Day trip to Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain Andalucia. This tiny town is located north-west of Ronda, in the province of Cadiz.
I walked to the bus station, from my hotel, San Francisco, to catch the 11:30 bus but just missed it, so while waiting for the next one at 1:30 I wandered around Ronda, looking in on the different shops, vegetable and fruit markets, fresh fish store, even stopped and bought another 3 euro scarf. I was only allowing myself to buy the smallest of items/clothes, etc because my suitcase was already so full I could barely zip it up each time I departed my hotels.
While walking the commercial street, in Ronda, the one that has only foot traffic and leads directly into the plaza del toro, I came upon a religious procession with jesus and mary icons being carried through the streets by men in suits. There were a few priest and nuns present but the irony, to me, was the fact that on each side of the procession were shops such as McDonalds, Burger king, Moviestar mobile, orange, fuji and kodak. Ahh, the modernity of religious ceremonies. I suppose in Jesus’s time they also had the money lenders and shop keepers everywhere.
Finally at 1:15 I headed to the bus station15 minutes early and paid the driver 1.69 euros for the one way ticket from ronda to Setenil. I really hated getting those pennies back, like…..what am I going to do with a pocket full of pennies anyway. Why not just charge 1.70?
The trip up to Setenil from Ronda was a beautiful ride, and it reminded me of the countryside of my childhood, farmland, ranches, brown, bronze, gold and yellow tilled rolling hills with olive orchards lined everywhere. I grew up on an olive ranch and, one or two summers my father made me work alongside the migrant farmhands picking buckets, that we wore around our neck, filling the buckets by handfuls with olives. My father had a wasp work ethic…which I did not inherit! My home town was the same latitude, 38, as here in Spain and so the country reminded me of home. But if my memory serves me well, my home town in northern california seemed to be populated and settled by Italians, not many Spaniards. The Spaniards, with there many missions, were more prevalent in southern California. I had always thought Italy was the place for olives but Andalucia had orchard after orchard of olive trees and when you first catch sight of Setenil, after passing though the rolling hillsides, the white houses seem to emerge from the massive rocks.
Setenil has 3,016 inhabitants. It is ‘different’ compared to many of the pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalucia. Where most were built on top of rock and mountains, much of this town has actually been built inside caves and has a huge number of cave dwellers today.
The town is divided by a beautiful stream that flows under many bridges. This does not seem to be a tourist town but there were many cafes and outdoor tables under the rock outcroppings. The town has a ruined fortress that stands on top of a hill, alongside the church.
Calle Jaboneria is believed to have been given its name due to the location of a soap factory in the street in the 18th century or maybe because the women used to come to the stream in this street to wash their clothes. From this street is a splendid view of La Peña (the walled crag), as well as the fortress and the church. The Church of the Incarnation with its Gothic- renaissance style of the 16 century similar to the town Hall.
The cave houses within this street and those in Calle Herreria are still inhabited and have been since prehistoric times. Many of the interiors of the caves are still blackened with soot. Some of the cave houses have been converted to tourist shops, selling local artisan wares, including local wine, olive oil, honey, jams and brightly painted ceramics are also seen in some of the shops.
One thing about Setenil, is it is very, very steep. The streets in this compact, ‘cliff hanger’ town must be quite scary to drive in, And I was glad to be on foot. I can imagine some of the near scrapes and near misses you might find yourself getting into! So steep, and very narrow! Hardly room for a car to pass. You will see in my photos a large truck with a tractor on a trailer trying to make a sharp turn on the very narrow street. It took about 20 minutes to pass 50 feet, with cars pulled over, stopped, backing up, honking, people getting out, yelling and finally everyone, including, the large truck/trailer making it safely through unscathed.
I love taking pictures of doors and windows so I wandered the steep hillsides, taking photos and peeking into some of the resident’s houses whose doors were left open! Imagining what it must be like to live in a white washed cave but installed with all the modern conveniences of our century, TV, Internet, as well as the necessary water and electricity supplies. Not sure how one would hang paintings with very rugged and uneven walls, and some walls still have the black soot seeping through the white wash, from pre-historic times! It is totally amazing that people live a modern day life in a cave over 25 thousand years old! They have built modern fronts to some of these houses where the openings of the caves had once been, but you can still see the inside is a cave and the overhanging rock jutting out above the houses, is quite intimidating. Everything inside and outside is painted white, to keep the heat out, and the small windows on the front of the buildings are also designed to keep the heat out. I read that the temperature in these houses is self regulating and is a constant 18o – 20o C. They are therefore cool in summer and warm in winter, so no need for the air conditioning you usually need in these hot climates during the Summer.
Calle Herreria is the oldest street and this takes you down to the river. Your eyes fix on these cave dwellings in this street and you just have to take in the enormity of these rocks with their caves hollowed out and made into homes. I sat down here, near the rivers bed, next to the roman bridge and ate my lunch of bread and avocado. Three young boys passed by, on foot, above me on the bridge. They stopped, smiling and waving. One asked where I was from. Then they giggled and walked on, only to holler back, “Jose thinks you are very pretty,” as they threw some bougainville flowers down, laughing and running up the hillside. It was quiet, peaceful, and the sound of the creek bed could be heard with an occasional car passing over the bridge.
I eventually made my way back to the city center, waited at a local bar, drinking a cerveza and sitting outside on the plastic chair and tables, listening to the local men and women talking, joking with each other, drinking beers, teas and coffee. The bus arrived heading back to Ronda and I waved goodby to the friendly men who were kind enough to tell me this was the bus I should take. They must sit here every day, I thought, and have the same conversations, watch the different tourist come and go, although I was the only tourist sitting at their bar, drinking a beer and waiting for the bus.
And back to the big city life of Ronda, I went.