Time Shares and Rip Tides

One of my least favorite places in Europe is the Costa del Sol. When I’m not calling it “strip malled and parking metered,” I call it “bikini-strangled and Nivea-creamed.”

To me, it’s just endless condos filled with people who are there because they have free rooms in time shares. (It seems every time someone in the USA tells me they’re going to Malaga, I don’t say “yuk,” I ask “why?” They say, “Time share.”)

The Costa del Sol is just right for the tourists who fill it. There are enclaves that cater to various rainy cultures from the north. One town will be filled with Belgians, the next Swedes, and the next Scots — all able to still have their local brews, newspapers….and buy them from people who speak their language. The attraction: a change of weather without a change of culture. In some restaurants, the stray Spaniard complains that they can’t find a Spanish menu. Whenever I’m driving through I tune my car radio to “Sun Coast Radio” — the station for ex-pat Brits.

But west of Gibraltar it’s windy and the water is cooler. That was great…it kept out the sun-seekers and development. Tarifa has long been the South Spain of my dreams. Then the wind actually became a boon. For North European windsurfers, Tarifa — with its strong winds — has become a mecca.

The wind was up, so I drove out west of Tarifa for the spectacle. Munching my dish of paella in the lee side of a hedge, I watched the action. The world felt like an aquarium with way too many fish. Wetsuit-clad windsurfers jetted like skeeter bugs across the choppy water. And — something I haven’t seen before — countless brightly colored kites filled the sky as they powered surfers across the sea. To add to the color, flags flapped all around as if to celebrate the famously steady Tarifa winds.

Locals say this is the only place in the world where you can see two continents and two seas from the same vantage point. The mountains of Morocco stood crisp across the straits. Behind me, a forest of sleek windmills whirled with attitude. And the women in the thatched restaurant called out another hungry surfer’s name as the latest batch of paella was ready. From this vantage point, the world seemed healthy and at peace.

Back in Tarifa, I walked through the fortified gate and climbed the ramparts of the castle named for Guzmán El Bueno. Guzman earned his nickname 800 years ago when he stood where I stood, looking down at Moorish invaders who wanted into the town. They held Guzman’s little son hostage. As if in a movie, the Moors (Muslim invaders from North Africa) said, “open the door or we kill the boy.” Guzman said “hell no” and defiantly tossed them his knife to do the job. They slit his son’s throat, but Guzman held out and the town was saved. Bueno.

Stepping into the church (most churches in this part of Spain are built upon the ruins of a mosque which was built upon the ruins of a church), I see a painting of a favorite local saint. He’s called James the Moor Slayer. He was portrayed doing what he always does — lopping off Muslim heads.

Next to the church is the office of a “Save the Whales” group that takes tourists on whale-watching excursions, raising awareness of the plight caused by shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar. They hope to make the straits an international nature preserve (which would have shipping lanes steer clear of feeding grounds, among other things). These whale-lovers expressed frustration, saying progress was stalled because Muslim culture (Morocco) had no real affinity for creatures other than humans.

Here — where Africa, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Christendom and Islam all come together — a few cultural rip tides should surprise no one. Whales and dolphins know that where there are rip tides, there is food. Wind surfers know there’s excitement. I like to think there’s a positive aspect of intercultural rip tides for Christians and Muslims too. Perhaps it’s just hiding.


22 Replies to “Time Shares and Rip Tides”

  1. Spain sounds very much alive and well. I’d love to go whale watching there. Keep on treking!

  2. I have just finished planning a trip for my wifes 50th birthday, she made me use all of your books to plan it out-
    We will be in italy 5/17 – 25 then Paris 5/25-29 then england untill return 6/6.
    If there is any chance that I could “bump” into you when filming, that would be a great surprise for her-

    “flooperdave” Thomas

  3. Costa Del Sol

    Candy floss, beanies, whipped ice cream cones, carnival games, fish and chips, tacky pubs…..a little Blackpool, Brighton or even old time Skerries of the south.

