WE would normally get there an hour before, parking a kilometre out of town and battle our way through the throngs to get to a good vantage point in the bustling main square.

With a glass of ice cold fino and a media-racion de gambas, we would wait patiently for the penitents to arrive, along with Jesus and Mary and, the highlight… a squadron of soldiers from Ronda’s nearby Foreign Legion cuartel.

This has been our Good Friday ritual at Semana Santa for much of the last two decades.

Away from the usual tourist trail, Setenil de las Bodegas, at Easter, is as authentic as anywhere else in Spain at this time of year.

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DESERTED: The well-known and usually bustling Calle Cuevas del Sol, where tourists normally flock, was completely empty today

The marching bands, the smells, the pointy hats and – above all – the tattooed and disciplined soldiers, with their guns and songs about valour and death. 

It is the highlight of the year, hands down, for most local Andalucians. A time-worn ritual that is rehearsed for months ahead and signifies the start of the tourist season.

I knew it would be depressing to visit during the coronavirus lockdown, particularly given a recent article I had read that the village of 2,700 inhabitants had decided to block three out of its four access roads in and out.

Taking the decision alongside other local towns, including Zahara de la Sierra, tractors were brought in to build roadblocks, which would be manned 24 hours a day.

Ostensibly checking the movements of anybody coming in – ensuring they had good reason to visit and were taking the correct precautions – this was a village-led decision to keep out the virus.

On the face of it, somewhat sinister, a sort of China-lite idea to monitor the movements of anyone and everyone, it was justified by the fact that just 5kms up the road was the town of Alcala del Valle, where over 100 people caught the Covid-19 infection, with up to half a dozen having died.

It was approaching dusk and you could hear a pin drop in a place where normally you would hear the sound of faraway trumpets and banter

But I was to find none of this. My drive from Ronda was totally unimpeded and I saw not one car during the 25 minute journey.

I arrived to find no roadblocks and a total ghost town, with not one person in the street. It was approaching dusk and you could hear a pin drop in a place where normally you would hear the sound of faraway trumpets and banter rumbling around its narrow windy streets and the classic sights and smells of Semana Santa.

I took our normal route up towards the Nazari castle and Church of the Encarnacion at the top of the town, stopping to take a picture of the empty town hall square that would normally be rammed with the hundreds of tourists waiting for the parades.

When I did finally catch the eye of someone from a balcony he immediately looked away and melted back indoors.

It was not, in fact, until I got to the very top of the town, where I finally bumped into people. Three, in fact, dressed top to toe in hazmat suits and masks, and carefully, slowly sanitising the streets with antiseptic from hose packs strapped to their backs.

Well one of them was working while the other two were simply taking in the majestic scene below, looking down on the famous, historical town that was finally seized by the Catholic kings from the muslims of the Kingdom of Granada in 1484, a year before Ronda, and just eight years before they finally succumbed in Granada in 1492.

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TRADITION: Semana Santa is hugely significant for Setenil de las Bodegas at Easter time

It made for a seminal photo, particularly given the sign next to them, heralding the village one of the 100 most beautiful villages of Spain.

They turned round surprised to find someone else out at this time, approaching 8pm, on Good Friday.

After posing for photos they explained that the discipline in their town had been amazing and that they were hopeful for an end of the lockdown on April 26.

Not only destroying the spirit of the villagers it was a massive hit on the local economy that makes a good chunk of its annual income over the Easter week normally.

As the bells of the church next to me chimed out 8pm, I immediately knew that things would be right again

“We need this to end, it is horrible for everyone,” he said, before strapping on his backpack and heading off to spray.

He was certainly right. The Spanish are not used to being cooped up indoors, like us northern Europeans with our frequently inclement weather. 

They are a sociable nation that needs to get out and talk to each other, to play in the streets, to laugh and to joke and be seen, as they are every evening for paseo.

This lockdown is killing them and they will come out on April 26, a different people, hopefully more appreciative of what they have and certainly full of energy for the summer months ahead.

As the bells of the church next to me chimed out 8pm, I immediately knew that things would be right again.

After hearing the national anthem, I looked down and could see hundreds, maybe more, out on their balconies clapping and cheering and waving… a new Easter ritual that went on for five, maybe, ten minutes.

Clapping the bravery of the Spanish health workers, who have taken the brunt of this crisis, they hooted and cheered with optimism, albeit with a touch of weariness.

And then suddenly it all went quiet… apart from the distant whir of the trio of men with their spraying machines.

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