Ronda

Ronda

Apparently the Spanish government is planning on developing the area around Ronda.

I first went to Ronda many years ago when the place was supposedly riddled with bandits. Whenever I got on a bus it would stubbornly sit in the yard for ages waiting for what was pompously called the army detachment. This usually consisted of two seventeen year old conscripts looking scruffy and bewildered, and nervously fingering rifles. Luckily they pointed the guns at the roof of the bus otherwise I think most of the passengers would have got off, preferring to walk home.

I never encountered any of these bandits either while walking the roads, or travelling by rickety bus.

Occasionally I would be met by peasants along the dusty tracks and invited back to their homes. Way out in the campo people lived in caves. These were not hollowed out of rock, but simply dug into the side of a low hill, or even set inside a small bank by the side of a dried up water course.

When I went wandering around this area twenty years ago I noted that no-one lived in any of these caves any more. Instead they had been turned into places for growing mushrooms.

I never found Ronda particularly attractive. Sure, I walked across the bridge and looked down into the gorge, but so what? I also remember an interesting day out with a couple of sisters who lived in a dusty concrete box on the edge of town. And a terribly hot day spent looking for a doctor because my travelling companion was ill. Usually I was glad to get out of town.

Nowadays the government is putting in a motorway up from the coast. At the moment the road winds through a sturdy mountain range, and the journey is a trifle jerky. On the other hand, what is the problem here? Does one really need a motorway to get to Ronda?

In one of the valleys is the tiny village of Jorox where I stopped to film the Molino del Rey, which is for sale on the Unique Property site. Do have a look.

I suppose I might as well drop in a plug here, and mention that I do movies of homes for sale, for a price of course, so if you have somewhere unusual to sell and think a movie might make your ad stand out from the crowd, do talk to me.

There’s a comfortable eatery on the Ronda bypass where I had a nice meal of pork in tomato sauce, chicken livers, and potato salad with small snippets of onion and a hint of tuna, with some fried aubergine in honey to finish.

This fried aubergine and honey is on several of the menus these days. I thoroughly recommend it.

Not much partridge on the menus though, despite the fact that the birds are everywhere. There were several scurrying up the track by my hotel in the misty morning. It had been raining, and was very chilly. Southern Spain this spring has not been a congenial place to be. But the tart morning air was refreshing as we had breakfast in the courtyard with the sound of the gamelan of cows down the valley, while in the distance on the slopes of the mountain we could hear the sheep bleat and the new lambs plaintively cry.

The river was dry despite the rain, but the bushes were full of frogs chirruping merrily.

Ronda may be a dusty dump but the surrounding countryside is lovely. However, I was en route for Valencia, so, after breakfast, we headed north.
john

Gypsy Stew

Algeciras bay is seriously built up these days with a massive petroleum complex right in the middle of the crescent. This is a bone of contention in the area as it is alleged the spillage of petroleum is affecting the marine life, which of course includes the dolphins that have fun in the waves across the straits.

Getting out of Gibraltar is a bit of a hassle, and there is a long tailback of vehicles. There is a fierce customs routine at this border as taxes are low in Gib, and there is a constant stream of Spaniards going into Gib to take advantage of the cheap prices of petrol and cigarettes, and so on. You can exit with only one packet of cigarettes and one box of tobacco. Anything over that limit and you get a hefty bill.

Let’s assume you make it unscathed, so it’s away into the industrial complex, down the motorway, and then take a right up into the hills. There’s a nice country road going up to the village of Almoraima. The valley is pleasant with a meandering river, a railway line, the nice new road, and relative peace and quiet after the bustle of the bay. Just before the village is a roundabout, and just before that, on the left, is a secluded hostelry serving excellent tapas, full meals and excellent wine. It’s just the place for a very pleasant lunch break.

Just to the north is a large reservoir which, depending on the rain, reaches right up to the main road. On the right as you go north are a couple of cortijos, or large country estates, with a few bulls which are bred for the corrida.

Further north we come into the area famous for its white towns. It seems as tho every hill which boasts a steep escarpment sports a white crown of houses, and remnants of a castle. And more often than not the town names include ‘de la frontera’, showing how much the line between Muslims and Christians changed backwards and forwards in the middle ages. Some of these towns changed hands half a dozen times over a period of 150 years.

