Monday, 23 August 2010

Overwhelming landscape of soaring horizons. The mountains –uneven solid peaks– seem to have fallen from the sky in the dream of a mad engineer. Peaky sierras smoothened only by their leafy slopes. Oneiric lands belonging to a beautiful dream rather than the real world. Gorges that open up in the sun like old crags, in unstable balance, both sound and ethereal, bitterly sharp. They seem to know the secret of the state between restraint and overflowing. Alfarnatejo shares features, being only 4km away. Yet they’re different. Whereas Alfarnate rests in an impossible valley, Alfarnatejo takes shelter under the peaks that feed its skyline.

Zooming In

Alfarnatejo is a little village amidst gorges and paths. It’s been so since the dawn of time. Its geography has earned it the nickname “The Pyrenees of the South.” Its roads welcome motorcyclists and (road and MTB) cyclists, for they tend to hold few heavy vehicles and cars, and they seem to zigzag on and on. Olive groves, corn fields, chickpea plants punctuate the rocky area. Chamizo, Vilo, and Gallo rise high up in a landscape of cavities and bends, home to romantic bandits in the nineteenth century. Men, however, have lived here for much longer “as shown by the archaeological remains found in the Sabar river gorge, dating back to the Neolithic, and the 5,000-year-old domestic utensils in Gomer gorge” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).


I parked in the entrance to the town, next to the bus stop, and plunged into this white village with narrow cobblestone streets, with the discreet charm of the minimal. I walked down Callejones Street and reached the nerve centre of town: Plaza de la Constitución. My eyes were inevitably attracted to the mountain massifs. A woman was sluicing the street. I could smell the wet earth, fighting the heat of the early morning. I could also hear the goat bells in the distance: cling, cling, cling… While kids gave me inquisitive looks, adults greeted me with a nod or said “Good morning.” I took Feria Street to the right and was able to see the Town Hall’s row of balconies. The second street to the right afforded views of the church tower. Imposing. Its colour and texture were unusual for Málaga’s churches. Before visiting the church, I washed my face in a nearby fountain, feeling the cool, crystal-clear water splashing against my face. Delicious. The church had a brick and stone façade that makes it so special. A stout building, far from over-elaborate ornament, the Church of Cristo de la Cabrilla is beautifully simple. “Dating back to the seventeenth century and rebuilt in 1977, this church in the higher part of town is known as ‘Santo Cristo de la Cabrilla.’ It juts out against the houses and other buildings in the centre of Alfarnatejo. Its simple floor plan follows the traditional rectangular two-nave pattern, the naves being separated by round arches. The outer tower is square and solid. It was built with baked bricks in the traditional Mudejar style” (source: Town Hall website). The temple’s dark colour matched that of the surrounding earth. I wandered about, enjoying the cooing of the pigeons perched on wires and posts. I used other fountains, watching the cats purring in the sun. The streets of Alfarnatejo felt quiet, peaceful, as if housing patient inhabitants. I admired their simple lives, staring at the birds of prey overflying the higher gorges. The picture whetted my appetite, so I went into the restaurant Los Pirineos. Being too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, I had a soda, a beer, and two ham-and-cheese sandwiches (€4.40). The terrace afforded views of the surrounding fields: olives, corn, holm oaks, gall oaks. No chickpeas, though, even when they’re top-quality here and internationally renowned –so much so that the coat of arms of Alfarnate includes a chickpea flower. They’re no longer mass produced, but locals have stuck to old customs and traditions and grow them for own consumption. It’s no wonder then that a wide variety of stews are still part of the town’s gastronomy. After replenishing my energy reserves, I visited the Miguel Alba Luque Town Park –a longish park featuring huge shadowy trees and overlooking a ravine. At the far end, next to the Arabic arch marking the exit, there was a children’s playground. Miguel Alba Luque was Alfarnatejo’s last Republican mayor; he was executed by a firing squad before the walls of the San Rafael cemetery on October 9, 1937.


Amazing vertical walls plunging hundreds of metres into the valley. Grey and brown, with green dots here and there. To reach them from the town centre, you need to drive ahead across the town and down a winding road towards La Viñuela reservoir and Periana. Silent witnesses to the passing of time, they’ve seen old travellers trudge past, housed different forms of life in their caves, and helped the Arabs build man-made hillocks to control traffic. Together, they –Gomer, Doña Ana, and El Fraile– make the Route of Gorges. With such geographical features, it’s only natural that someone thought of the region as the “The Pyrenees of the South.”

So Long, Farewell…

I sat on a black wrought-iron bench in a street of Alfarnatejo, sheltered in the shade. Life went by before my eyes at an incredibly slow speed. Two kids playing football, a grey-haired woman plodding home with her hands in her chest, a man carrying several shopping bags. I was seized by town’s tranquillity. My eyes, however, kept flying to the mountains, and I couldn’t but notice the dual nature of Alfarnatejo, with its peaceful streets and steep ravines. That was what made it special: its indomitable yet serene legacy.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Curious facts: “The origin of demonyms for Alfarnate –‘palanco’– and Alfarnatejo –‘tejón’– belongs to legend rather than history. Legend has it that the only road connecting the two towns was hit by a large rock as a result of heavy rains, blocking traffic. To remove the huge rock, the people from Alfarnate brought metal bars and sticks to be used as levers, whereas those from Alfarnatejo brought picks and spades to dig a hole and force the rock to roll down the hill. The latter method proved to be the more effective, for the rock fell down into the valley, where it still has a place” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).
When to come: Gazpacho Festival: On the first weekend of August, Alfarnatejo celebrates the traditional Gazpacho Festival. Thousands of litres of the cold soup, prepared with locally-grown ingredients, are served and drunk. To liven it up, there’s a flamenco festival too, “Velada Flamenca Pirineos del Sur.”
Useful links: To learn more about Alfarnatejo, visit the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Alfarnatejo Town Hall, and Association for the Promotion of Axarquía.

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