We very nearly didn’t make it to Malaga at all – or at least our arrival was nearly punctuated by a large explosion and the scraping of a wing along the runway. The weather didn’t seem that bad, but flying into Malaga airport the plane lurched from side to side, jolted viciously up and down and very nearly caused the woman in front of us to redecorate the front of her blouse. I’ve been on turbulent flights before, but this particular one caused the plane to tip over at an out-of-control 30-degree angle for large parts of the approach to the airport, and had even the group of sporty looking lads in the front shouting and murmuring worriedly into their sleeves. To cut a not particularly long story short, Helena and I were very, very glad to get down.
I’d like to blame the journey for the slightly shaky start to my driving, thought that might be being a little kind on myself. We’d managed to rent a Ford Focus C-Max for the slightly ridiculous price of 52 Euro for 4 days (surely the insurance would cost more than that?), but before the weekend I hadn’t driven (South Korean mopeds apart) for a good two years, and the crunching of gears and systematic stalling as we left the rental shop onto a worryingly busy highway no doubt reflected that. I don’t think there was a puff of smoke, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there was. Having negotiated a couple of very dubious roundabouts, my confidence grew and we headed for the coast.
After a few minutes we came to Torremolinos. This beachside tourist resort is very much a package deal kind of place, and in February looks a lot like a particularly vicious storm’s just blown through it all, and the entire populations fled elsewhere. We were treated to the storms milder aftermath: a gentle drizzle that pounded against the windscreen as we watched the waves amble up the beach and parked up outside the only open restaurant on the sea front. I was starting to doubt the wisdom of a trip to Spain in mid February – the best thing about it seemed to be the temperature is slightly warmer than Dublin – but the negativity didn’t last for long.
Dani – my Spanish language exchange partner – recommended I sample ‘Calamaritos Fritos’ (fried baby squid), which were pretty much exactly what they said on the tin. I got a plate of whole battered squid, each about an inch in length and drenched in lemon juice, with fresh bread and olives on the side (is it possible to buy a meal in Spain without Olives? I’m pretty sure we didn’t manage it… ). Helena had the Dorado, and both were fantastic, and very affordable.
Heading west along the coast, the tacky tourist districts slowly made way for rolling hillsides and empty beaches, and the sun even put in an appearance. We stopped off in San Pedro, a tiny little village about two thirds of the way to Gibraltar, to top up on cheap wine (wine starts at less than one Euro a bottle in Spain!) and jars of Olives for the rest of the journey, and pushed on until the sun went down to get to Gibraltar for the night.
The border crossing into Gibraltar involved an extremely cursory glance at the covers of passports, and we were sent on into the town and some of the tiniest roads I’ve ever had to drive on. The whole island of Gibraltar is a maze of one-way systems. Miss your exit, and you’re liable to be driving around for another ten minutes before it turns up again. The roads are often a car width + a few inches wide, and hotels are strategically positioned to be out of view until just after the point at which it would be possible to turn off towards them. The locals, of course, all charge around the place like footpath-sized roads are the most natural thing in the world, and love nothing more than to honk their horn at you should you choose to do something as odd as slow down for a corner.
We eventually found our way to the Bristol Hotel. It’s fair to say I was quite relieved.
Being pitch black by this point, Gibraltar’s rock was barely evident against the skyline, with only the disappearing slope hinting at its existence. We found Gibraltar Main Street on a Thursday night to be quieter than a night out in a cemetery, but did manage to find a Cornish pasty shop to pick up some good old English cuisine. The extremely young girl behind the counter has what sounded suspiciously like a West Country accent, and they didn’t serve Olives, though I’m pretty sure they would have if we’d asked. Having decided the Gibraltar night scene looked like something best enjoyed in amused hindsight, Helena and I retreated to the hotel for some ludicrously cheap bottles of beer (any brand for 1.20, shot and mixers for the same – and I thought Spain was good value!), before hitting the sack. I’m pretty sure I was still shaking from the flight.
Day 2 (and 3, and 4) to follow!