Discovering Tarifa, Spain
When making your way into the port-town of Tarifa, Spain, do: take the bus from Algeciras (it’s 2 euros), don’t: hire the local drunk hanging out at the Tarifa bus station to take you the rest of the way to your hotel. Maybe it was the salty air and languid mood of our surroundings that had us at ease, either way Carolyn and I found ourselves helping a weathered old man pile our luggage into a two-door hatchback missing its wax. I paused uncomfortably before carefully moving over a double-barrel rifle lying across the backseat. I sensed he must not have company often. As we swayed with momentum along the cobblestone streets, I distracted myself from a fleeting concern for my life with the quaint and vibrant city around us. The area is teamed with once colorful, now sun-faded surf shops patronized by Tarifa’s overwhelming population of well-toned windsurfers. We could tell there was a kindness in the souls of the pedestrians as three times within the ten block stretch to the hostel passersby were recruited and complied to giving our driver directions.
Our hired host turned out to be perfectly well-intended, and after paying his fare we walked the remaining distance down a courtyard of shops and restaurants to the Hostel Alameda. It was immediately apparent that this was an evening-time hub of the town, especially for the miles of apartment-filled neighborhoods across the street. Straight ahead of us was the Mediterranean and the giant, stoic ferries that would take us to Morocco in two days. In between, directly facing our hotel, lay an all out carnival spread, lit up and crawling with bronzed youngsters attached by the hands to their devoted parents. Still dragging our luggage over the well-worn stones, we passed a test-your-strength booth, a moonwalk, a stand advertising “Tequila” but selling Sno-Cones and a game with yellow ducks swimming down a faux river. On the fringes, deadlocked twenty-somethings sat on blankets with spreads of glass beads and leather jewelry.
The second floor room to which we were escorted was already open to the terrace and with the windows open it was just cool enough for comfort. At the downstairs restaurant we ordered a bottle of wine at an outdoor table. We sampled rustic seafood tapas and drank in the last of the natural light while the fluorescents glowed brighter. In bed that night, it didn’t matter that foreign conversation and beer-fueled guffaws drifted into the room in those early morning hours. I was right there with them, energetic with the anticipation of heady shops, sand-floored beach bars and European-style sun-soaking. In a town where Europe meets Africa and the Med meets the Atlantic, it’s easy to forget you only came to see Morocco.