Cadiz – it took a while but you grew on me.

Casa Caracol – the snail’s house. A backpackers. A youth hostel. It is my hell. I thought I could handle staying in backpacker accommodation. After all, I had done so when I walked the Camino de Santiago. I did it in London for three days that was fine. I thought I could do it again here in Cadiz for three days. Tonight is my last night and I am wondering if I can make it out alive. Unfortunately, I could not get a female only dorm as I did in London. I do prefer to stay in all female dorms. They tend to be less noisy, less sweaty, less smelly – I personally feel more at ease in them. Don’t get me wrong, the guys in my room are nice men. They are polite and we weave around each others space. On the Camino it was different. You get all ages, all sizes and genders. Everyone tends to go to bed early after their pilgrim’s meal and once the first zipper of the morning is heard, it gets everyone up and out on the way. This backbacker’s appears to cater specifically to the young and gorgeous and is a different matter for me altogether.

Before I booked, I was under the misguided belief that it wouldn’t be too full. After all, it is the off season and what reason do people have to go to Cadiz? History buffs I thought! I booked a room in a seven bed mixed dorm, perhaps I could be the only one in there? I didn’t understand the difference that caused at three euro increase from the six bed dorm to the ‘deluxe’ seven bed dorm- but I booked the seven bed deluxe anyway. I arrived and the place is buzzing with young people, coming and going – going and coming. I am greeted at reception by a young Spanish guy named Ramon. He is guiding some other people through the check in process and tells me he will be with me soon and to wait. I do, I watch a couple of young women in the kitchen cooking and talking. One is Australian. They barely notice me among their enthusiasm for their own words to each other. I secretly roll my eyes and think to myself ‘well this’ll be fun’. They are a clique.

Ramon comes back to me all apologetic and smiles. He shows me the kitchen and gives me the drill with any food I might put in the fridge “you must write your name on it and your checkout date – otherwise it will be thrown out” he says. He shows me the lounge, “you can use this until 2:00 am. Same with the roof top terrace. The kitchen – we close at the same time.  A beautiful breakfast is included served by our volunteers between 9:00am and 10:30”. He carries my bag up three flights of stairs to the first floor – telling me he does not get paid to carry bags it is a favour and good service. He is in good humour as he takes me to my room – room two – informing me that I have no need to worry about being on a top bunk as I have just a single bed “No top. No bottom.” My room is small thing chocked with seven beds, three double bunks and my lonely single pushed against the wall between the French doors and the French windows. “There you go, Genoveva, enjoy your stay.” With that, he leaves me.

A youngish skinny guy is sitting on the bottom bunk nearest to my bed. He jumps up, shakes my hand and tells me he is Ricardo from Italy. He then tells me his story. He is from Venice. He rode his bike across the top of Italy to Genoa, then along the Italian coast into France, then down the French east coast and into Spain. From there he rode all down the east coast of Spain and has now come the west coast. “Six thousand kilometres he tells me proudly”. Wow! He tells me at night he has slept in parks and on beaches and in camping grounds and when it rains, he stays in hostels. “But now I have very bad news.  I have a thing on my leg”. He pulls up his trousers to show me a bandage. We work out that the English word for it must be an ulcer and it has gone down to his bone. As least that’s what I think we worked out as we are speaking in broken Spanglish with some French and Italian thrown in. He goes to the hospital twice a day to get it bandaged. I ask him, “ are you loco?”. “Si, si, si” he replies as his eyes roll around his head and he smiles the biggest smile laughing at me. Ricardo is off to the Canary Islands to work for three to four months before heading off to Argentina to find work in his trade. He is a butcher. I tell him one of my brothers is a butcher. He asks “does he work in a shop …. or another place?”. A shop I tell him. “I work in another place” he replies. I figure he means an abattoir but I am afraid to ask.

A young girl walks into the room. She is beautiful with a smile that looks it is straight out of California circa late 70s – I’m thinking Charley’s Angels – before the ultra white blinding look became fashionable. She introduces herself as Kate and has a killer handshake. I commend her  on her handshake and tell her that I used to work in politics so I am a bit of an expert on handshakes. She laughs and tells me she went to business school and that where she learnt it. Kate is not from California. She is Canadian from way up north – the north west territories. Apparently the nearest big town is Edmonton, which is 16 hours away from her home town. We talk about where we’ve been, what we are doing before I go out to explore the town. Later that night after dinner I return to the hostel. Kate is in the lounge with an Australian guy, Colin. Colin and I talk Australian doing out best to out-drawl each other. He is from Brisbane – a surfer. He is tanned and laconic, tall with a good head of curly, dirty blonde hair. His hair is all straight at the back like he has been lying in bed all day and just got up.  It doesn’t take me long to work out Colin is what my friend Louise would describe as a “douche”. I guess that’s the description because you can use a douche once for health purposes but if you use the douche too often it strips away at you. I hope that Kate hasn’t or doesn’t hook up with him. They leave for dinner at the appropriate time for dinner in Spain. I can never manage to stay up late enough to have dinner at Spanish time, at 10:00 or 11:00 at night. I tell Kate that I snore so I will leave some earplugs on her bed. You cannot get earplugs like these in Australia so I stock up on them when I am in Europe.

