Almeria is a movie set by itself; its natural landscape, blue sky, mild winter weather and being the only desert in Europe have placed these lands in the spot of the cinema industry´s main directors.
The story started in the sixties, with the well-known movie of Cleopatra; although in those times there were filmed different short movies in the area, indeed the boom arrived after filming Lawrence of Arabia, being Akaba town built in Almeria ramblas (Ouads = Temporary seasonal riverbeds). Came also afterwards important movies as Conan the Barbarian or Indiana Jones Temple of doom and Indiana Jones and the last cruisade.
But really the takeoff of Almeria movie sets happened when an italian director named Sergio Leone fixed his eye on this dry land that understood to be the unique desert in Europe; so it was ideal for filming western movies, and also he had in Cabo de Gata area the perfect mexican locations for being fixed in what afterwards was called spaghetti western, because of the italian origin of this man. Indeed Leone chose Almeria movie sets because it was so cheap filming western here, instead of travelling far away to american Mojave or Arizona deserts. With him came to Almeria and Tabernas desert movies as The good, the bad and the ugly or For a fistful dollars… and after him came dozens of movies with the most reputated directors, actors and actresses; as an example can say Once upon in the West with Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale.
Time passed by and Almeria movie sets fell asleep and forgotten by the industry, except some low-cost movies that ocasionally chose the destination for filming. It was in 2013 that the cameras came back by the hand of well-known director Ridley Scott that chose Almeria movie sets for filming the macro-production Exodus Gods and Kings.
Actually Almeria continues being an important film location with new projects being developed along all the province.
Do you want to discover the landscape and abandoned Almeria movie sets with a local guy fully-knowledged about the film-locations?. Not only movies and western in this trip; also landscape, geography and nature.
Almeria is the southernmost province of the spanish region named Andalucia, just with 7 other provinces: Cordoba, Granada, Sevilla, Huelva, Cadiz, Jaen and Malaga. Because of the tectonic plates movement, Africa plates are literally pushing up the land in this side of the iberian peninsula… and so Almeria is the most mountainous province of Spain.
Also Almeria is the driest one, and it is because of Sierra Nevada mountains that run just between Almeria and Granada. Rain-clouds usually come from the Atlantic side, and this huge range of mountains (Sierra nevada) stop them just here; because of this reason Granada is a rainy region and Almeria is so dry. Something different happens at the end of summer, when the Mediterranean sea-currents bring clouds from outside the sea. Then is the moment for the well-known phenomenon called flash floods (riadas), that although they can happen along every season, it is something usual to happen at the end of summer, for different reasons.
This aridity, just with the diverse geomorphology of the territory, make Almeria one of the most deared places for running Geography Field Trips; volcanic materials at Cabo de Gata, metamorfic rocks in Nevada and Filabres mountains, limestone and silex in Los Velez lands, evaporitic and marine sedimentary rocks in the desert and the Saint Andrea big fault... are an excellent scene for running a Geography Field Trip to understand the story of Earth, at the same time that we can see all kind of animals and plants living in the most extreme and stressed possible conditions.
Warm and sunny weather in winter help us to be one of most favourite places for running these Geography Field Trips for universities of all around the world, mainly Europe and North America. Just in winter when it is raining and snowing hard in other places, Almeria keeps its well known winter-sunny-days.
A lost paradise in the Mediterranean, a geme for geologists, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and just at south Europe; Almeria is the ideal place for running your Geography Field Trip. Look for your quote; we can attend individuals so as groups, always building tailored and flexible trips, attending to your targets.
Almeria is a paradise for birdwatchers, advanced or amateurs… it is a place where we can spot easily african species as the trumpeter finch or the black-bellied sandgrouse. Because of its geography, there are different areas where we can look for different birds: cliffs, shores, marshes, steppes, mountains and much more…
A birdwatching day can give us many surprises here at south Spain, if we travel to locations where some species can be found in its appropriate season; for example look for (and find) the white-headed duck colonies at the western marshes in winter time is not difficult, or spotting the crake in Cabo de Gata marshes at spring time it is simple if you know where to find them.
Some other birds can be easily spotted as the greater flamingo, and other ones are a bit more rare, as the wryneck or the blue rock-thrush.
My experience as an Almeria birdwatching guide comes back from early times; in 2007 I worked proffesionaly for the Spanish Bird Society inventoring winter birds in Almeria and Granada provinces and afterwards I worked along one more winter, inventoring forest-breeding raptors. So what I offer is not only to enjoy a unique birding trip in Almeria (and Granada) but also my own experienceto make easy a birdwatching day… so you can improve your time… and why not??… you can visit the places afterwards by yourself also, with your rental car. Anyway do not forget that in many places you can be required permits by private wardens or environmental public controls.
