Sunday, April 19, 2009

El Atún Encebollao Y El Toro Embolao

The, always well deserved, South of Watford Easter break this year was spent in Cadiz, exploring a part of Spain’s southern coastline that has so far escaped the worst ravages of the construction boom. We stayed just by the beach of Bolonia, a long, beautiful stretch of sand with barely enough construction to even qualify it as a village.

Despite the low population, people have lived in this part of the world for a long time. Bolonia has its own Roman ruins just beside the beach, the site of Baelo Claudia; still presided over by this statue of the “Spanish” emperor Trajan.

At one end of the beach there is a vast, and seemingly unstoppable, sand dune.

Walking over the other side of the dune in search of a way through to the next beach we came across another reason why this area is still relatively undeveloped; much of the land belongs to the military. Eventually we found our way around the signs prohibiting entry to get to the lighthouse of Punta Camarinal, the gully of a dried up stream bed connects through to there from Bolonia.

One of the other reasons why development has not overwhelmed this area is that this is still the Atlantic, the sea is colder and rougher here than on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. On day 2 we took what turned out in retrospect out to be a rash decision; to walk from Bolonia to Spain’s most southerly point at Tarifa. The first few kilometres were fine, walking mostly on the wild beach and occasionally just above it we got round to the next beach and Tarifa came into sight in the distance. Tarifa is a paradise for kite and wind surfers, and we were obviously there on a good day for it.

Walking down Tarifa’s beach was like walking through a vast encampment of kite surfers, I felt completely out of place because I wasn’t dragging a huge kite against the wind. Half way down the beach the town still didn’t seem to be getting any closer and we decided at the 15 km mark that perhaps we could leave seeing Tarifa for another day. The walk back was more difficult, we were walking into the wind and the tide was in, meaning that the beach in some areas had almost disappeared. The decision had been made, and we had to deal with the consequences; but I couldn’t help feeling envious of all those who had just found a quiet spot on the beach hidden from the wind. Anyway, we earned our pre-dinner beer in the chiringuito back at Bolonia. Later for dinner we tried the local speciality in this part of the world (at least while stocks last), atún encebollao. As we found out in the resturant, not only can the tuna be "encebollao", but also "entomatao"!

Day 3 saw us leave the coast to go to another protected area, the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales. This is an impressive cork tree forest that extends far inland from the coast near to Tarifa.

In theory you need to have a permit to enter the park, we’d applied for one but got no response and the people in the information office more or less acknowledged that the system doesn’t seem to be working. We opted for a 500 metre ascent up to the peak of El Picacho. This is not a long route, it can be done quite easily in a couple of hours. The area is beautiful at this time of year before the heat of summer dries out much of the vegetation, and the views from the top are worth it.

Leaving the hills behind we went down to Tarifa the easy way, by road. Frankly, I don’t know why we bothered, the town itself is a bit of a neglected dump and we were very glad we had taken the decision to stay in Bolonia rather than here. On the other hand, you get very fine views of Africa from Tarifa.

For our last day before heading back home we went to visit the village of Vejer de la Frontera. We imagined a quiet Sunday morning stroll around a peaceful Andalucian village, what we got was a bit different. It seems that Easter Sunday in Vejer is celebrated with the “toro embolao”, a bull run through the narrow streets of the centre. Half of the villagers were already a little unsteady on their feet due to the bars doing such good business on a festive day, and to get anywhere we had to squeeze through the bars of the gates that had been set up at intervals to close off the running space. A quick walk around the old part and we decided to leave before the action began, I don’t think this is one of those events where they set the bull’s horns on fire but I didn’t really feel like staying to find out. It's a nice village, but this wasn't the day.

Let’s get together and have a battle….the Cabo de Trafalgar.

Our trip ended down by the sea in Conil de la Frontera, which was another pleasant surprise. Although the village has obviously expanded in size in recent years it’s still quite small and has a huge beach stretching all the way back up to Trafalgar. We’ve been told by people who know that in summer it’s almost insufferably crowded, not a problem at Easter. Even though the weather wasn’t as good as it could have been we didn’t do too badly compared to other parts of the country, and life felt good as we ate our lunch in the warm spring sunshine before returning to colder realities.


Katie said...

Nice trip! I was in Tarifa at the beginning and end of our trip to Morocco and have to say I disagree with your description of it as a "dump." The old part has a sort of decadent whitewashed charm and, if anything, is being overrun by posh stores selling surf gear. And it has a gorgeous stretch of (windy) beach. Watching the kite/windsurfers is pretty entertaining, too!

Graeme said...

"Dump" is a bit mild compared to the word I used when I was there! There are a few nice buildings in the old part but the rest of the town is awful. The beach is wide and windy, but the ones further down the coast are much nicer. I'm not saying its necessarily the worst place in Spain, but I'm still very glad we chose to stay where we did.