Our sister city, Almogía
By Woody and Rebecca Fridae
(Note, for those who are following our Vietnam series, it will be posting soon. We’re doing some deep dive research on it while we travel, so keep tuned!)
“Sister cities,” “twin cities,” call it what you like, but Winters, California and Almogía, Spain have had a close association now for over a hundred years, but a closer relationship for the last thirty-years. This connection happened as a result of several families who immigrated and found their way from southern Spain to the small town of Winters in the early 1900’s. Years later, when Miguel Ruiz, a native of Winters, inherited some land from his father in Los Nuñez in the province of Almogía, he began an endeavor to unite the land of his ancestors with the town of his birth. In April of 1993, that dream became a reality when he raised the Almogia flag at City Hall in Winters, marking the beginning of a declaration of sisterhood with the town not only of his origin, but the ancestral region of many Winters Families from Spain.
Miguel (Mike) Ruiz raises the flag of Almogia, from a 1993 clipping of the Winters Express.
That thirty-year anniversary of our “hermandad” (sisterhood) with the rural town was celebrated this week when Rebecca and I delivered a proclamation from the City of Winters to the Mayor and two of the Almogía Councilors, or members of the “Ayuntamiento de Almogia,” their City Council. I had been on the Winters City Council in 1991 when it gave Mr. Ruiz a green light to move forward with his quest.
In preparation for this trip, I asked the Winters City Council in December to acknowledge the relationship by passing a proclamation renewing our historic connection. The following is the account of the trip made by Rebecca and me when we visited Almogía in January to deliver the proclamation and greetings to Almogía:
Driving north from Málaga, Spain in our tiny rental car, we encountered terrain much like the land that early settlers saw in California when they crossed the Vaca Range from Napa Valley into the Sacramento Valley. The scrub brush and pines that you see driving around the hills of Lake Berryessa look very much like the plants and terrain we observed as we approached Almogía. Just after following a set of switch-back turns, we drove around a nearly-dry reservoir, reminding us of the decade-long drought that Northern California has suffered.
Below us in the lower lands were orchards of almonds, olives, and a few wine grape vineyards. Almogía, one of the many white villages that appear to be propped up on the side of the steep mountains that share the same name as our Sierra Nevadas, (snowy sawtooth mountains). These snow-capped mountains stand guard the Costa del Sol, the southern coast of Spain. We ascended several hundred feet to the entrance of the town. As we entered the small city, a roundabout, or “glorieta” greeted us, much like the one at the entrance of Winters. But as we entered Almogía, all similarities to Winters disappeared. We were thrown back in time to another century as we entered a treeless town of white-washed houses, stone walls and narrow, winding streets.
Almogía, perched on the mountainside.
The sign at the top of the town greets those who enter. The sign says, Almogía, the cradle of Verdiales (an ancient dance).
Here, most streets are cobbled, built long before cars or buses had to squeeze through them. When we entered the town, following our GPS to an Airbnb house that we had rented, the app directed us down a steep, twisted and narrow path between whitewashed stone buildings. As I approached one steep, sharp turn, I envisioned the brand-new Fiat Panda rental car wedged between those narrow white walls. So, much to Rebecca’s relief, I managed to reverse the tiny vehicle about 50 meters to a wider spot, hoping I might be able to turn it around in a, say, 13-point turn. But just then, several cars whizzed downhill by us, some larger than the midget car assigned to us.
Rebecca and I waited to see if they, too, would see the impossibility of continuing through, and would have to back out of the narrow street as well. But no, somehow, they managed to get down the narrow gullet of a passage. If that Ford Focus can make it, so can I, I thought. So, several minutes of driving later, (with the rearview mirrors turned back like a scared chihuahua), we were past the narrowest stretch of the alley, and we found our apartment.
Our tiny Panda rental car and relatively wider street of our apartment. Amazingly, we found a tiny spot to park the Panda just 20 meters away. In the photo to the left, our rental car is seen behind Rebecca, as she stands at the blue front door of the place we had rented for two nights. We had to park the car within millimeters of the wall to make room for cars to pass!
One of the many streets we had to navigate through Almogía.
After unloading our luggage into the small two-bedroom house advertised as a “casa tipica” and finding a slightly wider place in the alley to park the Panda, we were off on foot.
