Friday, June 04, 2010

Wednesday (Ronda to Arcos)...

Dropped down from our hilltop perch in Ronda as the warm morning sun woke up the fields before us. Entered the rocky mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. The craggy limestone, low vegetation hills, fields of purple wildfowers, and short stubby trees were all so reminiscent of the California Sierra Nevadas. Winding narrow roads with very few cars. Sleepy towns...some merely a roundabout. A tiny, dusty bullring along the road.

Along the route of the Pueblos Blancos...the white hilltowns...arrived in Zahara de la Sierra...with the tower-ruins of its Moorish castle watching from above. The hot sun surprised us as we climbed to the tower along a dusty footpath flanked with short olive trees and dense bunches of cactus. The tower provided a welcomed break from the and moist...narrow windows channeling strong breezes. On top...a 360 degree view of the world...the white buildings of Zahara, its belltower-topped church, the enormous man-made reservoir, and the the rolling expanse of the Sierra de Grazalema park.

Leaving Zahara, we wound further up into the mountains. Dozens of switchbacks...each one seemingly the last. Short oak trees. Steep cliffs. More limestone outcroppings. Stopped for the view as we crossed the pass...the Puerto de las Palomas (1357 meters). On the other side of the pass, Grazalema... another hilltown of white buildings spilling down the hillside. On through the park...until we were stopped by dozens of goats crossing through a break in the fence. Making a beeline for a fresh picnic area, they were soon sitting on soccer fields, standing on tables, and lounging on a terrace like it was built just for them. Two goats paused for some goat lovin'.

Arrived in our hilltown for evening...Arcos de la one time on the frontier, now simply a pitstop in the midst of the agricutural interior of southern Spain. Once again entrusting Emily with our fates, we traced a winding path up into the old town, through narrow streets and blind curves...sometimes with mere inches on either side....uphill...with a stick shift. But Emily was right, and we reached the Parador hotel in the main plaza...the Plaza Cabildo...atop the hill adjacent to the town's main church. Our room was worth the nerve-racking climb...a cliff-side balcony with a strong, refreshing breeze.

Tackled Arcos's two main churches: Santa Maria and St. Peter's. Both fine churches built after the reconquest in the 13th century. Lots of artifacts from the centuries, but we found more amusement reading the spotty translations on various interpretive signs.
By 9pm we were ready for an "early" dinner outdoors. Frenzied swallows above...occasionally diving down to street level. We sat entertained, nibbling on so-so tapas...improved by a few frosty cervezas. A slow stroll around the quiet old town eased us towards our beds.

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