A North American woman read my blog and wrote to me because to the ‘horror’ of her friends and family, she will spend some time in Ronda this winter. Their reaction may have been a bit exaggerated, but I had to ask myself what potential horrors anyone would encounter here in in our little mountain town on a regular winter day?
There are many things that may evoke our horror these days: war, terror, pollution, racism, global warming and the presidential elections of the United States, to mention a few. I can imagine ones loved ones being horrified if one is going to take a world-tour of closed down, leaky nuclear plants, but the ‘horrors’ of a Spanish village visit? Apart from what happened here during the Spanish Inquisition and the Spanish civil war, I cannot imagine many horrors a visitor may encounter in our town. Anyhow, let us take a look at the concerns of the women’s well-meaning family and friends. What possible ‘horrors’ could she experience during four winter weeks in Ronda?
First, there is the horror of bad weather. Relatively speaking, rain and thunderstorms do not qualify as horrors in my book, but depending on where one comes from, maybe to some they do? Almost all of Europe will have more precipitation and what we tend to call bad weather in the winter. But that is equally true for North America. Spain is generally a sunny place, but Ronda is not a beach town, and at approximately 850 meter over the sea level, we might even have frost or snow. Who knows, that might qualify as another ‘horror’? When one thinks about it, our winters are relatively balmy compared to the winters in in for instance Minnesota, Quebec and Alaska. On the contrary, the visitor may quite likely experience winter days with clear, blue skies.
Next there are the ‘horrors’ of rural living. If one comes from a big city and has a dread of green fields and bleating sheep, then Ronda would certainly be a risky place to visit. Indeed, you may spend a month with relatively clean air, surrounded by mountains and come back home with cleaner lunges. You may wake up to the brays of a donkey instead of sirens and rather than driving bumper to bumper, you may drive on scenic roads virtually void of cars. Such vistas can be horrific or beautiful, depending on the eye of the beholder. Rural living means that life moves at a slower pace, which may be irritating to some.
We are sort of a bit behind here in the very Southern tip of Europe. But lagging behind means that our town still has cobblers and seamstresses and ironsmiths and that you can get your toaster, boots, garden gate, watch or virtually anything repaired, usually for under 5 euros, which probably now equals the price of one fancy Starbucks beverage.
Coming to a Latin place, there is also the ‘horror’ of social contact. People may actually talk to you. Latin people are certainly more social and friendly than us Norwegians and talk more and louder than the Canadians I spent most of my adult life with. Rondeños may engage in conversation quite unprovoked. People will often smile when they pass you and wish you a good day, just like that. Furthermore, waiting in line or sitting in a cafe, people may compliment you and call you guapa or guapo, as in pretty or handsome depending on your gender. They will not mean this as a pickup line, so try not to take it as a personal attack and react in horror.
There is the potential ‘horror’ of experiencing trust and downright generosity. The first time you come into one of the small grocery stores in town, even if the shopkeeper does not know you from Adam, if you lack a few cents on your purchase he or she is likely to tell you to pay them next time. You will notice that they do not write down this debt, they will simply trust you to bring them the extra coins when you have them. Equally, they may throw in something for free: a bunch of parsley, a couple of sweet buns when you buy bread, a candy or a fruit. My husband always says “Just like in Canada” when this happens, as it never happened once in the decades we lived in Vancouver. This urge to be generous and trusting even to strangers may be something completely new and thus a bit unsettling for a traveller. But don’t be horrified. They will not come after you, expecting something in return.
There are the ‘horrors’ of style and taste, or more specifically of different style and taste. There is no limit to what you can wear here in Southern Spain. Nobody will think you are being too bling, too metrosexual, too feminine, to macho, too overdressed, too underdressed, too colourful, too 1980’s, too Chanel or too risqué. You can wear it all and not worry. As long as you are clean and care for your appearance, nobody cares if you wear the latest in fashion. Of course for a true fashonista, spending a month in our big village could be seen as, yes, a ‘horror’, but it could be fun as well. In fact, you can allow yourself to bring our your inner frills. Here is your chance to sport your über-bling jewellery that you never had a chance to wear. Oh, horrors!
Talking about taste, there are also the ‘horrors’ of the different food. Though Ronda has hundreds of eateries, the most common fare is comida casera or homemade meals. People generally make what grows around here and what is in season, so you may risk reducing your ecological footprint for the time being. Granted, this means than you wont find Bok Choi and French Roquefort in every corner store. On a personal note, I actually think the ‘horror’ will be when the traveller returns to North America and can no longer pay one euro for a café con leche or a couple of euros for a glass of locally grown organic red wine.
I should add that strict vegans might have difficulty finding restaurants that cater to their needs. If you are dead against consuming animal products, you may find the rural Spanish rather horrific. Then again, the North American fast-food chains certainly propagate daily meat consumption of over-processed, hormone-injected meat. On the contrary, the Andalucian favourite, Jamón Ibérico, or thinly sliced ham, comes from free-ranged mountain roaming Iberian pigs that are fully vegetarian, living on a naturally growing organic diet of acorns and possibly the occasional chestnut.
As we are on the topic of animals, I should mention for those that are horrified by bull fighting that there is a bullring in Ronda, like in most Spanish towns. However, you can rest assured that there are no fights during winter. In fact the ring is only used for Corridas one weekend per year, as the bullring earns more money as a museum.
Of course one must not forget the ‘horrors’ of the fiestas and the religious processions. Rondeños, like most Andalucíans love their parties. Every city, town and village celebrates their preferred virgins and saints and the various seasonal ferias, so maybe rethink your location if processions and street parties fill you with horror. In February there are carnivals all over the Hispanic world, as a traditional way of letting loose before the restraints of lent. Though Ronda’s carnival cannot compete with Río, it is a colourful fiesta. People dress up and parade around town, liquids flow, hair is let down or put up into amazing dos, nobody wants to work and the week’s celebration ends with the burning of a doll, symbolizing the end of the carnival until next year. Clearly public burnings aren’t exactly politically correct, but does not match the horrors of the Klu Klux Klan either. And if Catholic traditions aren’t your thing, you can always go to the old Arab baths or escape to the mountains, where peace and calm reins.
Finally, there is the ‘horror’ of experiencing something new. This is a big one for some, especially those who think that the best holiday is in ones own backyard or at an all-inclusive hotel where one doesn’t have to leave the fenced-in perimeters. Traveling allows us to see and experience different things. It opens our mind to other people, their lives, food, faith and customs. To me, new experiences are vital and something one should do whenever one has a chance, in spite of the possible horrors and concerns of ones friends and loved ones.