Ever imagined drinking brandy for breakfast with gypsies? Me neither. But that's exactly what happened when I and two traveling companions decided to go to the religious festival held at the Ermitage de Nuestra Senora de la Sierra, in the province of Cordoba, in the region of Andalucia, Spain.
We were living on the Costa del Sol. Almost a crime in itself. The Costa is full of holiday apartments, villas and British pubs playing English soccer matches and serving English food. A strip of prime real estate around the southern coast of Spain and many would say, a travesty. We were renting an apartment in one of the enclaves and working. Getting paid under the table seemed relatively easy and we cleaned villas and apartments, or baby-sat. We did anything that would enable us to live in the sun and explore the interior of Andalucia in our spare time. We wanted to know the real Spain and you could only find that far away from the Costa.
I had noticed an article in the local English newspaper about a festival on the outskirts of Cabra, a small town approximately 200 kilometers from where we were living. The festival features as an important event in the gypsy religious calendar: their worship and celebration of the statue, Nuestra Senora de la Sierra. Sounded like an adventure. For my two Australian buddies and I, adventures in Spain were what life was all about.
The three of us bundled into our small Renault car and headed down the autopista (motorway) towards Malaga on a Friday afternoon. We had decided to get there early because there could be hundreds of tourists turning up and we didn't want to have to park miles away from the festival. How naïve we were. We had no idea if there was accommodation, food stores or even public toilets where we were headed. Still, we packed our sleeping bags, took some food and a few bottles of water, just in case. The Anzac adventure spirit was up and running. We arrived in Cabra and then spent some time looking for the Ermitage.
Eventually, following a sign, we drove up a long, narrow, steep, windy road to the top of a hill which was strewn with rocks. It looked as though some giant had thrown huge boulders from on high and they had crashed and smashed into the rocks now covering the barren hill. There, at the top was a tiny church, the Ermitage.
Much to our surprise we were the only people there. So much for the hoards of tourists. Doubt settled in when we discovered the church was locked. Had we made a mistake? Finally we spied a car winding its way slowly up the hill. Its passengers told us that yes the festival was here and on tomorrow. Their manner was not hugely welcoming.