Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ronda, Costa de Sol & Gibraltar

We rented cars in Sevilla and headed south to Costa de Sol...The Sunshine Coast.  On the way we stopped at Ronda, said to be one of the oldest towns in Spain.  Its location at the top of a rock provides scenic views of the Rio Guadalevin.  The location also made it a great place for Andalusian bandits in 18th and 19th centuries.  There is a 360 ft deep gorge that divides the old town from the new town, with an impressive bridge built in the 1700's that spans the gap.

The town of Ronda overlooking the Rio Guadalevin

Move views

Ronda's most famous bullfighter, Pedro Romero, is said to have killed 5,600 bulls.  Sorry, I can't resist saying it....that's a lot of bull. 

The gorge between the old and new city.  It's pretty clear why building a bridge was important for future development. 

One of the narrow streets of the old city

More views

For the non-Spanish reading readers, this is the Ham & Cheese Boutique

And this is what you will find in the Ham & Cheese Boutique.  Andalusia is famous for their ham.  They feed the pigs acorns to give the meat a unique flavor. 

Leaving Ronda, we took a short, but challenging drive to visit the Pileta Cave.  The drive presented one of those situations where the road signs say "go right" but the GPS says "go left".  Unfortunately we went left.  Our route took us through the narrow, winding streets of a small, hillside town.  The streets kept getting narrower and narrower.  I knew I was getting into trouble when I noticed that a) every car parked along the street was a tiny, sub-compact (I was driving an Audi Station Wagon) and b) every car parked along the street had numerous scrapes on the bumpers and side panels.  Finally the street became what seemed like a wide sidewalk and we had to call a halt to the adventure.  Turning around was out of the question, so Kate and Lori got out of the car and guided me while I backed out of town.

We finally reached the Cave and it was worth it.  Discovered by a local farmer (aren't they all), the cave contains drawings of fish, horses and other animals that are thought to be 15,000 years old.  But the best part was the tour itself.  There were only 10 people in the group.  There was no electricity so we carried small butane lanterns.   And even though the guide had probably given the tour thousands of times, he was very enthusiastic about the subject.   It was easily the best cave tour we've ever taken.

The spelunkers waiting to enter the cave.  

Kate sitting outside the cave entrance.  Note the homemade weather wane behind her.

For the next two nights we stayed at a hotel on the beach at Marbella.  Our guidebook described Marbella as "playground of the rich and home of movie stars, rock musicians and dispossessed royal families".  We didn't fit into any of those categories, but they still let us in.  We didn't really spend much time in Marbella other than to hold a cut-throat ping pong championship tournament at the hotel.  After some close matches, Mark Sechler emerged as the victor. 

The first annual Holiday Ping Pong Classic

Sunset on the beach at Marbella

We took a side trip from Marbella to Great Britain.  Actually, to one of the British Colonies, Gibraltar.  After a series of tussles and wars, the British finally claimed Gibraltar in the early 1700's.  Although Spain has tried to reclaim it several times since then, Gibraltar remains a crown colony today.  In fact, the border that we drove across to get to Gibraltar was closed from '67 until '85 because the Spaniards were upset with the situation.  Even today, there are very few road signs or advertisements for Gibraltar in Spain (luckily our GPS did not lead us astray on our journey there).    As a sidenote, in 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono decided at the last minute to get married.  Their first choice was Paris, but being non-French that was going to take some time.  So they rented a jet, flew to Gibraltar and were married in a civil ceremony (a beneift of John's British citizenship).  Then they left for their honeymoon in the Amsterdam Hilton.  

Here is proof that Gibraltar is a British Colony.....a classic red phone booth

Entering Gibraltar is interesting --- you walk across the airport runway!  There are only a limited number of flights, so you don't have to worry about dodging a 747.   As you can imagine, there isn't a lot of flat land around, so having a road, sidewalk and airport runway share the same space is one of the inconveniences that Gibraltarians put up with.   

It takes a long time to walk across an airport runway

We had clear, sunny skies which provided good viewing from "The Rock".  Morocco is only 14 miles away and was easily visible.  We were told that the lighthouse at the southern point of the island is visible to sailors 27 miles away.  Gibraltar remains a busy port, so there were many ships anchored in the harbor.  On the island itself, there were a few sights to see.  St. Michaels Cave is large enough to for the locals to hold concerts.  There are miles of tunnels that were carved out of the rock to provide cannon sites during the Great Siege of 1779-82.  You can see how difficult it would have been for Spain to capture the island.

On the right is the Atlantic Ocean.  On the left is the Mediterranean Sea.

The concert hall inside St. Michael's Cave

The island is blessed (or cursed) to be home to 200 or so tailless Barbary Apes, the only non-human primates in all of Europe. 

Some of those Marbella movie stars?

Cannons used to defend Gibraltar in the 1700's

You can see Morocco in the distance

Straight out of the Prudential commercial
 One final note:  Many of the photo's of Spain were taken by Carol and Caroline Sechler.  In addition to being very good photographers, Santa had brought them a new super-duper lens.  Their photo's turned out great and they were kind enough to share them.  

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