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Thursday Nov. 6
We decided to spend our first full day in Spain just hanging around Tarifa. This was a good decision, since we like medieval coastal towns full of little shops and cobblestone alleys and cafes and plazas with trees full of ripening tangerines.

We slept in rather late, and decided to visit a pastry shop we’d seen the previous day. The kids had hot chocolate and pain au chocolat–really good ones with chocolate all over the inside and chocolate shavings outside, rather than just one stingy little bit in the middle. Donn and I had espresso (café solo) and ham and cheese croissants. All was delicious.

Afterwards, we set off to see the town.

stmatthewsThis was in the Plaza de Angel

dooratstmattsDoors of church

We headed back into the medina and walked around a long time, wandering through the maze of tiny medieval alleyways and through churches and past shops selling records or sporting goods or candy. Well, we didn’t exactly make it past the candy shop 😉

We stopped for lunch near the biggest church, and sat outside enjoying the mild weather. Spain is noticeably warmer than Morocco, although I realize that perhaps this week is warm in Morocco as well. Menus here are a bit of a guessing game, since none of us speak Spanish. (Yes I know the twins studied it last year, but we didn’t get much beyond colours and numbers.) But we‘re really expanding our vocabularies. Octopus is pulpo, for example, and it’s coming in handy to know that. Some of the menus have English translations. One announced “incoming” for starters, and another announced the “home salad” was “dressed.” Another said, “Thank you for their visit.” No, really, thank you.

After filling our stomachs with patatas tortillas (potato omelette; I know, I was expecting tortillas too), we headed back down to the port.

There are advantages and disadvantages to coming off season like this. Advantages are obvious–cheaper rates, no crowds or waiting for things. But there are disadvantages as well. The castle is closed for repairs, several stores are either closed for the season or out of business, and it’s a bit cool for the beaches.

We walked past the castle down another little alley, followed a staircase, and found ourselves in a courtyard with a froggy fountain.


We snapped photos and rested on benches, before heading down to the port. We found our way down to the beach, and then made our way back to the hotel. After all, if the Spanish take a siesta every day, we should too. When in Rome.

Refreshed, we headed out again about 5 to enjoy the late afternoon light.

abelwantsmycoffeeAbel reaching for my coffee

This time we ended up enjoying a coffee at an outdoor café, and then stopped by the tourist office to ask about buses to Gibraltar. The man working there was really kind and helpful (and if you are thinking, well of course he was, that means you have not visited many tourist offices) He explained that if we bought a “tarjeta de transporte para via jar con autobuses comes” at the local tobacconists, we would save substantially on 5 tickets. He also pronounced Algeciras properly for us. We’d been saying, well, Algeciras, but of course in Spanish it is Al-ha-theer-us. Don’t forget the lisp! As the lady at the bakery said, “Es diffithile!” She emphasized it for us again, “Diff. I. Thile!” We smiled and nodded. It’s what we do.

He wrote out what we would need to ask for on the back of a bit of paper. Later, back at our hotel room, I examined it and realized it was an ad for a free flamenco concert, that night. The kids wanted pizza so we humoured them and went to “Punta Pizza,” run by a friendly woman. Her husband spoke French so came over to translate for us when we had questions, and he also was apparently the delivery person, but he spent a lot of his time keeping their one-year-old fed and happy, while the mother cooked delicious pizza, pesto, and an appetizer consisting of grilled apple and local cheese and walnuts all drizzled with honey.

We settled the kids in bed and headed out for the concert, which didn’t start till 11 p.m. We’re Spaniards now, we thought proudly, not at all tired thanks to drinking espresso at a sidewalk café at 6 p.m.

We knew where the café was–right near the froggy fountain–so we headed directly there. I was proud of myself for already being able to figure out a shortcut. The place was crowded and smoky but we found the last two empty stools and settled ourselves in. We were delighted to realize, when the concert started, that we had inadvertently gotten ourselves into the front row.

We really had no idea what to expect. I was sort of hoping for flouncy skirts and lots of hand gestures. I imagined it being sort of happy dance music. Instead, two people, a woman and man, came out and sat on two low stools. The man tuned his guitar, the woman took a deep breath. “Maria!” shouted several in the crowd.


Maria Montilla had an incredible voice. She scrunched up her entire face and brought out an enormous volume from deep within. Her voice ranged all over, wailing over the scales, followed by the guitar. She rarely smiled; it is solemn, serious music, no doubt about life‘s struggles, and death. There was nothing left to do but shout Olé!


She kept time by clapping softly, and everyone in the café followed suit. There was one young man in particular, standing nearby, who stomped his feet and clapped loudly; this got him big smiles of recognition from Maria, perhaps acknowledging someone who also loved this music. Also, a woman sitting near the singers twirled her arms in intricate patterns and gestures. But mostly it was just the music and the hot crowded room and the smoke-filled air, people clapping and yelling “Olé!” and stamping their feet in time.


We left during the break because it was after midnight. I was amazed at the power of Maria’s voice, which hadn’t faltered once during an hour of singing, and who apparently was only half-way through. It was a great concert.

November 2008

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