Tuesday, 29 December 2009

La Maroma: 2,065m high. A granite mass standing like an ancient totem, giving rise to overwhelming vistas of Axarquía. The ethereal and solid view is impressive: a bare, toothless peak like a plain levitating and looking the Mediterranean in the eye. It’s robust, sturdy, high, arrogant. And on its slopes there’s Canillas de Aceituno –a bunch a impeccably white buildings. It’s a white stripe that resembles a cotton ball, as if a cloud had fallen from the bright blue sky, rather than a colourful village (the village I was to discover later), full of flowers, paths, balconies, warm people, and hearty food (Canillas-style stews, roast kid, onion-stuffed black pudding…). The trip to Canillas de Aceituno is food for your body and your soul –poetry, tradition, and daily bread. Coming close.


I climbed up the winding road (in pretty good condition) slowly. With every bend, the crater of Axarquía, surrounded by hills and ravines, receded, La Viñuela reservoir shimmering down there. Farmhouses and white cortijos –distant promises of relaxation– peppered the sierras. The whole landscape is a beautiful natural viewpoint, Sierra Tejeda its reference point. It gets so much colder up there due to the nearby mountains. And suddenly, perched on La Maroma, there was Canillas de Aceituno. The town centre and the 2,065m-high mount look like one thing, although the town actually lies 650m above sea level. I stopped by the road in an authorised zone to take a few pictures and feel the first Axarquía smells. I couldn’t stop looking at La Maroma; there was a helicopter hovering above. I drove on.


I found a free parking area in the town centre. It’s an ideal place to park your car, for the streets get impossibly narrow at this point. There’re other parking options, but you’d better leave them to locals. Canillas de Aceituno isn’t that small (2,300 people live here), but you can cover it on foot. And besides, walking is the most enriching, fruitful way of getting around. I walked down Andalucía Avenue to Plaza Maestro Francisco Gallero Badillo, where I could walk on along Iglesia Street or turn right into Castillo Street. I turned right, looking up before doing so, for the little square projected an image of Canillas de Aceituno: a maze of streets climb up to the Blas Infante scenic viewpoint, which would later afford me great panoramic views of Axarquía.

Walking, Looking, Smelling, Enjoying…

In Plaza del Castillo, a sign indicated that this place used to be the town’s defensive fortress. No doubt, it has a privileged location, on a robust rocky mound which also made the foundations of the city walls. On the opposite street, you can access a small scenic viewpoint, strolling amidst the remains of the old walls, where there’s even a niche dedicated to Virgin Mary. It’s here that the narrow cobblestone streets begin, drawing an impossible labyrinth with blind alleys everywhere. Despite its prominent role in the region, Canillas de Aceituno has managed to keep its Moorish essence intact. And much of this has to do with its street maze, taking travellers back in time without much effort. The streets are steep, abrupt at times, overcoming the uneven terrain the town sits on. Most of them end in viewpoints over Axarquía, La Maroma standing on the other side. All walls are white, white, white. Take your time to explore Canillas de Aceituno: its secret corners, intimate steps, hidden sanctuaries, unexpected squares. The town’s a sort of architectural puzzle where streets are connected in ways beyond the rational. So it was by chance that I got to Plaza de la Constitución.

The Casa de los Diezmos, the High District, the Church, the Onion-Stuffed Black Pudding…