The following night I meet Kate in the lounge room again. She is speaking with another girl and we introduce ourselves. Her name is Kaye, she looks like she is from the Philippines. She is from Britain and now lives in Barcelona. Her parents are Filipino. She is laughing about how she went from Brexit to Catxit – in relation to Catalonia wanting to be independent from Spain. She is funny girl and we talk for a while after Kate leaves. We talk about going out for a drink but I decide I am too tired and sneak off to bed. Some of my roomies are already in bed. Some come in much later during the night. I am aware but with the earplugs it doesn’t bother me. I decide that perhaps its not that bad in the hostel but I would much rather have my own room. I spend another day walking around Cadiz. I have done everything Nina did. I have seen what she saw, walked the streets she walked and there is not much left for me to do but to walk around Cadiz – again – and admire the architecture. I think about leaving town a day early. Cadiz is the new place for young travellers to go. It’s not that it is a party town it more of a chill-out, surf, eat good food. It must be written about in the latest Lonely Planet guidebook as the young backpackers are flocking her perhaps because it hasn’t been destroyed by over-development or the yuppies – yet. I decide to stick to my plan and stay the last night. I’m glad I did.

When I arrive home I am walking up to my room on the first floor, as I hit the landing Kaye is coming down the stairs from her room on the second floor, Kate is coming out of the first floor hallway. We say hello and begin to talk. Kaye introduces us to Maria, her roomie,  a Spanish woman from Majorca.  Kaye has wine, should we have a drink? Of course. Apparently, all the young guys are up on the roof-top terrace playing guitar, talking waves and being all ‘backpackery touring the world wanker thingy’. We decide to go to the lounge room. It is empty.  That night four women sit with two bottles of wine. OK it turned into three bottles of wine. I raise the issue of douche Colin with Kate – she did not hook up with him. Kate is way too smart. Together the four of us talk, laugh, share photos, take selfies and eat the sausages Kaye has thoughtfully provided. We have become friends. I realise it is Melbourne Cup Day back home in Australia and know from past experience that I have had good luck with making life-long friends on Melbourne Cup Day. We say our goodbyes as tomorrow I leave for Seville. I don’t see the girls before I leave the Casa Caracol – but I do search out Ricardo. I shake his hand, say ciao and wish him the good fortune for his travels. As I walk out the door and down the passage way to the train station I again smile, I am not sorry stayed in Cadiz and I am very happy that I stayed in the backpackers.

Cadiz – a sea-wind blows.

I boarded the early morning bus in Estepona, sorry to be leaving however, it was only going to be a short break from Nina and it was on the route she took from Malaga to Cadiz. It is a pity she didn’t stop off at Estepona but I suspect it was nothing more than a fishing village in 1934. On her bus ride Nina describes – at length, the beauty of the Spanish landscapes. The colours, the flowers, the hill sides. Turns out eucalypts were her in Nina’s day. She writes “Outside of Marbella to my surprise Australian eucalypts line the approach, growing very splendidly and making a most decorative avenue. Indeed, the gum-tree is an example of the prophet who lacks honour in his own country, for Australia has not made such ornamental use of it as Spain, where as time went on I was to see many more avenues and groves of eucaplyts”.  Nina saw cane-fields outside of Malaga as well but I did  not see any. Either they are long gone or the road now takes a different route.

The bus takes us both back through Algeciras, where our original journey began. We have done a big circle for Nina to save money and continue in the same direction. On reaching Algeciras, the bus driver gets out of his seat and yells something to the passengers in Spanish. Many of the passengers start to bustle about with bags, yelling in conversation to each other. Those of us with little Spanish sit and look trying to work out what is going on. I understand one word “todas”, all of you. The bus driver makes his way down the aisle of the bus, still yelling Spanish words at us. He says “commer”, food, raising pinched fingers to his mouth. Finally, with the help of my limited Spanish, I work it out for me and my non-English speaking companions. I tell them the bus takes a break here for half an hour and we are to get off. One woman asks me if she is allowed to sit on the bus during this time. I tell her that does not seem possible and to take the opportunity for a rest break and to stretch her legs. The driver seems happy we have finally get the picture and are moving off the bus.

