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Hiking in Spain: Autumn in Andalusia

  

Granada

Who knew I’d get stood up in Spain? One thing to be stood up at the movies – but Spain?

I’d planned to meet a friend in Madrid, then we’d fly to Granada to meet our hiking group. There were clues that this might not come to pass – oh, for example, when she said: Now if I’m not in Madrid when you land, don’t wait for me – catch your plane to Granada. But of course, who thinks this means: Guess what, I’m not coming!

That being said, I arrived in Madrid about 9AM – no-one seemed to speak English, even a flight captain. I was at a total loss as to my connecting Iberian flight to Granada, but eventually found out they don’t announce a gate until an hour prior. Better be sure you’re within running distance.

Still no sign of Diane, so I boarded Iberian. The sun was shining brilliantly – and I arrived at the (tiny) Granada airport and stood outside waiting – waiting – waiting for a taxi. Finally! I arrived at Guadalupe Hotel in the Alhambra (which, I found out is a medina, or city, not just a palace, as I had thought…always learning). Diane never showed up. Around 5PM Granada time…after hours of calls and worry…. I decided to change my tickets home, moving them up two days so I’d arrive home early Sunday rather than late Tuesday. Incredible hassle. I spent about $200 on long distance calls to airlines and to the office…let alone the cost of re-purchasing the Iberian A/L ticket and changing Continental!

Finally late that evening I found out from Wilderness Travel: Diane was not coming! I took a sleeping tablet, and slept until noon Saturday, and awoke feeling much better!

Saturday, Sept 30

Never hear from Diane.

The view from my room at the Guadalupe Hotel

My room, (on the 3rd floor) was charming although spartan…but what views! The busloads of tourists had come and gone, and peace reigned. I decided to wash my hair and get an early night. Reminder for next trip: Be sure to check the hotel hairdryer before you plan to use it!  First try: I blew the electricity.  Then I popped the breaker, and plugged the dryer back in…electricity came on. But every time I tried to use it, it blew.  I called the concierge, who flipped  breakers high upon the wall across the room several times – same problem. “Too bad,” she said. The only thing I could do was dry one strand of hair before blowing the fuse, cross from the bathroom, climb on a chair, flip the breakers, dry another strand, and so on and so forth. Fun!

The Guadalupe Hotel at the Alhambra

Next, I tried Room Service. When I couldn’t get anyone on the line, I called the front desk. They suggested I come down to the bar, which is also the Room Service. So down I went. One lonely girl was behind the counter…only two customers. I asked her “is this Room Service?” She: “Do I LOOK like Room Service?” Hmm…inauspicious beginning. I asked if she could fix me a sandwich. She looked at me as if I were requesting a 6-course meal, but we finally had a meeting of the minds, and when I offered her a big tip, she decided she could, of course, bring the tray to my room. Yay!

Meeting the group 

I met the group and off we go to the Alhambra. The palace was beautiful with incredible lacy walls with the coats of arms etc. of bygone times. I loved the gardens…oh, they were heavenly… architecturally designed…flowers brilliant…cedars and boxwood – all wildly scented.

We left the Alhambra and walked to charming restaurant up, up, up a narrow street. It was delightful sitting outside under a canopy eating a wonderful lunch. Weather, by the way, was hot – hot – hotter, not the usual October weather for Andalusia.

After lunch, we all piled in a van to Bubion, a tiny village atop what seemed to me an incredibly high mountain.  I turned green as round and round we went on the narrow road – each lap around the mountain more terrifying than the previous. The drop was precipitous. Thank god Didier was an excellent driver. I was so nauseated by the movement of the van, I really thought I’d lose it. Sweat broke out all over my face and neck, and I could barely climb from the van after an hour and a half drive up the mountain. (But this was the only time I experienced this.)

All the little towns have these wonderful narrow streets

Three hours later, after washing my hair again (glutton for punishment), I was able to go to dinner, always late at night. It was fabulous, but almost too much for me to finish (I valiantly manage). Spanish meals seem to be HUGE. But oh, we were relaxed, sitting outside in the courtyard looking over the mountains at the sunset, and then at a glorious full moon, having drinks, then going inside the tiny restaurant for dinner. Wine flowed, good conversation reigned. What a wonderful night!

