We're all going on a ... OK, maybe not we but certainly me. My first holiday in 12 years and I was heading for Andalucia in Spain with my partner Gordon!
Saturday 28 August
Travel day, we drove to Humberside Airport, parked in the long-stay area then hopped on a plane after the usual security checks and short delay. Arrived in Malaga ahead of schedule, I am clueless as to how that happened. The heat hit me as soon as we stepped off the plane even though it was early evening. Finding the car hire place was a challenge but we eventually adopted a Seat Ibiza for the week. I had my first taste of Spanish food at the villa where we were staying, but I didn't write down what it was. Flopped into bed, only to be rudely awakened approx. every hour by a rooster somewhere in the valley below. When I later enquired why the rooster crowed all night, I was told it was crazy. Quite how it hadn't been strangled already by some poor bleary-eyed soul is anybody's guess. I determined to seek out a second-hand cannon so I could put the poor bird out of its misery and restore peace to the mountain-dwellers.
Sunday 29 August
The rain in Spain stays mainly... Yes, we awoke to rain... our hosts were most apologetic then accused us of bringing British weather with us, so we apologised in turn. We spent a rather lazy day at the villa and in the evening were joined by another couple of ex-pats who were intending going to the 3 Faiths Festival at Frigiliana. The other 4 set off in one car and Gordon and I followed them. What happened next is ingrained on my memory. I recall being driven along a steep, narrow mountain road and glancing out of the car window and stupidly looking down. Below the edge of the road was an approx. 300ft sheer drop. I don't recall when I was last so terrified. I gripped the car door handle and hung on for dear life. Inside my head I recited the name of every god I could recall the name of: I have a good memory.
I don't know what was worse, keeping my eyes fixed to the road or squeezing them shut from sheer terror. I explained in as calm a voice as I could to Gordon how I was feeling (as the last thing I wanted to do was distract him from his driving!), Bless him he didn't waver and told me not to panic. (If I had a quid for every time I've heard those words...) He assured me he knew what he was doing and had driven that way before, but when we reached our destination we were informed that there'd been landslides since he last visited, so the road wasn't the same. My legs were already like jelly and I didn't think I'd survive the journey back, but my hosts assured me the return journey would be much better as I'd be on the mountain side rather than the drop side and it'd be pitch black, so no worries then...
The festival was great, we saw fire eaters and dancers, and a group of about 20 musicians on a large stage who all kept time with each other, even though I only recognised about 5 instruments they didn't sound too bad and of the 3 singers, one girl was really good. There were lots of stalls to walk around and places to sit and eat. We chose a reasonably-priced menu and allowed our hosts to order as we didn't understand the Spanish and there were no pictures. I got a kind of beefy tomato stew with chips but it was so delicious it almost took my mind off the journey back. The drive back was not as bad as going but because it was gone midnight and therefore pitch black, I couldn't see anything beyond the car headlights. Already knowing the terrain, it's not something I'd recommend for the faint-hearted or those with heart conditions (like me).
Monday 30 August
The plan for this day was a wading walk through a river and then a climb to access some caves. With my arthritic joints and heart condition I requested to stay alone at the villa while the other 5 went on their jaunt. The following is Gordon's account of the wading walk:
It starts just outside the seaside village of Nerja, on the Costa del Sol. To get to the start point you leave the town via the north east and go under a viaduct to follow a track past a former concrete-making plant. There is plenty of space to park and the starting point is in one corner just past a chain barrier. Here the river was a gentle trickle but this belied what was to come later!
Shorts, with a swimming costume underneath, and a pair of old trainers are the recommended attire for this walk and a stick or walking pole will also be very useful. It was the height of summer, when walking in the open would have been very hot work, but the gorge provided welcome shade for most of the way. Very soon we were walking through water but at this stage it was only a few inches deep so it was more of a paddle than a wade. It is a popular route and we encountered many family groups who had also elected to pick up the gauntlet for this hike.
Quite early on, we came across a spectacular waterfall, with gushing sprays of clear mountain water crashing down to the stream. The river also serves as an important source of irrigation water for the many small farmers on this part of the coast eking out a living growing, amongst other things, avocados to feed the voracious appetites of the northern European supermarkets.
As we progressed up the gorge, the river acquired a livelier pace and soon we were scrambling up in water up to our thighs trying to stay upright by feeling our way along the wet walls of the narrow passages. The adrenalin was pumping round fast as we fought our way through to a more open section; many of these had small pools which beckoned us to take the plunge for a cooling-off dip.
This being a 'there and back walk' rather than the circular variety, you can determine the walk length you want to do and simply retrace your steps. We decided to stop for our picnic lunch by one of the pools which were clearly a popular point for photographs; one of our group snapped another couple together when they were trying to take one of themselves using the delay feature — not easy in fast running water, even in a pool!