Plaza de la Constitución is the nerve centre in Canillas de Aceituno: sheltered by the Town Hall, next to Casa de los Diezmos (House of Tithes), a group of old people chatted amiably. A couple of tourists sat at a table in a bar, their cameras at the ready. Three kids rode past in their bicycles… Life made its way into town. Casa de los Diezmos, a.k.a. Casa de la Reina Mora (House of the Moor Queen) was the place that controlled the production and sale of white mulberry tree leaves and silkworms for the area. Its white tower, crowned by double blind arches, is part of the fine Mudéjar architecture that is present all over Axarquía. In fact, Canillas de Aceituno is one of the points in the Mudéjar Tour that links Arenas, Árchez, Salares, and Sedella. From Plaza de la Constitución up, the maze of streets becomes an implausible labyrinth. I walked up. Houses gave way to walls and broken mountains. I suddenly came to Calleja Street (the narrowest street I’d ever been to), facing the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Climbing up, I came across two hikers who were coming down. As a matter of facts, one of the trails to get to La Maroma cuts across the town, so you can see lots of hikers around. The ones I met were a young man and a girl; they were wearing hiking boots and hydro backpacks, hiking sticks in their hands. They were coming down quickly, focused on what they were doing. My climb was slower. Sierrecilla Street afforded me one of my ecstatic moments in Canillas de Aceituno, as I could see the town at my feet –a white hamlet with orange terraces and ochre roofs. And the ocean beyond, to the southeast, promising future trips. La Viñuela reservoir glistened down there. And in the background, behind the mountains, I could make out the highest peaks of Sierra de las Nieves. I could feel the murmur of life in Canillas de Aceituno: people talking, girls and birds singing, pressure cookers whistling. The sounds whetted my appetite as I was seized by the strong smells of old recipes. Moving on, I reached the Blas Infante scenic viewpoint. I sat down, looking at the landscape that stretched out to the horizon. Meanwhile, I struck up conversation with a Canillero. He told me about the best corners in town, the streets behind the church, the past, the present and the future. I said goodbye and walked across the viewpoint to climb down Cuesta Street. Flanked by flowerpots and colourful flowerbeds, I waved hello to the night jasmines while climbing down impossibly narrow, impossibly steep streets. Back in the square, I visited a butcher’s shop: Carnicería Esperanza. Canillas de Aceituno is famous for its traditional onion-stuffed black pudding. Since 1987, the town has had its Black Pudding Day on the last Sunday of April. Designated as a Provincial Fiesta of Tourism Singularity, this celebration has black pudding as its star dish, alongside the so-called “wine of the land.” I bought five black puddings (€4.33) to taste later with friends. “Yummy!”, “Delicious!”, “Outstanding!” was what they said about Canillas de Aceituno’s morcilla. Equipped with the victuals, I went to the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario. As the door was ajar, I stepped in, only to find a simple yet elaborate temple, featuring three naves, yellow-trimmed white columns, little niches housing various figures, and a remarkable coffered ceiling. Canillas de Aceituno has a Patroness: the Virgen de la Cabeza, much loved among parishioners. There’s a beautiful sculpture dedicated to this Virgin in the church. Going out, I walked along the streets behind the temple, enjoying the flowers, pots and perfumes –harbingers of spring. I then took Hortezuelo Street, which was to lead me to the Arab well, dating back to the Middle Ages. It’s accessed through private property and it’s probably not the nicest aljibe you’ll see. It’s a site for historians or archaeologists rather than tourists. On the same street (under a different name now: Calle Placeta), there’s El Bodegón de Juan María, an inn recommended by Encarnación, a.k.a. “La Mora.” I went in, with the certainty that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Lunch: Roast Kid
It was the typical country restaurant: white walls, varnished fired clay floor, wooden ceiling. Everything was spic ’n’ span. It’s a well-known and popular eatery, so you’d better book your table in advance (phone number (+34) 952 518 041). I arrived early, so there was no-one eating. The whole restaurant was dominated by a huge wood-burning stove. A woman rushing about it. After picking my table, I had a look at the menu, which mostly contained traditional, homemade dishes. I ordered black pudding croquettes (€7), a Canillas-style stew (spinach, fennel, chickpeas, black pudding, and chorizo), roast kid (“a lovely quarter,” in the words of the waiter, €30), a beer and a bottle of water, and custard with turrón, washed down with a glass of sweet wine “of the land” (€3 + €2). The bill = €51.30. The Canillas-style stew was quite similar to the fennel stew prepared in other locations in Málaga, such as Sierra de las Nieves, but it was powerful and strong, with an exquisitely intense smell. The black pudding croquettes, which I had as an appetiser, were a smooth yet strong experience. The star dish, however, was the roast kid. So white, so delicate, so fresh, spiced up to perfection. When you taste it, its robust and traditional flavour seems to have been in your mouth for ever. The offal, cooked with onions, was included, and it was delicious too. As I worked through my lunch, the restaurant filled with patrons. Four travellers sitting at a nearby table stared at my kid with wide open eyes. When I was done, I took a walk to facilitate digestion.

