Places I love, Issue 4: Torrevieja

It should probably read ‘Places I loved‘ because it’s been ten years since I visited Torrevieja. But the memories still inform me and grip me, so it is still love.

This town sits on the Spanish Costa Blanca, about 30 miles south of Alicante. When I last visited it was on the verge of mass-development. There were new clone-stamped villas popping up all over the periphery, distressing the look of the town’s suburbs and beckoning in new waves of Brits and Germans. If it has continued that way then it’s best that I don’t go back…

My Grandad owned a flat on Av Doctor Gregorio Marañón, next to a go-kart track that hardly ever saw go-karts. Instead there would be a funfair blaring music into the steamy night and glaring onto his balcony. It was a simple flat but the location was great, right next a stretch of beach embraced by a long breakwater. The beach was sandy, the water was incredibly salty. Torrevieja has an abundance of salt farms surrounding it, a drive up the motorway would reveal huge mountains of the stuff. A dip in the sea would later be accompanied by a cold shower in the flats’ communal shower area, rinsing crusty hair clean again, destroying traces of the black mud my brother and I would hurl at each other out in the water. Sometimes coating each other, sometimes trying to completely blacken a buoy. When that got boring we would skim tennis balls across the water’s surface and try to knock each other’s heads off… Or play catch. Or just float on a dad-breath-inflated lilo. Retiring to the beach bar for an occasional big bowl of chips as a treat, with a side of dimply-bottled Orangina or Coke. Then as the sun began to set we would walk back up the beach, worn out from sun and play, cross the little bridge at the base of the scrubby park full of dog shit and winos, and spend some evenings playing poker for pennies on the flat’s balcony. At night we’d sleep hoping mosquitoes hadn’t snuck into our room, and listen to the drone of mopeds prowling the streets.

Covered in the volcanic mud from the sea. Not me, or my brother, but the concept is the same, and we looked happier:

Every few years we would stay there for a week or two, these were my first flights anywhere. It also sparked my love of Spain. We would visit during Semana Santa and watch the curious ‘KKK’-alike Nazarenos parade from the Cathedral in awe. Floats and marchers lighting up the streets of the town at night. Cake shops selling tiny multicoloured sugar versions of the Nazarenos.

Not the KKK, don’t be scared:

Churros stalls filling us with dough and hot chocolate until we felt sick. Other nights containing a relaxing tapas meal at a local bar. My younger brother would cry seeing bull-fighting on the television. Myself, wondering at patatas bravas and little bowls of olives, drinking in the atmosphere and the vibrancy of the streets in the evening.

Churros, I started off liking them, but ate waaaaay too many so that I felt ill just thinking about them:

In the day we would walk from the flat past a ‘blinking Jesus’ to a dazzling zig-zag-floored promenade full of market stalls. This was the era of Aerosmith’s Crazy, which I remember playing almost everywhere during an early trip there. We would saunter through the market stalls, admiring the pretty tacky necklaces with heavy metal symbols and beads, Bart Simpson t-shirts, and a few years later Luis Figo and David Beckham replica football tops. Other days we would visit the supermercado, one of my favourite things to do anywhere in the world or even in London. You can tell a huge amount about a culture by the contents of their supermarkets, what’s prominent, what’s there in huge variety. The smells are different everywhere, and the food is a feast for the eyes even if you don’t buy.

Imagine that as you walk past this the eyes blinked, like a hologram:

Beyond the markets was the naked coast, free of the shelter of the breakwater but also free of sand for a few hundred metres, until the most popular and therefore crowded beach. Rocks getting battered by the Mediterranean. There were white-washed seats on these rocks, positioned to observe the surf pluming up like a geyser when it hit certain places with a certain ferocity. My dad would go down here in the mornings to read in the early sun. I can understand why, with only dog-walkers and elderly couples strolling the promenade it must have been very peaceful.

The crowded sandy beach beyond the rocks. No thanks:

We would play boules on the long and undulating roof of the block of flats for hours. The sound of the balls rolling along the tiles would bring a very stereotypical Spanish resident up onto the roof to bark condemnation of our choice of play. But we’d carry on the following day.

The days would roll by like this until it was time to come back home. We would test Alicante airport’s check-in folk with whatever weapons we had innocently bought whilst in the town, ranging from a short baseball bat to a toy revolver. Parents hadn’t really thought that through had they… Alex got his shoe-lace caught in an escalator in the terminal and suddenly all those years of warnings came back to him, cue screaming and tugging free. Finally we would board our Air2000 flight to Gatwick and enjoy the views and memories.

It was precisely because we did visit this kind of Spanish town rather than Benidorm or Marbella that I have taken the course I have in holiday choices and to some extent lifestyle. It would be sad to confirm that Torrevieja was a shell of what it once was, I am tempted to return, especially after writing this, but that may have to be left to chance rather than design.

We would always arrive home to be greeted by an extremely relieved cat, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She wouldn’t face us for a day or so, just regard us with her ears rather than her face. And let the fleas who had thrived on her stress come and taste a different kind of relaxed, human blood.

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