Suitably refreshed we returned whence we had come, encountering more groups out for an afternoon challenge and returned to the car park, uplifted by our experience. Nerja is a pleasant town for a holiday all year round; it boasts a lively market on Tuesday mornings and the caves, on the eastern edge of the town are absolutely breathtaking.
– Gordon, Galaxy Babe's partner
Knowing they'd be gone about 5 hours I acquainted myself with the villa's garden and was surprised by the appearance of a large butterfly so I nipped back indoors for my camera and waited patiently. It turned out to be a Swallowtail, and it seemed happy to pose for me so I got some great snaps. The fact that I was the only witness to the wonderful creature made the encounter all the more special. I had my first swim in the villa's outdoor pool and watched some dragonflies dancing about just above my head; they eat mosquitoes apparently, so the pool area was free of the dreaded insects. I had a lovely cold meat & breadbun lunch with fresh fruit to finish then went back outside for another swim. The time flew and soon the others were back. After the evening meal Gordon and I laid on the sunloungers beside the pool and stargazed.
Tuesday 31 August
Gordon had planned this day to visit Nerja, a place he'd been before and wanted to share with me. It was baking hot so I dressed in all white and remembered my suncream, hat and sunglasses. We went to Nerja market first, as that was only open in the morning. By the time we'd walked round all the stalls, I was exhausted and we found somewhere to sit and have drinks. Gordon then drove us to a World Heritage site, the Cueva de Nerja (Nerja Caves). This turned out to be one of the highlights of our holiday. The words 'awesome' and 'stupendous' spring to mind, but really they don't do it justice. I'd recommend this place as a 'must see' and we saw only a fraction of the 5km complex.
After we left the caves we headed for the coast, where we parked then walked along the promenade. We stopped at a café where the menu offered seafood paella, chicken paella and house paella. I'd never eaten paella and having already been told that the seafood version contained squid which I didn't fancy the sound of, I went for the chicken version. It looked just like rice, peppers and 4 chicken thighs, but it was tasty enough. Gordon had the seafood paella and he got langoustine with his, so I was really miffed! Next time I determined to be more adventurous. We continued our walk and headed for an ice cream place which was doing a roaring trade. On the way back to the car I suggested a walk around the other end of the promenade, and there we came across our first cannon, however it was fixed to moorings so I couldn't steal it for rooster annihilation. So it lived to torture weary holidaymakers another night.
Wednesday 1 September
Another gloriously hot day. We packed an overnight bag and set off early and headed for Granada, where we visited The Alhambra. This was a highlight and another recommended 'must see' if in the area. Researcher Skankyrich has already written an EGE on The Alhambra with much more detail than I could write here. We had intended staying at a hotel near the Great Mosque of Córdoba but our way to it was blocked by road works and when we tried to access it another way we got lost in the one-way system. Two very frustrating hours later, and after we'd been backwards and forwards over the river bridge more times than we could remember, we decided to head out of Córdoba and find somewhere else to stay. The first town we happened upon was 17km along the motorway so we pulled off and headed for it. Cerro Muriano was a typical small Spanish town with one hotel, The X Bar. It advertised rooms at €40, a restaurant and a bar. To say we almost kissed the feet of the señorita who passed us the keys and beckoned us towards the spotlessly-clean room is probably an overstatement, but we were exceedingly grateful. She promised us, in sign language, a meal in one hour's time.
We were served by an elderly Spanish gent who pointed out his recommendations on the menu and we went with his choices. I was very happy with my dish and Gordon was happy sinking beers. My brandy had gone down very well and was hitting the spot nicely. By the time it came to ordering a sweet, we couldn't make our waiter understand that we wanted a slice of pie and the menu had disappeared. Neither of us wanted to move so when the waiter said 'Tart?' we both agreed. He reappeared with 2 creme caramels and we didn't have the heart to send them back so accepted them. When we asked for the bill he'd only put the room and two courses on it, even though we pointed to the empty beer and brandy glasses and the water bottle, at which he put his hand up and waved as if waving them away. We left a generous tip and retired for the night.
Thursday 2 September
We left the small town of Cerro Muriano next morning with happy memories intact, and well refreshed. Back on the motorway we both realised we were hungry so stopped at a service station which had a café advertised. Luckily it was a well-frequented and popular place. They had a freshly-squeezed orange machine which I made use of immediately and repeated my request at the end of the meal. I had asked for toast but got a toasted ham baguette, and my cup of tea turned out to be lemon tea but never mind. Disliking the idea of heading back to Córdoba to visit the Great Mosque, we instead agreed to spend the day in Malaga. Travelling past some fields I noticed the change from olive trees to acres and acres of dead sunflowers, even covering the whole of one side of a mountain, as far up as I could see. I asked later why there were so many dead sunflowers and our host told me the Spanish farmers plant them then leave them until they've gone through their life cycle, then harvest the seed for oil. I had already written the EGE on sunflowers so I was able to tell them something they didn't know, about how sunflowers are helping regenerate the area around Chernobyl.
