Spain's Modern Cave Dwellers
Salloum, Habeeb, Contemporary Review
'Before you leave to visit the cave dwellers of Galera and Guadix, you must spend some time in our pleasant resort. Here you will find that the air is clean. We have no large industries and, hence, pollution is minimal.' Francisco Montalban, Deputy Mayor of Aguilas, glowed with pride as he spoke about his town. He continued, 'We are not interested only in material wealth. The goal is to preserve our resort as a true Spanish village. We plan to make sure that this little seaside town will stay authentically Spanish.'
'Good luck in your efforts. You will need a lot of it. Not many modern resorts in the world have succeeded in holding the modernity of the 20th century at bay,' I said as I bade him farewell.
Situated 24 miles east of Murcia, Aguilas, a former fishing port of some 26,000, has won international recognition as a clean and authentic Spanish resort. Many of its 35 beaches are still in a wild state, but are kept tidy and uncontaminated. The number of its hotels and other tourist facilities are very modest when compared to other Spanish coastal resorts.
At present, the town has only 500 hotel and 8000 apartment beds, but the hotel beds are expected to rise to 1500 during the coming year. According to the Deputy Mayor, all work is being done by local Spanish labour at a leisurely pace. He asserted, 'We like tourism, but it will not take control of our lives.'
From this delightful spread-out white town, the number one exporter of lettuce and tomatoes in Europe, we left for Lorca. Our destination was Galera, a little known town in the northern part of the province of Granada, noted for its primitive cave homes. From there, we would travel on to Guadix where the epitome of Spanish cave dwellings are to be found.
As the bus, carrying nine passengers, made its way through barren hills, hugging small valleys dotted with plastic covered tomato and other vegetable fields, I felt excitement, thinking of the cave-town of Galera. 'It's like a desert! It's so bare!' one of my travelling companions commented. 'She cannot have seen a real desert', I thought to myself. The weed-covered hills and the specks of fields covering the valleys' floors was a world of greenery when compared to the great deserts of the world.
Over a hill top, suddenly, a rich-looking fertile valley, with the city of Lorca in the distance, appeared as if by magic. A little over 30 minutes after leaving Aguilas, on the edge of this picturesque old market town, we turned southward. For a time, we drove on a four-lane highway with Lorca's fertile valley to the left and the barren hills on the right. The words of Omar Khayyam, 'With me along some Strip of Herbage strown, that just divides the desert from the sown', seemed to perfectly describe the countryside.
As we drove along, John, the senior member of our group, entertained us with puns and jokes. 'Where are we now?' one of the passengers asked. 'Why in Spain!' John grinned. On and on he continued with his witticisms. His humour seemed never ending.
The road, now two-lane, snaked its way through an almost lifeless landscape. The hillside terraces had the skimpiest of vegetation. It had not rained for two years and the once fertile fields were now only a memory.
Just before Velez Rubio, vegetation began to return. On both sides of the highway, wild and cultivated trees began to dot the valleys and parts of the mountain sides. After passing several small towns, greenery again started to fade away and only here and there spots of vegetation could be seen. Some 61 miles from Aguilas we reached Galera, seemingly climbing the hillsides from a green valley. Stepping out of our bus in the heart of town by the Meson Restaurant, we surveyed the strange surroundings. All around the village, the hillsides were dotted with white cave entrances and pearly chimneys sprouting out of the rocks.
The pleasant owner of the restaurant, Miguel Rodriguez, who was also the proprietor of the Casas Cueva, the cave hotel where we would be staying for the night, came out to greet us. …