Goodbye to La Maroma
Snaking down towards my car, I stopped again at the scenic viewpoint to get a final view of Canillas de Aceituno in all its magnificence. The sun had come out and the streets shone with its bleaching glare. Frowning, La Maroma shows, a storm cloud pierced by its peak. After seeing pictures of the roofs in Canillas de Aceituno laden with snow, I thought it’d be nice to come back in winter. I could also fancy, though, the blooming flowers in spring…

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Canillas de Aceituno is an ideal place for this sport. La Maroma, Sierra Tejeda, and a zillion hillsides and slopes make it so. The Town Hall website ( suggests and describes three hiking tours from the town centre to La Maroma (“Ruta de los Neveros”), El Saltillo, and El Castillejo (“Mirador de los Tajos Lisos”). Black Pudding Day: Canillas-style black pudding or onion-stuffed black pudding is a unique food product. Black Pudding Day is a popular fiesta established in 1987. In 2009, it was designated as a Provincial Fiesta of Tourism Singularity. Canillas-style black pudding is made with onion instead of rice, which adds a special flavour to it. On Black Pudding Day, everyone tastes this special food. There’re music and shows as well.
Useful links: This time I’ve used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Canillas de Aceituno Town Hall ( and

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Al-Z’jaima, the Arabs used to call it. Al-Z’jaima: “the highest place.” Standing on a hillock where lookout acquires a literal meaning, you watch over Valle del Genal in autumn, blended with a leafy palette of yellow, ochre, brown, and green shades. Leaving Júzcar behind, only 5km away, I’ve come to Cartajima, to take in this landscape that penetrates your skin and gets deep into your heart. It’s the highest town in Serranía de Ronda (850m above sea level), affording extraordinary panoramic views of Alto Genal. The autumn has overwhelmingly inspired the landscape: lazy daylight filtered through the chestnut trees, a slow sunset against the horizon, the sun rocking on a light breeze… The woods look like a breathing animal: warm, temperate, morose, inviting. The animal is getting ready for winter, with its chilly mornings and everlasting snow. Cartajima is the white tiara that crowns these thick chestnut woods. This is how I saw it by the road, sheltered by Los Riscos, a serrated karst mountain range looming high against the bright blue sky. I parked my car at the entrance, for I wanted to walk into this town with character. Besides, poetry notwithstanding, I was so hungry. It was past noon and I’d been to Júzcar already, so I needed a place to feed my body rather than my soul. But I didn’t know that my accidental choice of restaurant would give me a huge surprise.

