I had decided to take my own path. To travel alone in Spain. To leave Nina behind and to catch up with her again in Cadiz – but you know how short breaks go – you start to miss the other person. All you can do is think about them. What they are doing, what they would have said, how they would have reacted. I had barely been on the bus to Estepona for twenty minutes before I started to think of Nina. For most of the journey the road runs parallel to the Mediterranean coastline about five kilometres inland. It traverses a ridge and from my vantage point high in the bus, high on the ridge, I can see the sea. I can also see what this part of Spain has become. I can see the high-rises, the urbanisations (developments), the holes left in the ground from the global financial crisis and I can see the golf-courses. Golf course after golf course, green after green – surrounded by clay-coloured modern villas where the (mainly) Brits live. I imagine what it would have been like when Nina travelled alone in Spain. There would have been farmlands dotted with small villages of white houses, narrow streets and the inevitable donkeys she came to love and wax lyrical about.
I had put Estepona on my list on the recommendation of a friend and to have a break from Nina. In searching where to stay in Estepona many of the places were out of town in the urbanisations with their pools, tennis courts and golf courses. I wanted to stay in the old town. I wanted to do my best to be true to Nina. So I found a hotel (one star) in the heart of the old town. The old town is beautiful. The white town houses of the narrow streets are full of flowers and plants. Pot plants hang off the walls and balconies, they line the streets. Each street has a unique colour for their pots, some streets have blue pots, some green, some are pink with yellow polka dots and some mix them all up – but uniformally so. All of them have a crazy riot of flowers blooming out of them.
I find my hotel in Calle Veracruz. It is as I said, one star, but I have never stayed in a more beautiful place. My room is directly off the courtyard. There is a fountain in the middle, historic old arches, painted tiles of local scenes from Estepona and further afield in Andalusia. I see the Puente Neuvo from Ronda at the wrought iron gates into the courtyard. A large bull looks down at me, watching me write from up above. I think it is a real – though long dead – bull. In fact he’s stuffed. In my room, roses are on my bed, it is spacious and so very clean. It is artistically decorated in the old style with a shower room and walk in wardrobe. All this in a one star. I don’t believe I have ever stayed in a five star hotel this good or this beautiful. This morning at breakfast, included in the price, I meet an elderly German couple. We get to taking over the communal table. They come here for five weeks every year. They used to own a house here for many, many years but now the stay here – it is like home they tell me. The have the large upstairs suite on every visit. I tell them what I am doing and what I have done. There are curious in my following a woman half way across the world, who travelled here in 1934. They are keen to hear about my experience in walking the Camino de Santiago earlier this year. The woman asks me “Did you find yourself?”. I smile and laugh and give a look to say ‘HA!’ as I shake me head. Her husband tells me about another pilgrimage, held once a year. He tells me it happens in a town near Seville called El Rocio. I get excited, I know that Nina went to the festival associated with this pilgrimage when she was in Seville. Again … I find myself thinking of Nina. I show them my book and now they are excited. We talk until breakfast is over and I head down to the beach for a walk along the promenade.
I am happy to be in Estepona during the ‘off season’. I can only imagine what it is like in summer – and would love to experience that as well. Along the beach there are little restaurants and terraces, places to hire sun lounges and have a cerveza. Some of these are open but many are now closed until next March. There are few people on the promenade this morning but I imagine when the season is ‘on’, this place is on. There is not a lot to do in Estepona during these months. It is not warm enough to swim and the souvenir shops are few and far between. However, if you are after the resort wear then you would be overwhelmed by choice. There are no sights of historic interest, apart from the old town itself and no galleries showcasing amazing art. Even the town church is uninspiring from the outside. Apparently, the town clock is considered tourist attraction although I don’t know why. What this town lacks in things to see it makes up for in its flowers, its gardens, it fountains and the very nature of what it is – a spectacular little place. It would be a great place to get a house for a month and have friends visit. To swim in the Med and to eat the incredibly fresh and inexpensive seafood. This is a holiday town not a tourist town.
In this particular part of Spain, it is difficult to know who is Spanish and who is English. This is especially true when it comes to the women. English women are tanned to a deep brown and the Spanish women blonde their hair. In the morning, all wear active wear and in the evenings and night all dress up in tight clothing and high heels. Yesterday I stopped for lunch at glanced at two abuelas (grandmothers) who were at another table. Both would have been in their 80s and dressed very conservatively – as you would expect from an abuela. They ordered two small beers. The waiter asked if they would like a tapa with their beer. In rapid, righteous Spanish they replied “Of course, yes!” and implied ‘and you an idiot?’. It was only later that I noticed they weren’t Spanish at all as they conversed in their clipped British accents. Nina would have loved Estepona. I do!