The word cave conjures up images of rock, cold and damp. I admit I was worried about staying in a cave house. But caves have been used as dwellings since time began. Tenzin Palmo lived in one 13,000 feet up in the Himalyas for twelve years; I was only going to be calling any rocky abode ‘home’ for a week. So, I searched and when I found Raquel’s cave in Sacromonte, the old traditional gypsy neighbourhood of the city, I got that familiar feeling in the stomach and knew I’d found ‘home’ in Granada.
High on a hillside, up a steep cobbled street, behind white-washed walls, the cave sat, set back into the rock. Surrounded by flowering cactus and butterflies, trees and pretty plants, I felt like we’d stepped into Middle Earth and our own adventure. The cave was curvy. Walls undulated. Rooms were rounded. Doorways arched. Niches carved into rock acted as ledges and benches. Man-made, but oh, so natural. Pock-marked, bulging stones almost breathed in and out. Calming and cool. Rooms – a living room and three bedrooms – flowed into one another; no barriers, only token curtains. In the cave, we were in, and part of, nature.
But cave dwelling took some getting used to. It was dim in daylight and dark, dark, dark at night. There was no tap, no running water. How may times did I go to fill the kettle, wash my hands, rinse off a plate? My brain and body worked on automatic pilot, tripping itself up a thousand times a day, trying to do what it was used to. And even though I could sense our cave breathing, it had poorly lungs. Moisture hung in the air. Clothes felt cold. Bed-sheets clammy.
Still, minor inconveniences all. We met Marino, ‘one of the last gypsies’ wandering on one of the barancos. He smelled bad, had black under his fingernails and was utterly charming. He too lived in a cave, further up the valley – without electricity, ‘just candlelight’ and a ‘battery powered radio’. He said he was born in Sacromonte and asked if he could play us a tune ‘for a coin’. ‘I don’t play in the plazas anymore, if the police catch me they will take my guitar’. He sat on a stone wall and flamenco music enveloped us. He played and joked. A girl passed walking a dog. Chords imitated a wolf-whistle. Jim laughed. ‘You are bad’, he told Jim. ‘I like it’.
Azun, Raquel’s neighbour, came to take care of the plants while Raquel was away. Like everyone else in Sacromonte, she lived in a cave. No telephone. No internet.
Our cave was luxurious by comparison, with electricity, and internet in the garden. But we hardly needed either. From our lounge chairs on the roof terrace, the Alhambra, on the other, greener side of the valley, seemed near enough to touch. I went up in the morning on waking – ‘just to look’. We drank a last cup of tea there at night in the moonlight. We enjoyed the one thing that draws people to Granada, sitting right above our cave. And that was luxury indeed.