Travel Journal

Nerja, Spain -- Early Impressions and First Week

It was an easy fast flight to Malaga (once again the rather sneaky trick to book aisle and window seats worked to give us the whole row!). From Malaga, it is a short train ride to the city center and bus station, a one and a half hour bus trip to Nerja along a beautiful coastal road and finally a long hot walk to our condo on the eastern edge of town. When we were let into the condo by Margy the owner, we fell in love. The place is small, a bit dated but bright. Cascading bougainvillea blossoms frame a small private garden with a table and chairs. The view from the living area deck towards the coastal mountains and ocean is amazing. Everything inside the condo was perfect for us and we knew we were going to have an amazing stay here.

Trying to work on the deck but the view distracts!
Trying to work on the deck but the view dist racts!

Later as we walked into the center of the town of Nerja, we were charmed by the narrow stone streets and quaint shops. We found ourselves on a very busy pedestrian-only street lined with souvenir, clothing and jewelry shops with restaurants and bars interspersed in between. While the street was teeming with people and seemed somewhat touristy, there was still an authenticity to its character. Locals mixed with visitors at ""wine-barrel" tables spilling out onto the pathway from numerous tapas bars. The tradition for tapas here is to order a canas (small beer) or wine and a small plate of tapas is included free. We searched out and found a recommended tapas stop, and were in heaven after tasting the regional dish of gambas pili pili (prawns in garlic sauce). We told the proprietor "vamos a volver" (we will return). It was an excellent start to our month in Nerja Spain!

Week One--Our first full day was spent exploring the streets of Nerja in search of food supplies. We noticed a large "supermercado" close by but wanted to find local produce suppliers that we had read were scattered in the back streets of town. We also needed to organize a working phone. We were successful with the phone but could not find a "tienda de verduras" and ended up going back to get some basic supplies at the supermercado. The weather was not cooperating so we had a quick look around the "Balcon de Europa", a promenade off the main square overlooking the ocean, then headed home in between rain showers to cook our first meal in the condo. We had planned to try to recreate the "gambas pili pili"--and I must say, Len did an admirable job. Lucky for us, a previous condo tenant had left some pili pili spice--essential for the correct flavour! We now are on a mission to find this spice to take home to Canada!

Over the next few days the weather was unsettled, and we alternated between walking into town during dry periods, ducking into a tapas bar to wait out the intense bursts of torrential rain (how lucky to have such a choice), and settling in at the condo--writing, researching and gazing in awe of the view from the window as storm clouds piled up against the mountains and white caps dotted the sea.

On Easter Sunday we made a special trip to the Balcon de Europa (main square and promenade overlooking the ocean) to watch the Easter parade. Semana Santa (Easter week) is a huge deal in Spain, with parades and gatherings scheduled throughout the week. The parade on Sunday is considered the highlight. We joined the hundreds of people waiting in front of the church in the main square, jockeying for the best possible viewpoint. The parade consisted of three very large "floats", each carried by more than 20 people, interspersed among others dressed in traditional costumes. A band heralded each float's emergence from the main entrance, of the church. Several large groups were dressed in robes and capes and wearing cone-shaped head gear concealing their identities. Although they seemed rather sinister (with shades of Klu Klux Klan), they are actually called "penitentes" or penitent ones, and their peaked hats symbolize a "rising towards heaven" For a while we watched the rather slow-moving procession as it left the main square, then mistakenly tried to head back to the eastern part of town where we were staying. But all roads leading out of the square were packed with spectators and parade participants and it was virtually impossible to exit by any route. Then the heavens opened up, the parade did a quick about-turn (instead of the 2 hour scheduled loop) and the crowds began to disperse. We beelined for home but the rain was pelting down hard so we did what any sane person would do -- head inside a bar for some canas y tapas to wait it out.

As I write this, the weather is improving and we are spending more time outdoors. One day we walked to the local weekly market, where vendors sell a variety of goods and produce. Another day we hiked to the nearby famous Nerja Caves. These caves have the distinction of having a Guinness Record--the largest intact stalagmite column in the world (and yes, it is big!). The caves were discovered in 1959 by 5 boys playing nearby and have become a major tourist attraction in Spain. Concerts are held inside during the summer months, and during the festival of San Isidro in May (we will be here!), a procession of floats and costumed locals begins in the town square and ends at the caves where a celebratory fair takes place. Although somewhat touristy, we enjoyed exploring the spectacular geographical formation of the caves. Afterward we walked to the nearby town of Maro and through its quiet streets to the ocean cliffs, through fields dotted with large plastic greenhouses, then up a hill path to the Maro Tower. The tower was built in 16th c., one of many built at the time as part of a defense system for the coastal towns. The view of the ocean and coastal mountains is spectacular and we were virtually the only ones there enjoying it.

The Guinness Book of Records stalagmite in Nerja Caves
The Guinness Book of Records stalagmite in Nerja Caves
Torres (Tower) de Maro
Torres (Tower) de Maro

As I relive and write of this past first week in Nerja I see that a pattern is emerging that characterizes the flow of our days here. I am usually up first in the morning. For me these quiet first moments of the day are special, and as I sip my coffee and gaze out over the stunning landscape of ocean and mountain, I take the opportunity to reflect on life, memories and possibilities. It is my best time for writing. After Len gets up, the day continues to progress slowly. There is no urgency in our schedule and it takes much of the morning to do the chores and prepare ourselves for the day. We plan a walk or excursion somewhere--either into town for supplies, an exploratory hike, or a bus ride to a weekly market in a nearby town. Later in the afternoon we return for a siesta (a Spanish tradition, as almost everything shuts down for a few hours), or in Len's case, a bit of work. Dinner becomes the next goal, and we enjoy our planning and collaboration of the evening meal. We have created some excellent dishes as there is no lack of top-quality produce, meats and fish to work with. The rest of the evening is spent emailing and perusing the internet (when it is working--it has been somewhat temperamental), watching a bit of TV, journaling or going for a short walk. One evening after a great tapas meal, we attended a classical guitar concert--kind of like a "date" night on the town.

I am first to admit we are "living the dream" and feel so lucky and grateful to have this experience. It is exactly what I hoped for with this month in Spain. We will venture further afield and plan a few activities over the next few weeks. Today for example, I have contacted a man who offers a Spanish conversation group, so will make my way across town to participate. We have also noted some special events around town and in nearby towns and will investigate those. And of course we have Kara visiting in a few weeks so we plan to rent a car and do a driving tour with her. In the meantime, our days can unfold as they will, and we are happy.