The Village Fountain
I sat in the shade behind the church in the village square of Bubion, a tiny village high in the Alpujarra mountain range. There was a fountain in the centre, with spouts continuously pouring water out of its four sides. It was only 28 degrees, but after the grey cold of Scotland, it took me a while to adjust to the intensity of the heat and sunlight.
A woman came out of the municipal office across the square. She was dressed in a modest skirt and button up blouse, her gray hair hanging loose around her face. She walked across the square and filled her plastic bottle in the fountain. She took a sip, and went back inside. Decorative metal letters above the door spelled out ‘ayuntamiento’. I later learnt that this meant ‘town hall’.
There was a man in green uniform trousers sweeping leaves into piles. He had two small dogs with him, and a big plastic cart. The square had several trees with large autumn leaves and long dangling seed pods. After he swept up the leaves, he lifted them into plastic bags and took them away with him. He had a large plastic bucket, which he filled with water from the fountain. He carried it around to the other side of the church, and came back several times to fill it again.
And all this while the water gushed out of the four spouts. A pigeon perched on the edge of the fountain, and a dog sniffed around. A man sat on his stoop, next to the town hall, smoking a cigarette for far longer than it should take to smoke a cigarette. A voice called to him, and he went inside.
I sat for a while watching. Another man saw me knitting and smiled. He said something to me in Spanish. I smiled back. At the cafe I asked for an ice coffee. The waiter brought an espresso and two ice cubes in a glass. I had nowhere to be, so I waited for the midday heat to die down before my walk back up to Capileira.
I must have spent over half the day sitting in that square in Bubion. I saw one group of hikers. They passed through without stopping, although one girl paused to wet her hat in the fountain. People must pass through that square every day and not notice it. Some people, like the leaf sweeper and the clerk from the town hall, may never leave it. And all the while, the water pours out from the four spouts on the fountain, a continual flow of abundance in the heat of Spain.
Spain seems to move at a different pace. Especially in Scotland, where we have so few daylight hours, I feel a lot of pressure to make the most of my time. There’s always something to do. Even when I do get a break, there’s always something to fill it with. Even though I accomplished a lot in Spain, I always had time to sit and have a coffee, to watch a fountain, to take it in.
From the Alpujarras, I spent a few days in the big cities - I took in the sights of Granada and Cordoba, and visited famous buildings. I drank my coffees at atmospheric cafes in crumbling old Muslim quarters, and walked along neatly manicured lanes lined with orange trees. The cities were relatively small and quiet, but compared to the impossibly slow pace of Bubion, they felt much more intense. So Friday morning I caught a train to the tiny town of Benaojan, from where I walked along the Rio Guadiaro for two hours to my next destination.
Jimera de Libar is a quiet little village tucked into a mountain gorge in the Serrania de Ronda. Olives lay fallen on the side of the road, and rolled down the hill as I brushed past them. Every empty space was filled with orange trees. The river ran right past the patio of my Airbnb, so clear that you could see fat catfish floating past. It seemed the definition of abundance.
At the Contemporary Art Museum in Cordoba, there was a show on all about the idea of abundance. The text on the wall read “Abundant Futures is an essay exhibition that presents and formulates a daring attempt to imagine worldmaking and ecological futures from the condition of abundance and fullness.“ I walked through rooms filled with abstract nature noises, an artificial pond, and all manner of natural objects brought into the gallery space. Amidst the fancy art words, the wall text brings up a really interesting point. We so often talk about nature these days from a perspective of climate emergency, global warming and the devastation we’re causing. There’s so much anxiety and negativity. We talk about deforestation and the release of carbon from peat bogs, and it often feels escapist to wander amidst the beauty of nature. The exhibition calls it ‘daring’ to even consider a world where the environment is abundant and full.
I thought about the rush and intensity of my normal life. It’s not that I don’t carve out time to walk in nature and do yoga and make art, because those things are all part of my weekly, if not daily routine. But it’s the idea that they’re part of a routine. I often schedule my walk into my work calendar, to make sure that I go outside before the 4:00 pm sunset. I benefit from the experience of being outdoors and taking time out to refresh, but even that is part of a schedule, a desire for productivity, for growth.
I think back to afternoons spent sitting in the square in Bubion, wandering amongst whitewashed alleys with sweeping mountain views, and to the rolling olives of Jimera de Libar. That’s the abundance, the act of just being in the moment for the sake of it, not for the purpose of being productive, or taking a break, or gaining a new experience. Learning for the sake of learning, being for the sake of being. When I think back to the white villages of the Andalucian hills, I think about quaint white chimneys, crumbling mountain views, and women who crochet the outsides of their flower pots just for the sake of it.
