Ronda, Spain by Davey Womack
We are so excited to introduce our new guest blogger feature. Kicking it off, we are delighted to showcase a contribution by travel writer Davey Womack, about Ronda in Spain. He’s also a tour guide, hostel receptionist, and all-round nice guy. Whether it’s chasing bears in Alaska, or attempting to swim with sharks, Davey always has a unique take on the adventures he gets into and documents them on his blog. He likes pizza, walks on the beach, and all animals except goats, but most of all he likes to make you smile. If you want to see what Davey does next, follow him @womackswonder on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In my youth, I used to galavant all over the place in an endless pursuit of what I dubbed the ABC of travel. I was of the opinion that for a place to be worth visiting, it had to have Adventure, Beauty, and Culture. I bounded all about the globe using this as a metric when trying to satisfy my wanderlust.
I swooned at the thought of hiking up mountains, or snorkeling with sea creatures, or exploring hidden caves. But as I’ve matured, I’ve noticed my most treasured memories are the times I’ve spent with somebody special.
I’ve come to the conclusion, that what you do is not as important as who you do it with, although, of course, if you can do something awesome with someone awesome that’d take the biscuit. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take the town of Ronda in Spain as an example.
But first, a bit of history… Ronda was originally built fifteen kilometres away, in the valley, by the river loving Phoenicians. However, those war-loving Romans decided it would be best to move the whole town onto the clifftop, as here was better for defence. Quite often in history, whole towns have been moved, but very rarely as dramatically as this. This move left the fertile valley, and surrounding rolling hills, to be left vacant for olive trees and vineyards.
More to the point, this new position put the opportunity for adventure right on Ronda’s doorstep. This brings us to the start of our ABC: adventure. The El Tajo gorge splits the town in half and is today littered with lunatics scrambling up its side, just a length of string and some well-placed finger holes between them and a fall to certain death. Certain death from these heights is incidentally a thing Ernest Hemingway claimed to have witnessed whilst he was a volunteer ambulance driver here during the Spanish Civil War.
There is a memorable scene in his classic ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ in which the protagonist talks about rounding up the fascists in town and forcing them to march off the cliff top to their deaths. A gruesome end for sure, and one which, according to legend, Hemingway witnessed first hand here in Ronda.
It was the lure of this adventure that initially drew me to Ronda. I remember the first time I came here was with my sister for my 23rd birthday. I’d decided that I wanted to see the famous bridge that spans the gorge firsthand. What a great adventure it felt as we went exploring the alien paths leading down to the bottom of the gorge. We were hoping to find a spot to enjoy the Puente Nuevo in all its glory.
Having passed several, however, our adventure-lust got the better off us and we kept going long after the path ran out, scrambling over boulders and muddy mounds until, right at the bottom, we found ourselves by the pool of a tranquil waterfall. We sat there feeling like intrepid adventurers in the shadow of the mighty bridge, rising like a monolith on top of us. I have seldom seen places where such exotic adventures are hidden right in the heart of a town.
Even today, after having shared Ronda with countless people, I can’t quite believe how much adventure it hides. Or, more accurately, I can’t quite believe how many adventures I’ve enjoyed there.
It’s not just adventure, though, Ronda is also stunningly beautiful. I’m going to attempt to paint a picture for you. In doing so I shall be the latest in a long line of artists throughout the ages who’ve been inspired by the views out across the long valley. We’ve spoken of Ernest Hemingway, but Byron, Tennyson, and Orson Wells all found inspiration whilst looking out from the top of the Mirador de la Ronda.
On the other side of the valley lie a range of impenetrable mountains, across which I’ve watched many a storm roll in. Curiously though, these are not the only things that catch your eyes. Despite their grandeur and imposition, it’s the quaint farmyard sitting humbly beneath which draws one’s gaze. Gypsy horses trot amongst olive groves, and a serene little river, exhausted from it’s drilling through the gorge, meanders along accompanied by a dirt track. It’s a view of perpetual summer, even on the most stormy of days, I fell in love with this view and wanted to share it with as many special people as possible.
