A day at the beach

Beaches aren’t my idea of fun. I rarely venture past the bottom patio of the chiringuito, unless my hat blows away or a lady in distress requests my assistance. After all, getting sand off the leather soles is a nightmare.

But a day at the beach was mooted, in a firm sort of way, by the GF, who seems to enjoy them, and so I was given to understand that my Sunday was going to be hot and sticky.

Reassuring myself with the notion that it was all in the interests of tourism research, I pottered about hunting out umbrellas, fly swats and drinks and preparing a small picnic.

“You can’t take smoked salmon and Bédar goats cheese sandwiches to the beach” said the GF firmly. “You’ll be so hot you won’t want to eat them and they’ll go off and stink to high heaven”. Likewise, the Cava was taken out, as was the cutlery and plates. We ended up with a small selection of fruit and an Aquarius, and a lurking determination at the back of my mind to sneak into San José at the first opportunity.

We talk blithely about the wonderful beaches of Cabo de Gata as if they were but a stones throw away, but they’re actually a long way away. It’s over an hours drive to get to San José from Turre.

Part of this drive is through the African slums of Campohermoso. The road was busy, and it gave me an unpleasant feeling to be driving in a long convoy of mainly white people, on the way to the beach, worrying about the lack of smoked salmon, through the shantytowns full of illegal immigrants and naked children playing on the verges. Sadly, there isn’t really another way to get to San José, so we locked the car doors and resolved not to stop. The GF whiled away the journey by calculating by how much I can afford to increase my annual donation to the Spanish Red Cross, who seem to be everywhere down there, feeding the hungry.

You know you’re into the natural park, because the greenhouses stop at a dead line at the park boundaries. It’s similar to the olive groves around Cazorla – the ground is ploughed farmland and neat olives right up to the boundary of the park. A bizarre look. Soon you are into the warm coastal hamlet of San José, and you soon forget about the agricultural and segregation nightmare of Campohermoso, as you battle a fat Madrileño for the last parking spot in the shade.

To actually get to the beaches, you have to negotiate the back streets of San José , hope that the barrier is up (it was) and then speed down a 3km rutted dirt track to the beach. They must have a special machine to get that road so pitted without any actual potholes. I suspect that when they run the buses in summer, an elderly man with a pick is employed to ensure the road is just bad enough to let the buses through but destroy the chassis of any car foolish enough to venture along. There were people trying to cycle along it – most of them had dismounted and were pushing their bikes. The road is actually that bad.

Arriving in the minuscule car park, we left the car in an easily stealable condition with valuables on the back seat, and started the long trek to the beach. The access track winds through mini dunes and scrubland for about 700m before arriving at the beach, where you can scrape the dog muck off your new sandals on one of the remaining specimens of the rare plants the natural park was established to protect.

Of course, arriving at a large beach, the first thing to do is pick a spot in between the thousands of people who are already there. Standing on the firm sand, it seems but an easy stroll to the end of the beach where there are fewer people – but once you venture onto the soft sand, struggling with umbrellas, towels, picnic hampers and kindles, it’s as if you were travelling to the other side of the moon.

After only a short delay in apologising to the large tattoed man whose head I had smacked with the umbrella as I passed by, we eventually got to the empty bit, where we discovered the reason it was empty was because most of the seaweed in the Mediterranean had decided to congregate in the sea just there. Doesn’t bother me – I won’t swim in the sea- but the GF insisted we carry onto a more pristine bit of water, which we did.

Of course, once we got to a piece of beach that warranted staying on, the wind got up.

It’s amazing, that beach wind. A good old poniente, blowing over the dunes and bringing the sand with it. But I just knew that if we packed up and drove round the cape, we’d be met with just a strong Levante. And the strange thing? At no point in between the two winds would there be a beach in the calm. So we stayed, in a sort of small pit with the umbrella hammered hard down. I felt like a WWI soldier in a foxhole.

Naturally enough, we weren’t the only people to be forced onto this stretch of virgin beach. Shortly afterwards, a large group of about 25 Spanish friends and family turned up, and erected two massive gazebos. Planting a couple of grannies underneath to keep watch on the beer and the infants, some radios were turned on and a good time was started to be had by all. They had a plentiful supply of booze from several industrial sized thermos beach coolers, I noticed enviously, sipping my Aquarius. They appeared to be old hands at this beach lark, and had enough equipment to house and feed a small army.

Whilst the GF frolicked in the sea, I busied myself with finishing off Daily Life in Victorian London : An Extraordinary Anthology,a book I can thoroughly recommend.

After a few hours, and once I was a nice dark red in the places I’d forgotten to rub sun cream on, we packed up and sandily headed off to San José for a bit to eat, the fruit not having been up to the task. A rather expensive meal in San José later (two rather inferior menú del días at 12€ each, drinks not included, and somehow the bill was around 40€ for two) we decided to head home for a siesta.

On the way home, I noticed that most of the men lazing by the side of the road continued to do so, the sun in Andalusia presumably not being anywhere near as bad as in their own West Africa. Sometimes we passed a farm worker cycling along, in 35ºC of heat, with a fluorescent jacket on, but never a helmet.

Eventually, we got home, where I proceeded to block the shower with sand, before spending the rest of the day in a heat confused fug.

And today, I am spending rubbing sun lotion into the sun-burnt spots I missed yesterday, and trying to get the sand out of the car.

Who said the beach wasn’t fun?

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