far I am from the soil
Where I was born.
Immense nostalgia
Invades my thoughts.
And seeing myself so alone and sad
Like a leaf in the wind.
I would like to cry, I would like die
of sorrow.

Oh! Land of the sun
I long to see you.
Now that I live to far away
I live without light
Without love.
And seeing myself so alone and sad
Like a leaf in the wind.
I would like to cry, I would like die
of sorrow.

Miguel Aceves Mejía

There are hundreds of versions of this song but here you can listen to the version I heard first – Antonio Agular (Thanks, Julie Oxberry) – or listen to a Oaxacan marimba version from Marimba Oaxaca.


Serrano broad beans and extremeño garlic thriving on Plot 16, Glasgow.

Three years ago a friend from Galaroza in the Sierra de Huelva, Southern Spain, gave me a big bag of broad beans that he’d dried and saved from the previous growing season. Manolo has a lovely plot just on the outskirts of town where he grows his veg, keeps chickens and stores his harness, because before he retired, Manolo worked as a muleteer or arriero. He still looks after his ancient mule, Curro, once one of a pair, in a neighbouring paddock. Manolo also cultivates his son-in-law’s plot on the other side on the town, on the path that leads to Valdelarco. I am the happy beneficiary of dried herbs; oregano, wild echinacea, spearmint and tila (dried lime flowers that are good for calming the nerves). During the growing season I often ride home with gifts of vegetables (tomatoes don’t travel well on horseback!) and Chaparro, my horse, has become accustomed to bags and watermelons dangling from the pommel of the vaquera saddle.


Manolo’s broad beans at his huerta in Galaroza, Sierra de Aracena. Photo: Jan Nimmo©


Manolo and his mule, Curro. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Back home in Glasgow, on my allotment at Hamiltonhill, I often remember, with envy, the fecund kitchen gardens of the Sierra de Huelva. On our plot we struggle with an inclement climate, poor soil, occasional vandalism, biblical plagues of slugs and snails and have to make a sojourn to south Ayrshire where our friends keep three black Clydesdales, to gather up bags of horse manure to try to improve our soil and to import worms to what used to be a completely worm free zone. Whilst we may not have the sun, fertile earth and on-hand horsey “Brown Gold”, we love our plot because not only does it sustain us around the year with seasonal vegetables and fruit, it is also our all year “No Straight Lines” haven, a green space which makes tenement dwelling bearable and which eases the stresses of long hours spent working at a computer, or al least indoors away from sunlight or cloud.

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill, Urban Haven. Photo:  Jan Nimmo©

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow, Urban Haven. Photo: Jan Nimmo©

This year's broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This year’s broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

One of our joys has been to successfully grow good healthy crops of broad beans from the beans that Manolo gave me. (This is our third year growing them). We intercrop them with Marigolds and enjoy preparing dishes with them: cooked with jamón serrano and a quails’ eggs or just tossing them into stir fries. My Auntie Carmen from Jaén told me that her aunts used to prepare whole habas or broad beans, pod and all, for her when she was young. We’ve tried this too but they have to be young and tender to prepare them this way.


Allotment tourists: Uncle Archie and Auntie Carmen, Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotments, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This summer, when our beans are ready to harvest, I am planning to try out a typical recipe from the Sierra de Huelva:

Habas enzapatadas. (Broad beans in slippers).

  • 1 kilos of large broad beans
  • Spearmint
  • Mint (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Lemon


Peel the broad beans, the bigger the better, and wash them.

Put the water in a large pot and when it’s almost boiling add salt.

When the water is boiling add slices of lemon, the mint and peeled garlic and let that simmer for a minute.

Lower the heat and leave for a minute then add the broad beans for 15 – 20 minutes but ensure that they don’t get overcooked.

This is a recipe from the Sierra but there is a variation from Moguer and Palos de la Frontera, on the coast, which substitutes the mint with coriander so I think I may give that that a go too. In Huelva you’d wash this down with a cold Cruzcampo but we’ll be in Scotland so it might have to be a Williams Brothers Grozet.

