EPISODE 2: Where the hell is Ronda?
Dramatic, cliff-top Ronda is on the edge of the Córdoba-Sevilla-Málaga triangle, a broad and rolling plain of vast skies, sweeping grainfields and long olive groves ringed by minor mountain ranges and linked by secondary roads that slink out of antique provincial hill towns. Without GPS you need a decent road map.
Michelin makes an excellent, 1:400,000 scale detailed concertina-fold map of Andalucía. I have it. In Sydney. I'd planned to catch the train to Ronda; why the hell would I pack the map? Instead, the rental agency gave me an A3-size branded place mat demarcating the entire 87,000 square-kilometre region. I squinted at it, and could make out that I was north and Ronda was south. Perfect, I thought. If I don't make it by nightfall I can just navigate by the stars.
Five minutes into my road trip I was hopelessly tangled in city interchanges. I aborted my endless figure eights and death spirals and pulled into a service station in search of a proper map. Quite sensibly they had nothing of the sort, which might tie up shelf space for chocolate bars and ¡Hola! celebrity gossip rags, so I spent the next half hour poring over tiny charts in guidebooks and brochures and muttering through clenched teeth in the front seat of the car before the obvious hit me: I have Google Maps on my mobile phone! I'd been avoiding using it so I wouldn't be slugged with roaming charges, but with financial concerns already out the window I fired it up and Googled directions. Fifteen minutes later I shot out of the city.
“Adiós Córdoba!” I bid. “Ronda, I am on my way!”
The regional roads of the southern province snake between whitewashed Andalusian towns—Écija, with its elaborate church towers jutting above the settlement like upturned table legs, Osuna surrounded by fields of sunflowers in ochre soil, and hilltop Olvera with its imposing church and Moorish castle. The great azure vault above, blindingly bright in the height of the day, spans a patchwork of land. Fields of brown dirt and straw grass alternate with hopscotch plots of low olive trees studded in precise green rows that shift in parallax as you pass them.
The sun was warm through the windshield. I drifted into a sinuous leisure as the shimmering grey ribbon of road flowed through the rural terrain, past the occasional walled farmhouse and hacienda ruin. Multi-storeyed stacks of golden hay bales in great edifices mimicked office blocks on the rural landscape.
A sudden fork in the road roused me from my languor. I pulled over and consulted Google. But there was no map. On my journey from navigational despair to digital salvation I failed to account that a hundred kilometres into the Spanish plains there is a rather complete absence of reception. My mobile phone was only useful now for beating against my head in rebuke: being lost in urban Córdoba was preferable to being lost in expanses of nowhere.
It was fifty-fifty and I wasn't getting any closer to Ronda sitting there. I picked a branch and drove on.