A birdwatching day with a Bird watching guide is more than looking for birds. My experience with people travelling from different countries along years, some of them very far away, has been amazing till this moment. It looks as if watching birds was only the excuse for going out to the country side with a knowledgable guide to look for plants, butterflies, culture, geology, landscape, snakes, lizards, mammals and everything happening in the trip, just in front of us while travelling… and of course looking for birds.
One day not far ago, a gentle lady travelling with me said: Never tell people that your name is Jesus and that you are a guide, because it could generate some confusion among certain kind of persons. I smiled her slightly and answered that mummy always had said to me since I was a child that the only thing good in me was really my name… but it was a little bit late for changing it , so I continued with the same name (and job) till today.
Mum is actually an elder person and still says to me that those persons that love danger, finally die in it. I have heard this sentence put on her mouth since I was a child, and although I have loved always risky situations… I still keep alive; perhaps Jesus protect me.
The real thing is that I was baptized as Jesus (Isa in arab); it happened long time ago in the 60´s of past century, and after spending half of my life looking for what to do, I discovered that my goal in this life was to guide people; do not understand please, an spiritual guidance (although sometimes also happens) but guiding travellers (persons) in these fantastic lands were I was born and grown, and in which I took the decission of living in them forever, till my last days. It is not difficult to fall in love with Almeria… and more yet if it is the land were you were born, grown up, educated and happily married.
After leaving the Company in which I had been managing as a thriving salesman for more than one decade, I begun to prepare anything for starting a new future, my small business as self-employed, being the first two things to be done learning intensely about wildlife and about the territory. I read any books that had been written about Almeria flora and fauna and begun to organize up to 10 private flights for taking photographs of my lands from the air, to have my own maps and documents.
Slowly I became an expert in this corner of the Iberian map at south Spain… by land, sea and air, till finally I faced the moment of just starting to work as a nature guide; Jesus the guide/Jesus Guide sounded great for me… but who was paying me for discovering the land?. Local people were starting an important economical recession, that still happens nowadays… so money was not abundant and local people indeed were/are not nature lovers as in other countries.
Time for analysis again; the only profitable option was to improve my second language (english) and looking to develop the touristic market, but thinking in a very different way of the traditional concept of tourism. I didn´t want to show churchs or museums, I really wished to show my lands, the true life of people living hard every day in a very arid country; and this was definitely the start of my company based in ecotourism and responsible tourism.
It is important to say that when I started, nearly all gates were closed for me; nobody believed in this new concept of Green Tourism… but I never gave up. There were very hard moments, and still there are some difficult ones, but when you believe firmly in what you do and you keep yourself constant and doing everything responsibly, finally the miracle to happen, and then it is time of following your star.
Actually I have agreements with some rural houses of local people and alliances with other small businesses working in the same way, and I feel very proud to be helping a little bit to the rural development growth in a sustainable way, focused on fixing the population to the land, based in ecotourism, respect to nature and sustainability… and I feel so happy that other younger ones followed the same steps in different ways.
To be a guide is really one of the most amazing experiences that can happen to a human being; it is a job (not an employment) that makes you feel good and require full passion. And why not?? …. using always as a joke this old and deared nickname of Jesus Guide.
Cabo de Gata coastline in Almeria´s eastern bay, is basically formed by a beach line; to understand this long shore we can say that in some places what we see is really the active sand generated by erosion and movement of particles broken by the sea water, under an intense and continuous activity; in other places we will find fossil beaches and in only a couple of places there happen some marshes with permanent water, called estuaries (ramblas).
The littoral steppe of Almeria bay (Cabo de Gata = Gata cape) has been invaded by the sea along the last 5 millions of years. The continuous raising up of Alhamilla mountains (at the north) has generated from these geological times its ongoing retreat till 900.000 years ago aproximately… that placed the coast line in a similar position than actually.
Along all this time lots of sediments of the newly emerged mountains were collected here at the seabed; these sediments were afterwards exposed after the retreat of the water; so the fossil coastline of old ages has been perfectly preserved and can be seen with lots (also perfectly preserved) of creatures living here in this past coastline. Some of these fossil records have been dated in between 250.000-95.000 years ago. Among these records there it is a creature whose latin name is Strombus bubonius, that actually live in tropical coasts at the african Atlantic coast, reporting us valuable information about what was the weather in Almeria coast 200.000 years ago.
