Vertical Thrill – Living on the edge in Ronda, Andalucía

When we first came to Spain we visited towns from Granada to Cádiz, searching for a place where we might want to hang our hat, at least for a few months, or if we really liked it, possibly forever. We passed through charming white villages and historical towns, but once we got to Ronda we knew that this was it. Nothing could compare to the dramatic setting, perched on a cliff with the world’s deepest urban gorge splitting the town in two.

Living in Ronda means literally living on the edge. The houses along the rim of el Tajo, as the narrow canyon is called, have nothing but a sheer drop in front of them. Pity the day the house owners need to fix their foundation or crumbling outer walls, as the Tajo is over one hundred and sixty meters deep in places. Just imagine the scaffolding… Anyhow, as long as the stonework holds this means that you as a visitor can sit at a restaurant and enjoy a glass of tinto, or sleep in a hotel room literally suspended in the air.

Such a thrilling place will of course attract visitors by the thousands, but the tourists usually walk across the world famous bridge (one of Spain’s most photographed locations), buy a couple of postcards, have a cerveza and get back on the bus to return to the Costa del Sol. For those of us who live here however, passing the edge is an everyday occurrence. Children walk to school on top of a cliff and people drive to work every day back and forth across the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), which in spite of it’s more than two centuries and the worn cobbled surface is still the main, and really the only, traffic artery between Ronda’s old and new town.

Going to school in Ronda means learning with a view. Whether one takes lessons in Spanish, horse riding, flamenco dancing or local crafts, chances are that your classroom will sit on an edge with a sweeping vista of olive groves and vineyards and the towering Serranía de Ronda mountains at a hike-able distance. It might possibly be too distracting for a daydreaming teenager needing to pass their high school exams, but for visiting students and resident expats who may not need to ace their tests, the view is a definite bonus. Take Entrelenguas, the language school just inside Ronda’s old city walls, where you not only can learn to conjugate your Spanish verbs with a vista, but they also offer wine tastings, movie nights, cooking courses, gardening stints and a pay-as-you-want bar. You may wonder if we learns anything at all here, but we do…

Living in Ronda means loving and letting go on the edge. This type of vertical landscape will spur people to declare eternal love, propose, get married, get re-married, have bitter quarrels and threaten to leave, divorce, all while standing on the brink. The edge brings out the passion in people, particularly on the “holy …..’ balcony which extends out over the Tajo at a drooping incline and with dangerously slight and seemingly rusted supports. You may hear stories about people being thrown off the bridge during the civil war or in the times of the bandoleros, though most of these are local legends and may or may not be accurate. What is sadly true is that some visitors will try to reach out a bit too far to get that last awesome shot of the Tajo. Their very last…

This type of vertical landscape will of course attract thrill seekers. There are wire-frame ‘ladders’ going up the walls of the Tajo, which are used by local and visiting climbers on a daily basis. Most seem to survive… A couple of weeks ago we had a group of young daredevils jumping with parachutes from the bridge and the edge of the Tajo. Keep in mind that it has sharp, uneven rocky edges and is very narrow, just over 60 meters at it’s widest. I chose not to watch the jumping, rather waiting for the video to be posted online the next day, just in case… Last weekend, Ronda was the host of the First European Open of Vertical Progression Techniques in Caving and Canyoning. 150 male and female competitors from all over Europe brought helmets, ropes and shackles and other climbing paraphernalia to suspend and zip-chord themselves over the dizzying ravine. The longest span went over 300 meters. My husband said he would have done it in his younger days (I actually believe him, as he was flying military planes at 17), though I made no such claim and had enough of a thrill just walking down to the bottom of the Tajo to take pictures of the competitors, suspended like tiny spiders far above. Amazing what some people do for fun!

Unbelievable as it may seem, there are rondeños with fear of heights, though anyone with a slight bout of vertigo will gradually and inadvertently be cured of the condition by the mere fact of living here. One does get used to living on the edge and staring into the stunning deep abyss. Many local residents race blindly across the Puente Nuevo as if it was any old bridge with any old view, but such is to be expected. Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but it certainly can breed indifference. I hope I will never take the stunning vista and vertical beauty for granted, though I assure you, you wont see me dangling on a rope across the Tajo any day soon…

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