Tuesday, 17 November 2009

If the ocean could merge with a mantle of olives, it’d be in Alameda. There’s ancient green all around. Green olive trees and dark ochre earth nurturing them. It looks never-ending, as if it covered every possible inch. Later, standing on the hillock that shelters Alameda, I’d be able to check its endlessness. Alameda emerges as a busy town amidst the olive trees. It’s quite big, and it’s a nerve centre in its area. By the road, I noticed a series of boards indicating I was following the so-called El Tempranillo Route. “El Tempranillo” was a bandit, a guerrilla man, a fighter, and a thief. In sum, he’s a legendary figure in the collective imagination. He’s buried right here, under the shade of these ancient trees. Both the access to Alameda and its main sights are clearly signposted, so you’d better follow the signs and boards. The town centre is rectangular with long, rectilinear streets –quite distant from the typical Nasrid or Arab layout I’ve grown used to seeing in these villages. Following directions, I easily came to the Church of La Concepción, parking my car in its vicinity.

“El Tempranillo”

As if in a flashback, I imagined El Tempranillo riding his horse, his legendary silhouette lost amidst the olives, fleeing some men and chasing others. His real name was José María Pelagio Hinojosa. He’d been born in Jauja, Lucena, Córdoba, in 1805. He died in Alameda in 1833. He had his first penknife duel when he was fifteen. His rival was much older than him. Can you see them? Pale blades in the moonlight. The reason? Who knows: honour, love, revenge… Then El Tempranillo took refuge in Sierra Morena, where he ruled in the roads and trails. Being only twenty, he led a band of outlaws (many of them were Spanish War of Independence heroes) and they committed all sorts of felonies. They said he was quite a heartthrob, always saying flattering things to the ladies he met. When in 1832 King Ferdinand VII granted pardon to all bandits, El Tempranillo accepted the offer. But then, on September 23, 1833, he was killed in an ambush devised by a former companion. This was when the flesh-and-blood man died and the legend was born. Now, he’s a pervading spirit. He reaches to the neighbouring villages of Jauja, Corcoya, and Badolatosa, but the heart of his route is Alameda, where he’s buried… right in the church courtyard.

The Tour

It was in the church that I came across a board that proved to be quite revealing in my tour of Alameda. It read, “El Tempranillo Route. Hours: October March, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. April-September, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sat-Sun, 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Contact phone number: 957 519 051.” I called and was told the sightseeing tours’ starting point was the Roman Baths Visitor Centre. It was just round the corner, on 19, En Medio Street. I walked 20m. The building was easy to find. I climbed up the stairs and went in. One of the assistants, Carmen, explained the ticket to the baths and the church cost €2. For €1 more, I could visit Jauja, Corcoya, and Badolatosa as well –the full route. I chose to stay in Málaga Province and enjoy Alameda as much as possible. It’d be easier this way. At the Roman Baths Visitor Centre, you can learn about the uses of such a place in Antiquity. I learnt, for instance, that thermae went well beyond baths or massages. They were meeting places where people gathered to talk. The museum is modern, featuring videos, mobiles, information boards, antique replicas, and even a practical example of an archaeological excavation where you can make your own Roman discovery in a big sand barrel.
The explanations were all very interesting, and the best thing was that I could put them to the test myself afterwards, for the real Roman baths lay just outside. They covered a huge surface area cut across by footbridges. The knowledge gained at the Visitor Centre and the boards helped me identify the caldarium, the frigidarium, and other facilities. After this enriching visit, Carmen brought me to the Church of La Concepción and the grave of El Tempranillo. We walked across a shady hall –where I could see some traces of catechism lessons– and through a thick wooden door to find a bright, colourful patio brimming with plants and flowers. Its white and blue tiles lent it a traditional air, even when it was renovated in the 1980s. The courtyard was dominated by a stone cross marking the tomb of El Tempranillo. He’s so famous that the place welcomes hundreds of visitors a day, as if it were the burial place of a rock star. The place is quiet, incredibly peaceful. The only thing I could hear were some birds in the autumn sky. Carmen pointed to a painting on the wall, saying it was the only faithful portrait of the well-known bandit. Then the legend became the man again: José María Pelagio Hinojosa, big sideburns, sparse beard, fringe, neck handkerchief, eyes looking into the horizon… The white cross read, “King Ferdinand VII offered 20,000 reales to the man who found José María a.k.a. El Tempranillo dead or alive. He was pardoned on June 22, 1833. But he died in Alameda on September 24, 1833 from a blunderbuss injury from behind. May he rest in peace. The King of Sierra Morena. I left the courtyard and accessed the church through a small door. It was an overelaborate fresco painted church, with lots of flowers in its altar, dome, and columns. Carmen told me it’d been recently rebuilt and every detail had been taken care of during renovation work. The side walls showed oil paintings of the Stations of the Cross and procession images. This was the end of the tour, so I said goodbye to Carmen, who kindly showed me how to get to La Camorra scenic viewpoint and recommended a few restaurants for lunch. The car was a few steps away, but before getting on, I took a stroll in town, seeking to discover hidden streets and strike up a conversation or two. I walked down En Medio Street, which led to a square with a nineteenth-century fountain. The fountain told a story. Boasting four high spouts, it made it impossible to reach them for water. So locals devised a system to fill jars using a funnel and a hollow log. I then walked up to Plaza de la República, where there’s a clock tower paying tribute to the Second Spanish Republic. This was the other side of Alameda, where streets got lost in the olive groves. I went back to my car and drove towards La Camorra along Álamos Street and then Cañada Street. The viewpoint lay almost upon exiting the town. The climb that leads to La Camorra began in a beautiful grove. The landscape up there was breathtaking: the meadows covered with olive trees, reaching the horizon and beyond; brownish earth and gentle rolling hills. If you take a 360º turn, you spot some of the complexities: a hamlet here, a white cortijo over there… I could hear olive picking sounds. I also made out the now dry Laguna de la Ratosa, shimmering the early months of spring. I pierced into the broken line of the horizon. I could see Alameda down there, in the shelter of Sierra de la Camorra. I spent ten, fifteen, twenty minutes there, rocked by the breeze coming from the fields.


After the landscape feast at La Camorra scenic viewpoint, I was hungry. I chose Cándida for lunch –a restaurant among many. It’s just outside of town, by the road to Mollina. My choice was based on sentimental reasons (the name sounded familiar) and also on word-of-mouth recommendation. There’s a little parking area in front, an outdoor patio, and several interior dining rooms. The menu promised delicious meals. I ordered a beer, a 1.5l bottle of water, porra antequerana (€12 for two), suckling kid with garlic (€13.50), and veal tenderloin with honey cream (€19). The bill = €48.50. Big dishes. Fresh porra antequerana –the influence of the town with the largest number of churches in Spain could be felt. I washed everything down with iced coffee. After a short rest…


... I plunged again into the olive ocean with its brownish, greyish arteries –the roads. I soon lost sight of Alameda. The landscape was now dominated by La Camorra; I thought I could make out a couple of tourists, standing where I stood before. I waved my hand in farewell. Bye, bye, fellow travellers!

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: El Tempranillo Route: It’s one of the best ways to get around. The guides are friendly, making things really easy. There’s a website containing all the necessary information, Ruta del Tempranillo, where you’ll find a biography and sections on accommodation, food, activities, and so on. The contact phone number is (+34) 957 519 051.
What to take: Don’t forget your binoculars. You’ll need them if you want to take in 100% of the views at La Camorra scenic viewpoint.
Useful links: This time I’ve relied on my usual references, namely, the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Alameda Town Hall.

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.