Last November, my husband and I packed a few belongings, left Vancouver B.C. and set out on a new journey. We arrived in Ronda the following night in torrential November rains, not knowing how long we would stay nor where we would go next. A year later we are still here.
Ronda is one of those magical places that have people coming back. We first visited in the spring of 2012 on a one-night stopover during a trip through Spain. It was the only place it rained during our entire holiday, but when we woke up on the morning of our departure, the view that met us was like no other. A group of horses were gracing peacefully outside our hotel window. Bright sunrays hit the hill behind, where silver-leafed olive trees were silhouetted against a deep-purple sky, slashed by an auspicious double rainbow. We simply knew we had to come back.
Living in Andalucía is like living in an ever-changing painting in palates of greens, earth tones and pure gold. It is a piece of art I hope I will never to take for granted. Whether we go for a drive or a stroll around the block, few are the days where I do not feel like pinching my arm and asking myself: “Are we really here?”
Granted, living in a mountain village is not for everybody. We have no malls or big chain stores, and no Starbucks. Our town has one cinema, which to my knowledge only shows last season’s American blockbusters dubbed in Spanish. There are no five star restaurants or designer boutiques. In fact, we are probably quite unfashionable. Living in rural Andalucía is like stepping back in time. You still see the occasional donkey, though more often horses trot through the street. When you buy a dozen screws in a hardware store, they are still wrapped in a piece of newspaper. To get a zipper, you have to line up at the haberdashery with seven ladies before you, while the matron up front takes an eternity deciding on the few centimeter of ribbon to match her doily curtain. Many would find this kind of life boring, but to us it is simply magical.
We may not have Venti non-fat, no-foam, extra hot lattes, but we have countless cafés looking onto picturesque plazas where we can stop for a café con leche for just over an euro. We may not have world-class restaurants, but we can buy fantastic locally produced cheese, wine, meat and vegetables that haven’t traveled across endless oceans to get to our table. And if one does not feel like cooking, there are plenty of places serving home-made ‘casera’ type fare, three courses including bread and wine for about 10 euros, which in my native Norway barely will get you a dry sandwich.
Our life has become infinitely closer connected to our natural environment, surrounded as we are by fields, olive groves and vineyards. Hanging out the laundry today (yes, we still can dry clothes outside…), I had to duck under the heavy olive branches. On my way back I met a handful pomegranates bursting out of their skin, simply begging to be picked.
We simply love our street and the lively folks that populate it, the kids wheeling down the hill on their pink bikes, the toothless smiles and cheery hellos from the old men on the corner. We enjoy the simple life, the meandering country roads, park benches hit by soft winter rays and the sand-coloured stone walls that envelop our town, echoing past mysteries and reminding us of all the people that lived here before us.
Rural Andalucians are lively, noisy, passionate, impulsive and generous almost to a default. The other day I was working in our community garden when one of the other gardeners entered, a heavy-set mother with her adult equally round son. We greeted each other and they continued to their plot, speaking in a thick Andalucian accent of which I only would catch every third word. The mother was yelling and scalding her son for everything he did or did not do. Nothing seemed to please her. The poor son took it without complaining and dug on. I thought to myself how hard it must be to live with such a horrid person. As if she read my thoughts, the lady hollered over at me, “He, hija”, meaning “Look here, girl”. With a great smile she asked me if we have planted any lettuce. When I declined, she called me over, where she handed me two large healthy plants. She had become friendliness herself.
These are not easy times in Spain and these people are not wealthy. In fact, they probably need everything they plant. Yet she shared what she had with me, a complete stranger and foreigner to boot, who happens to be digging in the ground a few lots away. For her and for so many other reasons, we feel completely welcome here. Andalucía has taken us in her embrace, and so far neither of us is letting go.