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Sunday, November 30, 2014

There's something fishy about the Miss Sardine Contest


The first thing I notice is the cannery appears to be on hiatus – there’s no fishy smell.  I spend the day reacquainting myself with the town and spending time at the beach and the pool.  I visit Lola’s, my favourite beachside restaurant – the owner claims to remember me - but I think he’s lying – hoping for a big tip. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Stuck in Lodi er... Caleta again!"


Caleta de Valez


Our tour ends that night and the next morning Carlos and I head to the airport – he’s off to other parts of Europe scouting for a new GAdventures tour and I’m off to Malaga for a couple of days of R&R in Caleta de Valez, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean.

I was last in Caleta in 2010.  I had been searching for a place to stay in the south of Spain and had found an add on Kijiji for a two bedroom beach front apartment “near Malaga” for the astonishing price of $350.00 a week!   I thought it was too good to be true and emailed the owner in Ontario.

It turned out there was an error: the price was $350.00 for the “first” week.  The price dropped to $250.00 a week after that!  Granted this was on the shoulder season – late May and early June – but it was still an unbelievable price.  

The Pyramids
The place had belonged to his folks who lived in England and wintered in Spain every year.  They had both just passed away and he wasn’t sure what to do with the place – so he decided to rent it out.  Linda and Mike, friends of his late folks, still lived in the building and would look after the details.  He even agreed to get the  internet hooked up for me if I’d rent it for three weeks – which I did.

The place was – as advertised – right across from the beach, had an Olympic size swimming pool (unfortunately it wasn’t due to open until a few days after I left) and tennis courts (which were open – but I don’t play tennis).  The only negative was the apartment was across the street from the fishing port and a very active fish processing plant – so if the wind wasn’t blowing in the right direction it could be a tad smelly.

I quickly fell into the rhythm of life in the town, making friends, and eating with the locals.  Caleta is just down the beach from Torre del Mar, the major tourist town in the area.  From there it was easy to take day trips to the larger Spanish cities such as Malaga, Cordoba or Seville.

Flash forward to the present:

Since I had to return home from either Barcelona or Malaga I thought I’d see if the place was still available.

I couldn’t track down the owner, but I still had the email for Linda and Mike.  Linda replied saying the apartment was still available for the dates I wanted.  Since it was peak season (July) the price would be more – 40 euros a night. (still a steal).  I made arrangements to contact her when I was in Spain to work out the details of getting the keys.

Last time  I visited Caleta Linda and Mike picked me up at the airport, since I’d already been there once and  even though I’m prone to getting lost I can find Caleta myself. 
Airport train

Getting from the airport to Malaga itself is a breeze.  They have a Light Rail Transportation system – almost identical to Vancouver’s Skytrain  - that runs from the airport directly to the bus station in the middle of town.

Making sure I get the right bus turns out to be a bit more dodgy.  I use my poor Spanish and am issued a ticket and told in Spanish which bus I should board.  But given my recent experience in Paris being given bad directions I decide to use my late mother’s method of confirming you are taking the right bus:  Ask at least 20 people if the bus you are standing in front of is the “bus to Caleta.”  - even if it’s clearly marked “Caleta.”  If any of them say no – or even hesitates – ask another 20.”
Once on the bus, I still have doubts I’m on the right bus so  I whip out my phone switch on the GPS and watch in real time as the bus makes its way to Caleta.

Since I already have my phone out, I decide to call Linda and tell her I’m on my way.  The phone rings and rings  –no answer.  I try her cell phone – again no answer.  Not to worry - maybe she’s in the loo.  I keep trying every ten minutes during the one hour trip to Caleta – still no answer.  As we pull into Caleta I begin to panic.  I have no “B” plan.

The bus lets me off in front of the apartment building and I sit down on the steps in front of the locked doors and try again – no answer.   A few minutes later an older British couple come upon me and asks if I need help.  Yes, they know Linda Mike, but haven’t seen them in several days.  They invite me up to their apartment and try a few numbers they have for them – with no success.  After an hour I figure I might have outstayed my welcome and head over to the restaurant across the street for some lunch while I keep dialing.   Over a few beers I formulate a “B” plan:  if I can’t get through I’ll walk down to Torre del Mar and look for somewhere to stay until I can sort things out.  There’s only one little hotel in Caleta and it’s

Just as I’m about to head down to Torre del Mar my cell phone rings It’s Mike – and he’s pissed.  Where am I?  I was supposed to meet him at noon in front of the apartment building.  He waited for half an hou and I didn’t show.  I tell him my arrangements with Linda were to call her when I was on the bus – which I did. He can ask her.

