Castle, caves and cycling

This week La Chanca Life has mostly been La Cycling Life, as I got to grips with my power assisted mountain bike.


For four days I cycled everywhere, developing an obsession with following the impressive network of cycle lanes (a brownie point to Almeria city council) to the stage where I could hardly bear to leave the lanes, even if it meant I cycled twice as far to reach my destination!


By day five my bottom couldn’t take it any more, and I had to sally forth on foot to do some shopping- which meant I had to tackle these steps to get home!


There’s no way I can complain though, as the Moroccan women climb them daily with babies in their arms and on their backs, followed by a steep walk up our hill!
The reason there are so many hills to climb is that La Chanca district grew up just outside the original hill-top Arab walled city, or Medina, in the eleventh century when it became too small for a growing population.
It was built at the highest point of the city for defence and lookout purposes, and the Alcazaba castle was constructed there starting in the tenth century using stone from the hills behind La Chanca.


I love the castle, everywhere you go in La Chanca, and the lower ‘barrio’ of La Pescaderia that stretches down to the sea, you catch glimpses of it through the narrow lanes, a tower here, a wall there, until you emerge at the end of a street or top of a hill and see it in all its glory.
It’s the first thing I see in the morning through my bedroom windows, and the last at night, glowing in its golden floodlights.


The area of La Chanca was inhabited much earlier than the Arab era though. There is a whole network of caves in the mountains which were inhabited in neolithic times, evidenced by pottery remains found there.


An old photo of caves near La Chanca, provided by J.R. Cantalejo

Many of the caves are still lived in today. Our lawyer friend José Ramón Cantalejo tells a story of how when he was a young law student in Granada, he visited La Chanca with his girlfriend, an artist, in the seventies. She said how wonderful it would be to have one of the caves as a studio, so Cantalejo approached a gypsy woman sitting outside and asked her how much it would be to buy the cave.
They struck a deal at around 200 euros (in today’s money) and, being a smart law student, he wrote the exchange on a paper napkin he had in his pocket, and got the gypsy to put her thumbprint on it by way of signature.
A few months later they returned to claim the cave – but couldn’t remember which one it was – they all looked alike!
He spotted the woman he had done the deal with, and approached her, asking for their cave. But suddenly she was flanked by two heavies, and denied all knowledge of ever having done the deal.
So they never got the cave!


Here you can see the old caves in the mountain side, with new blocks of social housing in the foreground.

I have also visited the caves of some Buddhists that live in the mountains nearby. The founder of the community is a young English woman who was a Buddhist nun for ten years but is now seeking to re-enter society.
She lives in the caves accompanied by a young Dutch nun, and any disciple who happens to be passing through, or who comes to study meditation with her.
They live on alms, whatever people give them, and beg in the local market for food.
She said that the people of La Chanca, although poor themselves, are some of the most generous people she has ever met – and she has travelled a lot. Seventeen countries last year alone!
The caves were very comfortable. We had lunch, made in a small makeshift kitchen, sitting on their donated sofas, and we could almost have been in a normal house.


They have no power or running water, and it is a rocky climb to reach the caves, so it’s not an easy life, but the caves maintain a constant temperature of 18 degrees and are conducive to a life of meditation.
So, life here is proving to be very interesting, with so many different aspects to explore.
At the moment I am only scratching the surface – I want to learn more about the locals and the Buddhists, I want to walk the mountains and find more caves, I want to join a local association and see if there is a way I can contribute to the community. I want to know what the animal reserve in front of me is actually there for, and I want to find some music (other than the loud music that blares out of speakers in the street!)
So, lots to do and hopefully lots to keep you interested, following and sharing!

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