An escape to Spain: Sights, sounds and smells of Andalusia

Wonderful hospitality, magic of flamenco among the highlights of Mediterranean trip

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The sun can be seen climbing over the horizon from Playa Del Rinconcillo apartment of the Bay of Gibraltar. (Photo: Kelsey Power)

Southern Spain smells like the Mediterranean Sea and dog droppings.

It’s probably because we were staying in an apartment a few metres from the Playa Del Rinconcillo beach, and dogs happen to roam Algeciras streets of their own accord. Regardless, it’s an aroma usually filling the air, unless it’s evening and you’re lucky enough to be near a dama de la noche tree, smelling incredibly sweet and staving off flies.

At the cost of $83 an evening, or acquiring this particular apartment for two weeks for $733, the panoramic view of the Bay of Gibraltar and the Rock rising up out of it is absolutely worth it, although I must admit I didn’t actually spend any money on housing during this trip.

Though the rest of the scenery in the bay isn’t so different from Halifax — with an oil refinery similar to the old Imperial one in dear Dartmouth to your left, and a large container pier to your right — it’s the palm trees, white sand and perfect weather (in three weeks of June it rained once for 20 minutes) that assure you you’re no longer home.

Everyone in the Andalusia region seems to own a little pooch, and I assume this is not for playful reasons but for additional security in an area where the local economy is still struggling.

This could be seen in the lack of job opportunities for young professionals. One young engineer we met was happily celebrating finding a job — as a cashier at McDonalds. Another 30-year-old marine biologist spent one evening in Jerez with me drinking Tio Pepe, the famous sherry of the region, drowning out the screams from a couple hundred kids at the sailing camp where he teaches.

But these Spaniards are lucky to have jobs, and although times have been tough they did not appear to have lost their spirit. (Keep in mind they were still competing in the World Cup when this trip took place.)

In fact, despite the warm, sunny weather, the thing I enjoyed most about Spain was its citizens’ hospitality. When you walk into a room in Canada, unless you’re visiting relatives or very close friends, you are not going to be received so warmly; taking the effort to acknowledge, let alone stand up and possibly embrace another — particularly an absolute stranger — is rather rare. Having never been to Europe, this was my first time experiencing this enthusiastic affection.

Their kindness is the one cultural piece I wish I could have packaged and taken home.

The other cultural practice I had no hope of fully transporting or transmuting was the art form of flamenco. Given life in this very region, it was the reason we were there in the first place.

Attempting to brush up on the basics, I enrolled in a couple classes at Noelia Sabarea’s dance school in Algeciras. Even though I had some prior knowledge of flamenco, I found it hard to keep up with my classmates, whom I admit were only eight years old and have bathed in this artful atmosphere since birth.

One of the most spectacular sights viewed in Spain was seeing Ms. Sabarea dance. Acting as entourage to a private wedding performance at a country estate in Malaga, I was able to see her transform onstage.

Under stripes of white fairy lights and evening starlight, Sabarea shed her usually sweet nature and turned into a fierce flamenco temptress, drawing her audience in with alluring movements and incomprehensible skill from years of practice and enduring passion. She brought the Dutch party present to their feet.

These northern Europeans were no novelty. Andalusia is a regular holiday retreat for them. The manager of the estate was a 28-year-old from Britain who had lived and worked there for five years. When asked why, he simply said for the beauty and the beaches.

Upon travelling to Tarifa, you’d understand his decision in an instant. A short swim away from Morocco, this famous surfing town sits on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

In its old city centre, I sipped the best cup of coffee, or café con leche, I’ve had in my entire life, before making my way to the town’s breathtaking stretch of sand-duned beach. Upwards of 40 kite surfers skimmed the surface of the waves while women on the sand burned areas of their bodies that rarely see sun.

But if you’re only visiting, a few steps of flamenco, a tan and some seashells may be the only thing you’re able to pick up while in Andalusia.

Do not travel here to become fluent in Spanish, as not only do the locals speak so fast the words will fly by your uncomprehending ears, but southern Spaniards (Andalusians) — like those who call the Maritimes home — tend to clip their language when in conversation. S’s are generally dropped and “theh” sounds sneak their way into words where they are normally unwelcome.

It simply must be life by the sea.

Instead, come here to relax. Because unlike the speed at which they speak, Spaniards in the south live life at a slower pace. Keeping a task to a certain time is non-detrimental to their daily life. This isn’t due to laziness but, like the siestas they take every afternoon, just a custom of their culture.

I mean, really, why stress? You’re in Spain.

The landscape and people are beautiful. The chorizo sausages are spicy. Sangria is sold in juice-box form, and fresh olives are everywhere. Most importantly, wine is so cheap you can turn it into a Tinto de verano with the addition of some carbonated lemonade, making spring and summer just a little more sweet.

Aside from seeing some fabulous flamenco, you can keep yourself entertained with the many religious and historic festivals frequently held in the region as, apart from their faith, one thing’s for certain: the Spaniards know how to celebrate life.

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As originally published in The Chronicle Herald.