Express Yourself: Our sister city, Almogía — Part 1

A view of City Hall in Almogía, Winters’ sister city. (Woody and Rebecca Fridae/Courtesy photo)

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By Woody and Rebecca Fridae
Special to the Express

“Sister cities,” “twin cities,” call it what you like. Winters and Almogía now have a 30-years association as related cities. This connection happened as a result of several families who immigrated and found their way from southern Spain to the small town of Winters in the early 1900s.

Years later, when Miguel Ruiz (a native of Winters) inherited some land from his father in Los Nuñez in the province of Almogía, he began an endeavor to unite the land of his ancestors with the town of his birth. In April 1993, that dream became a reality when he raised the Almogía flag at City Hall in Winters, marking the beginning of a declaration of sisterhood with the town not only of his origin but that of many Winters families from Spain.

That 30-year anniversary of our “hermandad” (sisterhood) with the rural town of Almogía was celebrated this week when we (Rebecca and Woody Fridae) delivered a proclamation from the City of Winters to the Mayor and two of the Almogía Councilors, or members of the “Ayuntamiento de Almogía,” their City Council. Woody had been on the City Council when it gave Mr. Ruiz a green light to move forward with his quest, and he had asked the Council to acknowledge the relationship by passing a proclamation renewing our historic connection.

The following is the account of our trip when we visited Almogía in January to deliver the proclamation and greetings to Almogía.

Driving north from Málaga, Spain in our tiny rental car, we encountered terrain much like the land that early settlers, who crossed the pass from Napa to the Sacramento Valley, might have seen. The scrub brush and pines that you see driving around Lake Berryessa look very much like the terrain we observed as we approached Almogía. Just after following a set of switch-back turns, we drove around a nearly-dry reservoir, reminding us of the decade-long drought that Northern California has suffered.

Below us in the lower lands were orchards of almonds, olives, and a few wine-grape vineyards. Almogía is one of the many white villages that appear to be propped up on the side of the steep mountains that share the same name as our Sierra Nevada (snowy sawtooth mountains). These snow-capped mountains protect the Costa del Sol, the southern coast of Spain.

We ascended several hundred feet to the entrance of the town. As we entered the small city, a roundabout or “glorieta” greeted us, much like the one at the entrance of Winters. But as we entered Almogía, all similarities to Winters disappeared. We were thrown back in time to another century as we entered a treeless city of white-washed houses, stone walls and narrow, winding streets.

Here, most streets are cobbled, built long before cars or buses had to squeeze through them. When we entered the town, following our GPS to an Airbnb house that we had rented, the app directed us down a steep, twisted and narrow path between the whitewashed stone buildings. As I approached one steep, sharp turn, I envisioned the brand-new Fiat Panda rental car wedged between those narrow white walls.

So, much to Rebecca’s relief, I managed to reverse the tiny vehicle about 50 meters to a wider spot, hoping I might be able to turn it around in a, say, 13-point turn. But just then, several cars whizzed downhill by us, some larger than the midget car assigned to us.

Rebecca and I waited to see if they, too, would see the impossibility of continuing through, and would have to back out of the narrow street as well.  But no, somehow, they managed to get down the narrow gullet of a passage.  If that Ford Focus can make it, so can I, I thought. So, after several minutes of driving (with the rearview mirrors turned back like a scared chihuahua) later, we were past the narrowest stretch of the alley, and we found our apartment.

After unloading our luggage in the small two-bedroom house advertised as a “casa tipica” and finding a slightly wider place in the alley to park the Panda, we were off on foot.

Wandering through the small town, Rebecca said, “Come look at this.” I walked around the corner where she stood, and she pointed up to the street sign “Calle Winters.”  Brilliant find! I had heard that the town had named a street after us. Although the street was rather short, (less than 20 meters long), I couldn’t help but feel pride about the fact that these people had honored our connection by naming a street after our city.

Almogía is a vertical town. Everything is “up” or “down” from where you are at the time. We asked where the “Ayuntamiento” (town hall) was, and the response was “abajo, abajo, abajo. Cerca a la iglacia.” So, we headed down, down, down, near the church.

The streets twist mostly like topographical lines on a map, following a level path around a hill. But, sometimes, a road will take a hard turn down to the right or impossibly-tight turn left, up a level, connecting one level street with another. After descending about four levels down the side of the mountain, we continued to ask directions from kindly locals for the iglesia (church) and then looked for the mayor’s office, Oficina del alcalde.

Farther down the warren of narrow streets, we came upon a small, well-maintained plaza with a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue of a Spanish dignitary holding a ceremonial stick with ribbons. The base of the statue had an inscription saying he was the “alcalde,” a Spanish word meaning mayor.

“Oh, this must be some famous leader,” I told Rebecca. “We must be getting closer to the ayuntamiento. But what’s with the stick?” I wondered aloud.

We passed the imposing cathedral, then down, around one more corner, and no mistaking it, there it was, the enormous town meeting hall and the mayor’s office up above, replete with a balcony, in order to address the masses below. We had managed to arrive earlier than our appointed time, so it was no wonder the mayor was not there to greet us. But within minutes, Mayor Cristobal Torreblanca Sanchez, along with council members, Isabel Arrabal Morido and Juani Pino Godrid, came to meet us.

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