Serendipity plays a big part in my photography, I love nothing more than getting lost with a camera in a strange place and finding photos that perhaps I wouldn't have if I'd stayed on the beaten track. I was reminded of this when I was lucky enough to spend a month living in the beautiful Spanish city of Granada in Andalusia, home to the World Heritage listed Alhambra the famous moorish palace that looks out over the city, there was, to put it mildly an abundance of photo opportunities, a photographers dream location.
Most mornings after an orange juice, croissant and a strong cup of coffee I’d head out onto the streets with my camera, one day a local approached me and we got talking I mentioned I wanted to get a photo of the Alhambra from up high, to get the best shot he said I should take a walk up to a place called Sacromonte around dusk, from up there you can look down on the magnificent palace with Alcazar (fort) toward the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the distance, apparently Bill Clinton recently re-visited this spot whilst on a trip to Spain as he had been there once in his student days and had never forgotten the magnificent vista. ( I was also told that plenty of people like to have a smoke of the good stuff while watching the sunset, although I'm sure Bill never inhaled when he first watched it as a student.)
On a warm clear afternoon I set off through the Albaicin the historic Moorish quarter located on a hill opposite the Alhambra where Muslims settled in the 11th century, the neighbourhood still maintains the layout of narrow streets from that era.
I must admit to not actually looking at a map before I set out, I figured I could walk in the general direction of where I thought Sacromonte would be, quite why I assumed this would get me there I’m not really sure, perhaps it’s got something to do with my habit of never reading instructions first. I thought I was making good progress as I ascended out of the Albaicin, past flamenco bars carved out of the side of the hill where people come to eat, drink and clap along to the sound of strumming guitars performing flamenco cantes and “quejíos until the small hours of the morning.
With the Alhambra high above me on my right and the sun sinking ever lower toward the horizon I decided to take a road on my left that I judged might get me up to Sacromonte, however after ten minutes or so of walking I came to a dead end with just a couple of cave houses in the hillside and a small fenced off plot of land holding two beautiful horses.
Back on the main road again I passed an old deserted monastery the city was now out of view nowhere to be seen and my anxiety levels were rising as the sun was setting, it was too late to turn back now and restart. To make things worse I now found myself in the midst of a pine forrest wondering if I’d ever find this damn view when finally I rounded a bend and emerged from the gloom of the forrest into an open field,
Away in the distance I could see Granada, I was surprised at how far I had walked, I was well and truly off the beaten track and there was no Sierra Nevada as the backdrop, the view was from a completely different angle than the one I had anticipated, it was now towards the floodlit Alhambra out over the city and valley beyond, it was obvious why the original inhabitants had built the fort and palace there with it’s commanding views making it easy to spot an approaching friend or foe.
With no time to waste and with the light fast approaching that sweet spot where the ambient makes away for the artificial, I quickly set up my camera, from down below in the ravine I could hear the sound of dogs barking and in the shadows I could see the outline of cave houses, I framed the palace and city in the distance with the shimmering glow of lights and got my photo, not the shot I had been seeking but in some ways a better one.
The sun now gone I was in total darkness alone up on that hill with the twinkling lights of Granda far off, a warm gentle breeze coming up from the south, I stood there for a while longer enjoying the moment until from out of the darkness in the distance I could hear the the sound of barking dogs approaching, a moment of panic gripped me, quickly I packed up my things and stumbled down the side of the hill in the darkness praying that I wouldn’t topple over the edge of that ravine, the street lights down below my only guide, eventually I made it safely back onto the main road that had brought me there in the first place.
I stopped for a beer at one of those little flamenco bars and sat out the front relaxing, two players on their way to a gig at another bar sat down nearby and ordered tapas and beers, one of them picked up his guitar and started playing while his companion accompanied him with some palmas (hand clapping) a fitting end to a lost afternoon in the Andalusian hills.