Nagam Din is the October winner of our monthly blog competition. Here is her tale of a unique experience while walking in Spain.
"I was desperately in need of a health kick to curb my expanding waistline when a friend invited me to join her on Explore's Spanish trip ‘Walking in the Sierra Aracena’. I leapt at the chance, recalling fond memories of our Andalucia Explore trip some 9 years earlier when I was a trim size 10 and running up those hills.
Our base for the week was an Andalucian style village house in the whitewashed village of Castano Del Robeldo, furnished rather charmingly (if eccentrically) with Moroccan Kilns, watercolours of fauna and fowl and an appropriately named dog called Badger and cat called Mango. This tiny village had one store ‘that sells all’ (valuable for those impromptu picnics) and a Jewel of an A La Carte restaurant Maricastano (once you got used to the very late supper hours kept by the Spanish) which served up wonderful dishes including a starter salad of avocado with haddock.
The sleepily deceptive façade of the village heralded our first hike of the holiday with a volley of cannons which had us leaping out of our beds quicker than Usain Bolt off his starting block. With beating hearts we remembered our first hike of the holiday coincided with a festival celebrating the discovery of a ‘Virgin Mary’ in one of the local caves by a shepherd boy.
After a breakfast of seeded toasted bread and deliciously fresh coffee we pored over the route by map before starting out over cobbled streets winding uphill on to ancient mule trails through verdant forests of chestnut and cork oaks.
In a blazing September heat we arrived, perspiring heavily and ready to leap into the nearest waterhole in the village of Alajar with its 17th Century imposing hermitage and The Ermita de la Reina de los Ángeles (Reina de los Ángeles Hermitage) or Our lady of los Ángeles Hermitage.
Villagers from miles around arrived ceremoniously on carriages pulled by horses and oxen in a riotous display of sound, smell and colour that would have vied with the Queen's Jubilee. Each splendidly adorned ‘carriage’ represented a local village and along with them came their proud supporters in their hundreds on horses, donkeys and on foot to celebrate with lashings of beer and locally produced chestnut-fed Jamon. Both of which l came to realise represented 80% of this region's diet!
Vivid Flamenco dresses clashed with cowboy hats. Handsome gallants strode out on show-stopping thoroughbreds while senoritas glanced coyly from behind fluttering fans.
The purpose of this great get together was to celebrate the ‘walkabout’ of a Virgin Mary effigy taking centre stage on her carriage in splendid glory.
Whilst grandmothers pushed gurgling babies towards the virgin to be blessed, we sagged gratefully against the cool stone walls of the centuries old church and took a moment to absorb this unique atmosphere before hungrily downing our cheese and olive baps.
The celebrations continued late into the early hours of the next morning with much regaling, cannons clashed with fireworks until eventually the local church bells sang us to sleep.
The rest of the holiday passed by in an exhausting, challenging and energising whirlwind that included a visit to Aracena with its famous Caves, a centuries old hilltop mosque and wonderful villages with memories of some of the most kindly, hospitable people.
The trek, although classed as low to moderate, proved challenging at times with the combination of the 32 degree heat and the lengthy descents and ascents. While I was definitely not running up those hills as I was 9 years earlier, I managed them at my own pace, punctured liberally with many village ‘pub stops’.
The last day ended in a delightful picnic and after exchanging fond farewells with my fellow trekkers I returned to England many pounds lighter with those church bells still ringing in my ears."
Nagam was travelling our on Walking in the Sierra Aracena tour.