After last week’s productive days for the boat, with new stainless steel arch, davits, solar panels, and tender and outboard, Baz and I took the weekend to get out and about, exploring the salt reserve and beach on the northern side of the marina.
The previous Sunday we’d taken an 8Km hike along the southern beach, then cut inland across the saline pools and flats (of Las Salinas y Arenales de San Pedro del Pinatar) that are both a nature reserve and where salt is extracted for human use. While I love walking more than Baz, who doesn’t mind going if he has a reason for the walk, 8Km was a tad too far even for me! By the time we reached the town at the other end, we used the last of our reserves to choose just the right beach side bar to stop for beer and tapas, before finding the local supermarket and grabbing a taxi back to the boat. As we sat in the cab, we both agreed that the fare was well worth paying, as the walk home with four heavy carrier bags would have been torture!
What an amazing environment
The walk that morning though was amazing. It was so completely different to any environment I’ve come across before. Sea water is pumped into flat lakes that are laid out in a rough grid, all interconnected with 1-2 metre high walls made from the original sandy dirt when the lakes were excavated. The walls are reinforced in places with rough cut marble and stone that looks as if it was dumped there by builders and stone masons.
The sea water enters the lake system from the Mediterranean at one end and is moved through the lakes via rustic wooden sluice gates. Each lake seems to have a varying salinity and this is reflected in the stark difference in water colour. Viewed from a distance, the lakes look like a grand patchwork quilt, sporting colours of blues, aqua and pinks. Add differing levels of sunlight and shade from clouds, and the ever changing variety of hues is as beautiful as it is alien to view.
The lakes, particularly those sporting the relatively fresh sea water at the entry point, are home to a variety of flora and fauna. Flamingos in particular are inhabitants and there is a disco by the marina called Club Flamingo. In Spain, the council architects invest in their roundabouts, and as you will see in our YouTube video “Long Lunch Musings in Maraira”, they can be extravagant pieces of town art. The roundabouts usually reflect the local specialty, culture or produce, so it came as no surprise that the small roundabout leading towards the marina through the Salinas, sports a metal sculpture of a flamingo.
Salt lakes and windmill
We left the southern beach that Sunday with a goal of reaching a distant windmill situated on one of the ‘walls’ in the centre of the salt lakes. We noticed that while most of the lake wall paths were barred by gates, there was one that quite a few people were taking to and from the windmill. Barry had a reason for his walk – to reach and explore a chosen objective, and I happily made my way across the landscape that was so different to any I’d walked through before.
As we made our way across the walls of the lakes, we also noticed that different levels of sulphurous fumes arose from various corners of these diverse lakes. The colours in the lakes probably come from bacteria and microorganisms and these may well be responsible for the smells. One with black sludge and cream coloured salty foam scudded in a corner was particularly offensive to the nose.
Salt burns my sinus
Along the way from the beach in amongst the sea grass and dunes towards the salty domain, I’d collected some shells and a small piece of discarded blue fishing net. At one point closer to the salt lakes, I spotted another piece of netting and thinking this may be a way to remove some rubbish from the area as well as gather a supply for my art, I pulled at it. It was larger than I thought and buried deeper in the salt encrusted sand and as I tugged, the netting flipped out of its burial place. As this happened, I breathed in through my nose and a flake of the salt shot quite a way up my left nostril! I didn’t notice this at first but within seconds I began to sneeze. Baz was filming some wildlife at the time, and not knowing that my body was trying to expel something caustic, I held in the sneeze and also the salt.
Seconds after this, I realised my mistake as a tiny area high up my nose began to feel irritated. It was too high to fish out with my little finger so I blew what I could out, but I think at that point, the moisture had dissolved the salt, so I had a little patch of caustic salinity irritating the soft lining of my nostril!
It was quite interesting observing my body’s response, even as I told myself that I wasn’t going to end up with a hole in my septum! Mucus followed and as I swallowed, I tasted the strong saltiness that was being washed away down my throat. Needless to say, I still have my nose intact! But it took a good hour for it to settle down.
Note to self: Let myself sneeze loudly even if Baz is filming, as a sneeze is a valid response to something that needs to be expelled from the body!
Water pump at the windmill
The council controls the water pump that regulates the salt lakes. The windmill was probably originally used to power the pump, but these days it is electrically generated. The old white windmill with its black conical roof was very picturesque and I got some great shots of it through the old stone walls surrounding the pumping station.
This place is a local attraction and quite a few tourists and Spanish alike walked the long approach path to and from it – with salt lakes on one side, and the fresh sea water of the Mar Menor on the other. I can only imagine how busy it must get in the height of the tourist season.
