Wednesday 28th September 2011, Tarifa, Andalucia
Today has been rather mixed but very enjoyable. The bellowing cattle that had disturbed us last night were browsing the parched field in search of anything green they could find, including the trees. Each of them was accompanied by a white egret that would seem to have become its personal and constant companion. There is obviously a strong symbiotic relationship between the two species.
Before moving on this morning we stopped to explore the whitewashed town of Alcala de los Gazules. It turned out to be far larger than we imagined and we never made it up to the top. The streets were cool and winding and within seconds we had lost all sense of direction. The main street was filled with small individual shops and the pavements occupied by little groups of women chatting as they returned home from shopping. Meanwhile the bars were filled with elderly men gathered together to share a coffee as they kept out of the way of their house-proud wives. Unlike many French towns, and despite the age of the houses and the dusty cobbles of the streets, every house was perfectly decorated, freshly painted and very clean. Several of the houses had delightful enclosed glass and iron balconies.
We were searching for a post office to send off Deyvi's birthday present. We've been looking for several days but the one thing Spaniards never seen to do is write letters! We are just met with blank stares when we ask directions for the Correos, or, when we eventually discover it we find it closed or in process of rebuilding. Today we walked around the maze of streets following instructions or signboards until we accidentally rediscovered where we'd left Modestine and decided to abandon our search for the post office.
Driving out of town Ian spotted it, far from the area we'd been directed to. Once we'd finally started our parcel off on its way to England we were so delighted we stopped for a celebratory coffee and tostadas. These are toasted bread rolls drizzled with olive oil or maybe salsa though butter and jam is also an option.
Time to be serious and take the road down to Algeciras and buy our ferry tickets to Africa. Little booths all along the route into the town offer discount tickets for sale and prices vary considerably. Our Moroccan camping book advised an agent on the commercial estate beside the motorway. It was a rather scruffy area but we left Modestine in the car park of Carrefour supermarket and found the tiny ticket office nearby. Our transaction was conducted in French but if that's Moroccan French we'll have problems when we arrive! It was really difficult to understand. We left, 180 Euros lighter but with a ticket for an open date return crossing. We'll probably aim to cross on Saturday morning. We've been given several forms in Arabic and French to complete before we can enter Morocco. We were also given a bottle of Spanish bubbly wine and a chocolate cake as a present! I'd sooner have had the ticket for a few Euros less but it's a nice gesture.
Seized with an overwhelming longing for fish and chips we headed along the coast to Gibraltar where we left Modestine on the sea front at La Linea in Spain gazing thoughtfully up at the massive Rock. Cars were queuing for a good hour to get across the border so it's quicker to walk, particularly when you can already smell the aroma of British food hanging over the town and you are hungry!
Once on the rock we crossed the runway that doubles as both the main route into the town and the landing strip for planes arriving from Birmingham loaded with brown sauce, marmite and all things British. A short stroll along Winston Churchill Avenue took us to the centre of the shopping area where we found ourselves surrounded by Marks and Spencer, Mothercare, Next and Nat-West Bank. Around us everybody spoke in English and it felt very British indeed. Traffic is controlled by policemen in helmets and white gloves just as they used to do when we were young in England.
We knew exactly where to go for the best fish, chips and mushy peas in Gibraltar. It was so exactly like being back in Britain that it felt really strange. As we ate we watched English TV news and listened to English conversations around us. After that I needed a quick scamper round Marks and Sparks and a browse along their reduced rail before I could concentrate on serious things with Ian who wanted to look around the public library. That too was weird. Everything was naturally in English but the stock looked very dated. The reference library was well used by students but the editions of most of the directories, yearbooks, dictionaries and encyclopaedias were very out of date. We wondered what it must feel like running a library service in such professional isolation. The staff were friendly and helpful, charging us in sterling for 30 minutes on the internet. In fact, the only concession to Europe is that cars drive on the right.
We have written fully about Gibraltar before. Please re-read that report linked below for a full account of what the Rock has to offer – apes included.
By the time we crossed back into Spain and found Modestine it was sufficiently late to need a campsite. The one at La Linea was full with Spanish youths and very run down. We decided to move on to Tarifa. It was further than we realised, following the coastal route towards Cadiz. As we turned in to this campsite, claiming to be the most southerly in Europe and just 14 miles or so from the African coast, we recognised it as one we'd visited before. Spanish campsites do seem very expensive unless they are listed in our special cut-price ACSI book. This one is 25 euros without electricity. It's nothing very special but it's quiet enough – except for the constant wind and violent gusts that buffet Modestine as they roar in across the straits of Gibraltar. Having eaten so well this afternoon we're managing without electricity this evening. It's a good excuse too to stop blogging and have an early night. My computer battery is running very low.
Friday 30th September 2011, Cape Trafalgar, Andalucia
Yesterday morning was spent rediscovering Tarifa. It's a small enough place, originally a fishing village but has developed as a surfing resort for young people and a crossing point to Tangiers. Having visited the town before I will link to that account below.
Today we entered the restored Moorish castle, overlooking the present harbour. From its battlements there were excellent views of the town.
We also made our way to the very southernmost tip of Europe. It's actually a small island with an abandoned fort used in the Peninsular Wars and it is linked to the mainland by a causeway so windswept that the sand scoured our legs as we crossed and got into our ears, mouths and clothing. On one side of the causeway the waves of the Mediterranean batter the stone parapet while on the other the breakers of the Atlantic attempt to crash it down. Tarifa's main claim to fame was that it had the highest suicide rate in Spain, mainly ascribed to the unremitting wind. After several days of being blown off our feet we can sympathise.
