There is a delirious joy driving through the sleepy white villages of the Axarquia region of Andalucia- a strip of land devoid of the lights and crime of the costa and the frozen air of the Sierra Nevada. This part of my loving land holds its secrets in tiny details, so you need to be awake to excavate them. One of the greatest pleasures in life, for me, is to drive aimlessly in the quiet of the region. The sun hits the car and I take a stroll with it happily soaking up the country…. because countryside and solitary break is all you get here- villages draping down hilltops, hidden, quiet spots where goats and donkeys are often your only companions. T is hard to imagine that we can still be this alone in southern Europe. l wonder through the white sugar cube houses along the Mudejar route, which is what brought me to this region this weekend.
The name Axarquia comes from the Arabic Ash Sharquiyyah, the eastern region, the land stretches to the eastern region between Malaga and Granada. It is not a boasting part of Andalucia but rich in all things Spain is trying to hide- its Moorish history. Many buildings have been masqueraded into churches that are more palatable to the Spanish as well as the foreigners than mosques or impressive arches that have set the tone for the entire region.
The morning stillness with the cockerels and the clunking of the bells, pots and buckets takes me back to my village where I spent my childhood. The lunchtime buzz created by five people is the highlight of the day and the afternoon gossiping leading to the sultry evenings is what calms any heart, especially as we watch the sunset behind the hilltops. The five villages hang in the mountains like beehives at the foothills of the Almijara and the Maroma. They stretch across 75 kilometres, not to mention the 800 years of history they hold solemnly in their posture.
I adore driving here, passing a river, crossing a main road, turning into a small hamlet and find a few trees gloriously gleeful on the side. I did not know many secrets before I made this land my home in my heart- there are stories buried underneath the red soil here. You can pick them with your feet as you walk under the bright blue sky.
The five villages stand in a quiet solidarity, all held together by one thing: how slow life is around here. Wherever you turn, you will be left alone. Walking or driving here is a deep joy and I have done this route in parts many a times. I always start in Arenas, a sweet little village laid in a circular shape, famous for drying raisins. I reach the next pueblo Archez gladly, where they call the 408 people who live here souls, not population. The heat or the occasional fog no longer suffocate me, I passed my point of intolerance. I watch the archeros’ rugged skin, roughened by the sun, glistening of calm and kindness. Then slowly, almost meditatively, I point my shoes towards Salares where the narrowest street of Andalucia awaits. Lunchtime catches me in Sedella and enchants with the smell of fried garlic in sweet paprika and olive oil along with the sizzling of fresh prawns. By the time I walk into Canillas De Aceituno, my heart is wrapped in silence providing me with some strength to order churros. Canilllas has its name from the type of silk the Arabs used to make here, azeytuni was a fine colour. The whole region was once known for its strategically well -positioned place between Malaga and growing Granada as well for its silk and sugarcane. The five villages are chained together not only by a walkway but by medieval stories I read silently as I lick my chocolatey finger. The canilleros are munching on their olives just as solemnly by an olive tree that stands gracefully under pristine white houses.
It has always been my belief that olive trees have a soul, and this thought never fails to put my heart into a contemplative calm. I continue to sit with my café con leche in the village bar listening to the silvery slithers of the olive leaves until the fading sun starts making space for the whispers of the land.
It appears to me that wherever I point my foot, there is an olive tree towering above some medieval stories of how Spain came into being. They might be covered with dust, dirt and dung but they lay under every white village across Andalucia, of which there are six hundred and eighty-nine scattered across its eight provinces. Those buried stories are the foundation of this country that surely has more than sun, sea and sweat. In the silence of siestas I hear those stories whispering into my ear, they would not let me sleep. In this strangely quiet place, I start to hear. I truly overhear what Spain has gone through and understand where she is now. The stories I read tell me about a power to transform the way I live, love or travel and if only for this, I keep coming back to this forgotten corner of the world.
There is a secret language olive trees speak- the lingo of grace, dignity and wisdom. They converse elegantly, they never shout or make a loud appearance. They blend in with the gentle mountains and guard the stories of love, betrayal and feud. They are discreet, humble and I love them because they make me want to be those things. Wherever olive trees gather, there is ethereal silence. My time here is never enough, but I hardly hesitate to put my walking boots on for the next walk, because I know there will be another story revealing itself in the silence and I can certainly find it under a gracious olive tree.