Last night we sat at the beach and watched the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean. As it sank toward the horizon, a layer of wispy clouds decorated its swelling girth with alternating stripes of gold and pale orange. A moment before it touched the water, the bottom of the disk elongated into a river of gold, spilling the remains of the day into the sea. If you listened closely, you could hear the sizzle of fire meeting water as the fiery globe emptied out, sagging like a deflating hot air balloon spreading across the edge of the world. Down, down, down sank the bloated ball until only a tiny arc of molten brilliance remained unquenched by the mighty Atlantic. This last fragment persisted so long that we held our breaths, wondering if this was time standing still, but finally even this remembrance of the day disappeared. Now we know why the ancients imagined a great dragon lurking beyond the Pillars of Hercules, swallowing the sun each evening.
"Our" little town of Conil is perched between the ancient port (and modern city) of Cadiz and Tarifa, the southernmost city of Spain, on a section of coast labelled the "Costa de la Luz." Beach development here is much different from the blight of the Costa del Sol and Conil has the perfect mix of tourist facilities, wide sandy beach, cliff-tops for walking, and remnants of an older town. Although it is a smallish town, every day we find something new. One day it was the municipal market, with its fish stalls displaying things we'd never heard of before but some of which we recognized from the plates we'd been served. Who knew that anchovies are wonderful when quickly deep fried? I had thought they only came oversalted in a can. And the fresh tuna, not cut into thick steaks but into thin fillets, grilled quickly with olive oil, sea salt and garlic--heavenly.
Our average day goes something like this: Get up around 8, watch the news on TV and get ready for breakfast, which isn't served much before 9:30. Our favorite is cafe con leche, which is not at all like the French cafe au lait but stronger, served with a tostada, which in Spain is a split and toasted roll, preferably served with olive oil and a puree of fresh tomato, seasoned with the ubiquitous sea salt. After a strenuous morning of beach walking or other exploration, we start looking for lunch around 2 pm to beat the three o'clock rush. We might have a selection of tapas, which vary wildly in contents, quality and quantity. We've learned to be cautious and order them only one or two at a time to prevent having way too much food. Along with the deep fried anchovies you can get deep fried tiny squids, fried Iberian pork with roasted red peppers, a plate with a selection of Iberian ham and sausage, and our all-time favorite, eggplant stuffed with langostinos, which are something like shrimp only better. There are many more selections available and we haven't tried them all--yet. To limit the weight gain, we've returned to doing the picnic dinner, which usually consists of either ham or pate and fresh bread, a tomato, some cheese, and a couple of glasses of wine. In a restaurant either a beer or a glass of wine will be between 1 and 1.20 euros, while we can buy a really good bottle of wine at the mercado for around 2 or 3 euros. Al usually drinks something called a "clara" which is beer mixed with a lemon drink to bring the alcohol level down to almost nil. With the drunk driving laws in Spain, non-alcholic beers are commonly available. A six-pack at the mercado is about 2 euros. Some evenings we dine out, but others we have just a glass of wine and a cup of coffee--at ten o'clock at night. Quite a change from our desert rat schedule.
One day we drove down to Tarifa which has become the windsurfing capitol of Europe, meaning of course that the wind always blows. From Tarifa, North Africa is right there, across just a few miles of water, much closer than I had envisioned, with the city of Tangier clearly visible on such a clear day. We had thought about going to Gibralter but the traffic through Algeciras was snarled with construction so we settled for a good view across the bay and turned back, content to have seen both of the Pillars of Hercules guarding the Strait of Gibralter. We took the bypass around the busy-ness of Tarifa and found a restaurant on the beach where we had another marvelous meal overlooking a popular kite-surfing beach from behind a nicely sheltering plate glass window. The sky was full of the kites and the surfline crowded with the boarders navigating at a tremendous speed through the surf. We wondered how they avoided getting their lines tangled but apparently they have it figured out. Watching the boarders going down to the beach was another pleasure since they all seemed to have six-pack abs and ripped shoulders and biceps--probably a necessity as well as a result of the sport. Only one female in the whole lot that we noted.
Back in our town, evenings are terrorized by small motos, most of which carry two persons, sometimes three, often all female. There are a few tuner cars cruising on the weekends, but obviously the cruiser of choice is the Vespa-sized two-wheeler. The people-watching is fabulous with all ages and most sizes represented. On the main beach in front of town it is acceptable for women to be topless, but there is a nude beach to the north, down a perilous cliff path. We found it by accident while taking a stroll along the cliff tops and noticed a group of young boys on bicycles who had obviously ridden out along the dirt path so they could look down at the naked women below. Boys are the same everywhere apparently.
To say we are enjoying it here is an understatement. We stop at the window of each real estate company (immobilaria) and see what they had for sale or rent. Buying is not cheap but rentals are amazingly affordable, except of course for August when the price of accommodations literally doubles. We dream about which luxury apartment we'd like to own, which one has the best view of the sea and, on a clear day, a view of North Africa to the south, with absolutely nothing but the setting sun to the west.