Five stripes stretch out; slices of world that race to converge on a vanishing point in front of me.
On the far right the triple blades of the wind turbines are swallowed by low cloud on the mountain tops. The slopes which will be green later are murky now and dark; obscured here by stray cloud wisps – grey and full of water – there by shadow and early morning haze. At the base, the edge of the stripe, the straight line of the N340 that goes to Cádiz. The tall white tanks of the fertilizer factory, the electricity plant’s humming tangle, the red roof of the petrol station like a child’s toy from this distance.
On the far left the wide open waters of the Straits are untroubled this windless morning. Smooth and almost still – orange buoys bob and betray the whereabouts of the fishermen’s nets. Little trawlers keep each other company out there. With moderately raised voices I’m sure they can chat from boat to boat it is so quiet. Africa is shrouded in its own marine layer – the serrated outline of the Tangier coast an only slightly darker grey than the sky above it.
On my near right; long, laid back Los Lances. Parts of the backshore flood at high tide and the sand is ridged and rippled there – a darker colour and perforated by tiny worm and ghost shrimp holes. Burly seagulls beachcomb; annoying each other and snacking on whatever they can scavenge in the sand. Rickety lifeguard platforms and crooked sand fences punctuate the swathe. Wooden walkways give access to a grassy nature reserve – bird land. Here and there the teetering stucture of a chiringuita – wooden beach bars with circus-like awnings .
To my near left surf curls and breaks on the nearshore. The surface of the water here pleated by wave ridges that scimitar off ahead in almost parallel sweeps; a lighter blue green and the bubbling, fizzing white lines of foam that bleed and blur towards the foreshore. This stripe makes noise – the syncopated music of waves as they lap and overlap, drenching the sand. Uprush, backwash and repeat; a scuffling jazz beat – the aftermath a mirror smooth band of sky reflecting sand.
Directly in front of me – and behind me – the stripe I inhabit. A three kilometre long line of the smoothest packed sand; dense and unbroken and an earthy warm yellow, especially beautiful in the emerging light of early morning. It slants very gently towards the water and curves toward the distant dune where the coast bends. It isn’t quite unbroken in fact – a cipher of footprints imprinted across it in lines, sometimes straight and sometimes meandering, some of them shod and some of them barefoot, here human, there canine and there again avine. A document of those who have passed here – evidences of poor posture, of athleticism, of size and age, of playfulness, of love.
Above me the curves of concentric circles – the outer and lower crescent a mass of dark cloud which hugs the hills and within that a bright crown of brilliant blue sky.
I keep running.
At the end of this stretch of beach the little Jara river deltas out across the sand and carves a channel for itself to the open water. At low tide the channel is shallow and the water cool and almost shockingly clear. I wade through. There’s no particular point in doing so as I customarily turn around here, but I want to. It soothes my calves and feet. I wade back and make my way across the darker sand and up into the grassy bird sanctuary to run along the raised wooden walkway. It soon becomes the promenade.
This is a different Tarifa – far removed from the winding, white-washed alleys of the casco where we live. Apartment blocks lean back in tiered storeys; swimming pools in the tended gardens and locked gates to ensure privacy. There are terraced chill bars here with names like, well, Chill. Colourful graffiti along some of the walls stops the place, and rightly so, from looking too manicured and precious. Along the way there are car parks where surfers have parked for the summer in their volkswagens.
At the waterline, now to my right, I spot the metal detector – digger of holes. I run past the man who always says buenos dias, then past the one who never does. I am soaked in sweat by the time I reach the little open space where the municipality has provided some exercise machines, and I mess about with them a while before the home stretch. It’s still quiet, but not dead – the contrasting types of holiday-maker are apparent. Early morning walkers up for the sea air and perhaps some churros con chocolate stroll past last night’s revellers, covered in blankets and sleeping bags on the sand.
Back at the apartment I get under the shower and change clothes, drink some water and put on a pot of coffee. I sit at the table and power up. Log on.
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