The mirador lies across the gorge from the old town. The magnificent buildings on that side were built long after the Moors surrendered the city in 1485. On the side of the ancient Moorish city, the walls still stand, and for me, they hide much more than just an ancient city. Perhaps it’s my hatred of crowds, but, sneaking away from the masses enjoying the scenery in their designated zones, I prefer to climb up onto the old city wall where you can enjoy the views of unspoiled countryside in peace.
I remember vividly the jubilation I felt when I showed my best friend around Ronda. She had always wanted to see one of Spain’s famous white villages and reveled in exploring the tight streets, taking photos of every orange tree we passed. But there was something about the look in her eye as she stared out across the countryside from our secret spot atop the old Moorish wall that will stay with me forever. There is no greater thrill in life than sharing a beautiful moment with someone you love.
Before I get too doughy-eyed, though, let’s move on to some culture. Ronda is considered the spiritual home of bullfighting. The sport as we know it today was developed in Ronda by successive generations of two rival families: the Ordóñez and Romero clans. Before these two families began convoluting the fights into a spectator sport, getting ever riskier and more ornate in their duels, it was simply a way to kill the bull whilst showing how manly you were.
Once it developed into a spectacle worthy of an arena, in 1784, the bullring took its place in history as the first stadium for watching the killings. Should you desire, you can walk around the bullring here. If you’re interested in bullfighting, this is a much better option for exploration than Seville’s – or any of the other bigger ones – because, unlike in the cities, here you can get stuck into every nook and cranny of this blood-thirsty pastime.
Step over the gates where the bull is taunted as it’s led into the ring, then climb up into the grandstands to see the view, before getting out onto the sand yourself to pretend you’re the next great matador to saturate the sand with blood.
As for me, if my choice of words didn’t give it away, I’m not a fan of the sport. I’m a vegetarian. I much prefer to indulge in the culinary cultures of Andalucia. Ronda has some of the best tapas bars yet to be discovered by clamoring tourists. Whenever I was giving tours of the town, I would take my guests to El Lechuguita, a small tapas bar hidden away on a back street. We would cram into the packed bar, grab a table at the side of the small space, and enjoy the most authentic of local cuisine. The mushrooms and tortilla were my personal favorites.
Fate would eventually lead me to become a tour guide here, and the experience was different with each group I would show around the city. I distinctly remember one spoiled Manhattan family being bored to tears with the town and refusing to go anywhere for lunch that didn’t have fries. The youngest son couldn’t have cared less as we walked across the Puente Nuevo. Not even the dramatic hundred-meter drop could distract him from his talk of baseball. This clash of cultures amused me greatly. The look on the kids’ faces as I tried to tell them some random bit of history was priceless!
This experience was in stark contrast to my parents when I got to show them around town. My Dad wilted in a chair, sun-beaten but with a look of sheer glee as we sat on a terrace overlooking the plaza. He’d brought a Panama hat especially for the occasion and it now seemed to melt over his head. Despite being unable to handle the sun, he loved sitting in the bars or on the terraces, sampling all the local cuisine, and every single drink on the menu. He was on a mission to drink Andalucia dry.
He got impressively close, but what impressed me more was that with each drink he dared more and more to try speaking some Spanish (although this would invariably end with a shrug of the shoulders and a sheepish pointing of the finger in my direction). If you knew my dad, you’d know how hard it is for him to learn languages, but he was nevertheless keen to embrace every facet of this new culture.
Clearly then, it’s fair to say that Ronda ticks the boxes for my ABC of travel: innumerable adventures have been had here throughout the centuries, its beauty has inspired countless wandering souls, and it’s the birthplace of much of what we consider to be quintessentially Spanish culture.
But I hope I’ve successfully articulated to you my point: it’s not the things that I’ve done here that make this place so special to me, but who I’ve done it with, the memories we’ve shared. How about you? What places stick out to you? Which places conjure up fond recollections of halcyon days? Where have you completed the ABC of travel and who did you complete it with?