return to Part 1 Andalusia Spain 2004 write up
Marbella is the upscale location on the Costa del Sol. It has flower decked narrow streets lined with stores and restaurants to explore, wild Dali sculptures on a broad walkway leading to a promenade where you can walk several Km beside a great beach.
We love exploring local markets and Malaga had the best. It was a sight to see and hear. It was packed with displays of fresh fish, meats and vegetables and all the vendors beckon you to their stall by singing out their speciality.
We missed the bullfighting season but we saw bullrings in almost every town. Even the tiny village of Benamahoma, in the Parque National de Grazalema, west of Ronda, had a mini-bullring. Most of the time the village road runs right through the bullring, but a few days a year the doors are closed and the bullfights begin. We toured the bullring in Ronda, the most famous in Andalucia. It almost made me sad not to be able to see it in action. Instead we watched a small boy, a future bullfighter, pose with a cape for his parents.
We couldn't leave Spain without seeing a flamenco performance and Sevilla claims to be one of the birthplaces of flamenco, so we booked an evening of entertainment. We joined busloads of tourists at El Palacio Andaluz to watch talented dancers, musicians and singers perform a well-choreographed and colourful show. I would have loved to attend an impromptu performance in one of the many flamenco bars but the starting time of midnight is past my bedtime.
Tarifa, a small town at the most southerly point in Spain, can be windy. Perfect for the windsurfers and kitesurfers who congregate there. We watched about 50 kitesurfers practising in the waves on a Saturday. On a hill nearby are fields of towering white windmills, one of many Spanish power projects funded by the EU. Poor Don Quixote, he would have had to be a giant to do battle with these modern windmills.
Gibraltar was more British than Britain. There were pubs galore and British Bobbies directing traffic. Tourists galore walked the shopping districts looking for duty free bargains of liquor, electronics and English clothing. We took the cable car up to the top of the Rock where the Barbary macaque apes lie in wait. One unwary fellow had the plastic bag he carried ripped out of his hands by one ape. The apes may be cute but they are not stupid. Despite signs warning of fines up to £500 if you are caught feeding the apes, I saw a tour leader feed oranges to several mothers and babies. The view from the top was excellent and the audio that was included with our cable car ride gave lots of fascinating information about the area.
Cadiz has a long promenade along the seafront, perfect for Sunday strollers and us. We had lunch before our walk at the popular Plaza de Mina. The small square was crowded with families enjoying lunch at the many restaurants or picnicking on the park benches. People brought their own beer and wine and bought smoked tuna or tiny shrimps sold by street vendors in paper cones.
From Cadiz we headed to El Puerto de Santa Maria which, along with nearby Sanlucar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Frontera, make up the Sherry Triangle. We had seen huge black silhouettes of bulls beside the highways on our travels. These are the sherry and brandy advertisements for the Osborne company of El Puerto. The signs carried the company name when they were first erected in 1957 but Spain outlawed highway advertising in 1988, so the name was removed. The Spanish government tried to remove them in 1994 but a public outcry decrying the removal of a national heritage resulted in them being left as they were. Now another Sherry company, Gonzalez Byass, has erected equally large nameless signs advertising their most popular brand, Tio Pepe, a man dressed in Andalucian garb with a guitar beside him.
We made a day trip to Sanlucar where we visited La Cigarrera, a Manzanilla dry sherry Bodega (a winery) named after the women who rolled and sold cigars on the streets of town in the 19th C. Carmen of Opera fame was one. I visited the Sandeman Bodega in Jerez on another day trip while Ray watched horses being washed and exercised at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art across the street. It is just as well that both of us did not take the Sandeman tour as neither one of us would have been able to drive afterwards. They were very generous with their tastings and even I had to limit my drinking.
Jerez also has an interesting Alcazar, an 11th C Muslim fortress, to visit. It was much smaller than the Alcazar in Seville but it had a camera obscura in the top of a tower. We huddled around a large concave dish while our guide turned off the lights and opened a small hole in the roof. Mirrors projected a panorama of Jerez onto the dish, a live action movie with people moving about the town.
