Como llego a los pueblos blancos?

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October 12th 2010
Published: November 3rd 2010
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I was expecting to hate Malaga; I had already decided that it would be a sprawling mass of hotels and apartments complete with Irish bars and fast-food restaurants, part of Spain but not really resembling anything Spanish, a generic holiday town with no soul, built to house the tourists who flock to the Costa del Sol for the sunshine. I was pleased that a Conference forced me to visit, as otherwise I wouldn't have had the opportunity to realise how wrong my preconceptions were.

Arriving in Malaga on Tuesday with my work colleague Tom, the same Tom I drove around the Mayan ruins while we were in Cancun for a Conference in May, we spent the afternoon exploring and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, stopping to have tapas and beers beneath orange trees in a hidden courtyard. And the whole time we were walking around I was wondering where all the British tourists have gone and how I could have been so wrong about a place. Malaga has a lovely cobbled centre with plenty of outdoor cafes and bars, an impressively large cathedral, and the most exciting thing was that it was filled with so many Spaniards on their holidays or going about their daily lives - there wasn't an English accent to be heard. It was amazing how quickly I felt completely at home here; it felt extremely normal to hear Spanish spoken everywhere and to try and communicate in my increasingly rusty Spanish; a hangover from having spent so much time in Latin America.

The Conference ran from Wednesday to Saturday and we spent our days inside the Conference centre and our evenings having dinner in outdoor restaurants until Al arrived late on Friday night. Al's journey was not a good start to his trip - he got fined on the tube (he thought he could use his Oyster card the whole way to Gatwick - which is not the case), his already late flight was delayed further, the car-rental company almost refused him his car because a requirement of the rental was to have had a licence for more than a year and we have swapped our Australian licences to UK licences within the last year, and then he had to drive on the other side of the road to a vague destination in a city he'd never been to before. He eventually arrived at our hotel at 2 in the morning not quite ready for four days of driving around Andalucia.

On Saturday, when the Conference had ended, it started to rain. Forecasts were showing it would rain for the next 4 days and with this in mind the two of us said our farewells to Tom and drove through the showers to the small town of Tarifa on the Costa de la Luz(The Coast of Light). Tarifa was somewhere my parents had spent a lot of time during their travels through Europe whilst awaiting a money transfer from Rhodesia. My Mum, who was quite a lot younger than I am now, was missing home and from Tarifa you can see the African continent; she told me that she had sat and stared at the lights across the sea and cried because she could see Africa, and it was the closest to home she had been in a long time.

Tarifa is now reknowned for being one of the best wind-surfing and kite-boarding spots in Europe and you can see from the ever-blowing wind how this is true. The windy cobbled streets with pretty white-washed houses enclosed by the city walls reminded us of Essaouira in Morocco, which is not surprising considering that it was built by the Moors.

We ate paella and drank CruzCampo before taking shelter from the storm in our hotel room. On waking the next morning we were delighted to find that the forecasts had been wrong and it was a beautiful sunny day. From Tarifa we decided to head east and went to visit the British territory of Gibraltar. I had always had a fairly romantic notion of Gibraltar, as my Godmother lived there when I was little, and I remembered receiving postcards with the rock on them. Crossing the International runway is the only way into Gibraltar and we watched a plane land where we had been moments before.

To get into the spirit of Gibraltar, which is a strange mix of British and Spanish, with street signs, rubbish bins and shops you would find in Westminster, we stopped for some food and a cup of tea, served by a waiter with a Cockney accent. Walking through the shopping streets, we concluded that Gibraltar has a novelty value as it is so very British but it does seem trapped in a time warp. This was based on a brief stroll through the streets, because what we really wanted to do in Gibraltar was to see the rock. We took the cable car to the top from where there is a beautiful view on both sides and we met the Barbary Macaques, the only 'wild' primates in Europe, which are thought to have been brought from North Africa. We watched them cleaning each other and sunning themselves before deciding it was time to hit the road again, this time to the pueblo blanco of Ronda.

The drive to Ronda was lovely; we passed little white villages, huge valleys and mountain peaks and on stopping to take photos all we could hear were the bells around the goat's necks higher up the mountain. In half an hour we felt a million miles from the urban sprawl on the coast and as we wound higher and higher into the mountains the more beautiful and quiet it seemed. We stopped in Ronda in a rush to continue onwards to Granada, and almost missed the main attraction, a deep gorge complete with a river at the bottom right in the middle of town, there is a bridge across the gorge and the town hugs the cliff edge on both sides. It is beautiful.

And from our brief stop in Ronda we continued on our way to Granada...Don't trust SatNav. Al used to, but after this trip he almost used his whole quota of 276miles of driving while refusing to ask for directions. He loves technology, and has been slowly trying to convince me that paper maps are completely redundant but this trip has proven him wrong. On leaving Ronda we were following the GPS instructions until we hit some road works which confused the GPS completely, however it recalculated the route and the overall map looked right so we kept going. We turned off quite a major road onto a little goat track that wound around blind corners on the edge of cliffs, we drove like this for almost an hour, heading in what we felt was the wrong direction, thinking that we must be winding our way into the valley below to get onto the motorway which would take us to Granada. It was hard driving for Al but we were laughing and joking that it felt as if we had just done a loop and we would be heading back into Ronda shortly, and then we turned a corner and saw Ronda in the distance. And so we had taken a wrong turn at some road works and instead of telling us to do a U-turn the SatNav took us on an hour journey to get us back to where we had started!

Eventually we did make it to Granada much later than expected and found somewhere to stay. We headed to bed early so we could get up to visit the Alhambra in the morning, which is said to be the most beautiful Islamic building in Europe and these rumours are something we can neither confirm or deny, as we didn't manage to get inside. We were queuing in the dark and cold from 7am with hundreds of other people and when they opened at 8am they annouced they only had 400 tickets available for the day. We continued to wait incase we were included in this 400. But we missed out so we returned to bed for a couple more hours sleep before we visited the old Islamic part of town, the Albayzin which like the Alhambra is a World Heritage Site. We wandered through the little alleys before sitting and having sandwiches for lunch while listening to the Gypsy Kings performed by rotating street performers.

We ate a dinner of cold meats and bread, accompanied with beers and Granadan wine. And the following morning we drove back to Malaga where I took Al to see the cathedral and have tapas under the orange trees before returning to London.

Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 27


The roadThe road
The road

Between Tarifa and Gibraltar
Plane landingPlane landing
Plane landing


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