A few shots from our rented apartment labeled as a “casa tipica,” a typical home in Almogía. Note the rock outcropping. The homes are truly built into the mountainside.
Wandering through the small town, Rebecca said, “Come look at this.” I walked around the corner where she stood, and she pointed up to show me the street sign, “Calle Winters.” Brilliant find! I had heard that the town had named a street after us. Although the street was rather short, (less than 20 meters long), I couldn’t help but feel pride about the fact that these people had honored our connection by naming a street after our city.
Almogia is a vertical town. Everything is “up” or “down” from where you are at the time. We asked some helpful women in a little mercado where the “Ayuntamiento” (town hall) was, and the response was “abajo, abajo, abajo. Cerca a la iglacia.” So, we headed down, down, down, near the church.
Farther down the warren of narrow streets, we came upon a small, well-maintained plaza with a slightly larger than life bronze statue of a Spanish dignitary holding a ceremonial stick with ribbons. The base of the statue had an inscription saying he was the “alcalde.” a Spanish word meaning mayor.
We couldn’t make out all the words on the rusted sign, but we did recognize the word “alcalde.” A noted leader from the past, I thought
“Oh, this must be some famous leader,” I told Rebecca. “We must be getting closer to the ayuntamiento. But what’s with the stick?” I wondered aloud.
The streets twist mostly like topographical lines on a map, following a level path around a hill. But sometimes, a road will take a hard turn down to the right or impossibly-tight turn left, up a level, connecting one level street with another. After descending about four levels down the side of the mountain, we continued to ask directions from kindly locals for the Iglesia (church). After we found the church plaza, we stopped and looked around for a few minutes. Then we continued down to look for the mayor’s office, oficina del alcalde.
Photos from the large church in one of the many plazas.
One more corner, and no mistaking it, there it was, the enormous town meeting hall and the mayor’s office up above, replete with a balcony, in order to address the masses below.
A man tends to the potted flowers in the Plaza of the Ayuntamiento
We had managed to arrive earlier than our appointed time, so it was no wonder the mayor was not there to greet us. But within minutes, Mayor Cristobal Torreblanca Sanchez, along with council members, Isabel Arrabal Morido and Juani Pino Godrid, came to meet us.
Mayor Torreblanca was reserved, polite and dignified. He was very familiar with our sisterhood, and had been friends with Miguel Ruiz, the Winters citizen whose idea sparked the sister city idea over 30 years ago. Miguel, (Mike) was born in Winters, but decided to return to his parents’ homeland when he received the inheritance of a small home and piece of land from his father, Bernardo Ruiz. Miguel built a round house in Los Nuñez and lived there several years. The mayor remembered that Miguel offered to sell him the round house, called la casa redonda, when Miguel had to leave Spain after his wife had had a heart attack and there were no such services available to the Ruiz family in the province of Almogía. Miguel kept his dream alive by uniting his beloved Almogía and the place of his birth in California.
Another view of the town from the street near our rental casita.
Mayor Torreblanca had traveled to Winters in 1993 as a councilmember to help celebrate the initiation of the sisterhood of the two cities; he and two of his fellow councilmembers marched in the Winters Youth Day Parade. He remembered having dinner at our house when we hosted the delegation, as I had been on the City Council during the time the process of the sisterhood began.
The mayor also recounted meeting Craig McNamara, who, he said, also raised almonds, as Mayor Torreblanca still does today. He said that the types of crops that grow in Winters are very similar to those grown in Almogía, because the latitude of the towns is very similar. Winters is 38.5 and Almogía is almost 37 degrees, a difference of only 1.5 degrees!
Many of the original settlers who left Spain to find good land and work opportunities arrived in Hawaii first, but when the land and work was not as promised by the sugar plantation barons, they left and sailed into San Francisco, where they eventually discovered Winters.
There were many families that came that route, not only from Almogía, but other rural towns in southern Spain. The Lopez, Ruiz, Martinez, Carbahal, Martín, Ramos, Fernandez, Carrión, Molina, Campos, and Rubio, (among many others), families came from similar parts of this region, Andalucía.
