My trip to Spain got off to an exciting start with an aborted landing at Malaga airport. The animated Spaniards at the back of the plane, who had not stopped talking since leaving Paris, only momentarily draw breath as we sharply took off again due to a sudden wind change. In spite of the pleasant company of Tom, a lovely Canadian man who was making the trip that he and his recently deceased wife had planned, I was rather relieved to finally land. I was surprised by the large size of the airport as well as how modern it was. Isabel, a former student at the Alliance française de Rouen and now a very dear friend, was there to greet me. Isabel doesn’t speak much English so the plan was that we would speak French given I have no Spanish.
The weather in France this spring and summer has been rather awful so it was quite a shock to step out into the 31°C heat. We took the coast road passing through Torre del Mar. This is a popular vacationing location and now in addition to the Spaniards, Germans and English there is a increasing French presence. The area is typified by the towns and villages hugging the coast, the dry rocky mountains that soar close by and are spotted with villages glowing in white. Mansions can be found spread-eagled on the mountain ridges making the most of the view to the ocean. Scattered between are the modest farmhouses, their orchards and the vineyards.
Approaching Isabel’s village, Torrox, about 60km from Malaga, one can’t fail to be impressed. It is nearing 10pm and starting to get dark. I am convinced that what I am seeing is not real. It has to be a movie set with the pristine white buildings, the palms and flowers. The tiled rooves and the drainpipes let you know you must be in the Mediterranean region. Some of the buildings have tiled frontages, the footpaths are spotless – literally gleaming in the central plaza. Public seating is bountiful, but demand is high from the Spanish grandmothers who are enjoying catching up with each other. To say that the atmosphere is laidback would be significantly understating thing the situation.
The smell of jasmine greets us we approach Isabel’s home. The sensuous perfume fills my bedroom. Isabel talks about her home and the connections she has with it. It is where she was born and was formerly her grandmother’s home. Beautifully decorated with mementos from her travels creatively grouped and displayed, it is spread over two floors with an additional large rooftop terrace.
Quickly dropping off my luggage, we take the 2 minute walk to her parents’ home. Here I am greeted not only by her parents but also by her brother, his wife and 3 children who are visiting. It is a family home filled with lots of warmth, love and laughter, not to mention great food! Isabel’s brother is cooking hamburguesa de pollo that are divine. I think I was asleep in under two seconds when I finally got to bed about 1.00am.
Breakfast on the terrace includes coffee and fresh bread spread with olive oil. What a great way to start the day. I wonder what the Australian Customs people would say if I tried to bring in 5 litres of the oil which has been pressed at the local cooperative from Isabel’s father’s olive trees.
I really hadn’t done any planning for this part of my holiday apart from the flights to and from Spain. Isabel has thankfully taken everything into hand and shows me a suggested outline for my 10 day visit. Would it do? I hug her – it is everything I could have wished for and more.
Nerja could be considered a touristic location – but it has great reason to be. There is some seriously spectacular scenery. The village sits high up on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with its beaches and rocky outcrops. Having tackled getting a sim card for my smartphone it is time to explore. We buy an icecream, listen to some flamenco music being played by some buskers and wander the pedestrianised town centre.
Isabel has not only planned out activities but also local dishes that I must try and where she recommends eating them. Wanting to be the perfect guest I am happy to comply. Lunch is at 2.30pm and is called patatas a lo pobre. It is a potato dish cooked the way that poor people would have prepared it. The potatoes, green capsicums, garlic and olive oil are cooked in a fry pan. A fried egg is served with the dish and is eaten with the accompanying bread. Delicious and hearty. I am fortunate to be able to attend my first Spanish birthday party. Paula has turned 9.
An elderly neighbour telephones and Isabel and I are charged with translating from Spanish a request to be sent to a French bank. It is this sense of family and community that has really impressed me in the very short term I have been here. In spite of not being able to speak Spanish and Isabel’s family speaking very little English we have managed to communicate with lots of hand gestures and miming. I have managed to learn a couple of Spanish words and this has everyone laughing. After lunch, Isabel and I, armed with our laptops, go to the local tapas bar, 20 m away, where we buy a couple of bottles of water and a couple coffees for the measly price of 4€ all up. We spread out our laptops, bags and I plug into their power. No-one minds.
Evening and we take the scenic route to Frigiliana. We stop so many times so that I can take photos as we climb to the summit (in the car – you know I wouldn’t be walking). Every bend in the road presents yet another stunning vista. Poor Isabel must be wondering if we shall ever get there. The village is perched on the hilltop looking down a valley towards the sea. Can it get any better than this...it does. I know as soon as I arrive and see the fountain with the Star of David, the Christian Cross and the Islamic Crescent that this place is special. These people have worked hard to maintain their homes in the tradition style. The stones that form the serpentine streets form decorative patterns both in terms of colour and layout. In several hours of wandering the streets I don’t see any dog pooh and see one cigarette butt. There is NO other litter whatsoever.
I am privileged to taste a family speciality for dinner: cold garlic soup. We then have garlic chicken. Isabel’s sister-in-law confesses that she likes to have garlic at breakfast rubbed on to toast with the homegrown olive oil. Her husband jokes about not having any friends with all the garlic. Isabelle’s mother hugs me warmly as I leave and I know that this is one very special family.