I have begun to suspect that Tom planned this trip to Spain as a means of whipping me into shape (I admit this is needed, but still). Yesterday we said farewell to lovely Granada and headed toward Seville. It turned out to be oh, so much more than merely a travel day. I may never recover, in fact.
Actually, the first part was entirely my fault. I asked if we could visit Ronda on the way. Ronda is not a female friend, but one of the “White Towns” of Spain’s Andelucia hill country. (Apparently sometime a long time ago, white was the de rigeur color for houses here, and it hasn’t changed since.) The town is bisected by a deep gorge and is very picturesque.
Then Tom mentioned that near Ronda, there was a cave with prehistoric paintings in it, la Cueva Pileta. Well, that cinched it as far as I was concerned (innocent that I was).
We found Ronda without difficulty and headed toward a part of town our guide assured us was more for locals, parked with difficulty and tried to find a restaurant (as recommended by the book). The first place turned us away for reasons unknown (my Spanish isn’t very good, so I wasn’t sure what his excuse was). The second place was so full of people I thought I might become agoraphobic if we tried to eat there. The third place said they had a large party coming in, but as we were leaving, they called us back and set up a small table for us.
While we were waiting for food, the party arrived, complete with bagpipers and drummers, sounding very Celtic. This makes sense for Northern Spain, as the Celts in ancient times went through there as a stopover on the way to Ireland, as Tom, the man of 100% Irish extraction, pointed out. It turned out that the large party was indeed a group of people from Northern Spain. We enjoyed the music (most of the musicians were in full traditional outfits) and the lunch, which consisted of fried padrone peppers, local snails in their stripy shells (yum!) and cured chorizo. Oh, and some local red wine.
We tried calling the cave a couple of times, but no one answered. We decided to go there anyway and come back to Ronda if it was closed. The cave belongs to the family of the farmer who originally found it, and it is operated by the family, not the government, so it has somewhat irregular hours.
We traveled up into the craggy hills along windy roads, passing through more White Towns. We finally came to the end of the road, or nearly so. There is a small sign and a parking area, but otherwise nothing but an extremely steep flight of stone steps heading up through the chaperral. I left my purse in the car, as I didn’t want to accidentally bump any formations with it (I’ve been in a few caves before, and they frown on this).
The stairs went up. And up. And up. In addition to being steep, the steps were of varying depths, and there is a lot of loose scree making it hazardous. At the top, there is a hole in a rock face, and we went in. The young lady inside would not take a credit card or American cash, and the only Spanish cash we had was down, down, down at the car in the purse I had so thoughtfully left behind. To my immense relief, she agreed to come down to the car with us after the tour to get her money.
The cave is beautiful even without the cave paintings, with impressive stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and sparkling crystal formations. Some of the formations were dark with prehistoric smoke, some tinted with cobalt and other minerals. I have never before seen any cave paintings (though I have seen prehistoric pictographs in California and Hawaii). They have a freshness and energy that looks modern, and it is exciting to think I was looking at the handiwork of someone who lived and died perhaps 30,000 years ago. How they managed to negotiate the cave with only torches is astonishing enough; I had trouble even with the rock steps, steel handrails and clutching Tom the whole way.
Because, you see, there were no lights. They give you a feeble little lantern to hold when you come in. This lantern completely blinded me until I figured out how to block the light coming toward me and direct it only at the ground. The guide had a good light that she used to help us, but I am increasingly night blind, and found the whole thing nerve-wracking in the extreme. Add to that a LOT of uneven stairs and very slippery footing. The guide book said to bring something warm because the cave was cold, but I sweated gallons. By the end of the tour, my hair was streaming with sweat and my glasses were steamed up as though I had been in a Turkish bath.
And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The paintings are amazing. There is a very rare depiction of a fish, quite large, and inside it, you can see another fish. There were paintings of horses, bison, goats and deer, beautifully rendered and informing us what these ancient animals looked like with a few perfectly placed lines and shading. There are strange scratchings, straight lines and bars. The guide said it was to count full moons. Other scratches she said were depictions of vulvas, a symbol of fertility. Maybe, but you can see the same thing in any men’s bathroom. I don’t think adolescent males have changed that much over the millenia. It hardly matters whether these paintings and markings bear deep religious significance or were merely the exercise of horniness and creative expression; they are the only messages we have from our early ancestors.
Once we emerged from the cave, there was of course, the descent down the rocky hillside to the car. Once we paid our patient guide, we took off in search of the road to Seville–but first, some water. Our GPS system (which was finally speaking English instead of Spanish, thanks to Tom, although the English voice cannot pronounce Spanish place names) wanted to direct us down tiny roads through the mountains. We knew there was a nice highway not too far distant and ignored her. On the way to the highway, we stopped at a little hillside bar for agua minerale. The people there seemed very excited to meet Americans, and several friendly people stopped by to say hello, which was very cheering.
On the road to Seville, I started falling asleep. I don’t sleep in cars any better than I do on airplanes, and kept jerking awake. Exhaustion dragged at me like water-soaked clothing on a drowning man, and by the time we reached our hotel, I was a zombie.
The hotel is a charming four-story building that was once the residence of Flamenco guitarist maestro Nino Ricardo. Our room is on the second floor, which means up three narrow flights of steep stairs, dragging suitcases because there is no elevator. Although the concierge took my big bag, I was still feeling more than exhausted to begin with, so this did not refresh me.
We went out for tapas at a recommended bar and sat outside on the sidewalk, watching the people streaming by us. The food was delicious–scrambled eggs with black rice, calamari and crayfish, salmon in some yummy sauce, jamon Iberico and something else we can’t remember because we were both tired.
Then back to the hotel, where I completely lost it. All I’m going to say about this dark episode is that Tom is a saint. Once I got to bed I lost consciousness for about 10 hours and awoke refreshed with all evil spirits completely exorcised.