Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Legend has it that, once upon a time, in the dark, damp shelter of a cave, a peasant found a calf. It was golden, like the sun, and it shone so powerfully it lighted up even the most secluded corners in the cave. It was a golden calf. Bright gold. This is the origin of this township’s name, “Cuevas del Becerro,” which means “The Caves of the Calf” in Spanish. There’s another story, a less poetic but equally true one. Once upon a time, there was a calf that got lost in the dead of night. Its bleating reached the town, whose people, attracted by the mysterious sounds, followed them as if they were the Pied Piper of Hamelin, only to find the animal, numb with cold, in a nearby cave. Cuevas del Becerro, a town that could have no other patron saint than Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of animals. There’re more stories about this township to be told later. Stay tuned.

Arrival, Tour Planning, Parking

Cuevas del Becerro stands as a white hamlet surrounded by rough mountains. Perched on a rocky crag, it watches over the sprawling fields. A natural point connecting Ronda, Campillos, and Antequera, Cuevas del Becerro feeds on this connection. On the edges of town, there’s an open mountain pass that makes Cuevas del Becerro a town naturally at crossroads. Its rectilinear layout pushes forward, as if overpowering the mount it stands on. From the heart of the town centre, you can barely see the mountains when you’re standing in the street. But you can feel them behind the wrought-iron balconies and grilles, behind the cool patios. They have high geological value and hence they’ve been included in the Torcal de Antequera Route. I entered the town heading towards the Town Hall. In the first narrow streets, two yellow stripes indicated I couldn’t park. But beyond the Town Hall it was easy to find a place. If you come to Cuevas del Becerro in the summer, bring a hat, a sunscreen, and a fan. It was still spring when I came, but I could image how hot it could be. On the other hand, also, do bring some light warm clothing, as it can get cold too, given the altitude and the proximity of the sierras.

Church of San Antonio Abad

From the beginning to the end of my tour, I could hear the trill of birds –certainly, a pleasant soundtrack. I chose to visit the Church of San Antonio Abad first, on Calle Real, 100m (328 ft) from the Town Hall. It’s a simple, single-nave church, smelling of flowers. There’re eight images hanging from the walls and in the altar –three brick round arches sheltering three images. There’s a small chapel to the right; three women are chatting softly inside. At the far end, to the left, there’s St Anthony, two calves at his feet.

Towards “El Nacimiento” and the Threshing Floors

Back on Real Street, I walked ahead until I almost reached the end of town. Then I turned left, towards Plaza de la República. I took a street parallel to Real and found a sign showing different sites: Roman kilns, “El Nacimiento,” Sports Centre… I chose the Roman kilns, so I had to go on walking. I just couldn’t find them. I asked locals and they said I was on the right track, but I still couldn’t see where the kilns were. I knocked at a door. A young girl answered, saying the kilns had been removed a couple of years ago for a museum to be developed where they used to be but, for the time being, there was nothing to see. I turned around towards “El Nacimiento,” which can easily be reached by following the streets parallel to Real and then the town’s exit (“Salida Pueblo”). After a less-than-15’ walk, I was there.

