April 2, 2015: Walking Up the Mountain

Today was an up early and take a hike kind of day.   I was up long before Dominica or the girls and so I took the chance to explore town.  I grabbed the Nikon AW100 and my phone and started walking the higher streets in town, those above the Plaza Santa Ana.

It did not take long to discover that we are truly near the top of town already and the majority of town lies below us on the hill rather than above us.  We have previously seen most everything that was higher than us and there were only a few little side streets left for me to discover.

After exhausting the options on the upper side of town I went out to the main street, which has been under heavy construction since before we arrived – the old generic street is being turned into one of these gorgeous new Alpujarran style streets with smooth concrete on either side for the car wheels and an attractive center channel made of large stones cemented together to channel the water down.  Much of town has been redone with these already and the GR7 leading far to the east of town is being built that way as well.  Going up the hill on the main road I could that the road was made with an underlying grid of rebar to make it not slide down the hill.  These are seriously well made roads.  Nothing like this in the US.

I continued up the road until I arrived at the last house in town, an English guesthouse high up on the hill.  From there there was an obvious mule path leading to the west, into the ravine that runs alongside the village, so I took that.  For the first bit the path was solid and “wide” as mule paths go.  It is very obvious that this path is still used, probably my mules as we see them doing this and can always hear them, quite heavily.  It made for a very pleasant walk.

I made it far enough that I discovered the old waterfall, dammed up hundreds or possibly thousands of years ago.  No one knows who changed the water courses in the Alpujarras.  Many assume it was the Moors but it could easily have been the Romans and at that point we are really just guessing.  Also possible, but no one mentions it as it is so unlikely, that it was the Vandals – after whom the region is named.  Al Andalus, in Spanish called Andalucia, is the Moorish world for “Land of the Vandals” as this was a Vandal Kingdom prior to the Moorish invasion.  The dam on the waterfall is what creates the acequia system that feeds water to the farms and the village.  It is amazing how extensive and complex the waterworks are in the region.

I stood in the waterfall itself, the dry bed where the waterfall once fell long ago.  The rocks are still there, as if the river had just been there.   But the riverbed is now a mountainside covered in plants.  But you can tell, if you realize where you are, that a waterfall used to be there and for a very long time.

I walked on a ways until I came to a farm with a farmer out working in his orchard with a goat.  Then I turned around and returned because I wanted to learn more about the waterfall which I could only see from a distance below the dam on the mule path.

I found a farm path going up from the mule path so took that and it wound through some interesting cuts that could easily have been in Hobbiton (in the Lord of the Rings.)  Very scenic with meadows and fields far up the mountain.  I got some great chances to look down on Cáñar from above.  Gorgeous.

I stumbled upon a field that had its fence moved in such a way that I assumed that it had been opened long ago and left that way.  There was a hint of a trail through the grass so I decided that it was open for use – especially as the field was abandoned to the grass and was now just a high meadow.

Walking through that field yielded no results, it was just another field, like many which ancient stone walls holding back the terrace above it.  When I turned around to leave the field I noticed that the change in sunlight direction exposed some really interesting shadows on the stone wall!  Could it really be…. a hidden ladder made of stone!  It was placed directly behind a tree and from the approach there was no way to see it until you looked from the other direction. I even went around to check and it really could not be seen until you went all the way around and saw the shadows that it was casting.  How neat, just like out of a fantasy novel.  The ladder was just small stones sticking out of the ancient wall, no supports on the outside.

Up the ladder led me to a dry meadow with little growing in it.  Exploring that led me, finally, to a vantage point near the waterfall allowing me to see the waterfall and the dam.  I took some video.  It was well worth exploring those fields!

I returned to the farm road and continued climbing it up the mountain.  I could feel the air getting colder and thinner as I climbed.  It was high enough that I was breathing a little heavier, even when resting.  I found some extremely high fields and meadows very, very far up.  I wonder how it works to farm this high up, must be extremely challenging getting equipment up here and food back down.  I can only imagine that much of it is done with mules.

I came upon the water tower for the village which isn’t actually a tower at all, since it is on a mountain.  But this is where the emergency water supply comes from.  There was a small road there that only led to a nearby farm and nowhere else.  Very odd.

There was a large orchard, high on the mountain.  And then I climbed up, scrambled up actually, into some fields and went as high as I could, up to a honey farm – there are many flowers up here on the mountain including poppies growing out of the stone walls.  I was many bumble bees while working my way up the mountain.

That was as high as I could go.  I had to turn around and work my way back down the mountain.  By the time that I was back at the house I had done about three and a half miles of mountain climbing!  A very good morning.  I got a lot of pictures while I was up there.  The views were really spectacular.

Once back home I showered and got to work for the day up on the terraza.  It ended up being a very busy work day and I worked well into the late evening.  A long day, but I was feeling good from my awesome morning walk.  Very glad that I did that.

This evening, as the sun was getting low, we could see big clouds rolling into the Alpujarra Valley off of the Mediterranean to the south.  It was really neat, and I got some pics that kind of show it, because the cloud layer was hundreds of feet beneath us but very high above the villages down in the valley!  So it was more like being in an airplane seeing a cloud layer that you are flying over.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and so Semana Santa is in full swing here in Spain.  This evening was one of the processions through the village.  Dominica and I managed to make it to the window just in time to see them go through the Plaza Santa Ana on their way to the lower parts of town.  Since the church is right beside us, this is where they are starting the procession.

We could hear the procession as they sang, the echoes going through the tiny stone lined streets for some time.  Then, from the terraza as it was now day, we saw them assemble far down at the bottom of town at the little “park” where the GR7 leaves town to the east and then slowly walk east up the GR7 to the miradore (observation deck) that I discovered out there a few days ago.  The candles and singing off in the distance but very clear was really neat.

By this time the clouds had come in and filled the valley.  It was like a sea had rolled in.  It was so beautiful.  The moonlight made it really look like a misty ocean and the villages high on the mountain were just perfect for the clouds to come right up to the base of them so that they looked like little seaside villages on the shore.  The illusion was so good that we couldn’t even figure out where our own village dropped off.  The buildings just below us looked like they were on a shore and you could not picture the precipitous drop that was actually right beyond them.  It was unbelievable.  One of the neatest sights ever.  Órgiva and Los Tablones, normally clear as can be in the valley right below us, were gone completely.  Swallowed by the “sea”.  Even some of the villages high on the mountain were gone. Only those near our height remained.

Tomorrow is our big driving day.  We are getting up on the early side and driving all of the way across Andalucia to Arcos de la Frontera near the coast.  This is one of Rick Steves’ must see locations on his three week whirlwind tour of Spain.  It is the largest of the famous Pueblos Blancos, the “white towns” of the region.  And the title “de la Frontera” means that it was a Christian town before the fall of Granada and earned the title by being on the contested frontier against the Moorish empire of Al Andalus.  Arcos de la Frontera was one of the very first cities of this region to be taken by the Christians and actually stood here as a Christian outpost on the frontier for roughly the same amount of time prior to the fall of Granada in 1492 as the United States has existed!  Now that puts some perspective on the city.  It was Moorish for a long time and Roman before that and Christian now for nearly nine hundred years.  No wonder it has earned the right to retain “de la Frontera”, with a history of being there longer than some of the older, modern empires!

History in this region is so dramatic.  Everything is so old!

Our drive tomorrow is about three and a half hours and this is our first time venturing out with the car from our little area between us and Malaga and a few local villages.  That will be an adventure too.  So by tomorrow night we will have a much better feel for the whole of Andalucia.