Bringing out the inner mountain goat

Whether they are dusted in snow, covered in clouds or bathed in sun, the mountains around Ronda are nothing but spectacular. From our city, one can easily reach the Serrania de Ronda and the Sierra de las Nieves, some of Andalucias most picturesque hiking areas.

We have been yearning to explore these mountain chains and this last weekend came our chance. The Casa de Juventud, vaguely translated as the department of youth, was organizing a trip around the mountains above the white village of Grazalema. As not many youth are interested in hiking, these monthly city- organized trips are now open to all citizens of Ronda. We ended up on the waiting list, but possibly because we were the first foreigners to ever join, they managed to squeeze our names to the very bottom of the list, and number 49 and 50.

The bus was supposed to leave at 9 am on Saturday morning. To our utter surprise, hikers of all ages with and without hiking poles and mountain gear started seeping in to the bus station ahead of time! All seem to know each other and soon we also were pulled into the conversation and greeted with kisses by newcomers, as though we were long-lost friends. Rafael, our guide made a head count and sent us to the bus that took us to our starting point, at the entrances to a national parks above Grazalema, where the park warden was waiting for us. Due to the protected pine forests and endemic plant species, one needs permission to enter the park, which only allow a certain number of people at a time.

We climbed through a forest of ponderosa pine with pinecones the size of human feet, before reaching open mountain plateaus with views of the sierra. Some of the teenagers of the group were complaining about not being able to take another step, while hikers 60 years their senior would already be on top of the mountain. As this was a family trip, we did not scale any tall peaks, but rather skirted around the ragged mountains, spotting rare wild mountain goats and enormous vultures en route.

We have been looking for a group of kindred spirits to share our love of hiking with and are excited to have found them! Rafael was a most knowledgeable guide and turned out to also be the president of the Andalucian hiking association Pasos Largos, which we are looking forward to join for other nature adventures.

The hike ended up in a small mountain village, with tapas and beer in an outdoor restaurant. You got to love the Spanish for their cultural largesse. I mean, who can resist hiking when one is greeted with kisses and rewarded with a cold Cruzcampo?


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