Yippee! We are off on another trip. Not an epic adventure somewhere far-flung or “exotic” (which winds Ness up when I say that), but a couple of weeks of R&R in Andalucia. The plan is to tour around the region a bit, get off the beaten track. The original plan had been for two weeks together with Mark and Elisa but with calendar confusion they ended up re-booking to come out a week later, and will return to the UK together with us. Ness had been very busy the past few days to get everything ready, while I was working as usual. This morning we were all set and made an early start. It felt like our usual Monday morning routine as we drove to the airport. The check-in was very smooth and the Flyglobespan flight very comfortable. I did some Chinese lessons (Linguaphone) on the flight – see back of my diary!
We had nice views of bits of the coast of France, with the cliffs and coves of Normandy or Brittany, and after a stretch over the water we came to the northern coast of Spain, with some dramatic mountains. Real mountains, not just hills that think they’re mountains! Spain’s interior was dry and yellow. Malaga airport was a little dated. At the Hertz desk we collected the keys for the hire car, which turned out to be a Mercedes C200, a bigger car than we had bargained on, a very comfortable “grand-dad” car. We fiddled with the navigation computer and set a route for Tarifa, following the coastal road (even if the car kept trying to get us to go on the toll motorway). Out of curiosity we drove into some of the resort towns – Fuengirola, Marbella? whatever – a sad sight of unchecked overdevelopment which has resulted in dense touristic developments and characterless strips of development all along this coast. We continued along the coast. Further along we saw the Rock of Gibraltar. At first it loomed in front of us like a mountain, then it was off to our left and in the foreground was the commercial town of La Linea, and beyond it the dramatic silhouette/profile of Gibraltar, which was far steeper than I had imagined, also due to the fact that it was surrounded by flat terrain and so stood out all the more.
Still further we passed the industrial town of Algeciras, which looked unendearing and ugly, and smelled of chemicals. A major centre for the African drugs trade according to Lonely Planet. Across the water, the Mediterranean that is, we could clearly see Africa in the not too distant distance. It was an unusual realisation to see how close Europe and Africa are at this point. The mountains of northern Morocco stood high and tall. On our shore meanwhile we were now driving through more scenic surroundings, on a coastal road high above the sea, heading for the Atlantic coast. On the ridges there were many wind turbines. Almost wherever you looked there were large groups of turbines. The landscape was arid, dry, scrubby. We descended on the other side of the ridge down towards the small town of Tarifa, which lies at the southernmost point of Europe. We drove into the centre, the “old town”, and had to circle around a few times before finding a spot to park the car.
The centre of Tarifa looked charming, a “typical” old town with touristic cafés and bars, of course, but with a slightly more hip and bohemian feeling to it. This was a surfers spot, not a sun-sea-sand type of place. Our hotel, the Posada La Sacristia, was set back from the main street along a narrow pedestrian alley and oozed trendiness and boutique charm, in a hip Lonely Planet global kind of way. Outside, along the main street, the cafés and bars were full of bikers, a Spanish bikers “meet”. And at the solid old church at the end of the street a wedding was in full swing, with lots of women dressed in colourful fiesta dresses, making for a very colourful and noisy spectacle. We checked in and hauled our trusty packs up the steep steps to the top floor where our room was, and then we headed downstairs to have a cooling beer in the hotel bar area, served in what we have since come to call Tarifa-style glasses, rather like whisky tumblers.
We changed into more summery clothes and went for a walk (and bought some tasty empanadas along the way) around Tarifa, around the characterful narrow streets of the old town, with their white-washed houses. We climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the harbour/port below and across the Mediterranean to Morocco. The tall mountain was lit up in the late afternoon sunlight. There was a fresh wind blowing from the east, the levante wind. Tarifa is a very windy place where the wind always blows, whether from the east – the levante – or from the west – the poniente wind. The levante felt clear and fresh. Below us we could see the catamaran ferry for Tangiers, and more bustle in the harbour. We walked on round, up to the spruced up ayuntamiento (next to it was a similar building which had been left to deteriorate and crumble). We remembered seeing the same shade of yellow used here to mark out window frames and more. The same shade was used in Lima and elsewhere in colonial Latin America. In front, a lovely square with palm trees, flowers, a gardener, and a group of drunks, one of them expansively waving his hands as he was explaining/talking.
We turned back into the streets and little plazas of the old town, across a lovely plaza with frogs squirting water as fountains, and generally meandered through until we came to a square on the edge of the old town where a small festival was in progress, with reggae music. Coming out of the old town we turned left and walked along the harbour and up to the point at the headland, where there was a small rocky promontory on which there was a closed off military area, with a very small sandy beach to our left. A surfer was flying across the water, going as fast as any surfer I’ve seen, and behind him was the harbour entrance and the Tarifa-Tangiers ferry. To our right, the Atlantic beaches stretched away, with low wooden palissades erected to stop the sand from overwhelming the roads and the town. We strolled to the plaque which said “southernmost point in Europe”, and there were two other signs, one for “Mediterranean”, the other for “Atlantic”.
From here we returned to the old town and “reggae square”. Along the way, kids playing war games on a ruined old building – from a distance it looked like men with real guns for a moment. There were several cafés and restaurants here (at “reggae square”) and we stopped at the first one for a drink. It was still too early for dinner and we still had to adjust our mental clocks to a different rhythm. We continued to stroll through the narrow streets, looking for a choice for dinner. We went back and forth a few times and eventually settled on one of the places at “reggae square” as they looked more lively and atmospheric. Ness had tasty fried fish, I had a less successful (for me) monkfish with cous-cous (lots of sultanas L) and followed by chocolate and maracuya mousse. As we were leaving, an older German man at a table next to ours asked us where we were from and I said “Holland” and he won his bet with his fellow diners.
To walk off a bit of dinner we strolled around town and up to the plaza in front of the ayuntamiento, in the hope of seeing the twinkling lights of Tangiers ahead of us, and the stars above us, but the sea mist and haze obscured all lights. We returned to the hotel and had showers before hitting the sack. Usual reflections on the odd sense of displacement, having started the day in one place and ending it somewhere very different, and already feeling as if we have been here for far longer than just half (not even!) a day. A promising start to the holiday!