Travel Journal

Looking Beyond and Within--Our Last Week in Nerja

With wheels in our possession for another day, we decided to take a day trip north along the coast to Almeria and the National Park of Cabo de Gata. I had read that the park, which covers a triangular-shaped peninsula, has some amazing unspoiled beaches and great hiking trails. We took most of the morning to get to the park, and tried to use our GPS to get to the town Cabo de Gata on the west side of park. Technology (#@!!@) took us into a deserted field along an unmarked dirt road. We could see some buildings in the distance so headed for them. Eventually we found ourselves in a virtually deserted town and found a beach access point. For quite a distance in both directions we saw white sand and calm turquoise blue water…and we could count on one hand the number of people enjoying this amazing beach! It was very hot and the water beckoned but we foolishly ignored it (for which we will forever regret), and instead ate some great paella, then went off in search of more beach towns and hiking trails on the other side of the park.The park road we followed ended at a little town, also seemingly deserted. It was siesta time and all shops were closed. The wind was intense out on the beach, not a place for swimming and sunbathing, but picturesque enough for photos. We wandered the streets a while, watched as a busload of tourists spilled onto the promenade, then retraced our steps to begin the long drive home.

Stunning but deserted beach in Cabo de Gata National Park near Almeria, Spain
Stunning but deserted beach in Cabo de Gata National Park near Almeria, Spain

Back along the coast highway, we checked out the town of Castell de Ferro, with its imposing castle ruin looming above, and discovered the quaint town of Almunecar, about 30 minutes from Nerja. We had heard that this town was very charming and as it was dinner time, we stopped to explore its narrow pedestrian streets in search of a tapas house. A short time later we were "home". Our experience along the coast confirms that the northern part of the Costal del Sol and into the Costa de la Luz have not yet succumbed to tourism, the influx of expat retirees and mass development, and there are still many towns that rely on traditional sources of income such as fishing. We count ourselves lucky to have experienced the pristine beaches in the Cabo de Gata park before the inevitable resort hotels appear.

The rest of the week in Nerja was like the last few days of a tropical holiday in the dead of winter. The end was in sight and we were feeling somewhat somber. But the Spanish people have a solution for negative thinking--have a fiesta! We were lucky to be in Nerja for the largest cultural tradition of the year--The Fiesta of San Isidro! Isidro was a peasant and farm labourer, who, according to legend, received divine assistance to perform his work. As a result he has become the patron saint of farm workers and other labourers in many Spanish towns. In Nerja, the effigy of San Isidro normally is kept in Nerja Caves but every year for 49 years (or 50 as some dispute) it is brought to the main church. The town organizes a big parade of floats, horse and wagons decorated by local groups to bring San Isidro back to the Caves.The procession begins at the church after a service and winds its way through Nerja, up and along the coast highway and into the Nerja Cave park, a distance of about 4-5 km. The park is transformed into a big festival site, with food, souvenir concessions and several stages for musical performances.

As the parade was to pass close by our condo, we decided to bring two chairs and a beach umbrella for the shade up to the street, and strategically position ourselves for optimum photo-taking. As each float passed, its participants danced and drank their favourite beverage to whatever recorded music blared from the back of the vehicle. It was hard not to get caught up with the party spirit and we raised our (open) beer cans to many who passed! Later we followed the line of spectators to the caves 45 minutes away. Parking ourselves at a table where we could order beer, wine and food, we felt so at home and happy to be a part of this event. A band played traditional and modern music and many were dancing. Under a warm Spanish sun and caught up in the moment, we joined the locals, young and old, to move to the beat.

Dancing in the plaza to celebrate San Isidro--we had to join in!
Dancing in the plaza to celebrate San Isidro--we had to join in!

The day before we left Spain, I met with my Spanish conversation group one last time. Our discussion was of the perils and pleasures of travel in Morocco and as we shared our travel adventures (in spanish, of course), I realized how much I was enjoying their company and how much I would miss this. I spoke at length with a British woman who had moved to a small hill town above the coast about the trials and tribulations of living abroad. She confessed it was difficult to integrate into the Spanish society, mainly due to the language barrier. But the people were always warm and helpful and she has not regretted leaving England. Len and I have been musing about whether we would ever return here for a longer stay and hearing her talk positively of her Spanish community made the idea even more enticing. Afterwards, Frank, Karin and I met Len at the Café Almeda for some wine and tapas. Such lovely people, they have much in common with us and our conversation (in english now) was lively. I feel blessed to have met them and will remain in touch.

One month in Nerja has come and gone and it was the perfect experience. While I did not "write" my children's book, the time here did help me sort out my goals and ideas and will make writing easier when I get back home. And I learned a lot about myself in Nerja--that I like "slow travel", afternoon siestas, learning and speaking spanish, small plates (aka tapas) and cervezas for lunch, watching the sun rise with no one around, that my best thoughts and ideas come first thing in the morning, and that the only thing in the way of achieving a goal is oneself! Our time in Nerja has reaffirmed that I have a loving husband and great travel partner, whose unconditional support made this dream of "slow travel" possible. I am so glad he decided to come with me. Nerja has much to offer for both of us-- and we believe we will be back for a longer stay.

Now for a different kind of adventure…