The estuaries of some ramblas (ouads = temporary seasonal riverbeds) are also conditioned by geological processes as erosion-sedimentation or the presence of faults. These places store natural water with different compositions, but mainly it is highly brackish, and they are very important places for sedentary and migratory birdlife (resting and feeding areas); the dynamic acivity of these estuaries change along seasons, attending to dryness or flashfloods activity.
Around the estuaries there can be found natural habitats formed by sand dunes and specific vegetation capable to fix this sand to the ground (by the roots) and avoiding so that it is transported by the wind, generating loss of soil and problems in neighbour usable lands; in past decades this sand was taken away for building greenhouses in the new and prosperous business of intensive agriculture; actually all the ecosystem is protected.
The saltmarshes of Cabo de Gata in Almeria are by themselves one of the environmental most valued ecosystems in Andalucia (southernmost Spain´s region with 8 provinces, including Almeria), and also one of the most important in the Mediterranean coast. One of the few places in the iberian coast where it can be found a healthy population of greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), using the territory along all the seasons, also in summer… although they don´t breed here.
3.000 years ago the littoral coastline was nearly in the same position than actually. Sediments transported to the bay and coming from the nearby Andarax river (delta is in Almeria town) and the dominant wind of West… generated the formation of a permanent sandbar, that was slowly growing till it enclosed totally a small portion of the ancient bay, building so a small enclosed sea or gulf: the actual marshes and pans.
Once the gulf was totally enclosed, people of cultures living here from very old times ago (romans/phoenicians/amazighs), learnt to use the deposits of salt for their own interest; these deposits were generated naturally after the sea storms, and so on it has been done till actually, when salt is still worked/mined here, but in a different way, adapted to profitability in modern times… transporting directly the water from the sea at the actual Cabo de Gata coastline and taking technical control of all the process and timing used in it.
Alhamilla the big strange of Almeria, as a sleeping giant looking always at the sea; so is perceived for locals this small range of mountins that run the Almeria province from East to West at the northern border of Cabo de Gata National Park and just at the south of the Tabernas desert.
Alhamilla emerged 7 million years ago from the seabed and Earth´s core. It is one of the mountains of the so-called Baetic Massif, so as Filabres, Gador or Nevada, being raised as its neighbours around 2 centimeters every 100 years. Its rocks, mainly schist, quartzites, limestone and some other metamorphics are older than 250 million of years, sometimes more than 500 millions and they are intensely distorted, twisted, folded and mineralized.
Alhamilla´s name can be linked, although it is not sure, to the arab language (al-hammam = the baths) alluding perhaps to the two known places with thermal water that exist at the place.
One of the best preserved holm-oak tree forest is still preserved just at the top, that talk by itself how it was the wilderness in the area some thousands of years ago, before humans came in times of first colonizations to exploit the abundant minerals in Almeria lands; for feeding the furnaces built for melting the mineral, it was used the wood of these trees, what happened not only in this area but in all the Almeria province. In roman times it is documented that people knew that they were arriving to this point on Hispania map because of the big smoke columns in the sky, resulting from the intense mining activity.
Nowadays a mixed forest of oaks and pines can be found in the heights, growing under the scarce rainfalls that happen in the area, and living so in highly stressed hydrological conditions.
The mining activity has been present in Alhamilla till the past century and still can be found lot of places linked to the industry, that make these mountains an enjoyable place lost in the time in the middle of a dramatic landscape.
At different altitudes some villages as Lucainena, Nijar or Turrillas can be found; traditional gastronomy, film locations, quiet places and a lot of Nature.
Do you dare to discover the Almeria sleeping giant??
One of the most impressive landscape in Almeria is the so-called Almeria geographical depressions.
Almeria, Tabernas and Sorbas basins, just with Nijar, Vera, Almanzora and Pulpi were indeed in past ages marine basins, refilled by sediments provided by the erosion of the surrounding just-emerged lands while the Mediterranean Sea advanced slowly from the Cabo de Gata archipelago and the young mountains nearby. These basins are understood to be aproximately between 15 and 8 million years old and they were covered by sea water till recently (around 2 million years or perhaps less time).
Anyway the land-raising that bordered the entrances of this ancient sea didn´t happen all at the same time. The first places to be raised were Sierra Nevada and Filabres Range of Mountains (15 million years ago), while Cabo de Gata volcanic activity was just happening not far away. On these times the coastline of the actual Almeria was placed on the line that is today occupied by the villages of Sorbas and Tabernas.
