Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The almond trees are blooming, covering the mountain slopes in white and lilac. The king can see them from above. He’s clinging to the battlements of the fortress of Bentomiz, waiting for the Christian troops he’s signed a covenant with. He can hear the muezzins calling to prayer from the Daimalos and Arenas minarets. The almond trees are blooming, and its flowers are swayed in the breeze. The king gazes into the sea, making out the blurry silhouette of Africa, the trail his ancestors did a long time ago, when they came to the land he’s now in. His look gets lost in the horizon. His fortress used to belong to the Romans and the Greeks before them and the Phoenicians and even the Iberians in the dawn of times. And it’ll soon pass on to the Christians. From it you can look over Axarquía, with its fertile lands where lemon and orange trees, vines, and almond trees grow. The king looks back at Daimalos and Arenas. He sighs and goes back to his chamber. His time is over.

Getting Closer

Once you’re past Vélez-Málaga, the road connecting the Mediterranean with Arenas seems to have been carved out of the mountains. It leans back on the ravines like an imaginary lifting bridge, showing and hiding the landscapes it cuts across. You can expect a robust mountain or the shiny quicksilver sea as you drive along. The sharp bends feature verandahs with wooden benches, where you can take a seat and contemplate the roughest Axarquía. The blossoming almond trees cover the mountain slopes like shreds of white fog. In the centre of Arenas, I was greeted by the Town Hall and three grindstones. I parked somewhat ahead, by a little piazza with stone archways. Arenas is the last village in the Mudéjar Tour of Axarquía. The other towns included in it are Canillas de Aceituno, Sedella, Salares, and Árchez. They share a common layout and part of their history, reflected in a series of distinctive features of the Andalusian culture: minarets, fountains, fortresses, and so on. But they’ve also managed to keep their essence intact throughout the centuries –an unaltered heart throbbing in their guts and revealing part of their historical legacy when you come to visit them.


I worked my way uptown on foot, coming across a reference to one of Arenas’s most popular events: the Mule Fair. In mid October, the village pays tribute to the most pigheaded of all animals, which has stood by the local people since time immemorial, working the fields with them. The fair shows its virtues to visitors and the new generations. There’re branding, threshing, and herding exhibitions, animal pulling, racing, verdiales, food sampling –the star dish is migas arrieras, a hearty stew comforting the peasants in the fields. I walked into the heart of Arenas, along Farola and Fuente Streets. Flights of steps rose both to the right and to the left, leading to little squares and walls brimming with colourful flowerpots and flowerbeds. I succumbed to the intricate maze of alleys –short and steep stretches ending in minute squares. I walked around in no hurry, until I came to a beautiful square dominated by the Church of Santa Catalina.

A Minaret Burnt Down in a Christening Ceremony

The square had a curious name: Valle. A fountain-cum-streetlight invited me to get cooler. Arenas is a much quiet town; the only sounds you can hear are those that characterise everyday life. The Parish Church of Santa Catalina’s been through a lot; its walls have tried the burning love of fire. According to an information plate on one of the walls, the church, consecrated in 1505, was built upon the ruins of an old mosque featuring a high minaret. On the night of November 13, 1926, a candle was left burning after a christening ceremony. Its flames reached the high altar and then the ceiling. The whole church was devoured by the flames. The reconstruction took almost four years, from 1941 to 1944. The only part that had been spared in the fire, the minaret, had to have a part lopped off due to collapse danger. In 2005, the parish church celebrated its 500th anniversary. It’s a simple building, with a sober entrance to the left of Plaza Valle –only two images, of St Sebastian and St Catherine, and a robust door reading “I am the light of the world.”