Back on the bus, the route now turns away from the Mediterranean and we now head inland. First we must travel travel through the ugly outskirts of Algeciras. Algeciras is a port town. Its large 1960s apartment blocks are a decaying eye-sore. Once in the country again the Spanish landscape is beautiful and we have left the over-development of the Costa del Sol behind us. At Tarifa, we begin skirting the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The coast here is known as Costa del Luz, the Coast of light. It is not difficult to understand why. It is raining yet the sun turns the ocean silver against the bruised, grey sky. The light and colour play magic scenes on the ocean, on the paddocks and on the forests. Sometimes it looks like you can see rainbows on the ground. There are paddocks with donkeys in them. Just as Nina witnessed on her travels. I see the same landscapes entering into Cadiz as Nina described. “From all this beauty of meadow and wood it was strange to come at last in the late afternoon to the low-lying salt-marshes that surround the rocky island on which stands the naval town of San Fernando. From these marshes the salt is obtained by evaporation. The whole locality is cut up into square depressions where the waster gathers and dries. It is a curious white countryside, flat except for the white houses and white pyramids of dried salt”. This area remains unchanged except I suspect the road is much wider now. The bus bumps along it, for although the road is now a modern, newish four lane highway, any road built over a marsh will bump and buckle and rise and sink with the marsh.

Entering Cadiz is on a “narrow, flat, sandy spit, after which you arrive in Cadiz through the most satisfyingly impressive entrance, driving under an ancient gateway, with old bastions six feet through crowing about it. Some of it crumbling. But they are imposing, picturesque; right for a place with the history of Cadiz. Cadiz that was well-known in King Solomon’s time, and is so ancient a site the Greeks declared Hercules to have built the first city founded there”. My bus runs along the same sandy spit with the Atlantic Ocean on your left, then the road, then the train lines and then the Bay of Cadiz to the right. I enter through the historic gate just as Nina did. I smile to myself, it is no longer crumbling but ask myself if, and how, it has changed.

I start to make my way on foot to my accommodation, Case de Caracol – the snail’s house. So called after the monchillas (shells) or backpacks. I take a wrong turn out of the bus terminal and come across two men. The young one is holding what I think is a replica gun – I hope it is a replica because it looks awfully real – behind an older man’s head. The older guy is kneeling on the ground with his hands behind his head. In careful, slow, precision movements, the older guy kneeling takes the gun from the young guy, explaining each of his slow actions. Ah, grasshopper! It is obviously a self defence/krav magna tutorial for the younger guy. I stay to watch them for a while and to pick up some free useful tips. Although I hope not to be held up at gunpoint.

Nina is in love with what is left of the ancient history of Cadiz which began in around 1,100 BC but she laments the lack of evidence of the Phoenicians . She says “except for those bastions and a few fragments of the old harbour-works, remain to draw the attention of the casual visitor”. For this she blames the English, Sir Frances Drake and English Lord Essex of “plundering the town so savagely it had to be rebuilt”. It is still a nice town with impressive buildings from the 17th – 20th centuries. It simply is just not the ancient town it could have been today. I visited the old Roman ampithetre today – or what remains of it. The theatre was only discovered during excavation in the 1980s. Nina would not have known or seen this. Yet it was something extraordinary just below the surface of Cadiz.

Nina’s experience was that the people of Cadiz “accept strangers casually, and beggars are rare”. I have found the Spanish people here a little harder to deal with and there are now beggars everywhere. It is a city that fills up during the day with three or more cruise ships in the port. It is also a haven for backpacking surfers chasing the last of the summer sun rather than tourists wanting to see and learn of it ancient history. I walk around feeling the sea breeze slip up the streets from the Atlantic so that it calls me to its fortifications along the ocean. I walk until I can no longer find shade to walk in as the sun is now high and hot. I scurry off to the cool laneways to find my way back to the old centre of town.

I visit the Cathedral, as Nina did. Although she visited when the ‘cannons’ were at their singing and there was no-one else in the Cathedral apart from two little girls. There were no priests or canons singing on my visit, the choir seats were empty except for the tourists listening in on their audio guides to the information about the 41 seats, the type of wood used, the carving and the architects. It is a fairly boring and bland Cathedral compared to most others I have seen. It is a huge, cavernous structure with what looks to be like fishing nets stretching below the vaulted ceilings and archways. I figured the fishing nets were to catch any falling bits and pieces of rock and mortar from falling on the tourists that walk around its cavern by the dozens.

Nina spent just a day in Cadiz but she wrote that she will always remember “the touch of the sea-wind blowing up a narrow street that I feel upon my cheek”. I am still unsure if I like Cadiz or not but I know one thing – I too will remember that sea-wind on my cheek.