El Nacimiento” and the Threshing Floors

A board before climbing up to the threshing floors caught my attention. “Los Resbalaeros,” it says, in big white print. It referred to three old ravines among the rocks: “These ravines, popularly known as ‘Los Resbalaeros’ have been the playground of many boys and girls in Cuevas del Becerro, who used them as slides. A great many knees and bottoms have grazed in them and a great many trousers or tights have wound up in the dustbin because of this makeshift slides.” A curious past pastime in contact with nature. It was so common yesteryear! I climbed up a flight of steps and got to the threshing floors, a small terrace used to winnow ripe wheat, letting the wind do its job, the grains falling on the cobblestones. “El Nacimiento” was close by. As far as I could see, it’s a popular recreational place among Cueveños, who come to fight heat with the cool fountains. The water is carried by a network of ditches, and bubbles out of two spouts, cold and clear. It’s the perfect solution to sultry weather. I talked with locals for a while. A man told me a fact I’d read in some of the boards in town too. It had to do with war and conquest. “In the Middle Ages, when this place was known as Fuentes de Huéxcar, king Alfonso XI of Castile, also known as The Avenger, stayed here with his retinue for some time, getting ready for the conquest of Ronda.” I also learnt that little remained of the old medieval castle on Cerro del Castillón but, if I climbed up the northern slopes, along the Juan Durán trail (by the threshing floors), I would see a reconstructed Neolithic settlement. I got interested in this. Before going back to my car, I cooled down again. The settlement lay some 4km (2.5mi) from the town centre. I returned to the giant reed forest and the ditch beginning at “El Nacimiento,” drove across Plaza de la República, and took a side street into Real Street, where I found my car parked.

Unsuccessful Visit to the Neolithic
I replicated my walking tour but only driving this time. Past “Los Resbalaeros,” past the Threshing Floors, along the Juan Durán trail. I drove cautiously and slowly. The trail isn’t in very good condition, so you have to be careful. Going up, I was surrounded by rock and corn –a fantastic landscape. The trail got worse by the mile, with big chasms opening up before my wheels. I had driven for 2 km (1.2mi) when I reluctantly decided to return. It wouldn’t have been impossible to drive ahead, but with an ordinary car I risked puncturing or something, so I thought it wise to stop there. Maybe with a better-equipped car or a higher vehicle, the trail would be easier to negotiate. Anyway, the views of town from where I stopped were just great. Cuevas del Becerro seemed to sit on a stone cradle. I got off, took some pictures, and took in the peace and the silence around me. As usual, the quiet atmosphere made me aware of something: my stomach was growling. Time for lunch.

Iberian Lizard
Most restaurants in Cuevas del Becerro are on the town’s entrance/ exit road, which is only natural if you take into account that this road connects this place with Ronda, Campillos, and Antequera. I chose the busiest venue, Mesón Pelayo. A humble restaurant offering a simple yet curious and efficient menu. Among roast Iberian products, a line caught my eye: “Iberian lizard,” it said. I’d seen lizards in the fields near Cuevas del Becerro, but here? On my table? I asked the waiter about it: “What about Iberian lizard? It isn’t…” “No, no,” he laughed, “it’s a cut of pork, below the ribs. Low-fat, tender, and juicy.” I ordered this. The proximity of Antequera can be felt in the menu. When it’s in season, they serve porra antequerana. I ordered porra, too. Finally, Iberian pork shoulder blade. Add two beers and a 1½l bottle of water. So, Iberian “lizard” = €9; Iberian pork shoulder blade = €12; porras antequerana for two = €10. The bill = €35.70. Quite reasonable. The porra was farm-fresh and delicious, and so were the “lizard” and the shoulder blade. All the dishes came with baked potatoes and a tomato and carrot salad. All in all, a restaurant I’d recommend.

Rear-View Mirror
After lunch, I plunged into the fields surrounding Cuevas del Becerro. Corn and pine trees: powerful fragrances giving the Mediterranean away. According to the geological literature, the sheltering rocks were part of a huge sea before emerging. Hence the cavities, the caves. By the way, if you’re a spelunking guy, you must go to the most important sight in the area: Cueva del Moro. When I left Cuevas del Becerro behind, I could still see the town standing on the crag in my rear-view mirror. A majestic totem it was.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to take: 1. Caps or hats are a must in the summer. 2. Light warm clothing could come in handy, as it can get really cold after sunset.
What to see: “Los Resbalaeros” and “El Nacimiento”. They’re unusual places, welcoming hot visitors.
What to eat: Try the Iberian “lizard” at Mesón Pelayo. It’s mouth watering.
Useful links: I recommend the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the official website of Cuevas del Becerro as guides.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said, the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.