“Why don’t you fly in to Malaga?”
“Where is that?” I asked, and then admitted I had never heard of it.
“It is in Spain and you can take the ferry across to Morocco,” she replied.
“It takes about half the points to fly into Europe as it does to Africa, and the ferry
is not much. That is where we flew with my high school trip.” She paused, “That
was a long time ago, I better check on that.” We both laughed.
I was on the telephone with a lady at the Air Canada Aeroplan desk and she
was most helpful. I had negotiated a reduced price with On the Go Tours of
London for a camel and truck trip across Morocco. Now I was trying to get there
as cheaply as possible and that meant using my frequent flier points. Those of you
who have tried to get a seat with points know there could be at least a chapter
written on that process—and another one on getting back home, but this lady was
truly helpful. She got me flying into Europe for about half the points required for
landing in Africa, plus the opportunity to experience another country. I had already
arranged a deal with Tilley clothing to provide the wardrobe for the trip, and I was
feeling pretty good about the package I was putting together.
At the time I was writing travel pieces for the Winnipeg Free Press, had
taken an annual major trip for seven years, then turned my diary into a book,
which I sold on the speaking circuit. My trip to Spain was pre 911 and the speaker
business was at its zenith, at least for my lifetime. That year things changed and
the resultant book, “Across the Sand” was never published. It turned up as one of
two unpublished manuscripts I found on a shelf when cleaning my office in early
2021 . . .
I landed in Malaga and made my way to the hotel where I spent the night
catching up on the sleep I lost over the last two days of travel. At the time, making
travel arrangements via the Internet was still relatively new and I was happy to
have made the connections.
The local market is always the first stop on my agenda when travelling.
There is no place that takes you to the local people as quickly and directly as the
local market, and I was in luck that the main market was within walking distance.
The sights and sounds were overwhelming, I had no idea that ham could be cut
and cured so many different ways. Most of them were hung by some type of heavy
butcher string from the top of the vendors’ booths. It quickly became obvious that
cured pork was the specialty of Spanish cuisine. While there were coolers of
poultry and beef, the pork was out in the open air for shoppers to see and to
experience the fragrance as well. Both were an inviting experience but the vendors
stopped short of offering samples as I had seen in other markets.
Displays of vegetables and fruit were equally impressive in quality and
quantity. It was fall—harvest season so I assume the selection was at its best. I
arrived early and had to contend with the last of the trucks making their deliveries
while shopkeepers carried produce to their stalls, before unpacking and arranging
the displays. I say contend, because every possible type of cart and dolly was
traversing the aisles, claiming the right of way over some tourist with a camera.
The number of cardboard boxes of fruit being unloaded and carried to the
stalls had me wondering what happened to all the containers; there were some
plastic tubs that would be reused but they were indeed in the minority.
I decided to ‘get behind the curtain’ for a view of the back of the market. I
took the street behind it where a series of pylons and traffic barricades offered only
minimal resistance to my entry, and found that I was not alone.
There were not as many shoppers in the back but they were equal in
intensity. It seemed the poor of the city had come here to access the produce
deemed unfit for display at the front of the stall.
I looked at the women scanning through the boxes and paper—each of
them with a plastic shopping bag to deposit their finding. I could not help but think
of that famous painting The Gleaners, a timeless portrait of poverty and the
working class. I could not make out any pecking order among the shoppers here; it
seemed a free for all, based on the principle of ‘first come first served’. The
shoppers were sorting through fruits and vegetables that typically were bruised or
had some other imperfection. I did not see any meat here, or any foodstuffs that
would have spoiled in the heat of the day.
I approached one of the younger shoppers who could speak English and
offered to buy her a coffee if she would tell me about the process. She explained
that shopkeepers were well aware of the scavenging and were neutral to it. They
did not offer attractive displays of this produce; neither did they actively
discourage the practice. Indeed, it was viewed as a social service, a way to feed the
poor. Even the trucks collecting garbage did not come down the streets behind the
market till later in the day to allow some time for shopping.
“These people could not afford to shop at the prices in the market place, so
the shop keepers are not loosing any sales,” my new friend said, “and most of
them go round to the front to buy some dry goods or a bit of meat. It prevents
waste and helps everyone.”