Healing black mud
Towards the town end of the path, several wooden walkways and platforms had been constructed over the last salt lake. It was here the Banos de Lodo mud baths that people slathered black mud from the lake floor onto their skin, let it dry and washed it off. Apparently the saline mud has healing properties. I was just considering whether I would have covered myself with the salty black balm if I’d had a skin disorder when I began to sneeze again. It seemed my body recognised this environment as being saline and had reacted against it!
Beer and tapas
A comparatively short walk later and Barry and I were sitting at a beach bar in Lo Pagan sipping a welcome cold beer and tucking into tasty tapas. Looking at the time we realised we’d been walking for just over three hours. No wonder we were hungry!
Northern beach boardwalk reminds me of ‘home’
Last Sunday’s walk took us north, past the particularly bright pink lakes where the flamingos can often be seen and then headed east along wooden walkways, over the nature reserve of low dunes, sea grasses and wild ‘asparagus’ towards the beach. It amazed me how plants could survive in such saline environments. Isn’t nature incredible?
As we turned onto the boardwalk that approached the sea, I was immediately reminded of the Sunshine Coast and stopped to take a few photos. The beach itself differed from Aussie beaches as the sand is darker, scattered with clumps of matted sea grass (that reminded me of felt balls) and littered with plastic – cups, fishing line, bottle tops and what looked like the ribbon that is tied around gifts. Baz and I discussed how spotless Australian beaches are with practically no litter at all and I realised how proud we are of our Aussie beaches to the point that there is relatively no litter dropped, and what is washed up gets removed by community volunteers on the regular ‘Clean Up Australia’ days. This ensures the soft, powdery, near white sand remains that way, and sea creatures are in less danger from human disregard. Wouldn’t it be great if every country had this attitude and solution?
Beach inspired jewellery
Inspired by my recent walks, this week has seen me making a few pieces of beach-art jewellery.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll remember that I wasn’t able to bring all of my art and craft tools to Spain with me. So I’ve been adding to my collection now we have a fixed marina address. Last week my ring mandrel arrived and also a couple of nylon tipped pliers which means I can manipulate the copper or silver wire when I’m wire-wrapping shells and not mark the wire.
I had a great time with my new tools!
Silver lattice, fishing line bracelet
The first piece I made was upcycling a silver lattice cuff bracelet. Inspired by the fishing net and thinking about the sea creatures that get caught up in the lines and nets left by fishermen, I wove some blue enamelled wire around the cuff, adding blue abalone and rust coloured carnelian beads along the way. I left the wiring slightly rough and ready because that’s what fishing net looks like when it is caught around things. After posting a couple of images on Instagram and Facebook, asking friends if I ought to tidy up the wire, I had a resounding response to leave it as it was! That has freed me up mentally to create true beach art.
Three copper wire and sea glass rings
There is a YouTube jeweller whose chunky wire wrapping has inspired me - Liz Carter. Using a couple of her ring ideas as a springboard for my own creations, I’ve made three chunky copper wire-wrapped rings that each include a piece of sea glass that I found on the beach at Javea on the Costa Blanca when we first arrived in Spain.
Silver wire wrapped shell with suspended pearl and glass
Before I left Australia, I collected some awesome shells and a few pieces of beach glass. Taking one large cockle shell, I drilled a hole in the top to thread wire for a bail. Then I joined a diamond shaped piece of beach glass and a freshwater pearl – both suspended with sterling silver and hung these from the centre of the shell. Attaching it all together with sterling silver wire that I wrapped around the back of the shell, created a bail (to hang on a chain) and finished the piece with a few swirling spirals.
This piece was challenging as it was fiddly attaching the pearl and glass up under the lip of the shell, but I’m glad I persevered. This is quite a large piece and will make a bit of a statement for the wearer. The nice thing is that the back of the shell is just a pretty as the front, so if it turns around while being worn, it will look good either way.
Two tiny wire-net wrapped glass bottles
Spurred on by my earlier wire weaving, I took some deep blue enamelled wire and proceeded to weave a little ‘fishnet’ over each of the two bottles, attached to a piece of copper wire, looped at both ends to create a bail.
The shorter, fatter of the two bottles now contains 3 tiny Australian shells and 3 pieces of sea glass from Javea, Spain. The thinner, longer bottle has a polished shell and silver tone anchor suspended from the copper collar. Both are cute and adorable. I’ll definitely be making more of these!
Plans for my beach jewellery
Once I get a collection together, I’ll make them available from this website. I just love the idea that I can bring beach finds together from different parts of the world into something beautiful or quirky, or as an environmental statement, that can then be worn by others, also worldwide! It reminds me of when nature spreads seeds – cast upon the wind, or washed to distant shores by ocean currents.
I’ll also begin to put videos together documenting the beach finds, and what I make from them, as I travel around on our yacht.
So, until my next post, keep sending me those supportive vibes, as you really do give me a focus for my work. And may you find great inspiration in nature this week!
Link to Aannsha's next blog