Much flatter, but with similar climate and rainfall, they discovered that they could raise similar crops to those of their homeland. It must have seemed like a dream to them at the time; great, open, flatter land, similar growing conditions, and room to grow. Little by little, families and friends heard about the good land opportunities in California and followed the exodus from Hawaii.
While in Almogía, the mayor and councilmembers showed us the council chambers. There, prominently displayed on the front wall was the Declaration of Sisterhood with Winters. The mayor proudly accepted the framed proclamation we had brought from Winters, and he gave us a similar framed document, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Sister City adoption. I had not realized that it was the 30th anniversary until that moment. We all posed for photos, holding both proclamations. They also displayed their Almogía flag, like the one Miguel Ruiz had raised on the steps of city hall in Winters thirty years ago.
Rebecca spots the proclamation from their 1993 Sister City adoption.
Here is a close-up of their Sister City Proclamation, proudly displayed.
At right, Council member, Isabel Arabal shows off the Almogía City flag, like the one Miguel Ruiz raised in Winters in 1993 to commemorate the declaration of sister cityhood.
From left to right, Councilmember Isabel Arabel, Rebecca Fridae, Woody Fridae (holding the proclamation from Almogía to Winters), Mayor Cristóbal Torreblanca (holding the proclamation from Winters to Almogía), and Councilmember Juani Pino Godrid.
Later, we enjoyed some refreshments in the town square, just outside the Almogía city offices. This is the plaza where they celebrate the special town dance festival called the Verdial, an annual celebration that draws people from all over the region. A huge stage is set up at one side of the large plaza and youth perform the traditional dances and music of this region, called the “verdiales.” I imagined something akin to our Festival de la Comunidad, with youngsters dancing, or an event the size of our Tractor Parade. The Verdial a special ancient dance that is similar to the Flamenco, or Fandango, but even older. It is named for the verdial grape and goes back to the times of the Moorish origins with Arabic instruments. Las Verdiales is typically celebrated as an annual competition between outlying villages and crowds from all over Almogía attend the festival. The music and costumes are a symbol of their culture and history.
We asked about the “Alcalde” statue we had seen above at the smaller plaza. “Oh, that word has doble sentido,” (double meaning) the current mayor explained. Alcalde means the mayor of the village, but in music, it means conductor, or director, as well. The stick, he explained, is the director’s baton.
Later, we had a chance to visit other tiny communities from which Winters families have sprung. We spent several days driving around Almería, Lubrin, El Chiva, and El Marchal. All of them represent possibilities of future sister cities. We took names of a few people we met and made a few connections. Something for a future trip, perhaps.
Above are a few scenes from around Almogía, some could be mistaken for Yolo County photos, we supposed. Click right and left arrows to view.
When we embarked on this journey, we were not sure if the Almogíans were aware of the sister cityhood, or if anyone here was aware of our town some 10,000 kilometers away. The emails I exchanged with the mayor’s office had been business-like, and somewhat terse. But we can clearly report that Almogía has not forgotten the Ruiz dream: from the street they named for us, to the plaque on the town hall meeting chambers, to the living memories of those we met, the sisterhood with Winters is alive and well.
We were privileged to carry the good wishes from our City Council to theirs. The proclamation we presented says, in part, that…
…Winters is a community that celebrates its diversity with inclusivity, nurturing care for others and respect for all, and bonding together over community meals, events, music and a little dancing in the streets ~ like the festivals in Spain… Now, therefore, be it proclaimed by the City Council of Winters that it hereby celebrates and honors its Spanish heritage and the town of Almogía, sending warm regards to its residents and our family members.
7 thoughts on “Our Sister City”
How special. Very interesting story. Thank you. Hope the wine was good.
Wow, you’re fast! You read it and responded within 10 minutes of me publishing it! Thanks!
Over a cup of joe in our early morning
Wonderful account of a wonderful experience. Connecting people around the world.
The landscape does look very much like that around Winters. Immigrants were comforted by the familiar, I suppose. Sonoma County looks a lot like Tuscany and is home to dozens of families of Italian origin; Oregon looks like parts of Northern Europe and attracted Scots and Germans.
Good observations. Spain is much more hilly, so in some ways I think those early settlers liked the vague familiarity with a softer, less demanding version of home.
Thank you! I am sure our RUIZ family will love reading your blog about your trip to Almogía. Well done!!!