Have you ever filled in a survey or a form that says ‘check all boxes that apply’? I know I have, especially in filling out medical forms – yes, I’m a non-smoker (does that one cigar in Cuba count?), no bed-wetting (fully toilet trained since I was a year old), excessive worry ( OMG… one highlight, two checks and three asterisks); government questionnaires -think Canadian Census, unemployment benefits and passport applications; those annoying customer satisfaction surveys with the heading ‘How Did We Do Today?’ In fact, we spend out lives ticking boxes – if not on paper or on the internet, then with our conversations and in our minds.
Think about it – when we meet people we develop a mental list of likes and dislikes, pros and cons about who they are and how they present themselves to you and others. When we visit places, try a new activity, eat new food – any new interaction we have it’s the same – an instant ongoing conversation begins in our head. And by the time many of us reach that point where we are choosing a partner, we already know that they’ve hit all the right notes. Call it a vibe, call it a feeling, but as these interactions continue, our mental check list grows with it. Do we like it, how do they make us feel, is it irritating, does it make us laugh, angry … you get the idea. It’s a defining of our personal relationship with that particular person, place, thing, or idea.
Over the past three years, this is what has happened to me with traveling. My passport has become a checklist of sorts for having traveled to 8 countries, some of them more than once – Grand Cayman, Italy, France, Dominican Republic, UK, Spain, Cuba and Canada. A 4-hour wait in Dublin airport before a connecting flight and a 3-hour stopover in Morocco to change ferries doesn’t count as proper visits, although my passport shows I’ve been there. I’ve included Canada in this list because I spent time gallivanting around Montreal and in Ontario too. And when I walk away from these places, I look at my photos or read over my journal entries and meander my way through a mental account of all that’s transpired, all the experiences I’ve had. The good, the bad and the OMG I never want to see, hear, taste or talk to that one again! I realize that I have been keeping a mental tally, a comparison sheet if you will, in an unconsciously trying to determine the place that ticks all my boxes.
And I think I have finally found that place in Nerja, Spain (pronounced Ner-ha – j’s are given an ‘h’s sound in Spanish). What used to be a quiet little fishing village now has about 22,000 people living there. And I’ve fallen in love with it. And here is why:
- A Dose of Culture – Flamenco dancing and music, tapas bars, festivals, street parades, music and celebrations at the Balcon de Europa, Cuevas de Nerja (Nerja Caves) – and these are just a few things I’ve seen in a few weeks. New Years Eve was the most exciting and fun I have ever been a part of, celebrating with people from all over the world. Then there is the museum, a local arts center and oodles of clubs, churches and associations.
- A Feast for the Eyes: The apartment where I am staying is at the highest point in Nerja, with the most gorgeous sea view imaginable, azure and silver continually changing in the sunlight. It makes all those steps worthwhile. The mountainous National Park Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama are literally on the back doorstep. Kilometers of hiking trails and the daily migration of 200 plus milking goats, with an odd sheep thrown in for good measure means having nature in my own back yard. Bougainvillea and hibiscus bloom in red, fuchsia, orange, pinks and yellow finery. Oranges hang from trees in yards, parks and along the roadside – I can reach up and pick them. And all throughout Christmas, every doorstep and balcony, every round-about and road median, every available nook and cranny was filled with scarlet poinsettias.
The buildings here are beautiful, including the houses and apartments. I think it may be that most of them are so white to reflect the sun, but this seems to make everything seem neat and tidy. Most people take great pride in their homes and businesses and go out of their way to make it beautiful on the inside and out.
And then there are the sunsets. Magnificent in their evening painting of the sky in hues of rose and gold and purple. Each one is different, but every one is breathtakingly lovely.
- Coming and Going: Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport is an international airport and only 40 minutes away. Return flights from Malaga to Dublin, London, Barcelona and are cheaper than getting a return bus trip across Newfoundland.
- Dinero – Poco/Mucho: It doesn’t cost a lot of money to live here, especially if it’s off season. Most things are reasonably priced and food is very inexpensive, especially if I compare it to home. There is a market every Tuesday for produce and everything else imaginable. Eating out is so very cheap.
