Spain: Friday

I sleep in and wake disoriented. Sam has gotten up before me and has started opening all of the windows in the house, to help clear the air, and the whole place feels preternaturally bright. I retreat to the dark bedroom and and re-emerge to use the toilet with sunglasses on.

The daylight amplifies the sense of isolation. The town of Los Montesinos sits quiet down the shallow slope below the house, a tight cluster of whitish buildings devoid of sound or movement. A broad salt lagoon, popular among tourists for its pink water, lies beyond in the low basin between Los Montesinos and Torrevieja on the coast. Fields on fields of citrus trees—Valencia oranges and lemons—make a patchwork with empty fields and crusty scrubland. A light wind tugs at a pair of palm trees down the street. Their shh-ing sounds distantly like waves.

We drive down into Los Montesinos for breakfast and park up next to an mechanic's garage. The mechanic inside is working on an 80s-vintage BMW; an old MG and a Ford hatchback stand nearby. A much higher proportion of cars on the road, we've noticed, are 20+ years old. Apparently Spanish drivers don't get rid of cars as readily as their British counterparts. Cars don't rust in Spain's dry, warm climate; rubber and plastic parts are consumable anyway. A Mercedes from the 70s trundles by behind us, clattering loudly over a raised pedestrian crossing, trailed by two men on carbon bicycles, wearing lycra and aerodynamic helmets.

We sidestep a tumbleweed and meander down to the town square.

A handful of people mill about in puffy vests and sweaters and canvas trousers. I wonder if I stand out as a tourist for thinking that 20°C is shorts weather. Around the borders of the square are a number of basically-indistinguishable cafes, with cerveza-branded seating under plastic awnings, and patronised by the same group of four cockney septuagenarians. We choose a cafe with elaborate Valentine's Day decorations, and I order in Spanish when the waiter comes by. I feel extremely proud of myself when the waiter returns to deliver our huevos revueltos and tostada tomate in total silence. Job dispatched, he retires to the shady side of the patio for a smoke. I eye my coffee, a cortado that I've ordered on the advice of a coworker. I don't know if this is one of those coffees that you shoot all at once, Italian-style, or sip delicately, Italian-style. I drink it down in two gulps.

After breakfast we decide to head into Torrevieja, a salt mining town turned haven for expats. We leave the car by a park in the suburbs and walk into town. The sidewalks are paved with slick patterned tiles, which seems indulgent, but also dangerous during the rainy season.

Low villas give way to a mix of midrise apartments and shuttered businesses as we near the city centre, coming eventually to a large square (plaza?) abutting an impressive-looking church. The square, somewhat predictably, is lined with cafe-bars patronised by groups of elderly expats—and, incongruously, a single elderly Spaniard struggling with the misfortune of being downwind of a cockney septuagenarian's high-calibre vape.

Weary and bedraggled after a solid 20 minutes on our feet, we find a table in the shade and order: two beers, two individually-plastic-wrapped magdalenas, and a ham toastie. Then two more beers. We sit and listen to the wind and Sam takes a couple of pictures of me in which I appear to be unable to make anything better than a grimace of pain. Sam by contrast oozes sprezzatura.

Glasses empty and plates clean, we pay and continue to make our way down to the waterfront. I can't remember ever seeing the Mediterranean before, but I'm pretty sure I have. The water is surprisingly clear and the marina is full of sailboats with tall clattering masts.

We turn and walk down a boulevard lined with palm trees and shuttered stalls: most of them open, I assume, only during the high season. A single stall open for business at the end of the rank sells enormous bottlecaps decorated with logos and slogans, e.g. "You'll never walk alone" and the crest of Liverpool F.C. I'm not sure what the purpose of these are, nor the kind of person who buys them. We head back to the car.

Sam naps while I go for a short run in the afternoon. I follow some very new cycle paths along well-paved roads between the fields. I pass an empty reservoir sitting in an empty field, and then a full reservoir surrounded by orange trees. Tall fences on all sides keep would-be citrus thieves at bay. A pair of men lounge in the back of a box truck. They look at me and I try to say buenas tardes but it comes out of my sticky mouth as mostly th-sounds. I run on.

The sides of the road are lined with spiny little grasses and construction detritus: individual gloves, fragments of concrete block, plastic bottles, tubing, rubble sacks, metal sheeting, paint cans. The fields are mostly rock and hard dirt. I wonder idly how anything grows. An old Seat sedan trundles past, ramping a nearby raised pedestrian crossing at speed. The suspension groans audibly and the back of the car bounces into the distance. A bit later, two cyclists whoosh by in silence.

On my return to the house, a British man wanders by and lets me know that we've left our car door open. Forewarned that the neighbours are a bit nosey, I introduce myself and namedrop Sam's dad and his partner. The man seems placated and wanders on with his little dog. I head up to the rooftop to get 7.5 minutes of sun on each side of my body.

In the evening we drive out to a fancy restaurant called Kinita on the coast for our anniversary dinner. The restaurant is at the far end of a holiday park—which is the European term for a nice RV park—on a narrow strip of land between an airport and a shallow saltwater lagoon. This doesn't sound like a recipe for a fancy dinner, but the restaurant is stunning. The waiter recommends a red wine to go with our meals and we can both tell immediately that it's one of those wines that you don't find (easily) in the shops. We have a lovely time.

After dinner we wander out onto the empty beach. The moon's big and casts shadows. We walk out to the end of a jetty and sit in the dark and listen to fish leap out in the clear black water.

Spain '24


The railway quadfecta

Running west from Wingate on the erstwhile Ferryhill & Hartlepool Railway


Spain: Thursday

A flight to Alicante, a rental car and a drive through the dark.