    A short visit is fun…like being in an English seaside resort.

    One added item not found in the above towns….topless sunbathers…

    And great Spanish hill towns are only a short drive …Arcos, Ronda for example….

  4. We just returned from Spain 5/1. Traveling with Rick Steve’s Spain 2007 in hand we had a great trip. One of our favorite places we stayed was Finca la Guzmana just outside of Ronda. Great breakfasts, helpful host Peter, and a good base for exploring Ronda, the white hill towns, and the Pileta caves. We agree with the description of the Costa del Sol and made our way north with only a stop in Nerja. We couldn’t believe the high rise condos and construction cranes everywhere all up the coast!

  5. I get to work early sip my coffee and let you take me away for a short time while i read your blog. cant think of a better way to start my day!
    I am heading to Europe Sept 19 or so until December 31, was planning on using your guide (Europe in 2 months)and head off on my own, but now thinking i may join a few of your tours? I have never been to Europe (from Northern Canada) and look forward to your recommendations on which tour(s) to take. Any 2 month tours?? lol


  6. Sorry Rick. Sent two days in Tarifia in March. Weather was great, found a great resturant in a back street cubby hole but the town was very unkept. The cleaniness of Spain has not found it’s way to Tarifia. It might of been the wrong time of year but I think I would skip it the next time.

  7. Tarifa is one of my favorite places – gorgeous little town and beautiful scenic beaches that aren’t too crowded (and I was there in July). Of course, I also learned to kite-surf there – an activity that I highly recommend – so I may be biased.

  8. Cordoba is my favorite city in Spain primarily because I spent the spring-2004 semester there, living with a family in one of the old neighborhoods. I went back to visit last May, not because I wanted to see the Mesquita again, but to visit with old friends. One of the trip’s highlights was watching my husband having the time of his life dancing with the flamenco-clad sister-in-law of my former hosts. You’re right, Steve, it’s really all about the people.

  9. Once again I followed you enraptured and hanging on your every word. The picture you painted of the story you told brought me right there.

    One day I hope to travel as you do, or somewhat closely to what you do. There really is more to life than these 4 office walls.

    Thank you for the mini mental vacation. :)

  10. My wife’s painting workshop was based in Torremolinos in 2002. After reading your book, I was prepared for the worst. We actually rather liked it as a “staging area.” Most days were spent in hill towns (like Ronda), in Granada, or in fishing villages. Evenings we found restaurants catering to a variety of tastes. And one of the best that we found for lunch was along the boardwalk. I conversed in broken guide-book Spanish; they conversed in broken English. We got a delicious meal that changed my previous attitude of hating olives. I guess we were there in an off-season (late May). But our experience there was definitely better than yours.

  11. We also used your wonderful guidebook during a trip to Spain…the highlight of which was a sidetrip to Tangiers. We met the most interesting people and were lucky to have a meaningful conversation with a native Moroccan…a real eye-opener. I agree with your desciption of the Costa del Sol; however, we really enjoyed the Picasso museum/birthplace in Malaga. Actually, we enjoyed everything about Spain but were surprised by all the construction, hot houses and “newness” of the area between Almeria and Valencia. We took our time and explored every side road and little town we could find and it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It was an interesting experience inspite of the hothouses! Traveling means rolling well and finding something to enjoy no matter where in the world you are. The little restaurants under the promenade in Marbella were great!!! Such fun to watch fish being cooked in a rowboat…highly recommend Spain to all.

  12. Seven years ago I spent a few days at the resort town of San Jose, near the Cabo de Gata area of Costa del Sol, and found it to be a pleasant and laid-back area, not the industrialized nightmare that exists further west. A nice place to relax for a few days after the more stark and dry landscapes of Andalucia.

  13. I totally agree about the Costa del Sol but just off the highway is the magnificent city of Morella. A walled city, built on a high hill with castle ruins on the top cannot be all bad! The hike up to the top of the ruins provided a great walk with magnificent view of the countryside around. We stayed at the Hotel Cardenal Ram that also had a very nice restaurant, but the city is all stone and wonderful. This is well worth the extra time to get to it.