From Z to A: Lunch and Surprise

I got off my car, which I’d parked by the cemetery, and walked down the only street leading to the town centre. I got a glimpse of Cartajima, Los Riscos, grey and serrated, as if mouth-opened, behind my back. A man looked at me, so I asked him if he could tell me where to eat good homemade food. “Go to Casa Amalia. In fact, I’m going there myself, so if you want to come with me…,” he invited me. Of course I did. Eduardo hadn’t been born in Cartajima, but he and his family had lived here almost all his life. He was a kind, smiling man. I listened to his stories: “In the past, wherever you found a few inches of idle land between the rocks, you grew something. Beans, corn, whatever. Now it’s… different. Working in the fields is tough, and young people don’t want to hear about crops. But the little we sow is top-quality, fertilised with manure only. It’s –what do they call it now?– organic farming,” he laughed. Then he talked about Los Riscos: “They go from the back of Cartajima to Júzcar, and they can stand alongside the world-famous Torcal in Antequera. The best time of year to come is spring, and you’d better hire a local guide, to avoid getting lost. We walked our way to Casa Amalia, a.k.a. La Cosita Buena. It was like a family home with a bar and a bunch of tables on the ground floor. There were few patrons. “Everyone’s in Parauta today. It’s Rabbit Day. So there’re a few tapas and a little stew,” the owner told me. “Well, tell me what you have.” “There’s meatballs, tripe…,” he began. I ordered one of each, plus one regular and one alcohol-free beer. The dishes were delicious. 100% homemade, evoking childhood smells. Encouraged by the old familiar flavours, I had two more tapas: bacon and quail eggs. Equally tasty. Eduardo had to go, so we said goodbye to him and started talking to the restaurant’s owners, Amalia y Baltasar. They told me about Cartajima’s Must Fair, how good homemade grape must was, how many prizes it’d been awarded. Then we talked about the typical food of the sierras and its characteristics. Without my ordering it, Baltasar brought some larded loin, which was outstanding. “It was prepared yesterday,” he said proudly. We moved on to life in Cartajima, what young people did here, and this is when the surprise came: “Our son lives in Guipúzcoa. We works with a cook you must’ve heard of: Martín Berasategui.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Michelin-starred Martín Berasategui is one of the most renowned international chefs. He’s one of the chosen few who’ve revolutionised our way of understanding gastronomy, transforming it into culinary art. Amalia brought a photo album showing her son with Berasategui in a kitchen. They were working together, side by side. I was told he was one of the men Berasategui trusted with designing menus and trying new developments. The young man’s name was Baltasar Díaz Corbacho. Stay alert for the steps he takes. His future is promising. “Well, I can tell where his knack for cooking comes from,” I said. As a farewell gift, Baltasar gave me a huge dish of Amanita caesarea (commonly known as “Caesar’s Mushroom”) salad –one of the best mushrooms you can eat. The salad contained fresh amanita, parsley, pomegranate, garlic, and a vinaigrette. Baltasar revealed Berasategui was his son’s godfather, and that his son worked with him in Lasarte. Coming back from my astonishment, after a good deal of excellent food and better anecdotes, after sharing views on life in Cartajima, tourists, foreign residents, and similar topics, I bade the kind couple farewell, feeling incredibly well.

Watchtower in a Tangle

Getting out of Casa Amalia, I realised the light was different now, languorously dressing the chestnut trees in yellow, making them look brighter. You can’t get lost in Cartajima: it’s surrounded by a single long street that ends in the only entrance to and exit from town in a circular fashion. I walked towards a balcony overlooking the valley, the mantle of chestnuts climbing up and down the hills and disappearing in the horizon. I could make out Parauta down there, and even Igualeja. The streets in Cartajima are like a tangled ball of curly hair sprawling here and there. They’re all covered with cobblestones, lined by thick-walled, small-windowed houses. Beyond the alleys, there’re the golden chestnut trees, showcasing their zillions¡ shades of yellow. Except for Ancha Street, which is pretty straight and lined by little orange trees, the town look like a seemingly chaotic street maze. I enjoyed the afternoon, smelling the first evening coffee and roast chestnuts (which I fancied to myself to be washed down with eau-de-vie). There’s something about Cartajima, a secret element that makes it different, special, something you can’t define that’s made of countless subtle yet ordinary details… Moreover, there’s another surprise in the heart of town: the majestic Church of Virgen del Rosario. Walking up one the all-alike streets, I bumped into it. I lay behind a flight of steps in one of the highest places in town –a watchtower, a lighthouse over Alto Genal. It was a beautiful church, with whitewashed walls and a crimson frontage. It was simple and austere, decorated with flowers that made it look even higher. The best way to know Cartajima is just get around: walk along its streets, discover its blind alleys and flower-infested corners, talk to local the warm and friendly local people… The best thing about Cartajima is… Cartajima itself.

