I had just moved to Spain to study for a year and was overwhelmed with the desire to explore all of Europe in the first few days. Totally doable. Or so I thought. My newfound friends from my study abroad program and I sat down and looked into cheap flights to Morocco and Portugal for our 4-day weekend before class began. But the weekend was just around the corner and the travel options were getting slim.
We remembered our first few days in Granada; we were sweating profusely in the August heat and itching to escape to the nearest beach. “Nerja es preciosa,” our Spanish adviser tried to sell us on the beauty of Nerja, a beach on the famous Costa del Sol of Andalucía. Alas, we chose the beach of Salobreña, contrary to María’s suggestion. I think the main issues were that Nerja was a little further away, and a slightly more expensive bus ride.
There we sat, in early September, huddled around Chelsea’s MacBook Pro and recalling María’s advice. We looked into Nerja and found a hostel for a measly €13 a night, walking distance from the beach, and a bus ride from the famous ancient caves. After snagging the last 5 bus seats for the weekend trip, Alex, Brandon, Chelsea, Natasha and I were on our way.
We arrived in Nerja with little to no clue how to navigate our way to The Fountainhead Hostel. (I’d be lying if I said the name was not half of the reason we chose the place.) We called The Fountainhead from our Spanish cell phone and began trying to communicate our confusion in our virginal Spanish skills. Our host could hear our struggle and responded in perfect English. Alex paused a bit, stunned, before he continued, “Oh. Um. We’re at the corner of Concepción and some street name we can’t find.”
“I’ll be right down.”
Five minutes later, we were greeted by a lanky 30-something-year-old with shaggy blonde hair and aged flip-flops. “I’m Blake. You guys signed up kind of last minute for this hostel. It’s near the end of the season for Nerja. I’m gonna need to get these two German guys out of your room before you can settle in.”
Awesome. We dropped off our bags and headed in the general direction of the beach. A few drinks and a very Spanish lunch of bocadillos later, we passed out in the sand on a very secluded beach. The beach itself is surrounded by the Sierra de Almijara mountains, sheltering the turquoise water and enormous rocky coves. We waded out into the cool water and as native-Californians, were shocked to see colorful little fish darting about our ankles. Just the fact that we could see the bottom perplexed us.
While Alex, Chelsea, and Natasha sunbathed, Brandon and I explored the tall rocks looming over the corners of the cove.
“Think that water is deep enough?”
Suddenly, Brandon and I had found a new pastime—leaping off 20-foot tall rocks into beautiful water that, in reality, could have been shallow enough to kill us. I live to tell the tale. Once, at the highest point, I sat and enjoyed the view while Brandon stood, peering over the edge. I noticed the rock on which his foot was planted was turning a light red color.
“Holy crap, Brandon! Your foot is bleeding! Jump in, it’ll help!”
Later that day, Natasha and Chelsea asked me if I thought jumping in the water would really improve his foot.
“I don’t know. I guess it would stop the bleeding? Or attract sharks. Whatever.”
We rested at the hostel until we decided to go out for dinner. After showering, we had some one-on-one time with Blake, the humble hostel host. Originally from the States, Blake described his Spanish experience as the following:
“I was traveling Europe,” Okay, here we go. “I spent some time in Granada like you guys. It’s amazing. Six years later, I just woke up and realized I was living in Spain.”
While he took the time to take a huge drag of hash, we asked him if he was a big Ayn Rand fan, what with The Fountainhead Hostel and all. He exhaled a plume of smoke so large, it tinkled the dusty chandelier that hung above us. We made a slight error in our conversation choice because he then proceeded to preach his excessively libertarian views on everything from literature, the war, the economy, the educational system, and drifting. Finally, the subject changed to dinner. He recommended a pizza place by the beach.
“They cleverly named the restaurant ‘Little Italy’ to attract tourists, but it’s actually really good.”
An hour later we were ordering full-size pizzas for just €3 and enjoying the best Italian food we have had in Spain since.
We walked off our incredibly full stomachs near the Balcón, or balcony, of Nerja. This outstretch of concrete (with a hidden restaurant-meets-flamenco bar underneath) offers a beautiful view of both ends of Nerja’s sparkling coast.
The following day we took a bus up to the famous caves. They were re-discovered in 1959 by five friends exploring a sink hole in the area known as La Mina. For €6 and a student ID, we had a self-tour of the lengthy tunnels. They were lit beautifully to emphasize thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. Sometimes, concerts and flamenco shows are held in an amphitheater built into the largest corner of the caves. Be sure to get to get there early if you go during tour season. The tickets sell fast!
After one more night in The Fountainhead, we hopped on the 3-hour bus back to Granada to begin class. The “Jewel of the Costa del Sol” was the perfect way to start our first semester abroad.