8 millions of years later there were arised the Mountains of Gador and Alhamilla, nearby to the actual coastline.
Did you know that nearly all the words that begin with al in spanish come from the arab language, meaning the english article the ???. For example Al-hamilla (the hammams, the baths) or Alcazaba (the kasba, the fortress)… and so on in a very long list.
The last mountains to be raised up were the so-called Sierra de Cabrera (Cabrera range of mountains), that is by the way the youngest mountains chain on the iberian peninsula; this happened approximately 5,5 millions of years ago.
As we can see, Almeria is an exceptional place for studying the history of our Planet in which we live, and where can be found sedimentary,volcanic and metamorphic rocks altogether, nude and with no vegatation, and under a dry and sunny weather along nearly 12 months in the year. Becase of this Almeria has been called, among other names, the open laboratory of Europe.
Almeria, this incredible arid area at south Europe is not anyway a desert, and water is abundant in its territory, but water is a sensitive case here… because it flows underneath the ground, at the water table (aquifer), and many times it is fossil water that has been stored along thousands of years, and is not charged back so quickly as it is used for agricultural and tourist purposes.
Because of this, the natural geography of these areas offers us some unique places where water come up to the surface building by itself amazing natural oasis … genuine ecosystems that are the true responsible of life happening here. The mountains of Alhamilla and Gador are being raised up so fast as 2 cm every 100 years, attending to scientific research.
Filabres and Sierra Nevada are called the Iberian peninsula roof, beause they are the highest peaks in it, with exception of those in the north border at the Pyrenees.
More resons for visiting Almeriaand its geographical depressions??
A unique place in Almeria landscape and totally different of others is the Cabo de Gata Sierra (Range of mountains of Gata Cape). Its geological origin is mainly volvanic, and much more younger than other territories in the actual almerian geography. Its age has been estimated by scientists in approximately 14 to 7 millions of years ago.
Indeed the area of Gata Cape (Cabo de Gata) is only a small emerged portion of a wide submerged (under the sea) area underneath the so-named Mar de Alboran (Alboran Sea), between Africa and Europe continents.
Did you know that the tiny Alboran Island is a part of Almeria province?. Actually it is used only for science research and as a spanish advanced military position overseas.
This volcanic activity happened, at least partially, below the Sea level. It has been supposed that what happened was that the volcanoes finally emerged as islands, creating an authentic volcanic archipelago. Around these small volcanic islands, in the middle of warm subtropical sea waters, grew abundantly the corals (Anthozoa – Cnidaria), building coastal atolls and reefs, that still can be seen very clearly in some locations at the National/Natural Park.
Hydrothermal fluids would change later the volcanic rocks composition, so as sometimes happened in the nearby Baetic Mountains, mineralizing them and generating so unique and abundant metallic deposits.
To understand the actual Cabo de Gata landscape we need to understand two different concepts: one is the Plates Tectonic movement, that is responsible of the slow raising of the rocks, so that submerged lands are now totally offshore; the second concept is the dryness of the area in whichit rains very scarcely… but when it does happen, usually water come down from the sky generously in only a moment (some minutes or hours), generating the so usual flash-floods that are the responsible of a high level of erosion, also so important to read and understand the actual configuration of Cabo de Gata volcanic landscape.
The main rocks that can be found in the area are basalts/andesites , ignimbrites/bentonites and lots of conglomerates everywhere. Some metamorphic rocks (micaschist/quartz) also can be found in the ramblas (temporary bed of seasonal rivers) but these materials really have been not generated in this area… but moved along time from the faraway Filabres and Alhamilla mountains, dragged with the water of the mentioned flash-floods.
Gold, silver and lead among other minerals, have been mined in the area along times since the ancient Roman Empire era, so as basalt cobbles were quarried for being used in the past 20th Century for paving roads in Almeria town and other main villages nearby or faraway.
Do you want to discover this amazing place and understand its geological landscape?. Join us in an unforgettable trip to the southernmost place of Europe.
Did you know that in Cabo de Gata National Park there is a place baptized (by me) as The Dwarf Causeway?? Can you imagin the reason for that???
Come and see our Almeria landscape volcanism in Cabo de Gata National Park.
In summer there are very rare times in which I go down to the gorges and death-valleys down at the bottom of the desert; but sometimes I like to take a break and switch-on the air conditioned devices in my 4×4 car …. and there I went.
Temperature beginning to warm up to 36ºC and life seeming to be stopped (11h00). That´s just the moment to run-off the car´s engine and wait, listen and prepare the camera. A rabbit comes out of its den, two rollers do appear from behind the top of the cliff, a big spider looks to me while she weaves its cobweb, some jackdows flying faraway… and so on, life goes forward as if I were not there. That´s the mistery, that´s the real experience of the desert summer ecology.