Sunset in Cartajima

The sun goes down into the mountains morosely, slowly. I watched the sunset while sitting on the steps in front of the church. The chestnut trees seemed to be burning; the roofs and chimneys and wafts of smoke, too. The birds contributed the soundtrack to the setting. I turned my camera off and put my notebook away. I looked at the horizon, beautiful in its blazing red, and didn’t say a word. I just felt the first evening breeze.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Los Riscos: It’s a great spot in the area. Although the trails are clearly signposted, you’d better go with a local guide, who’ll show you to its beauty. For geological information and pictures, go to Malagapedia. Archaeological sites: As noted in the Cartajima Town Hall website, “There are several archaeological sites on the outskirts of town: Cañada de Harife (Roman baths), Cortijo del Ratón (Roman necropolis), or Cartamón and Casapalma (two former Medieval villages, now deserted). They all bear witness to Cartajima’s long, eventful history.”
What to do: Country travel: There’s a wide range of country retreats in Cartajima, where you can take a break and go hiking. The Town Hall website shows some of them, but you can find others in the Internet.
Useful links: I’ve planned this trip using the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Cartajima Town Hall websites.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

It’s autumn in Alto Genal. The road snakes up the hill. To the right, bare mountain crests, only grey rocks reaching for the bright blue sky. To the left, thick woods of golden chestnut trees covering the valley like a mantle of ripe colours. The white hamlets of neighbouring towns stand out –real gemstones in white, cotton flakes under tanned clouds in the autumn sun. Conquering Alto Genal from nearby Ronda, I gave in to the natural show concocted by the time of year before my eyes. Parauta, Cartajima, Júzcar, Pujerra, Igualeja, Faraján, and Alpandeire and Atajate beyond –Serrano villages as strong as the first embers, the smell of stews, or the cold of winter, lying in wait. In autumn, Alto Genal looks like those paintings by Van Gogh in which ochre bursts into a zillion shades and yellow hues blend into one another. The brush is held by daylight, which dyes the earth and the chestnut trees in beautiful golden colours.


I drove into the ochre ocean and sought shelter in its shade. How overwhelming. Chestnuts covered the earth in the fields lining the road, even in the adjacent ditches. I couldn’t resist the temptation of getting off and stepping on the fertile ground that produces such a peculiar fruit, with its increasingly gentle layers: first the aggressive, thorny cover, then the bright brown crust and, finally, the soft white heart. I grabbed a bunch to take as a souvenir. These places should be visited in no hurry if you’re to get to their essence. After this break in pure contact with nature, I finally came to Júzcar, a town with a population of two hundred people who have refused to relinquish their Serrano character. As soon as I drove by the sign indicating the entrance to town, I parked my car. I got ready and started walking.

