Along the coast

I felt more at home with the worn travelers and scruffy men bumming cigarettes than I had browsing a mall full of things I didn’t need and lounging in Pad Thai Wok after my pad thai was gone and all I had left was C.S. Lewis.

I moved on to Willa Cather at the bus station. A French speaker asked for a cigarette. A worn man asked for 80 cents. Neither bothered me. I belonged enough not to care that I had a bad hair day and the hem of my skirt was brown from being too long on dirty streets two days in a row.

A group of loud Americans clambered off the bus. I knew they were American before I heard them speak. –Why are we such a loud culture?– Their laughter pulsated under the metal roof.

A retired Baptist preacher introduced himself. We’re involved in the same sort of work, he said. But he’s short term and I’m long term. That’s about as far as we got before my bus pulled up and nearly bumped us with its stout nose.

It was the end of my stay in Málaga for a two-day literacy training. I could post pictures of my trip, but the truth is, the hours I wasn’t in training, I was parked on my airbnb couch, basking in the aloneness.

Besides my trip to Málaga shortly before the coronavirus lockdown, my roommate and I also spent a day in Adra. Yes, there is a pattern: both Málaga and Adra are along the coast. Sound lovely?

Well, I’m not going to lie; the trip to Adra wasn’t great. The wind quickly banished my dream of lounging on the beach for countless hours. To say nothing of the few rude people that cast a shadow over the rest of the trip. But, I’ll flood you with pictures that make you believe our trip was a blast. Really, it was okay, but it might be a while before I go back. (And next time, I’ll bring my own personal bathroom and a can of pepper spray.)

When in North Africa- Part 2

“My family wants to meet you. And my husband’s family too.”

My friend had told me this long before we left on our trip. “I’m not from Bollywood. I’m just your friend.” 

“I know, I know.”

Despite her “knowing,” the family treated my roommate and me like queens. But as the week wore on, their attentiveness to our every perceived need wore off. We were grateful. 

We could actually scrub our own clothes, help mop the floors, and vacuum the salon rug. They let us cut up vegetables for couscous. And I made a hot kettle of Indian chai just because my friend likes it.

My friend wasn’t about to let my crazy side go unnoticed. She had known me too long. That’s why at breakfast one morning, she said, “Trish, do your camel noise!”

I wasn’t about to MRRRRAAAW in front of an assembly of people I barely knew. (And I couldn’t remember why I ever had reason to MRRRRAAAW in front of my friend in the first place.) I talked my way out of it.

We visited various nearby cities, glutting ourselves on grilled seafood (including caviar, which was a thoughtful touch if not a tasty one), taking a boat ride, eating too-sweet ice cream in the welcome shade of an ice cream truck, and haggling prices while shopping. We spent an entire evening in my favorite city, staring at the ocean and smelling the fresh sea creatures in the fishing port. My roommate and I nudged each other as we passed a table full of snake-like eels, a sting ray, and a shark.

Another evening, we picnicked on the beach and came home to play games and chat until we had laughed ourselves to tears.

boats in a lagoon
shaded table full of fried seafood
North Africa market street
cliffs along atlantic seaside
silhouettes swimming along atlantic coastline

I wanted to hold on to some of those moments. I tried to savor them while they lasted, but when I look back, their ghostly flavor still lingers in my mind, proof that I never finished tasting them. 

During that final supper under the grape arbor, they made me balance on a stool on top of the table to cut down a cluster of ripe grapes.

They scolded us for quoting the proverb that guests and fish stink after 3 days. “But,” a brother said kindly. “After 3 days, you’re not guests anymore; you’re family.”

Night at the beach

It is evening as I descend from the bus stop to the beach. Red-faced, dripping families are ascending after their rigorous seaside adventure. Is it too much to hope for a quiet evening, alone with God and the waves?

I get closer until I can smell the salty water. Brightly colored towels hang from the balconies of a beachfront hotel.

Despite those who have left, there are people everywhere. I am not the only one who thought of enjoying the post-sunshine beach. Laughter punctuates the dull roar of voices.

I slip off my shoes and enter the chaos. The thick sand is rough against my bare feet. Each step half-buries my foot. I find the quietest spot available, spread out my towel, and shake my head at an African vendor who is trying to make a sale.

The waves froth over the rocks. A jet-ski roars past, spinning to dance in its own wake. A boat skims along, a child in an inner tube bouncing and shrieking behind. Another boat passes, this one with less drama.

The sun disappears and the air is almost cool. But the sand still sticks to my sweaty arm as I reach down to adjust my towel.

I soak in the moment. Just as it is.

The night thickens and so does the salty scent of the waves. And finally, I pick up my things and start the uphill plod. I can’t hear the waves anymore. A bustling restaurant is playing Caribbean music while customers sit in wicker chairs shaped like hard-boiled eggs.

That fades too. And it’s just me and a few other panting stragglers going uphill toward home.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… in Almería

My roommate, a friend, and I spent a chilly afternoon on the beach before checking out what Christmas looks like in Almería. We sampled roasted chestnuts, feasted on chicken and potatoes, tried to find an elusive tea shop, browsed through a Christmas market, and walked and walked and walked until I was sure we had worn holes in the soles of our shoes.

giant bethlehem manger scene
An entire room of a Bethlehem scene
chestnuts roasting in a pan over a fire
“Chestnuuuuuts rooooasting on an open fiiiiiire.”
brightly lit row of market stalls
A Christmas market

Holidays in the desert

Spending Christmas and New Years in disputed territory sounds exotic. And it was. Not in a dangerous sort of way, but in a different sort of way.

aerial view of snow-capped mountains and desert

Flying in from the north gave us a view of breathtaking scenery. First there was green, then snow-capped mountains, and last of all desert: vast stretches of orange that melted into the sky without a horizon. Later, we discovered the reason for that: wind.

aerial view of expanse of desert and blue sky
dry desert floor with sand dune in the background
man's hands pouring tea
desert flower blooming between cracks in desert floor

Who could turn down a cup of tea in the middle of the desert? But even in the driest parts of the desert, there was life… signs that deserts will bloom. We also visited an oasis. It was a beautiful and forsaken piece of green property on the way to nowhere.

date palms

We stayed in a small town where few foreigners roam, everything is everyone’s business, and camel meat is cheaper than beef. We stopped at lots of checkpoints,  visited a nearby fishing village, ate ourselves sick of fresh fish, stuck our toes in the chilly ocean, watched fishermen bring in the day’s catch, rolled down a sand dune (getting sand in our eyes, ears, noses and carrying it home in our pockets),  met a few camels and tasted them too.

fried fish and french fries with coke on restaurant table
two women in saharan wraps walking along coastline while little boy plays in sand
silhouettes of fishermen on peninsula with sunset in the background
small octopus on hook
camel sign along highway
young camels looking at camera
camel tagine
shoes next to carpet in light coming from doorway

But best of all, we got to meet people with years and years of rich nomadic history.