Sunday, 14 February 2010

An unexpected, welcome break in the gloom

written 13th february

After several k's of hair-raising corners made slippery in the wet, we stopped for the night on the outskirts of San Pablo de Buceite before continuing on this morning at least in the dry, if not in the clear.

We have a feeling that this was a pretty epic drive, with lovely twisty roads clinging to the sides of the mountains - over two passes, one 780m and one 1,000m so we are way up high again! - littered with miradors and breathtaking views over far down and distant valleys,

but unfortunately we could mostly see cloud, with occasional hints at what was there though small breaks

and pictures at miradors.

Shame but can't be helped - although I have a feeling it is actually no bad thing or we would have been stopping every five minutes for pictures and would have got nowhere! - you'll have to do this one for us Bill!

Anyway, feet up and onwards.

Ronda had first been recommended to us by Wayne back in San Sebastian and has since been mentioned by everyone we have met in southern spain but, having not yet fished the lp out, we couldn't remember why, and one first sight, across a flat plain, nestling between the mountains, we were none the wiser.  Even driving into the town didn't help - it certainly wasn't a walled city! - but we parked up anyway, and headed tourist office-wards.  Unfortunately, due to our coffee and sticky bun break, we had just missed it but for once, it had a map in the window and a list of sights and monuments - I have been thinking this for a long time, it is a fundamental basic thing that all tourists want when they arrive in a town, and so few tourist offices actually provide this out of hours - why not???? - anyway, it highlighted gorges, view points, grand bridges, muslim steps down into the depths, bandit museums, muslim baths and loads more - sounds like our sort of place! 

A few steps away, we found the bullring - again €6 so unvisited but apparently the home of modern bullfighting and the favourite of Ernest Hemmingway no less -

and our first viewpoint, an iron-railed ledge over a sheer cliff face drop to the river below - wow!

It turns out that Ronda is another of the most ancient cities in Spain, having been Arunda to the celts, Acinipo to the Romans and Izn-Rand Onda to the Moors.  The city slopes up from the plains to the north to the sheer cliff face of the gorge towering 120m above the plains to the south.  The river Guadalevin cuts stright through the middle between the old town and the new town and is crossed by bridges in three places, the Puenta Romana from moorish times  and the 17th century Puenta Viejo to the north and the iconic Puenta Nuevo built in 1751 at the highest point of the gorge, and which was once used for dispatching prisoners over the edge.

The second tourist office was open - and very aplogetic about the rain, lowering cloud gloom and lack of views - so we armed oursleves with maps, leaflets and free english newspapers for future consumption, and headed out once more.  Being british - despite not wearing cagools and unaccountably having left the umbrellas in the van - we were of course determined not to let a spot of rain spoil our enjoyment of the place so set off undaunted over the bridge to the next viewpoint, where we bumped into Tim and Pauline doing the same.  Originally from Coventry, but latterly Canada, they were on a two week trip to southern spain and Ronda was somewhere Tim had always wanted to come so had made the trip from Marbella specially - just a shame they didn't do it two years ago when they were last in spain and it was sunny!  It's always nice to hear a familiar accent so we stood out of the rain for a bit of a chat about holidays, family and the like and discovered that Tim has always wanted to travel Europe for a year in campervan - so the rest of this blog will have the specific mission of convincing Pauline that the grandchildren can manage without her for a year so Tim can have his dream - family can always visit!!  (unless they demand too much advance notice of future locations of course... ;) )

After a very pleasant few minutes, we looked out from our sheltered spot and suddenly found that it had stopped raining, and the clouds had lifted, so we got our bridge view after all.

From this:

to this:

Fine company and the sights - its good to talk!

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, we bid them farewell and headed off to the Muslim steps which wend their way 100m down the side of the gorge for the iconic bridge view.  And on the way down we met Eric and Brian, two proper yorkshire lads who have left their busy wives behind with the grandkids and set off on a two-month adventure through france, spain and portugal in Brian's "little" transit-sized van (it's all relative :) ).

