Sunday, June 23, 2013

San José, Almería

     Two weeks ago I turned 23. I am not big on birthday celebrations, so there were no parties or anything, but instead Katie and I went to the beach. After some research, I decided we should try going to San José, a small town on the southeast coast, because it boasts many unspoiled beaches. We took the slow train from Madrid to Almería, which took six and a half hours. The scenery alone was worth the price of the ticket. We rolled through the bare plains of Castilla la Mancha, the region Cervantes chose for Don Quixote to experience his adventures, old windmills still standing and giant new ones spinning. Then came northern Andalucía as the terrain became mountainous, with more olive trees than I could count in a lifetime, through Jaén and then to Guadix, where from the train you can still see old cave dwellings that people lived in even last century. The landscape changed and we began to recognize the type of scenery in westerns and other films because, well, films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Conan the Barbarian, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were all partly filmed in the province of Almería. The landscape is sparse and rocky, and the green of endless olive groves is replaced with a dark desert brown spotted with small bushes. All of a sudden the Mediterranean appears, its flatness and deep blue a stark contrast to the brown hills rising above it and the white city of Almería nestled in between. 
     It was past nine at night when we got off the train and walked to our hostel, ate, and walked around a bit. In the morning we took the hour bus ride to San José, walked to the albergue (a type of hostel) and reserved a room (online bookings are not possible and it is not on the hostel websites), and then headed for the beach. 

(San José beach)

     The first day we went to the beach seen above. It is San José beach and was only five minutes from our albergue. The beach was great, and the water was cold. We stayed on the beach for several hours and found a nice bakery at which we ate fresh Spanish tortilla sandwiches. 
     The next day we left early to walk to one of the famous beaches named Los Genoveses. It is so named because in 1147 a fleet of Genovese ships camped out in the bay for a couple of months, helping Alfonso VII conquer Almería from the Muslims. 

(Bay of Los Genoveses beach)
     It was particularly windy on the beach that day, so we walked the length of the beach and up to the cliffs to try to find a beach sheltered from the wind. 

(Katie on Cala Grande beach)     

     We found one, deserted, on the other side of the cliffs. It is, like most beaches in the area, a virgin beach, untouched by restaurants, bathrooms, lifeguards, and only accessible by foot. I believe this beach is called Cala Grande, which means Big Cove. 

(Cala Grande)

(Cala Grande)

     It was very calming to be able to see nothing but the cliffs, rocks, and sea, with no sound of civilization. We returned to the beach the next day after trying out others. 

     The walk to these beaches is a sight in itself. The surrounding land is desert, and has many desert plants. Katie's favorite vegetation was a tree-like plant she referred to as Dr. Seuss trees. These plants are called Agave americana. The tall stocks flower from the middle of the plant and can grow up to 20 feet tall. Curiously, the plants only flower once, at the end of their lives. 

(Agave americana—the plants with stalks have died, and the green ones have no stalks yet)

(Opuntia ficus-indica cacti were also prevalent) 

     The albergue we stayed at had a nice patio with a kitchen that opened every morning and evening. The food was a bargain and was always made from scratch. Our last night, we tried stuffed eggplant. This dish was amazing. Boiled eggplant, hollowed out, stuffed with meat, vegetables, and the scooped eggplant in a tomato sauce. I talked with the cook at length and got a recipe, which I have since cooked with success and will be cooking again tonight. 

     We had a wonderful time in San José. It was very relaxing and very beautiful, a good way to begin my 24th year. 

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