Thursday, January 23, 2014
Antequera to Ronda
Antequera has two claims to fame: Stone age burial sites and to be the Spanish town with most churches. The stone age monuments were quite interesting and I was most impressed by the fact that they are now situated right next to a Repsol gas station. I tackled the churches with the help of a guided tour and I soon became the pet guest of the whole tour for asking hundreds of questions. After the tour the tour guide even offered me to give me her phone number in case I had more questions but I fear she was not really serious about it...Maybe I had asked too many questions.
The churches were indeed impressive and I saw dozens of martyrs, different Marys with even more different baby Jesuses and all the statues that are carried around in the Semana Santa (Easter).I was duly impressed but the most interesting experience was visiting the chapel and little museum of Madre Carmen del Niño Jesus. You don't have to know her - I did not either. She was born in Antequera, married the love of her life despite her parents' wishes - and suffered from it. Her husband was a gambler and drunkard but she managed to convert him to a more Christian life before he died. Widowed she founded a new religious order at age 50 and their headquarter is still in Antequera. The order is very small with only about 300 nuns left but they have created this small museum with Madre Carmen's cell and some devotionalia. Apparently interest in her is not that great among tourists as I was the only visitor and got my own private tour by a nun double my age and half my size and weight including plenty of recommendations like "Pray and give to the poor!" Well, you can think about it what you want but I find these encounters more Spanish than visiting the major tourist sites.
Carmen-Thyssen-Bornemisza but in the end I was now itching to go hiking again.
The next day finally brought sunshine again. It was now three days to Ronda, my next stop. Again, I did not need a rest day again so soon, but Ronda is such an important tourist sight that it would be a shame to just hike through. This stretch is not exactly exciting. At least the olive trees are now interspersed with almond trees... Well, it is not that bad. Day one was boring hiking along plantations. Although the sun was out it was freezing cold and I feared I would end up camping under another olive tree. But luck was on my side.
The trail passes through the gorge of El Chorro which is very popular with climbers from all over the world. Although El Chorro is a tiny settlement there are various refugios - all advertising in English. I had camped in an incredibly nice pine forest and had even been able to get some of that olive tree plantation mud off my tarptent. Early next morning the views down to the El Chorro reservoir were fabulous. Unfortunately you have to descend down to the reservoir and then hike up again which sort of screwed up my schedule.
The problem now was that more rain was predicted, actually quite a big downpour over night. I did not want to camp in the mud under olive trees in this weather and hoped for a better camp site. It did not look good first: Olive trees, almond trees and cereal fields, something I had not seen in a long time. Because of all the rain the landscape was actually quite green now. I even saw the first almond trees blossoming. And then, right at the end of the day when I needed it I came across a big reforestation area. Free camper's paradise: Fabulous pine trees on flat terraces with no under growth. I was so sheltered from the trees that I hardly noticed the night's downpour. I had hoped for a short day into Ronda but the hike dragged on and on. There were even 4 km next to very busy road. On the other side I followed an endless fence line complete with barbed wire and warning signs. I first thought it is another hunting reserve or golf course, but it is actually the Ascari race course.
Approaching on the GR 7 Ronda lies behind a mountain and you don´t see it till the very last minute. I thought I would never get there but luckily I had booked a cheap hotel. Ronda is surprisingly busy and like before in Antequera I am not the only one in the hotel (Hotel Arunda II) any more. Ronda has a spectacular setting and of course the famous bridge. And it is full of tourists, even in winter. This picture is taken from Paseo Kazunori Yamauchi. I wondered why such a prominent landmark in Ronda is named after a Japanese. The reason is very modern: Kazunori is a computer game designer and one of his games features the Ronda bridge in a car race... Modern times in Spain...I was a bit underwhelmed by Ronda. Although definitely a nice town the sights were not better than in any other town I have visited on this hike. I don't quite understand why it is so popular.
Ronda has been the last stop before the end. It is now five days to Tarifa and the end of my hike. The weather forecast looks good so far... Cross your fingers for me.