We had a hot and weary tramp back, and when our guide invited us, with Spanish politeness, to visit his home and rest en la sombra de la sala de mi casa (in the shade of the hall of my house), we accepted gratefully.
The 'hall of his house' we found a very grandiloquent figure of speech, for the house consisted of but one room with earthen floor; but the welcome was worthy of a palace, and when they prepared a meal for us we were able to do full justice to it. In a big wooden bowl maize bread was broken up and soaked in water, oil, and vinegar. This was placed between us, and being each provided with a wooden spoon we were soon busily engaged, and found it very cool and satisfying after our exertions.
Our trip to Malaga may be briefly described as a failure. The sierras which surround the town are, I believe, good, and the district had been recommended as quite worth visiting, but we were unfortunate in not being able to find any reliable guide who could direct us in which quarter to try. We were disappointed also in the town itself. The drought, under which Spain suffered so terribly that year, was beginning to make itself felt, and the clouds of dust, which lay to the thickness of four inches in the streets, were intolerable. The smells everywhere were terrible ; and, to crown all this, our hotel, one of the biggest in the place, was alive with bugs! Insect pests are the curse of Spanish travel. We had changed our room soon after our arrival because it stank so abominably of drains that it was impossible to remain in it. We had a double-bedded room as usual, and I slept all right, but poor M-spent half the night in agony, until, in desperation, he unpacked his luggage and unearthed a box of Keating's insect powder and plentifully besprinkled his bedding with it. After that he had a little unquiet sleep, and in the morning we examined the field of battle. The 'Keating's' had done its work faithfully. We recovered forty bodies of the slain enemy and arranged them in rows on the pillow, where they made quite an imposing show. Then, ringing the bell, we confronted the chambermaid with the awful spectacle, expecting her to be overwhelmed with confusion. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Spanish was not equal to the emergency. My education had been neglected, for I didn't even know the Spanish name of the obnoxious pest in question. Malos insectos (bad insects) was the best epithet I could think of on the spur of the moment. But she was quite equal to the occasion, for pointing to the window, which we had opened, she replied, that if Englishmen would insist on having the windows open they must put up with malos insectos. Now I knew perfectly well that the insectos had not entered by the window, but were, so to speak, original inhabitants, born and bred on the premises. But all this was beyond my powers of explanation, so we had to leave her victorious after all.
Being disappointed in our expectations of Malaga, we took the train to Gibraltar and Algeciras, and spent a weary day's journey in going this short distance. From Algeciras we chartered a carriage and four-or three, I forget which. I rather think there were two horses and a mule. But, at any rate, I am sure of this, that it was a most imposing-looking equipage in which we started, to the admiration of half the youthful populace of the place, for a spot not far from the little town of Tarifa.
Here we found comfortable quarters in the cottage of a labourer. The accommodation, it is true, was somewhat primitive, but the two little whitewashed rooms were beautifully clean, and we saw no malos insectos or other pests. Above all, old Juan, his wife, and their son, did their best to make us feel at home and comfortable.
We were surrounded on each side by a level plain encircled with mountains, and immediately in front of the house was a large marsh, or what would have been such under ordinary conditions. Now it was partly dried up, and at the back of the marsh flowed a sluggish river. We found here a fair amount of bird life, Whiskered Terns (Hydrochelidon hybrida) were constantly seen hovering and skimming over the reeds in some numbers, and small flocks of Buff-backed Herons (Ardea bubulcus) attending on the herds of cattle feeding on the plain ; but the date (April 13) was too early for any hopes of seeing nests of these species. Marsh Harriers were fairly common, and also Purple Herons, and a few specimens of the White Stork were observed. On the 19th of April we watched three Cranes (Grus communis) which were evidently thinking of commencing nesting operations ; but though we waded, and systematically searched, a large expanse of marsh, we failed to find any nest. Probably these birds had only just arrived. On the same day we saw Turtle Doves. On the 13th of April Cuckoos, Nightingales, and Woodchat Shrikes were observed, and on the 15th of April there was a sudden invasion of a large flock of Bee-eaters, which sat in rows on the single telegraph wire which passed our door. The beautiful Blue Rock Thrush was fairly common ; we had also seen it at Gibraltar. Dartford Warblers had young birds ; they were very abundant in the tangled scrub growing at the base of the spurs of rocks and the outlying sierras. While searching for a nest of this small species M- was fortunate enough to put off an Egyptian Vulture from her nest in a low rock, and to reach the two richly-coloured eggs by means of his nesting-stick. This is a telescopic arrangement fitted at one end with a mirror set at such an angle that the contents of a nest can be easily seen, even though it may be several feet above one's head. There is also a small landing-net in which these contents can be scooped out.
While here we tried again for an automatic photograph of Vultures, using as bait the head and inside of a kid we had purchased from our host; but though I carried this bait about from day to day, until it became decidedly offensive, in trying fresh situations, we had no luck. Here, by the by, the Spaniards always declared that our bait didn't smell strong enough for the Vultures to be able to find it. This belief is very common, that the Vultures find their food by smell. It has, of course, been proved beyond question that they do so by sight alone.