The Labyrinth Leading to the High District

Plaza Valle is linked to the high district by an almost impregnable maze of streets including climbs and corners all around and landing at the doorstep of family houses, like the vestiges of old fortresses. I chose not to follow any rational plan, in an attempt to discover the throbbing heart of Arenas. On Rinconcillo Street, I saw two flights of steps leading to a little square lending its name to the street itself. Two women were having a chat while sitting on the iron bench facing their houses. I said hello, talked with them for a while, and made a couple of pictures. “Wait! Let me take my apron off at least!,” one of them said. “This place has always been called ‘El Rinconcillo’ (The Little Corner), and it’s quite easy to see why, isn’t it?,” the other told me. Leaving the two ladies behind, I walked along Iglesia Street towards the High District, where a beautiful renovated house in bright white and blue dominated the open square, featuring another fountain. Arenas rises up in strides. Every few metres there’s a sort of square on whose iron benches local women are having their morning chats. From the High District, I looked the Bentomiz castle in the eye, standing on the Bentomiz mount. Granada king Abd Allah made reference to it in his memoirs, written in the eleventh century. Only a bunch of ruins remain of the old castle, which used to rival those in Comares and Zalía: battlements, wall fragments, dungeons, and the like. What makes the castle unique, though, is the views, resulting from its strategic geographical location: from there you can see most of Axarquía and the eastern stretch of Costa del Sol. I asked how to get to it. They told me I should take the road to Daimalos and follow the signs reading “Castillo de Bentomiz,” only 0.5km away from Arenas. I resumed my stroll amidst broken streets, hidden secrets, little squares, and houses with long histories, walking down Risco Street and back to my car.

Daimalos, the Minaret, and the Fountain of Love

I took Carretera Street to exit Arenas towards the municipal district of Daimalos, which kept a couple of gems. To the right I found the first access to the Bentomiz castle, but I drove on, for I’d been told it was better to take the second. The road was in good condition, so I plunged ahead. 100m, 200m, 300m, and that was the end of it; the rain had damaged the road and, driving an SUV, I ran the risk of getting bogged down. I tried again a couple of times, but it was really impossible. I took down the site as a must-see for a future visit. I continued my way to Daimalos. I could see the mountain slopes peppered with the blooming almond trees. I could imagine the landscape in spring, and the views from the Bentomiz castle. Parking at Plaza San Antón, I followed the directions reading “Alminar del siglo XVII” (seventeenth-century minaret), even though the church and minaret were visible from the square. So I walked up steep Antonio Ruiz Urbano Street, turned left at Coro Street and reached the base of the minaret, adjoining the Parish Church of La Concepción. The minaret rose high, its belfry pointing to the bright blue sky and its silhouette clear against the background of hills and mountains. An information plate read, “The Daimalos minaret is one of the oldest standing in Spain. It was built in the thirteenth century, even before its counterparts in Árchez, Corumbela, or Salares, at the same time of the twin construction in Arenas.” It was designated as a Cultural Asset by the Andalusian Government in 2004. The peace in Daimalos wraps you up, so I matched the village’s tempo while enjoying its sober beauty and rich past. I asked a woman about the Arab fountain, Fuente Perdida (what a name!). She showed me the way. The fountain’s information board said the following: “Arab Fountain, Marinid dynasty, twelfth century. This is an Arab fountain. It is mentioned in the Daimalos settlement books as early as in 1561. (…) Local residents used to believe its water could work miracles. Thus, if you are single and drink from it, you will get married soon. And if you are already married, you will have a child. Likewise, the water flowing from this fountain increases your sexual power.” It’s only legend, but you never know…

Saying Goodbye

I retraced my steps along the road that brought me to Arenas, enjoying the views and the frozen time. I took a final glance of the minaret, the ruins of the Bentomiz castle up there, the cobblestone streets, the early blossoming almond trees, the paseros lying on wet ground… I took a deep breath and gave in.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Mule Fair: One of the most popular events held in Arenas. It takes place in mid October, drawing about 3,000 visitors. It’s a unique fair, taking you back in time to watch how things were done in the times of mule drivers and be connected to work in the fields in a not-so-distant past.
What to do: Hiking: A good option for visitors who’re fond of walking is climbing the way to the Bentomiz castle from the town centre. The trail is clearly signposted. It’s a relentless climb and can be tough at times, but it won’t give you sore feet. Make sure you bring enough water and a comforting snack to eat while enjoying the great views of Axarquía and the eastern Costa del Sol. All in all, a healthy excursion.
Useful links: This time I used only one site, where I found detailed information on Arenas –useful data, sights of interest, food, facts and legends. It was my usual web companion, the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board.

