Tarifa: Envying the Other Side of the Strait

Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Tarifa, Spain

Seafood pasta: Did I really eat this? Yes, yes I did. And it was delicious.
Situated at the southernmost point in mainland Europe, Tarifa is a quaint little fishing and surfing town in many ways the opposite of Tangier, its bustling Moroccan neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar.

From the ferry port, Jacqueline and I began our Andalusian weekend by strolling to Tarifa's old medina. Its meandering main street led us past haut couture boutiques, shops offering pastries or tourist gear, and sunny open air caf├ęs where Spaniards munched churros and browsed newspapers.

Every local, it seemed, was accompanied by a dog. Large and small, shaggy and short-haired, they lounged in laps or underfoot. All weekend long, we saw them tagging along with their owners, not just along the streets but also into every store, restaurant, and bar. Some were leashed; most ranged freely. And why not? The uptight atmosphere of the Moroccan street was slipping rapidly
from our consciousness.

After a few minutes' walk we reached the Pension Correo, a hotel recommended by friends, and checked into the top-floor suite. The room's window looked out onto the nearby rooftops, dominated by the steeple of the Iglesia de San Mateo, the Enlightenment-era church next door.

The church's bells, we soon discovered, tolled day and night, but I felt surprisingly indifferent to the disruption. An hourly reminder that we were no longer in Morocco wasn't such a bad thing, and a welcome tradeoff for not having to face an hour-long call to prayer at dawn each day.

* * *

We lunched, we wandered, we snacked. Along the beach, the southern bound of Spain's Costa de la Luz, we strolled barefoot through the chilly surf. A few sunbathers (some of them topless) dotted the otherwise deserted stretch of sand. Meanwhile, across the water, Morocco was still visible.

(The majority of postcards for sale in Tarifa feature an aerial view of the town with arrows indicating "Tarifa" in the foreground and "Africa" as the obscure lump on the horizon. We sent one to Jon and Jen, our friends in Fes who recommended the pension. So far, it hasn't arrived.)

Wind rules in Tarifa, thanks to its location on the point of land jutting out between the Mediterranean and Atlantic. The town booms in summer thanks to its winds, becoming a sort of kitesurfing Mecca. There are entire streets in Tarifa filled with nothing but surf shops. Outside of the high season though, the beach's winds and waves were going un-surfed.

On the brilliant green hillsides above the city, however, elegant electric turbines spin gracefully, like pinwheels in the breeze.

* * *

On Saturday morning, we managed to haul ourselves out for a run—a difficult venture with the oceanside winds buffeting us. We jogged along the boardwalk out of town, past dog-walking Spaniards in track suits, and horses tethered in fields behind the dunes.

Most of our time in Tarifa, however, was dedicated (predictably perhaps) to eating and drinking. The afternoon following our run, I coaxed Jacqueline to a seafood restaurant for lunch. She embraced the experience, ordering a huge bowl of mussels and some white wine for herself, while I slowly savored a rich seafood pasta.

After more wandering (followed by an epic nap) that afternoon, we were soon combing the medina for more Spanish delicacies. We dug in at Delicatessen, a charming charcuteria whose tables, chairs, and lively chatter spilled into the adjoining park. We shared warm goat cheese smothered in honey, raisins, and nuts; then fresh grilled tuna morsels; a mild cow's milk cheese made in the hills outside of town, and drizzled in fresh olive oil; pork lomo; and of course, glass after glass of delicious rioja. (Total price for the full meal, including a bottle's worth of wine: €23.)

We topped the evening off at Bar 10, a tiny, candlelit hole-in-the-wall nearby, from where fluid electronica thumped and rolled sleekly out onto the cobblestones. We were the only ones in the tiny bar for most of the evening. Jacqueline ordered us a slice of German
chocolate cake and more rioja, and we chatted with the young Argentinean woman managing the place in a mix of English (me) and Spanish (them).

"You live in Morocco? Really?" Pause. "Wooow..."

We had to agree. After two days in idyllic Tarifa, it was admittedly difficult to imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else.


Uncle Ted said...

Great travel stories Andrew. When I was in a gourmet cooking club, I did research on the 7 (or 8?) major food regions of Spain. I still have my notes from that. By the way, how come you did not include any photos of the beach !!

Andrew Farrand said...

Thanks, Uncle Ted! You would've loved the food on our trip... really excellent seafood and tapas. It's inspired me to make paella a few times since we came back, and I'm looking into other Spanish dishes, too. (Hard as it may be to believe, we find it hard to get excited about Moroccan food these days.)
Sorry I didn't have room for any beach shots... I had one that I tried to squeeze into this entry but I couldn't quite fit it! Jacqueline has the full collection though - http://picasaweb.google.com/jacqueline.powers/Tarifa# !
Looking forward to seeing you in May.

chris said...

There I was... topless. On the beach. Staring at the abyss across the Mediterranean. Africa, Morocco. It calls me.
Where's my shirt?
Charming article by the way. It seems as though I'll have to head farther north than Tangier sometime soon. Sans shirt of course.

Andrew Farrand said...

Ssi Chris, you are indeed ridiculous. Ha, and your opening line there sounds like the first sentence of an x-rated interpretation of Heart of Darkness... very special.

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