Leave only footsteps, take only photos...
This website was born out of a combination of a love of photography as an art, which in its purest form does not lie, and a love of mountain walking in an area which abounds with sites of natural beauty and interest. The photographs are on the one hand merely a visual record of what I have seen, and yet at the same time a celebration of the diversity and magnificence of the landscape. They will also serve, I hope, to inspire and encourage others to don a stout pair of walking boots and take to the hills for a look around. For the many of us who live here, this spectacular scenery is on our doorsteps. We all admire the almond blossom from the comfort of our cars, the mountain views from our verandah, but how many of us actually walk the walks….
When I first came to Spain, as a child, over 35 years ago, I thought this area was really rather dull, my first impression was of a very dry and arid landscape, dusty and brown. In retrospect this impression was intensified because of where I had come from. Singapore, a lush, green, tropical island in the South China Sea. Spain, obviously, is not tropical, but take a closer look and it is in many ways just as colourful, and in some places just as green.
I started walking and exploring the mountains of the Marina Alta years ago, before the guide books were written. There were few signposts and even fewer yellow and white PR route markers. Not that many intrepid walkers around, either. Spain was only just getting onto the tourist map. The countryside was unspoilt. In the past couple of years I have been out walking one, two, three days a week. The difference is notable. Numbered PR waymarks, yellow and white directional stripes painted on rocks or trees. Lots more people. But now it is hard to walk anywhere without visual signs that people have been before. Sweet wrappers, cans and plastic water bottles are the main offenders. At least the little piles of orange peel in strategic rest areas is bio-degradable. It won´t be there next year.
But these walkers, some of these walkers, they could be on a treadmill in the gym. They do not see, because they are not looking at, the countryside. They are walking for the sake of walking. They pass me by so fast I sometimes want to call out after them. Hey! Stop! Did you notice this Bee Orchid? Did you see it just by the path here? It’s exquisite. You nearly stood on it, but did you see it?
I have seen them, poles in hand, seemingly on a mission to get from A to B as fast as possible, chatting all the while to their walking companions. These people obviously love the outdoors, if they didn’t they would be in a gym. And they enjoy the walk and the exercise. I hope my photographs will encourage them to look a little more closely and appreciate just how very lucky they are that they can do these walks and be in the countryside which still has such jewels as the Sombre Bee Orchid and the tiny Dubious Narcissi hiding by the footpath. If people love the countryside the sweet wrappers will go back into their pockets and the empty plastic bottles will go into the backpack, to be disposed of properly. More importantly, in the bigger scheme of things, they will sign the petitions to stop the development. This will protect the countryside, the waterways, it will protect the natural scrub, and the diversity of a thousand and one tiny plants and insects many of us do not even know by name.
The Mediterranean Costa Blanca coast can be spectacular, dramatic cliffs, quaint coves, sandy beaches. This is where most of the tourists come to get the summer fix of sunshine. Yet just a few kilometers away is a dramatic mountain landscape with rivers, gorges, rock arches, caves, ruined castles, Neolithic rock art, Mozarabic trails, lookout towers, forts, ancient terraces, entire abandoned villages. Vultures, eagles, wild boar, orchids, a plethora of wild flowers.
We have a legacy of terraces and ruins adorning the countryside shaped over the millenia by the influence of the people who have lived here, in later years including the Romans and Moors. On virtually every hilltop perches a castle ruin, and often there is a pair of eagles nesting in the crags below. People have been trading and fighting over this land for centuries, one only has to look around to see why. Olive trees, grape vines, both grown in such profusion in this part of Spain that oil and wine were even shipped to Rome. On the coast in Javea we have Roman ruins of a salt fish processing factory under and next to the Parador. The vats are exposed on the rocky coast but if the sea is very calm early in the morning the upright columns and pillars can still be seen in the sea. In a steep sided valley near near Castell de Castells is Pla de Pertarcos and there, in shallow rock caves, is some Neolithic Rock art depicting scenes from a time so long ago that it seems incredible that the subjects are not, in fact, modern day interpretations of hunting and family life. The figures may be drawn as stick people, but they depict scenes of every day life as we know it even now, thousands of years later.
The Vall de Gallineras has the ruins of at least ten Moorish villages hiding on its slopes. I found the site of one of these by chance about 20 years ago. I happened to stop for a rest on a crumbling stone wall and I looked around I saw lots of pottery sherds in the freshly rotovated soil. I realised that I was actually sitting on the wall of a house, and the ruin wasn´t just one house but it was at least twenty dwellings, mostly ivy and bramble covered but with some substantial walls still standing, with pathways between and stretching across two sides of the track I had walked down. Over the years whenever I went back there I would find ¨bits of history¨, coins, a Moorish thimble, just lying on the soil. The last time I went back there was a huge green water deposito tank completely covering the entire site.
My photographs are a visual record of just how beautiful the Marina Alta is, even now with all that concrete being poured by the tonne in the last few years, all the encroaching urbanizations. There are eyesores around, unscrupulous developers, caring only to line their pockets, and not caring in the least for the integrity of the countryside. I look around now and I can’t help but think, they don’t know what they’ve got and soon it will be gone. Unless it stops.
So, I am torn between wanting to keep all this unspoilt, beautiful countryside to myself. And between wanting other people, everyone in fact, to know it is there and to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of what we have, right here on our doorstep. Because it is only by being aware of it, knowing how fragile is the balance between tourism and ecotourism, between development and preservation, that the scales will not be tipped towards ruining what we have left.