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


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Like a ship rocking on a headland, there’re two masts rising out of the white hamlet that El Borge is. One is the belfry, and it’s spotless white. The other is the brick tower, it’s laden with crosses, and its dome is covered with white and green tiles. The ship’s bow faces south, moored to a stout stone wall and a deep-red portal. Its stern faces north, its two towers like distinctive, iconic stags. A roofed two-arch arcade conceals a side entrance, as if it were a secret chamber. Inside, there’s a spectacular coffered ceiling, the woodwork interweaving to form a maze of reddish beams pointing to the high altar… All the secrets of the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario were revealed to me by Manuela, but it was the Andalusian Government that designated it as a Monument of the Andalusian Historical Heritage.

El Borge, Raisins, and El Bizco

The winding road leading from the Mediterranean to the heart of Axarquía affords an impressive landscape. Bounded by La Maroma, the highest peak in Málaga Province, the mounts and hills alternate with steep ravines, plots of land where fruit trees grow, and scattered population centres. The place looks like a boiling crater whose crests are the hills themselves. The mountain slopes display one of El Borge’s distinctive features: paseros, that is, small attached rectangles where grapes are cultivated and dried. They are typical of Axarquía. El Borge is one of the villages with the largest volume of raisin exports in Andalusia (and, they say, in the world as well). It produces record numbers every year. In the late nineteenth century, this land was home to one of the most fearful bandits –a benefactor to many and a heartless, bloodthirsty murderer in the eyes of justice. His adventures went beyond Axarquía and Sierra Morena. This was my foretaste of El Borge –a mix of legend, history, and geography. But it was soon to find out that there’s much more to this village.

Tour, Part 1: Up to the Church
After leaving Almáchar behind and making out Canillas de Aceituno, perched on La Maroma, I entered El Borge. I left my car at the entrance, facing one of the first sights: El Borge Archway. This construction with Arab traits welcomes visitors to the village and its cobblestone streets. Its columns recount historical facts. In particular, they contain the images of two famous residents: Abdalallah ben Atimad, a.k.a. Al Baitar, son to a couple of veterinarians and a botanist himself, who’s reputed with the introduction of the lemon tree from the Middle East in 1200, and Martín Vázquez Ciruela, a theologian who held high offices in the Church in the seventeenth century. This was my letter of introduction into El Borge. I followed the trail of a ringing, singing, bubbling sound. It was a powerful stream of water. Turning the corner, I realised it came from one of the sights I should see today: Fuente de la Vendimia. Of course, it was only natural that a town whose economy’s been based on the production of raisins since time immemorial should have a tribute in bronze to those men and women whose work and efforts in the fields helped build such a strong industry. The fountain featured a grape harvester holding a basket brimming with grapes, ready to take the precious fruit to town, going up and down steep mountain slopes. By the fountain, there was a map showing where I was and what to visit. I took note and headed for the Town Hall. On El Borge’s streets everyone was kind and friendly, waving goodbye as they walked past me. To the right, I came to Plaza Rafael Alberti, where you can find the basic services in town: a doctor’s office, a chemist’s (on República Street), the Miguel Hernández House of Culture, Fuente de la Gallina, and a newsstand (where I bought my usual postcard). I talked with the assistant for a while; she recommended good places to eat (Bar Paco, among others) and told me how to visit the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario if it happened to be closed. I went back to Avenida Principal, only to find the church’s tower and belfry, rising up to the bright blue sky –a human feat defying nature. There they stood, impervious to the passing of time and dilapidation. One of the towers was white and clean, its walls leading up to the belfry. The other bore several crosses on top, and it ended with a white-and-green tile pinnacle. Both of them wanted to be the steering wheel of the parish church. After checking through a brick archway to the right that the church was indeed closed, I resorted to the plan suggested by the newsstand assistant. (I’d used it before in other towns.) I knocked the door in an adjacent house, bearing a sign: “Súper. La Tienda de Antonio Muñoz Pérez.” “Hi, good morning” I said, “I’d like to see the parish church inside. I’ve heard it’s been designated as a Monument of the Andalusian Historical Heritage.” “Yes, hold on,” they replied. A few seconds later, I met Manuela, an elderly woman holding the key to the church. She asked me to follow her into the building. She opened the heavy door and in we went. The Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was cold and wet. It breathed the grumbling air of an old building. Its construction was commissioned by Queen Isabella in the fifteenth century. The first thing that caught my eye was its coffered ceiling: lines interweaving to create a geometric pattern of concentric figures. The woodwork was carved with flower motifs. It was an authentic sixteenth-century structure. The altar was simple and austere, its two niches holding twentieth-century sculptures. Suddenly, the silent temple was invaded by Manuela’s granddaughters, who were running along the wooden benches around us. Manuela revealed some of the parish church’s secrets, highlighting the efforts made to preserve the building’s past glory. “Some things have been done already. Men came and took notes and pictures. But there’s still a lot to do,” she said. The church was certainly worth a visit, and its rehabilitation deserved a boost. When I came out, Manuela’s daughter took me to her house and showed me an accurate scale model of the parish church. She explained to me it’d been made by her husband a few years before. The replica was even equipped with lights and bell sounds. I said goodbye to all family members, thanking them for their kindness. Then I moved on.