We meet in hotel lobby at 9:30 after quick breakfast. First hike – and it was a doozy. The first couple of hours we hiked down – which was great. The trail was rocky and pebbly, so needed to watch feet. No-one else in the group likes downhill.

It is very dry here, and unseasonably hot. The ground is parched, but vistas across valleys are stunning, the mountains incredible, and you see clusters of whitewashed towns scattered at intervals across the great divides. Not a lot of water.

We are accompanied on this trip by Antonio and two mules. Bea asked me several times if I wanted to just ride one of the mules, when I thought I’d pass out from heat – but add to the weight already on the backs of the animals I would not … although they were well fed and cared for – Antonio rode one of them almost all the way back up the mountain.

Two mules for…

Now imagine, if you will, hiking in 87o F weather – with humidity – most times with no shade – sun fierce – not a cloud in the sky – followed by Antonio on a mule yakking away on his cell phone!

After about three hours, we come to our lunch spot, with a fabulous view across cliffs and valleys. In the distance, our town of Bubion, where we would begin heading after lunch. We picnic on tomatoes from Bea’s garden, homemade olive oil, two kinds of Spanish cheeses, cured ham, long loaves of crusty bread, Spanish olives…all absolutely delish (also wine, orange and peach juices).

Up again, on hike back to Bubion – this was so steep I had to keep stopping in the (very few) shady spots…the climb was intense. Bea kept me going – it was easier with the stops, but woof: talk about hard (my hardest hike…the rest got easier by the day.) Finally got to Bubion and she and I stopped in a small taverna for a drink. It was such fun to just not be “in train” and I loved Bea for doing it. She is a remarkable person – so Spanish, absolutely tiniest person I’ve every met. She used to be a dancer, until, as she says, her boobs got too big! She is funny and encouraging and has been such a friend on this hike.

On the road

A note on Granada, Bubion and Andalusia in general: I feel in many ways I have come to the back of beyond. It’s not that restaurants and inns lack amenities but the landscape does not allow for a Milan or New York frame of mind. People do things here they have done – in the same way – for hundreds of years. Bea herself lives in a tiny village up a hill from Bubion – she is restoring her house – it takes an immense amount of time – you cannot drive to her village, the roads are too narrow and inaccessible. She has to park her car elsewhere and walk uphill to her home. As she pointed out, in the winter, they may lose the electricity, but they have the fireplace, good wine and friends to sit and talk with (sounds great to me).

We meet a man on the hike who lived in a hut with dogs and a cat and probably other animals – no electricity, running water etc. – 84 years old, wizened – and happy. Time definitely stands still in Andalusia – except, except, except.

You cannot escape the cell phone. For example, Antonio, sitting astride one of his mules, climbing up the mountain, talking away a mile a minute on his cell phone to his girlfriend. Technology – even in the back of beyond.

The charm of Andalusia is everywhere

But perhaps back of beyond doesn’t really describe Andalusia – it is just timeless. Its villages are whitewashed, streets are rocky and cobbled and narrow, pots of flowers in all colors abound, dogs run free and doorways are open. All towns seem to be on mountains – all streets are steep – and life is very laid back.

I keep forgetting to mention the tapas. Every time you stop at a taverna for a drink, you are always given a grand array of sliced ham and/or cheese, maybe, but always olives and bread. And the size of the platter is dependent on the number of people.  On the climb to Bubion, we all stopped for a “clara” or “shandy” or Alhambra beer and were served the platters of the above as well as potatoes with scrambled eggs. Yum. Of course, who wants to hike after beer and potatoes!

And another thing: There is no mustard in Spain, or if there is, it must really be searched for! Jaro spent two hours looking for mustard when he went to Malaga…he wanted a ham sandwich with MUSTARD, but all they kept giving him was mayo or butter. Oh the challenges of this dreamy spot!

I am back at the inn, sitting on my little back patio underneath a chestnut tree writing in my journal. The sun is still high in the sky – but it’s cool in this shady enclosed grassy space, rimmed by scented boxwood. I am drinking an Alhambra beer and thinking: how lucky am I.

