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A typical farm in Sierra Morena. Photo: Wikipedia
A typical farm in Sierra Morena. Photo: Wikipedia

‘La frontera interior’: A journey through the history and landscapes of Sierra Morena

Manuel Moyano's latest book takes readers on a magic trip through the legendary mountain range where Cervantes set 'Don Quixote'

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Sierra Morena is a mountain range in southern Spain that runs parallel to the Guadalquivir River and separates the territories of Andalusia and La Mancha. The place has a strong legendary reputation in Spanish culture and tradition, with myths about bandits (Los bandidos de Sierra Morena), a giant snake (El Saetón de Sierra Morena) and a child brought up by wolves (Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja), among others. The range is also mentioned in Don Quixote, the masterwork of Cervantes, as well as in the famous Mexican song "Cielito Lindo" and in one of the most well known traditional Spanish songs, "Soy Minero," by Antonio Molina. 

Discovering its people, culture and past is the aim of La frontera interior, the 2021 winner of the Eurostars Award for Travel Narrative RBA. Written by the Murcian writer Manuel Moyano, it recounts the journey by car that begins in Aldeaquemada, Jaén and ends at the Ardila River, on the border with Portugal, where refugees suffered 80 years earlier. 

"I left home one Winter day, alone, at the wheel of a humble utility vehicle and imbued with the idea that the amazing and adventure can await us anywhere. I tried to imagine that I was an Anglo-Saxon traveler setting sail for the Patagonian pampas or the mountain ranges of Central Asia. It was in that spirit that I began my journey and this book," writes Moyano in the introduction to the book. 

The Anglo-Saxon traveler he refers to is Colin Thubron, author of travel books marked by melancholy about places like Siberia and things like the Silk Road.

"I wanted this book, despite being set in nearby territories, to be experienced as a great adventure. If the result lives up to the intentions, it will be up to the reader to judge," said Moyano in an interview with National Geographic Travel.

Throughout his journey, the author interviews local chroniclers and writers, who enrich the story with first-hand accounts. Cervantes, the Duke of Rivas and the poet Miguel Hernandez are also present, in addition to visits to various legendary enclaves of Don Quixote. 

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"Sierra Morena is a no man's land. Physical border between central and southern Spain, this almost unpopulated mountain range has welcomed bandits, smugglers, hermits, poets and other extraordinary, if not supernatural, characters over the centuries. Attentive to history and small details, Manuel Moyano rediscovers it with a new look, resulting in a memorable title of travel literature," as described in a press release. 
 
The idea of traveling through Sierra Morena to write a travel book came to him some years ago, attracted by a territory that, seen in its entirety, was virgin for literature. In general, he likes to travel.

"I've always wondered why traveling, even if it's to a nearby destination, fills us with a kind of happiness," Moyano said in the interview with National Geographic. "It may be because, being surrounded by new things, we temporarily return to childhood, to a time in our lives when everything was discovery and fascination."

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