The broad beans aren’t the only crop of Spanish origin that does fine on Plot 16. Every year in January I buy garlic at the Wednesday market in Galaroza. There is a man who comes down from Badajoz Province every fortnight and has a stall with plants, trees, seeds and flowers. The garlic he sells is the excellent ajo castaño; the head is covered with white skin, flecked with purple and inside the cloves are covered with shiny purple skin. It is strong and flavourful. Once you have tried this no garlic will do. Our garlic doesn’t thrive quite so well as it does in the huertas of Galaroza but the favour is the same. So with exception of lemons I think we can get all the ingredients to make this when summer comes.

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Jan Nimmo 15th April 2015 ©

Pura Vida. Carlos Arguedas Mora: Costa Rican Trade Unionist and Environmental Activist

Carlos Arguedas Mora. Woodcut: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos Arguedas Mora. Woodcut: Jan Nimmo ©

I often think of Carlos, remembering him warmly, but especially on Hogmanay, the anniversary of his death.

Carlos Arguedas Mora was one of the first banana workers I met. I was working as a voluntary interpreter for Carlos at a series of awareness raising meetings in Glasgow. He and his trade union, SITRAP, were campaigning against fruit giant, Del Monte. Carlos stayed at our house. From the very onset I was impressed and inspired by Carlos’s commitment to his cause, and his dogged determination in spite of all the obstacles he faced. He was put in prison 22 times for trade union activities and land occupations and even up until the year he died he was squaring up to the big pineapple and banana companies who are trashing Eastern Costa Rica’s fragile environment. This industry exploits people, be they workers or simply families who have the bad luck to live next to the plantations. I’ve met many inspirational Latin American activists. So why was Carlos so special? He had fire in his belly and he saw trade unionism and the environment that surrounded him as being inextricably linked – and both worth fighting for.

Carlos stated “if an agrochemical running through my body was doing me damage then I knew it was also doing the same damage to my country, to the air, the rivers and the land…”

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed at his garden,  El Pochote, for Pura Vida: Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed at his garden, El Pochote, for Pura Vida: Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos started work on the Dole plantations in Valle de Estrella in the 70’s. Shortly afterwards he, like thousands of other banana workers all over Central America, came into contact with Nemagón (DBCP), a pesticide made by Dow Chemicals in the USA. Carlos was made sterile by the chemical. Now known to be a highly carcinogenic product, it has caused numerous health issues for both men and women and in many cases has proven fatal. Carlos, through his trade union activities, was involved in the struggle to have Nemagón banned in Costa Rica (1979, three years after it was banned in the US). He won a little compensation (if you can be compensated for being made sterile?) which he invested in a pulpería (a wee corner shop). This gave him a wage and meant he could dedicate his time for free to his trade union activities at SITRAP in Siquirres. As the TU officer for occupational health and the environment he was able to marry both his passions, speaking to workers and community members and internationally denouncing the fish kills at Matina and Pacuare caused by chemical spills which came from the airport at Bataan, the base for aerially spraying banana plantations.

Aerial spraying taking place of the Esfuerzo banana plantation - from the documentary Pura Vida: Video Still: Paul Barham ©

Aerial spraying taking place of the Esfuerzo banana plantation – from the documentary Pura Vida: Video Still: Paul Barham ©

On the occasions that I went to Costa Rica I stayed with Carlos and I had the pleasure of working with him on my second documentary, Pura Vida. It couldn’t have been made without him. Carlos from around that time was heavily involved in the campaign to stop the unregulated expansion of pineapple production in Costa Rica’s Atlantic Zone so he was 110% committed to help making the film and did everything he possibly could to score off things on my long wish list of things to film.

Although the documentary looked at the grim social and environmental impact of the agrochemicals being used to grow bananas and pineapples, Carlos made the work truly joyous and interesting with his generosity of nature and his spontaneity, which meant we never lost an opportunity – we’d stop to film the pineapple booms or crop spraying planes overhead, gate crash primary schools to film the kids, we’d go by launch down the Río Pacuare or have gratuitous visits to places where I could film kinkajous and sloths because he knew I was an animal lover.

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed for Pura Vida at the Primary School in Cultivez, : Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed for Pura Vida at the Primary School in Cultivez, : Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos was campaigning against the expansion of intensive pineapple production right up until till he became ill.

I feel so, so privileged to have known Carlos. I’ll keep safe lots of memories of Carlos; his office at SITRAP full of banana paraphernalia from his various campaign journeys, the house at El Pochote, riding on horseback to the Reventazón River in the pouring rain, on my husband, Paul’s, birthday, and the three of us sitting eating oranges on the banks, all soaking wet…..