In the Heart of Júzcar

Silence reigned supreme, except for the singing birds. Júzcar is a compact, solid town, oozing an ancient essence and featuring all you might need if you’re in search of a hinterland experience, ready to reward your senses. I could see some country apartments, a hotel cum restaurant –El Bandolero–, and signs indicating other accommodations. Going down Sol Street, I noticed street names and numbers were shown in an original way: black characters on sandstone tiles. It was a simple yet effective method, telling how every single detail is taken care of in these small villages. I said hello to local men and women. I also noticed most houses featured piles of firewood by their doors, ready to light up the hearths in winter. The town itself is perched on a craggy, longish terrain, looking larger than it really is. I walked towards the church, working my way through the labyrinth formed by the streets, whose steepness makes them an architectural feat. You should come in no hurry, ready to take a relaxed stroll while taking in the views and the smells –stews, chestnuts…–, climb up and down the streets, come across unexpected corners, feel the breeze of the sierras. My steps led me to Plaza Virgen de Moclón, in front of the Parish Church of Santa Catalina –virtually the only horizontal ground in town. The church, just like the town, is simple and small, impossibly white with bright red trims. It looked like the perfect place for a break, looking at the surrounding chestnut trees and just enjoying myself. Then I stumbled into a group of hikers of different ages and degrees of fitness. They belong to the Andarina Hiking Club, in Granada. They came from the deep valley, their skins sweaty and their mouths wearing weary smiles. I asked them where they were going. “We’ve left our cars in Pujerra to hike down the trails connecting it with Júzcar, Cartajima, Parauta, and Igualeja,” they replied. “It’s quite a ride,” I remarked. “We know, but we’re in good spirits,” they said. I said goodbye and watched them scatter along the climb that’d take them to the road. The square also featured the Town Hall building and the small and narrow cemetery. By the graveyard gate I saw a monument featuring an effigy of King Philip V and the name of one of the first industrial facilities in Serranía de Ronda, also the first of its kind in Spain. I’d come to this sight later, following the directions given by a kind woman, who showed me the way to the factory and its mysterious setting. For the time being, I walked up the road towards Bar Torricheli, which I’d seen before and liked for the views it affords of town and the chestnut trees around it. I saw the hikers again; they were leaning on the bar. I waited for my turn to sate my appetite. I ordered a regular beer, an alcohol-free beer, a meatball tapa, and a bacon and cheese sandwich. Delicious homemade food. The meatballs were spongy, coated in natural tomato sauce. A place to recommend. The waiter told me there were many groups of hikers in Júzcar at weekends, even in winter or in the summer. Cyclists and motorcyclists were also among this bar’s patrons, as I could check by looking around. I left knowing Torricheli would make a great place for lunch or dinner. And inexpensive, too: my bill was only €4. I went for my car in order to get to Moclón and the old tin plate factory.
The Hermits of Moclón and the Tin Plate Factory

In the early nineteenth century, Moclón, a district that was mostly uninhabited by then, was occupied by groups of hermits who worshipped the Virgin of Moclón and lived on charity and off the fat of the land. Sheltered by the valley (Moclón is set in the deep valley, on the river banks), the hermits lived in harmony until disputes and conflict arose between them and the Catholic families, which forced them to leave. Their stories lie somewhere between fact and legend, for the hermits’ presence in the area has been documented, but their historical significance never been assessed. The only trace is the procession to the Virgin of Moclón chapel, which has been undertaken for 300 years. If the hermits aren’t fully within the realm of history, the tin plate factory is: “The never-seen-before-in-Spain Tin Plate Factory, under the rule of the never vanquished Catholic King and Queen Philip V and Isabel de Farnesio,” such was its bombastic name. A book published by Altos Hornos de Vizcaya marks this as the first tin plate factory in Spain, adding that its location by the Genal river and amidst thick woods had to do with the huge amounts of water and wood required to manufacture tin plate. The factory had up to 200 workers. As nobody in Spain knew anything about the manufacturing process, experts were brought from Switzerland, led by the engineers Pedro Menrón and Emerico Dupasquier. Legend has it that the two engineers travelled incognito, hiding in a trunk, to dodge the anti-competition laws in force in the early industrial world. The factory started operating in 1731. According to historical documents, camels were used instead of donkeys or mules to carry metal sheets and other goods, for they were more resistant. The factory went bankrupt in the early twentieth century (1901), smothered by strong competitors in Asturias and the Basque Country. However, locals say Altos Hornos de Vizcaya drew on the factory in Júzcar to design its facilities. I wanted to visit the place, so I drove across town and past the white house by the road and followed the first sign to the left, opposite the town centre: “Campsite, 2.5km.” A forest trail in fairly good condition led to the campsite, affording beautiful panoramic views of Júzcar and penetrating the valley. After one, two, three detours, I came to the Virgen de Moclón campsite, which was closed now but probably crowded in spring and summer. I’d seen dilapidated houses, snow storage facility, and the ruins of something that resembled an old factory along the way. Now they’re part of private property, as I was soon to find out, and can’t be accessed without permission. Anyway, the trail and the landscape were worth the ride: the setting was peaceful and charming. Rocked by the murmur of the golden leaves of black poplars and the gurgling river, I gave in to the sensuous experience.

See You Soon!

