Almería; Camping in a dry parking lot; Beach made of rocks; Friendly orange cat; Truckers' strike; Hitching with Italians and tugboat drivers; Nudity on the beach; Beer-fishing

Not having learned our lesson from the trip to Valencia, we took another night bus from there to Almería. It left late in the evening and we were hanging out at the hostel, taking the last opportunity for showers and cooked food before camping, and left it late enough that we had to hustle for the bus. I’m very glad we’d had the sense to buy our tickets earlier in the day.

We arrived in Almería around 9 in the morning just as things were beginning to open. My first impression of the town was that it was very hot and very dusty. I don’t think it had rained there for months, possibly years. There were cactus growing in the gardens by the bus station. It reminded me somewhat of pictures and movies I’d seen of Texas and New Mexico - right down to the big fat bastards in the big hats, smoking, spitting and scratching themselves. Sheryl said that she’d seen a lot of badlands and canyons coming in on the bus, too, all in red and yellow sandstone, so that only heightened the resemblance.

The campground was a few kilometres out of town, and we didn’t fancy walking them in our packs in the heat, so I left Sheryl guarding the luggage and went out to scout. I’m glad we didn’t stray far from the bus station, because that’s where we had to go back to to catch a quick bus out of town. We wouldn’t have known when or how to get off the bus if it hadn’t been for a nice Belgian girl who helped us. The driver was being a dickhead like bus drivers everywhere, and not understanding my Spanish, pretending not to recognize the name of the campground. The Belgian girl told us we had to press the stop-call button and told us when - a good thing, as it came a lot sooner than I was expecting.

The campground itself was strange. This was my first experience with a Spanish campground, and I hadn’t realized - though I shouldn’t have been surprised - that the Spanish have no camping culture. They just don’t camp, and any campgrounds that exist are only for tourists. The majority of tourists that come to campgrounds in Spain do so in RVs, and the so-called campground was really only a parking lot - a bunch of hard dirt pads under token shade made of dried palm fronds. This being Andalusia, there wasn’t a tree or a blade of grass or anything green to be seen - only dust, flies and whitewashed walls. A dry creek bed filled with scrub and stones ran through, and a concrete overpass ran above. There were two showers, some holes in the ground where toilets should have been, an empty convenience store and a restaurant-bar. That was it. It was a strange culture shock for me, who associates camping with trees and canoes and grass and mosquitoes and rain. In fact I hadn’t realized how deep the unconscious associations lay until I was presented with something that completely violated it.

But the campground didn’t matter, really, I told myself. We were there for the beach after all, Andalusia and the area around Almería are supposed to have some amazing beaches and the sun and the beach are why we’re in Spain in the first place. So we went to look at the beach and I got my second shock. Beaches are sand, right? Sure, the colour of the sand might vary, and some beaches’ sand is rougher than others, but there are only a few basic ingredients that make up a beach: sand and water. Well, the Mediterranean ain’t the Caribbean, I discovered - this beach was made of rocks. Everything from tiny pebbles to fist-sized rocks, all rounded by the surf. Who makes a beach out of rocks? Doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose of a beach? Honestly.

Anyway, we stayed for a couple of days at the strange campground beside the strange beach, because they had sunlight, which in the end is all we wanted, it seems. Eating was a little bit of an issue, though. We’d treated ourselves to dinner at the restaurant bar the first night, because the market at the campground was permanently closed and we didn’t feel like going all the way back to town. But there was a strike action being mounted by the independent Spanish truckers, protesting fuel costs and demanding government subsidies. They weren’t just refusing to carry food, they were actively blockading the highways so that no food could get through. The supermarkets were completely empty of any fresh food, and mostly empty of packaged food too. We managed to scrape enough biscuits and things together to survive on for a few days but the diet got very monotonous. The nice Italian man who gave us a lift into town was ranting about the strike - he’d come for a holiday and they were ruining it for him, he said. I could only sympathise. Setbacks are an unavoidable part of long-term travelling, but when you’re on a short vacation you want everything to be perfect.

We spent all of the first day on the ‘beach’. The stones were surprisingly comfortable once you managed to wiggle yourself a properly shaped indentation, but they were hot enough to burn the bottoms of our feet. I personally spent most of my beach time with my eyes screwed tightly shut so I didn’t have to see all the naked old people. I knew that Europe has a more relaxed nudity taboo on public beaches, and I’m all for seeing attractive people nude - but for every cute person there’s a dozen ugly ones. It’s not prudishness on my part, exactly - more an easily-offended sense of aesthetics. I mean, there were these three women on the beach, hanging around completely naked, and one of them had a damn tampon string hanging out. That’s just nasty. I’d as soon everybody kept their clothes on, thanks.

At the end of the first day, after we’d gone into town for what few groceries we could find, and stocked up on beer because there was no food (but beer is just liquid bread, right?) we took the bus back and sat on some rocks above the surf watching the sun go down. All the little fishing boats came out, and there were people on the beach with huge long fishing rods that had glowing tips, so they could see in the dark if a fish had bitten. We used our talisman rope - the parting gift from our friend Lev - to lower the bag of beer into the freezing seawater to keep it cool. It got knocked around a lot by the surf and exploded on opening, but it was cold. Just as it was getting dark, huge black clouds rolled in and the sky opened in a gigantic downpour. We ran and took shelter in a cave in the cliff beside the beach, drinking the last can of beer and watching the little bats circling as we waited for what must have been Almería’s annual rainstorm to finish. The ground and the air were so hungry for moisture that half an hour afterwards it was impossible to tell that it had rained.

Most of our time in Almería, we spent on the beach. Sheryl swam regularly and I swam once - the water was freezing cold, and everyone knows how I feel about cold water. We baked in the sun, watching the men in flippers and snorkels spear-fishing by the cliffs. They all did very well, coming back on shore with mesh bags bulging with slippery dead fish and eels. It would have been nice to buy some from them - there’s nothing as good as fresh fish cooked over a fire on the beach. But there was no wood to burn (no trees for it to have come from!) and we had no camping stove (I’d left it behind in the interest of saving pack weight) so we had to go without. I still briefly considered bringing one back for the friendly orange cat who’d been keeping us company at our campsite, but then considered a fish-reeking cat on my lap and abandoned the idea.

Eventually we got itchy feet and had to move on, though - you can only lie on the beach for so long, and we’d both finished our books - so we said goodbye to the cat, shook off the dust that coated everything and hit the road. Our neighbour at the campground gave us a ride into town - he was a tugboat driver at Almería port - so we were in good time to catch the bus to Granada with no trouble.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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