Carlos; generous, warm, irreplaceable and principled luchador and, best of all, friend.

Carlos Arguedas Mora (1948-2010)

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed on a pineapple plantation for Pura Vida: Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Carlos Arguedas Mora being filmed on a pineapple plantation for Pura Vida: Video Still: Jan Nimmo ©

Jan Nimmo ©  

Leona of Navalonguilla

Jan and Leona. Photo: © Paul Barham

Jan and Leona. Photo: © Paul Barham

It must be ten years since I first rode through Navalonguilla with Chaparro. I had tagged onto a circular ride that Iluminado, from the Picadero, was taking, with some clients: Galaroza – Fuenteheridos – Valdelama – Valdelarco – Galaroza. Chaparro and I hadn’t long since moved to Galaroza, so although we did a lot of exploring on our own it was also nice to take advantage of Iluminado’s local knowledge.

It became a well-frequented path for Chaparro and me. Situated on the camino that connects the two roads which lead to the appropriately named village of Navahermosa (Beautiful Plain), Navalonguilla’s cortijo sits on a lovely vega (a fertile plain). In the Sierra there is very little flat land so it is sometimes a relief to ride on flat ground instead of always climbing and descending. Riding the path from east to west you have a hill wooded with sweet Chestnut trees to the south, grazed by black Iberian pigs; to the north are two fields with apple and quince trees and in the field nearest the road there is a small disused marble quarry whose white rocks contrast with the greenness of the field.

La hiel de la tierra (Centaurium erythraea). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

La hiel de la tierra (Centaurium erythraea). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The path that passes through Navalonguilla - Early spring. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The path that passes through Navalonguilla – Early spring. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

There is always the sound of goat bells clanking here – sometimes distant, sometimes close by, depending on where the grazing is best.

The farmyard has two traditional white lime-washed stone buildings with a huerta or kitchen garden to the north. Until last year there was a wee three legged dog, Chispa (Sparky), that used to squeeze under the gate to bark at the horses… Paul and I used to call her the “Ken Loach dog”. The dog seemed to coexist happily with the collection of cats there. Beyond the farmhouse to the north-west is an olive grove. The path continues west towards La Quinta and El Talenque, past an ancient bebedero with primitive cattle troughs hewn from marble and other local stone.

The ancient marble bebedero at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Paul Barham

The ancient marble bebedero at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Paul Barham

The farm extends over to the bend in the road to Navahermosa, where there is a noria or water wheel which was once powered by a mule. For years Paul and I had ridden by and wondered what the structure was – until one day Francisco, the owner, gave us an old hand-forged key and we went through the ancient chestnut door in the adobe wall to have a closer look.

The noria at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The noria at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

What has always struck me about the farm is how it is so well maintained and cared for. In spring and summer the sides of the path are alive with flowers; wild peonies, vetch, la hiel de la tierra, baba de oveja, oregano. Clearly no chemicals are used here as the bees, dragonflies and other insects go from flower to flower… It is truly a blissful place, buzzing with life.

Navalonguilla in spring, with the late Chispa lying on the path. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Navalonguilla in spring, with the late Chispa lying on the path. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Our first brush with livestock was when Chaparro decided to have a flakey when he met the donkey. At that time my horse was new to the place so was doing his best to show off, dance some flamenco and generally put on a show for any donkeys, horses or mules he came a across on our rides. The same happened when we met the plump, chestnut mare, Maria, at Navalonguilla. Happily since then the situation has calmed and now we can look forward to visits, as we are all good friends now.

Love triangle: María, Margarita and Chaparro. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Love triangle; María, Margarita and Chaparro. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

A few years back, I can’t remember exactly when, 2010 maybe, Paul and I were riding past the cortijo when we saw a mastín puppy peering out from the gate opposite. She was very pretty so we couldn’t resist dismounting to make a fuss of her. She has never forgotten this and there is rarely a time now that she doesn’t come running across the field to greet us; squeaking, singing, and her big tail wagging. She jumps up on the stone wall and it has now become the norm for me to dismount and give here a wee clap until she decides to hop back over the wall to rejoin the goats that she guards. Leona is beautiful; her grey back and white chest, and yellowy brown eyes that squint slightly when you press your face close to hers.

