Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Que la nieve en el barranco/eres más bonita niña/que la nieve en el barranco,/que la rosa en el rosal,/que la azucena en el campo./Una vez yo bien te quise/me olvidaste, te olvidé./Una vez yo bien te quise/zapato que yo desecho/no me lo vuelvo a poner./En la raya de tu pelo/está la luna parada/en la raya de tu pelo.../si no la deja salir/la hermosura de tu cara. (Than the snow in the ravine/you’re more beautiful, my lady/than the snow in the ravine/than the rose in the rosebush,/than the lilies in the field./I really loved you once/you forgot about me, I forgot about you./I really loved you once/the shoe I threw away/I don’t want to wear again. In the parting of your hair/the moon stands on tiptoe/in the parting of your hair…/it cannot come out/due to your face, so fair.) This is the fandango sung by all Pujerreños on Olive Picking Day, Easter Sunday, or St Anthony of Padua’s Festival. Picaresque, cheerful stanzas, and clichés revealing how everyday life unfolds in this village in the beating heart of Serranía de Ronda. And a recurring element, which I could see myself when I visited the place: snow. To get to Pujerra, you have to drive along road A-376 up to Ronda, then take a detour across Igualeja (by the majestic source of the Genal river), and reach the road terminus after several twists and turns opening onto the neighbouring towns of Cartajima and Júzcar –foggy ships sitting on the mountain slopes. It’s quite impressive. In fact, it’s overwhelming.

Landscape and Arrival

It’s winter. Chestnut leaves all over the ground in Alto Genal. Thick fog covers the mountain peaks and the first snow, still fragile, grazes in the fields. The ditches by the road are icy. There’re cars parked on the hard shoulders, in search of the precious white treasure, so rare for those living by the beach on the Costa del Sol. The bare trees, exhausted after their fight against the elements, look like huge puppets with no strings. It’s a relentlessly beautiful landscape, where the glowing winter light conjures the urbanite fear of the lack of references. This is my mood as I enter the sierras, imbued with beauty and cautious because of the weather forecast. The dark black tongue of a road zigzags down. I’ve left the A-376 (Ronda-San Pedro Alcántara) behind and taken the detour to Igualeja and Pujerra via the MA-526 and the MA-527. I’m driving carefully, intoxicated by the landscape. Goats are grazing in a nearby field; seeing animals has a soothing effect on me. I drive across a thick chestnut grove –no leaves are to be seen on the branches– and the narrow streets of Igualeja before reaching Pujerra. It’s snowing. Big and compact snowflakes come easily down on me. My clothes protect me from the cold, but the warmth of the welcoming people helped too. They’re telling me how not to slip It’s a beautiful, cold, golden day.

