Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sweltering South of Spain

While temperatures are said to reach the 100ºs in the south of Spain, practically a desert land, in between Joseba's medical appointment and visa interview, we decided to venture down there for some much-needed relax time.

Joseba's brother graciously offered us his camping van for the week so that we could cruise down to the southeast of the country to a National Park called Cabo de Gata which boasts gorgeous beaches everywhere you look.  We were completely on board and just went - not much research or anything - ready to enjoy the sun and turquoise water for days on end.

The 6-hour drive from Madrid to Cabo de Gata was lengthy and our first stop was to the touristy town called San José.  While it once was a fishing village, it has since become a tourist haven with restaurants, shops and a beach that seemed to be packed even when we arrived at 8pm.  With only 900-something year-round residents, the place was full of tourists who come to spend the entire summer in the Mediterranean waters.  We had a quick dinner at one of the restaurants and then headed a bit out of town to a place called Cala de la Higuera, where we set up the van for sleeping and camping heaven.

In the morning we emerged from the van with high hopes of a small private little beach and were quite disappointed when we saw yes a small beach but a huge group of people who had set up their sleeping bags all over the beach, essentially taking over it.  We closed the van's top and hoped in looking for greener pastures...or bluer sea, I guess you could say.

On the advice of the tourist booth we passed while entering, we headed to another beach called El Embarcadero.  When we arrived we got a good feeling as we saw many camper vans and motor homes.  We parked and jumped out, ready to get our feet in the sand.  As we headed down, we saw medium-sized sandyish/pebbleish beach and then a small little walkway that lead to some huge rocks and decided to go that route, hoping for a small private beach!  We were in luck and set down our towels, took off our swimsuits and lathered on the sun block.  Throughout the entire trip, we tanned naked - as nudism at the beach in the south is quite common.  A great way to avoid any tan line, we had done it before in Tenerife in the Canary Islands and decided to go with the flow and get a full  body tan.  This pic was originally taken in my birthday suit, but for the blog we have painted a swimsuit on me :)

This little beach was basically our home base for the entire trip.  We had done a big shop when we got into town and with the fridge, stove and sink in the van, happily lived the life of sun and sea.  Being quite hot, we agreed that snorkeling was in order and on the second day whipped out the flippers and goggles and started to appreciate our little beach for not only the view from land but all the richness that was happening under the small waves.  From bright orange starfish and hundreds of little fish scurrying around, we were most excited to spot a stingray floating around!

The Park, Cabo de Gata, is the largest land-sea park on the Western Mediterranean, covering some 460km.  With various habitats, our snorkeling allowed us to explore the maritime seagrass beds that were full of sealife.  From the beach, we could see the steppe habitat in the duney mountains.  With the lowest rainfall in the Iberian Pennisula (about 4in to 7in annually according to Wikipedia), the hills were dry as bones and the low-lying bushes that covered in this extremely arid zone.

After a few days enjoying the scenery from sun up to sun down, we meandered up the coast looking for something different and settled at El Playazo, a massive sandy beach dotted with colorful beer-branded umbrellas.  With turquoise water covering the white sand, the beach has to look like a Mediterranean heaven from above.

After a night of loud neighbors, we set off the next morning to fill up the gas tank, water tank and search for another hot spot.  While the shoreline was dotted with deluxe camping vans, tons of tan people and great view points, the interior was a bit more shocking.  In an area where houses were just receiving electricity in the home about 7 years ago, it was not so surprising that when we were filling the van's water tank to find ourself with people filling water jugs for thier weekly water.  There was one African man that had a huge container that he tried to carry while riding his bike.  Just getting on the bike and pushing off was almost an impossible task and Joseba helped him by holding the bike steady while he mounted the bike and then headed off, one hand on the handlebars and the other holding a 20 gallon jug.  

Once a mining paradise, the Cabo de Gata area has been scoured for anything and everything - gold, jasper, silver, amythests, agates and more.  While now abandoned, the mines still remain, crumbling in the desert heat.  Cities that were built up around them for those who came from far and wide to dig their luck also sit uninhabited and give a shabby look to small hillside villages covered in stark white paint.

While some houses were decaying before our eyes as we whizzed past, some have been remodeled and made into desert oasises.  Stucco and adobe style homes with a touch of Arabic design dotted the area.  Even with sparse water supply, some had decorated their yards with plants accustomed to the weather - namely the cabo de gata plant itself.  A tall flowering tree that seems to grow at an angle wherever we saw it, this namesake plant was curious to say the least.

As we made our way up the coast looking for an inlet to compare with the one we had found at El Embarcadero, we passed beaches that were framed by black volcanic rock, beaches with white sand and clear water and little whitewashed villages.  We  had our hearts set on the majestic Playa de los Muertos, which translates as the Beach of the Dead; although it doesn't sound catchy had a pristine stretching beach as far as the eye could see.  However, when we arrived we had to pay to even enter the beach and we knew that in this almost tourist unspoilt area, we  had found a tourist trap.  We elected to head back to our little spot and enjoy the rest of the blasting heat next to the beach.  So named, the Playa de los Muertos is said to be the spot where the current carries the dead Africans who try immigrating to Europe via boat and don't make it.  Supposedly it didn't used to be so uncommon to find dead bodies, clothes and personal belongings.

Back to our regular spot we were surprised to find some new unwanted beachgoers - jellyfish.  Besides in an aquarium, I had never seen one and was quite curious but terrified at the same time.  We convinced ourself to refrain from our snorkeling desires and the next day headed to a new, less jelly-fish infested spot - another gorgeous inlet that was deserted and only for us.  We splashed in the crystal-clear water, took water jumping photos and floated peacefully for quite some time, while unbeknowest to us, our false friends were lurking nearby.  While out in the water, Joseba spotted one and I tensed up so as to not moved an inch and in doing so, brushed my leg against one that was much closer that we hadn't seen.  What pain!  From never seeing one to getting stung by one is not progress I was happy to have made but I managed to get out of the water and examine the two-lagged slash that it had made of the back of my leg. 

Having both seen the show Friends, we immediatley thought of the episode where Monica gets stung by a jellyfish and Joey pees on it to cure it.  Having no clue if it worked or not, we decided to try it, but as Joseba peed all over my leg, I couldn't help laughing at the fact that it wasn't helping the pain subside at all.  If anything, it distracted me from the constant burning feeling I felt where it had slapped me.  After disproving that theory the pain eventually went away and we were able to relax on the rocky beach.  After that incident we barely entered the water for the rest of our trip.

Said to be the most untouched part of the Mediterranean Sea, our five days were amazing in the area and offered us complex relaxation (minus our jellyfish stings - Joseba got stung the day after me).  Having the sun shine through the van windows each morning, creating a long orange mirror on the water was a great way to start each day and made for a lovely vacation.


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