ANDALUCIA, FAMILY, WEEKEND / JUNE 06, 2015
OFF THE BEATEN PATH : HIKING IN LAS ALPUJARRAS, SPAIN
The excursión is a big part of our life in Spain. Weekends are spent hiking or biking the seemingly hundreds of amazing natural parks. Shortly after we moved to Granada, my husband told me that one of his mountain biking buddies had invited us to caminar las alpujarras with a group of local families. I knew the nearby Alpujarra was the last stronghold of the Moors when they were purged from Granada in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic. They “took to the hills”, joining other Moors who had already been living for centuries in this remote, inaccessible area. They remained there until the bloody Morisco Rebellion of 1568, which resulted in all people of Arab descent being expelled from the Kingdom of Granada.
The Alpujarra is a region of whitewashed mountain villages (more than 50) scattered throughout the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It’s characterized by steep gorges and sheltered valleys and is exceedingly green, owing to its unique micro-climate; melting snow from the Sierra Nevada waters the terraced farmlands.
Our new friends organized the trip. We drove two and a half hours from Granada and gathered at a long dinner table in the restaurant of the Hotel de Mecina Fondales. All together there were 9 families with children ranging in age from 8-15. We were informed that we would meet at 10am and set out for an all day hike. Our boys have grown up hiking; it is a regular weekend event in our family. But all day? And it was 95 degrees. I glanced around at the children who had made this trek before; they were excited and smiling.
We walked 23 kilometers that first day! We set out from Mecina-Fondales and winded our way down cobble stoned paths and dusty trails, across rivers, up some steep and some not so steep trails (in some places following medieval trade routes built by the Romans), through olive groves, orange groves, walnut groves and almond groves. Every hour or two we came upon a small village, making our way through its narrow lanes, peeking into homes and gardens and saying “buenos dias” to locals. I marveled at the older folks seated on tiny plaza benches or peering out screen doors or chatting with each other on the trail, their movements so slow, so quiet, so harmonious with this pristine, and hard-scrabble landscape. Even the dogs seemed to bark less. But what do they do all day in this emptied out place? Despite the exceedingly hot weather the gentlemen wore suits; all the women I saw seemed to be working, wiping their hands on aprons, sweeping, tweaking laundry and drying red peppers on lines. They marveled back at us. In many ways our lifestyles have made us different creatures.
The children did not complain of being hot or tired. They formed and reformed into clusters big and small. They talked and played tag; one of the girls taught my nine year old how to play “patty cake” and another taught him a Spanish word game. When we came across aljibes (Moorish cisterns) we would all fill our water bottles with pure spring water and the kids would dunk their heads to get a reprieve from the heat. We ate a picnic lunch on granite outcroppings in a river bed.
Late in the afternoon we arrived in Cástaras, our stopping place for the night. At the very first open bar we saw, we pulled chairs up to outside tables and ordered ice cold cervezas. Awhile later we gathered for a meal at a local restaurant and then wandered back in the dark to our cortijo (countryside guesthouse) on the outskirts of town, which 5 or 6 of the families shared.
The following day we did the same hike in reverse. My amazement continued: we plucked pomegranates and persimmons from trail side trees and trampled fallen almonds and walnuts, picking up a couple here and there and popping them into our mouths. We passed a couple of young guys who had just killed a wild boar and dragged it along the trail, and garden fences made of old mattress springs. We followed hand painted or chiseled signs toward our destinations while noticing how many criss crossing trails we passed, saved for another, future journey in Las Alpujarras.
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