Off to wash my hair.

The incredible Ronda Gorge 

Up early this morning – suitcases must be in van by 8:45. Suck down some cereal and yoghurt and on the road again from Bubion on the way to Ronda.

Our hike is not as strenuous today – mostly down, with a few uphills just to keep us on our toes. Views are incredible, as usual. We stop for lunch at 1PM. Didier says this is the most primitive part of Andalusia, and from all points of view he is right. We are at a small taverna where the construction workers come to eat lunch – the food is delish, and there’s lots of it – egg pies, crusty bread, salad, and lemon souffle for dessert. I am gaining weight as I write this down.

Then it’s into the van for the 3.5 hour drive to Ronda. Uneventful trip – no nausea this time.

We arrive in Ronda. Our hotel is in the “parador” or palace, which fronts right onto the gorge. My room has a balcony overlooking dales and gorge and mountains. Fabulous.

In the rush to leave, I left behind my hairbrush, and my earrings. Really ticked at myself, but Didier finally finds a shop selling hairbrushes (big relief – obviously I am ecstatic over small things in life.)

Dinner in the lovely dining room. And so to bed…hiking the gorge tomorrow.

Woke up early, I thought. Next time I look it was 9:30 and that was “leave time”. O God! Never moved so damned fast in my life – surprised that Bea was not banging on the door! Glomp on sunblock, brush teeth, drag brush thru hair, clothes, boots – downstairs!

Only to find out it’s only 8:30. I must have forwarded the time when I was clicking on the alarm clock. Am now exhausted, and haven’t left the parador!

Breakfast. Then out the door to walk around the gorge and check the Roman/Moorish/Muslim baths within the battlements, circa 1250.

Then it’s across the bridge, down and through fields and around a trail for about five hours…then back up-up-up the gorge for lunch at a taverna, sitting outside overlooking the gorge, fields and faraway hills. I love it…it’s wonderful to be so far away from my “everyday” life in a completely – and I mean completely – foreign part of the world.

Incredible views. Our hotel is right on the Ronda gorge itself, and is truly magnificent. Inside are marble floors, stately columns, wonderful architecture. My room has a fantastic view over the fields below to the mountains beyond….never has the phrase “over the hills and far away” been so appropriate.

Lunch as usual was fun – but having a beer knocks me out. I’m going to sleep like a log tonight, but first we’re going to the bullring (but not to see a bullfight, which I would NOT) – then dinner at 8:30. After quick trip to a ceramic shop for a Ronda keepsake, it’s back to the parador to sleep for a couple of hours, then meet the group, after which, back again to parador and drinks with Bea, Didier and Jaro. And after a 2.5 hour-long meal, back to bed!

Ro, Didier and Bea after hiking Ronda’s beautiful plain

We’re on the way to our next hike. We pack and leave Ronda at 9:30AM…the hike is through some beautiful country, more green than before. Trails very very VERY narrow. We hiked for four hours to a quaint and lonely taverna…a converted “train barn” beside a railroad track. It is one room, very large, high ceilinged…painted terra cotta-ish within, marvelous architectural details.

Lunch was incredible – and huge! We start as usual with olives, then crusty bread and a salad…then we have soup…then grilled seabreem. Each of us has an entire fish, head, tails and all – we debone it at table, and squeeze lime on its white interior – it is delicious. We each have different desserts. I have chocolate mousse cake…talk about decadent. Wine is always served, but I decided to just wait until dinner, otherwise I’d be under the table.

A little rest after a fabulous meal

After this gorgeous lunch – we all have an hour to siesta or read. As I sit on the patio looking at mountains in the distance, the sky is completely clear and deeply blue, the sun is warm on my face. As I sit with my feet up on a couple of chairs. I think again: “how lucky am I?”

Then the blissful moment is over. It’s back in the van – driving through the incredible mountain scenery to climb and clamber up and over rocks and boulders to a huge and deep cave filled with stalagmites, stalagtites, paleolithic paintings, and “lakes”. We enter about 500 KMs into the cave…which is – they say – about 20,000 years old. (Have panic attack here, but it passes. Bea holds my hand through the whole thing, and I hope I didn’t break her fingers!)