Tour, Part 2: From the Church

From Manuela’s house, I walked about 10m to Plaza de la Constitución, adjoining the church. The square was a sort of balcony onto El Rinconcillo district and the lower part of El Borge. A curious fact: one of the church walls bore a tile informing that this used to be a “Stone where spinning tops were honed in the 1920s.” The tile also showed a spinning top, in case you don’t get it with the phrase only. The stone is just below the tile, the scratches bearing witness to its past uses, like wounds caused by the tips of the spinning tops. In the square, I asked a group of locals how to get to Fuente de las Tres Aguas. They kindly showed me how to get there: skirting the church to the right and walking down a street leading to a terrace. I followed their directions. The fountain was there. It looked weird, with three spouts to quench your thirst with water from three different sources: the reservoir, La Alcúa Park, or the river. Each spout bore the name of the place its water came from. Following the advice of local people, I chose the reservoir. Facing the fountain there was La Alcúa, a bird park where you can watch hundreds of bird species –swans, peacocks, geese, pheasants– and lots of plants. The park is unique in the area, due to the wide array of species living in it. It’s open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (For further information, call the Town Hall at (+34) 952 512 033.) After visiting the park, I went back to Plaza de la Constitución, caught a glimpse of blooming Antonio Machado Street, and walked down Barranquilla Street into Plazuela de la Rueda. There I found a post office and a postbox for my postcard. I saw the Posada del Bandolero opposite, a hotel and restaurant that used to be a museum. The posada was the birthplace of Luis Muñoz García, a.k.a. El Bizco de El Borge. Born in 1837, Muñoz was cross-eyed, but he was a good shot. He died out of poisoning (or so legend has it), and the Civil Guard finished him off. It was in Lucena, on May 21, 1889. I went down Peseta Street, flanking the back of the posada and got to another fountain, El Cuerno. The fountain owed its name to the fact that it used to have a goat horn buried in it as a sort of ornament. The horn could no longer be seen. Water was extracted using a hand pump. El Rinconcillo was again in front of me –short, steep, narrow streets hiding beautiful corners. Up Peseta Street, across Plaza de la Pasionaria, and back into the main avenue for my next stop, to the left: Bar Paco.

