On the road to Tarifa we find time for a quick coffee in a bar with a good view of Gibraltar. The coffee isn’t wonderful (Marigold likened it to tepid gravy), but the views are quite some compensation.
The Rock of Gibraltar, in ancient times, was one of the two pillars of Hercules and the Romans called it Mons Calpe, the other pillar being Mons Abyla on the Moroccan coast. Both are clearly visible today. Yesterday evening, in our finca style hotel, I ended up talking to a Frenchman who obviously wished to practise his English. He spoke English about as well as I speak French so with some switching around we were able to communicate. He went off and fetched a second wine glass so I could share the bottle by his side. I expected sophistication, he was French after all, but the wine was very far removed from sophistication. The last time I had wine as rough as this was in Algeria. He seemed to like it though, even praising its tannin levels.
He taught history at the Sorbonne for thirty years, he said, and did indeed appear very knowledgeable on the history of this area. He told me the twin pillars marked the end of the known world, which I already knew, but added a personal opinion that this myth had been propagated by two other ancient seafaring civilisations, namelyGreeks and Phoenicians, as a means of dissuading future ventures into the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean which they had already explored and visited. Interesting idea.
Marigold had long since taken herself off to our room at about the same time the former history teacher stopped ‘chatting’ and began ‘lecturing.’ Shame as she missed out on the wine! Given a free choice Marigold would choose Vimto over wine anyway.
‘Marigold, you missed a treat,’ I said as I got back to our room. ‘As you know, the strip of land joining Gibraltar to the mainland is called an isthmus, but historian call it a tombolo, from the Latin word tumulus which means a mound?’
Marigold didn’t appear too impressed with this for some reason.
‘Over an hour talking about Latin rubbish. He was awful and I bet his wine was awful too.’
‘Yes,’ I admitted, ‘he was and it was.’
We stop at the viewpoint next to a tiny and rather dingy café overlooking the Straits of Gibraltar. We’ve stopped here many times and at certain times of the year the place is packed with ‘twitchers,’ (bird watchers), drawn by the sight of thousands of birds migrating across the narrow stretch of water separating Europe and Africa. Good views across the Straits of Gibraltar today, a calm sea and not as much wind as usual, but no flocks of birds. Plenty of bikers here, as there always are.
There was a three masted tall ship far out to sea, like a galleon, which reminded us we must visit Cape Trafalgar later today. Unusual, us having a plan, but as it turned out the rest of our day’s travels were as amorphous as ever, although we did get to see Cape Trafalgar!
Our first stop, as ever in Tarifa, is the cemetery. Yes, an odd choice maybe, but this is a very special place. Apart from a few conventional graves, one hosting a couple of imitators of Greyfriars Bobby – two black cats whereas Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier - there is a sort of horizontal locker system in place, stacked five or six ‘boxes’ high and extending along numerous rows.
It’s Sunday so mourners are out in force. Virtually every last resting place is festooned with flowers, the whole area is immaculate and there’s a palpable air of respect for others in the air.
On our last visit here we saw many ‘graves’ bearing the legend ‘unknown African,’ each accorded exactly the same respect and care as the other ‘residents.’ Today, we saw only references to ‘Immigrante de Marruecos.’ Adding to the pathos, many of these victims washed ashore after unsuccessful attempts to cross illegally from Morocco to Spain bear the same date of death. Equally sad was the sign on the grave of an identified victim of drowning, that a mourner directed our attention towards - ‘Hope Ibriam, Nigeria.’ Hope died in 2005, the poignant irony of that name must surely strike everyone who sees it here.
I was fascinated by the concomitant accoutrements to the grave of Professor Wolfgang W Wurster; one dead flower and two empty wine bottles. A not exactly cryptic suggestion the late Professor was a bit of a lush, perhaps?
The graffiti on the end walls of houses just up the road from the cemetery have been repainted as we noticed last time we visited they were getting a bit shabby. The residents of this small estate, by no means a prosperous area, are very proud of their art work and rightly so.
Down by the port we saw the creamy wake of one of the hydrofoil ferries racing across to Tangiers. We’ve been on one of these many times, and also used the larger, slower, ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta. Incidentally, as we passed Gibraltar we saw the long queues for vehicles entering and leaving. Spanish officialdom takes a dim view of Gibraltar remains British and often make life difficult for those entering or leaving the entry point between the Rock and mainland Spain. It invariably strikes me as somewhat irrational when we’re travelling to Morocco from Algeciras as we arrive in North Africa at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, a tiny area of Morocco that remains Spanish territory. At least Gibraltar is in the same continent. Different, in what way?
We love beach bars and Wet café, just off the N340 road, is a special favourite, but today we went for a long walk on Tarifa’s virtually deserted beach and had a smoothie at Café Aqua right on the beach. The smoothies weren’t very good, in truth, but it’s such a laid back place we didn’t mind.
