Tormenta – noun (f), storm or tempest.
Researching a book is one of the most interesting aspects of being a writer ( overheard recently from one writer friend to another, ‘You must have had an amazing time researching that one!’ ). This is especially the case regarding locations. Of course, it’s easier these days, when so much of the globe is available at the tap of a keyboard. Laura Barnett, writer of the best-selling ‘The Versions of Us‘ used Google Streetview for every journey made by her characters in London, Cambridge and the US ( she was born in London and went to Cambridge, but still needed to check the contemporary street scenes ).
Given the location of the sequel to ‘Reconquista’ I have been researching the mountains to the east of Jerez, as regular readers of this blog will know. Many thanks to my friend Mario for the loan of ‘Sierras Andaluzas‘ by Manuel Gil Monreal and Enrique A Marin Fernandez (above), both Andalucian mountaineers, which was a mine of information about the Sierras, climactic, geological and practical – it contains detailed instructions about various routes up the peaks ( some not to be attempted unless by experienced mountaineers ). I can thoroughly recommend it ( to Spanish speakers ).
The Sierras around Grazalema are the first mountains of any size which one comes across in Cadiz and Malaga provinces when crossing from Atlantic to Mediterranean. Given that the weather systems come from the Atlantic for most of the year and roll across the Bahia, the plains and the foothills, only to come slap bang up against the Sierras, this makes for an eventful climate. Very high winds sweep the peaks and valleys alike and for parts of the year it is very wet, this is where those Atlantic clouds dump their contents. Grazalema has the highest precipitation rate in southern Spain and floods are common and dangerous. Yet in the shadow of some of the peaks the terrain is perpetually dry, creating micro-climates like the Garganta Seca, or Dry Ravine.
In Winter there is snow ( as we know from ‘Reconquista‘ ) and, in all but high summer, clouds and mists often shroud the valleys and high plains. Tempest and violent storms – tormenta – are common, with thunder and lightning ringing between the peaks. It’s going to make for a dramatic backdrop to my characters’ next set of adventures.
Yet these apparently inhospitable mountains have always been settled, first in Neanderthal times, then by the Romans, then the Arabs. Many of the place names there are Arabic in origin, Benamahoma, Benaocaz, Benaojan and Zahara ( right). Though there is also Prado del Rey, or ‘Meadow of the King’, the most westerly village in the comarca. They were also the haunt of bandits, in real life as in fiction, up until as late as the 1930s and the time of the Spanish Civil War. And they have inspired artists and writers before me. And poets.
‘Los Senderos del San Cristobal‘ or ‘The Paths of Saint Christopher’
by Carlos Sanjuan Gonzales.
Si subes al San Cristobal, desde su cumbre veras, el Castillo de Zahara y el Penon de Gibralta,
Should you climb to Saint Christopher, to the true summit, twixt the Castillo of Zahara and the Rock of Gibraltar,
Las aguilos y los bitres, se han dormido en tus laderas, sierras de Benamahoma, que llenas mi vide entera.
The eagles and the vultures slumber on your slopes, mountains of Benamahoma, which have filled my life entire.