On the afternoon of my arrival, I did what Nina did. I walked around the streets exploring. Through the narrow passageways and laneways of the cobblestoned streets of the old town. I looked at the incredible breath-taking rural views of the Gorgo de Tajo and the rural landscapes out past the gorge. With hundreds of other tourists, I crossed the Puente Nuevo, the new bridge. Puente Nuevo was started in 1759 and took almost 35 years to build. It spans the 120 metre deep chasm of the gorge created by the River Guadalevin.
Then I visited some of the old houses and palacios – the Casa Don Bosco, house of St John Bosco, with beautiful gardens and stunning views. You can only visit two rooms of the house which are more like religious shrines than liveable rooms. I went to the hanging gardens and walked around as the tourists started to thin out. Most tourists that visit Ronda are day tourists, bussed in by luxury coach from Granada, Gibraltar, Sevilla and Cordoba. They get off the coach, walk over the bridge several times, take photos with their selfie sticks and walk through the old town before following the flag, or the upheld umbrella to the designated restaurant for lunch. By twilight they have gone. This is when Nina went out walking in the rain. I look up at the sky, large, bruised clouds threatened rain but it did not happen. I was left high and dry on my last walk over the bridge for the evening.
Nina, stayed somewhere near the gorge in a room that contained a bed, a basin and a rocking chair which she loved. She could hear the rush of the river as it pelted its way through the gorge. The river is a mere trickle at the moment and I do not get the spray as I hand my head over the bridge looking at the gorge below.
The next day, I visit Casa del Rey Moro which Nina tells me “nearly 900 years ago dwelt a Moorish chieftain with a bizarre taste in drinking cups. He had the skulls of his enemies set with jewels and fashioned into goblets”. When Nina visited the house was owned by a Duchess who had the place “skilfully restored”. It must have fallen into ruin since Nina visited, perhaps during the Spanish Civil war as it is again under restoration and I could not visit the house. I could visit the gardens where peacocks and the chicks wander around avoiding the stray cats and kittens. Although it may be the other way around.
I visit the bullring, one of the oldest in Spain built in 1784. It is beautiful. Bull-fighter aficionado and writer, Ernest Hemingway also visited Ronda. In his book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway describes the execution of Nationalist supporters being thrown from the cliffs, this was based on killings that took place from the cliffs of Ronda. He also described Ronda as one of the most romantic cities in the world and it must be for a blokey bloke like Ernest to describe it as such.
The following morning I walk down the gorge to a place that is illustrated in Nina’s book. I want a photo of the same location. Walking down the path takes me back to my Camino days and I curse leaving my sticks back in Australia and giving my boots to a homeless person in Paris. My toes were so black and sore at the time I never wanted to put my feet in them again. They would have been welcomed on this walk down. The steps start off ok but soon disintegrate into goat tracks and river beds. I get to the spot about three quarters of the way down, take a photo and contemplate walking to the very bottom. The path by now is pretty bad so I decide to go back up. My calves burn and my knees ache.
On my return to Australia, I had told people that I had no problem walking the Camino de Santiago, with my knees. “They were fine”, I would proclaim. Not so. As I lay in bed that night I remembered how they would ache at night. Something I had wiped from my memory. Two voltarian and an extra strength Spanish Panadol would dull the pain at night and prior to walking each day. How could I have forgotten this?
By this morning, my knees felt better, so off I went to walk the city walls and ramparts, built by the Moors. I walked up steep, high steps – about knee high – and only slightly wider than me. No hand rails, no safety nets. I am not great with high places at the best of times, so I clung to the wall like a huge crab. Once up, I walked the lengths of the bits left. Stopping to enjoy the view and look at the openings were soldiers protected the city from any advancing army. I walked back into the town.
When Nina travelled in 1934, Spain was in a very sad state. She describes the begging children, in every town, in every street. They call to her “Mon-ee! Mon-ee” and describes show they twiddle their fingers in “approved Spanish fashion”. She goes on to say “For the impertinent insistence of begging children, the revolting methods of grown-up beggars, and the numbers of the importunate the poor are always with us”. To date, I have not seen too many beggars, the odd older man asking for some money to eat or others silently standing on a street corner with a cup or cupped hands. Last night I was accosted by children after money. However, were in school uniforms and carried what looked to be official donation buckets, and they were collecting donations for their Catholic school. If a person donated they were given a sticker, to ensure they were not asked again my their classmates further down the square.
This morning I visited the church of Santa Maria la Mayor. When Nina was searching to visit this church she first accidentally went to the church of Santa Cecilia. In this church she was outraged by the Cathedral’s guidebook standing “in the same glass case as Alonso Cano’s exquisite ivory Crucifixion”. I wonder what she would have made of the Tapas recipe books on sale at the church of Santa Maria la Mayor, along with all the other souvenirs. Nina went to Santa Maria because “for a peseta and a half you are allowed to gaze upon an arched doorway and the capitals of two pillars ornamented with Arabic designs”, all that remains of a mosque the Moors built over a Visigoth temple. Nina was not too impressed, and neither was I. Now four and a half euros to enter, the door is mainly covered and it is only if you look carefully you can see the very top of it behind glass. The entry fee allows you to go up the stone spiral staircase to the bell tower, once the minarete of the mosque. I started up but my knees were complaining and my fear of heights not happy. So I stopped on the first level. Nina had walked to the top with her guide. When they reached the top her guide ‘bade’ her to “lean over and look down. There below, so that I looked clear down the core of it, hung the stone railing, like the skin of a neatly peeled apple”. I looked up and could see exactly what Nina was saying.
Next on my list, in following Nina, was to be a mule ride to see the sights of Ronda outside the township. I could not find a tour offering mule or a donkey sight-seeing tours. I could take one by jeep but it was fully booked and the dune buggies were just way too expensive. I think the noise of dune buggies would not have suited Nina’s sensibilities or mine so chose not to do it this way. I could do a taxi but that just seemed too modern. After thinking it through, I decided not to do anything. Nina’s tour consisted of her guide waving his hand towards some particularly beautiful hillside crying, “Look over theah!” and then add, “’Sluvly, isen it”. He would then tell Nina how English women adored Spanish men.
“They come ovah heah because the lov Spanish men. They lov them! … you will see how good-lookeeng the Spanish men can be. I will tell you! Theah was a lady, an English lady; not middle-class – or no! She belonged to the high-life, the aristocracy … and she came here to Ronda and stayed at the Hotel C_____. And she fell in lov with one of the mozos – one of the waiters, you understand? She was mad about heem.”
Nina’s guide tells her that the English lady invited the waiter into her room one morning when no one was about. Nina asks him if the waiter went in, he replied “Why would he not? He was not a cold Englishman! He was Spanish, and very good lookeeng!” Throughout Nina’s trip she hears stories of this kind, sometimes the woman would be American, sometimes English. They didn’t go to Spain for the art or architecture but for a “romantic adventure with a Spaniard; the Spanish men, of course, being noted for their good looks and their irresistible manner of making love!” I suspect Nina thinks the Spanish men are full of themselves.
I don’t know how long Nina spent in Ronda but three days are enough for me. Tomorrow Nina and I travel to Granada.