Day trip time! Today is our first group excursion, to Rondas, a small traditional (tourist) town in Mlga, with a stop off at Menca en route.
Menca, about an hour and a half away from Granada, is the site of a small Iberian megalith which looks upon La Pea, a rock outcropping. The megalith, which basically means "something made of big rocks" (a la Stonehenge) is a small temple housing a deep hueco,
a well, and thus was surmised to be a water temple. It is composed of a dozen huge stones for walls, four feet wide each and taller than a man, along with two central columns supporting several more huge stones serving for a roof; the entire complex is then sealed with dirt except for the front door.
As an introduction to the temple, we watched an informative 10-minute computer animation showing what the Iberian civilization was like and how they probably constructed the edifice. The archeologists surmised that the Iberians were a hunter/fisher-gatherer society that used some fancy civil engineering feets to cut out the rocks, move them to the site, and place them. To cut out the rocks, they could pour water into cracks in the rock face and wait for them to freeze and widen the cracks in order to break loose large rocks, then chip them down to size. To move the liths, many men and women all hauling on ropes tied to the rock would move them on top of log rollers across the plain. To place them in pre-dug ruts, pretty much the same thing happened, then the ropes were used to adjust the tilt of the rocks. Pretty snazzy, Iberian Celts, good engineering techniques there.
After the video, we visited the building itself and a tomb next to it and looked out at La Pea, which is a rock outcropping resembling the face of a woman laying down, looking up at the sky. It panned out pretty well, actually, especially if you were standing in the temple's doorway looking out towards her. Soon after, we loaded back up on the busses to strike towards Rondas. We finished off the hand of the card game we were playing earlier and napped.
The bus dropped us off at a gas station at the lower edge of Rondas so that we might *cough* enjoy the uphill walk into the town. Well, it was rather pretty, and at the entrance to the city proper was a fine, well-built defensive wall with a huge gate. We entered it to look upon the city's central plaza, quite pretty, though we didn't stay long, as Jorge soon took us into the town's church.
To look at the outside of the town church, it just looked like another symbol of Catholicism, perhaps even a little on the smallish side; but once we entered (for a speed touristing), we realized the magnificence and opulence that is a three story-tall Catholic church. Huge vaulted ceilings, displays of massive gilt Spanish Catholic works, murals upon the walls, stained-glass windows, and all the standard accoutrements of a Catholic church. Oh my. In a hallway off the main chapel were some pieces of art under glass, including the head of crucified Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, an awful lot of blood, and a horrified expression on his face (perhaps for lacking his body). Oh, Spain.
Soon enough we were corralled by Jorge and brought to the next part of town, more spreading vistas of the town and countryside. Running through the town is a river -- and by river, I mean a 100-foot chasm -- so we got to look straight down the cliff face. Boo-tee-ful! A few people were talking about retiring here, maybe buying a hotel or something; and if you looked down into the valley, there were several large, private houses (with their own pools, too, all painted cyan on the inside). Nice place to end up, sure, but the town is still a bit tourist-trappy, with plenty of nice signs directing you to hotels and various parts of town. Jorge told us about a policy established by the Spanish government, from when the tourist trade started picking up, of installing in each tourist town a parador,
a nice, overpriced hotel for all the rich Europeans wandering through on their exotic world tours. The parador in this town did indeed look very nice, with several expensive restaurants attached to it (and the McDonald's right next door).
The last stop on our walking tour was the Plaza de Toros, the first bull-fighting arena in all Spain (I think). The place was a huge arena, practically a hippodrome in scope. The seating reminded me of the Globe Theatre in London, though, with lots of stadium seating and one upper balcony, held up by Corinthian columns and arches. Also see: picture. In the same building were the corrals for the bulls and some other associated stuff, including a mini-museum in the inner hallway of the arena which we didn't visit.
Jorge released us at 3pm, after visiting the arena, with a reminder to meet back there in an hour and a half to walk up the hill to the bus station -- and a stern admonition that if we were late, we'd have to find the bus station ourselves. While the gregarious gaggle of girls took votes on what to do, I decided to wander off and explore the city on my own. Jason caught up with me, so we took to the plaza to find me some food (since I'd forgotten to grab my lunch). Our travels (a short walk in between two hotels) took us into a plaza with a raised dais built into the middle, where they might hold performances for the public. Around the edge of the plaza were various cafes and restaurants, which we noticed went from more expensive to cheaper as you went around the circle. (We later noticed that the cheaper cafe, where we were eating, also ended up a little chilly as it was in the shadow of the building.) To fill my stomach, I ordered chorrizos con papas fritas en vino blanco,
little sausages on french fries in a white wine. This little plate of tapas was served with slices of bread and was quite yummy! For the postre,
dessert, we took churros con chocolate,
which Jason found insufficiently thick (the chocolate, that was) but still decent.
While I did enjoy the company and felt quite debonaire sitting out in a European cafe with a travelling partner, the chorrizos didn't quite fill me up, so Jason and I tried out the McDonald's down by the parador. It was, um, a McDonald's. The food seemed about as good, maybe a titch better, than in the U.S., but for all intents and purposes we might as well have been at home. Nonetheless, it was food, and worth trying just for the experience. (That's what they all say...)
The rest of the day was quite uneventful: we collected at the designated meeting point, walked uphill to the bus station, loaded up, and went home. Jorge gave us the itinerary for next weekend's trip, when we'll be going to Toledo en route to Madrid. He prattled an awful lot after that, a tendency we students have noticed in him, something about how UD and UGR (the University of Granada) have had a twenty year-long relationship with trading professors and students and that a diplomat is necessary to manage that -- namely, him. It seemed to be the same speech he gave last week, so while it was nice to hear that he was the go-to guy, I may have missed the point. It doesn't help that he was standing a few rows behind me, so I couldn't hear; but either way, I got the opportunity to work on some macrame bracelets and watch out the window at the lovely rolling hills of the Spanish countryside before I passed out. Of note: windmill farms for generating electricity were atop some of the hills! Also of note: Spanish charter busses, while they typically lack built-in toilets, are still pretty comfortable to sleep in.
Summary of day: I'm glad we spent a tranquil day wandering around a traditional countryside town, as the weather was beautiful -- barely a cloud in the sky -- and it was an opportunity to socialize with my travelling companions in a low-pressure setting where we could actually hear each other (instead of at the bars). This is the stuff study abroads are made of.
Back at home with Carmen and Conchi, we had what looked like a potato omelette (although they call it a tortilla,
as opposed to just huevos fritos
or fried eggs) along with slices of various types of sausage and maybe a salami with olives. Quite filling, if plain. Afterwards, although we had initially planned to go out to the bars, we decided we were just too wiped out from last night and all of today and crashed early.