  14. Rick-

    You talk about Bologna, IT in your blog, but I can’t find it in your ’07 “Blue” book. Is it in there and I’m just not looking in the right place? We’re planning to add Bologna on our next trip to Italy (’08) and we need your excellent input!


  15. Sorry Rick, but time shares are not free.
    I have never stayed in a time share on the Costa del Sol, but I have stayed in many others including just recently 2 in the UK. We pay maintenance and exchange fees. We have found even so so that we get value for dollar, especially now that the dollar has bottomed out in the UK.
    In November we were on a tour and visited Marbella. It was quite nice, no crowds. timing is everything as I have learned from you.

    Also while on the subject of Spain we alos visited Valencia which was not included in your guide book and this turned out to be one of our favorite spots. The new architecture and and arts center was spectacular.

    As you have so aptly pointed out Europe is not always castles and churches. Sometimes these lead to burnout.

    Love ypur guides and your blogs. Thanks for the memories.

  16. ‘Timing is everything’
    I read your report on Costa del Sol with some sadness.
    I traveled there over thirty some years ago,as a young student and enjoyed the seaside towns of Fuengirola,Torremolinos and Malaga. I also met my future Wife there on a moon shimmering evening seaside.
    Although there was a northern European influence back then, it consisted mainly of some Irish Pubs, and Swedish ‘babes’.
    There were a ‘few’ hi rise condos and I could have purchased a hill side villa for USD $5,000.00..if I had the cash, now worth 10 X that..
    I often wondered about returning, but now will be content to return to it in my ‘mind’s eye’…as a return visit’s ‘reality’ would more than likely spoil the pleasant memories…

  17. My husband and I just got back from Spain. while in tarifa we were walking down some of the back streets in the walled city. If you take a left onto San fransisco and then a left onto the first street off san fransisco, there is a fabulous BBQ restaurant there. There is only 1 table inside, everything else is outside, it is a little pricey, but big enough to split. We had the prok (they have beef, lamb, chicken and some others) It comes with the worlds best french fries and a salad. you MUST eat here when in tarifa!!!!!

  18. my sister and I spent April in southern spain, I agree with the description of the ‘Costa de Sol’…condo after condo after condo. uck. After spending time discovering Ronda and the other white hill towns, coming over the mountains to the sight of the coast we were in ‘culture’ shock. We drove past all of it and also headed for Tarifa, where we were mesemerized by the wind surfers and the kite surfers, so much so we spent an extra day just sitting on the beach!

    might I add that we relied on RS Spain 2007 recommendations, had a great time, stayed in good clean hotels (RS Spain book) and really enjoyed driving around the smaller towns and experiencing the real Spain! Definately a once-in-a-life time trip.

  19. Sorry Rick–I usually agree with you but I don’t when it comes to the Costa del Sol. We went in November when there were few tourists and we stayed in Benalmadena. What a delightful place with a beautiful park with many animals (many roaming free)and beautiful vegetation. Plus-it was a SUPER place to stay because of its location. We were able to go to Ronda, Seville, Granada, Cordoba and Gilbratar all in one week and had a fantastic time. P.S. I have to disagree with you also about Matalascanas. We just went in February and it was delightful and not a mass of concrete as you suggest in your book. Maybe out of season is the way to go?
    Many thanks for all of your knowledge!

  20. Santiago Matamoros, i.e., St. James the Moorslayer, is the patron saint of Spain. He personally slew 50,000 Moors at the Battle of Clavijo during the Reconquista. He is buried in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Last summer we were in Santiago for his feastday, July 25th. On the evening of the 24th we saw one of the best fireworks displays ever. On the 25th, the King, Juan Carlos I, came to the cathedral and rededicated Spain to St. James. On the other side of the square the communists were having a rally. Where is El Caudillo when you need him? Arriba Espana!!!

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