Leona as a large puppy. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona as a large puppy. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

One time I rode there with my friend, Sue Reid Sexton, who said she had never heard a dog sing before… Leona was very excited that day!

Leona giving us a song. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona giving us a song. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

I later found out that the dog had two names. Her master, Francisco, calls her Leona (Lioness) but his wife Josefina calls her Triana, after the barrio in Seville. Either way Chaparro and I don’t mind. Chaparro likes dogs and was brought up with mastíns so he’s always pleased to see Leona.

I find myself looking for excuses for riding through just to see Leona, the mare and the donkey. The mare always snickers when she sees Chaparro and does a waddling trot over to the wall to say hello, while meantime her companion, the wee dark donkey Margarita, canters along, bucking with her head down, something which always makes me smile…

Margarita and Maria at Navalonguilla. Photo:© Jan Nimmo

Margarita and Maria at Navalonguilla. Photo:© Jan Nimmo

It was a while before I got to know the people at Navalonguilla. I would of course always say hello whenever I met anyone there, but one day when I had stopped on the Navahermosa road to talk to the mare and the donkey, who were on the wooded hill south of the farm, Francisco and Josefina came along to feed them. Then, when I was at the Wednesday market in Galaroza, I saw Virtudes from the stables buying a cheese from Josefina. The cheese was made from milk from the goats that Leona looks after. From then on Josefina and I became friends.

Francisco and his other dog, Nico. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco and his other dog, Nico. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina is diminutive, warm and bubbly and she and Francisco live in a beautiful house in the nearby village, Navahermosa. One day Josefina agreed to let me watch her making goats cheese. That morning Chaparro and I left Galaroza early (it’s about an hour’s ride) and we rode over Los Altos de la Dehesa to watch Francisco milking the goats at the farm. He brings the goats in from the field and milks them at 9am every morning. Francisco is a quiet, polite and practical man who cherishes the local traditions and customs. Afterwards I took some photos of Francisco with his goats, his wee ginger dog, Nico – and Leona, who didn’t stop for long before bouncing back through the spring grass to her herd.

Francisco milking one of the goats at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco milking one of the goats at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Leona and her goats. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona and her goats. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina doesn’t start making the cheese till about 12.30, so to pass the time Chaparro and I rode along the path that leaves from the church at Navahermosa before coming back to the village where Chaparro got tethered to a trailer in Francisco and Josefina’s lettuce garden, just a couple of hundred yards from their house.

She explains to me that she needs about 5 litres of goat’s milk to make one kilo of cheese. She tells me that traditionally, instead of rennet, the local people used cardoon thistle stamens to make the curds and whey.

The milk is passed through a sieve and brought to the boil three times to pasteurise it. When it cools to about 30 degrees the rennet is added. Josefina uses only a coffee spoonful of the powdered rennet, which she buys at the chemists.

The long, narrow kitchen at the house in Navahermosa is lovely, spotlessly clean, and has a window with views out over the southern Sierra. On the narrow wall opposite the window stands an old, pale coloured, painted dresser. The tiled walls are adorned with all sorts of artisan kitchen tools and nick-knacks.

Josefina leaves the milk to stand for 30-40 minutes by which time there is a yellowish semi-transparent liquid forming on the top. From underneath she lifts up the whey, separating it from the liquid or suero and deposits it into a circular metal frame which sits on a purpose made wooden draining board next to the sink. She works the cheese expertly, squeezing out the suero and turning the mould upside down from time to time. I had seen Virtudes make cheese at the picadero and although her cheeses are smaller, the technique is the same. It takes time and skill and when she finishes she sprinkles coarse sea salt onto the cheese and refrigerates it. Luckily I was able to sample some of the cheese she had made the day before… with a bottle of Cruzcampo beer. The cheese’s flavour is delicate with a soft jellylike texture… this queso fresco is very different to the queso sudao (mature or “sweated” cheese), from neighbouring Extremadura. That said, the serranos love a good stinky goat’s cheese and while everyone complains about the smell, the cheese gets wolfed down on chunks of wood-fired-oven-baked bread.

Josefina making goats cheese in her kitchen in Navahermosa. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina making goats cheese in her kitchen in Navahermosa. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

I asked Josefina if she made queso sudao. She says she used to but she sticks to fresh cheese as there’s a lot of work involved and it’s a trifle whiffy. As I ate my cheese and drank my beer we chatted in the small parlour with a door and window leading onto the terraza with its potted geraniums and its wonderful views south to El Talenque and the Cerro de Castaño.