There’s a slack rope, ie not a tightrope, for those who like showing off. I felt adventurous and was about to try it when a group of kite surfers arrived, most sporting beards and tattoos, so I sat down again, fearing ridicule. One of the girls, no beard but many tattoos, hopped onto the rope and instantly fell off again. She tried again, same result. I almost wished I hadn’t abandoned my plan as I couldn’t have been any worse, but the moment had passed.
One of the girls said, ‘they shouldn’t let fat people go on beaches, not without a shirt on anyway. It’s gross.’ Her friend agreed. I stood up to look at who had offended them, hoping it wasn’t me, and saw a middle aged couple walking along minding their own business. Yes, they were on the plump side, but even so. I hope those girls realise, the couple in question probably were just as skinny as them in their youth.
All along the beach here are camper vans, large and small, expensive and falling apart, there’s every type. We saw several from very far afield: Estonia, Moldova, Lithuania, Finland, but very few Brits. Distance travelled appears to have no correlation to quality of vehicle, there was one with a Belarus number plate which we wondered how it even got the hundred yards from the road to the beach in one piece. We never stayed here in our van owning days, but one of our favourite places is just up the coast.
As we were leaving the beach we detoured to admire a separate group of vehicles, the wildest of wild campers living year round in old vans and converted buses. We occasionally come across old friends in groups like this, but didn’t know anyone here today.
A sign in one van warned potential intruders, ‘beware, Staffies on guard,’ in several languages. I met the Staffies, apart from the likely prospect of being licked to death I found them very far from dangerous.
A couple having a (very well organised) picnic in the woods waved at us and invited us over for a drink, but we have, unusually and somewhat irrationally, booked a hotel for tonight and it is many hours away from here so we had to move on.
Our next stop was Bolonia, another place we return to often. There’s a great beach here, with many camper vans ‘wild camping.’ We’ve been here many times and it’s a delightful place. The main draw for visitors is the ruined Roman city in a perfect location, right next to the beach.
Entry costs 1.5 euros, was only one euro last time we came, but if you can prove you are entitled to call yourself ‘European’ by showing an EU passport, it’s free. After Brexit, this visit will cost us three euros!
Maybe not as nobody asked to see our passports. As we went through the unguarded entrance we saw the attendant having a ciggie break in the sunshine. She waved to us to carry on. We obviously looked sufficiently ‘European.’
It’s all gone a bit more upmarket since our last visit, hence the 50% entry fee rise, with a humongous museum complex, but the main attraction remains the ruined forum and other remnants of Ancient Rome. This was once a prized asset of the Roman Empire. Then, it was known as Baelo Claudia and its importance came from the fishing industry, much as this area does today. Baelo Claudia supplied the popular Roman delicacy Garuda, a sort of fish paste, to the whole Roman Empire. It was thriving at the time of Emperor Claudius who was so impressed with the produce he gave the town his name.
By the second century AD the town was in decline and was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. By the sixth century AD, Baelo Claudia was abandoned.
In its heyday as a fishing centre, the fish-salting factory - located in the lowest part of the town, right on the beach, allowed the prized Garuda to be preserved and sent throughout the Empire. The salting vats have been excavated and the stone columns of the forum and basilica are remarkably well preserved. The weather was great and we enjoyed wandering around for an hour.
The beach itself is stunning in the sunshine. There are many sand dunes, one of which is now a National Monument. Many people climb to the top of the biggest one, as we have in the past, but not today! Marigold decided those struggling up the slope were show offs and declined to be associated with them. Very wise.
Moving on, we divert again to the coast To Zahara de los Atunas. This is at heart a fishing village, but is rapidly approaching ‘resort’ status and is now, apparently, probably one of the Costa de la Luz’s most upmarket areas where house prices have soared in recent times.
There’s a good beach, of course, as there is everywhere else along the ‘coast of light,’ which remains unspoilt, and empty, but the town itself has definitely gone upmarket since our last visit. Designer shops and gourmet restaurants – we hardly recognised the place.
At the side the of the road we see numerous reddish coloured Retinto cows, many with calves alongside. Very often we’ve seen them on the beach at Bolonia and they’re the ultimate free range grazers, wandering at will between beaches and forests. They survive, apparently happily enough, on hay and acorns from the woods throughout the summer. In Cádiz province the ‘winter ‘ problem isn’t really a problem for livestock, but the summer heat and drought is where the herds are at risk. They’re placid creatures, even the bulls seem friendly, despite those scary looking horns, and the meat is highly prized – very lean and low in saturated fats – with a big festival every year in Zahara to celebrate the breed.
A few miles along the coast road and we’re in Barbate. Known throughout Europe as the epicentre of tuna fishing it may be, but to us, as whenever we see the sign for Barbate we say in unison, ‘Kenneth Noye.’ This has been a hectic day, so our observations on fugitives from justice, tuna fishing and Trafalgar will have to wait until the next blog post.