I have never really cared for the desert. I grew up, on and off, in that vast kitty litter box known as the Mojave desert. Tumbleweeds floating past in the hot desert wind that came along without fail at 3:00pm every day.
But Spain is not that kind of desert. If you are driving along a back road, no houses in sight, then it is reminiscent of the California deserts.
The back road opens up and suddenly the Mediterranean Sea glistens, catching brilliant sunlight that flows right through the water, allowing a glimpse of the sea bottom a hundred feet out.
The water is bath-water warm, the ebb and flow lazy and relaxed, much like the feeling throughout the tiny villages. Each village has its own flavor, its own lovely feel. Each observes the cultural siesta, meaning from two to four every single day, shops close, people head inside and take a nap to avoid the hottest part of the day. After four, the shops reopen, and people flood the streets, enjoying an early cerveza, an ice cream, a cafe’ con leche.
The Costa Almeria, on the southern east coast of Spain, is only a bit touristy. Just enough that many of the Spanish understand enough English to barter the wonderful foods and products at the farmers markets held every week. Enormous bell peppers, fresh cayenne pepper, meat brought in from the farms that morning–it’s a vision of the world England once occupied as well.
And of course there is the occasional ex-pat run English pub, providing other ex-pats, soon to be ex-pats, and the ever returning visitor with beans on toast and a cup of proper tea.
A leisurely drive up the tiny coastal road takes you to Cartagena. One of the most amazing cities I have yet to visit. Also the home of the very first submarine. There is an enormous naval presence there, but well hidden behind large walls with men with very large guns strolling the tops of the walls. But they smile at you as you walk past. Such an interesting contrast.
Since Cartagena is on the coast, in a reasonably open area, it was invaded constantly throughout history. But, every time it was invaded, the invaders built on top of the previous buildings rather than destroy them. Today, five-story buildings are a map of invasion, and people continue to live in a Byzantine, Roman, Greek stack of apartments.
There is also the most amazing Roman amphitheater being excavated in the middle of the city centre. Smack bang in the middle is a large, stone amphitheater. And the coolest thing? As they excavate it, they are restoring it for use. So you could sit and watch an outdoor play under a brilliant Spanish sky in an ancient Roman amphitheater.
How frigging cool is that?
There is one other fascinating thing about Spain: cave houses.
There are hundreds of caves lining the sea shores and inland. These were homes for many of the Spanish throughout history. The ones living on the sea-shore would have been the first to see the newest invaders. There are rooms, with some of the caves dividing out into living rooms, various size bedrooms, and even upstairs rooms with a view out over the ocean/land.
I explored these caves, many of which are abandoned. In Cartagena, myself and my father-in-law peeked into a fairly large cave opening beneath Cartagena castle. To our mortification, we were looking into someone’s house! She griped at us in Spanish and we fled down the cobblestone street, embarrassed and stunned that someone was living beneath the castle in a modern city.
In fact, you can buy modern cave houses in Spain to this day. They are less expensive (but not much!), fully functional homes with electricity and plumbing and such. They are cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Mojacar Pueblo is a glowing white town set high on a hill overlooking the Med. It has minuscule walkways between the large buildings, steep steps that allow peeks of the Med through arched doorways and sudden openings leading to the front door of hidden villas surrounded by fragrant begonias and vibrant displays of floral variety.
There is so much more to see in Spain. Barcelona, Madrid, Basque country. The Spanish islands. I’ve seen only a speck of this gorgeous, welcoming country. Although the food is quite bland and filled with various animal parts, if you bring your own and plan on doing your veggie shopping in the local markets, you can spend long days here flourishing in this beautiful country.