Josefina with a freshly made cheese. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina with a freshly made cheese. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Over the last couple of years Chaparro and I have been doing nocturnal rides in springtime when there is a full moon. We both need to stay safe, so I plan the first part of the circular ride to Fuenteheridos before nightfall because there are two crossings of the main road and there are still sometimes vehicles on the path that goes north to Valdelama. This is a good nighttime ride as there isn’t too much vegetation – so no branches in the face or bramble scratches on my neck! The paths aren’t too rough under hoof, although this is is more for my sense of well-being than Chaparro’s because his night vision is so much better than mine – although I know he will shy at his own shadow when we return to the streetlights of Galaroza because as a horse, he takes longer to adapt to the change from darkness to light.

One evening riding back with the moonrise behind me at Valedecarrera/ Valle la Carrera, a lush hollow where a stream flows past a small cortijo overshadowed by poplars, I heard barking. It was about a kilometre away from Navalonguilla. Leona had heard us and was calling to us! When we finally reached the farm, all bathed in moonlight, there she was standing on top of the dry stone dyke waiting for us. Needless to say I felt obliged to dismount and say goodnight, before continuing on our way, as did she, back to her goats.

In all these years Leona has never tried to follow me or leave the farm in spite of her obvious excitement when she approaches us yelping out her musical greetings. In January this year, I rode through the farm a couple of days without seeing her. I was sick with worry, like missing an old friend and fearing for them. I rode by Josefina’s house but got no answer, two days in a row. Finally, riding down the Navahermosa road I met Francisco in his wee green car – “And Leona? Where is she? Has something happened to her?” – I asked. Francisco replied – “She’s fine, she’s in season so we’ve shut her in”.

Simultaneous sigh of relief and lump in my throat.

Nerón, Paul and Leona at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Nerón, Paul and Leona at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Chaparro and I spend long hours alone out on the paths of the Sierra. It’s not like the old days, before enclosure, when the countryside was populated, with every cortijo inhabited by people who looked after the land and cared for the livestock; so now it’s always nice to meet other living things; pigs, goats, sheep, mongooses, deer, foxes, wild boar, vultures, other horses, donkeys, black and red kites… it even seems that the cork and holm oaks are part of my serrano family. But Leona, well, she has a special status amongst them all. She is, as the Spanish would say, noble – a faithful friend. And, while we are all spared and well, Chaparro and I will continue to find excuses to ride by Navalonguilla to pay Leona a visit.

Jan Nimmo © 2014

Leona, Jan and Chaparro. Photo: © Paul Braham

Leona, Jan and Chaparro. Photo: © Paul Braham






















Riding to Hinojales – María and José’s Stable.

Having never succeeded in finding the drove road from Valdelarco to Cumbres Mayores, Paul and I had always made the ride up to the north of the Sierra via Cumbres de San Bartolomé, which we have used as a base for riding to Encinasola and beyond to Portugal as well as up into Badajoz Province in Extremadura, to the towns Fregenal de la Sierra and Higuera La Real. From Cumbres Bajas, as Cumbres de San Bartolomé is also known, we’ve ridden east through Cumbres de Enmedio to Cumbres Mayores.

For a while I’d been thinking about riding to Hinojales in the North of the Sierra and exploring the paths around there. The key to planning long rides is having somewhere secure organised to rest the horses and, apart from finding a field or stable, it always good to make contact with folk via existing friends and friends of friends.

Who did we know in Hinojales? As it turns out about a year or so after I moved Chaparro from Cazalla de la Sierra to Galaroza, a chap called Pepe, originally from Hinojales, became a regular visitor to the picadero where Chaparro is stabled. He’d come to ride and to help out when the Tristanchos, the lovely family who run the stable, needed a hand. Pepe, who is about my age, never talked about personal stuff on our rides but I knew he had had a recent bereavement. Anyhow, when you are out riding you don’t need to talk about anything really unless you feel like it. And riding is good for the soul, especially when you are troubled.

