the Karst and the Carnival

14. Feb, 2018

Some 40 miles inland, north of Malaga and over the other side of a 1300m mountain range lies the city of Antequera, which could be described as one of the oldest continually settled towns in Europe.  Three enormous dolmens within a mile of the city centre, dating from 5,000BC testify to this.  Although each is quite different in design and the direction it faces, all three have their centres aligned in a perfectly straight line, which heads off towards the mystic hill of La Pena, whose profile resembles the face of a sleeping woman. 

There was the inevitable coach load of school kids milling around when we arrived, together with another coach full of Saga types.  However we managed to dodge the crowds and get the interiors to ourselves. The Viera dolmen, the smallest of the three, has a long tunnel like entranceway leading to a small central area and a separate tomb, almost like the design of the interior of a pyramid. Its entranceway, of course, points to the position of the rising sun on midsummer’s day.  The Menga dolmen, which is largest, has a small entrance leading to a vast chamber the size of a small chapel.  Its entrance points to the nose of the sleeping La Pena.  A mile from this, the other side of a small hill, is El Romeral, with another long entranceway leading this time to a beehive tholos.   The entranceway here is aligned with the peak of Camorro, the highest of the El Torcal mountain range. 

Into town for a much needed coffee in the usual old man’s bar on the church square, then a wander round the old town, clustered round a hill fortified by a Moorish castle and Alcazaba. On the edge of the hill are the ruins of a Roman bathhouse.

To the south of the town is the El Torcal mountain range.  Rising to over 1300m the top is strewn with amazing rock formations, the karst limestone weathered by wind and rain into strange otherworldly shapes.  After a picnic lunch at one of the many miradors on the approach to the National Park  we drove right up to the visitor centre and took the walk round the marked route.  Deviation from the route is not exactly forbidden but it is not recommended, as it is so easy to get lost amongst the weird rock formations and valleys. 
 
There were birds in abundance, including several vultures which glided silently over us.  Then at the top of a rock we saw something we have always looked for but never spotted.  A mountain goat, or Ibex, then its partner, perched high on a crag, staring down at us.  Then there were shouts and screams, and a host of Spanish school kids came shrieking down the hillside and passed us.  So much for wildlife. 

After El Torcal we took the road back towards Antiquera then forked off and over the hills again to El Chorro, the Desfiladero de los Gaitaines.  This narrow canyon, 400 metres deep and as narrow as 10 metres in places, carries the railway line from Malaga to Cordoba.  The road to it was rough and rather narrow in places, and we had to walk the last half mile.  Sadly the footpath right through it has been destroyed, so the only access now is for mountaineers, or to walk along the railway track, which goes through several tunnels. The guide books assure you there is plenty of room in the tunnels should a train come, but somehow we didn’t fancy it. 

The road back down to Malaga from there was incredible.  Apart from the views, which were great, the drive was a nightmare.  The road, even on the flat parts, had been subject to a number of landslips and upheavals.  It looked much like the scenes we saw of those Japanese roads after the Tsunami last year.  I was grateful for having a 4X4 at times. 

Back at the campsite it was too late to cook, so we went to the bar for a meal.  I topped last week’s pie with sausage egg and chips.  Disgraceful.  It was the night of the two Manchester matches, which were of course showing on the bar TV.  My thoughts were with MU fan friends in England who would be watching in the pub.  We had two main courses, two beers, two coffees and two large brandies for much the same price as their two pints of lager.

Next day was a quiet day, time to catch up with the washing etc.  Not long after we had hung the washing on our portable whirligig we heard a crash and it had blown over.  All our clean washing was lying in the dirt and sadly the arm of the whirligig broken.  So it was a case of pulling all the line out of the whirligig and tying it between the trees!

Saturday was carnival weekend.  Linked to the Mardi Gras festivals in their timing, many Spanish fishing ports have a carnival weekend immediately before  Shrove Tuesday.  Originally it was based round a pre-Christian ceremony to ensure that the forthcoming fishing season was good. The main ceremony, Christianised and taking place on Sunday, is the Burial of the Sardine.  Yes, you heard it right.  A processional wake parades through the town, crying, singing, screaming and howling as it accompanies the official widow and the municipal band.  (I quote from the leaflet given out by the tourist office).  At the end of it the Sardine is officially interred.

On the Saturday though there is a carnival, in which the Children’s Nymph, the Children’s Momo, the Carnival Nymph and the Carnival Momo are paraded on floats through the streets of the town.  Most of the children in the crowds are dressed up, as are many of the adults.  Timed to start at 5pm, it got under way by 6 and reached our street, 100 yards into the mile long route, by 6:30.   

The “official” floats were followed by floats and displays by local schools, societies, clubs and whatever, ages ranging from 8 months to 80 years, dressed in themes.  Some were really good, some were a good laugh, some just ridiculous.  Nearly every one had a friend or relative every 20 yards along the way and had to break off for a kiss and a chat.  A good 50% of the paraders were smoking and nearly every one carried a drink of some sort and of course their mobile phone. By 7:30 the tail end of the procession was passing our spot and most of the participants were somewhat the worse for wear.  How they ever managed to finish I’ll never know. 

Having stood for so long on Saturday our old joints couldn’t face another long stand for the Sardine ceremony on Sunday, so we took a walk down to the beach and sat on the prom with a coffee and cake instead.

Yesterday we explored along the coast past Nerja.  Here the mountains cascade down into the sea forming many little coves between the cliffs, much like the Costa Brava.  The hillsides have millionaires’ mansions clinging to them, sadly spoiling the views in some cases, but mostly the views were stunning.  There is a series of towers along the coast, built in the 16th Century as lookouts for pirate attacks.

Today is another quiet day.  As I write this, Lesley is sitting outside having her hair cut by the daughter of the campsite shopkeeper, who used to be a hairdresser in the UK before she came out here to live. One of the problems of travelling is the periodic need to find a hairdresser.  I solved this by buying electric clippers, with which Lesley cuts my hair (albeit rather nervously!)  But the problem is more difficult for her.  She asked the lady in the campsite shop if she knew a local hairdresser, and she answered “Me!”  She doesn’t have a salon but visits people in their homes, or, in the case of campers, their caravans, which is very convenient (and cheap.)  So the problem is solved for another six weeks or so.

Then tomorrow it’s time to up sticks and move on.  We have enjoyed our stay here in Torrox, in spite of our initial misgivings about the site, but too many nights in the bar have not been good for the expanding waistline and I need to break the habit.  We are moving on to Los Escullos in the Cabo de Gata-Nijar national park, just east of Almeria.  We have heard about the drought conditions in England and the hosepipe ban in the South East.  Cabo de Gata is one of the driest places in Europe and the only place in Europe to be officially classed as desert. Let’s see how they are coping!

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