Then back in van, driving through horse country…lovely rolling hills and fields – cork trees abound here, throughout our trip, we’ve seen chestnuts (with the nuts falling from the tree), almond trees, olives, oak, aspen – chestnut trees are used in much of the new construction. Not many flowers.

We left Bubion (we found out) just before a mini-hurricane struck, causing much destruction in that area (so far we’ve had nothing the most gorgeous weather…)

Grazemala – my favorite small town

About 6:30 we come to Grazemala, the town where we’ll spend the night. Of all the tiny charming towns, it is absolutely the most charming: hilly cobbled streets, a tiny town square overlooked by the Catholic Church, many small boutique shops with high end goods, (which are extremely reasonable and beautiful). I love it, and wish I could have stayed longer than two nights. Oh, and gorgeous bougainvillea.

Beautiful magical Grazemala

We dine at 9 (I can’t get used to all this food – and eating so late  – I must have gained a ton – but oddly enough, LOST inches, as I found when I returned home.) We have: wine, salad, crusty bread (a given), a huge bowl of gazpacho, fabulous paella (which the maitre’d brings out on a huge pan – it looks like a flower, all gorgeous rice and seafood and veggies), and then flan. Yum-o!!!

Up at 8AM and out the door of this delightful hotel by 9:30, in hiking boots, ready for another “harder” hike. This one lasts about 6-1/2 hours. The trail at first is fairly placid, earthen and downhill (my kind of trail). Then we come to the boulders. The trail becomes rocky here, and the climb is up – up – boulders all shapes and sizes cover the mountain. It is so important to watch where you put your feet. This area is extremely dry, and the sun is fierce, with very little shade.

We are in the open for much of the hike. Then we come to a grassy area atop a mountain after about three hours, and stop beneath a shady oak (the only one) and Bea lays out a wonderful picnic lunch: the usual crusty bread, tomatoes in olive oil with olives, peppers in olive oil, incredible thinly sliced ham, and goat cheese and cheddar (the cheddar is the best I’ve ever had, and there have been some marvelous cheeses on this trip.) Dessert (if you wanted it) was orange-chocolate cookies. No wine this time, only peach juice. Delish!

Ann on the trail

After wrapping up my blisters (yet again) it was back on the (ever-rockier) trail. We had seen wild ponies and mountain goats. Now we come to a fenced area (huge) which encloses massive wild black pigs – the noise they made would have wakened the dead – there were about 100 of them, and I’m glad they stayed on their side of the fence. Bea told us that during an earlier hike she’d been on, they were loose – and they completely obliterated the food brought for a picnic.

The rocky plain

We continue clambering down over boulders and the rocky trail and finally at about 3:30 came to our little taverna, where we sat in the shade drinking cokes and yakking up a storm. Back in the van for a drive back to our hotel through incredible mountain scenery.

As I sit here writing this, the church bell is tolling the hour, and it is incredibly quiet afterwards. Siesta until 5PM.

Back to the hike for a moment: at one point, Bea and I were hiking alone and we stopped to look at the beautiful valley spread before us. The silence was intense – we were literally in the middle of nowhere, and not a sound to be heard – not a bird, not a stream, no wild animals, no wind. Magic…I believe, despite Diane’s not showing up, that this is one of the loveliest trips I’ve ever made.

The quest for mustard – and a newspaper

Halfway through this trip, Jaro decides to go alone to Malaga on the coast, instead of hiking Ronda. He gets on a bus that should’ve gotten him there in an hour, but which took almost three. Then he spent hours looking for an English-language newspaper – had lunch, during which he looked unsuccessfully for mustard – took a walk around town – then caught the bus back to Ronda. He says that bus ride was a real trip – all women except him, all chattering wildly back and forth. The only words he got were “Mi madre!” and the girl pronouncing them did not say them in a happy tone of voice. But the bus ride was wonderful – so full of life. Jaro is really a fascinating individual – a real gentleman, great conversationalist. So now, I go to wash my hair and tidy up (I’m going to have to rethink this hairwashing business). Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla at 8:30AM, I’m cleaning out my suitcase for the trip home…

The ubiquitous cell phone

Bea and I went for a quick drink after a trip to the ATM (there’s that technology again) – then we all met for drinks in the hotel lobby – then walked the cobbled streets of Grazemala for a last meal together. It was one of those lovely evenings where everything went well: conversation, food, laughter. A really magical night. We walked back to the hotel under a clear midnight blue sky and the moon was full, a silver orb in that incredible sky.