Will and Brian immediately hit it off as Brian studied electronic engineering at Birmingham before joining the RAF as a navigator - he used to fly in and out of Gibraltar in the 60's so could tell us all about the perils of landing planes on that little runway - and then moving over to design tornados - designing tornados!  how cool is that!?! - whilst Eric and I put the world to rights on matters of jobs, families, travel and other such topics.

They are pretty much doing the trip we have so far done in reverse, so we got on to recommendations and places to go before deciding that it looked like rain again and wouldn't this be better done in a nice warm cafe - Brian's packed itineraries don't allow poor Eric much time for coffee stops so he was definitely pleased to have bumped into us at this juncture! - and several happy hours were passed swapping stories, recommendations and scribbled maps on cafe napkins.  We now have a plan for the last part of our trip - north norway coast and a complete route map of scotland, thanks to Brian and his danish wife Ulla who seem to regularly take in random itinerant travellers and bestow the benefit of their considerable local knowledge upon them - Will has tips on how to use his new fishing rod(!) and Brian and Eric will be setting off to Portugal - possibly now by way of Gib, which it seems had changed immeasurably since Brian was last there "what, there is a cable car??" - with a new list of places to park and things to see.  We have also found out that if you are a sherry lover, Jerez de la Frontera, and especially Sanlucar de Barremeda where they make a particular type beginning with M (name escapes me, apparently good with fish), near Cadiz are the places to go - fortunately we're port people, not sherry people so haven't really missed out, but some of you guys might like to know this for future reference... :)  And suddenly we realised it was pushing 7pm - 3h is the absolute longest we have so far spun out a single cup of coffee but doesn't time fly when you are having fun!

We wandered the rest of the old town in the fading light - and very nice it was too - before stocking up with food from Mercadona (we have found a spanish supermarket which sells fresh milk at last, hurrah!) and setting off once more.  We didn't do any of the museums in the end - too busy chatting! - but don't feel we missed out as they were only diversions from the rain but we would definately come back to Ronda, if only for the views and lovely roads!

Next stop on the map is a lake circled by Wayne as being good for free camping and the road to El Burgo, the first town en route, took us though the Sierra de las Nieves national park.  Again, another epic road somewhat lost on us through lack of visibility - dark this time though, not wet at least - and we pulled into El Burgo thinking we would stop for the night and appreciate the roads in the morning.  The first likely looking place was too close for comfort to some lads kicking around in the bus stop so we moved on.  We were just considering our options when an unlikely small truck with two english guys in it pulled up to see if we were lost and suggested we try the industrial estate.  We found it but it was full of semi derelict warehouses, no lights and some sort of wolf/dog/fox cross creatures and was all in all just too creepy so we decided against.  We found a spot back in town and cooked dinner but we just had this bad feeling about the place and were already considering whether we really wanted to stop when we heard some rowdy kids in the street and then a crack as something hit the windscreen.  Fortunately it must have been just a small pebble so no damage done and no further projectiles launched but discretion is the better part of valour, so we decided to forgo the possibility of nice driving road in daylight and made a sharp exit.  Next time we have a bad feeling about somewhere, we will just go with it.  Ho hum, there will be other days and other roads no doubt.

The road was pretty cool - as far as we could tell! - and fortunately had nice bright white lines to tell us where the edges were in the dark - bit like tracks on a roller coaster! - and we found the lake and the El Chorro damn and a nice quite parking spot where all we could hear were the owls hooting.  A bit eerie but definately better than the calls of feral yoofs in the wild...

So here we are, tucked up nice and safe - we think - with the prospect of flamingos tomorrow - we hope.  If they are not playing spanish guitars, stamping their feet and wearing frilly dresses, I shall be extremely disappointed... ;)

night night


Baggins and scooper:  thank you  :) - subject closed

Dave:  under duress, and only allowed because I too have bad hair...  I think there is no hope :)

1 comment:

  1. You both lok very well. If you think that's bad hair you should see mine!

    Gib. Rock sounds good and 50p would suit my budget.

    Bloody weather!