It was quite easy to slip into the southern Spanish lifestyle. Breakfasts were a relaxed introduction to the day, the late lunches signalled that siesta was not long after and dinner was at a time when I’d be going to bed, in New Zealand. The days were warm with the temperature rising into lovable summer highs and I was quite happy to fade in and out of the heat. I’m not the winter kind of girl.
When it was there, the ‘levante’ winds licked at my hair and tossed the clothes horse over on the balcony. It was the cause of many ills, as locals tutted and cursed “… levante…” But it was also a blessing, keeping the majority of tourists away.
My intention was to stay for two weeks with my German cum Spanish host, her daughter and their rescue cats Kitty and Negrito. What I hadn’t accounted for was not only the warmth of the summer, but also of my new Espanol familia. So I ended up staying for six, with one of those spent house-sitting my host’s home and another staying with a young family across the lawn. I was supposed to go to Turkey to help another family, but when that fell through, my host kindly and gladly kept me on.
My first workaway placement was nothing short of perfect. I actually spent most of my days cooking new found vegetarian recipes, cleaning, napping, walking, writing, swimming in the pool, swimming at the beach, being licked by cats, talking, laughing out loud, trying out yoga, sunbathing and sipping on ‘tinto de verano’, my new favourite drink. It was my kind of bliss, my serenity.
Conil de la Frontera has now been sealed as my Spanish home away from home. Propped up on a hill that graduates toward the sea, it was a typical Andalucian village with white box-style homes. Meandering through the narrow streets there were details of cobalt trim and colourful flower pots with bright crimson and red impatiens fixed to the walls, leaning over window ledges, or bringing cheer to secret patio gardens that could be admired through the gates.
There were a few shops and restaurants weaved in and around town and summertime market stalls along the boulevard. I learnt that like Italy, there was a close down period for lunch. But being Spanish they were shut for siesta, often from 2 until sometime after 4. Among my favourites were Abrile’s artist studio, where I reclined under the bougainvillea and dreamt of residing there.
The English language was scarce but I didn’t mind, I’d signed up for gesture-filled dialogues. I spent a lot of the time listening to conversations, to help extend my vocabulary beyond cinco words. This was then tested at a fruiteria or Mercando. I smiled to myself when I saw a young kid in the street wearing a purple t-shirt with blanco text that read ‘I can’t wait to be 18.’ I wondered if he knew what he was wearing, or if his parents did.
At the beach, I spent some good times lying on my sarong; tanning, reading, observing, falling in and out of sleep. I learnt that it is in fact as warm and busy in the evening, as it is on a mid-summer’s day in NZ. At the beginning of June there were already caramel-coloured bodies; playing football, listening to music, swimming, strutting along the beach, topless tanning. I admired the self-confidence of all shapes and sizes parading along the shoreline, in their bikinis.
Bikinis know no bounds. For some teenage girls, they can still be found walking in theirs through the streets, which is a contrast to the women who wear long pants and clip clopping wedges in the 30+ heat. There can even be found signs upon entry into the supermarket, about wearing more than what you would at the beach.
My new home was a haven with its patio, shared garden and pool. There were a mix of permanent residents and holiday makers as I had discovered on the first day when a gaggle of British ladies cackled as they did bombs into the swimming pool. One time I saw a woman poolside, sunbathing and plucking her brows. Another time there were two women out in the open, with the buzz of an epilator in one’s hand, mowing around the others’ bikini line.
With no boundaries and feeling like I was in a comfortable space, I let my boobs out for a welcome to the sunshine. Even though they were out for less than an hour and slathered in sunblock, I ended up with burnt breasts… five days of fiery red ‘I cannot stand to wear a bra-ness’.
Another day I walked across the lawn and an older woman, a neighbour, stopped her conversation to talk to me. I approached the duo and said “No intiendo. No hablo Espanol. Lo siento.” She wrapped me up in a big warm hug and laughed. She said something about there being a mutual understanding in an embrace. I smiled, warmed right through to my bones.
Then there was the day of the snake prank, the one where the neighbour’s toddler had dragged a crusty old snake skin and hidden it under one of the plants in the rock garden. His mum had knocked on the door and told us seriously about what was lurking in the garden. My host and I cautiously looked down from the second floor balcony, until the mum started laughing and dragged it out. My heart still pounds typing about this, but it was a hell of a good prank.
I was in Spain for some remarkable moments: when the new king was crowned, during the quietness that rippled through the village when Espana had lost their round in the Football World Cup, and at an Argentinian bar when a German, Bulgarian, Spanish and Kiwi walked into a bar to watch the final. The patrons were gracious in their loss, still singing their team’s praises through tears.
When I reflect on this space, my time in this pueblo that was just a stone’s throw from Africa, I cannot help but feel relaxed. A place where people didn’t march on a mission, but more cruised with a swag to the beat of their own drum. Where the simplicity of life heralded braless women, animation in conversation and piqued a daily feeling of gratitude in the opportunity to experience this place.
There’s plenty to write about from my time here. First I will begin with some cat-scapades, before filling you in on my trips to other cities in Spain. Until then, x