Bad Bones in Ronda


Ronda is two distinct towns: the old bit and the older bit. They are divided by the Puente Nuevo – the ‘new’ bridge – which is in fact, old. The bridge spans the gorge which featured prominently in the Civil War and, quite rightly, attracts a lot of visitors. Mainly though, when we make the 40 minute drive to this historic epicentre it is to visit the dentist, ITV (MOT) the car, to search for spare parts (oven / bike / scanner / printer), replace watch straps, upgrade mobiles, buy flipflops and unsweetened yoghurt in SuperSol . . . and other tedious stuff. It’s always a race against time before the lunchtime lock-down (from which SuperSol is exempt).

Now most visits include a visit to the Fisio Terapia centre, making Ronda not only a place where boring things happen, but a place where painful things happen too. A combination of excess incoming work and a haphazard chair-desk set up turned my shoulder into string and concrete. The harder they pummel it, the more gnarly it gets. I have illustrated this – how things are (left), how I believe they should be (right).

Last time I lay wincing and battered under an ice pack with needles in my ears listening to crocodiles of tourists shuffling up the sunny street beyond the window learning about this church and that church, it occurred to me that I’m not really getting the best out of my days out in Ronda. Next time I’m going over to the other side, to spend the day people-watching in the plazas, drinking cold beer and buying trinkets with bulls on like everyone else.


Cadiz Countryside

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Most tourists visiting Sierra de Grazalema head higher up into the mountains. Spectacular, but I like it down here in the lush, rolling, pantano.
Winter in rural Cádiz is not a hardship, but we are now being rewarded for two months, two week of keen, cold nights, and about two weeks – all told – of rain or sodden morose skies. This is how it looked around these parts in early April: the too bright brilliant, green coming through. Sparkling – and already loud with the bleating and bells of sheep and goats.
I am compiling a gallery of Favourite Hills, and one pictured, on the road from Zahara to Prado del Rey, is a contender. Why is the tree foliage parallel with the steep incline of the hill? I don’t know.

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Semana Santa Procession Below

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Another exceptionally beautiful – almost private – Semana Santa procession in Zahara de la Sierra. The crucified Christ passed under the window late last night on a bed of roses, followed by a saint I didn’t recognise, our Lady of Dolores amid flowers and candles, the nun, the village elders . . . and the band. And then they passed under the kitchen window on the other side. Just one more to go, I think.

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Semana Santa Processions 2

Wednesday’s Semana Santa procession clashed with Real Madrid v Barcelona. Half the village was drinking beer and shouting at the football on screens in and outside the bars; the rest getting antsy under the float bearing Jesus on the cross, or sitting by the church in serge suits polishing their trombones, or smoking and checking their mobiles dressed in klu klux klan outfits – actually, the long gowns and hoods representing someone’s idea of the garb of the Nazarenes, or people or Nazareth. In the end the grand and sombre procession set off on the dot of half time. It did a circuit of the village, this time adding in a long 1:4 hill, and the band played and marched for two hours. They are now no longer rusty after the winter hiatus.
There was a five-minute hold-up part-way through when Madrid scored, and the band and Nazarenes, and many of our neighbours behind, had to loiter around the corner until decorum was restored, and people had been pushed out – temporarily locked out – of Bar Nino to pay their respects to the passing procession. On the whole, the villagers juggled loyalty to the church and loyalty to football slickly and in well-practised fashion. Once Jesus was back in the church at around 12.30am, the men who’d been shuffling underneath him made it to the bar for some hours of refreshing drinks. I recognised their shoes.
The sight of dark hooded figures en masse is dramatic and chilling; and maybe weirder still when you come across two or three leaning against the wall of your house shooting the breeze. They also look odd when they’re texting.
We’re gearing up to the Good Friday procession and Easter Sunday now. The tables outside white tables and orange tables and Bar Gallo are full of revellers, a horse just galloped up the road, some kids are playing with a whistle that makes squawking duck noises, the Guardia Civil are moving the barricades around, and it’s 25 degrees.

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Semana Santa Processions

Semana Santa, and the village band has dusted off the drums for the first of the year’s many, many processions. Like most, Friday’s procession of the Virgen de los Dolores began in the plaza at 10pm, and involved a circuit up the street at the back, and down the street at the front. I think it’s fair to say the band is rusty.

The Virgen de los Dolores will have five more outings between now and Easter Sunday, born aloft among lilies and candles on her glittering silver float by costaleros who – given the steps and inclines – make regular pauses while the nun sings saetas through a megaphone. The shadow of the caped Virgin on the white walls can look quite menacing as she lurches past.

I’d gone home to fetch a jumper when I filmed this; the processions are the usual local mix of solemn and sociable, and sacred and funny – except the silent ones of course, and best followed on foot.  Semana Santa is huge across Spain, but particularly in Andalucia, and, specifically in Seville (where there are 60 or so processions) and Cádiz (where you should find a spot along the route from Plaza de Candelaria, Calle Montañés, Plaza del Palillero, Calle Novena and Calle Ancha and stay there until Easter Sunday. Moving, less overwhelming, and with easier parking, there are extraordinary processions taking place in local villages. Being biased, I would say processions through the white villages of the Sierra de Cadiz, are not to be missed.

