Santa Cruz del Valle

The mountains surround the town on three sides, reaching up to the sky as a lush mass of dense green criss-crossed with rocks and trails. My host dad says that in the winter, the rocky tops become covered in a thick blanket of snow that causes the cattle, goats, and deer to come down into the valley near the towns. In the center of each town is a church, built between the 15th and 17th centuries, whose bells ring out each hour, shattering the tranquil silence of the valley.

A main road through the valley traces an ancient path used by the Romans in the 4th century that is now paved smooth and ringed with electric streetlights. The smaller cobbled streets weave at sharp angles between whitewashed, patchwork quilt houses. Some are built into the hills so that the roof of the higher side is barely above eye-level. Most have thick, beaded curtains covering their open doors to let the cool breezes and voices from the street float in.

The homes show their age as a section of white stucco slides into a many-hundred-year-old brick wall supported with exposed wood beams that is reinforced with gray stone and concrete. They are topped with red clay tiles held together messily with dark clay edged with gutters pieced together with spare pieces of metal. On some of the homes small stone chimneys capped with two or three clay tiles jump through the steeply slanted roof next to a hastily installed satellite dish or a precariously balanced TV antenna that brings today’s news to yesterday’s village.

The remains of the troughs where the women used to gather to wash their family’s clothes are now overgrown with wild blackberry bushes. The pond made by damming the creek with large stones that was used for bathing hundreds of years ago where the older people in town remember swimming as children is now thick, brown, and full of algae. Though the children no longer bathe together, they are still a close-knit group content to sit in their plastic chairs in the street eating jamón and queso, and greeting everyone who walks by during the long, sunny afternoons by name.

This could be any small town in California, or Missouri, or Iowa; where you know everyone, and they know you. Where you can take tomatoes from the garden next-door without asking and you eat as many figs as you want walking down the street. Despite the fact that most of the young people have left to find work in the cities, the people who remain in the valley are friendly and want to share their picturesque town. This is authentic Spain: unhurried, genuine, beautiful.

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