Sunday, April 19, 2009

Los Alayos del Dílar

We’ve had several very nice trips over the last few months, but they’ve prevented me from taking the last couple of hikes with Llega Como Puedas. Not that I’m objecting…Italy and Greece were quite wonderful…but I do enjoy my mountain hiking. This last weekend’s hike was my first one in Granada, and the first one which took me to a Spanish national park: el Parque Nacional de la Sierra Nevada. This is the real Sierra Nevada, after which the California range was named. You can see the pictures at

Based on the weather during the last week, and the forecast for the weekend, I’d fully expected to be hiking in the pouring rain. However, the weather gods smiled on us. We had beautiful skies with puffy white clouds all day (almost). Right at the end of the hike, we had the proverbial “cuatro gotas” (four drops) of rain, but it never turned into the downpour that was happening back in Córdoba.

It was a long drive to Granada; the bus left at 7:00am from Córdoba and picked up two people along the way, and then of course we had to stop for breakfast. The Spanish do know how to enjoy a hiking expedition. By the time all was said and done, it was 10:30 before we were on the trail.

The Llega Como Puedas hikes always have at least two leaders (ruteros), one of whom usually leads, and the other who usually brings up the rear. Whenever we get to a decision point, we follow the very Spanish custom of a general discussion about the proper route. Sometimes the ruteros disagree, and split up. This can be a bit disconcerting; you have to make a decision about which one to follow. So far, they’ve always connected back up at some point.

Los Alayos del Dílar are in the Sierra Nevada (literally, “snowy mountain range”) just south of Granada. Happily, we didn’t get up into the snow, although we could see the white-covered peaks. In the course of the day, we crossed the shallow Río Dílar twice. Both times, I took off my shoes and waded barefoot, so that I wouldn’t have wet feet all day. It was a steep, rocky hike to el Castillejo, the peak. For me, the descent of these steep slopes is more difficult than the ascent. I made good use of my walking poles, which I suspect saved me from more than one nasty spill. From the top, there was a magnificent view of the Granada area. One of the compañeros told me that we could see the Alhambra, although it was so far away that I couldn’t see it clearly.

The hikes that I’ve done in Spain have involved a lot more cross-country trekking than I’ve done in Oregon or California. It was a lovely day from beginning to end.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Semana Santa

It is Semana Santa and all of Spain is celebrating…

The Virgin Mary’s of Spain are perfectly happy to spend 51 weeks a year meditating in their chapels... but one week each year, the ladies like to really do the town, so they go out escorted through the town on the shoulders of forty lusty men! This is truly a site to see…nothing you could ever imagine seeing in America. Semana Santa is born of a nation steeped in Catholicism for over 500 years, or in the case of Córdoba, over 700 years. The Spanish proclaim to the world… Let there be no doubt that something miraculous occurred 2000 years ago!

You can see the pictures at:

The celebrations began late last week. We took an evening stroll, as is the custom in Spain, down to see San Lorenzo church. The church has been closed for restoration and just recently reopened. When we arrived at the church, we were surprised to find a large crowd of people waiting… then from out of the church, the procession began. First church elders and then incense and banner bearers solemnly emerged. Then an enormous, larger than life, crucifixion born on the shoulders of about thirty men descended from the church amid cheering and applause. We followed as the procession proceeded through the narrow streets. Later as we walked toward home we passed other processions. One was particularly sweet, consisting of young children bearing candles, some taller than they were. This was our first taste of the festivities, and it assured us that Semana Santa was going to be seriously cool. Sevilla, Málaga and Cádiz are generally regarded to have the most spectacular celebrations. However, the Córdoba Semana Santa is said to be one of the most “preciosa”, and hordes of tourists flood into the city to view the processions.

Last Sunday was the official start of the celebrations with six processions wandering their way along different paths through Córdoba. Every night since, there have been five or six different processions each night, each one a little different, each one following a different route through the city. The processions are quite elaborate, consisting of hundreds of people dressed in KKK-like outfits, some white, others black, purple, green, red... my first thought when I saw them was UGGHHH! Some processions are joyful, others are solemn. Generally, there is a life size depiction of El Señor, in one of the Stations of the Cross, illustrating Jesus´ final days. And so the story is told: Jesus enters Bethlehem on a donkey, He shares the Last Supper with the disciples, He prays in Gethsemane, He is betrayed and arrested, He is condemned by Pontius Pilate, He makes His final walk to Calvary, He dies on the cross, as well as others scenes from His final days…

These are powerful scenes displayed on huge float-like platforms, rocking from side to side as they go, carried by as many forty men. Lifting the platform is a production:

Scott did the math after a discussion with a priest. The largest platforms weigh over 2,600 pounds, well over a ton! It is huge honor to be selected to carry El Señor or La Virgen. José, a friend from Montilla, was selected to carry El Señor on Friday, and La Virgen on Sunday through his pueblo, Aguilar de la Frontera. He was bursting with pride as he told me; in España, this is a very big deal. After experiencing some of these processions, I understand. They are awe inspiring.

El Señor is followed by a band and various Catholic banners, crowns of thorns, and other relics. Then La Virgen makes her appearance, again carried on the backs of forty men, followed by her own band and honor guard. All of this paraded through the tiny streets and crushes of people. Children run up to the marchers to catch the wax dripping from the candles on balls of aluminum foil, creating the proverbial ball of wax as a keepsake. From the American perspective, when I describe Semana Santa, it doesn´t sound like such a big deal. But the experience is nothing short of amazing.

During these processions, we’ve been having to put certain heavy-crowd techniques into practice. When you get a large number of people into a constricted space, they get rude. You have to guard your personal space, but not in a way that you’re overtly rude, regardless of what other people do. You make yourself large; plant your feet far apart, stick your elbows out, and don’t give way if people push at you. If you give up space, you will not get it back. Some of those little old Spanish ladies get quite aggressive; they push themselves into a space that’s not large enough for one person, and then invite their friends in to join them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Castillo Almodóvar

We’re into Semana Santa (Holy Week), so Scott has the week off work (although Tonya’s working a lot at the glass studio in Montilla). In addition to all of the Semana Santa processions, this creates opportunities to see some of the things we’ve never visited around Córdoba. Our good friend Lola offered to drive us out to Castillo Almodóvar, a very well-preserved castle out west of Córdoba along the old road to Sevilla. You can see the pictures at

The Castillo Almodóvar is on a hill overlooking the picturesque pueblo of Almodóvar del Río, and offers a commanding view of this part of the Guadalquivir valley. The name comes from the Arabic al-Mudawwar, which means “the round”, referring to the round shape of the hill. There have been fortresses on this hill since Iberian (pre-Roman) times. It went through many reconstructions, by the Romans, then the Arabs, and later the Spaniards following the Reconquista. The castle was considered unconquerable, and was never taken by siege; as a matter of fact it held out for three years following the reconquista of Córdoba around AD 1240, and was finally ceded to the Spaniards as a part of the peace treaty.

When we use the term “well-preserved” for a medieval structure, it means that it’s been restored. The fact is that buildings don’t stand for hundreds of years without some sort of maintenance. After Fernando and Ysabel took Granada and unified Spain, the castillo lost its strategic importance as a strongpoint against the Muslims. In the 1600’s, it was sold to the Corral family. The conde de Torralva, one of the heirs of the family, undertook the restoration of the castillo in the early 1900’s. The reconstruction was performed with great attention to maintaining the appearance of the medieval castillo, and the result is one of the best-preserved fortresses in Europe.