i had heard that there are people living in caves above the albaycín, the old arabic quarter on the high hill facing the alhambra. “in caves?!” i asked. “yes, caves,” said the guy i was talking to. “some are even having electricity there.” (yes, he said it just like that. he’s from latvia.) i couldn’t wrap my mind around this enough to picture it, so i decided right then and there to march my little ass up there and see for myself. so march i did. up. and up. and up some more. until i got to a place where the paved—well, cobblestoned—road ended, and the way was only marked by gravel, hard-packed dirt, and eventually these:
these steps lead to the abandoned church;
after that, you’re on your own
there to my left, finally, was that wall i had been wondering about. part of las murallas del albaycín. you can see this chain of murallas from the town below, great walling their way up and over the hillside. i had been curious to see this up close. i wondered why it was there. i still don’t know. all i know is that it’s old and it’s definitely not worth mountain climbing beneath the scorching sun to see. you can’t walk on it. there aren’t any grand structures that are part of it. it’s just an old wall, crumbling in places and neither holding anything out nor keeping anything in.
so on i trekked into the dry wasteland above the albaycín, and eventually i discovered…yards without houses. why were there no houses? because the yards—well, ramshackle fenced-in areas, really—were in front of the entrances to caves. caves, jan? yes, caves. i’d show you, but i didn’t feel right taking pictures. i didn’t know how those people (and there were people about) might feel about having their homes photographed for show and tell. besides, some of them are real honest-to-goodness gypsies and, for me, gypsies have managed to maintain a slightly scary aura of mystery about them. and these ones live in caves, for pete’s sake—caves!!
now, in addition to the brown gypsy people doing their brown gypsy thing up there, who else do you think might be attracted to living in the most nature-y of nature’s shelters? why, hippies, of course. it shouldn’t have surprised me to see the group of white folks with dredlocs sitting around the table in front of their…cave. (yes, cave.) i had wondered (sometimes aloud) why there were so many hippy-looking, dredloc-having white people in granada, and now i know. you get to live in caves here. YES, CAVES! what self-respecting hippy wouldn’t want that?
and what self-respecting band of dirt-loving, cave-dwelling hippies wouldn’t have at least one dog among its ranks? at the beginning of my odyssey (back in maui), i made a choice about facing one of my fears: swimming. today, i was forced into facing one. as i approached the hippy camp, i heard growling. then barking. then, in slow motion, my life flashed before my eyes as one of my greatest terrors in life came to fruition. dogs. loose. charging. me. this is what i saw: the end of the world.
the mutt stayed back, but the boxer kept coming. normally, in dog situations, there is something or someone there to intervene. an owner. a husband. a friend. a door. a parked car to jump onto. i had nothing here. just sloping dirt in every direction. and, of course, what self-respecting dirty hippy living in a cave is going to conform to the societal nicety of jumping up to stop his marauding dog? no, in true hippy form, they all just sat around their table (which was probably just a big rock) while one of them yelled to me, “no pasa nada—sólo ladra.” (“he ain’t gon’ do nothin’—he’s just barking.”)
it was a defining moment in my life. for the first time i had no out. there was nothing i could do but find out how one of my worst nightmares ends. i had to shore up everything—everything—that i had in me, innate and learned, to make myself stand my ground while that dog came at me. “no pasa nada,” yelled the dirty hippy as the dog reached me. “pasa,” he encouraged, “está bien.” he gestured for me to continue on my way.
the dog reached me. it arrived and then, like me, stood its ground. right next to me. with its hindquarters pressed lightly to my left leg. i could have reached down and petted it if i…well, if i had magically transmogrified into another person, i suppose. but no, i was still me…but i was me on the other side of the nightmare. i survived. the dog had charged me, reached me, and…no pasó nada.
i passed on, as directed, sweating and dazed, looking desperately for the way down the other side of the hill. as bad luck would have it, below me i saw another loose dog at another damn cave. other than that path, which i wasn’t even sure led all the way down, i didn’t see another route. i couldn’t face yet another dog. it was too much. so i decided to go back. surely the original dogs wouldn’t care about me a second time, right? psych. by the time i was within thirty feet of the place, i could hear the low, terrifying growling. and then there was the boxer again, setting itself upon me.
same thing all over again. twice. i faced this horror two times in one day. whoever it was that went up that hillside, i don’t think it is the same girl that came back down. i don’t deny for a second that i’m the better for this experience, but the next time a guy tells me that there are people nearby living in caves or in trees or in a freakin’ candy cane forest…i think i’ll just take his word for it.