A Surfer Spot and a Piece of England

Hey there, readers! Guess what? Another long train (this time 5 hours) means more time that I can spend hanging out with you, yay!

Last you heard (unless you've been watching Facebook), I just coming into Tarifa via bus. That morning was the usual quick pack-and-go with me shipping out of the hostel around 7 a.m. and catching the city bus to the main bus station. MAN, that thing was packed early in the morning! Doesn't help that I have a nice 30 pound weight swinging around my back lol. Getting to the bus station, I grabbed a quick breakfast (my staple has now become an OJ and croissant), deciphered the bus schedule and boarded around 10 a.m.

I must say, Alsa knows how to treat their customers. The “Supra” bus I was on was more like a first-class bus, better than any train or plane I've been on so far. It had WiFi, individual TVs and even a goodie bag with snacks! Now, the Moroccan lady next to me insisted that “ventana” doesn't mean window, so I didn't get my seat, but whatever. I was perfectly content watching Slumdog Millionaire while cruising towards the Mediterranean coast. After a pit stop in Malaga (and a dash to the bathroom by yours truly to make sure I didn't get left behind), the second driver forgot to turn the TVs back on, which was a bit of a bummer, but I chose to read and stare at the coast. This was my first view of the Mediterranean and I must say it's absolutely beautiful, especially with the rolling hills in southern Spain.

Getting to Algeciras, I had to figure out how to transfer to the regional Comes bus to Tarifa. Before I knew it, I walked to the bus next to ours, threw my bag underneath and paid my 1-2 Euros. MAN, talk about a quick transfer lol. Forty-five minutes later and I was in Tarifa. Overall, I've been very impressed by the Spanish bus system. I had my doubts about getting around the second half of my trip that way, but I gotta admit, the buses are very nice and clean and there's always a spot (at least during off-season). The ones to/from Algeciras and Tarifa are basically nice charter buses that work like a city bus, where you pay on board or swipe a card. Other ones require you to purchase a ticket at the counter. Either way, I was very happy indeed.

Ah Tarifa, a town I would deem “The Pismo Beach of Spain” for all you Cal Poly peeps out there. It's got the total relaxed surfer town thing going for it, which makes sense. This town, which also happens to be the southern-most town in continental Europe, hosts an onslaught of international tourists during the busy season for surfing and especially kite surfing. The beach is also very pristine, getting much less attention than the rest of the overdeveloped southern coast of Spain. Of course, when it's winter, the place is a bit of a ghost town. Even so, after Granada, it was my second easy-going vacation spot, so no complaints, other than it tended to get a tad quiet in the evenings.

I found my hostel, which happens to be right by the coast and the ferry to Tanger. The place was deserted, as most hostels are during the day and especially during the weekdays in off-season. I seemed to have 3 other roomies at least, so that was a good sign. Out in Tarifa, I walked along the southern coast where you can literally SEE the coast of Africa. So cool! I also cruised around the terminal and to the beach where I finally enjoyed a little sun in the warmer weather (I define warm as not needing two coats lol).

Other than that, wandering the town proved there wasn't much else left to do. I went back to the hostel and lounged on the rooftop terrace, watching the sunset and the ships going in and out of the straits while I read. I also began planning both of my daytrips, Gibraltar and Tanger, which I'd be doing over the next two days. A little blogging and then I was off to find dinner. Tarifa, being an internationally recognized surf/wind spot, has a matching set of international eateries. That allowed me to take a brief repose from tapas and eat some sushi! I was very satisfied, even if the rolls were small, as all the fish was very fresh.

Touring the bar area, I didn't find too many people (including Gustavo and Adam, whom I met briefly at the hostel in the evening), so back to the hostel to blog, write, make phone calls and call it early. It's amazing, I've actually been getting a decent amount of sleep on this trip. Maybe I'm doing this wrong (aka I should be partying until 5 a.m. Everyday), but honestly, I'm not going to complain when I'm awake during the day and can remember the amazing sites that I've seen.

Speaking of amazing sites, I woke up early the next morning to head off to Gibraltar. That was by far one of my favorite sites so far on this trip. The main trick with Gibraltar turned out to be getting the buses right. In order to get there from Tarifa, I had to take two buses from Tarifa to Algeciras and finally to La Línea de la Concepción. That's the Spanish town right on the border (Spaniards still are a little sore about Gibraltar, so they don't like to mention it). The buses were okay as usual, through the La Línea bus made a TON of local stops; next time, I would remember to grab a “directo” bus. The border itself? Sheesh. You literally walk through a terminal and flash your passport! I was hoping for at least a stamp to add to my collection lol. Once you're in, it's either another bus ride or a 30 minute walk. With the daytrip I had planned, I chose the bus. When backpacking and walking everywhere, you need to pick your battles wisely lol.

Landing at Casemates Square, I tried feeding not one but two map machines Euros and got snubbed! It least I didn't pay one pound instead, since that would be a worse exchange rate (Gibraltar accepts both, though usually Euros are accepted with a 30% markup). I wandered main street towards the cable car, grabbing some British pounds and checking out all the shops along the way. I guess there's a cheap duty on certain goods in Gibraltar, since all I saw was cigarettes, electronics and watches in every shop. The first cigarette stop after the border was absolutely MOBBED with people. Anywho, without a map, I used the cable car wires as a guide through town (which isn't very big) and finally found the spot where I paid and rode to the top of “The Rock”.

