The secret lives of rivers in Andalusia

River Higuerón near Frigiliana

The rivers here are not to be taken at face value. After each shower of rain they bask in the sun for a few days and then mutate into something else, as I have just discovered.

The first inkling that something was wrong with my perception of rivers came last Sunday when I went on an organized walk. We set out from Frigiliana up the river Higuerón. At first, when we started walking in the water, I thought it was a mistake. It had rained; there was more water than expected. I tried to avoid getting my feet wet but as the valley got narrower it became clear that the walk would have been a paddle in any circumstances.

On the way up we grabbed hold of ropes to circumnavigate the waterfalls. On the way back, all attempts to keep dry abandoned, I slid down one cataract into a deep pool, up to my neck in the water.

Clambering over rocks on the river Higuerón

Clambering over rocks on the river Higuerón

A few days later I walked out from Almáchar (where I am staying) following a recently inaugurated path. Although it had been created as part of a tourism initiative after a few paces it disappeared into a stream. The waymarks and my map confirmed that I really was supposed to walk in the bed of the stream. Bad planning, I thought. Not really suitable for tourists.

But it was only when I read a book about the town (Almáchar: pasado y presente de una comunidad rural de la Axarquía by Josefa Gámez Lozano) that I began to understand. The first road to this town of 2000 inhabitants was only constructed in 1956. Before that time the only way of going to Vélez Málaga, the nearest market town 14km away, was along the river bed. Even after the construction of the first road, the river continued to be used: it was more direct and so much quicker. The river was only abandoned in 1994 when a shorter road was constructed.

The waterfall at the head of the valley

The waterfall at the head of the valley

Now I understand. In Britain, nobody would consider rivers to be anything other than rivers. Here they are also paths and roads.

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