There was a massive blockage at the famous Nerja Caves when I went. Not any sort of rock-fall, nothing dangerous – just the people with the photography franchise slowing everything down to a standstill, insisting on photographing every single entrant to the caves, in a narrow passage, before allowing us past.
And unlike the far more efficient system at Barcelona FC’s Camp Nou, which is digital and you can see your pic on a bank of screens as you exit, at the caves every single polaroid is printed out, and young women grab you after your visit and try to sell it to you.
Once past the blockage, the caves are astonishing. Far bigger and more exciting than even their website had led me to believe. Our guide, the charming and knowledgeable John Keo of www.hikingwalkingspain.com/ had given us the history of the five local lads who had lowered themselves into a deep hole and had found this incredible network of caves, as recently as 1959. Their names are recorded on a plaque at the entrance, and we looked down the original drop they had climbed down and marveled at their bravery (or stupidity?).
The stalactites (“StalaC-tites Cling TITE to the Ceiling” was the mnemonic I learned as a kid) and the stalagmites (“stalaG-MITES MIGHT G-row up to the top”) are beyond impressive. I’m sure John told us how many millions of years it all took – I was too gobsmacked to take it all in. Many had met in the middle, creating huge columns. Nearby younger ones hung from above or grew up from the ground, creating beautiful displays, sensitively lit and stunning to see in the vast caverns open to the public. More intrepid cavers can don protective harnesses and go with a guide into the cordoned-off areas once a month ….. but the public area was enough for me!
We emerged blinking into the bright June sunshine. Photo-sellers jumped on us. We all managed to resist. With the popularity of mobile phone cameras, so few people were buying that the photo company keeps putting the price up (it’s now €8 for a polaroid snap) which defeats all logic.
My reason for signing up with John Keo’s walking tour was less for inside the caves (though his commentary was both knowledgeable and witty), and more for the walk down to Nerja. He first led us along to the pretty village of Maro, where coffee and beers in the pretty cliff-top village square, gazing down on the ruined sugar factory, and a look around the church, made a relaxing break.
A mixture of quiet roads, tracks and footpaths led us along beside the jacaranda trees overlooking Nerja, down to the famous aqueduct, and down a farm track to the sea. After the peace of the countryside it was a shock to turn the final bend and see Burriana Beach lined with sunbeds, chiringuitos, and hordes of tourists.
Although guiding walks is a job for John, it’s his joy as well so he was in no rush to finish our “half-day” walk. We stopped at Ayo’s chiringuito for paella, and chatting to the waiter we established that Ayo (short for Francisco – huh?) was a good friend of the five discoverers of the caves. We surmised that Ayo was holding the coats, or didn’t like the dark, or something. But even so, it felt like a connection to that exciting moment of the discovery.
After one of the best paellas I’ve ever had (with refills included), we wandered along the pretty beach, and climbed up to the town. I had considered turning this into a mini-break, and popped into a rather charming hotel we passed to see if they had a room for me. A rather brusque response that they were full surprised me, until I realised that I was apparently without luggage, asking for a single room, with four big chaps hovering just behind me! I think she MAY have thought I wanted the room by the hour!
Our walk took us on to the main square and the picturesque Balcón de Europa where John finally left us. Apart from walking holidays, John has a great programme of day walks, and I look forward to doing more of these.
My reputation in Nerja now in tatters, I gave up on the overnight idea and sloped off home – it was only an hour away after all.
© Tamara Essex 2013
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
“Already” and “yet” give me grief, and Jose my intercambio partner has been drilling me on them. “Already” is not so hard – Ya se ha ido – he has already gone. Ya hemos empezado – we have already started. Ya he pedido – I have already asked, or I’ve already ordered (that’s particularly good in cafes, when a second waiter comes to ask what you want).
But “yet” …. that changes depending if it is positive or negative. Ya lo has limpiado? Have you cleaned it yet? Si, ya lo he limpiado. Yes, I have cleaned it already. No, no lo he limpiado aún. No, I haven’t cleaned it yet. Aún no lo he leido. I haven’t read it yet.