Thursday, 15 September 2011

Working that windswept look in Tarifa

By the time my summer holiday rolled around, the whole office knew about it. 'Oh, are you going away somewhere?' they mocked, understandably sick of hearing about my beach break for the hundredth time. Pesada, me? I was so excited about a few days of switching off, sunbathing and worrying about nothing more taxing then where my next meal was coming from to care.

Welcome to Spain, welcome to Tarifa

The gusts of wind that had me frantically clawing the hem of my beach dress southwards as we made our way to the hostal should have been a strong enough indication of what was in store. Of course I'd heard that since Tarifa is the southernmost tip of Europe, straddling both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, it's lucky enough to be besieged by the double whammy of levante and poniente winds. This makes the town popular with surfers, but as we soon learned, it can complicate matters for the average holidaymaker.

All quiet on the beach: how deceptive images can be

After a leisurely lunch at Cafe Central, we made our way to Tarifa's main beach, on the Atlantic side. A wide expanse of sand barely occupied on a Monday afternoon, it seemed ideal for a spot of sunbathing. Sure, it was a bit breezy, but a pair of hardy northerners like me and V would be fine. Plonking our beach towels down, we delved in our bags for the sun cream: mistake #1. Applying the lotion with one hand while desperately attempting to prevent a towel from taking flight requires both patience and dexterity. Just when you think you've mastered it and managed to plaster your white bits with enough cream to prevent epic sunburn, a raging gust of levante whips half a ton of sand onto your body and you're wearing the beach. Sand suits well and truly on, we persevered, valiantly trying to make progress with our holiday reading material. After half an hour, my wind-ruffled book was double its previous size; we looked like a pair of human croquetas who had backcombed their hair and then slept on it for a week. There was only one thing for it: we needed a cup of tea.

Beach abandoned, we spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from our ordeal and people-watching over cups of tea at Bamboo. Time and people move slowly in Tarifa, and the town's laid-back vibe suited us just fine after the beach incident. From our vantage point on the cafe's terrace, we could see the Tangier-bound ferry in the harbour, its klaxon sounding before each departure: in just 35 minutes, you can disembark in another continent. Its coastline visible from Tarifa, Morocco's influence on the town is just as discernible in the North African-infuenced menus, the whitewashed walls, the styles of dress. Added to the cosmopolitan mix of boho types and the town's laid-back ambience, and the reason for Tarifa's popularity is clear. It may not be the ideal beach destination when the levante's blowing unless you're a surfing enthusiast (or enjoy a powerful exfoliation while you sunbathe), but this pretty coastal town has more than enough charm to compensate.

As the afternoon stretched into evening, we traded tea for tinto de verano. After a pre-dinner dinner (my favourite meal of the day) of Greek salad and a veggie burger, we returned to Hostal La Calzada to remove what was left of the beach from our limbs (and bags, and hair). Spruced up, de-sanded and ready to explore, a quick wander of the old town quickly assured us that even on a Monday night, Tarifa is jumping. After a few drinks and tapas, we ended up ensconced in a bar watching an eclectic mixture of customers tango-ing their way into the small hours.

Tanning fuel

On day two, we chose to concentrate on what we decided Tarifa does best: food. After a substantial breakfast of muesli, yoghurt, fruit, coffee and juice, we came up with a creative solution to our tanning dilemma: after all, I couldn't go back to the office as pasty and pale as I'd left it. Half an hour later, we were seated by the harbour watching the comings and goings of the ferry from our very own sand-free beach: a lovely patch of concrete. Tarifa, I loved you, I just didn't want to wear you.

Hasta luego, Tarifa

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