Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Feria de Agosto - Málaga, Spain

There were three occasions during the 145 days of #WorldTour2015 where I had to be somewhere at a certain time.  I made sure I was well rested in Munich a day before so I could see the opening ceremonies of Oktoberfest as well as being in Kathmandu, Nepal, before the second day of November to kick of my Himalaya trek!  The first date though was the 14th day of August and the destination was Málaga!  The reason behind my dream of visiting Malaga began many years before in my adolescent years of learning the Spanish language.  Going back to the eighth year of my schooling en la clase de Señora Porter, I presented my report about my city of choice: Málaga!  At that point and time, I think I chose that city due to the shear fact of saying the city name over and over again during my presentation and making the stressed á stronger each time.  Through my research years ago, I said to myself, "Someday you will see that yourself".  Aging that dream for more than a decade I found myself among thousands of brightly dressed patrons, guitar strings singing in a rapid unison, and the snapping, tapping, and clapping of spinning verdiales dancers of all ages!

Packing up my tent and gear in the cool morning air in Calahonda, I was eager to get on the road to Malaga!  The ride along the Costa del Sol that day took me aside centuries old Moorish castles, stately mosques and even a Buddhist stupa!  Distractions and all, I made some of the most impressive cycling time to my home away from home for a few days in a flat with a real bed and less than a three minutes' walk to the beach also known as incentive!  As I settled into my flat and made a quick trip to the neighborhood supermercado for groceries for the next four days, I took some rest on the beach during the cooler part of the day.  During the long three minute trek to the beach, I passed by a pharmacy sign that flashed 33° at me!  For my readers that are accustomed to the Celsius scale understand that is a wonderful temperature for going to the beach and playing in the water!  For my American patrons, that is right around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and add a cloud free sky to the mix makes for a great time to head to the beaches of the Mediterranean!  As the sun began to set over the mountains behind me, I stood up and brushed the sand off my then bronzed skin, I made my epic voyage back to the flat for a shower and get ready to partake in the first night of 524th celebration of Feria de Málaga.  
Wandering my way along the seaside walkway, I came to a quick realization that Malaga's cuisine reputation was not exaggerated.  Dozens of seaside "kitchens" made choosing a challenge between one from another, so I tried a few!  One common characteristic among these eateries was the large open wood-fire grills but each varied in their grilled specialty.  My first stop was to this one grill that served up a mean filet of fish that I presumably believe arrived to the port on one of the fishing boats I gazed at from the beach a few hours earlier.  Nonetheless, the perfected balance of spices and wood smoke made for a tasty first course!  My next stop a few meters down was a larger establishment with a larger selection of meats which is good and bad all at the same time.  Looking about this endless grill with most likely a lost, indecisive look on my face, one of the grill masters offered his assistance.  In the best attempt of Spanish, I told him I had just arrived to Malaga that day and would like to try a local favorite.  Despite dining on fish not 15 minutes earlier, he insisted I try a spit of sardines.  When the sardines are roasted, the WHOLE sardine is roasted!  Not being the biggest fan of having dinner look back at me, I gave them a try and let us just say these were consumed for the next four days.  This grill sprinkled a precise amount of spices, some onion, and a magical marinade over the as the wood embers worked their magic and with a glass (or two) of Cruzcampo beer - delightfully delicious!  That whole chiringuito experience was wonderful, but the platter of tapas that I had at a street cafe near the Plaza de la Merced.  I will spare you the nitty gritty details of the tapas selection being my mouth is salivating uncontrollably just thinking about them as tell this travel tale!   
The heart of Málaga is filled with colorful paper lanterns strung over the cobbled streets lined with booths offering trinkets, tricks or treats for fair patrons of any age.  Bigger than the fireworks bursting in the night sky over the harbor or the festive decorations adorning balconies of homes and windows of the shops was the spirit of the people.  Every direction I looked there were young girls wearing stunning flamenco style dresses of all colors with brilliant flowers set in their hair.  Watching virtuoso of the guitars and fiddles compete with friendly smiles and lively hands making music that filled the streets and encouraged dozens of dancers.  But it was not only those celebrating the traditional aspects of the fair that welcomed me into this city's culture and rich history.  One of the happiest moments I was able to capture on a sunny afternoon was that of an attendant of his small booth with small toys for children to celebrate in style.  As I walked near, I noticed he had a handheld bubble machine fully loaded and shooting a stream of bubbles outward and upward into the crowded street.  As he caught me in the act of snapping a shot, I got the most genuine smile in return followed by a few chuckles of laughter and that truly made my day!  Over the days that I explored Málaga, the fulfillment of 'living Feria' surpassed any expectation I ever could have set for the city.  Reflecting back on my stay I see that I left with the happiest of memories and I would say that is an excellent way to end a 'dream come true'.

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