Pepe from Hinojales

Pepe from Hinojales. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Pepe is a “jamonero”, someone who prepares the jamón serrano and who works in the mataderos (pig slaughterhouses) of El Repilado near Jabugo. When I first knew Pepe he was living in Los Romeros and sometimes I’d ride there. On one very wet day he showed me the path to Los Molares… we got drenched and stopped by his house on the way home for a beer and some wild boar ham – the wild boar had lived a long and indulgent life with Pepe’s folks up in Hinojales.

When Paul and I were in the Sierra at Christmas time in 2010 we met up with Pepe to drive up to Hinojales to see if it was possible to leave the horses with his parents when we planned to ride up in the following spring.

José, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

José, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

We met Pepe’s parents, María and José, in their ancient house in Hinojales, said to be the second oldest in the village. We both loved the house, especially Paul, who enjoyed to chance to get behind the great door and facade of one of these old serrano houses. The stable is right at the back of the house to one side of a terrace which is populated by plants pots overflowing with vegetation. Behind the stable is a long, narrow corral which leads to the back gate that opens onto a back lane. That was to be where we were to come when we arrived with the horses.

Pepe, Paul and I set about clearing up the stable with its old wooden troughs, low ceilings and lime-washed walls so that it would be ready for our arrival in June 2011.

Chaparro and I in the Río Múrtigas, La Ribera.

Chaparro and I in the Río Múrtigas, La Ribera. Photo: Paul Barham ©

In June we rode the 7 hour trail to Cumbres de San Bartolomé, through La Nava, Las Lanchas, up to El Cuervo and the along the banks of the Río Múrtiga, where the horses filled up with water, blowing and slpashing to cool their bellies. It’s a deceptively long climb up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé so the horses, Nerón and Chaparro, and their exhausted riders were pleased to get there!

Paul and Nerón on the slow slop up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé

Paul and Nerón on the slow slop up to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

The horses spent the night in Gergorio’s field at the south end of the village, on the Calle Ave María, with views over to the Berrocales de Redina.

The next day, after faffing around, we set off for Hinojales (this is the GR 48 path from Portugal to Jaen). First we had to ride to Cumbres de Enmedio (Middle Cumbres). As we rode along towards the path that crosses the main road from Huelva to Badajoz we met a shepherd and his flock and then spotted a flock of roosting Griffon Vultures just sat there amongst the grass and boulders, waiting on the day to warm up and for the thermals to be just right to carry them on their reconnaissance of the Sierra. They are impressive big birds and rather lovely.

The camino between Cumbres Bajas and Cumbres de Enmedio: A Shepherd with his dog and flock.

The camino between Cumbres Bajas and Cumbres de Enmedio: A Shepherd with his dog and flock. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Griffon vultures pretending to be boulders

Griffon vultures pretending to be boulders. Photo: Paul Barham ©

We had a picnic lunch at the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de La Esperanza and rode through the deserted midday streets of Cumbres Mayores and down the ancient drove path that leaves the town to the south-west. It was sweltering by then and there wasn’t much conversation to be had out of me. The path winds between stone walls with dehesa of holm oak and cork oak. Chaparro was behaving impeccably, as he does on these longer trips, to new places. He always seems to enjoy the adventure and stimulus of unknown places and meeting new livestock along the way. It was late afternoon when we finally reached Hinojales – (literally place of the fennel). All four of us were thankful to finally reach the cool of Maria and José’s house and stable.

Chaparro riding into Hinojales

Chaparro and Jan riding into Hinojales. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Heading into the stable

Heading into the stable. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Hinojales, is on the northern limits of Andalusia, and with its 16th Century church, its great water troughs, ancient houses on cobbled streets, its burning sun, it is easy to be transported back in time to when everyone got about on two or four legs.. The bread for the villagers is made in a great wood-burning oven which was made in Catalonia. We felt very privileged to have such a safe place to leave the horses, to have an afternoon coffee in that cool, ancient, lime-washed house, with María and José, a “pareja sana”, so typical of serranos of that generation.

María, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

María, Hinojales. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

As both María and José are in their 80s we didn’t want to bother them but José seemed to enjoy having livestock on the premises again and both of them kept checking on Chaparro and Nerón.

From Hinojales we did day long rides to both Canaveral de León, the Ribera de Hinojales and up into Extremadura, to Fuentes de León and back via the road to Cortelazor and through la Coronada and Valdelarco.


© Jan Nimmo  2014