A STRANGER emerges from the dawn shadows and threads his way through banks of oleander and olive trees towards the hidden settlement of El Morreon. The sun colours the Sierra Nevada and surrounding mountains an indifferent blue, while in the valleys and rocky barrancos the coolness of night lingers. Not even the bark of a dog cracks the silence. This is a perfect dawn and the stranger is part of it . . .
Andalucia is awakening, but this valley sleeps on. No rude cockerels, no birdsong – just the gentle scuffle of feet on a dusty track as the stranger descends toward the Rio Guadalfeo – the river that drains meltwater from the southern slopes of Spain’s highest mountain range. There are houses here in El Morreon – where life has an alternative flavour – there are ancient trucks, battered cars, homes built from recycled materials, but no sign of activity. Not yet, anyway.
This stranger. Who is this man passing along the track in the morning shadows like a peasant from the writings of Cervantes? A battered straw hat; trainers split at the toes; baggy shorts; a beard that requires trimming. A glance at his fair hair and skin suggests the man is not Spanish, that he has the look and the bearing of a northern European.
Maybe he is lost, or searching for something. Maybe, like most people, he’ll have a story to tell.
Sit him on a stone beneath a stand of pines, above the rushing river, and he might recount tales of distant countries where mountain ledges drip dark water and peaks are almost forever wreathed in impenetrable cloud; a land where lakes guard their black depths and boglands are infested with hungry insects. There again, he might not.
He might, like Sancho Panza, share his woes: his inexcusable laziness; his inability to motivate himself in the summer heat; his reluctance to exercise; his determination to put off until tomorrow what should be done today.
Or he might, just might, hint that he is breaking out of this lethargy, that he has risen before the sun and embarked on his first adventure for many months. Not a great adventure – just one to loosen the muscles and stir the blood. He has closed the garden gate behind him, descended through El Morreon to the shining river at the base of the mountains; followed its course along banks of shingle to where bees buzz in sunlit glades; and returned to his starting point along winding tracks.
Perhaps, if this is the case and the stranger has fallen into indolent ways, he can reintroduce a little structure into his life and regain some purpose. Then he might be a stranger no longer. So long as he perseveres. Perhaps there is a stranger in us all.