Time to remember the flash floods that do happen here in the badlands so frequently. How do these bigger or smaller creatures survive to the disaster happening in the Ouads (ramblas = dry beds of seasonal rivers) ???…
Travellers cannot imagine what is a flash-flood (rambla or avenida in spanish) till they do not see it with their own eyes. You don´t spot the water coming till it is just on your nose; you only can hear the terrible sound of bolders transported in front of the huge wave generated by the current; there it can be seen only foam, peaces of wood and other solid materials (pitifully plastics and scrap nowadays). That´s the experience although the adventure also happens for wildlife and any small creature and plants living on the place. Some of them will be washed down to the sea, and only the best adapted creatures will be the winners (Dr. Darwin´s evolution/adaption theory). That is the mistery of the desert, the pure desert ecology in summer time.
I really enjoyed my morning trip today in the badlands of Almeria at up to 34ºC… seeing that while I was suffering so much under the sun heat, my trip neighbours the rabbits and hares, felt so happy in their just built dens. Just pure ecology… It makes a sense.
I ended my morning trip designing new moments to be experienced by all of you coming soon… as for example walking inside this ancient qanaat of moor times. What is a qanaat?? … Book for your trip to the desert and sure that you will learn about it more than you can think. Come and see…
It has been in my mind since long time ago to discover the origin of my own culture, as a spaniard living in a border land, as it is Almeria. I was sure, absolutely sure…. after analyzing elements in our culture and our building and life style, that the link with amazigh people in Africa was obvious and very clear, because these tribes were living in our mountains for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years… and they still have not disspeared, because we are a part of them.
Wrongly called berbers, they really don´t like this name that was given to them by the romans in ancient times, and does mean barbars. No… they really like to be called amazigh that does mean the free people. They live in the most simple way, far away of modernity and other wrong concepts, and with a huge smile in their faces… because they are and feel themselves absolutely and really free. Wisdom and freedom are common components of this civilization.
One morning I left home by plain, at the iberian peninsula, and flied down to north Africa… looking for the Rif Mountains; with a group of good collegues we passed through the strange place of Melilla border and came in a moment inside a wonderful and lost world for us, south-western europeans. My challenge was to discover my cultural roots so as to design new projects for travelling in the future on the wild with my clients.
Once there in Alhoceima (Morocco) we were gently attended by wise and kind persons that showed us the best of this corner of the northern Africa. Old villages in the mountains that reminded me exactly the ancient abandoned ones here in Almeria, places that talk about this old culture existing also at south Spain only some centuries ago. I couldn´t believe it, I thought it was a dream… but it was absolutely real: they do exist, and very proud of being as they are.
Biodiversity, genuine culture, traditional uses of the land, respect for human kind and much more values unable to be explained in only some lines… are the general cutlural landscapes that I perceived just from the first moment I stepped on the area. I smelled here the past times of my childhood, this nice Almeria that has been lost forever on the hands of “modernity”. I couldn´t believe what I was experiencing. Ladies transporting water in pottery jars, children playing with prickly-pear leaves, donkies as the only way of transport, traditional systems for storing water, simple but cleverly built houses… Everything, absolutely everything was in my mind: I was living again my childhood at my village of Gergal (Almeria) 45 years ago.
This is the real sustainability and not what we have built in other places of the world, so far from here but so nearby really. After this trip I breath now in a different way, more relaxed and with a smile in my face understanding that a different world is still possible. I felt also surprised when I discovered that my spanish christian name (Jesus) is also present in their language (Isa) and proud to see that their faces and eyes are the same ones than those of my people living here in the mountains and most hidden places. The same origin and the same identity, so as our deared indalo man (symbol of protection in Almeria lands) is exactly the same identity and protective figure than there, with only short variations in the way of placing the arms of the human figure: closed up upon the head in the indalo and open as a bow in the amazigh figure. Central Rif travelling across time and Filabres mountains linked to them in the same way.
The project was great and finally I am prepared and with proper contacts on the place for showing the osprey locations, rare reptiles and nice other birds to my regular clients. Dreaming with coming back to central Rif and meet my good friends there Joaquin of Hotel Casa Paca, Hakim Messaoudi and Anouar our local guide.
Life is different for me after visiting Central Rif. Now I think in a different way and I understand much better our cultural heritage, our history and how time passes by.
Central Rif travelling across time… why not to visit it?