First stop in Malaga was the car park so we could travel around on foot, and then we sought out a toilet. A small café in the shopping centre advertised a toilet so I opened the door. It was as small as a broom cupboard and when I sat down my knees touched the door. I suspect it wasn't even plumbed in as the stench was almost unbearable but needs must and we hastily moved on. We headed for the Tourist Information building, where they told us about an open-top bus which did a tour of the city for a set price, and on-off option to reuse the ticket within 24 hours so we could alight at every stop if we wished, and gave us a map of the bus route. It was ideal and we legged it to the correct bus stop.
There was a lovely Spanish lady ticket-seller already in place and she had just produced our tickets when the bus arrived so we collected our earpieces for the aural stream and climbed to the top deck. We joined at bus stop 4, and there were over 20 stops, including a cathedral and two Moorish castles, one of which had a Roman amphitheatre in the grounds. We alighted at both castles and spent time touring them in the baking heat. I had to keep stopping to sit and reapply suncream to my burning toes as I'd stupidly worn open-toed sandals, even though the rest of me was covered. I lost count of how many bottles of water we got through and was astonished at some of the prices being charged for a small bottle: they ranged from 30c in a newsagents' to €1.80 outside one of the tourist attractions. The Roman castle was wonderful and we got a great view of the city from the top. I noticed one wall was completely covered in wild Amaryllis so I picked one and carried it around for a while. When we caught the bus again the driver waved us on instead of inspecting our tickets, muttering 'I remember'. When we alighted at bus stop 4 to retrieve the car, I offered him my earpiece back and he waved it away saying 'Keep, made in China' which made me smile. I also thanked him for the tour, which no-one else seemed to bother doing, and he wished us Buenos dias. On the way back to the villa Gordon filled the rental car with diesel and I got stuck in their aseos (loo). It seemed to be a universal problem though as all I did was bang on the door and the attendant appeared with a key and let me out. Phew.
Friday 3 September
This was our last full day in Spain and although we were both flagging we determined to make the most of it. We set off early for Torrox Costa and headed for the coast where I'd been told there was a Roman excavation going on. We found it beneath the promenade area but were able to climb down and take some photos through the mesh fence. It was close enough to touch and I would have loved to have explored it à la Time Team but realised this was impossible as it was still being excavated and recorded. We continued exploring and I found more cannons, but decided to leave them in situ as it was our last day.
One thing that puzzled me — I was astonished to see families enjoying themselves on what looked like a black beach. I'm more used to the sand at Cleethorpes, which is a wonderful golden yellow. Later enquiries revealed this particular beach is made up of volcanic ash, even though there's not been any volcanic eruptions in that area of Spain. Stopping for lunch, we asked for seafood paella; I washed mine down with a couple of Malibu and pineapple drinks. We then had a slow walk along the length of the Promenade and stopped for a mini Vienetta ice cream each, which was extremely refreshing.
Back at the villa, some ex-pat neighbours of our hosts arrived just after our return and we had a lovely chat over coffee, tea and cake. As soon as I mentioned the crazy rooster, Lynne piped up that if it were theirs its neck would have been wrung long ago, which amused the other listeners. After the visitors left, we had a final swim in the villa's pool, then showered and dressed for dinner, as Gordon was treating our hosts to a meal out as a thank-you. I had packed my purple diva dress which I'd bought for the 'Elvis' concert and it looked very good indeed against my tan. We headed back to Torrox Costa and chose to dine at the Brazilian restaurant on the Promenade which had been recommended to our hosts. I'd also pass on the recommendation, aside from the wonderful view of being on the shore of the Med while watching the sunset, the meal was being cooked within sight and brought to us as soon as it was ready. This consisted of different meats, roasted on long skewers then slices carved off onto our plates. Some rounds were fruit, including a coated and baked banana portion and slices of roasted pineapple. The waiters kept coming back to offer more and more, in the end we all threw in the towel and there was still loads left. It was a set-price meal too, so definitely a place for hungry families to head for.
We didn't have a late night as we were leaving for the airport early next morning. Here is a link to my holiday photos. Luckily I suffered no mosquito bites as I'd taken all the precautions recommended to me, but Gordon's legs from his shorts down to his socks were very badly affected. Spain is a country of extremes; we saw the very well-off receiving head massages on the shores of the Med and beggars squatting outside cafés hoping for a hand-out. We met some wonderful Spanish people with hearts of gold and hawkers determined to sell their wares for as much as they could squeeze from their victim. In all I was glad of the experience but equally glad to return to the UK to my own home and family.