Friday, 19 August 2011

They are invisible. You need to look for them and find them, get to them, to their apparent silence and their glittering water. You need to go beyond the olives and holm oaks surrounding them and tread on the brownish earth leading to them. They are invisible and they are not easily accessible, but there they are, waiting for you, a promise of bright blue shades in the midst of ancient wild olives. Twin lakes in two sizes, Grande and Chica, slipping through your fingers. Two invisible lakes revealing their secrets only to the bold or the chosen ones. There they are, 760 and 823 metres above sea level, surrounded by strong hills peppered with olive trees. You can almost touch them, but you will have to be content with seeing them. The sun shimmering in them, a bird flying over your head and perching on the water. I hear dogs barking and hunters shooting in the distance.

Lagunas de Archidona Nature Reserve

Their invisibility is their blessing and their curse too. The lakes of Archidona cannot be seen from any major road. The A-92 highway, connecting Málaga with Granada, runs at about 1km from them, but you can barely hear the noise of vehicles riding along. Furthermore, they are private property, which means access must be authorised by the environmental authorities or the owners of the land. However, you can get to the shore and watch the landscape surrounding them: the water sheets, the holm oaks covering the slopes of Sierra de Gibalto, Sierra de San Jorge, and Sierra Gorda. The peripheral protection area covers 187ha and it can be freely accessed so, even if you cannot get to the lakes themselves (which together cover 7ha), you can walk around in the area. This protection measure has resulted in the abundance of all kinds of animal species, which meet visitors as they make their way around the lakes. The Archidona Lakes were named a Nature Reserve in 1989, but they are quite different from other lake reserves. First of all, they are surrounded by hills that hide them from view and so they seem to be sunk. Secondly, they are high above sea level. But enough of preliminary talk; let us get in.

The Tour

Exiting the A-92 at the Salinas detour, in the direction of Fuente Camacho, you drive into an asphalt lane where you can leave your car after you see the sign reading “Reserva Natural Lagunas de Archidona, 1km.” I park my car and get out to step into an uneven forest trail, perfect for a walk. I can feel the hug of olives as I leave the noisy highway behind –a dull, fading sound. The soundtrack changes: I can hear the first birds singing, the vibrant buzz of a cicada, a rodent gnawing at the bushes. I walk amidst the olives and the holm oaks, silent, in the hope of spotting an animal or two. But soon I realise that it is not necessary to be so quiet. Rabbits and hares jump here and there before me, and it is they who surprise me. I can see their white tails, their scurrying in the fields… According to what I read about this area, other mammals live here: hedgehogs, foxes, least weasels, common genets, European badgers… But I’m not that lucky this time. The olive trees punctuating my itinerary show their fruits, green or black and thin-fleshed –the Mediterranean essence at its purest. Our olive oil comes from here: the golden liquid making local flavours taste stronger. Do not try to eat one of these olives: they are so bitter! No signs of the lakes yet; it was true they were hidden from view. The lane goes up and down. The earth beneath my feet reveals small, star-shaped traces. Reptiles are common in the area; you may come across a Montpellier snake, a ladder snake, an ocellated lizard, a gecko, or a blind snake. There is no-one to be seen in the area. Just a dilapidated cortijo on the right and crop fields are the only signs of human presence. In the distance, shooting and barking. I walk on until I stumble upon two signs that indicate the lakes are private property. But there is no fence or anything. 10m ahead on the right-hand side, I spot the signs of human presence. Two white fences warn you, “Propiedad privada. Prohibido el paso. Do not enter.” A huge board and two traffic signs reinforce the idea. But the reserve’s sign is also there, so I come closer to read it. The lake opens up before me, sheltered by the nearby hills, which are covered in olive trees and holm oaks. Their invisibility is the key to their beauty: apparently calm water only rocked by a mild breeze. I focus my telephoto lens in an attempt to spot some water bird and there they are, swimming calmly in the distance: little grebes, black-necked grebes, great crested grebes, herons, mallards, Northern shovellers, red-crested pochards, Eurasian wigeons, common moorhens, Eurasian coots, little ringed plovers, Kentish plovers. The Grande Lake is 6 to 10m deep; in 1997, it was observed to be 13m deep. The Archidona Lakes are inner lakes fed by an aquifer that contributes water even on the driest summer days. More shooting: this time it sounds closer. I take a break, sitting on a rock facing Laguna Grande. I take a look at the setting: the thirsty olives, the holm oaks in the northern shore, the thick bushes. I go back to my travel guide, which tells me that in the bottom of the lake there live fish like barbels or mosquitofish (a surprising fact), and amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, common toads, natterjack toads, viperine water snakes, or even turtles (not so surprising). I take a couple of pictures and move on. The same trail gets to Cortijo de Las Lagunas, which affords spectacular views of the sierras and the oak grove surrounding the lakes. I take a look at the plants. More “Do not trespass” signs. One across the trail blocks access to Laguna Chica, which is only 0.5km away. What shall I do? Walk ahead or return to Laguna Grande? I do not want to be reckless, and the shooting and barking is now closer than ever, so I decided to return to the other lake. Secrecy is the key to the lakes’ beauty. The fact that only authorised visitors can go beyond the limits is the key to their conservation. The views of the Grande Lake form the hill are beautiful enough to make the tour worthwhile. The silence, the olives and the oaks, the singing birds… As I walk back to the starting point, I come across two cyclists. Their faces show signs of physical effort. No wonder: the trail contains some uphill stretches that must be difficult to negotiate on two wheels. They smile at me; I warn them about the road block; they say they will get as far as they can. Then they get lost amidst the olive trees. I can feel the lake at my back. In two more steps, it will vanish by sleight of hand. Oops: it is no longer there.


The light reflected in the water is still in my eyes, sparkling in my retinas with an iridescent tarnish. I think about the past, about how men related to lakes, about crops reaching their shore and pleading for something to quench their thirst with. I think about the dual nature of man: exploitation and conversation of nature. Together with Fuente de Piedra, La Ratosa, and Campillos, the lakes in Archidona make a large and valuable complex, essential to life in Málaga and Andalusia. Each of them has a nature of its own, they are all very different, but they share the reflection of the bright blue sky in their sweet and salty water. Here, on the hill, I can feel I am one with nature; I am part of something bigger. I touch the earth, I listen to the birds, I feel the harsh and intense smells of the summer, I watch the lake. And the lake is watching me.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To find out more about the Archidona Lakes, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window into Natural Areas. Also, the Archidona Town website contains all the information you need to plan your trip to the lakes.

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

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this Nature Reserve on the Google map below.

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