The river sweeps round to the left of the town, we head round to the right, and back up towards Ubrique and El Bosque. They are charming little towns, with the locals sitting at tables under the trees with a coffee or a vaso de vino.

We are now quite high, and there are more reservoirs, the occasional monastery, and more cortijos. This isn’t just bull country, it is also one of the main grain producing regions of Spain, and a premier cattle-rearing area.

The town of Utrera is clustered around the 14th century castle, which overlooks the surrounding valleys, with distant views of some of the big peaks the other side of Ronda.

Once again I seem to hit the town at the wrong time. The time to visit is during the Potaje Gitano on the last saturday in June. Gypsy Stew? Oh well, it makes a change from calling a festival after some long departed saint. It is a festival of song, and was established by the local gypsies in 1957.

Have a look at this page on the web (http://www.potajegitano.com/videos.html), and click on the entries to the left of the page for video selections. Farruquito is pretty hot; a splendid vocal, and a fun bit of stamping and clapping. Hmmm, I think I need to get down there for the festival. I’ve been missing out on a few things.

If there are any of you out there who want to take this a bit further have a look at this page, (http://www.hermandadgitanosdeutrera.com/) which is dedicated to The Brotherhood of the Gypsies of Utrera. You can even keep up to date by following their blog (links on the site). I may well try and go down there for easter, it seems just the place to be.

john

Gibraltar

When I first came to Gibraltar back in the sixties we nearly didn’t get in as we had almost no money. We were on our way back from a trip around Morocco, and I was still at school. Eventually we managed to blag our way in, and made our way to one of the great watering holes of the western world, Smokey Joe’s.

The building is still there, up a dingy side street right at the northern end of Main Street. There is a bright modern bar on the corner run by a charming English lady, while Smokey Joe’s is now a depository.

In the old days it was the place to eat for down-and-outs like us bums from the UK, and a must-visit joint for the US Fleet. I remember standing outside a firmly shut front door one day, looking puzzled. An American sailer came up, stared dumbfoundedly at the shut door and roundly declared, “What’s this? Smokey Joe is closed. Man, that’s unconstitutional.” And so it was.

It was like some greasy spoon on the Euston Rd where you could get an old fashioned English breakfast. Beans were heated up on a gas ring in their tin, and then tipped onto the plate. Bacon was crisp-fried, and the eggs were done properly by turning them over. The place was usually stacked to the rafters and the noise was sheer bedlam. Now the whole area is deathly quiet.

— To read about my first visit way back in the sixties, and the ridiculous shinnannigins that took place in the public lavatory, you need to read the relevant chapter of my book on Spain:
http://www.property.org.uk/spain/books/035.html

The port area has been reduced almost in tandem with Algeciras’s increase in size. Most of the port area is now covered with high rise apartments. There used to be a cricket ground beyond the casemates. It was a concrete yard like a parade ground. That too is now devoted to high-rise.

Main Street is now traffic free, and is lined with cafes, shops, English building societies, and about half a dozen branches of NatWest.

Parking is a nightmare, and sensible people will park over the border and walk across the airport runway, which sticks into the sea on each side of the causeway.

Before the coming of the new airport the area used to be a race course. I assume they must have kept the horses in Spain because there really cant have been room on the rock, and anyway, there couldn’t possibly have been any grass for them to eat

Luckily we managed to find a single parking space. That’s twice we’ve been lucky recently, but I dont think I’ll trust to luck next time. The whole town cant be more than two miles long, so walking is not a problem if you’re reasonably fit.

There’s a nice ambience about Gibraltar. It’s a bit claustrophobic, but gently so. If you can find a pad to live in I guess life can be very easy. Prices are cheap. Petrol was less than £1 a litre. Cigarettes and booze are cheap. Wine is cheap, and most things are taxed much less here than anywhere else in Europe. Getting anywhere in town is a matter of a ten minute walk. There is Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, and various old fashioned supermarkets. Walk into Main Street, do your shopping, stop at a street cafe, have a drink, have a chat, stroll home. It’s all very cosy. The official language is English. They even have the Friday Ad delivered every friday. And their EU representation is listed as South-West England, which must annoy them somewhat.

I’m getting to quite like the place. And if you want a change, there is the Costa del Sol just over the border, or the mountains of Southern Spain and the quaint white towns capping the hilltops. And just a short boat ride away in the opposite direction is the strange spell that is Africa.

