Travel Journal

A Quiet State of Being in Nerja

After two weeks here we are becoming more "Nerjenos". No longer do we wander the tourist streets full of souvenir shops, choose the (safe) restaurants frequented by other non-locals or shop for food at the mega supermarket. We now walk the streets with purpose, navigating the less-frequented side alleys to patronize the local produce and fruit stores and buy our fish at the best "pescaderia", where the woman behind the counter displays infinite patience as we make our request in our increasingly confident Spanish. We know where to find the best tomatoes, where to pick up some organic grains and herbal supplements, when the "tiendas" open and close (afternoon siesta time each day being integral to the Nerjenos lifestyle), which "heladeria" has the most ice-cream flavours, and the best deal in town for a cana y tapa. Our days are ritualistic and time blurs. On weekends and on the numerous cultural or religious days when visitors flood the town, we leave to explore the hills, neighbouring villages or stick close to home. We agree that it is somewhat like living in Whistler when, as a local, you know NOT to go hang out in the Village on the Saturday of a long weekend.

Yet despite our seemingly isolation from society, we have met a nice couple from Holland. I have attended 3 Spanish conversation classes now and am thoroughly enjoying then. The group conversation is helping to build fluency and confidence to speak Spanish. It has also opened a window to meet like-minded people, and this Dutch couple have much in common with us. They come to Nerja twice a year to a small apartment they own. He is a painter and calligrapher (apparently he designed and created the honourary diploma to a Dutch University for Martin Luther King) and she is a retired medical secretary. After our last conversation class, Len met me at the pub where we gather and the four of us went for some wine and tapas at a nearby bar. We have set a night to meet for dinner this week, and we are looking forward to conversing with someone other than ourselves! Of course, there is just too much to explore around Nerja. We have had some noteworthy experiences despite the lowkey nature of our days. One event we participated in was El Dia de Recidencia--or Residents Day--where the locals and expats of Nerja gather to promote community groups, listen to live music and share cheap sangria and tapas. We enjoyed chatting with a few expats about their experiences living in Nerja.

Spanish dancers entertaining for
Spanish dancers entertaining for

We also took the bus one day to a nearby town called Frigiliana, voted as one of the prettiest towns in Spain. The all-white buildings of the town cover the tops of two hills like icing on a cupcake. Narrow streets, wrought iron doors and windows framed with vibrantly- coloured flowers…it is picture perfect--the archetype of a white hill town of southern Spain. After wandering the cobblestone pedestrian paths and checking out a few quaint shops, we had a memorable lunch in the sun high up on a balconey with a stunning view overlooking the central square and market area.

As Nerja sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada range, we gaze up at the hills every day. There are some marvellous hikes into the valleys, so we decided to change our routine one day and do a simple hike. From the Nerja caves we followed a service road for a few hours to a picnic area seemingly in the middle of nowhere. For the return trip we descended into a deep gorge to follow a dry river bed back to the coast. Although we met a few others hiking, it was mostly a deserted trail and we appreciated the solitude to enjoy the natural semi-tropical environment of Southern Spain.

Pedestrian walkway in the beautiful hill town of Frigiliana
Pedestrian walkway in the beautiful hill town of Frigiliana

Another town event in which we participated was El Dia de la Cruz, or Day of the Cross. This community event, a mix of religion and celebration typical of Spanish festivals, is a competition between neighbourhoods to create the best "cross" display. The display includes many flowers (a bonus day for the town florists!), greenery and artifacts (one had a old gramophone). A monetary prize is awarded to the best cross as well as to the best example of a traditional honey cake called "arropia". Locations were posted on the town website, so we spent a few hours visiting a number of displays. It was mostly a Spanish locals initiative, with music, food and drinks flowing . At a few locations, expats and visitors alike were welcomed to join in on the festivities. Although we did not stay long enough, apparently after a while (and much drinking) things can get lively with spontaneous singing and dancing.

We decided one Sunday, when most of the shops are closed and the local beaches are packed with Nerjenos and tourists, to hike to a "secret" beach in the neighbouring town of Maro. We had the directions and a map, and within an hour found the trail and steps to a secluded cove. There were mainly locals there, a few families and many groups of younger people. We discovered it was a "clothing optional" beach, and there were numerous topless (and a few bottomless) bathers enjoying the hot sun. And it was very hot! Most people had brought tarps, umbrellas and other materials to make a shelter. After a bit of scrounging for materials and some engineering wizardry, we were quite proud of the rather makeshift covering we created from a straw mat we brought and some bamboo sticks! It "sort of" did the trick to protect us from the relentless sun. As we settled under the shelter I noticed some birds flying very low to the water. The next moment we were witness to a pod of elusive Mediterranean Orca Whales surfacing directly in front of us. Orcas in this area follow the schools of blue-fish tuna through the Strait of Gibralter and are rare to spot, so we felt very lucky to have a front row seat to view these magnificent creatures. Later, we ended our perfect day up in the town plaza, under a trellis of bougainvillea, overlooking the ocean, and shared a pizza and few beers. Can’t get any better!!

We have two more weeks in Nerja ahead of us. Kara, Len's niece, who is studying tourism in Austria for a semester, will take a weekend away to visit us here. The plan is to spend a day in Nerja with her, then rent a car for a driving tour of the hill towns of southern Spain. Although Len and I did tour many of the hill towns a few years back ,we are excited to visit the area again. Stay tuned…