No series of portraits of the people I have met in the Sierra would be complete without a drawing of Tobias.
When I first brought Chaparro to Galaroza I used to stay in the Hostal Venecia on the Seville Portugal road. I managed to stay there for a few visits but when Javier and Dolores, who ran the place, decided they were closing I had to look for an alternative so I rented a house in the Calle San Sebastian. It was a house that belonged to Tobias’ daughter-in-law, who lives in Huelva, and Tobias was the person who I got the key from and to whom I paid the rent. The first couple of times I stayed there we didn’t have much contact. Tobias was always someone who minded his own business.
The third visit to the house was over Christmas and into January. On my birthday I decided to ride over to Castaño de Robledo, a three hour round trip. I stopped in the village for a celebratory Cruzcampo and rode back on the path that leaves Castaño from El Cristo and somehow, between there and Galaroza, I managed to lose the house keys. I sought out Tobias in the hope that he would have a spare set of keys and was hoping he wasn’t going to be annoyed with me. He wasn’t, he was very nice about it and was able to get me back into the house and got a spare set of keys for me the following day. I was really grateful so popped round with a bottle of Rioja to say thanks. From that day on we became friends.
Tobias, a native Cachonero (someone from Galaroza), had retired and returned from living in the provincial capital, Huelva, to his hometown. Tobias, like so many people of his generation had lived in the country and worked in agriculture and for a time he had lived with his family on a farm called Galindo, north of Cortelazor.
I became a regular visitor to Tobias’ house in the Calle Gloria. Paul also enjoyed getting to know Tobias. Tobias was a great source of knowledge about the paths of the Sierra.
I remember the first time I rode to La Coronada with Chaparro and could see the Cortelazor-Hinojales road and was interested in a round trip via Valdelama but didn’t fancy riding up the windy road to the hilltop village of Cortelazor. Tobias told us about a path called Los Callejones which zigzags up from the river at La Coronada to the cemetery on the outskirts of Cortelazor. It’s an ancient path, paved with old stones, crossing another burn halfway up. It is amongst my favourite paths and to us it has always been and always will be Tobias’ path…. It is the path he took with his parents when they walked up to the village to buy bread and I imagine him looking like his grandson, Miguel, climbing that beautiful path between the holm oaks covered in lichens.
My visits to the house were accompanied by beer, tapas and conversations about the farms in the area and who used to live in the now abandoned cortijos, the paths, the plants, their uses and popular names, stories of nocturnal encounters with eagle owls, of goatherds and the boys from Valdelarco killed and buried in a common grave during the Civil War. Listening to Tobias’ stories brought my rides to life and the cortijos became places where families had once lived and not just piles of old stones.
Tobias came to Cumbres de San Bartolomé with Paul and I when we drove there to look for somewhere to leave the horses on a long trip we were planning. We also went on La Coronada with Tobias and walked the single track road to Cañalengua. It was this evening stroll that inspired Paul and I to ride from La Coronada to Castañuelo via Tobias’ old stamping ground, Galindo.
Sometimes we’d go for a walk, and he’d show me the paths to the southern end of the village, La Mimbrera, El Maillar – Tobias walking briskly bashing back the brambles with walking sticks. I’d often meet Tobias at La Confesa, walking to his huerta (allotment), which he shared with his friend Rafael. I’d struggle to keep up with him walking up the Cuesta Palero in spite of his being 30-odd years my senior.
Latterly he was accompanied by Luna, his granddaughter Laura’s spaniel. At first he’d make out that he wasn’t that keen on having a dog around but they soon became inseparable companions.
There is a patio at the back of Tobias’ house with an orange tree; sometimes laden with oranges, sometimes heavy with the perfume of the azahar (orange blossom); the backdrop to meals shared with his son Miguel and daughter-in-law, Maricarmen and their children, Miguel and Laura. Happy times. Tobias would hang CDs from the tree to deter the sparrows roosting there but that never worked and come nightfall the leaves would be hiding a host of twittering life.
When Tobias became unwell, we’d visit him at Miguel’s house in Huelva. He recovered for a while and came back to Galaroza with Luna. I was glad he was back because I missed him. Paul and I both did.
His last project was to get a new roof on the house. It was September and the rains came and I remember Tobias philosophically opening the door to the street to let the water run out. He saw the project through. That was the last visit I saw him. He died the following December and Paul and I were glad to have been able to get to Huelva to say our last goodbyes.
We rode to La Coronada, toasted Tobia’s memory with Rioja and rode through Los Callejones, but not before having to clear a fallen tree from the path. Was Tobias letting us know he was still keeping an eye on us?
Tobias; kind, loyal, balanced, generous, wise. Or, as the Spanish would say, “Un pedazo de pan”.
Jan Nimmo © 2014