I climbed up the wood trail, making out the white hamlet of Júzcar in the distance, beyond the mantle of golden chestnuts. It stood out, spic and span, amidst the ochre shades, like a ghost. I imagined donkeys, mules, and camels treading up and down this very same trail when the tin plate factory was active. I smiled to myself as I thought how this town still kept its old essence, which made it as cosy as home. Time had come to say goodbye. But I wasn’t leaving for good, for I was visiting another village in Alto Genal on the same day. I’d chosen Cartajima, where I was to come across an internationally renowned chef, a spectacular sunset, a maze of Andalusian streets, and a salad made with Amanita caesarea, a.k.a. Caesar’s mushroom –a most exquisite delicacy. But I’ll tell you about all this next week, when I meet you under the bright blue sky.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Mycological Meetings in Valle del Genal: In the second half of November, Júzcar plays host to the Mycological Meetings in Valle del Genal, an event gathering an increasingly high number of experts and amateurs who spend a weekend together, sharing their knowledge of mushrooms, picking up specimens, and tasting the dishes made with them. This year, the meetings are being held from November 20 to 22. They like mushrooms to much in Júzcar that there’s even a “Mycological Trail” at the entrance of town.
Adventure sports: On the outskirts of town you can engage in several adventure sports. Sima del Diablo, for instance, is a great place for climbing and canyoning. It’s very popular with aficionados. For less bold but equally strong experiences, there’s a full network of roads and trails in the area.
Useful links: This trip I’ve planned using the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Júzcar Town Hall, and also a private website,

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Squatting, Ibn al-Baitar watches the rows of orange trees. He grabs the earth and smells it. Then he smiles. He stands up slowly and walks amidst the stunted trees whose branches bear the golden fruit. It’s thick in there, a solid aroma pervading everything for a while and then suddenly vanishing. Ibn al-Baitar tugs his beard while he strolls about and remembers. He remembers the time when he decided to first plant the citrus trees in the lands belonging to Ben Ha-Maruxa. That was almost five years ago now. He had the seeds brought from far-away lands, from overseas. He’s now about to harvest his first crop, and he thinks it’s going to be good. He smiles again, getting lost amidst the rows of orange trees.

Getting Closer and Remembering Baticate

The road connecting Vélez-Málaga with Benamargosa is the Garden of Eden: trees laden with exotic tropical fruit and classic citrus like oranges or lemons. The plots of land are carefully sown. Crops look tight, green, and prolific. I drove across the quiet suburb called Triana, perfumed with fruit aromas. There’re drying sheds scattered here and there, but they’re not very common in the area –an area in Axarquía known as “Route of Sun and Avocados,” cutting across Benamargosa, Rincón de la Victoria, Macharaviaya, Vélez-Málaga, Benamocarra, and Iznate. Whereas the valleys are heavily populated with fruit trees, the hills closing in on them look bare, almost stripped of vegetation. One kilometre before reaching the town centre, I bumped into the avocados, which are typical of Benamargosa and have given rise to baticates, a sort of avocado milk shake whose full list of ingredients and their quantities are kept by local people as a treasured secret. I drove across town and, to the left, a sign indicated a parking lot. I turned left and parked.

