Nerja, Spain, located in the southern Costa del Sol region, is best known for its Balcony of Europe (Balcon de Europa) - a beautiful viewing point and a promenade which happens to provide a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea. You can’t miss it as you walk around the city.
We found Nerja to be a beautiful town with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean and surrounding mountains. If you're simply looking for a feast for your eyes, then Nerja will absolutely satisfy. But Carla and I tend to keep one eye open as we travel for a place to ultimately land and call home. And with that in mind, Nerja would not be on our short list, even with all its beauty and breathtaking views. The big reason . . . it lacks diversity in its population. We were shocked to see just how many non-Spanish retirees there were in this small town. And I’m not being an ageist, as I clearly am part of that demographic. It’s just that we appreciate a place that attracts and seems well suited for people of all ages and does not simply cater to one specific age demographic. With no disrespect to Nerja, it felt a bit like an expat retirement community to us and we were ready to move on after our three-day visit.
Before we left, however, we visited the Caves of Nerja (Cueva de Nerja), and this easily made our entire visit to Nerja well worth the price of admission. The Caves are in Maro, a district 3 km north of town, and were discovered in 1959 by a group of five locals that were on bat hunt and accidentally stepped onto the La Mina Hole, which gives access to the caves’ chambers. After a panel of experts determined the value of the discovery, this area became open to the public eighteen months later in the summer of 1960.
The caves are a series of naturally formed caverns, some of which have taken up to two million years to form. The caves contain the widest naturally formed column in the world, at 32m high and 13x7m at its base. Formed by the merging of a stalagmite and stalactite, it has held the Guinness World Record since 1989. Simply describing it does not do justice to its beauty and magnificence.
As a bit of a science class refresher . . . Stalactites hang down from the ceiling, while stalagmites rise from the ground. These tooth-like rock formations grow when dripping water encounters the cave air. The water carries dissolved minerals, picked up on its journey from the earth's surface. As it passes through the cave, it leaves tiny traces of those minerals behind, building each stalactite or stalagmite drip by drip. I have visited several caves over the years and quite frankly, I typically come away feeling underwhelmed. But these caves were special. Just their sheer size was impressive.
As I ponder the formation of these caves, I find myself well beyond amazed with how slowly such magnificence is created. In our world above ground, we have devised a very linear and useful way to measure time. And much of this measuring has to do with what we see - it has to do with our visual witnessing of life’s changes and transformations over the years, like when we see a person or place for the first time in years and notice how much they’ve changed. But beneath the surface, and out of our sight deep in the caverns of the earth, stalactites and stalagmites are formed one drop at a time. In the span of yours or my life there would be virtually no discernable visual change. It’s difficult for us to comprehend this very slow-moving transformation that begins with a single drop of water and over millions of years becomes a structure that is 32m high. It’s as if in seeing one stalactite or stalagmite we are witnessing eternities that have passed before us. From the perspective of time, most of us cannot truly grasp the measurement of millions or hundreds of millions of years. The earth in all her glorious growth and transformation exudes a determination, patience, and complexity that is incomprehensible to us and certainly beyond the capacity of our minds and imagination. If history could be viewed by time lapse (much like with photography) it would suddenly seem like magic.
Visiting the Caves of Nerja is like stepping into this magic. They also remind us of what time really is . . . a futile attempt to subdivide infinity. Time really is an illusion . . . it just turns out to be a very helpful and convenient one.