I wrote about our visit to Ronda in the last post, and this one covers the second day of our trip. We not only cover more of Ronda, we also explore an Amazing Prehistoric Cave, we like to go off the beaten path!
Ronda Day 2 – Let’s See Some Really Old Paintings
Sunday started off just as Saturday did, with everyone waking up at a reasonable hour. Once dressed, we made our way to the small restaurant located in the lodge. It was simple food which consisted of a lot of toast. Add some OJ, cereal, marmalade, and you have the makings of a very adequate breakfast.
Once fed, we packed up all of our stuff, checked out, and made our way to Cueva de la Pileta which was about 35 minutes away from our hotel. On our way there, we saw a bunch of sheep grazing on the left side of the road. Heidi asked the kids if they wanted to touch them. A resounding “Yeah!” went up, and I stopped the car. What we didn’t see was the shepherd and his dog sitting on the right side of the road. He was hunkered under some shade tree, so he gave Heidi and the kids a bit of a startle as they hopped out of the car.
While he didn’t give them the A-OK to touch the sheep (it would have most likely spooked them), he was full of questions and other information. He was tending 150 sheep, and his dog’s name was Bruno. When he asked where we were from, Heidi told him, but he mistook Almuñécar for Alemán (he thought we were German). Once it was cleared up where we were from, and where we lived, Heidi snapped a few pictures, and we continued down the road.
On our way, we passed through Montejaque and Benaoján, the latter of which is a very cute town (population 1700). We kept driving, and finally found what we were after:
Cueva de la Pileta (Cave of the Pool)
Now it’s time for some exploration. Put on your Lewis and Clark explorer hat (hats?), break out your world map, and go to 36°41’28.61″N 5°16’7.14″W. If you don’t have a coon-skin hat or map handy, don’t fret, just head over to Google Maps. Isn’t technology great?
Where was I? Oh yeah. This cave system was “found” in modern times (1905) by a farmer looking for bat guano. Guano. I love that word. Guano is high in nitrates, so it makes for excellent fertilizer. And while the price of an ounce of guano was not nearly as high as say, gold or silver, it was definitely worth the effort to procure it.
Inside the cave, many paintings were discovered, and the cave’s archeological significance was established. When you think of old paintings, how many years do you go back? I’m not talking about those paintings in Grandma’s house with the gold frames and glitter. I’m talking O-L-D. Try over 24,000 years old. That’s what we were awaiting.
The cave is still owned by descendants of the original farmer, and they maintain the cave system, as well as provide tours on a daily basis. The family had the presence of mind to preserve the cave, keep it privately held, and make it available to the public. The Nerja Caves can have as many as 5,000 visitors in a given day, whereas the Cueva de la Pileta may have 9,000 in a year. Great care is taken to limit the number of people on each tour.
Once parked, we drank some water (gotta stay hydrated when doing the cave thing), ate some snacks, and made our way to the cave entrance. There is a winding, seemingly long (I’m outta shape), stairway path to the hut where they sell tickets. And guess what? The tour just left…and it was full. The next tour was not for another hour or so we could either wait there, or we could drive back down to the town and explore for a bit. We grabbed a “reservation ticket”, and made our way back to the car.
We drove back to Benaoján, and let the kids burn off some steam. We found a small river, and a bridge, and the kids and I took turns throwing some sort of fruit/nut into the water, and watching them float away. On our little walk, we came across a man happily walking his sheep. It was a spindly looking thing that had a long tail. Our daughter said it looked like a dog. I said it was a Sheep Dog. Get it? OK, that’s a pretty poor attempt at humor, but I’m doing my best. Heidi just had to get a picture of the guy, and with that we decided to find a bathroom.
Once the bio-break was accomplished, and a bottle of cold water was purchased, it was time to head back to the cave. At the appropriate time, the tour guide led us all into the cave. If you’ve looked at the Wikipedia site, you’ll see the gate/door they have on the outside. It’s about 3 feet tall, and I experienced a bit of panic that I would be hunched over during the entire hour-long tour, and I was not in a happy place. Luckily, it opened into a large-ish cave dark cave.
We paid our money, got our one dim lantern (the only lighting provided for ever 4 people), and waited for the tour ahead of us to come out . As they filed out, they did not look like a happy group. Was the tour high on the Suck Scale? Where they just glad it was over? I’m not too sure, but eventually they all left, and our tour was officially started. I’m not a big fan of enclosed spaces. I’m not claustrophobic, but sometimes I can get a bit anxious. I think Heidi was having problems, because she was vacillating between going and not going. I was urging her to go, but didn’t want to be a jerk about it.
So she climbed some stairs, went down, climbed up again, and eventually decided that she would not continue. You see, that small door that they open for you to enter, they also close and pad lock during the tour. Her mind took over and she didn’t like the thought of “no way out”. If you are claustrophobic at all, I would not recommend doing this tour. I was thinking that there was not enough oxygen in the cave while breathing hard, and I had to force myself to not think about it. Once we started climbing, and I started focusing on the kids and the light of the lanterns, I did better, but it took me about 10 minutes to calm down.
