Waking up in a four-and-a-half star hotel does not suck. Four-star hotel rooms are basically like normal hotel rooms without any of the annoying parts. Everything is comfortable and everything works. The only problem with nice hotels is that they make me want to remodel my bathroom, which I can’t, because we rent. You know, that hotel where you’re the maid and you pay by the month instead of the night, and nobody leaves a mint on your pillow because the dog would probably find it.
We decided that we would choose one activity per day from now on, and that if we had time for anything else, we’d consider it a bonus. Our goal for Ronda was a tour of the nearby Pileta Caves. We had already seen the preposterously beautiful view of the gorge last night, and we’d consider that a win. Well, actually… we went out to the hotel patio and looked at it again. It’s like the human eye is designed to gaze at such sights.
We learned that all the tours for the day were full, so we inquired about one for the following morning. We would get a call back later in the day to tell us whether it was possible. We had already booked two nights in the hotel, so this might mean we would have to extend our reservation by a day. Since we had free time, we thought we might wander through town and finally find the camping that had eluded us the previous day. Perhaps we’d cancel that night’s reservation and relocate so we could say we did it.
We walked down a country road for a ways and changed our minds. We learned later that we could not have gotten any closer without seeing our destination. The signs indicating it from the train station were pointing in the wrong direction, suitable for cars but not pedestrians. We would have been in for a solid 3-mile walk each way even if we knew where to go. Nobody in Ronda seems to know about this camping; one man told us the closest camping was in Algeciras. This is no surprise, as Ronda is something of a resort area. Cyclists would have no trouble getting there, but backpackers will want to think it over.
We went into the Bandolero Museum more or less on a whim. From an historian’s perspective, it’s quite good. The placards explain the nature and importance of documentation, and there is quite a lot of it for such a sensational topic. Anyone who likes firearms, knives, and swords would dig it. They had blunderbusses! There was a profile of a Mr. Julian de Zugasti, the founder of modern police records. We got a kick out of the display of the world’s first mug shots, many of them with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.
Afterward, we had lunch. It was time for our first paella experience. The moment I started asking whether the vegetable paella was vegetarian, the waiters were all over it. They started enthusiastically listing off all the ingredients it didn’t have. Their menu had the obligatory table of officially recognized food allergens, with a row for every dish on the menu. As it turns out, Spain was the easiest place for me to have a non-standard diet out of anywhere I’ve been in the world. It’s almost like they think catering to diners’ preferences will bring them more business or something…
I’ve made “paella” out of cookbooks, but it bore little resemblance to what we had in Spain. More of a sort of risotto in enchilada sauce. As with our tapas experience, it made us want to get some new cookbooks and start experimenting at home. Spanish food is amazing.
We were ready for some climbing. Everything we wanted to see in Ronda was on a hill at one elevation or another. We went to the water mine of La Casa del Rey Moro, checking out the peacocks in the garden before descending. The thing about climbing down a thousand feet is that you then have to turn around and climb up again. Imagine being one of the slaves whose job it was to fetch buckets of water up this thing every day! File under: You Think Your Job Sucks.
We went down and down into what looked very much like a dank dungeon. We renamed it the Mines of Moor-ia. My husband immediately saw it as a boss level in a video game. In each room, he would describe what kinds of creatures would rush out and how they would have to be fought.
“What kind of character are you?” I asked.
“Battle cleric,” he replied, meaning what he would be as his actual self. He’s certified as an emergency medical responder. If I told you about his skills with weapons and hand-to-hand combat, and you hadn’t seen him fight, there’s no way you would believe me. If you’ve met us in person, you probably already know and you’re just nodding.
“Hmm, I can see that. What would I be?”
“Probably a druid.”
I might have guessed bard, due to my skill with foreign languages and epic poetry, but 1. He’s heard me sing and 2. He’s also seen me in my animal form…
We continued down the cobbled road and checked out the Arab Baths. Both the Romans and the later Moors were big on public baths. In the restored space, it was very easy to imagine spending a lot of time relaxing and networking in that manner. These days, not so much. Americans are not comfortable with public nudity. Most people I know would choose public speaking over appearing in a swimsuit, much less the altogether. It would be good for our body image crisis, though, if we could finally realize that 98% of people are utterly ordinary looking. Maybe it would also be good if we traded our national caffeine habit for one of soaking in hot tubs every day.
We took a snack break in a park that had been donated by some past noblewoman. I thought what a fine legacy it is to leave a park or a garden. Long after you’re gone and nobody remembers who you are, long after even the grandchildren of anyone you ever knew are distant memories, people will sit in your park. Children will play, people will fall in love, weary souls will sit and rest, elderly folks will nod off, people will read newspapers and check their phones. Maybe someone will come and play guitar or accordion. We thanked our long-gone benefactress and hoped she was getting some karma points for preserving this little patch of tranquility.
We had just arrived at the old city wall when my phone rang. I haven’t had my ringer on for four years, and all it did was PING once, so I barely recognized the sound for what it was. There I was, standing at a medieval fortress, talking on a 21st century phone, arranging a tour to see some Roman ruins and Neolithic cave paintings. The place was deserted except for us. We could have been time travelers. In fact, we were. Isn’t that part of the point of travel? Trying to get a feel for how people lived in the past?
The feel of standing watch at a city wall must have been one of trepidation mixed with extreme boredom and discomfort. At least there was the view.
We headed toward the bus station to plan the next leg of our trip, but we quickly realized it would be easier to do online. As I was flipping through the guidebook, a note about Gibraltar caught my eye: on Sundays, almost everything on the Rock is closed. That was the day we had intended to go. This confirmed our sense that we needed to sit down and do some more homework, so we picked up provisions at a grocery store (passing on the tuna & onion pizza) and headed back to the hotel. We planned to head out later to see the Mondragon Palace, the last of the sights that intrigued us.
We’d walked 9.5 miles and climbed 36 flights of stairs. The enticements of a comfortable hotel room with unlimited wi-fi proved too great. I spent a couple of hours planning out our options for the next few days, including a day trip to Tangier, a day trip to Gibraltar, and the final leg to Sevilla. Our best option would be to go straight to the train station after our tour the next day, so we’d need to load our packs in the van and check out first thing the next morning.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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