The streets of Alcalá played a special role on rainy days. These were frequent; I didn't know the reason, but they were frequent. Now I think that the Sierra de Cádiz is generously endowed with water because the black clouds which come in from Sanlúcar, El Puerto, Cádiz and the whole Atlantic coast discharge their burden there. These formidable bagfuls of water bump into the high peaks of the Sierra de Aljibe, between the sierras in the north and those in the south of the Province, and drop their load there, causing great downpours of rain. The rivers Fraga, Álamo, Rocinejo, Patrite and Alberite collect the waters from the streams, gorges, brooks and canutos to swell the main river, the Barbate.
Taking advantage of this, the water is stored in the Province's reservoirs. On one side, those of Zahara de la Sierra, Bornos and Arcos; on the other, the Charco de los Hurones, and Guadalcacín or Majaceite, which is the same thing. Alcalá sits in the middle, and its rivers carry the water across to the Benalup reservoir. The high point of the sierra is the “Pilita de la Reina”, more than a thousand metres high, which has three branches: one goes down to the west, forming the Garganta de Puerto Oscuro and culminating in the Picacho del Aljibe (884m); the second ends at the Pico del Montero (912m) and the third goes out towards the crags of La Gallina, past the Puerto Gáliz. This is the heart of the Alcornocales.
But we are getting sidetracked. On rainy days the streets of Alcalá turned into veritable rivers and provided a party for the children. The water ran down from the Plaza Alta and was joined by more water from all the alleys, roofs and corners. On reaching the Alameda and the Calle la Amiga, it formed a veritable torrent, an unstoppable avalanche, which sought out the slopes of la Salá down to the Rio Barbate, and the Calle Rio Verde which led down to the Playa and the other rivers. The children devised all sorts of navigable objects - canes, logs, planks, boats, cardboard boxes – to see which would get the advantage and go down the fastest. The water gushed furiously down through the descending levels of the cobbled streets and dragged along with it anything it picked up on the way. Many people protected the entrances to their houses with boards and planks, to avoid being flooded out. Occasionally objects passed by which had been snatched by the water and which could not be rescued.
One rainy day I was looking out of the doorway of my house. A child was running down the street with a bottle to go to Vicenta's and buy some oil. Vicenta had a little shop at the end of the Calle Real, and sold oil and marinated cheese. On the way back, the child was jumping about in the water and playing with the objects carried by the current. Suddenly the bottle slipped out of his hand onto the pavement and broke. The oil came out, making greasy green circles on the water, and swiftly disappeared down the street. The child was crying, soaking wet and not daring to go back home. Immediately I got up and went to tell my parents. My mother dried him off and put him by the range to warm up. My father took a bottle and gave me the money to get Vicenta to fill it with oil. My brothers and sisters looked on with surprise at what our parents were doing, but nobody dared say anything.
I will never forget that gesture. Our parents did these things without making a fuss, perhaps with some intention of setting an example. At that time, helping each other out was an obligation in the community, because the war had brought poverty to the majority of families. The child's mother found out what had happened, and came to thank us for what we had done for her son. In those days, also, you could count on appreciation being shown to all those who deserved it. Parents should do such things often, because there is no better way of learning than from the actions of one's parents.
Finally I want to add that, fortunately, there has been plenty of rainfall this year. But Alcalá has also had years of notorious drought. Another day I will talk about Alcalá's droughts and what the townspeople did to remedy them.
Translated by Claire Lloyd