Having worked all summer, teaching mainly Spanish and Italian students in Leeds, we decided that we needed to spend some time in Spain to refresh our Spanish.
We went to Malaga once more. We were there about 5 years ago and really liked the place. Most UK travellers come here merely as a transit place before going on to the resorts of Torremolinas, etc., which is a shame because the place really does have a lot to offer. We installed ourselves in an apartment in the middle of what appeared to be a large housing estate; we soon found the local bar which was having a ‘churros fest’. For those unaware of this delicacy, churros are simply sticks of fried dough that you typically dip in a chocolate sauce. All washed down with lashings of beer they make the ideal slimmers’ meal.
Most mornings we walked down into town and had a traditional Andalucian breakfast called ‘Rustica’. This is simply toast with olive oil and tomatoes and milky coffee – all for €2 each.
One reason we like Malaga is that the locals seem to speak a form of Spanish that is intelligible to outsiders. This was useful as our apartment was well away from the tourist area and only Spanish would do.
A day trip to Gibraltar was called for. Of course, it’s exactly what you expect: a big rock, sunny, lots of tourists and marauding macaques. Oddly, a surfeit of Black Redstarts had made their home on the rock.
After a couple of weeks, having mastered Spanish, it was time to move on. We bought bus tickets to Tangiers in Morocco. The slight downside was that the bus left Malaga at 5 in the morning so we had to book a cab for about 4 from our apartment. Helen did this admirably over the phone – the cab actually turned up at the time requested! The bus station was rather quiet at that time of day and we got chatting to a Moroccan guy waiting there also. It seemed as though we were the only 3 people getting on the bus – great! we thought, we’ll be able to spread out and sleep. In one of life’s thoroughly disappointing moments, the bus arrived, already full to the rafters with sleeping travellers, strewn across all the seats. Christ knows where this bus had come from but as you can guess we were both subjected to sitting next to classic manspreaders! 62 years I’ve been on this planet and I’m still shocked at how rude and inconsiderate people can be, especially on public transport.
Anyway, we got to Algeciras, on the ferry, crossed the straits and arrived at some way-out port, 30 miles or so east of Tangiers where we had the usual shenanigans associated with cross-border travel: on and off the bus, showing passports, etc. The guy was announcing stuff on the bus but all in Arabic so our understanding was limited. A fight almost broke out when the driver wouldn’t let some guy back on the bus.
Tangiers is a dirty and busy city. It’s back to the old ‘If I honk my horn enough, this traffic jam’s bound to clear’ mentality. On the high street there are cafés everywhere almost entirely full of guys looking out onto the street, watching the world go by, drinking the standard local tipple: sweet mint tea. About the only places to get a proper drink are in the hotels and you can get fleeced there: we went into the posh Hotel Minzah, had a couple of glasses of wine and an orange juice for the grand sum of 200 dirhams (almost €20!). We did bag a few Spotless Starlings on the lawn so it wasn’t a complete disaster.
Of course, here I’m being besieged by every beggar in town (‘Oh look, there’s Andy Parkin, the guy from England who always gives away his entire savings to jokers like us, I read about him in Suckers International’).
Apart from Arabic, the local lingo here is French, and Helen and I are having to dig deep in our time-encrusted memories to retrieve what little we know. Even the locals get confused! More than once we’ve heard ourselves say something like: ‘Sen᷈or, l’addition… shukran, bye’.
There was an extraordinary demonstration on the Saturday night. It seems that the Moroccan electricity company has recently put up the price of its supply by a whopping amount, prompting much outrage. A large protest march through the city was held simultaneously with a ‘lights out’ policy – all the buildings in the city, including our hotel, were ‘candle-lit’ only. Quite romantic!
Over the weekend, through the night, cars speed through the main streets honking their horns continually – so much like Libya.
In the old Soccos, you can get lost in all the alleyways. Motorbikes and small trucks weave perilously through these backstreets and passages, barely missing the surprised tourists. Lots of fruit and veg stalls (pomegranates feature largely, as well as walnuts, figs and dates). The bread is really cheap and tasty. The cafes are plenty; it’s quite a shock to see people smoking indoors in cafes and restaurants nowadays. This is, however, probably the worst place in the world to have your atheist, vegetarian stag party!
We worked our way up to the Kasbah. All the helpful locals continually badger you with advice: ’You want Kasbah?’, ‘Kasbah this way’ etc. I call them the ‘Befriend/Pretend’ guys. The starting point is usually, ‘Hi. Welcome to Morocco. You from England… London?’ And it goes on from there – I’m sure you’ve encountered these pests before. We manage to brush most of them off but finally one attached and dragged us up there, pointing out the bleeding obvious: ‘Here is a shop… shop…yes?’, ‘Here, (pointing to a door under a sign saying ‘Museum’), here is the museum’, etc. However, the visit turned out to be a real plus, for, in the garden, we not only spotted two Common Bulbuls but bagged a lifer: a House Bunting. Yay! What a result! I still don’t know what a Kasbah is, though.
It’s now time to move on, back to Spain. The olives here are great but I’m getting a bit sick of Margarita pizzas!
Andy, 2 November 2015