Having explored the town's narrow shady streets we stopped for coffee and tostadas with tomatoes and olive oil. The snack was so copious we needed no lunch.
We had no wish to stay another night at the same campsite but others in the vicinity were just as expensive. Our book listed one forty kilometres further up the coast for 13 euros with free wifi and a pool. It turned out to be further than we expected but eventually we discovered it near Cape Trafalgar (see blog linked below), where Nelson kissed Hardy, got pickled and was sent home in a barrel of brandy. Today it's a Mecca for surfing and kiting enthusiasts. With non-stop high winds along this coast it's perfect. For us it keeps the temperatures down and makes life bearable though it's impossible to sit outside, even our cushions get blown away and sand gets into the sandwiches.
So we arrived here late yesterday afternoon after pottering along the coast, stopping at Zahara de los Atunes mainly so we could say we'd visited the Sahara. This one though is at the heart of the tuna fishing industry. Most apparently gets transported to Japan to be used as sushi. Wales and dolphins are also abundant in the Straits and whale watching research ships regularly take passengers out with them.
This campsite is one of the nicest we've used in Spain, set amidst pine trees with a huge blue swimming pool where I immediately cooled down and swam several refreshing lengths. Our fellow campers are a Dutch couple with a huge desert-roving vehicle over-nighting before they set off for Morocco and the real Sahara.
Just another fifty kilometres along the coast is Cadiz on the south western tip of Spain. It was here that our daughter Kate worked teaching English and learning Spanish. We visited her there then and have a strong urge to return, to again wander the streets of the old town, seek out her flat, clamber the rocks down beside the sea, stroll along the defensive sea walls and enjoy the charms of its public gardens. We must however return to Algeciras tonight. Tomorrow we take the ferry for the next step of our adventure.
Friday 30th September 2011 continued. San Roque near Gibraltar
This morning we drove to the nearby town of Vejer de la Frontera. As with so many others around this corner of Spain it was a white town set on a hilltop with a Moorish castle at the summit. It offered stunning views across the parched countryside for miles around. As advised by our guidebook, we left Modestine outside the town and walked up through the public gardens with their scarlet hibiscus flowers and purple bougainvillea. The town is superb, specially maintained as a tourist attraction though also a place where people live their ordinary lives. The streets were busy with visitors and the cafes and bars were serving coffees, fresh orange and tostadas. We passed a very pleasant morning exploring the steep narrow streets and peeping in at open doorways to admire hidden courtyards filled with potted plants or entrances decorated with traditional Moorish tiles. Ian climbed up on the castle battlements without a second thought as he eagerly photographed churches, castle ruins and views down to the plain. Normally he hates heights.
Eventually we returned to Modestine and drove the direct, main route all the way back along the coast to Algeciras. The wind has not ceased for days and as we drove this notorious stretch of highway we were constantly buffeted by the gale which roared at our open windows – it was far too hot to close them. We passed just below the thousands of wind generators that dominate the skyline all along this stretch of the coast, their gigantic arms turning rhythmically as they harness the wind's energy.
At the top of a particularly steep climb we pulled off at a popular mirador with a cafe immediately below a cluster of these massive windmills. The sound produced by their turning arms, added to the buffeting, howling wind, made for a very noisy break. Ian bought a huge baguette filled with chicken and grilled pepper for us to share for lunch as we looked out towards the coast of Africa. Too hazy though to see either Africa or Gibraltar, both of which lurk nearby.
Back in Algeciras we called in at the Carrefour supermarket to fill up on things we imagine we might need in Morocco (loo paper etc) and to pop back into the travel shop where we bought our ticket to check on the route to the ferry tomorrow morning.
We'd been told of a campsite near San Roque but had no details. In the centre of the town we called in at the police station to ask where it was. The policeman on duty was quite charming, coming out into the street and explaining in delightful English exactly how to find the site. It's okay for a night but seems very expensive for what is provided – not a lot, particularly when it comes to proper doors to the showers and toilets. Compared to last night's wonderful ACSI site at half the price we realise just how expensive most Spanish campsites can be.
We once got stuck in San Roque when for some reason I cannot recall we got off the train in pouring rain only to discover the station is miles outside of the town, something very common in Spain. Then we'd had to take a taxi down into La Linea through boring suburban sprawl and concluded San Roque was no more than a suburb of La Linea. Today though we discovered a delightful little whitewashed town of 18th and 19th century houses with wrought iron balconies filled with pot plants, pretty tiled entrances, sheltered flowery corners, a couple of baroque churches and a shady Alameda set with cafe tables and fountains. Here we stopped for freshly squeezed orange juice and a sticky cake for Ian.
We've discovered San Roque was developed to house the Gibraltarians made homeless when control of the Rock was taken over by the British in 1702. They were offered the right to stay under British rule but most preferred to remain Spanish. They all left to settle in San Roque, bringing with them all the original charters and church treasures from Gibraltar. This goes a long way to explain why we'd been unable to track down anything much about the early history of Gibraltar when we were there a couple of days back. Most of the important stuff is housed in one of San Roque's churches.
We've cooked supper, sorted photos, packed and repacked ready for the crossing tomorrow and now it's time for an early night. The wind has abated slightly but the crossing will probably be a nightmare. With luck we will get the fast ferry which takes just 35 minutes.
Related links from Maxted Travels with Modestine
Gibraltar and Tarifa 2006