It Was Seven O'Clock when I stepped from the pink-fronted hotel into the narrow roadway which was the main street in Andujar. Great black limousines straddled the cobbled sidewalks. A small boy chattered something to me in Spanish. I fumbled a reply. "You can't stop," I was told. "The cars are already loaded. Once the Generalissimo arrives, the hunt begins and late-comers are left behind."
The road from Andujar to the Palace of Lugar Nuevo is a distance of 20 miles. The long file of automobiles moved slowly, grinding against the roughness of the steep road. The sun had just crossed the last mountain barrier when we pulled into the graveled courtyard of the Palace of Lugar Nuevo. This was the beginning point of the Monteria, the most important and exclusive shoot in Spain. It represented the official closing of the big-game hunting season and to it were invited only those personally approved by Generalissimo Franco. The honor of invitation was great and the famous names of Spain had traveled from many distant places to assemble here in the gray morning.
Already long rows of horses and mules stood with attendants, saddle bags bursting with food, ammunition, rifles, chairs and miscellaneous equipment. Among fruit-laden orange trees, strangely tropical against the jagged gray mountain background, hundreds of native boys scurried about. Hunters in colorful costumes of deeply embossed leather, suedes and felts were everywhere—91 of them in all with their chauffeurs and more than 350 hunt servants—filling the courtyard with excitement and expectancy.
The dog-tenders stood amidst their rehalas of multi-ancestored dogs, each animal collared in the color of its owner, each wearing the small brass bell peculiar to its service. The podenquerros, clad in thick leather chaps and shabby cord jackets, joked among themselves as they rolled yellow paper cigarets and fingered the large shell horns with which they called their packs. Together they waited for the signal which would send them ahead of the armadas up the mountains to beginning points at which, later, they would release the dogs.
Nearby, in patient rows, the secretarios and assistants rechecked mule loads and routes to the shooting posts. Behind them stood the donkeys, shabby and unkempt. At the end of the day they would be led, sure-footedly, to the flags indicating kills.
Suddenly, as if by signal, the voices stopped. Up the steep incline, growling in protest to the rocky road, sped the three official hunt jeeps of the Spanish government. From running boards and backdrops red-bereted soldiers of the Personal Guard leaped to the ground and waited at attention. Throughout the crowd hands were raised in salute. From the second jeep, a small, somewhat stocky hunter emerged in a swirl of tweed cape and leather accessory, looked once about the crowd, removed his hat and began shaking the dozens of proffered hands about him. Maids and waiters from the kitchens and dining rooms of the palace slipped noiselessly to the balcony for a glimpse of their Generalissimo. Small donkey-boys bent to see between the legs of the hunters.
The General waved his hand to those on the outside and moved to greet at greater length the Minister of Agriculture, official director of the state forest on which the shoot was taking place. Within five minutes, each old friend had received a welcome and each new hunter had been presented.
Then from the center of the group Generalissimo Franco offered a prayer for the souls of dead hunters and success and safety in the shoot. Around him, with bowed heads, the hunters joined him in asking La Virgen for her protection and good wishes. At his side an official shouted, "Viva la Virgen." In one voice the crowd replied: "Viva!" The Monteria had officially begun.
In rapid movement gunners rushed to their appointed mule lines, mounted, shouted last-minute suertes to fellow shooters and began the long climb to the posts. I was carried along with the throng, which moved as fast as the rapid flow of Spanish about me. In the distance I could see the General astride his horse, moving toward the post from which he would shoot.
Soon each armada was alone, wending its way between brush and rock, along drops of many hundreds of feet and over narrow slate-filled streams. From high on an upper path, tiny insectlike figures could be seen below, each seeking his appointed post.