In 2002 shortly before the birth of my daughter’s firstborn she decided that we should go away for another Mother / Daughter bonding holiday. Any of you who have read about the Italian Adventure will immediately understand my sense of foreboding. However, she is a very persistent daughter and desperately wanted to get away from the dreary cold English winter to a warmer climate, if only briefly. We discussed Ghana, Sharm el-Sheikh and other sunspots not too far from the UK, but dismissed each and every one because of the vaccinations involved. Eventually we decided on Southern Spain and she found us a bargain holiday in a hotel close to Algeciras. This place I had heard of as we had arrived in the port there from Tangiers when she was just two years old, wearing a cute afghan jacket and clutching her beanie bear. Not that she remembers!
Wikipedia describes it: “The Port of Algeciras is one of the largest ports in Europe and in the world in three categories: container, cargo and transhipment”
~ not exactly a holiday destination!
It lies tucked away down in the south-western corner of Spain and hidden by the Rock of Gibraltar. The flight to Malaga took around two hours which wasn’t bad and the coach transportation to the hotel took around a further two hours which wasn’t good. We passed through a lot of resorts on the way including Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella and the place for the rich party animals, Puerto Banús though there wasn’t an awful lot to distinguish between them with the high-rise apartments and identical beaches. Puerto Banús was the most attractive, but also the most expensive. The further west we travelled the emptier the coach became until we were the only passengers left aboard. Finally we reached our hotel, about half a mile south of the town and not too far from Gib.
The hotel was pleasant enough though seemed full of ex-pat pensioners using their winter fuel allowance for sunshine and sangria instead of buckets of coal. They were a cheerful bunch though and the men were quite happy to buy us drinks on their all-inclusive allowance. Daughter was a little miffed about this because she wasn’t able to drink any alcohol, but I made up for it by drinking her share. Unfortunately we weren’t staying in the actual hotel, but in a room in the courtyard. The first room they tried to put us in we walked straight out of, it wasn’t big enough to swing a cat, if we had brought it. The cat that is. The next room was a little better with a large bedroom and bathroom, though a little chilly in March as there was no heating. It was dark and had very little charm, but it seemed that this was it for the next 7 days.
We didn’t spend a lot of time actually in the hotel except for the evening; as we were there on half-board we returned for dinner each day. It wasn’t great food, but it meant we didn’t have to spend any extra on a restaurant so could spend on exploration. The sun wasn’t all that forthcoming either, but at least it didn’t rain. On the first day we checked out Algeciras itself and away from the port it is rather a charming little town with a brightly tiled Plaza Alta and pretty church in the centre. Our first job was to find a pharmacy, which was pretty easy as in Europe they have a huge green cross outside the building. Getting the Gaviscon for my daughter was rather more difficult as we don’t speak much Spanish and the pharmacist didn’t speak any English. Eventually through lots of miming we left clutching an armful of anti-acid medication. Really I don’t know why we don’t go to France as we both speak a little French!
Later we met up with the travel representative who proceeded to try to sell us day trips. I have realised that the reason package holidays are so cheap is because of the huge mark-up on the tours they sell once you get there. Anyway, we dismissed Gib as we knew we could get there by bus from the town for €2 instead of the €20 they were selling it for. OK we had to walk into town first, but it was no big deal. We did sign up for a trip across to Morocco as we felt it would be safer going there in a group rather than by ourselves.
The week flew by, the weather remained fine, if not exactly hot and we walked into Algeciras a couple of times and caught the bus to the border with Gib. We went up the Rock and took photos of the Barbary apes and squinted across the Med at the distant African shoreline. We bought low-cost cigarettes and bottles of gin and smiled at the sheer Englishness of it all – the High Street shops and the British pubs! On one day we got up at stupid-o’clock to catch a train from Algeciras to Granada as we wanted to see the Alhambra Palace. The journey was long, but the line goes across lovely landscapes including Ronda and through acres of olive groves. It is quite a distance from the station to the Palace and as we huffed and puffed our way up the final hill to the entrance I wondered if this had been a good idea as I glanced at my daughter’s red face. Once there though we were fascinated by the history and the architecture. It had been worth the early start and the long journey. We did take a taxi back to the station though!
Our final trip was over to Morocco on the fast ferry (45 mins) over to Ceuta (which is Spanish by the way) and then by coach to Tétouan where we visited the Royal Palace in Hassan II Square and then the very interesting Jewish quarter with lunch in a typical Moroccan restaurant. After lunch we visited the ubiquitous carpet shop for the ‘Big Sale’ where we were embarrassingly presented with carpet after carpet until the pile was almost as tall as we were! Sipping cups of refreshing mint tea, we tried hard not to disappoint the salesman and I even considered buying a lovely small rug which would have been ideal for the new nursery, but at an eye-watering price of over £100 (after haggling) we reluctantly took our leave empty-handed. During the late afternoon we headed for Tangier where we had a tour around the modern city and some time in the Medina. It was interesting, but I think we’d have been better doing it independently as we had very little time in Tangier which is really what we wanted to see. We still got harassed by hawkers and I ended up buying yet another brass bangle and leather camel simply to get rid of them! Still at €1 each it wasn’t too much of a hardship.
Final verdict as we sat around the deserted swimming pool dangling our feet in the cool water on the hottest day so far, suitcases by our sides, waiting for the pick-up coach back to Malaga airport was that overall it had been a good trip. It hadn’t been as warm or as relaxed as we’d expected it to be, but we’d seen a lot and learnt a bit of Spanish too. I’d also learned that when someone from the UK phones your mobile abroad you also pay for the call and your credit disappears very fast; that some English OAPs know how to live it up in style; that young people in Spain don’t all speak English as a second language; that Drambuie shots poured by a Spanish barman are BIG and that tiled bathroom floors can be pleasantly cool when you are hugging the porcelain. Oh, and that going away with my daughter is just full of surprises.
(click on a photo to enlarge)