Last Saturday I took a day trip with some friends to see some pretty cool natural geological formations and some man-made creations. It was a looooong day, we left Jerez at 7:45am and returned at 8pm, but it was well worth it.
The first stop: La Gruta de Maravillas
You weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so I had to take these from the internet. La Gruta is located in the town of Aracena, which is about two hours from Jerez. It was first opened to the public in 1914 and was one of the pioneers of subterranean tourism in Spain. Walking through it was like exploring an alien world; weird geological formations hung from the cavern ceiling or emerged from the ground surrounded by beautifully brilliant blue pools; the humidity was at 100% and water dripped or flowed from from almost every crevice and geological structure making it impossible not to get wet. The caverns were astonishing; the organic shapes created seemed as if they were the imagination of Jules Verne, taken out of Journey to the Center of the Earth. With appropriately named room like the sala de garbanzos because of grabanzo-like formations on the floor and sala de erotica because of phallic-like structures protruding from the walls; it was unlike anything I had ever seen.
The second stop: Las minas de riotinto (The red river mines)
Las minas really consisted of four stops because there are three different mines, or at least three that we went to. The first was a quick stop at a viewing point over the largest mine area; the second stop was at the mine pictured above which was the best one, we had to trek through some forest to get to it; the third was at the featured image above and where we had lunch; and the last stop was a pointless walk along a paved road among a barren landscape in the blistering sun in search for a train track we never found. After about 25 minutes we eventually gave up and turned back toward the car. Sam and I couldn’t have been fun at that point because we were exhausted and walking aimlessly toward nothing, yet everybody else seemed content on continuing. If Jose had is way we would have continued walking and we wouldn’t have returned home until at least 10 or 11, something Sam and I really didn’t want to happen since we had work the next day.
The mines have a very long history dating back to Roman times, but not coming into their own until 1873 when they were bought by a British company. From then on out they played an important role in the extraction of metals up until their closure in the late 90s early 2000s. At their peak production, the nearby town of riotino boasted a population of over 200,000 compared to a mere 4,000 today. The mines themselves and the surrounding area create a surreal, almost mars like atmosphere; everything is tinted in dusty pinks, brown, yellow and gray. The scale of the mines is so big it consumes the area around it, mostly devoid of trees and plants they sit like a scar on the landscape that will never heal.
The last stop: Niebla
Niebla is a small town of great historical significance (something I did not know at the time) . We went specifically to see the puente romano, or Roman bridge, but there is also a impressive fortress in the center with a well preserved 2km long wall surroudning a portion of the city. We didn’t spend much time there, only enough to take a couple of photos and then head home. Exhausted and depleted of energy we made it back to Jerez around 8. That night was the best Sunday’s night sleep I had gotten since being in Spain.