Monday, 16 May 2011

From time immemorial. This moving, ductile, capricious strip of sand went all along the horizon from Punta Ladrones in Cabopino to San Pedro Alcántara. Deceivingly silent yet a living being lapping at the paws of the sea and climbing up the mountains. Carved by the whims of the wind, chiselled by the slight erosion of the Mediterranean, shaped and reshaped by the breeze blowing from the sea. Junipers swallowed up by the sand emerging here and there, stone pines lowering their branches to stuck their branches on the ground. From time immemorial. When the Barbary corsairs still plundered the coastline and the Mediterranean dwellers hid behind the mountainous fence. A trace of the raids and the pillage: Torre de los Ladrones, a magnificent tower, the highest along the Málaga coastline. Then there came the waves of tourists, who had other pleasures and needs, and the huge dune shrank to its current 192,715 square metres. Punta Ladrones and Río Real are its milestones today, the posts between which the dune moves, silky and alive. The Dunes of Artola-Cabopino were designated as a Protected Natural Area and a Natural Monument by the Andalusian Government in 2003. It is still a wild, indomitable area. I walk around. I bury my feet in this patch of land where the Mediterranean essence breathes: the sand warmed up by the early sun, the soundtrack of the beating waves and singing birds, the cicadas coming to life in the early day. I walk around and I enter the labyrinth of the Artola Dunes.

Torre Ladrones

This is the starting point of my trip, under the shadow cast by the Tower westwards. It seems to be telling me which way to go. There is no fixed route in the dunes, for they are a maze of open paths in the bushes. The paths change every summer, every spring, they appear and then vanish, shaped by the wind. Some run from East to West and others do so from North to South, from the pine forest hiding the main dirt road to the sea. In the summer you can see the tourists swaying as they tread upon the ancient sand, carrying their caps and balls and coolers and umbrellas like “rarae aves” that can find no place in heaven. I look up: Torre Ladrones. Imposing. A 15m block looking down at me. The highest tower along the Málaga coastline. It used to be part of the defence system designed by the Catholic Monarchs after they seized Granada with the aim of defending the coast from the ravages of Barbary corsairs and Turkish ships. The Tower was named after the term “ladronera” –a defensive device consisting of a projection in the upper part where you could watch or harass the attackers. Torre Ladrones was built in 1497. It is a beacon tower or “almenara,” from Arabic “almanara,” a word that means lighthouse, after a signal system used for communication between towers, consisting of lighting fires at the top.

The Dunes

I am in. A three-colour flag flutters against the horizon: water, sea, and plants. Green, blue, and steel grey. The soundtrack of the soft beating waves, the singing birds, and the meandering reptiles in the bushes sets the slow pace of the Dunes, which seem to have a life of their own. The perfumes of the coastline, where heat acts as a sieve for the sand and the salt. I did my homework before coming, taking notes of the flowers and animals I could find in the area. It pays off, for I soon spot a Silene littorea, splashing the place with lilac shades in relatively large bunches or in individual flowers that look like shipwrecks against the green background. Empty shell pieces on the ground, pearly, on their way to become sand –childhood treasures, since most kids love to pick them. Multi-colour plant combinations, white sand lilies standing in sharp contrast to everything else. As you walk away from the coastline into the most distant paths, the vegetation becomes thicker, growing under the protection of the sand bar. Mastic trees and pines shake hands to create a dense net protecting the area from the wind that blows from the sea. The stone pines brush the ground with their branches, their trunks protected with a veil of moving sand and their roots buried in the volatile earth, stretching like nerves and emerging in this or that spot like lonely, twisted, sinewy wires only to vanish a few steps ahead. The pines make real caves, which you can access through narrow passageways. The caves are natural shelters where the dunes can breathe and the plants can rest. Even birds find them useful when they are looking for a place to nest. The most beaten paths, naked, lead to the beach and the sea; they flow into the Mediterranean as if in desperate search for blueness. The atmosphere in the Dunes is dense and intense, heavy, exuberant, laden with ancient aromas. No wonder you find it quite oppressive: plants camouflaging in natural colours and the bright strokes of ocean blue in between. Twisted junipers carved by capricious winds and trying to protect themselves by taking impossible shapes, their cups touching the ground. The landscape is hybrid and ever-changing. Pines, junipers, and mastic trees join forces to create a solid background where you do not know where one tree ends and the next begins. The Artola Dunes are a kaleidoscope where colours and contrasts play their game. Looking down, I can see the tracks of the elusive birds. I can hear them, too. But they do not show. Only up there, trapeze artists in the bright blue sky. I can see their delicate footprints on the sand –perfect geometric designs, as if shaped by man and not by Nature. Two or three triangles. A zigzagging line. Silver seagulls, blackbirds, hoopoes, little owls, kestrels, Kentish plovers… They all escape the lens of my camera. I can hear them move, sing, flap their wings behind a bush, as if they were ghosts that would not be fooled by my stealthy moves. Their tracks are the only proof of their existence. The Dunes change. They move. They morph. They die and are reborn. The green vegetation covers the yellow body of Hercules, sandy and fragile, subtle yet strong, that beats inside. The salty breeze from the sea shakes the surface. Lizards loaf around on the sun. Beetles prowl around like moving black diamonds. The beach grass and the sand couch grass rock to the rhythm of the breeze, their thin stalks carrying the burden of the moving sand. The perfumes of the Dunes are deeply Mediterranean. They link the area to the essence of the land. They stick to the skin of beachgoers, guests at beach bars, or tourists looking for a different beach. For better conservation and friendlier access by visitors, the Ministry of the Environment is working on a project to enclose the area, add wooden walkways, do away with the central path leading into the Dunes, and relocating the only bar that is still inside the natural monument.


I breathe in the fragrance of the pines, warm sand, and flowers. I listen to the singing birds and the barking dogs in the distance. I can feel the caressing rays of the sun on my skin. I stare at the sea in front of me, morning passers-by along the shore, getting their feet wet. A seagull plunges into the water. I sit down on the bushes and get pricked by Sea holly, a prickly plant full of sharp thorns. It was the only species I had not seen.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To read more about the Artola-Cabopino Dunes, go to the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. For more information on the town where the Dunes are located, check the Blue Colour of the Sky entry for Marbella.

Images: Here you can see all the photos of this blog entry.

Geolocation: Find the exact geographical location of this natural area, between Río Real and Cabopino in Marbella, on the Google map below.

Ver El Color Azul del Cielo "Espacios Naturales de Málaga" en un mapa más grande