Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Like a protective embrace, Dehesa del Mercadillo Park holds northern Ronda in its arms. A thick pine forest peppered with centuries-old holm oaks, looking at the depression of El Tajo gorge and the majestic mountains of the neighbouring village of Montejaque in the eye, and watching over the roads that lead to Antequera or Seville. Strong Mediterranean scents –of pines, rosemary, and thyme– greet visitors hailing from the north, and the ancient fragrances reach deep and profound Ronda, the city of El Tajo gorge. Silence: just a buzzing insect, a cicada with its fiddle, a dog barking in the distance, a singing bird.

Dehesa del Mercadillo Suburban Park

Far away and long ago, when men had few memories, someone called this place “Dehesa del Mercadillo” after the cattle market in the area. The connection between the park’s location and its use as a marketplace is only natural. The park lies in northern Ronda, just before the entrance to town. Travellers coming from Seville had to cut across it; those hailing from Antequera had to go across too; and the inhabitants of Málaga or Sierra de las Nieves had easy access to it (the latter via El Burgo). Meeting point and crossroads. The park is crisscrossed by multiple cattle roads with picturesque names: Cañada Real de Setenil, Cordel de Ronda a Olvera, Vereda al Molino de la Fuente, Camino del Llano de la Cruz, Cañada Real de Ronda a Jerez y Sevilla. Dehesa del Mercadillo was designated as a Protected Natural Area in 2000. It covers 137.77 hectares.

In the pine forest

I have left my car in the northern area of the suburban park, next to a recreational area and the entrance to the Ronda Reforestation Centre, housing several environmental vehicles, a fire truck, and a helicopter. I am about to go through the pine forest from north to south, treading upon the trails that lead to the depression of El Tajo gorge, the granite wall of Montejaque’s hill (El Hacho) and the chasm known as “El Hundidero.” The toilets, swings and barbecues in the recreational area are quite dilapidated. The holm oaks dominate the scene, reaching high above the slides. A low metal fence separates the recreational area from the pine forest, where cool shades prevail over the early morning sun, which is beginning to warm things up. Silence rules here, broken only by subtle buzzing sounds from insects and fiddle tunes from isolated cicadas. Beyond the fence, if you remain quiet, you may spot a disoriented rabbit or two. The guidebook I have read adds that badgers and foxes are quite common too. The forest in Dehesa del Mercadillo Park abounds in stone pines and Scots pines, but you can come across the twisted trunk of a holm oak here and there –amazing shapes in the air, tops resting on gnarled branches growing horizontally. The forest is dressed in dry shades: ochre, yellow, dark orange, and so on. The area is so quiet that you will not feel you are walking uphill. As I move on, I can smell rosemary and thyme, and see thorny brooms, brooms, rockroses, hawthorns, marjoram. It is the quintessential Mediterranean forest. The area has retained its stockbreeding atmosphere. For one thing, it is crisscrossed by cattle roads. Every year, the Armed Forces, coming from Jerez, bring a bunch of studs to Llano de la Cruz for locals to get their mares mounted and thus improve breed quality. It has been done this way since the nineteenth century. In autumn and spring, the inhabitants of Ronda use the trails to go hiking, mountain biking, or horse riding. I reach the depression.

The Depression of El Tajo Gorge

Leaving a nursery behind, I reach for the upper part of the park. Birds of prey fly over my head with majestic calm; there are several vultures and at least two eagles. The suburban park is home to many local bird species: finches, serins, crossbills, goldfinches, woodpeckers, treecreepers, rock sparrows, hoopoes, green woodpeckers, robins, blackbirds, booted eagles, griffon vultures, and owls. In front of me, the city of Ronda, which seems to be hanging from the walls of El Tajo gorge. I cannot see the town itself, or the New Bridge, but the depression is visible. The fields look like marquetry in yellow and ochre, framed by country roads: tight olive groves and mildly-rolling hills that narrow down as they approach the gorge. The mountain range dominated by El Hacho in Montejaque is also in front of me: El Palo, La Ventana, San Cristóbal, Torrejón, Peñón de las Mures in Sierra de Grazalema Nature Park. I look at the clouds of dust moved by the wind. I can picture the lines of donkeys coming to Ronda from various places, the Arab troops besieging the town, Orson Welles taking a stroll before a bullfighting evening, romantic travellers intoxicated by the fragrance of the pine trees. Suddenly, I hear a screech in the air. There they are: a pair of eagles. One of them turns in the air and sinks at breakneck speed. I lose sight of it. A couple walk past me, holding hands. They are heading for the pine forest, in search of the cool shadow of the trees.


Just a moment. Sitting on a rock with my eyes closed. I can only hear insects crackling. I breathe in the thyme and rosemary aromas. I feel the tall grass with my fingertips. I open my eyes. A huge holm oak stands before me, its roots carving the earth for centuries. It is watching me. It is playing hide-and-seek with the surrounding pines, in a beautiful continuum of green shades.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To find out more about Dehesa del Mercadillo, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. The suburban park is in Ronda.

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

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this Protected Natural Area on the Google map below.

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