Lunch at Bar Paco

I’d been told one of this bar’s specialties was kid. But they didn’t have. Pity. Bar Paco is popular with Borgeños. It’s an unambitious family-run restaurant serving traditional food. They treat you as if you were at home, and the food is really great. I took a table wrapped in the usual red and white checked tablecloth. Following the waiter’s advice, I ordered two tripe tapas, a half serving of pepper salad –topped with exquisite fried whitebait–, a half serving of meat and tomato, and a half serving of meatballs with almond sauce. Finally, two prawn pinchos (small servings), courtesy of the house. To wash everything down, I ordered four beers, two of them alcohol-free. The bill = €11, but after chatting with the waiter for a while about the bar’s history (it was founded in 1968) and its delicious food, I realised the courtesy had gone well beyond the prawns. If you like unsophisticated eateries, this is your place. The food was good; the whitebait on the pepper salad were a nice surprise and the almond sauce, mouth-watering. You really feel at home in El Borge, and Bar Paco is no exception to the general atmosphere in town. I said goodbye and walked back to the place where I’d parked my car.

I hit the road that’d take me back to the Mediterranean, leaving the hills and ravines of Axarquía behind but still getting glimpses of El Borge through the rear-view mirror. I’d felt at home in this village from the moment I stepped on the first cobblestones. It was a town hiding curious facts and an eventful history. A town of raisins and bandits. A town of churches that are part of the community’s historical heritage. A town of talkative shop assistants and kind residents, like Manuela. A town whose restaurants serve homemade food with a warm heart. El Borge, Mecca of Raisins, I shall come back.

Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to see: Raisin Day: On the third Sunday of September, El Borge celebrates Raisin Day, a tribute to this food that has made a household name for the village. There’re several activities, including recreations of the traditional raisin-making process –from picking to transportation and sun-drying in paseros to crushing, sieving, and bottling to muscatel grape stomping to produce must for visitors to taste. Also, bags with D.O. Málaga raisins are distributed and other locally produced foods can be tasted. Together with Moclinejo, Almáchar, Cútar, Comares, and Totalán, El Borge is part of the Raisin Tour in Axarquía.
Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario: This temple was designated as a Monument of the Andalusian Historical Heritage in January 2010; the news was covered by many local media.
Useful links: I’ve used three websites to plan my trip to El Borge, namely, those of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, El Borge Town Hall, and a news blog, El Borge Activo.

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


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.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The muezzin calls to pray and Salares wakes up from its evening slumber. Salares: a clenched fist, a cluster of houses leaning on ravines. Salares: a village of secret gardens and minarets rising up against the bright blue sky; a village of hidden treasures and flavours of the past. Salares: a town of old nostalgias and present victories. Salares: Mudejar perfumes, delicate aromas, narrow climbs. Salares, or Roman Salaria Bastitanorum. Salares, which was also Greek and Phoenician and Carthaginian and deeply Muslim. Salares: a town of riots and Muslim uprisings; a town of heroes and villains. Salares: mills and trap-net sites, threshing floors and limestone quarries devoured by the past. Salares: a town rolling down a hill. Salares: a village fluttering over passing time. Salares: a town discovered.

The Discovery

The 4.5 km separating Salares from Sedella follow the route of the steep ravines surrounding both villages. The cuts in the mountains become more pronounced, like primitive wounds, as if the relief had conspired to prevent the town’s secrets from being revealed, to protect them from inquisitive looks. Thanks to this, modern travellers can find their selves amidst the crags and gullies, seeing the hamlets as soft white brushstrokes on the hills, sheltered by the Sierras de Tejeda and Almijara or locked in by robust La Maroma. A peak appearing suddenly behind a sharp bend or a winding road are part of the region’s idiosyncrasy –of its austere charm.
Salares Revealed

