In Plenary, Production on August 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

It’s Sunday August 7th. We have stayed with friends who were celebrating their engagement and are on our way back to Tarifa – a little the worse for wear but looking forward to a dip in the Atlantic and pleasantly cowed into submission by the glory of the day.

There is no haze. Even before we reach San Roque or Algeciras we can see both Pillars of Hercules aligned in front of us, the dirty industrial sweep of the bay dwarfed by the more enduring features of the Rock and Jebel Musa.

At Algeciras we run into some traffic which clears a little on the other side, but as soon as we have ascended the mountain road to Pelayo we find ourselves back in it; at a standstill in fact – a first for us on this road. K doesn’t suppose the police would be running checks on a Sunday, so we assume there has been an accident and that a lane has been closed off somewhere ahead.

We’re feeling cheerful – and therefore patient – so we sit and chat, untroubled by the delay; perhaps just a little apprehensive that we will see something awful at the site of the crash. Then we round the first of many bends on this spectacular and winding road and know instantly that whatever we see there, we won’t be seeing it for a while.

A distant curve in the road is visible ahead of and above us – it’s a good three kilometres away and we can see from here that the traffic is at a crawl there too. Stop, go, stop, go. When we reach it some time later and a little less cheerful we can see that the line of cars continues to continue. There’s a bridge just before Tarifa and I begin to wonder whether there has been a partial collapse or something, the disruption is so great. Then K suggests another possibility.

“Could this just be…?”


“You don’t think this might just be…?”




“Well…maybe it’s just…that this many people are going to Tarifa, today.”

“What a horrible notion. No, it couldn’t be. They wouldn’t fit.”

We have passed the mirador now and I can see the perfectly intact bridge. Tarifa is near. We won’t be there any time soon though. The long line carries on just as it has done since Pelayo – an inexorable ooze like water drops sucked slowly up a stem’s arteries. The truth is unavoidable – K is right.

Spain is a flower that blooms in the summer time. In a great fanning out, the suffering inhabitants of Sevilla, Cordoba, Toledo and Madrid flee in all directions – a blossoming of city dwellers into the countryside, desperate for a breeze or a bit of altitude. And across the country a mass movement from the centre towards the Costas like the opening of petals.

Summer here is a force of nature that rushes through people as much as through landscape or weather. It was certainly on display in Casares last night. Like everywhere else in Andalucia, Casares holds its Feria in Summer. The little town teeters on clifftops so there is no room for a fairground – the streets of the town itself are filled with bumper cars, bouncy castles, bizarre drag acts and burger stands.

They are illuminated. We walk in a blue light between florescent food vendors and flashing multicolours. It’s like strolling through a scene from Avatar. In all directions from the basin-like main square the streets shoot out and up like filaments from a nectary.

It’s still early by Spanish standards – not yet 1am. The local youth are still waiting, gathered outside town in a car park here and a clearing there and having a few drinks, before coming in and making their way to the main stage; all light and colour and noise. This is where the biology of the night will flower.

God knows what goes on there. There is something so reproductive about the whole thing. It’s easy to imagine a sizeable proportion of the local population has its origins in Feria and that it’s been that way for a very long time.

When we finally get back to apartment we hide there experiencing something like shock. A few hours later we brave the beach. In Tarifa the sand starts just outside the port – more or less in town – and stretches in a north westerly direction for around ten kilometres. Even as we approach between the fishing boats and freidurias I can sense a difference.

As we reach the promenade and get our first view I cannot believe what I am seeing. To our left the tiny and sheltered Playa Chica looks like a refugee camp. Umbrellas and shanty constructions conceal every inch of it. To our right Los Lances points like a palm frond into the distance.

It looks like the end of the world; like some cataclysmic upheaval, some great exodus. If the thousands of souls in the water were to get out at the same time there probably wouldn’t be room for them on the land. It is a bad day at the office for a life guard but the ice cream kiosks will do well.

The petal’s edge. The full flush of life. In reaching for the sun it frays a little and darkens. It gets dry. It wilts. It recedes.

I can’t wait.

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  1. I would be devastated to see my private little home overtaken by tourists. This is my tranquility and beauty… go find your own 🙂

  2. Unfortunately no beautiful place goes unspoiled.

    • Indeed – it’s a big destination for citydwelling Spaniards but luckily only in July/August and mainly it seems in August. By the beginning of October it will be our quiet little town again 🙂

  3. I had difficulty pulling out my favorite line from this post, but here it is: an inexorable ooze like water drops sucked slowly up a stem’s arteries.

    We are autumn people through and through. I wait all summer to sense a chill in the morning air – usually around late August early September here in the Pacific NW. I may sound a bit like a depressed teenage goth (perhaps part of me still is) but fall feeds my soul. Changing leaves, storms, upturned collars – these are a few of my favorite things…

    • I expect you get good fall foliage up in your neck of the woods. I like autumn too – it’s still warm here in the days but you get lovely fresh mornings and the swarms of people are gone. Don’t get me wrong; the summer has had it’s moments – a glorious weekend in Granada, getting knocked over by Atlantic surf, running in the early mornings, crystal clear views up in the mountains and so much more. But I could live with a little less company.

  4. So many of the best places in the world get ruined in summer – we dreaded having to plan where we would be in July and August. You have to pick somewhere but you know inevitably it’s going to be a bit spoilt by all the tourists. But hey, we’re tourists too so we can’t really feel too hard done by…

    • I have a job in a language academy now that means I’m tied to the academic year and will have to take holidays in July/August – it’s something I’ve avoided for decades and I’m going to have to get creative to make it work my way. Because beaches full of extended family units isn’t doing it for me…

  5. I always love reading your articles Robin, but have been too busy lately!! But I reckon if you headed inland for 30 minutes it would be just the normal quiet “minding their own business” existence? Don’t forget the sunblock!

    • Great to hear from you John – yes it’s definitely a coastal thing, although successive ferias mean there’s a bit of summer craziness everywhere…

  6. Oh my gosh, that doesn’t sound pleasant. I remember experiencing intense traffic jams in Germany on the holiday weekends in May. We probably spent two or three extra hours on the road. It was hell. But, I never saw beaches like you are describing. Ugh.I hope it goes away quickly for you.

  7. October’s right around the corner, so hopefully you’d get the peaceful little town back 🙂 I can imagine how frustrating it’d be to want to go on a “getaway” but instead ending up in “big city traffic”!

  8. Chile is the same way. During the summer, Santiaguinos flee from the city, only to collapse all the smaller beach towns with the massive population that invades them!

    Glad it wasn’t bridge collapse though 🙂

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