We drive out of Granada to get peace, fresh air and clean water for Frank to heal his cold.
About 15km to the South lies a little town called Monachil, which we pass through and drive up towards the Sierra Nevada. We stop on a flat bit in an S-bend near the entrance to a famous gorge called Los Cahorros. We overlook a beautiful, industrious valley, everyone is busy pruning trees, tilling the ground, feeding the mules, rounding up sheep, leading herds of goats up the stony side of the mountains.
Frank spends the day by Emma, sleeping, resting and sitting in the sun, watching the goings on through his binoculars, while I stride out to explore the gorge. It is a beautiful walk through a very steep gorge. I come past many young people, climbers mostly and some families. The walk is quite exciting, as you have to go on hands and knees a few times to crawl underneath huge boulders, cross hanging bridges that sway perilously or use handrails while leaning out over the river. Some way into the gorge I start asking people if there is a circular walk. I get as many ‘yes’ answers as ‘no’s, each of them pretty convincing. So I decide to go with the yes answers and stride on, not knowing if I have to turn back and retrace my steps all the way. I figure by the position of the sun that I have an hour or so to play with before I need to make a final decision, so I leg it up the hill on the other side of the gorge. But yes, there is a beautiful route all the way back home. When I come out at the top, I can see Emma far below me. I try to whistle to Frank, but it’s too far, and anyway, he wouldn’t expect me at that end of the valley. I meet some lovely people along the way who offer me a lift but I prefer to walk. They pass by where we are parked, so I ask them to take a message down to my man to say I’m fine and on my way back. I see them stopping by Emma, and then I hear Frank whistle up to me, and we wave to each other. I leisurely stroll down the mountain, looking forward to being reunited with my lovely man. It’s been an exhilarating day, and I took lots of photos to bring the gorge back to him. I’m not as good a photographer as he is, but anyway, here they are.
The next day, we decide that since we are already 1000mtrs high, we might as well go to the top. Emma valiantly chugs up the mountain for another 25km where we reach the 2000mtr mark and the beginnings of snow. There is a horrible looking ski resort there, with exhorbitant parking fees, so we just turn on our heels and drive back down stopping at a fountain to fill our drinking-water bottles with the pure water of the Sierra Nevada.
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For a whole week, Granada is dominated by the sound of drums and the smell of incense. Over 30 processions cross the city in the space of 8 days. It must be a logistic nightmare to organise all this, but the Granadians seem to take it in their stride; buses still function, just along a slightly different route, and there is a minimal show of police, considering the huge amount of people participating and watching, and the number of roads that have to be blocked off.
Frank is not very well, so he misses all but the last day, but I venture into town with a circus friend to experience the procession of the Gitanos late on Wednesday night. We arrive at midnight in Sacromonte, bobbing along with the crowd up the hill to find a vantage point from which to see the procession. Sacromonte is like another world from the rest of Granada. The magnificent houses from downtown have given way to caves dug into the very steep hillside, with little cobbled paths and stairways leading up and down in between, and this night, they are thronging with tens of thousands of people – so many that it is hard to walk. There is a calm and expectant atmosphere – until the procession arrives, when suddenly fires and sparkling fireworks are lit. Wherever the procession passes, there is clapping and cheering. Every now and then, the procession stops, the band quietens and the sound of a solitary flamenco voice rises from the crowd, filling the valley while everyone else holds their breath. Then more cheering and clapping and dancing round the fires while the band picks up again and the floats continue their slow and strangely mesmerising dance up the hill. The stamina these people have is incredible! Some of them are out for near on 12 hours!
On Sunday, Frank feels strong enough to come on an outing. We run into four processions, among them the one with my favourite band. Even if you are not religious, you cannot help but be moved by the devotion of the people involved, by the sheer size of the operation, and for me, the sound of those plaintive but powerful brass bands – including impossibly high trumpets – (when they play well!) touches something deep in the core of my being. It is also quite freaky, nay sinister, to see so many people with strange pointy hats and their faces obscured, apart from slits for their eyes. Even if you try not to think of the Ku-Klux-Klan, images of strange fraternities and orders come to my mind, and from there it is only a small step for me to be thinking about witch-hunts and the inquisition. I’m not well versed in the history and meaning of these pointy hats, but I fear if I enquire properly, it can easily get worse than what my imagination is supplying now. There is a sinister dominance emanating from these figures, especially those who sport pot-bellies and ornate silver staffs. Wikipedia gives a fairly light-hearted version, but I’m not sure that this is the full story…
We also stroll up to Sacromonte , to see it in daylight and to take some photos of the extraordinary architecture.
As we come back down the hill, we meet the last procession of the week as it enters the cathedral. On our way back home to Emma, we see people folding the sheets that decorated the many tribunes. Pretty swiftly, Granada returns to normal, and it would seem like it was all a dream, if it wasn’t for the screeching of tyres, due to the streets being covered in wax from the penitents’ enormous candles – there’s even a proper triangular street sign warning people of the wax!
We’ll finish this blog post with a priceless photo of the procession – children collecting wax dripping from the candles. They carry around their wax balls like trophies.
Here are some of the photos from the procession as well as of Sacromonte. We’ve had no luck uploading some of the more colourful photos of the processions, so this is only a limited edition…
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