I may be back at work today but that’s no reason to wave bye bye to all my saved up sunshine, so to lift the gloom it’s time for another postcard from Spain.
Conil was everything you could want a little Spanish seaside town to be, all white houses, narrow steeply sloped streets running down to the beach and an alarming abundance of mopeds and coaches, both of which seemed to pay no more than lip service to any semblance of traffic regulations. Next to overtaking the tractor, I rank my first drive into Conil up there with the best of my driving accomplishments.
We spent several days pottering around the old town, and cooing over the beautiful clothes in the children’s shops (well that may just have been us girls, but the boys were happy enough to play along if it got them back out of the shop and on to the golf course in good time), and Grandma and Grandad treated the tiny twosome to some gorgeously beautiful outfits for the winter.
One morning we drove to the market on the outskirts of town to pick up a cheap beach towel (Minnie Mouse flavoured, and now one of Kitty’s dearest posessions) and a little Spanish culture. On the whole there was far less tat than you would expect to see in an English street market, and while Kitty was torn between eyeing up pretty sparkly bracelets and wondering whether to turn her full charm on Grandad in the small matter of the sweetie stall, we were both stopped in our tracks by the olives. Row upon row, bucket upon bucket of the plumpest most luscious olives you could imagine. Bliss.
H’s parents have been travelling to this area for years and took us to their very favourite spots for lunch; we ate Spanish tortilla, fresh chips, and Elma added another new taste to her repertoire when she filched a bit of fresh sardine from my plate, and upon the discovery that I had in turn filched it from Grandad, happily snuggled into his arms with the express purpose of having another bite, and another, and another.
These daughters of mine have all of their grandparents wrapped around their little fingers, but grandfathers appear to be particularly susceptible. My Dad knows all too well the affection that Kitty has for a good ice cream, and it seems that H’s Dad is no different. We ate “sandwich mixto” in a little coffee shop on one lunch break but all that a rather hot Kitty really wanted was an ice cream. She asked with her very nicest manners but alas and alackaday the shop sold no icecream.
Not one to be so easily defeated her adoring Grandad popped around the corner to the nearest supermarket and returned minutes later bearing a cornet, and the other three that came in the packet. The rest of us were all too full of sandwich to contemplate anything iced at that point but we didn’t want them to go to waste. Outside on the terrace sat a small boy with his family, a little older than Kitty I suspect, but not much bigger, he’d seen the ice creams arrive, and he could see Kitty enjoying hers. So we asked his parents, and all got to enjoy the ravishing smiles of a very delighted young man when my father in law made him a present of the rest of the box.
We tried out two beaches on those hot sunny afternoons, the first in Conil itself, and the second a little way along the coast.
Just as at Barbate, the sand was soft and golden, but this time the wind had dropped, the sea was quieter and both girls came in in turn. Kitty’s swimming quite often seemed to be as necessary as it was fun given the amount of sand attached to her person at any given time.
I don’t have any pictures myself of Elma’s first swim, as the baby is wriggly, waves go up and down and the camera is not waterproof, but I think she enjoyed it. She seemed more puzzled than smiley; she liked all the bobbing up and down but I think she wasn’t too sure about this strange swimming pool that just wouldn’t keep still. But it is a milestone none the less; on 5 September 2013, my baby swam in the Atlantic Ocean.
And on that very same day I started to teach her sister the very important skill of constructing tide fight castles. We lost, as you always do, but not before we’d outlasted everyone in sunloungers around us (though sadly on the very wave before I was about to take a photo).
She has mastered sandcastle building though, and possibly discovered rather a taste for sand construction in the process. First she buried everyone’s feet in the sand, then her knees, and then she tried pouring sand on H’s head (which was not met with approval!), and then, well we’re not quite sure what happened next, all we know is that Grandad started out the day with two socks, but came home with only one.
The second beach was a little way south of Cornil, down a narrowing dusty track of the sort that can only lead to a really wonderful beach, and it didn’t disappoint, rolling dunes giving way to miles and miles of sand and delicious breakers. It wasn’t a day for small daughter swimming, and only H and I went for a dip, but it was my favourite swim. I love it when the waves are cresting when it’s just about deep enough to swim so that rather than just hopping up and over or elbowing your way through the surf you swim up up up to the pointy peak where it teeters on the cusp of breaking, and then slide down the other side as it rolls away behind you. I’ve been swimming waves like that since childhood and the pleasure has never diminished.
We finished up with the kind of supper that that amount of swimming deserves, at a hotel notable both for its size, and my complete and utter inability to find it by car on our second visit. I pride myself on having a good sense of direction based on a very visual memory, and I don’t think it’s a lie to say that if I’ve been somewhere once I can usually find it again by familiar landmarks. But when the non-golf playing members of the party led an advance party to Conil for supper, leaving H and his Dad to finish up and catch up, I couldn’t find it for the life of me. I knew where it must be and yet every time we drove past where we thought it ought to be we couldn’t find it.
We consulted Google maps, to no avail.
I drove yet another loop of Conil’s squeaky tight one way system, passed all of our familiar landmarks and seriously began to wonder whether the staff had moved it overnight.
But just as we’d caved, and H’s Mum had called to ask him to come and find us, we turned a corner from a different direction and there it stood in front of us, one massive white hotel and a big carpark out front, released from its invisibility cloak at last.
My only defence, and it’s more of a plea in mitigation, is that on the crucial night when we first drove to that hotel I was rather sleepy, and so I’d closed my eyes, and missed out on what happened between the roundabout you turn off on to get to the supermarket, and the road out of town turning into a dirt track. For the record you turn left.
But it was worth it. Elma ate a spectacular amount of a delicious beef casserole, and kicked back between courses,
and Kitty found a bowl of her favourite strawberry ice cream.
Sunkissed and happy – Conil in a nutshell. And for those keeping score, it is de la Frontera.