We are walking in an environment where stalagmites and stalactites have been growing for thousands and thousands of years. The accretion of dirt and minerals into stalactites and stalagmites is such a balance. Too much flow of water/minerals, and it has an erosive effect. Too little, and nothing happens. The guide explained that it takes about 100 years for one centimeter of “growth“. Along the flowstone walls there was staining of various colors. The yellow stains were caused by high levels of calcium carbonate, the red/brown markings were ferrous oxidation, the black by manganese, and the green hues indicated the presence of copper.
I should note that there were absolutely no pictures or video allowed. Due to the sensitivity of the bats to high-frequency sound (auto focus lights, flashes, etc.), we were not allowed to film anything, but we were able to use our flashlights/lanterns to see our surroundings. Check out the video from the Cave website here to see some of the more interesting paintings. We were about 40 meters into the tour when we got to our first painting. It was a deer. It was a bit abstract looking so I didn’t see it at first, and then the guide pointed out the antlers. Very cool!
We continued on, and at times the path closed in so that I had to turn to the side, duck my head, and/or suck in just to get through. There were more paintings consisting of horses, bulls, deer, and people. One of the paintings was made with a mixture of iron oxide (rust) and animal fat, and it was carbon dated at 24,000 years old. Amazing to think that some Cro-Magnon man had painted the horse that long ago. Perhaps after a successful hunt. Another painting (dated around 4,000 years old) showed a man holding a bow.
The combination of the paintings, and the formations along the walls and ceiling was absolutely amazing. At one point, we came to a small pool. The guide explained that during the winter, the water level in the cave is much higher, and that it’s always wet. I asked him if the water was potable. He said, “Yes, but you’ll grow stalagmites in your stomach if you drink it.” Everyone chuckled at that.
Further in, there were more formations and art. Some of the art looked like tally marks. The thinking is that they may have been counting winters or some other time related endeavor. One of my favorite paintings was a large rendering of a sole. In the middle it looks as if there is a seal. At several points, there were natural chimney looking structures that were blackened by fires that had been made by the cave’s inhabitants.
As we got to the farthest point away from the entrance we were in a large cave area that had one area blocked off. The guide explained that the section that was blocked off led to another cave system that had a long narrow drop. He then explained that the ground we were standing on was about 4 meters thick, and directly below us was another cavern that was enormous. He then stomped his foot really hard. And the entire cave pulsated and echoed. Wow! Throughout the tour he had been speaking back-and-forth in Spanish and English, and when he was done talking, I asked him to do it again. Awesome!
We had covered about 500 meters into the hill, and about 40 meters in altitude, and with that, it was time to head back. On our way, he pointed out several shapes in the walls. There was the Sword of Damocles (stalactite in the shape of a sword), the Castle, Epaulette, and Venus di Milo. On our way back to the entrance, the guide warned us several times about the slippery conditions. Luckily nobody fell, and everyone made it back down. I returned our lantern, shook the guide’s hand, and thanked him. We made our way outside, and it was bright!
Once outside, Heidi came to greet us, and all of us were relieved. If you get a chance to take this tour, I’d highly recommend it if you’re not affected by claustrophobia. The guide was very knowledgable and friendly, and it made for a very unique experience.
We acclimated to the brightness outside, and walked to the car, all while the kids were detailing the sights to Heidi. Our son had just covered a unit on the Paleolithic Era in science class, so the trip to the cave really hit home with him.
The Cave tour was the big thing for Sunday. We made our way back to Ronda, had an uneventful drive, and as always, enjoyed coming back to our home in Almuñécar.
Side note from Heidi: (gotta share it all with you)
I was so excited about visiting this cave. When I did the research on-line, I knew we would all love it. We had visited many caves before, but this one was going to be rustic and more like we were stepping back in time. This is what I wanted our family to experience. As we entered the cave and were standing in the dark “room” with our little lantern, as was well with me. I was very excited and couldn’t wait to see it all.
As our guide took us up the first flight of stairs, I was thinking “this is sooooo cool”. Then I hear a faint voice from down below. It was the previous guide letting our guide know she was leaving and would be locking the door now (in Spanish).
The moment she said it out loud “Panic Attack“. What!? She is locking the door? I rushed down the dark, wet and slippery stairs to verify what she had said. Perhaps my Spanish isn’t so great and I misunderstood. She confirmed that she would be locking the door, but that the cave was very large and I shouldn’t worry. As you can see from the photos, I took plenty of pictures of that door and knowing full well it was locked as the previous tour was inside.
Back up the stairs I went to be with the group. I could hear her clanging the metal lock on the door and that was it! My mind was lost in another world of being locked in a cave. I just looked at Alan and apologized and bolted for that door. The lady was very nice to me and offered to give me a refund and at this point, all I wanted was out. She insisted and had me in the main cavern to give me my money back. I guess this happens all of the time and they are very understanding.
We exited the cave together and she really bolted that door shut, with me on the outside of course. I spent the next hour plus, enjoying the Vast, Beautiful, Open view of the countryside. The bees were buzzing around me as I sat in otherwise complete silence on a picnic bench in the shade. It was so peaceful and calming, just what I needed.
I was so disappointed with myself and felt bad for the family, but when something like this happens there is little control. It has only happened a couple of times in my life and I would like to keep it that way. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the cave and they confirmed that there were some “tight” spots that even made them uncomfortable. I am sorry I missed it, but I shudder to think if that would have happened to me in the middle of the tour.