Blinking against the intense white light, made even more effulgent by the snowy frame of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I curse the fact I have yet again forgotten my sunglasses. Looking down instead, where the already dried out wild herbs of thyme and mountain sage crackle and snap satisfyingly underfoot, I begin my hunt, the search for orchids. Watching my step too, the uneven ground needs no help to send me flying, I am increasingly awkward with age, and do not welcome another ankle impairment.
I note where the wild boar have already visited this morning, a sounder of swine in party mode, turning over earth, rummaging through the herbs and grasses with vigour. I wonder what they found? Some edible root delectable to swine taste? Who knows? Perhaps a yet to be discovered Michelin-worthy wild ingredient.
A gunshot bangs closely – too close – and I shudder. I have no entanglement with the local love affair of blasting the wildlife from this land. I hope the trophy is not our tusked friends. Probably.
I look across the valley, my corner of Spain. North to snow-capped Mulhacen, south to the Mediterranean, the white villages like handfuls of sugar cubes in between , folded in to the mountain sides. The stretches of pollutant plastic down below the line of smog that is the Costa Almería. No sign of the great white hunter at least from where I survey, and I continue my own pursuit for the first, early orchids.
I’m rewarded with a coterie of Giant Orchid, with many promising yet to unfold from their shining, stocky green leaves. A very early Mirror Ophrys – Ophrys s.Speculum – makes this type of hunt completely worthwhile, looking like an ancient Chinese swordsman in full warrior costume. Well, that’s what I see!
Woodcock or Sawfly (can never tell which) make up the day’s discoveries, as I walk back to the quiet mountain road, passing Grape Hyacinth and treading the perfumed prickly carpet of herbs.
A deep breath, a good look around, a lungful of pure air. The best remedy for scrunched-up shoulders, tired eyes and a mind that tends to lean to despondency for no reason at all.
If you’re exploring the Alpujarra, contact me and I’ll happily show you/send you guides to the best local spots for orchids – as long as you’re careful to respect the area, watch where you tread, and unlike some half-baked guests we once hosted – don’t pick them!