I arrived in Tarifa, Spain after a short ferry ride from Tangier, Morocco. I knew Africa and Europe were fairly close together (at least between Spain and Morocco), but it didn’t fully sink in until I was standing in Europe looking back at northern Africa. Tarifa’s sunny weather, friendly people, and relaxing street-side cafes made the chaos of Morocco seem like a distant memory. It was the perfect place to decompress and start my three weeks in Spain. Here are a few of my initial impressions about southern Spain.
1) The food is incredibly tasty…and cheap! I had heard many great things about Spanish food, and I was salivating at the thought of sitting in an outdoor cafe munching on tapas and Iberian ham. The food lived up to expectations. I really enjoyed every meal I had (save for one), and when the bill came, I was usually pleasantly surprised to see how inexpensive things were. Beer was especially cheap. As good as the food was, the coffee may have been the best part. I started almost every day with a cafe con leche or americano.
2) Very few people speak English in southern Spain. In many cases, my extremely-limited Spanish vocabulary and pantomiming were the only way I could communicate with people. This is certainly not a criticism of Spanish people (that would be terribly presumptuous to expect them to speak English), just a bit of a surprise given how prevalent English is in other parts of Europe. Everything worked out in the end, and I had very few issues traveling around the country.
3) The people in southern Spain are among the friendliest I have ever encountered. No exaggeration. Even though I couldn’t communicate with them very well, everyone was overwhelmingly nice and had a positive attitude. There is a certain whimsy and playfulness about Spanish people that I really appreciate. I have read online that people in other parts of Spain, like Barcelona for example, are not nearly as friendly as those in Andalucia, so I can’t really speak for Spain as a whole.
4) The cities and countryside are picturesque. Every city I visited was exceptionally beautiful, with interesting architecture and historical buildings. The countryside was full of rolling hills covered in low brush and olive trees, with quaint white-washed houses scattered throughout. It felt magical, like Don Quixote might come riding his horse over a hill any minute. I didn’t get to go out and about in the hills as much as I would have liked, but perhaps I can do that the next time I’m there.