Aracena’s premier tourist attraction, Gruta de la Maravillas, the Cave of the Marvels, were discovered at the turn of the twentieth century by a Spanish boy looking for a lost pig. It’s over one hundred years later and I’m here, an English girl looking for lost inspiration.
We’re staying up in the hills, at Funca El Tornero, where tranquil fields lay heavy with the fruits of the land. Ranges of hills stretch out far in the horizon, like ripped paper in silhouette layers. A disc of turquoise punctuates the vista, a vast gleaming lake, one of the region’s rare sources of water. Twisted olive trees burn in the sun. Sweet chestnut pom poms bob in the wind. Clusters of cork oak hover on the land. And through the leaves of them all is a rustling breeze, struggling to get comfortable.
Walking along flinty mule tracks lined by dry stone walls and dryer tufts of grass, I feel the sun graze my arms. The cool, inky dark morning speckled by stars, has broken into a blistering day and a clear blue sky glistens down on the terraces below. The clip clop of hooves grows louder as a cloud of dust billows up. The brown and white pony bobs rhythmically as he carries his owner proudly through the rising path. Clusters of blackberries on burnt twigs tempt little dark haired girls with their baskets. The tell tale dribble of ‘one for the basket and one for me’ runs down their cheeks.
In the distance I hear the gentle tang of a cow bell, and closer the lazy deep baa of a sheep’s conversation. A diamond of black birds flies across the cloudless sky towards the Castillo, and Arab castle casting a comfortable shadow on the town it protects below.
Down in the valley I stumble into the town of Aracena and make my way with a Bambiesque walk into its steep cobbled streets. The air here is as relaxed as the bucolic fields that surround it, even as the happy hum of life goes on.
Women walk briskly carrying loaves of bread from the panaderia. Men climb hot ladders to paint glittering white buildings even whiter. Young girls hang out the washing on the black twisted iron balconies. Old ladies shuffle on their daily pilgrimage to Iglesia Prior de Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor en Aracena, the thirteenth century church that still bears the minaret of the mosque that preceded it. Couples sit on benches under shady trees whilst their children laugh climbing marble walls. Teenagers do what they do everywhere – hang out.
I find a table at one of the bars surrounding Plazes Marques. People are scattered along the pavement in anticipation of the evening break when the air will hang heavy with the scent of coffee and the aroma of sherry. The gentle babble of Spanish builds up around me aas friends devour small plates of pan, queso and jamon. Men finding their pigs. They know more about the acorn fed pigs that their dinner comes from than the Museo del Jamon can ever teach. In the centre of the square stands a fountain that never stops running, the water sourced from a nearby spring. It’s slower these days, with Spain suffering severe drought, but there’s a symbolic trickle from the spout. In the bar the wine never stops flowing, itself sourced from the slopes that surround us.
I sit back and sip a glass. I smell the hints of pear and taste the soft peach. I’m content to stop walking, just sit for a short while. Down here, in little Aracena, I no longer feel so lost.
I was in Aracena on the Dark Angels advanced course.