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The Geologic Wonder of Southern Spain: El Torcal

Carla and I love architecture! It’s why we so appreciate walking the streets of a city . . . seeing the churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as palaces, fortresses, and town walls. We love being in the old historic city centers, and that’s where we typically stay when we visit a city or town. It allows us to feel immersed in the culture of a place and gives us the opportunity of walking past the architectural wonders that delight us every day!

We honor the architects and builders from past ages. They were phenomenal with both their creativity and pragmatism. Their structures are often architectural wonders. But every so often, we are reminded that no matter the genius, the ingenuity, or the brilliance, the most impressive forms and structures emerge from nature. She’s an architect and designer in a class of her own.

And we were reminded of this last week when we visited El Torcal Park, about 30 km north of Málaga city, near the village of Antequera. El Torcal features some of the most unusual limestone formations found anywhere in the world (as you can see from the photos we took during our visit). Around 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, the ancestors of these formations were part of an ancient seabed. Then, the movement of tectonic plates violently thrust the seabed upward to an altitude of over 3500 feet above sea level. Amazingly, as you walk the trails of the park, you can still see marine fossils that date back to the Mesozoic Age.

These grey limestone structures have been shaped over the years by a process known as Karstic Molding - a chemical process that occurs when the limestone rock interacts with the carbon dioxide in ice and rainwater. As you hike through this park, it’s like walking through a geologic museum, and it feels very surreal and otherworldly.

As I walked the paths of the park and observed these magnificent edifices of nature, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of time involved in the creation of these formations. I don’t think it’s even possible for our minds to grasp what a timeframe like 150 million years is. In relation to our average lifetime of 70, 80, perhaps 90 years, that 150 million years reduces our lifespans to less than the time it takes to blink of an eye. I find that perspective very liberating. It reminds me that we live most of our lives from the perspective of self-importance. If only we had more, or bigger, or better . . . then we would be satisfied and happy. It’s a bit more difficult to feel a sense of self-importance when you realize that your personal universe is only here for less time than it takes to blink an eye.

I’m not talking about Nihilism here - where nothing matters, not even our lives. Quite the opposite. More like everything matters, and especially people . . . everyone matters. If self-importance fades then the importance of others can emerge and isn’t that really what we know to be true in those quiet and honest moments when we allow life to touch our hearts? Trying to accumulate the most stuff before we finish our time here on earth, or doing only what works for us, seems futile, if not ridiculous, after strolling through El Torcal and feeling the wisdom that only the long arc of time can illuminate.

So, how do we move away from self-importance? Certainly, one way is to visit places like El Torcal, but perhaps a better way is to simply practice the art of “everyone matters”. It’s easy really. It involves love, compassion, empathy, and kindness . . . and whenever possible, be of help to someone. All these wonderful attributes of being take us away from self-focus and self-importance and into the realm of focusing on others.

That’s my takeaway from my visit to El Torcal. And if all this just sounds like the musing of an old hippie, well, you’re certainly not wrong. It’s this traveler’s perspective that the more places we visit, the more people and cultures we encounter, the more we realize how alike we all really are . . . and then we get a taste of understanding that we’re not as self-important as we often imagine. We are truly One World, One People.

It's amazing what a beautiful and insightful teacher nature can be. Thank you El Torcal for your beauty, magnificence, your wisdom, and for reminding this wanderer of what’s most important.

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