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.