ANOTHER week gone by in Andalucia; alternately shivering beneath driving rain and the odd day bathing in the almond-scented warmth of Spring sunshine.
I am holed up in Arriate, a weathered, crusty town as old as the rolling hills in which it nestles, and dwarfed by the imposing shadow of its more glamorous and bejeweled sister, Ronda.
Ronda, whose polished attractions and pedestrianized walkways lure shoppers and sightseers from far and wide, while, unnoticed and undisturbed, Arriate carries on its sleepy existence to the cadence of church bells and the passing of the seasons.
As Ronda sports the shiny patent leather shoes of gentility, so gritty little Arriate wears the mud-encrusted boots of a farmer walking in from the fields or a soldier returning home from battle. It is a gentle, slumbering place, imbued with gruff familiarity and the somnambulistic rhythm born out of re-enacting the same daily routine over countless generations.
The town itself is arranged like a stack of dominoes scooped up and piled in the middle of a table. Narrow, serpentine streets twist chaotically between clumps of odd-shaped houses and family-run shops. It is as if God had cupped Arriate in his giant palms and gently squeezed it together like pieces of old soap, before laying it onto an Andalucian hillside.
But beneath this wizened, weather-beaten facade beats the true heart of Andalucia, pulsing with homespun warmth and unquestioning hospitality. By chance – or perhaps by design – Arriate is neither on the way to anywhere, nor is it the kind of place you would happen upon. It boasts no celebrated tourist attractions or architectural gems with which to bedazzle camera-toting day-trippers.
As the locals appreciate only too well, Arriate offers up precious little to the tourist but harbours rich bounty for the traveler. For Arriate has soul: as real and warming as the oak logs that spark and crackle in the hearths of the town’s shuttered houses.
To find yourself in Arriate is to have chosen Arriate. And so it was that this first test in my quest for acceptance in this most Spanish of Spanish places had been unwittingly negotiated and I was welcomed into this closeted community, deep in the heartland of Andalucia.