Unfortunately he can’t – as her brother became seriously ill a few days ago  she had to return to England.  She gave Mike the responsibility of getting me the keys.   After a bit more conversation he calms down and agrees to meet me in 15 minutes in front of the apartment – which he does.  He hands me a set of keys, takes the rent money and is gone in a huff – or was it a minute and a huff?

The apartment is as I remembered it – but it appears not to have been occupied in some time.  It’s freshly painted but there are no pictures on the wall and some of the furniture that was there previously  is missing.  It’s as if they’re getting ready to sell; but there’s no market in Spain for real estate right now.  Like Ireland they grossly overbuilt and are now paying the price. 

The good news is the pool is open so I head off for a swim then off to buy some beer and groceries.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Death In the Afternoon & A town named after an Andy Williams Song


The Bull Ring in Pamplona
The running of the bulls was exciting  but it was only half of the experience – the other half was what happened to the bulls after they arrived in the stadium – the bull fight.   

I’d read and heard a lot about the bull fights, both in Spain and Mexico – but never experienced one.  I know a lot of people don’t like them, but thought I might enjoy the spectacle and the challenge – one man - armed only with a cape alone against a dangerous animal.  When Carlos suggested we take in one of the nightly bull fights I immediately jumped on board.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Running with the Bulls - The Main Event

Pamplona - July 10, 2014

Today we’re off to Pamplona and the main event.  The bus ride takes a couple of hours. In Pamplona we are greeted by a sea of people all dressed in red and white – the color of the festival.  The Running of the Bulls is a lot like Stampede Week in Calgary – everybody dresses up – and everybody participates.

Our hotel is in the newer part of Pamplona and is quite nice and modern.  After we check in Carlos suggests we head down to the old part of town, pick up our running outfits, and check out where the run will take place the next morning.

street scene in Pamplona
As we draw closer to the old section of town the crowds grow bigger and bigger.  By the time we’re at the outskirts it’s a veritable sea of people.    There are numerous venders selling shirts, pants, scarfs, and sashes.  Moments we’re twenty bucks lighter, dressed in our Pamplona duds and indistinguishable from the other thousand  people milling around. 

Carlos takes us further into the old city and we walk – or attempt to walk – the route the bulls will take the next morning.  The streets are packed with people –a veritable river of red and white – moving in one direction. It is impossible to go against the flow.

The street is only about twenty feet wide – there are no sidewalks only the sides of buildings. There are young people, old people - people with children on their shoulders, marching bands – everyone jumbled together into one big happy throng.  The second floor balconies are packed with happy revelers.  Some of the balconies have small bands on them – competing with the band on the balcony  across the street  the revelers on the street. If you are the least bit claustrophobic this is not a place to be – and tomorrow morning they’re going to release a half dozen or so angry bulls into this throng.

Large  LCD monitors on street posts and in bars are replaying the mayhem from the run earlier in the day.  There are close up shots of people being tossed in the air by bulls, trampled by bulls, and left lying in the street.  I’m beginning to have misgivings about this.  I decide maybe I’ll watch the next day’s running rather than participating.  There’s always a chance to run the following day.  

...and there going to let the bulls go in this???
Lost in my concerns I get separated from the group.  I look around for a familiar person – but everyone is dressed alike.  In a panic I try to head back up the street to find my group but despite my efforts am swept back.   Someone hands me a beer.  I decide it isn't too bad to be part of the crowd. Then I realize it’s Carlos who handed me the beer.  He pulls me into a backwater and heads back into the river to coral  the rest of his herd.  He eventually finds most of them and we head off to a tapas bar to have dinner and watch Germany trounce Brazil in the World Cup quarter finals.  When we leave about midnight to head back to the hotel the streets are still packed.  He warns us to get some sleep as we’re expected to be back down there by 6:40am.

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