Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Catching my breath in Ronda

In the 6:30 a.m. darkness, I climbed the steep, cobbled streets that wind through Granada’s old Moorish quarter. I walked the 30 minutes to the train station serenaded by a concert of morning bird calls. I was determined to catch the only train to Ronda, which left at 7:15 a.m.

At the station I gulped down a café con leche from a small glass before boarding. The tracks curved through wild, spectacularly scenic landscapes on the journey to Ronda, the most famous of the pueblos blancos — the series of brilliantly bleached settlements dotting the Andalusian countryside.

Ronda sits on an edge of isolated sierra that juts high over an expansive natural landscape. A gaping gorge divides the town, connected by the 18th-century Puento Nuevo bridge built over the heart-stopping 130-meter plunge.

I suffered spouts of vertigo-induced nausea as I peered down over the edges of the look-out points, intent on photographing the sheer natural drama of my surroundings. Vocal, semi-exotic birds swooped down and out of the deep gorge. I contemplated the rows of buildings perilously perched on the gaping edge of the cliff as classical guitar music floated from one of the panoramic cafés.

I took a gentle hike through the valley of surrounding neatly plowed, storybook-quality farmland. While wandering past herds of sheep and olive groves, I wondered if I really preferred the urban lifestyle. Maybe bird songs and green hills suited me more than blaring horns and metro tunnels, I thought.

After my walk, I passed a few hours exploring the town’s historic quarter, snapping pictures of cats napping under orange trees and barred windows accented with colorful flower boxes, periodically pausing to inhale the scent of the wisteria that draped the white adobe walls.

With two hours left before my return train, I set off for another hike, this time down into the gorge to look up at the striking Puento Nuevo from below. I descended far beyond the lookout point, bracing myself during the steep descent. After admiring the fabulous cliffs above, I anxiously wondered if I could make the steep climb back up. With the afternoon sun hot on my back, I spent nearly an hour trudging back up the path that spiraled up the mountain.

The next few mornings I woke with stiff knees, and after an initial groan, I would recall my glorious day getting in touch with my natural side in Ronda.

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