Dates for your diary, Zahara de la Sierra

Miércoles Santo, 16 de Abril: 22:00 Estación de Penitencia de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey, y a su Templo.

Jueves Santo, 17 de Abril: 20:30 Procesión presidida por el Santísimo Cristo de la Vera Cruz. Itinerario: Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Nueva, C/Barrero, Avda. Andalucía, C/Manchega, Plaza del Rey, C/San Juan y Plaza San Juan.

Viernes Santo, 18 de Abril: 20:00 Estación de Penitencia del Santo Entierro de Cristo, San Juan Evangelista y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia.

Domingo de Resurrección, 20 de Abril: 12:00 [mass followed by] procesión del Cristo de la Sagrada Resurrección y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores en sus Misterios Gloriosos. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey,C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/ Ronda, Plaza San Juan, C/San Juan, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia. O bien Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/Alta, C/San Juan, Plaza San Juan y Ermita.


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Spanish Number Plates in 231 Easy Steps

You’d think from perusing the more indignant entries on advice forums that the paperwork involved in importing a car into Spain had been devised by the Spanish to keep Johnny Foreigner out (It’s a Nightmare! Your Car is in Danger in Spain! Don’t bother! Gringo Prices!) However, search Google in Spanish, and you find the same moaning and groaning among Spanish nationals, which I suppose the paranoid will find reassuring. Moving cars across borders is painful for everyone everywhere. Getting a truck from Panama to Colombia was so daunting we didn’t do it, thus ending up staying in Costa Rica for seven years and screwing up the whole New York to Tierra del Fuego trip. Anyway, back to Spain.

The gist is that once registered as a resident you have 60 days to sort the paperwork for a foreign car and get your Spanish plates. Visitors can drive one around for 6 months, after which the car has to be processed, taxed and plated up, otherwise you are liable for penalties – fines and impoundings and stuff, and / or have to keep the car out of the country for a 6-month period. There are people who do nothing but car paperwork day in day out; I thought we should do it ourselves and – YAY-HEY – after seven months of intermittently intense effort we have.  There are so many highlights, but among them, in no particular order:

Sending Dave 70kms to a lay-by outside Jerez de la Frontera, where he was to meet a stranger and hand him an envelope stuffed full of money. The man arrived, took photographs of the car, examined the V5 and whatnot, and after indicating what he wanted through the strenuous use of mime, took the money and drove away in a cloud of dust, leaving Dave baffled and uncertain. All was kosher. The man was a perito, a vehicle assessor from the Colegio de Ingenieros in Cádiz, and his role was to confirm that the car matched its paperwork and provide us with a ficha reducida, one of the necessary bits of paper. But it had a nice Coen brothers feel.

The Spanish MOT – the ITV. Eventually, after changing the headlamps so they pointed right to the kerb, not left into traffic, and realigning something, the car passed its test at the ITV centre near SuperSol in Ronda and we were handed a blue form in triplicate and told to take it to the Hacienda in Cádiz. The Hacienda told us to take it to the Agencia Tributaria down the road. The Agencia told us to go home and first pay the local circulation tax. The local town hall, had no access to the new-fangled online system and told us to go to another town hall. Two weeks and a few hundred kms later, I returned triumphantly clutching proof of payment. Now all to be done was to pay the Registration Tax, a combination of the value of the car (nothing! it’s worth nothing!) and its CO2 emissions as shown on the blue form . . . ‘Ah,’ said the man in Cubicle 16, ‘Your emissions are the highest of the high. Higher than a fighter jet. It will cost you one billion euros to import your car. Perhaps you should get it fixed and retested.’ Back at the ITV centre in Ronda, close scrutiny revealed that owing to a printing error the figure next to the CO2 was actually the idle speed. The form was reprinted.

Paying the Registration Tax. Just take it. TAKE THE MONEY, I pleaded at La Caixa bank back in Cádiz, waving two €50 notes and the Agencia account details, eyeing the clock. ‘We can’t,’ said the cashier, ‘because you are not in the system.’  No, no – I’m paying IN . . . CASH . . . please take my money.  I beg you.  ‘But where is your barcode?’ Barcode? Barcode? Running back up Avenida Andalucia, leaping across flowerbeds, taking the steps back to the Agencia three at a time with half-an-hour to go before closing time, I sprint stickily to the desk at Cubicle 16 and explain. The man puts me in the system and presents me with a sheet of barcodes (the key to all life). I sprint to the bank, hopping from foot to foot in the snaking queue – I’m in the system. I’m in the system, take my money! –  pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Agencia, pay, collect the receipt, sprint to the Hacienda (squeezing through the closing gates), pay, collect the receipt. Then punch the air.

The Evita moment. One visit to the Agencia Tributaria in Cádiz coincided with a lively protest by immigrants seeking employment rights. A large, good-humoured crowd had assembled at the foot of the steps with banners and megaphones. In a case of mistaken identity, as I emerged blinking in the bright sunshine after one or other of the abortive paperwork processing attempts, the crowd roared and applauded. I waved and bowed.

Well, re the car business – the matriculación – there are agencies that can do this for you in a couple of weeks, apparently. I’d probably recommend using one.

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