In the book “South of Granada” the author, Gerald Brenan writes about the troglodytes of Guadix, a murderous community of bandits found in the desert around Guadix, preying on the hapless traveller. Ever since I read the book I’ve been meaning to check the area out – after all he was in Andalusia in the 1920’s, so I figured the risk from bandits would be pretty minimal. This is what brought me to the cave dwellings of Benalua, a small town in the desert about 15 miles from Guadix.
Guadix is about 90 minutes drive from our house in Orgiva, we headed past Granada and then followed the motorway towards Almeira, after about 50 km Guadix is clearly signposted and you can drive good roads all the way to Benalua de Gaudix.
The desert itself is inhospitable, baking hot and inhabited only by scorpions and snakes. This is not a place to run out of petrol, we saw only two cars in the entire day and most of the farms by the river appeared to be uninhabited. Inevitably, my iPhone ran out of battery, but there was only one turning in this road, that led us to a spa resort – naturally the spa was closed.
The first thing you see on approaching Benalua is unexpected – a vast semi derelict ceramics factory. The earth around here is a soft clay – idea for digging into and perfect for making pottery. But we were here to see Cave dwellings and I made my way up to the highest point of the town so that I could spy out the landscape. Once there, I made my way to the end of a six foot high chain link fence and out towards the edge of a cliff and found in front of me a panoramic view of the cave dwellings of Benalua.
The makeshift shelters in the image at the top of the article are at the entrance to caves dug into the clay and are used to house goats. There are hundreds of these caves, some boasting driveways and gated enclosures, others housing less fortunate people, presumably dependant on the ceramics industry for survival. The caves are all clustered around one area and it is an eye opening sight.
I mean to go back to Benalua and the desert beyond, it is one of the strangest places I’ve seen in Andalusia and I’d like to go back when the sun is lower in the sky, there are some amazing landscapes out there and it is well worth the trouble to go prepared.
The weather so far this trip has been changeable to say the least! We headed off in the morning to Trevelez, the (second) highest village in Spain at 1486 metres above sea level. The village is famous for its air cured hams and the marketplace is amply furnished with shops selling hams at eye watering expense. It is however, absolutely delicious and they’ll offer you a sample.
Leaving Trevelez we descended to La Taha, a collection of small villages in the neighbouring valley including Piters, Mecina, Ferreirola and Capilerilla and it was here that the trip really came to life. we took the road down to Ferreirola, a twisting, tiny, vertiginous trip that I would not recommend to the faint of heart – there is another much less problematic route in, from the South. It was on this road that we discovered La Cueva de Mora Luna, a cafe, piano bar of immense character between Mecina and Ferreirola. The menu comes with a story – a shaggy dog tale of epic nonsense spanning five centuries and involving invading forces too drunk to fight, lost treasure, disappearing priests, broken hearts and suicide. The food is fabulous, and the atmosphere marvellous.
We explored Ferreirola, one of the prettiest villages I’ve seen in Spain. It’s where Chris Stewart of “Driving over Lemons” fame holds his writing workshops, well worth visiting and it was on the (better) road out of town that I shot the landscape featured at the top of this post.
We ended the day in Pamaneira where I took this shot – the clouds were so close we could reach out and touch them, quite an eerie experience. Pamapaneira is worth a visit, it’s the lowest of the three white villages in the Poqueira valley and off the main street there are some wonderful shops, galleries and cafes that are not immediately obvious when you’re driving through.
Technical note – the monochrome image was taken with an iPhone and processed in Silver Efex Pro, with noise removed in Lightroom. The Panorama at the top of the post was shot with a 17-40mm lens and processed in Lightroom 6.
Las Alpajurras is a region of spain I’ve wanted to visit for years. Situated on the edge of the Sierra Nevada national park, it has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I based myself in Orviga, a small town at the base of the mountains with good access to the white villages of Capileira, Canar and Bubion and the Moorish town of Lanjeron.
I got lucky with the weather, blazing hot sun for five of the seven days I was there. I took a great many photographs without really having a theme, the landscapes came off best, but I have some ideas ready for when I return – this region of spain is teeming with wildlife and the farming methods in the mountains are thankfully not particularly modern. People routinely live over the age of 100 apparently and I’d like to capture the spirit of this wonderful country on camera.
This was the first time I’ve used a Canon 5D Full frame camera, so I can’t really write about this trip without raving about the technology. I got my hands on the new Mk III for the trip and have been frankly blown away. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of this camera’s abilities, but things that impressed me mightily were the AF point selection – the camera supports 26 AF assist points which gives so much more precision to the business of focussing. The picture above is a radical crop of a shot I took from about 75 metres away from the subject. The focus point was on the head. The combination of the 10.1 megapixel sensor and the extended AF points meant I was able to put the focus precisely where I wanted it and have pixels to spare even after such a radical crop.
I also loved the speed at which this camera focuses – in combination with an “L” series lens I found myself checking a couple of times to see if autofocus was switched on. Very impressive.
This picture is my favourite from the trip – yes, it is an HDR shot, but it is very close to the idea I had when I shot the three pictures it is made up from. I exposed first of all for the Sky and then for the mountains in the middle and finally the foreground. I was after the layers and as a technical challenge, trying to get the dynamic range or richness of a picture shot with film. Don’t know if I succeeded in that, but I do like this image!
I used Nik HDR Pro to do the HDR conversion and then tweaked it in Lightroom. I like Nik software a lot – it works well with Lightroom and is so intuitive to use.
I’ll be returning to Andalucia, hopefully in November for a few days, and will be spending less time on business and more on photography.
So, Las Alpajurras and a Canon 5D – what could possibly go wrong? ! I must admit, I love this part of the world and this trip has fired my imagination with a vengeance. There’s a lot to photograph and a lot to explore, I plan to go back many times in the next few years and see if I can do the place justice. Here’s hoping!