Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Upon leaving the mountains of Málaga behind, the meadows of Antequera open up before me, dominated by El Peñón de los Enamorados (Lover’s Rock) –a granite totem resembling an Indian chieftain. Fertile farming lands, dark wet earth, bountiful earth. Everything looks green and ochre. The rain that fell last season helped the fields blossom. They look bright, almost fluorescent, green, soaking with water and dewdrops. Then the meadows give way to mountains packed with olive trees.

Humilladero and Its Cross

Concealed by olive groves, Humilladero appears as if by sleight of hand –a hamlet in a valley. Without even noticing, I drove into an avenue flanked by sturdy trees. After a roundabout, there’s the entrance to town and just there, there’s the cross the village has borrowed its name from. It’s simple an austere: a stone column and a small iron cross on top. But the most interesting thing about it is its story: “On April 24, 1410, Infante Don Fernando, Regent of Castile, was coming from Córdoba with his army when he was joined by Don Per Afán de Rivera, who came from Córdoba carrying Saint Ferdinand III’s sword. The Infante took the sword and pledged not to sheathe it until he’d conquered Antequera. When the conquest was completed, a stone cross was erected here. It was then torn down.” And there’s more: “In 1484, Ferdinand the Catholic, upon conquering Valle de Abdalajís, Álora and Ronda, bent on his knees in the same place where his grandfather, Ferdinand of Antequera, had received Saint Ferdinand’s sword.” The cross was reconstructed in 1618, 1957, and 1995, changing locations until it got the place where it now stands. It’s quite a plain monument for being associated with so many kings and conquests, fights and battles, swords and pledges. Watching it, I can imagine the Christian troops and the Moors trudging across the meadows amidst centuries-old olives, treading on this very same earth beneath my feet.

The Town Centre

To get to the town centre in Humilladero, you need to take Dolores Ibarruri Avenue, then turn right into El Emigrante Avenue. You’ll get to the Town Hall and Plaza de los Derechos Humanos. You can park in any of the adjacent streets. I left mine on Maestra Ana Alba Street, by a chemist’s. From here I could see the town’s rectilinear layout. Humilladero is a modern city, and its design is more closely associated with the set square than with the relief, as I’d observed in other towns, in Axarquía or Serranía de Ronda. I got ready and off the car. In Plaza de los Derechos Humanos there’s a tile map that helps find your way in town, and a poster reading some of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” All the streets from the square are paved. The houses boast iron-wrought balconies and window grilles, and hallways dressed in colourful tiles. After walking down Capitán Francisco Velasco Ruiz Street (and spotting a couple of eateries), I turned left at Picasso Street. The thoroughfares in Humilladero or long and straight. Banners hanging from streetlamps and cables announced that 2010 was the 200th anniversary of Humilladero’s separation from Antequera and origin as an independent township. I continued walking.

The Church and the Streets

At the far end of Picasso Street there was a little square preceding the Church of Santísimo Cristo de la Misericordia. In front of the façade, there’s a sandstone floor tile that could make reference to the church’s construction or consecration dates. The year written on the tile is 1861. Built on the ruins of an old chapel, it’s a modern church with an impressively high brick belfry tower and a façade ending in a fake belfry and an iron cross. I walked around the building; locals seemed to be at home, for the streets looked quiet and empty. Or maybe they’d gone out in search of the warmth of inns. I kept walking, noticing the low houses and the resulting low skyline. I came back to Plaza de los Derechos Humanos and my car through Hermanos Fernández de la Fuente Side Street. Then I headed for one of the most beautiful spots in Humilladero: La Sierrecilla.

Detour: La Sierrecilla

I asked a woman how to get to La Sierrecilla, a recreational area used for fiestas and celebrations, especially the pilgrimage on May 1. It can be reached on foot, but I used my car to avoid getting wet. Upon exiting town towards Antequera, to the right, there’s a huge raised area against the background of the sierras. I took one of the roads leading to the new local campsite. It was easy to find. I parked and got off again. La Sierrecilla features wooden tables and benches, and stone barbecues. I imagined what it’d look like in autumn, spring, and summer; I fancied men and women enjoying themselves in the shade of the pine trees. I walked around. A wide dirt trail led to the sierras between the hills concealing Humilladero and the highest point in the area. The trail was flanked by thick pine woods, where you can smell the delicate, primitive wetness of the earth. The trail skirting Sierra de Humilladero is 2km long; it’s clearly signposted, and the marks left by hikers on the earth make it impossible to get lost. I climbed up, getting glimpses of the Antequera meadows, Humilladero, corn fields, and olive groves –everything amidst Aleppo pines. The rain had made green look brighter and brown, darker. The silence was overwhelming, only interrupted by the singing of birds. The hiking tour is stimulating and gratifying; as it’s an easy route, you can negotiate it with your children. You’ll all be safe. If you remain silent for a while, you’ll start hearing the sounds of nature in all their might. I took a deep breath, only to realise the mini-tour had whetted my appetite.

Lunch at El Peñón

Returning to my old parking place by the Town Hall, I walked down Capitán Francisco Velasco Ruiz Street and went into El Peñón for lunch. My earlier hunch was right: all humilladerenses were here, sheltered from rain in the warm tavern. El Peñón was an open-bar restaurant, patrons eating tapas and chatting amiably. I sat at a table for a heartier dish. While having a look at the menu, I heard all kinds of accents from Málaga and beyond –an alluring mix of speeches and idioms. I couldn’t help noticing the hectic atmosphere across the bar: “One of guarrito,” “One of chorizo,” “One of meat,” “One of manitas”… The menu –steak, lamb, salted pork loin, chopped vegetable soup, stew soup, entrecôte– included children’s options –those dishes kids and teens can’t say no to. My choice was two tripe tapas, one stew soup, one spinach salad, a pork steak and a chicken steak, two alcohol-free beers, and two 300ml beers. The bill = €34.10. The stew soup was delicious; its two mint sprigs made it strongly-scented and even tastier. The spinach salad contained opinions, fried ham, cheese, walnuts, and cherry tomatoes. The pork steak was well-done and juicy, strong and delicate at the same time. The main courses were garnished with cabbage salad, grilled vegetables, and French fries. Good food, nice place, kind waitress. Plus two shot drinks, courtesy of the house: herb eau-de-vie and caramel vodka.

Fare Thee Well, Humilladero

To the right, La Sierrecilla –a green spot that must afford stunning views of the Antequera meadows from its peak. I could still feel the wet land and pine trees above me. To the left, the cross where two kings bent to their knees. I could imagine the Christian troops in the fifteenth century, marvelling at the same landscape I’d stared at. I felt good after the homemade food and the cheerful talk. Humilladero comforts travellers as soon as they set foot on its streets.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Hiking: Besides the hiking tour of La Sierrecilla, Humilladero features three hiking routes of great environmental value. Given the area’s mild relief, they’re easy to negotiate, too. The first route connects the town centre with La Ratosa lake (on the border with Alameda); the second leads to Fuente de Piedra lake; and the third climbs Pico Pollo from La Sierrecilla to reach the highest peak in this municipality.
What to see: Popular fiestas: Humilladero holds various celebrations throughout the year, with different purposes and characteristics. A very original one is Emigrants’ Day, in the first week of August –a tribute to all those men and women who were forced to leave their hometown and come to visit on holidays.
Useful links: My web references in this tour have been the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Humilladero Town Hall.

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