- Feeling Safe: As a woman, it is so nice to be in a place where I can feel safe walking alone, day or evening. I am not foolish enough to put myself in harms way, but to be in another country and to feel safe wherever I go is such a big deal.
- Friendliness: The local people are incredibly outgoing, approachable and helpful. I never feel out of place and always feel welcome. Tourists just love to hear someone speaking their language, so it’s very easy to strike up a conversation wherever you go. And if the language barrier is just too difficult to cross, there is always the option of just acting it out, raising your glass and saying “Liverpool /Manchester United or Real Madrid/Barcelona” – football transcends all barriers!
- Getting Around: My own two feet can carry me almost anywhere I need to go, but the bus system is cheap and easy to use and pretty much runs on schedule. When I walk far and long enough I can justify a tapas or coffee break on the way back. Good walking shoes, sunglasses and a handful of Euros in my pocket and I’m on my way. And it helps to have someone to call to pick me up when I just can’t make that hill.
- Is It Hot Enough: The sun shines 320 days of the year and the average January temperature is 15 degrees C and it only gets warmer, peaking in July and August (30+C). Which for a Canadian means no freezing and no shovelling, no snow tires or mittens. Still, if I have a hankering for the cold white stuff, the mountains of Granada are only an hour or so away. But right now, I am happy to stick with the soft breezes and warm sunshine.
- Let’s Eat Out Tonight: There are over 100 restaurants in the town and most of them stay open in the winter. Along the beach, you can eat smoky paella cooked in massive pans over a fire fed with wooden pallets. For coffee aficionados, a great cup of café con leche can be found on every corner. Tapas, a portion of food (chicken, lamb, seafood, potato tortilla, rice, salad) are served with every drink you buy – it is the most economical way to eat in Spain. And exciting too as you get try so many things. Imagine if it were like that in Canada…free food with your beer or wine – the bars would be full all day every day!
- Sea and Sand – I love the ocean (or the seaside to my UK friends). Whether is it calm and gently lapping the shoreline or the waves are fierce and rolling in the wind, I am in my element. It both calms and energizes me. Here in Nerja, it is a constant. I can see the Mediterranean from the terrace at any time of day or walk the 3 kms to Burriana Beach (all downhill – getting back is a little more difficult). There are many little beaches and coves here – 16 kms of fine sand and pebbles along the shining clear waters for me to walk along and breathe in the salty air. Although I’ve watched others swimming in the sea, I just haven’t made that plunge yet. I’m happy letting the waves roll over my feet.
- Shop ‘Til I Drop: The downtown centre is made for walking and browsing and is filled with little shops. Clothing, jewelry, leather, shoes, electronics, pottery, groceries, pharmacies, hair salons, esthetics – everything you need can be found here. There is even a small English bookstore called W.H. Smiffs! When the shopping is done, treat yourself to an ice cream from the helederia (ice cream shop) and walk along the Balcon de Europa or down lovely little mosaic paved streets. Did I mention the leather shops…
- Speaking The Lingo – Spanish is quite different from Italian and French, but is one of the easiest languages to learn; unlike English, it has an almost rigid set of grammatical rules and once you know them, you can apply them to communicating and reading the language. And as many Spanish words mirror English, it makes it a little easier to navigate a menu or conversation (restaurante, importante, dentista). Pronunciation is the most difficult part as there is a real lisping element to speaking – your tongue is sticking out between your teeth! ‘J’s sound like an ‘h’, and ‘s’ is pronounced ‘th’ and many words are rolled together sounding like one – hasta luego becomes h’luego. Yet, it’s easy being English speaking here as there are a lot of ex-pats from the UK and Ireland and many Spaniards have a smattering of English, but I prefer to use as much as I can – a word or phrase here and there and I am okay with asking what something is in ‘en español’.
- Feeling That I’m Home: This is the most important. Of all the places I’ve been, Nerja is the one place that feels just right. That vibe, that sense of being exactly where I want to be and knowing I am welcome here. It fits me and what I’ve envisioned as a perfect place in the sun. The joy of waking up every morning, having a cup of coffee outside and being content. And if I could just gather all my friends and family and wedge them in next to me, it would be perfect.
This beatiful place ticks all the right boxes for me – not every box, but it is close. Few are left unchecked, but I aim to try and mark every one.