Using Ronda as base camp for Malaga Province, we planned on dividing our time between hiking the nature parks by day and exploring the White Towns at night; however, Mother Nature had other plans. Such plans involved destroying us by fury of 1,000 blazing suns if we dared try to hike the olive tree terraced mountains during any reasonable time of natural daylight. Saddened by the recent turn of weather events, we instead played a game of Choose-Your-Own-White-Town Adventure. Curiosity and off-the-beaten-path antics won the draw and we settled with Setenil de las Bodegas via Ronda La Vieja.
Ronda La Vieja’s main claim to archeological fame is the 1st century Roman ruins of Acinipo. From an adjacent hilltop Acinipo looked like the RockBiter from The NeverEnding Story sneezed on the hill and chaos ensued from then on out. Little piles of stones dotted the hillside with no recognizable human settlement formations. We tiptoed through the metal gates and past a donkey masked as a security officer, and made our way up to the former Phoenician/Roman outpost. The Roman amphitheater proved to be impressive with its crumbling external facade…but not as impressive as the cliff drop-off located behind the theatre. If history and Romans antics were true to form, many a person or livestock lost his or her life off those cliffs.
We exited the amphitheater, and meandered among the rock piles but there was little else to decipher in terms of former buildings; Pompeii or Rome this was not. Thistles, thorny bushes, and swarms of wasps gave sufficient reasoning for societal decline in the 3rd century and the town’s relocation to Ronda, the then capital of Al-Andalus. Our exposed toes slowly roasting in our Chacos meant we did not linger long. The absence of other tourists made us feel like Indiana Jones, minus the train chase and recovered artifacts.
We pressed onwards toward Senetil de las Bodegas.
Senetil de las Bodegas is often described as “the strangest of the White Towns,” and conveniently located just a stone’s throw as the crow flies from Ronda La Vieja. “The strangest” to us really just translated to “MUST SEE THIS P.B. (Pueblo Blanco)”. Carved out by the Rio Trejo, settlers utilized the natural rock formations as walls and roofs for cave houses. A phylloxera plague destroyed the vineyards in the 19th century and left the village in economic ruin. Senetil de las Bodegas had not capitalized on the booming Pueblos Blancos tourism market and remained off the radar for package tours. They had, however, capitalized on the satellite TV market, as every little rock house had a dish perched on a rock roof.
We navigated to the belly of the beast with some skillful tiny road tactics and a bit of reverse driving. A 140-point turn later, we had secured a coveted parking spot. I had just opened the car door when I spotted the most beautiful sight: a blanco mantid. Yes, a BLANCO mantid. Heart full of evolutionary joy, I laid low on the cobblestones to photograph my monochromatic friend.
We walked a bit further along the dry riverbed that split the city and started to get a strange sensation; a sensation that we had entered the wrong side of the tracks of the Pueblos Blancos. Wind rustled the trees, but no leaves blew. A few locals roamed the streets, but no one talked or tried to engage in conversation with us. Our smiles were received with nervous stares. The shop shutters were tightly closed. A pack of wild dogs may or may not have trailed us.
On we went, along the windy streets and marveled at the use of rock shelters. At one point the rocks merged, forming “roofs” that blocked out the sun completely. Mycologist at heart, I pondered how mold prevention worked in the damp cave houses. I tried to peek inside a few, but they were boarded up tightly. We slipped back into our car, and quietly pulled away from Senetil de las Bodegas. Out the rear view window the town looked the same as when we approached, as if nothing had changed in the few hours we had been traipsing through the streets. It was just us and the blanco mantid on this wild white town adventure.