Thursday, November 11, 2004


We flew from Norfolk NAS to Rota Naval Station in Spain - where we picked up the tiny car we had rented just before we left the States. Next was a short trip to Jerez - the home of sherry wine.
Then we crossed wide open spaces to reach the orange trees of Seville, where we toured the great Cathedral, third largest in all Christendom, smaller only than St. Peters in Rome and St. Paul's in London. Here too lies, or rather hangs suspended in space, the final remains of Christopher Columbus.

Here also is the Alcazar, a mosque decorated with the Arabesque art of the Moors, and it is not just a museum but a walk through still-sacred buildings, patios and old gardens filled with water fountains, fruit trees and fragrant herbs. Nighttime finds us watching a Flamenco dance.

Next day we drove through dusty arroyos and olive groves to Cordoba, arriving just in time to see their annual Patio Displays, wherein hotels, restaurants and even private homes decorate their patios and invite visitors to come marvel at the very essence of Spain itself - then the visitors cast their vote. The winner becomes a year-long hero.
Here also is the Great Mosque of Cordoba, improbably named the Mezquita, but it is the third largest mosque in the world, smaller only than one in Mecca and another in Medina. It once held more than 50,000 worshipers, and was one of the few not torn down by the re-conquering Christian Crusaders - instead they built a great cathedral inside the huge mosque, and the two still stand together as one of the greatest gifts ever given from a gracious and tolerant city to others who would follow far behind them.

The next day we drove up foothill ranges that wind through walnut groves and landscape amazingly similar to southern California. I was amazed to realize how much at home those conquistadors of old must have felt as they traveled through their new homeland in America.

In Grenada, we stayed at the Hotel Molinos, the “Narrowest Hotel in the World” (according to Guinness) We got a room way up on the fourth floor. Our "parking spots" had gotten smaller and smaller with each event, this one was like parking the tiny car in its own glove compartment! We also got to haul our baggage up four flights of marbled stairs, but the room was next to a railed "patio" on the rooftop. From here all of Grenada lay before us, and in the distance stood the fabled "snow-clad Sierra Nevada" mountains.

Next day we walked through the Alhambra, the Alcazaba, and their gardens called the GenerallIfe where water constantly flows to the flowers and trees through an intricate irrigation system. In one place the water cascades down three flights of stairs through open conduits on the handrails.

Next day we drove south through the snow-clad Sierra Nevada mountains and entered a Sonoran desert reminiscent of the area around Tucson.

Suddenly we were on a devilishly deep blue Mediterranean coastline driving through spray blown from the sea! We drove past 2,300 year old Roman forts which still “dominate” the shore, and arrived in the tiny village of Cabo de Gata just in time for Tapas!

Later we toured a famous bird blind to gawk at storks, ibis and Flamingos before driving to the nearby Lighthouse of the Sirens. Up in the nearby mountains just past El Coyote, on the way to San Jose, we found a place so windy that I actually got lifted off the ground! Later that evening, shoes were not even optional as we waled barefooted on a beach of tiny black, white and brown pebbles.

Next morning we drove down the Costa del Sol, pausing at overlooks along the way and enjoyed a lunch of Sonoran Ham, Spanish Cheese and fine wine on the beach, and watched fishermen plying their timeless craft closely nearby.

Then quickly on through Malaga, driving on a road which deteriorated into an ancient Roman rabbit trail leading through sage brush, pines, and high mountains. On through “Natural Parks”, some of the famous White Villages of Andalusia, and our trip ended in the most beautiful city in the world, Ronda.

In Ronda we learned that we can’t ever go home again. We found this out while sitting around a Texas barbecue prepared by Willie, a fugitive from Argentina who came here and became trapped four years ago. We talked with other people from Lebanon, Armenia, Holland, Italy, England, and many other countries. So the trip ends here, and we still don’t know if our new friends ever left Ronda, or not. Perhaps they still cross the “new bridge” daily (the one built in the year 945) or the “old bridge” on pilgrimages to the wind-swept ridges that tower above the Rio Guadalevin, and look down on birds flying 400 feet below them in the great gorge, and watch the candlelight glow brighten beneath a fading Spanish sunset while listening to the faint sound of Spanish guitars. My guess is that no one who goes to Ronda really ever comes home again, so your mission is clear: when do you want to leave?

© John Womack, 2007. All rights reserved.


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