Summer Debut

27 May 2011

Málaga, España

It’s the first morning, first day in Spain, so the free walking tour sounds just about right, even if may be ultra, mega touristy. It’s led by a Canberran who is leading Australians and Americans – no other expats, and I see a pattern emerging…

The place, therefore the tour, is mostly interesting, because it’s just a normal Spanish town (lots of red & yellow narrow streets as before) with normal Spanish people (sitting in these narrow streets, looking like they’re taking an eternal break) with normal Spanish problems. Problems? We walk into something named like Constitution Plaza and find a campsite with lots of signs everywhere in permanent protest. There’s at least 30% unemployment here, and elections are just about to happen. Around the corner from the unrest is the complete opposite: an official “public drinking place”, where it is legal to drink in the streets. The Canberran talks about this like it’s a very ‘alternate’ and unusual thing to do, but I imagine myself under two years ago doing something so normal – drinking in the streets. The tour finishes with everyone giving a donation, guiltily and awkwardly, so I don’t end up giving one because nobody really means it.

That’s the city checked, so now it’s finally to a beach, properly, for the first time in just way too long. I take probably the longest route possible around Málaga’s distinguishing feature: the port, where tens of thousands of tourists arrive out of the tour boats, spend their money in Málaga, then head off again – it’s what keeps this town going, apparently. Sprint over the scorching dark brown sand only to find my feet the same colour, with pigeons flying around and a Russian man being massaged by a Thai woman on a deck chair. Unfazed and desperate to relieve my feet, I sit down on a deck chair only to be asked by an attendant for “treis euros”, so I finally settle on the dirty, dirty sand and place my hand towel/tea towel hybrid on the sand and go straight into the water.

Wow, that was unexpectedly nice.

Sure, the water could be a bit clearer, but it’s blue and refreshing – you’ve got to start somewhere. I paddle around, and try do do a few strokes and, like I came to accept in the river in Rotterdam, I’ve completely lost any ability to swim for any length greater than fifty metres. It’s better than anyone else around here though, because I can see, maybe, one other person in the water; the rest are just lounging around.

I getu p, position myself perfectly on the towel (can’t dry myself with towel because it’ll pick up dirt from the sand as it’s so small) and fall asleep minutes later.

Mind muggy, but ears are clear to the fact that there’s a screeching of jet engines echoing against the mountains in the distance. At least WWIII starts when I’m travelling. Then, there’s a thud and throb of three helicopters doing manoeuvres over the water of the beach, circling and diving and evading. The jets fly past, and the helicopters continue for a few minutes or so until they are replaced by some sinister, black helicopters eerily flying right towards the innocent beach-goers, armed with machine guns. That big warship that was in the distance before seems much closer than before, too. One of the helicopters hovers over the water, mercilessly spraying the water aside, whilst the other swoops right over us, booming away any comfort of my first day at the beach. It’s so close I could throw a tennis ball at it. I assure myself there’s no trouble, but the few helicopters keep darting around and chug over our heads every so often.

I fall asleep again, somehow, but wake soon later to see the warship far out to sea again, and the occasional jet flyover finished.

Just when I thought I saw enough patriotism in the first day of summer, on my way back to the hostel, mouldy baguette in hand (I didn’t know until after I bought it), I hear a crowd, which grows louder with my curiosity as I near the centre of town. On the main drag there’s a huge, seemingly endless wave of people demonstrating down the street, away from the centre. The quote “the best camera is the one you have with you” comes to mind, so I rush back to the hostel, grab the camera and come back again to see that the wave is now heading the other way, but on the same street. There really are tens of thousands marching down the street singing some incomprehensible Spanish cry. I take a bit of footage, then decide to get pulled along with the flow, clapping along. There’s a faint drumming in the background, so I exit the flow, and wait a couple of minutes – drum beat getting louder, crowds getting denser. There’s a group of about five or so. Later down the’river’ things get a lot more energetic as more and more drummers and percussionists join in; there’s about twenty now, and this particular bit of the crowds has, inevitably, just turned into a big party and it’s heaps of fun and actually really moving, even though it’s just rhythm. You feel a bit out of place here, because everyone has damn long hair and wearing earthy clothes. In the plaza when there’s a dramatic finale to the drumming, there’s people sitting and standing, and a strong smell of weed, while a man speaks proudly and surely over a speaker.

Bored of hearing the same tone of voice and the same cheering, I head back to see if the hostel’s “pub crawl” is happening. It’s funny how they call it that, because it’s obviously just a group of people going to a few bars and clubs to get drunk, and I can’t imagine that there’s a single pub in this whole town. The English influence around Europe never ends. Cheap drinking so I can’t help but join in.

From bar to bar, the conversation skills are exercised, and it’s typical backpacker conversation because it’s trading really interesting stories. Funny how it follows a pattern, which you think would be really boring after a while, but it’s not, because obviously every single story is different told from different people all the time. Get smashed embarrassingly quickly, and the language barrier drops – for better or worse!

It’s that time where you try and try not to look too drunk, but it’s just impossible given circumstances. Now, I’m walking with a couple of Swedes, ground inexplicably wet so that I’m slipping around on the tiles that I now can’t think so highly of as it’s leading to my… wait for it… downfall. We’re sitting outside a train station, indecisively with the sun halfway up.

It’s a perfect picture of the way life is now: time really doesn’t matter, and you don’t ever return to one place, you just have every other place to go to.