Streets of Vigo
With an unfortunately short stay at another impeccable hotel behind us, we dragged ourselves from our comfy beds for breakfast at the crack of dawn and were met by our compatriots from the previous evening shortly thereafter. Jorge Aguado and the Director of the Cluster del Granito, Jose Angel Ramirez picked us up in a car on the first and only rainy morning we would experience in Spain. Our first destination was to be the rugged hills of Porrino and one Granite quarry operated by another multinational company, David Fernandez Grande S.L. (DFG). The company operates multiple fabrication facilities and quarries within Spain and some quarries in South America, Africa and China. The owner of the company Victor Juarrero personally guided us on the tour of his operation. He proved to be the most colourful character we met on the trip and one of my personal highlights, not surprising since he hails from Bilbao- anyone else that has Basque friends knows what I mean.
Can you believe the scale of these blocks!?
It was another awe inspiring experience touring a granite quarry and so different from the marble quarries we visited previously. The density and hardness of the Rosa Porrino granite allowed for a different format of extraction and an impressive 80-90% commercially viable yield. The vertical axis cuts were handled by diamond wire just like marble is but the horizontal planes were cut by small explosives at strategic points and the force of the blast would fracture the stone in a perfectly straight line due to the tight grain structure and amazing density of this granite. The gargantuan size of the benches that are cut from the mountainside is a testament to the extreme integrity of this stone creating commercial yield upwards of 80%. The calibre of efficiency speaks volumes about the depth of knowledge Victor and his crew have proving optimization of resource efficiency is the top priority. “Success is in the details,” Victor related to me how the vertical cuts were slightly off perpendicular to align with the grain in the stone, ensuring a perfect split with the blast charges and little to no waste.
Cehegin streets... yes they are 2-way
Another day dawned bright and crisp and once again we were awake to hear the roosters crowing. The old town was so quiet and peaceful that after our very full days we both had an extremely hard time making it out of bed. Our enthusiasm eventually won out over the lethargy and we arrived in the lobby right on time to meet our driver, Francisco. The streets on our descent through the town were so narrow that Francisco twice almost lost a mirror to a wall before reaching the bottom.
Throughout the 2 hour drive that followed we passed through almost every kind of landscape Spain has to offer. The countryside changed from mountains to foothills dissolving into desert and finally kissing the coast before heading inland to Macael. To be honest, that is what we would have seen if we hadn’t dozed off and on throughout at least half of our journey. We did catch glimpses of the trip through drooping lashes. Poor Francisco would watch for our eyes to open and give us some stories about the area until our heads inevitably started to nod again. Sorry Francisco, cars have that effect on me.
Bright eyed and now well rested we arrived at the regional association Marmoles de Macael with the Technological center (CTAP) directly across the street. Macael is a small town with less than ten thousand residents and almost everyone is employed in some way by the stone industry. This community literally does eat, sleep and breathe stone. Our first item on the agenda was a visit to a centuries old quarry that has been commercially producing the iconic Blanco Macael for decades.
The next day broke with a beautiful sunrise that we were awake to witness, due to our early pickup and drive to the region of Murcia. After checkout at the Melia we met with a smiling young lady named Teresa that would be driving us to Cehegin (pronounced THAY-heen) and to our meetings with the regional associations.
Family Orange orchard with solar power
Quickly leaving Alicante behind us we sailed through the countryside on the highway and were met with constant vistas of local agriculture. Every possible acre of land is tended by families with their own orchards, vineyards and crops. It is traditional in Spain for each family to have both a city flat offering a quick commute to work and a cottage on their farmland to escape the city’s summer heat. This daily connection with the land makes the environmental stewardship of industry in the country an obvious necessity.
Cehegin Old Town
After a beautiful drive wit Teresa's lovely company, we entered a valley with a very prominent hilltop town in the center that radiated its age. We had arrived in Cehegin. The town dates back to pre-Roman times and has always been a hotspot for secondary properties, most recently British ex-pats, refurbishing the ancient manses built mostly by conquistadors. We learned that 5 minutes away was Caravaca de la Cruz, one of the five Holy Cities that are pilgrimage locations for the celebration of the jubilee year - decreed by Pope John Paul II in 1998. This celebration happens only once every 7 years and was slated for 2010 but sadly we missed the opportunity to attend.
Our first stop was on the valley floor in the new city at the Technological Center (CTM). To proclaim its purpose for every passerby, the building is 100% clad in marble and sandstone from the region, including a ventilated façade. The Director of the organization, Javier Fernandez Cortez, introduced us to his staff and left us to tour the center with the lead scientist of the testing facilities. The labs once again contained all of the apparatus required for every conceivable international standard. It also included a botany and biodiversity center to study local fauna and to facilitate the design of refurbishment programs for the reclamation of quarry sites.