Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 01 2009

Looking for Leone

We had breakfast at Zeluan again in the morning; my ham and cheese croissant had no chocolate but was covered with sugar instead. The rain outside changed the atmosphere of the place considerably, at the same time more moody and more comfortable. Gordon was sure the weather in Granada bore no relation to the weather in Almeria, so we set off despite the rain in hopes that it would be sunny at our destination. As we drove I noticed once again the prevalence of graffiti everywhere in Spanish cities. Who draws it? Why doesn’t anyone bother cleaning up at least the obviously poorer examples of the art?

The highway climbed eastwards into the hills, and the rain turned to snow, light at first; then much heavier. Snowplows were parked along the road, and signs warned of giant snowflakes that were actually alike, a terrifying thought. The weather improved as we came down the other side, though, and distant patches of blue appeared above the fields of giant wind turbines and solar farms that dotted the landscape.

The land itself was becoming at once more wild and more familiar, at least to fans of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, which were filmed here. This was the reason we were here, actually; Gordon and Ray weren’t particularly interested, but I had to visit the place where some of my favorite cinematic moments were filmed decades ago. Watching the shadows of clouds speed over the hills, I realized that it must be the inspiration of Leone’s title sequences, the titles sliding over the mountains like clouds, no doubt painstakingly rotoscoped by some poor shmuck in the studio.

The sun was shining as we pulled into the parking lot of Mini Hollywood, the amusement park made from the old original movie sets, and as we were about to get out of the car, literally out of the blue, hail began pounding down around us, bouncing off the ground and some of the cars. A few minutes later it was over, but another one followed almost immediately. The ground looked like it was covered in mothballs before the hailstones melted.

We got our rather expensive tickets and crossed a wooden bridge over a gulch to the fake town. I immediately recognized the bank and hotels from “A Few Dollars More,” but some of the other buildings and angles took some time to recognize. The houses of both the Rojos and the Baxters are gone, but some of the buildings from the middle of the street are left. It would have been helpful if guides were on hand to explain which scenes were filmed where, but perhaps modern audiences aren’t interested in that and would rather see more touristy things.

We almost left after that, but at the last moment decided to stay for the dance show at the saloon at 4 p.m. Lunch at the canteen wasn’t as bad as I was expecting for a kitchen that is basically holding visitors hostage.

Before the show, I walked around the area, wondering what it was like when they were filming the movies, standing where I figured Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach or Lee Van Cleef had been standing in various scenes, climbing the balcony where I figure the “Me in the middle” speech took place, etc. It was actually pretty cool, though the place has been made over into a really cheesy version of itself for the Spanish tourists, complete with old video games.

The show turned out to be a kind of psychedelic can-can review, with canned music straight from “Hooked on Classics” and dancers with widely varying physiques wearing what appeared to be tighty whities under their skirts, which didn’t spend much time covering anything. It was very bizarre.

As we crossed the bridge back towards the parking lot, I was reminded of another scene, where Tuco crosses the rope bridge to the town after crossing the desert in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It seems like the same spot, but I could be wrong.

On the road to Cabo del gato, we passed more spots I thought looked familiar, such as The Small House (Marisol! I wanted to shout out the window) and the location of the final shootout in A Few Dollars More.

Cabo del gato was the last thing on my checklist, the site of the church where El Indio and his gang hid out in the second film, where El Indio gives the speech from the pulpit about a very special safe. We drove further and further into the desolate lands east of Almeria, and I began to think we’d never find it. I was already feeling a bit apologetic for dragging Gordon and Ray to Almeria in the first place, and this was turning into a real excursion when on the map it looked like a simple drive.

When we finally reached Cabo del gato, we stopped by a surprisingly turbulent ocean, faced by some kind of ancient stone guardhouse. I was nearly knocked over by the strong, cold wind the moment I stepped out of the car. We took some pictures and then got back on the road. I had nearly given up when I spotted the tower of the church in the distance, located between the coast and some nearby hills.

A sign next to the remote ruin mentioned that it was built in 1907; a centenary was held in 2007, but the church looks just as it did in 1963. I’m not sure who decided to build a church out in the middle of nowhere like that or why, or how Leone knew about it, but it is certainly a dramatic looking location, especially at that time of day. Ray and I got out and took pictures of the old church by the seaside, which was yellow in the light of the setting sun and striking against the blue sky. Not far down the road was a seaside resort of a much more recent vintage, completely shuttered and boarded up for the winter. “I never saw a town as dead as this,” I said; nobody got the reference.

I’m sure Gordon and Ray thought I was crazy for wanting to see such places, but to their credit they didn’t complain once about the detour. In any case, I’ve seen what I could, though ideally I would hire a guide and do research to find other locations such as the cemetery at the end of the last film. From now on the itinerary is up to them, though.

We drove back westwards along the southern Spanish coast as night fell. The highway was closed for most of the drive due to construction, so we took the winding regular road all the way to Malaga, where we had a late dinner of fried artichokes and fish. Gordon felt I should drive to the hostel we’d booked so that he could read the directions, but we somehow ended up in the middle of a pedestrian square surrounded by angry cops in cars and on motorcycles waving and shouting at us. Luckily they didn’t arrest us, and even guided us to the hostel, a strange, cheap affair on the third floor of an office building in an area of dubious repute. As I type this, I can hear loud conversations, scooter horns and thumping music out my balcony window. The in-room shower is exactly that; there are no walls, just a curtain, and the toilet is located across the hall. 30 euros a night. Obviously there is no Internet, so I will have to post this later. Tomorrow we might try to see Gibraltar, though Ray and I might not have the right visa.

posted by Poagao at 4:26 pm  

2 Comments »

  1. Wow…you actually went there! Don’t know why, you were in the movie when I read this article.

    Comment by Daniel — February 1, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  2. I am glad that you brought me and Gordon coming here. Almeria doesn’t seem to be a popular place for tourists but I really like Cabo de Gata. Thanks for your article that help me recall some details that I forgot.

    Comment by Ray — April 12, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

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