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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ronda: A Story of Failure and Success

I'd first read about Ronda while working on a research paper about the Spanish Civil War. In Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom The Bell Tolls, one of the characters reminisces about how the revolutionaries in her town imprisoned together all the priests and nuns of their city, ransacked and burnt the churches and idols, and then tortured these men and women before forcing them off the sheer cliffs upon which their town stood. Looking into this event further I discovered it was based on true events that took place in the town of Ronda, in Southern Spain, which stands atop a nauseatingly steep cliffside.
By a delightful coincidence, I happened to spend that following summer studying in southern Spain. So it was only natural when I was planning my weekend trips that I should decide to visit Ronda for myself. I planned it about as well as I plan any of my trips, through books and the internet I determined the best way to get there (train) and the most important sites to see while there. I booked my train tickets for early one saturday morning so that I could spend a whole day in the city, returning that evening.
Being the punctual (read: obsessive) person I am, on the morning of my trip I got up extra early, caught the bus to the train station and found myself a seat on the platform a good half hour before my train was set to leave. Waiting with a book I'd selected just for this trip (Thud! by Terry Pratchett) I listened to the announcements in Spanish over the speakers and waited for my train to arrive. I decided it was weird that there was already a train where my train should be pulling up any second so I went up to the conductor and asked in my flawless Spanish, "A donde va este tren?" "Algeciras," he replied. Algeciras, I knew, is a small town at the southern tip of Spain, and typically the launching point for the ferry from Spain to Morocco. "Ah" I said and returned to my seat and my book. After a minute or two the train to Algeciras pulled out of the station and I got up to wait for my train to Ronda to come in.
If you don't know what's coming next, then you're not nearly observant enough of foreshadowing. Well, in short, my train never appeared. Fifteen minutes, half an hour, then forty five minutes late. I returned to that same conductor and asked where my train, the train to Ronda, was. With a quizzical look, he gestured at the long gone train and answered that that was the train to Ronda. "No, no, no, no", I said, in both spanish and english. "Me dijo que estuvo el tren al Algeciras." "Si," he said, Ronda is a stop on the way to Algeciras. Well fuck me.
Long story short, the conductor told me to go in and talk to the ticketing guy, explain what happened and they'd transfer my ticket for the next train to Ronda/Algeciras. Shaking his head in pity, the ticketing guy did in fact do this. Only problem was the next train didn't leave until 4 pm. If I hadn't mentioned already it was about 9 in the morning by this point. My return ticket from Ronda was for 7:30 pm. It's about a 3 hour train ride. So much for my full day in Ronda. I spent the next 6 hours hanging out by the train station taking pictures of oversized flags.

I did manage to get on the train at 4:00 without incident and without a doubt, the train ride from Granada to Ronda is entirely worth the ticket price for the scenery alone. The rolling hills, the seemingly endless olive groves, the spectacular greens and dazzling blues of the world outside my train window for the next three hours are among the highlights of my entire summer in Spain. It is among the most beautiful places I've ever seen and I assure you, dear reader, I've seen some beautiful places in my years of travel.


As luck would have it, my train arrived somewhat ahead of schedule, granting me an entire forty minutes to spend in Ronda before I needed to be on my returning train. I stepped out of the station expecting to find myself a yard or so away from the towering cliffs I'd read about only to find myself in what looked like every other neighborhood I'd seen in Spain thus far. Flat, white buildings crowded together on streets aligned with no obvious pattern. I took a glance at what appeared to be a map of Ronda outside the train station and sprinted off in the direction I thought might take me to "Old Town" with its picturesque position. And just when I thought I had no time left and I'd have to return to the train station without a single view of the cliff that killed all those priests, I turned around a corner, saw a park, and at the edge of the park this:
Yeah, that's what I came here for. I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked around, wishing I could capture every beautiful detail that I could see from that height. It was not the terrifying site of wanton torture and death I'd been expecting. It showed no remnance of the violence of the Spanish Civil War. There was no way of knowing that this was the town I'd read about in Hemingway. This was spectactular. It was beautiful. It was stunning and remains truly beyond words to describe properly. I turned around a corner and saw this:
It wasn't what I had come to see but it was so much better than anything I'd imagined.
Unfortunately, I couldn't spend much more time there for fear that I miss another train this day. So I turned and I walked back to the train station, my back to this beautiful landscape. This was all I would see that day but I'd remember it and tell of it to everyone I knew that it was perhaps the most beautiful town I'd ever seen.
I'd return a few weeks later, again with an early ticket to Ronda and a late ticket back. I'd make both trains and spend a long, entertaining wandering the old part of Ronda; visiting its beautiful Romanesque churches, Moorish palaces, and its museum of hunting. A beautiful place with a fascinating history that marked itself indelibly in my mind for its history, its beauty, and its ability to completely disrupt my travel plans.

View all my photos from both trips to Ronda in full resolution at my shutterfly site.

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