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Spain through the looking glass

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A few days ago, a friend and I decided to escape an increasingly malodorous Seville (see my previous post about the city’s rubbish strike) and take off for the hills.

Our plan was simple: we would take the 2-hour bus ride south to the Sierra de Grazalema National Park and tackle as much of the spectacular Pinsapar track as we had time for.

The Pinsapar route takes you up into the mountains and then leads you through a stand of ancient ‘dinosaur’ pines. This is a world of rocky outcrops, circling vultures and – on clear days – views over to Morocco. The route is also pretty popular so the powers-that-be make you apply for a permit for a permit before setting out; in this way, they can cap overall numbers.

The first time I went up to Grazalema, I didn’t know about the paperwork, and was never challenged. The second time, however, I got to the head of the trail only to be sent back 20-kilometre down the road to get the necessary paperwork. Not much fun, especially if you don’t have a car.

So this week I didn’t want to take any chances: our first stop would be the national park visitors’ centre in the village of El Bosque. Once there, we had to wait a while before we were served. Eventually, though, a very nice young woman with very bad English took out details and filled out a lengthy form with all our details. This was then duly stamped because nothing official in Spain – and I mean nothing – takes place without the all-important sello, or seal.

Eventually Rosa – or Margarita or Hortensia – she shared her name with a flower, I remember that much) – gave us a piece of paper.

I thought we were finished. Fat chance.

‘Now hab to take thees to the otra office for the permit,’ said our flower, pointing at our form.

‘This isn’t the permit?’

She shook her head and then proceeded to take out a little map and draw us the route to another office nearby. So around the bullring we walked (for about the third time), and down a hill to where we found office number 2.

There was no one there. Or rather, there were several people there, but nobody who looked like they might be able to provide us with the all-important second stamp. Soon, though, a little man little even by Spanish standards – and with what looked like two glass eyes – snatched my form from me.

He then ducked into another office with it and while we watched through a little window he laboriously filled out all the same details that the woman in the first office had just written up.

‘Um, why do you have two offices?’ I asked, unable to help myself. ‘I mean, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.’

He rolled his glassy eyes. ‘To you, maybe not. But to us, yes!’

‘But,’ I suggested daringly, ‘the offices seem to do – you know – the same thing.’

‘Ah hah! But the other office is run by a private company. This is the more technical part.’

‘So why don’t they just hand out the bloody permits at the first office,’ I wanted to say. But I was nervous that we might be sent packing with no paperwork.

We got the permit.

A few minutes later, my friend and I walked off past the bullring of El Bosque for the fourth time and studied our hard-won prize. The form I was holding was known as an “Autorización para la realización de itinerarios por la zona de reserve del parque natural Sierra de Grazalema”, or to translate that into something approximating English: “Authorisation for the realisation of walking routes in the conservation area of Sierra Grazalema National Park”.

In other words, a walk in the park.

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Written by georgemills25

February 12, 2013 at 20:18

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