Sunday, May 31, 2009

Andalucia's White Hill Towns ~ Day 4

Adventure n. 1. An undertaking or enterprise of a hazardous nature. 2. An unusual experience or course of events marked by excitement and suspense. 3. Participation in hazardous or exciting experiences. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

"Hey! Listen to this, Guys!" We were hanging out at the room, finishing up dinner. LeRoy and the children were cleaning up while I perused the Rick Steves' Spain Travel Book. "It says here 'The Pileta Cave (Cueva de la Pileta) is the best and probably the most intimate look a tourist can get at prehistoric cave paintings in Spain. Because the famous caves at Altamira in northern Spain are closed, this is your only way to see real Neolithic and Paleolithic paintings that are up to 25,000 years old. Set in a dramatic, rocky limestone ridge at the eastern edge of Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Pileta Cave is 14 miles from Ronda... at the end of an access road.'"

I looked up to gauge their response. "Cool! Let's go see it!"

"Good." I put the book down. "We'll set out early tomorrow morning."

We came around this bend in the road and I snapped this picture of the town of Benaojan (the clumpy strip of white). In hindsight, if I had only known the adventure we were about to experience, I would have chronicled the entire thing in a sort of photo story.

We followed the GPS to the "access road" that Rick Steves had wrote about only to find it closed due to construction. We would have found a way around except that an entire portion of the road was completely missing. Hm. Well, we thought, maybe there's another way. We backtracked to town to find out.

Now, to give you a little background, you must know how my sweet husband dislikes very much, as in detests, despises, and well, you get the point, narrow roads... especially narrow roads barely large enough for one vehicle that are actually two-way streets. We entered the town and LeRoy kept pausing the van with exclamations of, "Is this right? Is this a street? Is it a one-way or a two-way?" and, "Are they serious?"

The children were actually quiet in the backseat -- which means they must have sensed the gravity of the situation. I kept encouraging LeRoy, "Yes, look," I pointed at the car that turned onto the road just ahead of us, "they're driving down it." He put the car into first gear and started again. We drove -- actually rolled slowly -- forward several feet when LeRoy stopped again and told me to fold my mirror in. I smiled and asked if he purchased full coverage on the rental. Yes, he did. Alright, I thought.

How I wish I could re-create the suspense and comedy that ensued over the next 30 minutes or so!! We crawled through town on this narrrrrrow street with corners designed seemingly before the invention of mini-vans. Even our European designed Volkswagen Sharan felt loooong. LeRoy's blood pressure steadily rose until we reached the other side of town where he announced, "It isn't worth it. Sorry, Family. But there's no way this van can manage it." At this point, the road was no longer concrete or cobblestone; However, there was no place to turn around and so it was either drive further on a dirt road with steep mountain rising to one side and a plunging cliff on the other until we found a turn-around... or drive the maze we had just come through... in reverse. LeRoy opted to go forward. And it was at this point that I began to see the whole thing as rather comical.

Fortunately, we only drove about 50 meters before we found a small -- small -- place to turn around. And I must tell you, I am soooo grateful that LeRoy was driving!!! Except... I did feel slightly nervous that in the last 15 minutes, he was so stressed that he accidentally put the gear in reverse when he meant to go forward, and in first gear when he meant to go backward... several times. Aw, well. It added suspense to the cliff-hanger situation, right?

LeRoy got us pointed in the right direction and drove back the way we had come. But I just couldn't let it all go so easily... I mean, c'mon, we had gone all that way! I suggested that we ask for directions from the man up ahead. Which LeRoy did... in Spanish! Seriously, he spoke it as though he was fluent in it! Me and the children were so astonished and impressed that had he stepped on the gas and got us out of the town quick enough, I would not have even had time to regain my focus to suggest we still try to drive up the mountain. The man smiled wide, his white teeth gleaming against his sun-baked complexion, and rattled directions... in Spanish.

We went a few more blocks and then saw a few women standing in the entrance of a small grocery market. This market was no bigger than a small bedroom. "Excuse me, but can you tell us where the Pileta Cave is?" LeRoy glanced at me and then turned to the lady and translated what I said into Spanish. What? I thought. I don't know what made my heart beat quicker, the fact that he had managed to keep us from plummeting off the side of the mountain or that he was speaking to these Spaniards in their own language. Or... the fact that he was still entertaining the idea of us driving our van up the side of a mountain.