For my little adventure, I chose the cheaper option of riding to the top and hiking (walking down the streets) back to the bottom. I decided to pay for the five or so attractions along the way as well, since it seemed worth seeing at least a few of them. Arriving at the top, I grabbed a coffee from the little shop and took a TON of pictures. I then began hiking down to visit the sites, first heading for St. Michael's Cave. Along the way, I ran into monkeys everywhere...I mean, they literally took over the street to the point of me having to scoot around them. It was fun to watch them play and inundate the taxi tours that drove by. One even jumped on a lady's shoulders with help from a guide lol. The apes were by far the best attraction as you were able to get close up (just don't try to feed them or show them any plastic bags).

Everything else along the way down? I'd say if you want to spend a little time, check out St. Michael's Cave and maybe the Siege Tunnels if you're a history/military buff. The other big sites (Ape's Den, City Under Siege exhibit and Moorish palace) were all totally not worth it. The monkeys you get to see just by walking along the top; there weren't really any by the Ape's den, which is also where you stop if you take the cable car back down. Of course, navigating down the tiny, twisty roads was an experience in itself. Add in the people driving super fast and the loads of taxis and tour buses careening around the corners, and you have yourself a grand old time hiking down haha.

Back at the bottom, I wandered back through main street, a little slower this time to look for any souvenirs. Of course, the American dollar is TERRIBLE vs. the British pound (like 2 to 1), so any “deals” I saw in those shops didn't look so good to me. Of course I had to stop for some fish 'n' chips as well! Now, I was a little mystified why I got cold beer, but that's okay I'll take it. I sound like an anti-ugly American lol. Afterwards, my feet were feeling pretty good, so I took the walking tour back to the border, admiring the runway that you literally walk/drive across to get there. Too bad no planes were flying in that day, that would've been so cool!

Finding my bus, I made it to Algeciras with no problems only to find that this time there wasn't just a bus waiting for me to Tarifa. I had become spoiled lol. Instead, I had like an hour and half wait (!) between Tarifa buses. It's kind of strange, since they run regularly, but the schedule has these random gaps (and I happened to find one lol). In the time I had, I decided to hang and finish my current book since Algeciras isn't really much more than an industrial port. When I did finally make it back to Tarifa, I checked out the San Mateo church briefly, the one major site I missed, and then proceeded back to the hostel, where I happened to run into Gustavo, Adam, and three vegetarian girls (named such because I forgot names) who were from Utah, Vancouver B.C. and Australia.

We all began to talk about Morocco and heading over there, since the 35 minute ferry is the main reason people come to Tarifa. It's the only direct ferry to the main town port in Tanger (the Algeciras one takes you to a port about 30 minutes away from the Tanger town center). This whole trip, I've been hearing how awesome Morocco is (from Leo and others), so I was looking forward to my little daytrip the following day. Unfortunately, my personal guide has been a bit flakey since finding him...or may it's just the Moroccan way. Either way, I hadn't heard anything from him since booking back in the States, so I emailed him again and in the meantime I booked one of the cookie cutter tours the ferry company puts on. Anxiety got the best of me for a moment lol. The guide, Aziz, actually did get back to me saying we were still on, but then a follow-up saying we could meet once I figure out how to get out of the tour yielded nothing. I'm guessing either he thought I was blowing him off or he was just being Aziz.

Either way, over dinner I heard more from Adam and others how great going deeper into Morocco is and how the tours are so awful (which Rick Steves agrees with, though 90% of people traveling there do them). The problem is that the tours are made in such away that you're thrown into high-pressure buying situations with crappy souvenirs. You get guides in Tanger mainly to 1) keep the hawkers away and 2) to see the sights lol. But the tour companies get a cut from the vendors they walk you buy, which is why the tour with ferry is actually cheaper than a roundtrip ferry ticket. Such a scam. By this point, I was feeling a little down and out about buying a ticket (which was also non-refundable), but I kept telling myself I just want to see a quick glimpse of Morocco and Muslim culture, no matter how bad the tour is. I mean, you can't glitz over all that, right?

Out I went for dinner, grabbing a salad to try and balance out all this bread and meat in the Spanish diet. I came back to hang with the hostel cat, who took over my keyboard as cats do, while I researched and read a little bit. At this point, my Dutch roomies (who I met the night before) were back from their kite surfing lessons, so we talked with Adam about random travels. At this point, Adam told me that with how windy it was today, the ferries might cancel during my daytrip. Oh no! Well, all you can do is wait and see, right? The girls whom I met earlier weren't worried, since they were all going to Morocco for days or weeks. Then you have me, who's on a tight schedule and only has a day here and there.

In the end, I decided to just sleep on it (Tarifa was still dead) and see what the next day brought. Stay tuned for word on Tanger and Sevilla...I'm going on a reading break :-)

¡Hasta Luego!

- Mateo

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