Watching Salares, I was overwhelmed by its skyline. The town is literally perched on a cut in the mountains, rolling down the hill towards the bottom of the valley. I parked my car in the higher part of town and climbed down a maze of impossibly steep streets that came to dead ends everywhere. Soon enough, I stumbled upon a tile indicating one of the Stations of the Cross. In fact, Salares has a curious way of celebrating Easter: On Sunday, Our Lady of Grief, carried by women only, is taken along the streets in the upper part of town, whereas Resurrected Jesus, carried by men, is taken along the streets in the lower town. Both processions come to the doors of the cemetery, where they meet. The walls look thick enough to protect from both winter’s cold and summer’s heat. But the town has the steepest climbs I’ve been to in Málaga so far. The cobblestone streets seem to collapse in disarray. Salares is unusually beautiful, with an architecture standing on sound Muslim foundations, as shown in archways and walls, whitewashed houses, and broken structures. Some of the buildings on Castillejo Street seemed to have been taken out of a homemade nativity scene. It didn’t take me long to get to the small square where I could find the door to the Parish Church of Santa Ana, whose minaret stood in grandeur against the grey, cloud-laden sky. In 1979, this minaret was designated as a Historic-Artistic Monument. Before getting to the square, just behind me, there was the Tower House, an original white house whose semicircular structure gave away past uses of the building that went beyond those of a mere house. I walked down Town Hall Street, only to find a stunning secret place.

The Secret Garden Shows Itself

A wooden door at the bottom of the minaret opens onto a little room –a sort of alley resembling a bedroom with a fireplace where the old access to the tower used to be. The room has a lintel opening out onto a little patio with two wooden benches and a few flowerpots, sheltered behind the church walls, the minaret, and what seems like the remains of an old castle. The views from here are impressive. I sat down, looked up and saw the sky, the tower, the mountain slopes, and halo of the sierras. The silence was impervious to everything around it but the purr of nearby cats. I got carried away by my own daydreaming and thought I could hear the muezzin singing. A flight of steps protected by a wall took me down to the back of the Town Hall building. I kept going down. Salares has managed to keep the essence of the old time, the flavour of ancient traditions. The stone houses took me along secret roads where Salares wanted me to be. My will had nothing to do with this stroll. I wander about, hoping to see a silhouette wearing a “djellaba” and a turban round every corner. Suggestive names like “Rincón de las Maravillas” or “Casa Escondida” took stereotypes beyond the imaginable to turn it into a beautiful reality. Maybe the Stations of the Cross I mentioned above are the best example of the coexistence between past and present, the Muslim and the Christian in the twenty-first century, as many of them, showing purely Christian images, are under smaller tiles featuring Arab motifs. Most houses have their original stone structures, which have been whitewashed once and again. I came to the square in the lower part of town, watching the village sprawl like a white wound across the mountain. Then I walked up Pasadizo Street, making blind guesses on my way back to my car. Bumping into the postwoman, I pitied her for the difficult task of delivering the mail in a town full of ups and downs. But she said she was used to it, and it helped her keep fit and strong. She does her job in Sedella as well (in fact, it was she I asked about the way to the chapel there) and goes to Canillas de Aceituno every day, where the central post office is. I had an insight: Sure enough, she must be acquainted with the town’s best-kept secrets. I wanted to walk with her to unveil them. But then I thought it was better this way, having unravelled some of Salares’s mysteries and leaving others for future visits. I walked up the road, making stops at will, chatting all the way to my car and my farewell.

Leaving Salares Behind

I left Salares with an unmistakable Mudejar taste in my mouth. The town is a white gem in the rough heart of Axarquía. As the fog set in, I could hear the singing of the muezzin calling to pray.

Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to do: Mudejar Tour of Axarquía: The general layout and the minaret have earned Salares a place in the Mudejar Tour of Axarquía, alongside Arenas, Árchez, Sedella, and Canillas de Aceituno. Hiking: Located within Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Park, Salares is an ideal place for this sport. Several trails, with different degrees of difficulty, have their starting points in this or neighbouring villages.
What to see: Arab-Al-Andalus Festival: In September, Salares holds the Arab-Al-Andalus Festival, where visitors can experience the Al-Andalus legacy in its foods, crafts, culture, art, and history.
Useful links: To explore Salares I’ve used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Salares Town Hall, and the Association for Tourism Development in Axarquía-Costa del Sol.

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