Hmmm. The more I think about it, the more I fancy a pad just behind Main Street.

John

Algeciras

I can never get from one side of Jerez to the other. It’s possible, but I never manage it in less than three heart attacks. There are no signs to Algeciras, and the road disappears into housing estates, and after ten minutes of going round in circles and doing three-point turns I am beginning to get that usual Jerez feeling. I do the only sensible thing, and turn south via Cadiz.

It’s all so different from when I first used to walk around these shores. The small arab town of Tarifa has been totally destroyed by frightful buildings all around the old walled town.

It used to be a compact town set inside high stone walls, with a small port area facing Africa. The buildings were typically Moorish, with big wooden doors, often highly decorated, and lots of iron grills at the bottom of stairwells and across the windows. There used to be a few crummy bars with no lighting, and very little to eat, but they all served fino sherry and manzanilla, and every so often a few of the clients would burst into a clapping sequence, with a few vocal outbursts. It was as if you couldn’t have a proper conversation without bubbling over into music. These guys weren’t singing songs, they were simply talking to each other.

One of the other oddities about the place was the fact that in the old days you would find women in the bars. Outside the province of Cadiz that was unknown. Here it was perfectly normal, but the women followed the Arab custom of covering their hair with a shawl.

Now there are young women everywhere wearing the latest fashion, which seems to be short tight shorts worn over black tights.

This is the windy coast, famous now for the surfing which is big business all along this windy gully between Europe and Africa. It is also a centre for ecological energy collection with a massive wind farm straddling a very wide valley, with more wind turbines than I have ever seen in one place. There are literally hundreds of them spread out over an area of about thirty square miles. As you climb up to the range of mountains that shield Algeciras from the wet west winds there are more turbines set on crags and in gullies to catch the wind and produce some serious power.

How things have changed on the bay. When I first trekked around the crescent there was nothing between San Roque and Algeciras. And each town was tiny. I remember standing on the beach midway between the two one evening as we prepared to camp. Gibraltar was lit up like a christmas tree. Algeciras was largely in the dark. There were no street lights, no lights showing from the houses, and just one short string of street lights running the length of the quay, which was merely a hundred yards or so from end to end. And the railway line ran right down to the quay.

Now the port area has grown beyond all recognition with a massive reclamation scheme taking it into the bay, and it’s lit up, while Gibraltar seems positively dull in the distance without the American fleet anchored off-shore.

The restaurant immediately below our hotel is all Moroccan. The waiter barely speaks any Spanish. The customers are all arab, and the cuisine consists of tajines and couscous, with sticky sweets as well.

If you want to hop across to Africa the price is extortionate. Expect to pay sixty euros for a single passenger-only ticket across the six mile stretch of water. It will cost well over £200 for a car and two persons. Someone is cleaning up.

Jerez

Jerez is a great place to be if you live in the centre and only walk the odd few steps to an ambient bar selling top quality manzanilla. You should get a dusky senorita to do the shopping, and if you want to go anywhere, get her brother to come round with the pony and trap, put on your best Cordobes hat, a clean white shirt and a smart tight jacket, and go off in style.

I visit the bodega of the small Hidalgo. I top up with their rather fine sherry. There is no shop just a large office with a couple of ancient typewriters, a couple of modern computers, a grandfather clock, and various assorted bric-a-brac. It looks like a slightly modern version of a Dickensian office.

Their top of the range sherry costs a cool two hundred euros. I dont think I can afford to even try it. I satisfy myself with half a dozen bottles of La Banesa, which sells for a much more friendly price.

Jerez is a strange town. It has so many different barrios, or villages. There are the various bodegas, with long windowless walls fronting a street. The whole block is taken up with what looks like some monastery building with apparently no way in. Other barrios contain tiny squares with a few trees squeezed into the concrete, and jagged apartments jutting here and there.

There is the cathedral with its massive steps, framed by more buildings and advertising hoardings devoted to serious alcohol.

But there are the endless one-way streets leading round and round to nowhere.

I get out of the car and walk across the road. A gentleman comes down the highway in his rather nice carriage, with a splendid horse in front. He is seated on the front bench, dressed in black and white. He is wearing a Cordobes. He looks very distinguished. That’s the way to travel.

I walk down a couple of steps into a small bar order a fino and some manzanilla olives, and prepare to enjoy the next half hour.

I do love Jerez (at least, when I’m not driving a car).