Aracena, Spain is a little known town in the western part of the country with one claim to fame: caves! A few weeks ago, I received an email offering an inexpensive trip to the Huelva region to go spelunking within these ancient caverns. It was a no brainer; sign me up, please! And so, my friend Keelia and I packed a backpack with snacks, a change of shirt and underwear, our cameras, and off we went.
Most of the people on our trip were older than us. Of the adults, the range was about 30-70, with a mode of 45. The trip leader, Julian, brought his two middle school kids as well. Julian and his children sat in the front, followed by two benches fitting three people each. There were two more cars besides ours, amounting to roughly twenty people total. I sat in between Keelia and a Spanish woman Juani on the way over. She was the youngest of the adults and had a very kind smile. I enjoyed chatting with her on our five hour ride. The drive was pleasant and reminded me of car trips in America. Our van filled with all kinds of music, ranging from a man with his guitar, Enya, and classical, all the way to movie soundtracks, Buraka, and Fiddler on the Roof in Spanish! I had a good laugh when that came on. Our leader, Julian, was your stereotypical camper-hiker-dad and his kids were your typical playful brother-sister, go with the flow, outdoorsy types.
It is difficult for me to describe in detail the magnificence of the cave in Aracena. So I will provide you with some of the words that come to mind when I recall its beauty: quiet, damp, clear, turquoise reflections, glimmering, secret pockets, vaulted ceilings, snowy crystals, waterfalls, canopies, pearl columns, toasted marshmallows, crouching, glistening, clandestine pools, depth, adventure. We technically weren't allowed to take pictures in the cave, but I snuck a couple in. Please refer to the album to see these words come to life! This is by far the best and most wondrous cave I have ever visited.
Keelia and I were advised in advance to bring food for our meals. We bought peanut butter (yes, I found some!), jelly, crackers, nuts, granola bars, chocolate, and fruit. When we went to eat in the lobby of the hotel with everyone, the table was filled with fruits, cheeses, cookies, salsas, homemade Spanish tortillas, empanadas, and many other treats. Everyone passed their snacks around, "quién quieres?" "Who wants some?". I really appreciated the generosity of our group and, of course, their flavorful offerings.
I made friends with some of the older people in our crowd. One man, Adolfo, reminded me a great deal of Marvin, both in appearance and intelligence. He always added fun facts about the things around us as we walked. When we went into the caves, he was describing to me all the different formations like estalactitos y estalagmitos. I think he was trying to tell me jokes too, but unfortunately, I didn't understand him that well with his thick Granadian accent. So I just nodded and "ooh haha"ed a lot.
There was another interesting man I talked to towards the end of the trip named Jon. He told me almost his entire life story, and what an incredible life! He was a German man born in Indonesia when it was a colony of the Netherlands. But his island, Java, was taken by the Japanese in 1942 and Jon and his family were put into concentration camps. His mother, brother, and himself were put into one camp and his father in another. When children reached the age of twelve, they could no longer stay with their mothers. So, when his older brother turned twelve, he was moved to a different camp. Soon after, Jon turned twelve and too was moved. Now all four members were in different camps. One day, a commander asked if someone wanted the special task of cutting grass for the rabbits. Jon thought this would be a good opportunity for him to get outside of his unit and see the surrounding landscape, so he volunteered and began the work. He was asked one morning to cut the grass by the hospital. When done, Jon went inside and asked a nurse if she knew where his father was. "Oh, why yes I do! He's just in that room over there". Jon ran down the hallway and reunited with his father. He requested a transfer to his father's camp and they were together again. Not long after, his older brother was transferred to their camp just by coincidence. All the men were together again. Once the Battle of Java ended, Jon went looking for his mother. He returned to the first camp they were at, but she had been moved to Jakarta. He continued his search, asking everyone he passed. Finally, after many days, Jon found his mother, but in very poor health. She had edema, excessive water retention in her legs, and couldn't walk very well. Jon got her out of there and brought her home to heal. Soon everyone restored to full health and their family unit was whole again. How amazing and rare! Jon was a very luck man.
El Arco Iris
Aracena also has a castillo on the top of a hill. The morning we went was rainy, but by the time we walked up the hill, the sun peeped out from behind the clouds to say hello. Then the most amazing thing happened - a beautiful and vibrant rainbow stretched itself over the pueblo, gleaming in full glory. I tried to capture its cheery smile on camera, but the arch was just too big for one picture! In fact, there were two arches, working together to color everyone's morning a happy shade. Everything following this act was rather unimpressive. But the image of that clear and true rainbow will stay with me for a long time.
Shout outs of today's blog go to:
Alex Olaya: On our way home, we passed by El Rio Tinto, literally meaning, the red river. It is named for a nearby quarry filled with red minerals. We went into its accompanying geology museum and I thought of you!
Anyone 21 and over: I can finally (legally) join you all now! Celebrating is in order upon my return.
Hasta la próxima,