We sought out the hiking trails in the many National Parks where well maintained paths led up mountains, through forest and along rushing mountain streams. Between our visits to Cordoba and Granada we took time off to visit and hike in Cazorla National Park. We had a great day driving through the beautiful mountain range and taking two hikes, one in the spectacular Cerrada del Utrero gorge and the second along the Rio Borosa. The last was great until it started to rain. We didn't bring our raincoats that day as the morning had been sunny, so we were reduced to huddling under one umbrella for the hour walk back to our car. Thank goodness for quick dry clothing.
Grazalema, just west of Ronda, offered the greatest variety of walks. One day we had our most challenging hike to the top of El Torreon for great views. Another day we took a more leisurely walk from El Bosque where we were staying to the next village of Benamahoma, one of the picturesque Pueblos Blancos, white villages built in the hills.
We drove over mountain passes to Zahara de la Sierra next to a large dammed lake. We walked up the hills to the partially restored castle and a hilltop keep. Warning: Do not attempt to pick prickly pear fruit off the cactus without leather gloves. I did and I was picking slivers out of my fingers for days. We liked the town so much we stayed overnight to try another hike the next day. The Garganta Verde is a lush ravine, a 300 M descent down a steep path to a rocky, dry river bed. A short distance along the river is a huge cave, Cueva de la Ermita and the narrow entrance to the gorge, rising more than 100 M on each side. The gorge is the nesting area for 50 pairs of Griffon Vultures, several of which could be seen swooping across the gorge gathering sticks for their nests.
There is another 400 M gorge in El Chorro that sounded interesting. The main railway line south to Malaga runs through the gorge over 6 bridges and 12 tunnels. A path called the Camino del Rey runs into the gorge. The Lonely Planet said the catwalks clinging to the side of the gorge were in extreme disrepair but we went anyway. They were closed to walkers and looked extremely dangerous but it was a beautiful stopover. We stayed in a simple room on the second floor of the station and walked around the area. The next day we drove 6 km to the top of hills overlooking the gorge where to our surprise we saw a huge reservoir, which supplies water to a hydro project below. A bonus was sighting more Griffon Vultures as they left their nests in the cliffs below where we were standing.
We stopped in the Alpuharras, a mountain range adjacent to the Sierra Nevadas, twice. After one short walk the first time, we decided to return towards the end of our trip. This time we stayed in one of the Pueblos Blancos, Pampaneira, and hike again. We just did a two-hour walk to another village and back but we met an American couple who had five days to hike from village to village, taking a bus for their return - an idea for another trip.
On our return to the coast we stayed in Nerja. It is a popular resort for British tourists, but is not as crowded as the Costa del Sol. Our Dutch hosts at Hostal Lorca have several writeups of walks in the area. We took two of their suggestions. We walked up to pretty Frigiliana, a small town noted for its colourful wall tiles depicting the 1569 bloody defeat of the Moriscos, converts to Christianity, by the Christian rulers. We had lunch in a small restaurant where I recognized a Japanese man who was staying at our hostal. He was flabbergasted to find out that a local resident who was in the restaurant at the same time had paid for his lunch. The only reason we could come up with is it was the local man was impressed by the fact the Japanese man spoke such good Spanish. Our friend is an English teacher on sabbatical from a Tokyo college who likes languages. He had just spent a month in Germany learning German and another month in El Puerto improving his Spanish. Sometimes people are just nice.
But all trips must come to an end. We drove back to Torremolinos for our last night. It is very British, with a long, sandy beach, but an imposing cliff separates it from main town. Its main advantage for us is the proximity to the airport. This is important when you have a 7 AM flight home.
We arrived home the evening of November 30, 2004, just in time for winter to set in the next morning. It was quite a contrast to autumn in Andalucia. We now understand why so many Europeans and North Americans stay in Spain to escape the winter.
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