Texto y fotografías por Erin O'Sullivan.
May 5, 2013
Last weekend really was a pueblo-hoppin' weekend! In addition to finally getting to see the famous Castellar, I also got to take an incredible hike through the mountains and visit the villages of Villaluenga and Ubrique with fellow teachers from Sierra Luna...and about 100 others!
|A fitting start to our solidarity hike!|
This was a hike for charity (and to demonstrate solidarity); people from all over the Cadiz region met in Ubrique--about an hour's drive from Los Barrios--early (very early!) Saturday morning. After grabbing some quick coffee or churros con chocolate (I passed on the later--the roads were a special kind of twisty-turny!), the hikers were loaded into buses and driven far up into the mountains. Then, we were on our own to walk back down to Ubrique. Now, initially, I misunderstood the nature of the hike. I knew we'd be walking between villages, but I thought it'd be at most a couple hours along the highway. No. Not even close.
What we did instead was far better. Our hike down the mountains took us over all sorts of terrain and history. Our trek, mostly through Llanos del Republicano, began at la Cañada Real de las Diez Pilas and continued through places with names that I lost track of--as did time (or so it felt like). The path we took crossed medieval village sites, Roman burial sites, haunted trees, and valleys sandwiched between mountains in such a way that it felt like if you stayed here long enough you really could step away from the rest of the world entirely. People kept asking me how I liked the hike. I couldn't form a proper answer in English or Spanish, I was too taken by the constantly changing environment. Es como una pelicula, seemed to be the best I could manage.
|The Republican Plains|
|The haunted tree. People say that they can see the faces of "good ghosts" in this tree. It also is what the cork trees, which grow plentifully in this area, would look like if allowed to grow fully instead of having their bark harvested.|
|I was able to follow along with much of what our guide was explaining, but luckily my teacher friends stepped in to translate some of the finer (and cooler) historical details. (Pic by Antonio Morales)|
|Gathered around an ancient burial site. (Pic by Antonio Morales)|
After a few hours hike, a weather turn from warm and sunny to cool and cloudy to straight up cold, we finally spotted beautiful Villaluenga del Rosario down below! It was a welcome sight as it meant a chance to rest and eat.
|Villaluenga, up ahead!|
In typical Spanish fashion, cerveza was flowing and plentiful! I can't quite wrap my mind around the idea of beer going well with hiking, but perhaps they're on to something...it did seem to help warm people up! (Hey chica, one guy told me, stop taking pictures and drink a beer!) In addition, I learned that the village of Villaluenga is famous for their cheese and the town was at the tail end of a week-long cheese-fest--say what! So we got to sample some top-dog cheese varieties in the paseo. Now that's what I'm talking about!
By far, though, the best part was when we suddenly, in the middle of our tapas-rest-stop, had to move all of the plastic tables and chairs out of the center of the paseo to make way for a herd of sheep making its way through the village. (When I overheard someone say, we have to move; the sheep are coming, I was sure I'd lost something in translation...) It was like nothing else I've ever seen--looking up these narrow, white-walled streets to see thirty-some sheep huddled together and men with staffs and tweed flatcaps pushing them through.
|Welcome to the pueblos!|
Even better was that the sheep got to the middle of the square and decided they just couldn't handle the people staring at them any longer. They pushed themselves together into this huge clump of wool, stepping further and further into each other, and refusing, absolutely refusing, to be moved.
|Following the herd...|
|Finally this guy had enough! ("Stubborn as a sheep" should totally be the new catch-phrase, btw.)|
|Once you got enough of them moving, there was no turning back!|
It took some time--and a lot of dragging--for the herders to get them going again. What an experience! This, for sure, will be in my top ten Spanish memories. And, man, Toto, we ain't in Chicago any more!
|Welcome to the Spanish pueblos!|
After the sheep excitement, we were charged up and ready to hit the trails again for the second half of the trek. That few hour walk I'd imagined was now a full-on all-day hike.
And it was about to hit some new levels of wow, as we crossed La Manga through harsh winds and light rain. La Manga is a six kilometer corridor between mountains, made up of limestone, and full of history. Every people that have ever crossed these lands have lived and worked this passage; I spent quite a bit of time watching the caves above us, wondering about all the people and animals that have surely lived there throughout the years. It didn't matter how cold it was--this part of the hike was simply stunning.
|(Pic by Antonio Morales)|
We were all pretty frozen by the time we got to end, but luckily our guides had already planned for that. Before we continued on to Ubrique, everyone was treated to a bit of sweet wine. I made the mistake of asking one of the teachers if the dark-colored sweet wine was sherry. After all, it tasted much the same to me. After a moment's hesitation I was told that yes, more or less, that's what it was. Dangerous words this near to dear Jerez--others immediately jumped in saying no, absolutely not, sherry came from Jerez and this that we were drinking now was much different. How, I couldn't begin to tell you, but there's several things you should never argue with a local about--and, in Andalucia, the almighty sherry is one. However one describes it, it was a) good and b) successful in warming us up as we headed into the last leg of the journey!
|Salud! (Pic by Antonio)|
Heading on, we encountered a herd of goats being moved through the countryside--a very different experience than seeing the sheep pushed through town--as well as a trough of fresh mountain water.
|Our group--cold but happy!|
The guides let us rest a bit here as they told us about the medieval path we were about to take. This narrow footpath we'd be taking was the way to get to bigger places like Ronda or Malaga. And it's been left to wear more or less naturally over time. It was something to mull that knowledge over while walking the path--the difficulty, the beauty, the length, and all such an unremarkable part of day-to-day life hundreds of years ago. Somehow, after the places we'd seen and the walks we'd taken thus far, hundreds of years ago was starting to seem less and less far away.
|The medieval path in its best condition.|
Though relatively straightforward, this part of the hike actually quite difficult. The rocks that had once been packed down into a solid pathway were now loose and would shift constantly under your feet. They were misshaped and uneven, sharp enough to feel even through hiking boots and were slippery with rain. There were big drops out of nowhere and unexpected holes. It was slow, careful going, until at least Ubrique came into view.
|Hooray, Ubrique! We found you!|
In Ubrique we had lunch, heard a wanna-be rock band, which led to a discussion where I tried to define "indie-rock" and how to classify groups as such, and then wandered the town, taking in the sights. (Also of note is that Ubrique's main industry is leather goods--so often you can buy a purse for relatively little money, just before they put the name-brand stamp on!)
|Paseo in Ubrique|
|Literally, the best tasting water I've ever had. Fresh from the mountains.|
I don't remember much of the way back home--winding roads or not, I was passed out in the backseat! It was a glorious day though, filled with incredible sights and history that I would have never even known I was missing if it wasn't for landing here the pueblos of Southern Spain--where the land, and its people, really are something incredible.