Well now, another brilliant and sunny day. We leave the little Hotel Ronda with the smiling sisters and head for the hills again.
I should say a word about these sisters – there were four who once lived in this house with their mom and dad. And now two have taken on the project of converting it into a tiny hotel. Here’s one of them, showing me the gallery of family photos from years gone by.
It’s exciting for me to see these later in life projects take shape and develop into something quite excellent. Investing in an old home and turning it into a guest house has to be an enormous headache, at least at the inception of the project. You can see how proud these families are when things finally take shape and guests walk away with smiles and praise.
Alright. We’re out of the hotel. Like yesterday, we don’t bother with breakfast or lunch. The sisters serve coffee, cookies and fruit, so it’s not really true that we’ve had nothing to eat, but we’ve been rather lax at attending to meals in the first half of the day.
Today as well, we pick up a trail – this time one that starts from the very lovely part of the old town – the San Francisco area.
The official well described circuit for this hike isn’t long – maybe three hours at most. But we want to extend it. We’ve read that the tiny village of Cartajima is just beyond a summit to the southwest and that there are trails to it. So why not keep on going west, scale the mountain and extend our hike?
So long as we’re on the official circuit, we’re fine. It’s a different kind of walk – the vast spaces of yesterday are replaced by, at first, the many many olive groves, followed by craggy hills, covered with wild bush and Spanish pine.
The silver sage makes an appearance again and there are added clumps of wild iris.
It’s all very pretty, but eventually the path narrows and it’s hard to stray from it as the olive groves and forested lands are enclosed. Wire fencing is common here and there’s lots of it.
And then the path we felt sure would lead us to the summit dead ends at a remote farmstead, where one older man is working the fields and a younger one is setting out on a hunt. With a Yorkie.
Ed asks for directions and we get some suggestions from the farmer and even a very helpful set of directions from the young hunter: go back down to the fountain, turn right over the little stream and you’re on your way!
Ed thinks we should turn right ahead of the fountain. I’m doubtful, but I follow along. We go through thickets, past olive groves, up rocky inclines and we are about to give up – surely this isn’t a path at all, just someone’s land... But as I look up the hill, I see a goat thrashing every which way, looking as if she’s butting her head against a fence. As we get closer we see what has happened.
She managed to not once, but twice put her head through the fence and now she is terribly entangled in it. It’s not clear how long she’s been there, head woven through the links, wire choking her at her throat.
Ed says – okay, time to get her out. To calm her is a challenge, but he does it and then, with the utmost patience, pushes her head, horns and all, out one link then the other, being oh so careful, because when she gives the final thrash to free herself, his hand stands to get slashed, right there along with her throat.
One last gentle push of her nose and she’s out! She doesn’t wait to say good bye but saunters madly back into the forest, free, so very free and it just warms your heart to see her unharmed.
And yes, it was a wrong turn. But the goat is off and running thanks to this wrong turn and if that isn’t enough of a reward, we look up and around us and Ed points to this across the hill:
A beautiful ancient aqueduct, almost hidden in the thicket. A breathtaking sight.
But the climb is otherwise a failed effort and so we continue down to the fountain and follow a road to the right from it. And we come to a dead end once more. And we back track again and this time we run into a young woman who appears to live in a house on these hills. Just keep going up, you’re on the right road!
Are we? We go back up. Dead end. There’s a fence, we can go no further.
Ed’s puzzled. She lives here. She must know. He pokes around some and finds a very secondary path. Up we climb, on slippery terrain with rocks jutting out on both sides of what may or may not be a path.
And then another fence stops us short. Ed tries to find a way around it but the thicket is dense. We're stopped short again.
We go down once more to rejoin the main path. Two men and a dog are walking up towards us and they look like they know the land. But we’ve made four attempts to find a way to scale the mountain and by now the afternoon light is getting quite low. Still, we have to ask. Do you know how to cross the mountain to Cartajima?
They do. One tells us – you could do it once. You could find paths up the mountain, but so much of it has been fenced off now that you’re not going to be able to get across. There are trails, but not from anywhere near here.
It’s nearly 4 pm and am happy to give up. Ed refills his water bottle at an ancient artesian spring and encourages me to do the same before the hike back.
How do you know it's safe? I hesitate.
People have been drinking from here a thousand years back.
Yes and they're all dead. Still, I drink it and it is cold and deliciously refreshing
We retrace our steps back to Ronda. There is a Tapas bar in the San Francisco area of town that the sisters highly recommend and I suggest we stop there for a breakfast-lunch meal. The sun is warm and the tables are packed with a lively crowd.I'm in love with the warm sun on my neck.
We order scrambled eggs with asparagus (and shrimp seem always to be added to this), shrimp on a stick and cheese and smoked salmon. A superb meal for a few coins.
Since the light is still with us, I suggest we explore the bridges of Ronda. There are three: the oldest -- sometimes called the Roman Bridge, sometimes the Arab Bridge -- is at the lowest end of the ravine.
Next and somewhat higher up is the so called “old bridge.”
Climbing to the old bridge, you can see the ravine up close and in your face. And, too, as you cross to the other side, you have before you the highest, mightiest, most impossibly steep “new bridge” (from the 18th century).
Hemingway referred to this bridge it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. People lost their lives in building it and in being thrown from it. And truthfully, it is sort of frightening to be on it, looking down toward the ravine. (Ed would not agree with this at all. Oh and by the way, here, by the bridge, he finally finds a cat that does not run away from him.)
And now we’ve paid our respects to the gorge and the bridges. We’re satiated with the wonderful Ronda foods, we’ve hiked the hills to the west and to the east. The sisters took good care of us at their little hotel in the old town. Down to the treats left in our room at the end of the day. A fine set of days indeed.
So, just one more meal – a small pizza to share, nothing more complicated than that. A wonderful pizza from a brick oven, with a local Vino Blanco.
The moon shines over Ronda, beautifully, dreamily.
Early Monday morning we leave, on a train, continuing on the same line that started in Granada, following it to its end on the coast. And from there, we’ll take the bus to Tarifa.