Costa Del Sol, Spain

19 May

To celebrate my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary, my parents, sister, and I all went to the South of Spain. I had traveled to Spain back in 2007, spending a couple of days in Barcelona and a couple in Madrid. This was a very different piece of Spain. The Costa Del Sol is used by Northern Europeans much the same way Florida is used by New Englanders here in the US. Pasty white people trying to escape their own brutal climate and get a bit of sun far away from home. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a “sun holiday” before, and I found it to be almost a challenging experience. What do you mean relax? Like I’m just supposed to lay in this beach chair, sip Piña Coladas, and enjoy my book? Somehow I managed to adapt. We did try to get out of our resort life though at least once a day and explore Southern Spain. These are some of the highlights.

MÁLAGA

View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

Málaga is the main port of the Costa Del Sol. We spent the day in the Old Town area which boasts the remains of the Castillo de Gibralfaro which was an Islamic castle built in the 8th century. We walked up the Paseo Don Juan de Temboury which is a steep, winding path up the hill to the remains. It was something of a hike, but the views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea became more and more impressive as we ascended. The path itself is lined with beautiful flowers and trees. As we walked down the footpath to the other half of the ruins, the Alcazaba, I could hear Spanish music drifting up from the city center. About an hour later, we found the source. A small festival called Semana de Mayor celebrating the elderly. I sat and watched little old ladies perform flamenco routines and sing old Flamenco songs.

ANDALUSIAN HORSES AND FLAMENCO DANCERS

Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

We signed up for a package deal at this little horse stable/restaurant in Mijas. Before the meal, we sat in an arena while they brought out gorgeous Andalusian-bred horses who are trained in Spanish equestrian style to prance a certain way and to buck on their hind legs on command. It was strange and beautiful. My favorite were the four white horses that came out with bells around their necks, roped together and galloping in circles in complete synchronicity. Afterwards we headed inside to a dinner and Flamenco show.

IMG_2689Oh Flamenco is just the best. The passion of the music, the rapid fire of the dancers feet on the floor, the graceful arching of their hands and backs. So beautiful, so emotional.

RONDA

View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

Easily my favorite part of the entire Spain trip. We drove high up into the mountains to visit this little town which was unreasonably picturesque. Even the roads surrounding the town were dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers. Ronda is perched atop a gorge with two sections of town connected by an ancient bridge that offers stunning views of the gorge below and the rolling hills in the distance.

View from the Bridge

View from the Bridge

Even though Ronda is a popular tourist destination, it was the place where I felt the least like a tourist. It was also the only place I got to really use my semi-decent Spanish as I chatted with shop-keepers and ice cream vendors. I always find that when I travel I’m assessing the place I’m visiting as a place where I could move and become an ex-pat. Ronda fit the bill, especially when I took into  account that it was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

Always have love for Papa.

Always have love for Papa.

NERJA

A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

We didn’t spend time in the actual town. We just went straight for the caves. Walking out of the sunny Spanish day and into the cold, damp caves was refreshing. The caves are millions of years old and sheltered some of the earliest humans during the Stone Age. The stalactites and stalagmites that jut from the ceiling and the floor cast eerie shadows and put creationists to shame.

GIBRALTAR

The Rock

The Rock

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the history of Gibraltar before we went. I knew it was an important naval post, but I didn’t know that it was still owned by the British and functions as a British city with pounds as the currency and fish and chips stands. We hired a taxi driver to take us around for the day and drive us up the Rock to see the tunnels where the British installed cannons. Gibraltar also has caves similar to the ones we saw in Nerja, except the British light theirs with purple, blue, and pink lights while playing a variety of disco music. It was a sharp contrast to the solemnity of the day before.

IMG_2712

 

The highlight, of course, were the Barbary apes that are native to the island and wander around, grabbing food out of tourists hand and jumping on cars as they drive by.

HORSEBACK RIDING IN MIJAS

Overlooking the Costa del Sol.

Overlooking the Costa del Sol on my horse, Universal.

Spain is now the third country other than my own in which I’ve ridden a horse. As soon as I heard about the famous Andalusian riding, I had to find a way. I found a place called Rancho La Paz which interestingly enough is run by German people and full of German tourists. It was nose to tail riding, but the views at the top of the hills were spectacular. We also got to do a fair amount of galloping which is the whole reason to get on a horse in the first place. Spanish riding was a bit different than what I’m used to with longer stirrups and loose reins held in one hand. Galloping was a bit more difficult this way as I think I was supposed to be standing in the saddle as opposed to “riding like an American cowgirl” which is what the German leader of the group kept warning me against. I am what I am, lady.

I wasn’t able to bring my camera along, but I made a German friend, Reiner, who spoke enough English to offer to take my picture and email it to me when he returned to Germany. Nothing better than making new friends abroad.

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