You really cannot move in La Mancha without being confronted by Don Quixote and his faithful servant, Sancho Panza: every wall of every hotel is adorned with Quixotic images; entrance ways feature statues; fountains in town squares are covered in ceramic representations; we even visited a cafe with curtains depicting the Don. That really is all there is.
With a passing irreverent thought, my mind drew a parallel between La Mancha and Belgium: it struck me that both places’ claim to fame is entirely fictitious. This, of course, is unfair to Belgium which did, at least, produce the extraordinarily successful cyclist, Eddy Merckx. However, to resume …
We enjoyed a much more adequate and cheaper breakfast than that provided by our Cuenca hotel – very edible croissants – before heading for our second dose of windmills at Consuegra. As we approached the windmill-topped hill, we could see that a couple of coaches had also headed there and a third was winding its way up the road. Here, there are 12 windmills with a photogenic castle roughly in the centre. That is, it would be photogenic were it not for the almost inevitable crane adorning it. At least now there was only a single crane; Google Earth had shown two when I was getting a sneak preview prior to our trip. We parked and studied the potential line-ups.
There was a biting wind, again. Our first job was to wait ~30 minutes for one of the busloads of tourists to clear our favoured scene. Being Japanese, they were all intent on having their pictures taken adopting strange poses slap bang in front of the windmills. One strange pose involved a skirt flying over a head in the wind, Marilyn Monroe fashion. Selfie stick [arghh!] after selfie stick [I hate the narcissistic contraptions] wandered slowly back to the bus, together with the occasional real camera, slightly down hill. Just as busload #1 was almost clear, busload #2 swarmed across the windmills with their chosen digital technology. Eventually patience paid off and we got our chance. Click, click, click!
Our friend Jim, armed with his on the road 3G, discovered that the Japanese are keen on the chivalrous Don Quixote because they think of him as a samurai. Go figure!
La Mancha is actually one large plain sitting at an elevation of 610m/2000ft. It is the largest plain in Spain. Presumably, this is the very plain upon which most of the rain in Spain stays. You get a good view of the plain from any of the windmill topped hills. Remembering the main importance of Wales in the world as a size comparand – you know the sort of thing: an area of jungle the size of Wales is felled in the Amazon basin every year – we dug out the size from the Rough Guide, in useless square kilometre units, and calculated that the plain of La Mancha is 10 times the size of Wales. Much more understandable; all was well. This kept us amused as we drove past an ironing board flat countryside filled largely with grapevines.
After two days tilting, La Mancha may have had us Don Qixoted and windmilled out but it did prove very hospitable. All our drink stops were accompanied by substantial tapas given gratis, just with your drink. Order three drinks (~1.50€ each) and you get a couple of tapas to accompany each. At a selection of establishments, we had been presented with pork scratchings, roast potatoes, wedges of tortilla, bread topped with ham and manchego cheese (from La Mancha), hard-boiled eggs topped with sardines, croquettes of various flavours … and so on. It felt as though we could actually have skipped ordering meals entirely and just kept drinking, which would also have filled our stomachs. We’re not used to this back in Jalón, where we’re lucky to get a bowl of peanuts, and that comes with or after the third round. I prefer the La Mancha approach, though not necessarily the pan-flat land.
After the windmills, we did drop into a wetland area, Las Tablas de Daimiel, which proved a pleasant walk, though a little slow on the entertainment front – too early at this altitude, I think. Most interesting here was several busloads of small Spanish schoolchildren who were both well controlled by their teachers and very polite, muttering “hola” or “buenos días” to us as we came across them. Now there’s something that would never happen in the UK. They were walking along perfectly calmly in groups of three linked by their hands.Take note, Britain: it IS possible to transform your rugrats into pleasant children despite doing so being unfashionable currently. What a delight to see.
We called into another bar (there’s a surprise) in Daimiel itself for refreshment before returning to the hotel: two beers and a red wine. The waiter eventually returned with two beers and a whole unopened bottle of wine. He was at pains to explain the label to Francine, waxing lyrically in Spanish about how good this local La Mancha, ecological wine was. He then went through a delightful piece of theatre uncorking the bottle, turning aside and giving the withdrawn cork a darn good sniff, a look of intense concentration on his face. Apparently all was well. Satisfied that the wine was drinkable, he poured Francine a glass. I began wondering, firstly, if we’d be buying the whole bottle, and secondly, how much this apparently very special bottle might cost. Mr Waiter shortly returned with “un tapito” [a little tapa – new word for us] consisting of a plate of hand-carved jamon. It was excellent ham, too. More euro signs rolled around. Ching!
My fears were groundless, la cuenta [the bill] for three of us came to 5.10€. Ya gotta love it.