The old woman, short with creases in her face that betrayed years of story, said something we couldn't understand but LeRoy made a walking motion with his two fingers as he said, "Walk?" She pointed up a cobblestoned street that ran nearly vertical with an immediate corner so sharp that we couldn't see around it. There was a long pause where LeRoy and I glanced at one another, looked up the street, and then burst into giggles. Mine were genuine giggles -- as in, cool! What are we waiting for? LeRoy's were stress-induced guffaws -- as in, great! Like that's really going to happen! He turned to the lady, walking his two fingers again, and said, "Right. We have to walk."

The woman broke into a grin that consumed her entire face complete with twinkling eyes. "No!" She thumped the windowsill of the door a couple of times, pointed up the street again, and said something in Spanish that we interpreted as, "Bah! This van will surely take you right to the top!" The children didn't make a sound. (Which we really should have taken as a sign.)

You see, I grew up going adventuring with my dad who would take on washed out mountain roads that dropped into narrow ravines. So at this point, I was thinking, how bad could it be? We'll never know. LeRoy turned the van in the direction of... up, revved the gas and moved a few yards... when the engine died. Really, I should have got out of the van at this point. (Except that the road was so narrow that there was no room to open the door.) You know how there are moments in life that reveal your character... or lack of it? Well...

I burst into a fit of giggles. I gasped encouragement. "C'mon, LeRoy, it's okay. Have another go at it!" But after a couple of more defeats at getting the engine to start and our van rolling dangerously close to the building behind us with every effort, he decided to forego the whole stupid Cueva de la Pileta. He slowly rolled our van to a more manageable angle, drove to the nearest parking spot, and stopped. I think perhaps he took his first real breath in the last 30 or 40 minutes, too. I, too, took a deep breath. He asked me if I was disappointed.

With this adventure??! How could I be disappointed? Let me try to put the road we were going to drive up into perspective... You know Lombard Street? Well, imagine driving up Lombard Street, (renowned as the World's Crookedest Street)... only imagine buildings instead of garden landscaping and imagine it's a two-way instead of one-way... so you don't know what you might meet coming around the corner. And that's only if you manage to not kill the engine on the way up. Here's the interesting... and quirky... thing about it all: these villages are not tourist attractions -- they're the way of life for the people who live there! {shaking my head, smiling}

We decided to walk up to the grocery store for picnic makings.

This is the house we passed as we came to the end of the road and had to go off-roading for a few minutes.

This is the picture of us walking back up to the grocery store.

This road was unbelievably steep -- but it isn't quite as steep as the one we got stuck on.

This is the street right before the street... Like I said, I wish I had taken a picture of the actual road we attempted to climb.

We did much pointing and charades-like communication as they didn't speak a lick of English and evidently LeRoy had exhausted his Spanish vocabulary asking for directions. There was much laughter on both sides. We got the gist that they found it pretty hilarious that we couldn't "just drive our car right up the mountain to the cave." We managed to ask how far it would be to hike, but then quickly gave that idea up when they answered wide-eyed, "Oh no! Quatro kilometers!" We purchased picnic supplies and stepped out of the store waving good-bye, our repeated, "Gracias," meaning to communicate sincere appreciation for their apparent unwavering belief in us.

On the way back to the van, walking down the incline I slipped and landed precariously but safely... And all the anticipation, stress, relief, and frustration bubbled up in one tremendous burst of laughter. The kind of laughter that produced tears that squirt from my tear ducts, streamed down my cheeks, caused my nose to run... making me double over, unable to breath... pretty soon we all were laughing, doubled over, passing out kleenex to wipe our eyes and blow our noses. Well, not everyone. LeRoy wasn't quite in a laughing mood just yet... {smile} ...though he wasn't able to keep from chuckling even if ever so slightly.
We drove back to Ronda where we found a grassy spot and ate croissants filled with lunch meat and cheese.

Then we explored this famous birthplace of bullfighting. Earlier in the week we looked into purchasing tickets to attend a bullfight. However, at 60 Euros per person... we opted for other sights instead. The town of Ronda is rich with history, having once been ruled by the Moors, and much of its history stemming from that time. We walked all around taking in the views of the plains surrounding this village. We bought a CD from a street performer playing classical Spanish melodies on his guitar -- so that we can "return" to Spain over and over.

The children were a little grumpy from the heat and driving most of the morning. Everyone was just a little... off.

So of course they were antagonizing one another and stirring up rough house play -- at one point sticking their heads in the sprinklers and spraying one another which turned into a fiasco and tears. LeRoy was still trying to regroup. While I kept stopping to look at the map and read about history. We definitely were a rag-tag group...

