I’ve never actually read Cervantes’ Don Quixote, but I know the story of the faithful servant Sancho Panza following his misguided master, the knight Don Quixote, as he fought imaginary battles and ‘tilted at windmills’ across Spain. When we visited Guanajuato, Mexico last year, the home of the popular annual Cervantes festival, we were treated to non-stop reminders of this loveable pair. How could we travel around Spain and not look for some of the few remaining iconic windmills that so tormented the fictional Don?
When I read that there were several preserved windmills, strung along a ridge in the farmland southeast of Madrid, I really wanted to make the detour on our route to Cuenca, a detour that would allow us to see the lovely windmills and then carry on to see Cuenca’s ‘hanging houses’. It would make for a very long day of driving and touring, and Anil had to be willing to support the plan for the day, as we had registered him as the only driver on our rental car. When we picked up the car from Hertz, they wanted an extra nine euros a day for a second driver. It seemed like an unnecessary expense at the time.
We set off early because we really wanted to get back to Madrid before dark. It’s hard enough finding your way around the maze of freeways in daylight, but we didn’t want to try to navigate when we were all tired and it was harder to see the landmarks. Once again, we had a hard time getting out of the city, but we finally managed to get onto the correct highway heading south and before long we were passing through rolling farmland, dotted here and there by small towns and villages. This is the region that we had passed through in September as we took the high-speed train to Cordova.
There isn’t really a lot to see along the route we took, but it was fascinating for Adia because this was her first time to see olive groves, and the province of Castile-LaMancha is an important agricultural district where cereals, grapes and olives are the main crops. The windmills were erected to assist farmers in the milling of the grains. The farmers had to carry the heavy sacks weighing up to 60 or 70 kg to the top floor of the windmill. The seeds were poured into a tunnel or canal and passed down to the millstones below.
The dome of the windmill could be turned so that the sails would catch the wind. This was done using large beams attached to the domes. The windmills were passed down from father to son and were in continuous use until the beginning of the 1980s. I found it particularly interesting that the windmills had been given names to differentiate them from each other. I liked the names Sancho and Bolero the best.
It was wonderful to climb the ridge and photograph these beautiful buildings; so different from all the churches and castles we had been visiting earlier. The only frustration was the fact that another couple had arrived with a large motorhome and had parked it along the road to the windmills instead of the parking lot near the restored castle. It was almost impossible to take pictures without including the modern monstrosity. Grrr!
Speaking of castles, I couldn’t resist touring the Consuegra castle, but Anil and Adia sat this one out. It’s too bad because it was beautifully restored and had been decorated with some simple furnishings that seemed to make it come alive. It is one of the sweetest castles I’ve ever visited, if a building constructed for the purpose of war, or to fend off attacks by warring peoples can be described as sweet.