Tuesday, December 26, 2006

You Spin Me Right Ronda

So we started to make our way down the coast, stopping at the first gas station and market that we saw to fuel up and stock up on drinks and snacks. It's Christmas day in a Catholic country, after all.

Where would we go? Algeciras? Tarifa? Cadiz? We saw the signs for Ronda and made a right. Heading north from the coast, we found ourselves in some sort of post-industrial wasteland. Near a corridor of warehouse-sized furniture stores, we saw garbage and junk littering the streets. It looked like an abandoned neighborhood. Junked furniture. Old clothes. Piles of rotting food waste. A stray horse eating it. What the...?

Eventually we got on the right track, and made our way up the windy mountainous roads. The views of Andalucía from a high elevation are simply breathtaking. Big, craggy mountains, fertile valleys, verdant hillsides, sheer cliffs - this was the making of an amazing road trip, no matter what the destination was.

Of course, the best way to spoil a good drive is to get stuck behind a tiny Citroën doing half the speed limit. With very few passing opportunities, this can be extremely frustrating. And then you make the pass, only to get stuck behind another weenie Citroën minutes later. So either these cars are extremely gutless, or the drivers are idiots. Considering one of them was consistenly braking uphill, I'll go for the latter. When I finally did get an opportunity to make a 140km/h pass, I went screaming in the opposing lane and pulled back in time to avoid a head-on... right behind the Guardia Civil. Oops. I had to drive like a grandma from then on to avoid provoking the officer to avoid an on-the-spot fine. You know, special for foreigners.

I ended up avoiding the cop by taking off on a side route into Ronda, and as we made our way into the town, the crappy suburban architecture and cramped streets and general look of malaise was all a bit underwhelming. J located the old town area on the map and we made our way to it.

Wow. Now this is the type of Andalucían town we were looking for. Sweeping views of the valleys beneath, an amazing ancient bridge spanning the Tajo gorge in the middle of town, charming old architecture, and people so nice you wouldn't believe it's a tourist destination. And surprisingly, a lot was open, considering it's Christmas. We expected to stop and take a few pictures, but after finding a parking space (these come at a huge premium here), we took some good time to do a little exploring, shop for local crafts, and eat a local meal.

Ok, so the meal was less than spectacular, but I won't get into the gory details of cold calameres fritos, bland meats, or uinimaginative salad. At least the beer was ice cold. And soooooo necessary after all that driving.

The drive back was uneventful. We made a stop in Marbella proper, which partially helped shatter its image as a tacky playground for super-rich tourists. Behind the facades of bars and clubs and resorts catering to well-to-do Brits, there's an actual old town, a charming residential area, and familys playing in public spaces - the way it should be.

This hasn't stopped me for wishing we'd spent the night in Ronda, but what do I have to complain about? Perhaps tonight we'll hit up one of these cheesy bars or clubs and have our first proper fiesta.

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