Amidst our "off" moods, I wanted a romantic picture with LeRoy but alas, I'm the poser, not him. So my romantic moment turned into me trying to give him a lesson on looking suave... or something... while he finally ended up in stitches bent over laughing at the silliness and absurdity of it all. "Art!" I told him. Which only made him laugh all the harder. hm. What's so funny about that?

Well, finally, we were both cracking up uncontrollably and I gave up the idea of trying to look romantic and decided to be romantic instead. So we ended up with this picture of us in an embrace... the most perfect art! cream usually makes everything better. Usually. I ordered a coffee and while I was busy stirring in sugar, lost in thought, a sploosh of water landed upside my head. I looked over to see my sweet children, (cough, cough), giving me the look. You know, the one that says, oh man, we're in trouble. Really, I would have laughed it off and not thought much of it except that it immediately turned into a huge "he did it," "he started it," face off. Well, a minute later I was back to enjoying my coffee while three of my children stood several feet away -- in their very own square, happily finishing their ice cream cones. Okay, maybe not happily... but at least well-behaved.

Ezekiel in the tourist trap trinket store. But he looks handsome, eh?
At last we walked over to the bridge that spans between the two sections of town and peered down into the gorge.
I can't say I would want this to be the landscape in my backyard -- but it was breathtaking to view the scope of these cliffs!
Israel looking down into the depths of the gulley.
The girls...

A few days before our family was talking about what it was that we noticed most when we're people-watching. I had told them that I most notice three different things: children... of all ages, elderly couples walking side by side deep in conversation, and elderly women who walk arm in arm. I was busy taking pictures and didn't see these three women until Eli ran up to me and said, "Quick! Look, Mom! Your favorite!" Sooo sweet! I tried to get a good picture without making it obvious that I was running after them... smile.
We left the town of Ronda and began our descent from the top of the Andalusian Mountains, exploring the White Hill Towns along the way. This town was one where we parked at the entrance and walked to the top. We found the streets are steep in all the villages! But LeRoy was glad to be walking... smile.
The hills are spotted with dozens of these white-washed villages.
The Volkswagen Sharan (Since my International Driver's License expired, I can no longer drive outside of Germany... which means this was a fantastic opportunity to sit back and enjoy the ride... no nagging, controlling, bossing. No, "Fine, do you want me to drive?!" Just ride along. Simply trust that my man had everything under control. Which he did. ...and I think -- I hope -- I matured a little on this trip!)
Yes, this is a typical two-way street.

My cute family...
...experiencing a bit of paradigm shift... the Super Mercado (Super Grocery Store?!)... Well, okay. After all, there was another market around the corner that was 1/3 of the size of this room... So, yeah, sure, I can see why they call this one the Super one...
Wandering through the streets...

So picturesque!

"May I see some form of ID, Mam?"
After a long day of driving and sightseeing, we got caught in a traffic jam for two hours. The children napped while LeRoy and I enjoyed lingering deep conversation about everything and nothing, scanning through the radio stations, and finally turning off the engine all together and walking around. I played around with the camera, taking all kinds of goofy pictures. At last, the traffic started moving again and when we came around a rather sharp bend in the freeway, we saw what the commotion was all about -- a vehicle (we're guessing a large one), went right through the gaurd rail and into the Mediterranean. They were fishing it out piece by piece with a crane when we drove past. Phew! Crazy.

Upon entering town we saw this playground and thought it only made sense to use up the last bit of day with a game of tag -- that is, the children, anyway. LeRoy and I sat on a bench and held hands. smile.

Mmmmm... ham and pineapple pizza... the long-standing favorite wherever we go.

Moments of hilarity + Moments of stress = A Blessed Life
Ever in His Grace...


  1. I am drooling on my keyboard... if it stops working due to water damage we will know who to blame! BJ just came up and asked me what I was doing and I said "learning to confess the sin of envy" LOL! I was mostly kidding! I love you all and am glad you are not at the bottom of any canyons (although if you had to go down what a glorious burrial site) and tell Leroy that I think it is amazing that he did that and still loves you!

  2. Oh, if only I had sat down and LAUGHED! We had so many similar ventures (as newlyweds, to boot!), but not many with such happy endings! I love that you knew when to say when, and were happy to leave your husband at his limits without pushing him beyond. I will take this under advisement, to be sure!

    THANK YOU for your comments over at White Walls! You made me laugh my exhausted butt off! I can't wait for that coffee date, either!