Tour, “San Antonios,” King Wamba, Wooden Benches

Before being “Pujerra,” Pujerra was “Pugerra” and “Puxerra” and “Poxera” and “Buxarra” and “Benatamín” and “Bentomí.” Legend and oral tradition have it (although historians mightn’t agree) that it was also “Cenay,” the hometown of the Visigothic king Wamba: “He used to live in Pujerra, where he worked in the fields. A delegation came where he was to crown him king; as they didn’t know where to find him, they walked across the sierras, until they came across him in the area where the Capilla mil was. He was ploughing his fields. Wamba resisted, arguing that he was too old and too little educated, but the delegation insisted, so he invoked God to decide on the matter. ‘When this stick in my hand blossoms, I shall be King of Spain.’ No sooner had he sank the stick in the earth that it got covered with leaves and flowers. Marvelled at such wonder, he took the crown.” This is Wamba’s story according to the plate below the bust of the Visigothic King I’d stumble upon later in my tour. So, if I were to believe it, I was stepping on royal ground. I parked in the town centre. As soon as I got off, I saw different boards showing a sightseeing tour of Pujerra. I followed the directions. The first sight was the Parish Church of the Holy Ghost. Then I’d have several chances to check villagers’ devotion to St Anthony for myself. The streets were short and narrow, paved with cobblestones and stones. The parish church was past the Town Hall, turning left. The square that preceded it was quite big, dominated by a sort of totem rising against the sky as if trying to outshine the angular belfry, visible on one of the church’s corners. The square also featured two orange trees and two wooden benches with weirdly-shaped backs.. I’d soon realise that this shape was quite common among benches in town, as I came across lots of carved chestnut benches of whimsical shapes. In fact, chestnuts are ever-present in Pujerra. In church doors, in street plates, in the images of St Anthony to be found in corners and halls… It’s the way locals have of paying tribute to a tree that has served them well since time immemorial. On October 31, Pujerra celebrates Chestnut Day, when everybody has the chance to enjoy chestnuts in various forms. As the door was open, I came into the parish church. It was a single-nave temple with a wooden ceiling and a choir to the left –delicate, simple, unpretentious, cosy. It lit two candles for St Anthony of Padua, the town’s patron saint. It was warm inside, but when I came out I saw the snowflakes taking over the cobblestones. I moved on, wrapped in an intense smell of firewood, imagining crackling fireplaces behind thick doors. Despite the cold, men and women ran their daily errands, kindly waving goodbye. On Placilla Vieja, I greeted King Wamba –or a sculpture of his head. I read the plate below that I’ve already quoted and contemplated the sturdy-looking Visigoth who ploughed across these lands. I walked on, trying to take note of every detail and every corner. Pujerra’s managed to keep the essence of a genuine old town while finding a place in today’s world. Its geographical and historical isolation have helped the village keep its original traits without distorting them. The scenic viewpoint of the crosses afforded great panoramic views of Alto Genal. As the snow melted into rain, I had to take shelter in a bar in Plaza de la Alameda. Everyone seemed to have thought the same as me, so when I came in, soaking wet and in bad need of coffee, they all said hello and struck up conversation. They talked about the snow and ice, about how roads get blocked for hours on the harshest days of winter, about how used they are to driving in this weather. They told me not to worry about driving back to where I came from, for it’d started to rain and the rain would clear the snow and ice away. It was cosy and warm in there. I felt comfortable. Looking across the square, I saw more of the weird benches plus a post holding several metal pots. The fact is, chestnuts get to the heart of town, piercing and embracing it. It must be beautiful in autumn: the streets glittering in gold with all those leaves… There’s another recurring element in Pujerra: fountains. The water bubbling out of them was impossibly cold; it’d frozen in some of them, forming thin ice sheets like minute icebergs.

St Anthony’s Chapel and Farewell

Only 2km away from the town centre, there’s St Anthony’s Chapel, a modern building sheltered by a little chestnut grove giving access to the Bentomí trail. Locals visit the chapel in a procession during the second weekend of August; the Arab town of Benatamín –possibly, Pujerra’s ancestor– was located here. The Bentomí trail is a 1km circular route flanked by chestnut trees and cork oaks. The area also features a countryside resort whose facilities include a swimming pool and recreational zones. Climbing all the way to the chapel, I take a look at the small village of Pujerra. The early morning snow has melted and the town’s whiteness seems to reverberate on the wet, brownish earth. I look at the sky, hoping for snow to prevent me from leaving. Pujerra has the warmth of small towns –kind people and burning firewood. I look at the sky again. It’s not snowing, but I want this moment to last a little bit longer. I saw the sierras and the bare chestnuts embracing the compact hamlet. A snowflake lands on my scarf. I smile.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Natural heritage: There’s no doubt about Pujerra’s landscape beauty. The town’s privileged location in the heart of Alto Genal attracts lots of hikers, who want to enjoy its pleasant trails under the chestnuts trees and cork oaks. The Pasos Largos Hiking Club shows some trails on its website linking Pujerra to other towns in Alto Genal, such as Pujerra to Igualeja or Pujerra to Jubrique. Without leaving the municipality, you can walk by the bed of Río Seco to the ruins of the Capilla mill, where, legend has it, the Cenay village was –home to King Wamba. I’ve come to Pujerra in winter, but it’s beautiful in every season: blossoming in spring, fresh in summer evenings, golden in autumn… In sum, Pujerra is a place to visit all year round.
What to do: Country travel: The Pujerra Town Hall website shows country travel deals, including accommodation at the Bentomí town apartments.
Virtual tour: The Guadalinfo Centre in Pujerra has uploaded a virtual tour of the village to YouTube. This is the link: Visita tu Pueblo, Pujerra.
Useful links: I’ve relied on the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Pujerra Town Hall to plan my trip to Pujerra.

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