Thursday, October 11, 2012


Ronda started out on my itinerary as a picture of a nameless bridge across a deep gorge. But so striking was the image that I simply had to find out where it was from. And it delighted me no end to learn that it was a pretty town in the hills, no more than a couple of hours from Cordoba and Seville; and furthermore that folks like Hemingway and Orson Welles were one-time residents of it.

It was raining in Cordoba during my stay there and the bad weather continued in to Ronda. But it did mean that the train ride up into the hills was one for the ages. The train would often trundle into the clouds, and peaks and gorges would appear out of nowhere with a parting of the veil. It was also fun to watch windmills up on the hills playing hide-and-seek in the clouds. It's an enormously pretty sight, a windmill emerging from a cloud...

There are three bridges in Ronda, and they separate the new town from the old Islamic town. Most of the tourist accommodation and also the train and bus stations are in the new town, but the old town is the one that catches the eye most. Even further beyond, outside the walls of the old town, is the neighbourhood of San Francisco, the site of two other legendary bridges - James Stewart jumped from the foot of one to rescue Kim Novak in Vertigo, and the other one bears a plaque commemorating the spot where <SPOILER ALERT> Brigid O'Shaughnessy shot Sam Spade's partner Miles Archer.</SPOILER ALERT> Or maybe that happened on another continent.

Anyway, the bridge, Puente Nuevo,  is not as new as the name suggests - construction finished in 1793, 42 years after it began. Ronda is a beautiful town, but even if it were a desert wasteland, this bridge and the gorge across which it is built would be worth a visit. I won't try to describe it. I braved my cellphone in the rain precisely to avoid these kind of descriptions.

Apart from the rain, it was windy, too, and the temperature hovered somewhere around 10 degrees for a lot of the time. But I had only two days and so had no chance to wait for good weather. I was determined to do a bit of walking, even if it meant braving the rain and the cold - it was nice to be in the hills and away from the cities. If there's two things I could change about this trip, they're that, first, I would ensure that I spend at least 3 days in a place, no matter how small it is, and second, I would alternate cities with the countryside. Visiting cities tend to be very tiring, what with all the museums and "must-visit" monuments and everything, and Madrid, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona and Cordoba on the trot is not very advisable to someone who shares my liking for the laidback.

The first day, I walked from the top of the bridge, from the old-town side of it, down a trail to the river at the bottom. But I had not bought any maps of the trail, and so just picked the most likely paths. The trail was steep and it was raining and while the bridge towered higher and higher above me, so did the vegetation get thicker and the trail narrower and steeper. As I got nearer the river below, the rocks on the trail also got more slippery and a couple of painful falls, and a scary spider, convinced me that perhaps I hadn't got so much of the adventurer in me. I turned back, a little bruised and battered, my new jacket a bit torn, and crawled into bed. I would find out the next day that there are no good trails to follow down to the foot of the bridge: all the best views are from a little further out.

The next day, still raining, saw a smarter me, who went to the tourist office and bought some maps of walking trails into the valley below. The best one started at the far end of the old town, from San Francisco, and wound down the hill through pastures with grazing horses. It was beautiful - especially seeing Ronda high up, built literally on the cliff edge. The trail also afforded some excellent views of the bridge from below, but soon left it behind and ended at a power station. And from then on, it wound up into the surrounding hills.

There were very few people around - I think I came across two or three in the 45 minutes or so up till then, and so was very happy to run into a Belgian couple who were also walking the same trail. They were very friendly (and they say that all Belgians are as nice as themselves - which makes Belgium pretty high up on the must-visit tourist destinations, I think) and we walked along together to find out what was at the end of the trail. The rain stopped finally, and the temperature rose to the high teens. The Belgians, maybe just to tease me, started to complain that it was "very warm." We walked through mud-covered roads, and we walked through excellent vantage points of Ronda and the trail we'd walked, and we walked through a beautiful forest (park?) of maroon-coloured grass and tall trees, until we hit a dead stop on a busy highway with cars whizzing by all around: it was the highway from Seville to Algeciras and was a very unorthodox end to a walking trail in the hills. We stared bemused at the road and took turns reading the description of the trail I had with me. But it did seem like the end - and that was that.

The bull ringI was on strike against monument visits and so did not go to any of Ronda's cultural highlights - like the bull ring, one of the oldest in Spain, and the Arab baths. I did spend a couple of hours in the Bandits Museum, though. But only the very hard-hearted would call a visit to a museum dedicated to bandits a "cultural visit." Is a very nice, if small, museum. I now know the names of some of the legendary Spanish bandits. Apparently, the hills around Ronda was excellent bandit country and the town was also near a popular smuggling route back in the days...

Two days was far too little.



Nirmalya said...

This is fantastic. Heart of Andalusia! I haven't been lucky to roam around this part of the country but your post surely makes me even more determined to do so in future.

Keep travelling. How long is the tour for?

Rohan said...

Just till the end of this week, sadly. Ronda is beautiful and it has a natural park nearby, and also several walking trails in the surrounding hills.