But now I’m back in Scotland - back to intense work hours, short days and long nights, frosty mornings and people living in a rush. The tiny white villages seem a world away. It almost doesn’t seem real that just a few weeks ago I was sat in the shade behind the church. Yet I know that all this time, every day - while I’ve been in meetings, and running programmes, and sleeping, and standing in line at Tesco - that the water has been pouring out of the four spouts on the sides of the fountain. Life in the village square has carried on. Perhaps right at this moment, the town hall clerk is filling her water bottle from the fountain, thousands of miles away.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
My suburban Scottish surroundings may not feel as exotic or idyllic as life in the Alpujarras, and I can’t spend every day roaming the hills and drinking espressos. But I can find those moments in my life here: to look at my surroundings, my routine, my drip coffee, the woman at the check out at Tesco, and engage with them as if they are miraculous beings. And I know that when it comes down to it, the abundance of water is still flowing out of that village fountain.
The villages of the Alpujarras can be reached by bus from Granada. There's one bus line which goes through Orgiva, Pampaneira, Bubion, Capileira, and then on to Trevelez. When I went there were 3 busses each way every day, often at inconvenient times, but it was workable, if not terribly efficient. I stayed in Capileira, the highest of the three Poqueira Gorge villages. It was a good base it has many hotel and food options, as well as great views. Bubion was similar, but smaller and quieter, with less food available. I never made it to Pampaneira.
There are numerous walking routes heading out from Capileira, including one linking the three villages. There is also an option to cut back up the other side of the gorge. I found the paths here to be quite steep with loose rocks and steep falls, so I didn't do as much hiking as I usually would. The walk from Capileira to Bubion was about 30 minutes, and relatively flat and easy. It’s also possible to hike one way and bus the other.
I did a half-day trip to the village of Trevelez, which is up a neighbouring gorge. Trevelez has tons of character. It's famous for its cured ham, and there are shops absolutely full of it (we’re talking like hundreds of hams hanging from the walls and ceilings), as well as tons of fun ham imagery (ham fountains, little hams all over the walls, etc. - great for Jews!). There are also endless crochet installations going up and down the narrow streets, which I loved.
There are other areas of the Alpujarras to explore, I just didn’t get that far. Before I left, I read the book ‘Driving Over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart, a British author who made his life in the Alpujarras. It gave me a lot of context and helped me understand the area.
From the Alpujarras I caught the train back to Granada, and then to Cordoba, and from Cordoba, to the Serrania de Ronda mountain range, transferring at Antequera Santa Ana. You can take the train straight to Jimera de Libar, where I stayed, but I took it to Benaojan. From there it’s a 2 hour walk on a marked trail along a river gorge to Jimera de Libar. It does go up and down, and parts of the trail are a bit narrow, along high ledges over the river, but it was totally manageable. There is a small shop with limited hours for groceries in Jimera de Libar, as well as two restaurants. Note, the linked instructions are for a return walk, not one way.
From Jimera de Libar, I walked to the next train station, Cortes de la Frontera. This walk was prettier, flatter, and easier, but did go through several areas with free-roaming cows, which I didn’t love, being by myself in a foreign country. I did it, and was fine, but just something to keep in mind. It was also way-marked, but harder to find information about online. There are lots of online maps for the first half, from Benaojan to Jimera de Libar, but much less from Jimera de Libar to Cortes de la Frontera. Note that these walks link the lower parts of each of these three towns, which connect to the train stations. The main part of the towns are much higher, up the mountainside, so best to check if your hotel or restaurant is in the easily-walkable lower towns, or the upper towns.
From Cortes de la Frontera, I caught the train to Ronda. This is a historic trainline, built by the British to link Gibraltar with the rest of Europe. My Airbnb had an in-depth book detailing the history of it, but it’s not much to really see, more just to know. It is a beautiful journey though.
I had to connect back to Malaga for my flight, and there were fewer train and bus links between Malaga and Ronda than I expected. The busses weren’t run by Alsa, like my other busses had been, and I couldn’t find reliable information online. It was far easier to just pop into the Ronda bus station and look at the printed schedule there. The bus ride was twisting and turning and had absolutely incredible views (and the woman across the aisle from me threw up into a bag the whole way).