After an enjoyable few days in Malaga during May, I rented a tiny blue car with standard transmission and began driving up the coast. I was heading to a tiny mountain village called Rubite, to do a two-week house-and-pet-sit for a UK expat, Wendy.
Driving in Spain is quite civilized with excellent highways. The scenery along the coast was spectacular, dotted with white-washed holiday beach towns hugging hillsides. Hillsides without buildings on them were entirely and extensively terraced for growing olives, grapes, and other crops. The terraces had been there since before Roman times. Southern Spain has been an agricultural bread-basket for much of the known world for thousands of years.
Here and there, I glimpsed the Mediterranean in between hills and from high on cliffs. I stopped in a beach town called Nerja, a Rick Steves favourite, for lunch. Later, I found out that my sister and her husband had spent part of their honeymoon some twenty-odd years ago in Nerja.
I found the turn-off to Rubite later that afternoon and started up the steep narrow mountain road. To be honest, at about half –way, I began to question my sanity. “This is taking a very long time to get to…I’m going to be pretty far from anything up there, where there are no shops or restaurants, which means I am going to have to drive down and up this road A LOT!” I told myself. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, as my mother used to say. I was committed.
Arriving finally at the top of the village, where I was to meet Wendy, I texted her to let her know I was waiting. She had asked me to stay parked at the top so that she could “guide me down” to her house, which as it turned out, was at the very bottom of it the village. An improbable village on a narrow steeply sloped hillside. It had been there since the 11th century, and hadn’t yet slid down into the ocean, so I figured it was safe to be there for two weeks.
Wendy showed up, puffing from the walk up, said hello, took a look at the low-slung tiny car and told me I may have difficulty clearing some of the humps and dips in the road. She walked ahead of me as I slowly crept the car down some very tight, steep, cobblestone roads (pathways really), around corners I thought I would definitely scrape the car on, but didn’t.
Good Lord, what have I got myself into, I thought, sweating.
Wendy stopped me at a pull-out above her house, saying it was best I parked there for now, since the big humps below might be difficult to navigate for me, although she did it all the time with her car, no problem she said, nonchalant.
Looking at them as I dragged my suitcase down the hill, I gulped. Drive over those? Surely I would bottom out. Thank god I had taken the insurance on the car rental. I hoped it covered driving in ridiculously un-car-friendly mountain villages.
The house itself was delightful. Wendy had purchased it from an old couple who had used the original building as a storage shed for their almond crop. The daughter of a building contractor, Wendy renovated it herself eight years before, and continues to do renovation for other expats in the area.
View from upper patio at house in Rubite, Spain
Wendy stayed that night and I was introduced to Jenny the dog, and three cats, who were to be my charges. Jenny is an older dog, and quite a dour soul, but we got on quite well. I took her with me a few times in the car when I went exploring in the days to come. She loved car rides and sitting at water-front cafes watching the world go by.
I came to be able to drive up and down the little village streets, and over humps (very slowly and at an angle) without too much trouble. Driving standard gear shift was both a blessing and curse at times on such steep streets. I only scraped the bottom a couple of times. After one or two times down the mountain to the town of Castell de Ferro on the coast to do some shopping, the drive didn’t seem so bad.
The village itself was beyond sleepy. The most common sight and sound was sheep and goats being herded up the streets to their grazing spots in the mountains, and down to their pens at night. One building housed a Pensionada for the elderly, and a few old Spanish men would sit on a bench outside every day watching whatever minor events that might occur, such as a crazy gringa driving by, grinding the gears as she came around tight corners, and frequently stalling out.
My son and a friend joined me at the house for five days of my time there, and we went for drives and walks in the breath-taking Andalusian Mountains and villages. It was off-season for tourists so, sadly, none of the wineries were open for tastings.
We took a day and drove to Granada, about two hours away, for an afternoon of exploration. Unfortunately, the Alhambra fortress, an 11th century Moorish castle, was not open for tours at the time of day that we arrived, but we strolled the ancient, meandering cobblestone streets of the historic Centro.
One day, on my own with Jenny in the car, I drove to Guadix, a town in an area known for extensive cave-dwelling homes. I came across a pretty cave-dwelling hotel with a swimming pool.
I loved my time in Rubite and will remember it always as one of my greatest adventures!