Benalmedana & Malaga – 23-25 September 2016

The last thing you would expect is culture shock while traveling to Spain. Even less so a shock set on by a mass of British travelers. And yet that is the only term I can find to describe how I feel every time we venture out in Benalmedana.

We came to this port because it has many facilities. We needed to find a shipchandler to buy a new 14mm (in diameter) batten for our sail as we accidentally bought a 12mm one in Tarragona. There are surprisingly few Spanish ports that have chandlers, and fewer still with sails shops. Also, the port of Malaga apparently no longer accepts pleasure crafts and redirects them all here, so we planned on this port as our destination.

We arrived Friday at 9:30 PM and were told to stay at the welcome/gas station until the morning when a spot in the harbour would be given us. The Spanish marineros were, as ever, friendly, cheerful and helpful. As it was quite early, Pierrick and I decided to go for a walk in the marina. Hindsight being 20/20, the four 50-something British women getting sloshed in the cockpit of a motorboat docked along the main walkway, who all had on a hairband with cat ears that light up and were going on like a hen do in downtown Liverpool should have been warning enough. At that point, we should have turned around and return to our boat. We could have spent the night chitchatting with the Spanish port crew. We could have started watching Game of Thrones. We could have, but instead we walked on.

Benalmedana is like South-end-on-Sea, except much bigger and much worse.

We didn’t end up stopping for a drink. Actually, we did stop, at an Irish pub. We didn’t stay. I was getting too depressed. The arrival of a party of six elderly women decked out like spring chicks – with so much make-up trying to pull off a fresh look – had me insist we leave.

I went for a run the next morning. Many people were out on the boardwalk at 9 AM. Few runners. Mostly walkers. Some with walking sticks. The terrain is pretty flat. Along the beach there is an expanse of small seafront restaurants: Irish pubs, burgers, Pizza, and the occasion paella for those who want to go native.

I have always fancied myself an anglophile. I loved living in London like nowhere else on this planet. There are so many things British that I love. Did I need to come to Spain to see its roly-poly underbelly?

We walked around the next afternoon and the effect was the same. We had lunch – a totally disgusting lunch – by the end of which I needed to leave. I could not stay among these people. Seeing them as individuals with their own stories and pains and loves is not a problem. Seeing the humanity in each person is not a problem. Watching the woman have her picture taken by her husband in front of the marina and the gaudy apartment building behind (it’s made to look like it’s floating on the water), who by cracking her tentative smile showed all the happiness she was feeling at that moment in that place, split my heart – and still does every time I think of her. The problem is not the persons, it’s the people. The society. Those who use their mighty pound to recreate isles of tacky Britishness along the beautiful Spanish coast. The working classes who voted out of Europe and hate their Polish immigrants but can’t so much as see how their tourism-export disfigures other countries. The food that’s disgusting and causes them to be fat, and yet that’s what they eat wherever they go. The alcohol they drink because that’s what being on holiday is all about, right? Getting sloshed? The very lack of interest in the world around them that has them conclude that holidaying is all about getting some rays and getting sloshed.

Our solution was to rent a car and get out! Saturday we visited Malaga, a really nice city. Good & cool restaurants, nice museums, friendly people, beautiful architecture. Today we’ll be going to Granada to catch a flamenco show and visit the Alhambra (can’t wait!). We’ll be staying in Benalmedana for a few days due to a combination of some changes we want to bring to the boat and not very favorable weather to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, but I’m done with visiting the marina. The food we make is better than what can be had in restaurants here. The car will take us to where the Spanish actually live.

One would think that the Spanish would get annoyed at this type of tourism and the effect it has on their land, but it seems they are friendly and generous to no end. Torremolinos, a neighbouring town, actually has a monument at the center of a roundabout honouring tourists. I read in a guide somewhere that in early September there’s a festival honouring tourists. Clearly, tourists are honoured.

Evidently I’m not Iberian. Maybe my culture shock comes from my “anglo-saxon” character? Can I help it if I find that a man walking around bear-chested – and then sitting down in a restaurant to order! – has little common decency? “Is it so hard to put a fucking shirt on?  ‘Cause dude, I’m, like, eating.” Maybe I’m just a snob – I definitely feel that way! I bought a little Marco Polo guidebook (by the British, for the British) in Malaga that states that alternative lifestyles can be found in the hinterland of Costa del Sol, stuff like art and sustainable living and organic vegetarian cooking. It would appear that, by the standards of the invaders of Benalmedana, I am alternative. The guidebook writes, “time seems to have stood still since the 1960s and ‘70s.” And yet I can’t help think that they’re the ones stuck in the 80s. Or maybe we just come from different planets…

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