As I made my way through the city centre I was surprised to find a modern
bullring! In Mexico the sport was loosing its following; I knew the outcome of a
Spanish bull fight would be somewhat different, but I did not think they would be
building new stadiums in the centre of a city for a sport that was assured a head on
battle with the animals rights sector. This stadium had been built in 1874. After
being added to the list of Sites of Cultural Interest in 1981 it had undergone a
significant upgrade. Again, I had not expected the lack of hurdles to my entry and
made my way inside to find the arena full of trailers and roadies building a stage. I
wandered around largely ignored, taking pictures, before making my way to the|
second level and a series of shops, housing a number of artisans with their wares.
In conversation, an artist who voiced her opposition to the sport of bull
fighting, said she and other artisans were able to rent space here for a reduced rate.
In addition, the second floor of this arena was home to classrooms for teaching
dance and other creative disciplines.
“It is too expensive to have a facility like this for use a few Sunday
afternoons a year, (think NFL) so the Bull Ring has evolved into a community
centre and it houses events like that,” she points to the roadies assembling the
We talked about the bullfight still appealing to the traditionalist as a tourist
attraction, noting that younger people no longer attracted to the fight were more
likely to spray the gates with graffiti than worship the matadors as heroes, like
they were in the past. It was late afternoon and I was ready for a meal. She
laughed at me, and explained that no restaurant would serve a meal at this time.
“Dinner is from 7 to 9. You could get some tapas and a drink but it is far too early
to even think of a meal.” It had been a long time since that sandwich in the market
On my way out I walked past a chapel and was somewhat startled to find
that it was a part of every bullring. A priest was on hand during a bullfight: first to
bless the weapons to be used in the fight, and in case things went badly for the
matador de toros, if required, to deliver the last rites.
I spent some time in a museum dedicated to bull fighting, a facility attached
to the ring. I learned that I had stumbled upon the very heart of the sport and that
Rondo, which was considered the birthplace of bull fighting, was just down the
road. I was in the equivalent of Cooperstown New York for baseball fans!
It was an interesting excursion; I thought how strong tradition is in this
country where there are still churches that throw live goats (representing the devil)
from their steeples.
I headed down the street and stopped at a bar. Not only were they not
serving meals, they did not allow me or anyone else inside. I was served my beer
and tapas through a takeout window and enjoyed both at a small table on the
sidewalk, moving on to another with the same result. The bars were not open.
Food and beverages were available to be enjoyed on the sidewalk.
I kept thinking about the bullring I had seen and how it still fit into modern
Spanish life . . .
When I spent time in England in 1995 I was amazed at how the animal
rights movement had gained power in northern Europe, clearly less supported in
southern Europe. Some protesters were ready to give up their lives to end the veal
calf export from England to Holland. I did not have any actual research data to
prove my hypothesis but to me it was clear that in areas where the traditional
Christian church was not as popular as it once was, the animal welfare issue
became much stronger. I was aware of how the line between animals and people
was becoming blurred, increasingly fuzzy in southern US where dogs dressed in
bonnets were called kids, and rode to grocery stores in strollers. As with many
trends, Florida and California led the way in this one. Similar views were being
supported in England and the Scandinavian countries. Areas like southern Europe
where the Catholic Church still had a stronger influence seemed more able to
differentiate between people and animals.
I left Spain for two weeks to visit Gibraltar and trek across Morocco.
During the course of our travel across Morocco our group got to know each other
fairly well—pitching a tent every night for two weeks will do that. So when it was
time to go our separate ways, I was overjoyed to find that two of the young ladies
were making their way to Madrid via the bus. I was more nervous about bus travel
than I had been about the camel part of this excursion, so I was happy to find that
one of them was more familiar with this mode of transportation, especially since,
for her Madrid was home.
The bus ride from the port through Madrid went through an area of Spain
known for the production of fighting bulls. I was aware that the Spanish Fighting
Bull is raised in pastures with little human contact and does not fight before four
years of age. It is native to the Iberian Peninsula and some claim the genetics go
back to Roman times. Science has not substantiated that, but it does acknowledge
that the breed has an extremely old genetic pool . . . While the bus ride to Madrid
gave me an opportunity to see several animals in the pastures where they grazed, it
did not allow me the chance to speak with the farmers who raised the animals, and
my questions about genetics and any returns for producers went unanswered. I did
learn that the production of the breed was now concentrated in the southeast of
Spain, where once it had been common throughout the country.
The plaza in Madrid did not feature a bullfight the Sunday that I visited but
at least one mime was dressed as a matador. For a small fee he was willing to pose
with a tourist for a picture.