The Tour: Up Jardines de San Sebastián and Down Ermita and Real Streets

Instead of retracing my steps for the town centre, I walked further away to reach the dry bed of the river Benamargosa, with the Puente de los Diez Ojos (Ten-Eyed Bridge, named after the ten arches, or “eyes”, it features) across it. Starting almost in the heart of Benamargosa, the bridge links it to the neighbouring town of Cútar and other villages. It’s quite a feat of engineering, sound and robust, standing on a completely dry bed. Leaning on the balustrade, I could sea a man walking across the waterless river bed toward the reed bed. I followed in his footsteps, walking under the bridge with the weird feeling that a flood could cover me any time. Of course, the feeling had no rational basis; I was just being superstitious. Here I am, after all. Crossing the bridge, I came to a park that must be crowded during summer months, when the heat is unbearable in other places, as its trees and narrow avenue by the river provide for a cool, shadowy place. There’s a fountain in the middle of the park, water gurgling in its bowl. I left the park and walked by the bridge across the road to the left. I came across a panel giving directions to get to the fountain of El Pilar, the districts of Los Pechuelos and La Solana, and the gardens of San Sebastián. I headed in this direction. The first construction I came across was Arcos de la Huerta, an engineering work channelling water through the different gardens surrounding the town. I was being rehabilitated, I could only skirt it. The only thing left is a stretch of wall and one of the original arches. Old and new constructions stand side by side, get intertwined and encircle the town centre. I found the fountain of El Pilar on the street bearing the same name: three brick arches, three spouts, two tile panels forming flower motifs. I kept walking. To the right, the streets leading to the heart of Benamargosa; to the left, standing on a hillock, Los Pechuelos: narrow, zigzagging streets, steps whose landings are full of pots and flowers, short but steep climbs. And then there’s La Solana, with similar, though visitor-friendlier, features. If you walk down some of the streets, you can have a look at the citrus or tropical fruit trees, the river bed, the cluster of houses, the sharp climbs down from the gardens of San Sebastián to the church –the whole town, in fact. The gardens in front of most houses boast beautiful orange or lemon trees –undoubtedly, the most popular crop in the area. I moved on towards the gardens of San Sebastián in the higher part of town: comforting shade and inviting benches to take a break with views of La Solana just opposite. The gardens are part of town. They’re divided by short stone walls resembling those in a castle. I climbed a flight of steps, went through a narrow passageway that led into Ermita Street. I walked down it. Most streets are narrow, most houses are clumped together, most climbs are really steep. I followed Ermita Street until it became Real Street. I turned right and left, always going back to the main thoroughfare. Men and women on their daily errands said hello. I heard a dog barking. I saw a bunch of kids playing something I identified as hide-and-seek. My relaxed stroll brought me to a little square in front of the public library. There were a fountain and a post office as well. I walked past them, coming to the back of the church of La Encarnación. You wouldn’t have guessed what the temple looks like inside from the outside. It featured a coffered ceiling, three naves supported by pointed arches sitting on a brick plinth. The altar was simple, in sharp contrast to the mahogany choir above the main door. My eye was caught by a little niche to the right, holding a humble, lonely cross flanked by two candelabra. The whole picture looked so mysterious… I came out and skirted the church to the front door, only to find a huge archway connecting the temple’s interior with an adjoining house. I took pictures of the odd construction. I went on walking for a while, understanding why Benamargosa is said to be the Mecca of citrus and avocados –they were all around. I even saw two kids playing football with a humongous lemon as a ball, until they kicked it apart. Suddenly, the autumn setting was filled with a powerful, delicious smell. This made me feel hungry. At a street junction just at the entrance of the parking lot, there was Los Pepes, a restaurant and inn. I ordered a peach juice, an alcohol-free beer, and two tapas (Russian salad and Málaga-style salad). The bill = €3. I talked and talked as time went by, wondering what the baticate might taste like.

Bidding Farewell
Ibn al-Baitar walks along the bank of the Ben Ha-Maruxa river. He watches the rows of lemon trees. He looks at the river and thinks of how to bring its water to the gardens. He fishes for a papyrus and quill in his bag. He jots something down. Then he walks back to town, the papyrus in his hands. He’s smiling.

Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to eat: I’ve mentioned baticate, this mysterious avocado milk shake whose recipe Benamargoseños aren’t willing to reveal. It’s a popular drink in the Country Fair, held in April every year. I haven’t said a word about zoque, though –“a sort of fresh salad eaten as an appetiser or as a side dish, made with a citrus variety known as ‘pear lemon.’ It’s cool and has a funny taste, as its ingredients include pear lemons, garlic, peppers, ground pepper, olive oil, bread crumbs, vinegar and salt.” (Source: Town Hall website)
Useful links: I’ve planned this trip using the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Benamargosa Town Hall.
Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.