The stories of a couchsurfer

Málaga: Hope returns

Calle Marqués de Larios

The Spanish summer is notoriously hot. Coming from Australia, there was a thought that the affect wouldn’t be so pronounced and in reality the temperatures haven’t really been any more blazing than those faced at home. But when you put yourself in them while traveling (particularly via Couchsurfing) you expose yourself to some uncomfortable situations. You can’t rely on just staying home and staying out of the heat, always having water on hand, and there’s the constant burden of the backpack and any other things to carry around with you.

Never had this became any more evident than the time in Málaga, on the southern coast of Spain. Málaga lead the journey eastwards, continuing the anti-clockwise loop that proceeded through the Iberian peninsula. There was a thought of first heading down south to Gibraltar to explore the peninsula but it was simply too far off the path and there didn’t seem to be too many easy ways of getting there. The reentry into Spain was only a few days old but the frustration of language barriers and other nuisances had already returned. Combined with the extended time spent in Portugal, I felt as if there was already too much time being spent in these lands and there was starting to grow a great desire to get back into the French lands, where I would be more comfortable. There, I knew more people, could speak the language somewhat and the systems were more familiar.

But in fact the trip to Málaga finally gave the opportunity to test the train network in Spain. Previous travel within Spain had relied on busses either due to the possible trains being sold out or just no network existing at all. It had been heard from one or two people in France that the Spanish train network was terrible – uncomfortable and unreliable. What was experienced was completely the opposite. Such a surprise it was, to experience a comfortably air-conditioned train ride that was smooth and fast. Their website might be terrible, but Renfe – the Spanish transport company – seemed to be on the right track (pardon the pun) with the real world systems.

The train station, too, upon arrival in Málaga was impressive and modern. Then the heat was faced. Sevilla was hot too, but the arrival was at night when it was a bit cooler and the lack of finding a Couchsurfer meant that a hostel was the answer. The good thing about a hostel is that you can really spend as much time there as you want to stay cool, whereas with a Couchsurfer it’s not always guaranteed. Walking towards the center from the train station, one will pass the Rio Guadalmedina, the river that splits the city in two. This was completely dried up and created an eyesore of a sight. The buildings that surrounded it, while tall, were not well maintained and did not assist in the sight. The hopes for a wonderful visit were quickly diminishing.

But then the old city was finally reached and the hopes were revived. The streets were clean and easy to navigate. The city had been well designed, composing of a well balanced mix of large, open streets and narrow, curving alleyways to explore and discover. The heart of it is the Plaza Constución, a large open court with a fountain in the center, bordered by various restaurants. This may be the heart, but the artery providing the lifeline is most definitely the Calle Marqués de Larios, a pedestrian only streets that spans from the Plaza down almost to the port. Large shadecloths span from the buildings above to provide a cooling shade in the heat of Málaga. Here, one finds the best and richest stores of the city and it’s a buzzing hive of locals, tourists and street artists.

The street artists here are quite inventive and stray away from the conventional “living statue” type of experience. One puppeteer controls a puppet of Michael Jackson, flawlessly recreating his signature moves as a background track of Billie Jean plays on.

It’s also here, in the Calle Marqués de Larios, that you’ll have unavoidable promoters bothering you. Whether they are raising funds for a charity or trying to sell an Internet package, there will be one every fifteen metres or so. This is an annoyance but at the same time signals something. Málaga acknowledges it’s tourism. It’s something that hasn’t been observed in any of the other Spanish towns. As a result, there is a more pleasurable experience when ordering in a restaurant, for example. English is still not widely spoken, but there is an effort. And there’s not a complete dismissal when pathetic Spanish is attempted upon them either. This makes Málaga, as a whole, a more comfortable city to travel in for a non-Spanish speaking person.

That the tourism exists here in the first place is surely due to the Málagan beaches. Quite spectacular, not just for the soft, consistent sand but also the balmy, crystal clear Mediterranean waters that they host. The beaches are well developed, with loads of beachfront restaurants lining them and are well accessible. There are perhaps two or three main beaches in Málaga and each one is as nice as the other. Málaga is a major port for cruise liners also and one can just relax on the beach all day, watching the ships come and go.

Just as in Sevilla, Málaga still retains much of it’s Islamic culture from the days of it’s Islamic rule. There is an Alhambra here, a former fortress, that can be explored for the cost of around two euro. Slightly less impressive than the one experienced in Sevilla, the Alhambra does allow for a lot of exploration and at the very top provides spectacular view of Málaga and the coastline below.

The Cathedral here is not as well promoted as those in Salamanca or Sevilla and while not as impressive as the one in Salamanca it probably does hold an edge architecturally over it’s Sevillan counterpart.

As with many things in life, travel is all relative and after the stay here the urge to return to the comforts of France were not diminished, and increased if anything. But Málaga was an improvement on the other Spanish places previously visited and it gave hope that as the journey followed the coast, the fun times may return.

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