29 September 2011

Keeping fit in Alcalá

When I first moved here I though that just walking around this preciptitous town of ours would provide enough exercise to keep me in shape, not to mention living in a three-storey house. It did at first;  I lost half a stone and could sprint up the hill like a whippet without even thinking about it.   But lately I've found myself rationalising my trips into town so I don´t have to do it more than once every couple of days - less if possible, especially in summer.  My muscles are getting flabby and I'm starting to get puffed out climbing two flights of stairs.

So, now that the temperature has come down to a pleasant 25 degrees or so, it's time for some remedial action.  I'm not worried about dieting; we already eat very healthily, I'm not overweight and there are too many tasty treats around to start exercising self-denial at my age.  Exercise, "gentle and regular" as they say, is the thing for us nearly-60s.  My gentle and regular regime involves a rowing machine, lifting heavy things up and down a lot, and plenty of BRISK WALKING.

The Alcalá cycle path, from the town centre to La Palmosa, the industrial estate by the motorway, was opened three years ago.  I've never actually seen a cyclist on it, but it is well-used by Alcalainos and Alcalainas of all ages, shapes and sizes.  The Andar para Salud (Walking for Health) programme is promoted jointly by the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) and the Junta de Andalucia health service.

The views over the lake, the spring flowers,birds singing in the trees, morning mists and spectacular sunsets make this one of the nicest ways of keeping fit you can imagine.  Hundreds of people do the 5 km round trip every day; some jogging, some power-walking, some ambling along having a chat, some with pushchairs, some with dogs, some with walking sticks.  It's an ideal healthy walk; a gentle downhill slope to warm the muscles up, and an uphill slog on the way back go really get the circulation going.  A stop at one of the cafes at the bottom is optional.

Just outside the town is a small wooden hut called La Moncloa.  The Spanish equivalent of 10 Downing Street, El Palacio de La Moncloa in Madrid, is the location for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting.  The original Alcalá "Moncloa" was a scruffy shack with some ramshackle chairs where the old men used to sit, putting the world to rights while keeping an eye on who was coming in and out of the town. When the cycle path was built, the Ayuntamiento replaced it with a more substantial building, but sadly the old boys no longer seem to use it.  It´s a good place to stop for some shade though.

The well-used football pitch, home of Alcala FC

For a town of its size, Alcalá is very well endowed with sporting facilities.  The Ayuntamiento maintains an outdoor swimming pool, an all-weather football pitch, a large sports hall, keep fit classes and an open-air gym. There are also tennis and paddle courts which can be booked at the reception desk in the sports hall, by phone on 676 778278, or by email padelalcaladelosgazules@hotmail.es.
There are also two private gyms:  Gimnasio Energy on C/ Alcornocales (€30 a month and you can join for just one month if you are here on holiday) and one in C/ Altilla.

So there really is no excuse for flabby muscles!

Gimnasio Energy

Basketball in the Sala Deportivo

Floodlit Five-a-Side

Municipal swimming pool (open mid June till mid September, 1 till 7 pm)

17 September 2011

Alcalá World of Leather

People who come to Alcalá on holiday aren´t exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to souvenirs.  There are no gift shops.  The Quesería Gazul sells excellent local cheese and honey, but for something more lasting you have to use your imagination.  Crazy really, we are in the heart of one of Europe´s biggest cork forests but you can´t even get a set of coasters.

A good place to look is the Guarnicionería Pedro Jiménez, on the end of Calle Constitución.  Their main business is leather, mainly saddles and bridles, but the word guarnicionería comes from the word to garnish, and they also make all the trappings that are used to decorate horses and riders at ferias and equestrian events.

Beautiful handmade leather bags, boots, hats, even key-rings are on sale alongside more startling hardware such as garrochas, the 3-metre poles used by mounted cowboys to bring down cattle.   You can also get leather goods repaired or refurbished, and he sells a wide range of leather treatment products.


15 September 2011

Romería 2011

Thanks to Chemary Gomez Reyes, Miriam Verbeek and Natalie Lozano for these wonderful photos of this year's Romería (procession) to the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Santos.







10 September 2011

Life's little miracles: The Exvotos of Nuestra Señora de los Santos

Regardless of one´s religious beliefs, it is hard not to be moved by the exvotos which line the walls of the chapel at the Ermita-Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Santos, five km from the town of Alcalá de los Gazules.  They are the iconography of the people, rough hand-painted illustrations offering thanks to the Virgin Mary, each depicting a real human drama in which Our Lady is believed to have intervened.

The custom of votive offerings is practised in many Catholic countries.  In Spain it dates back to the 14th Century, but they became particularly prolific from the 17th Century onwards.  The Sanctuary in Alcalá contains exvotos going back to 1758. They give a unique picture of how people lived, and the dangers they faced and continue to face in their daily lives: sickness and disease, war, falling off horses, accidents at work, falling into wells or rivers, traffic accidents.   Some have been restored, many more are in storage because there is simply not enough room to display them all.  

The American historian and anthropologist Jerome Mintz, who lived in the area in the 1970s, photographed many of them and they can be seen on the website Archivo Exvotos Revista Sans Soleil.  Some examples are shown below.

More exvotos here - click on the images to enlarge them

The Sanctuary is open to visitors from 10 am to 1 pm and from 4 till 8 pm.