Must get up at 7AM. And so to bed.

As scheduled, we leave the Hotel de la Villa at 8:30, and are on the 2-1/2 hour drive to Sevilla – first part through very mountainous and beautiful terrain, to a flatter but still rolling landscape into town. (Note: we have come to Sevilla from our highest elevation – 4500 feet.)

We find our hotel: Didier takes off to try to find a parking place for the van – 2-1/2 hours later, still no sign of Didier! Luckily, the luggage was dropped at the hotel.

Sevilla

The group takes off with Angela, guide to Santa Maria Cathedral (3rd largest in Europe) and the Royal Palace. Cathedral is astonishing – the nave is 500 km and completely gold leafed over cedar carvings of the birth of Christ up to his crucifixion. The inlays, the statuary, paintings, frescoes – gorgeous. Christopher Columbus’ bones are buried here – interred in coffin supported by four  magnificent carved figures, twice life size – incredible.

The gardens of the royal residence

The Royal Residence is beautiful: layers upon layers of Moorish/Christian architecture – inlays, everything restored or as it used to be. The rooms are far richer than the Alhambra – and the gardens are Persian/French/Italian/English – gorgeous trees and plants – all scented – just beautiful.

The palace, Seville

And then back to the hotel – quick goodbyes – went to my room for wash and a sandwich – get suitcase zipped – taxi due shortly to take me to airport, and then to Madrid where I’ll spend the night. And so I bid Andalusia, Bea and all farewell – the culmination of another little dream of travel.

Note to self: NEVER fly through Madrid if you can help it – airport is a nightmare – lines so long, it’s a wonder you don’t miss the flight (not that it seemed to matter on this trip), and once you get past customs into the waiting area – you cannot get out to find the bathroom, unless you want to go back through the humongous custom lines again!)

Further notes: I have to say a couple – or more – words about this hotel I’m at, in Madrid – it is gorgeous! Decor is a kind of Zen/Japanese/modern – gray grasscloth walls, black leather chair and tuffet, shoji screened closets, big square bed – white linens, tons of white pillows, hardwood floors, high-tech phones – and the bathroom! Fabulous molded-glass sink, frosted glass doors and shower and bath, gray tiles…it’s really really elegant. So comfy and so calming after the stress of the plane (little do I know about stress until I try to get home on Continental, but I won’t go into that here) and then trying to get a taxi to the hotel in Madrid. The first taxi driver threw me out of the cab because he didn’t have a clue where the hotel was (even with the address), he didn’t speak any English, and we were both yelling. I thought I’d be stuck on that curb for life!

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About carpediemrosemary

I was born in England...and moved to Wales when I was two years old...to a small fishing village called The Mumbles, just down the railroad track from Swansea, along the sea. Back in the day, this village was everything you'd want to live in as a kid...surrounded by the sea and the mountains, cliffs and fields full of buttercups, hedgerows high and filled with brambly scrambling vines and flowers...Red currants and peas from village vegetable gardens were plentiful, and we were able to play among the sheep wandering everywhere. The green of the fields was intense. We left Wales to come to Houston, the other side of the world and not QUITE as green, and since then I've travelled more or less constantly...later in life I took up hiking, when my first hike with a friend took me to the Cornish coast in England. There I was able to walk the causeway from Marazion to Mount St. Michael, visit Mousehole where my mother was born, and return to The Mumbles decades after I first lived there. Cornwall is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth...but then, there are so many beautiful places...you have to seize the day, or it passes you by...gone in the wink of an eye.

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