Chasing Quijote – Consuegra, Spain
The doors swung open, and I was instantly blinded. Fighting the bright February sun, I somehow stumbled off the bus. As my eyes adjusted and my ride pulled away from that tiny, decrepit station in what was supposed to be a town, I stood there wondering what had possessed me to visit such a lifeless place. It looked like someone had grabbed a handful of old houses and buildings, along with a decaying bullring and a few empty streets, shook them like dice and tossed them onto a few arid acres in central Spain, also known as La Mancha. I turned to my petite friend and immediately knew that Lindsay, who accompanied me on this trip from Toledo, was in accord. Thus far, I was not very impressed with Consuegra, but my opinion soon changed when I saw something very familiar in the distance. Atop the stony mound that bordered the far end of the dying township was the reason why I made the hour-long bus ride: eleven white giants standing proudly beneath a clear blue sky.
I had seen them in pictures and read about them in Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha, but I never thought I would stand before the famous molinos de viento of Consuegra, Spain. As I gazed up at that small brown castle stuck in the middle of almost a dozen guardians of grain, it was difficult to believe that I was not imagining such a surreal scene. It was as if someone had taken one of the photos I had been gawking at for the past month, blown it up, and draped it across the horizon. On the verge of drooling, I finally snapped out of my midday stupor when I noticed a blonde-haired blur hustling towards the cement staircase at the bottom of the hill.
I quickly caught up to Lindsay. After reaching the top of the brittle steps, we wasted no time in investigating this historic site. Exuberant and intent on exploring every inch of that hilltop, I returned to my childhood, going from twenty-three to a toddler. In fact, this day trip proved to be a great stress reliever. While Lindsay and I frolicked around the area like small children on a beige playground, the school projects that had been worrying me for the majority of the semester had suddenly disappeared, as we introduced ourselves to every member of the windmill set.
Contrasting my preconceived notion of great windmills spanning a magnificent horizon, which I had seen on displayed posters in numerous tourist offices, I was rather surprised at how small the molinos actually were. From afar, the grain grinders appeared gallant atop the hill, but up close, these sixteenth century structures looked like they could have housed trolls. The windmills sported tiny wooden doors approximately seven feet tall and about a meter in width. Moreover, they only stood about four times my height (that being five feet, eight inches) and were half as wide. Lastly, just below their black, coned roofs, each molino had a ring of tiny squared windows, or ventanucos, no more than four square feet in area.
On the other hand, the eleven molinos de viento still made a mighty impression on me. They were stout. Centuries old yet incredibly preserved, the windmills appeared strong enough to withstand any attack by Mother Nature or man. They were also well equipped. They wielded four large, brown vanes that more than compensated for the buildings’ short stature. Each blade was a couple feet wide and approximately as long as the width of its owner’s torso. Unfortunately, there was not even a slight breeze on this day to exhibit the power these humongous vanes could generate.
Lindsay and I also toured the Castillo de Consuegra, the centerpiece of the Mancha mound. Although the tan fortress looked small enough to fit inside the bullring on the edge of town, it still powerfully loomed over the neighboring windmills. Like the molinos, this structure had also endured the elements for various centuries, showing no major signs of deterioration. Upon entering, we wandered into every corner of the castle, roamed its corridors, climbed its towers, and took advantage of every view of the hay-colored countryside the medieval fort had to offer.
Without us noticing, the few hours we had spent on the hilltop quickly vanished and as the sun began to fall upon the horizon, Lindsay and I decided we should return to the bus station. We still had homework to finish for our classes the next day; we knew better than to be around the molinos come nightfall. I had done my research; I had read Cervantes. Despite their peaceful appearances, I knew that these eleven daytime icons transformed into the nighttime giants that Don Quijote tried to impale with his lance. Not wanting to be at the mercy of Quijote’s eleven large nemeses after dusk, we took our last snapshots, said our goodbyes, and descended the path towards the township.
Fortunately, we caught the last bus out of Consuegra. As we turned onto the highway back to Toledo, I felt proud in having achieved one of the goals I wanted to accomplish while studying in Spain. Nevertheless, when I continued to reflect on my visit with Bolero, Mambrino, Sancho, Vista Alegre, Cardeño, Alcancía, Chispas, Caballerom del Verde Gabán, Rucio, Espartero, and Clavileño on that mild afternoon, I could not help but get anxious. The rest of the Quijote trail still lay ahead.