Tuesday 19 September 2006

The Costa Del Sol

Get comfy, this is a long one. =)

When one's company decides to whisk you away to a sunny resort for an extended training session, one takes full advantage of the situation. Which is how last weekend Stephen and I found ourselves on Spain's aptly named Costa del Sol. Specifically, we were in the little town of Fuengirola, which despite some not so nice rumours, turned out to be a delightful little town with surprisingly much to offer.

The hotel (Beatriz Palace) was absolutely gorgeous and situated right on the beach. As if sandy beaches weren't enough, it had a wonderful pool and full (though smallish) spa at our disposal as well. The massage I had was particularly nice, and had me completely relaxed for the weekend to come. As an added bonus, our room overlooked both the pool and the beach, facing East, so the morning sun came streaming in through our windows. I'm not typically a morning person, but it is difficult not to smile in the face of such a cheery waking.

Stephen flew in on Friday evening, and that night we took a little walk down into the town along the pier, stopping at one of the many little seafood resteraunts for a truly excellent shell-fishpaella accompanied by a local white wine.

Paella is a particularly wonderful Spanish dish that is much like Chinese fried rice, only with saffron, cumin red chilis and then whatever meat and veggies you care to add. Usually the meat is seafood in Andalucia, but it's not uncommon to get sausage either. A really yummy dish that I've never had a bad variation on.

Then we went to bed early as the next day was a full adventure - our first scuba diving lesson. It was with a local Padi centre, that Stephen booked in the next town over. They ended up taking us over to the Marina del Este. We have both really been wanting to try scuba for some time, and were quite excited. While Stephen seemed to take to it quite easily, I had a few difficulties.

A few of my thoughts on scuba:
- It is not nearly as easy as it looks. In fact I never fully squared with the idea that I was both underwater and able to breath easily. Not that it was actually physically difficult to breath, just that psychologically it doesn't seem quite right. That and taking "yoga breaths" is not the way to go nor is trying to "breathe normally". What worked best was actually using the lungs as a bellows and keeping air constantly moving.

- From what I gather from other seasoned divers (my mom and colleagues), is that our first dive was really quite deep (6-14 meters or 20 to 40 feet), which might explain why the surface of the water looked a bit more like sky than water. That was another thing that made it a bit difficult to adjust.

- The cincher for me was letting water into the mask. You see, I don't like having water around my eyes and when I then tried to clear the mask, I started to float off (the instructor had us kneeling on the seabed holding onto a rope) when the instructor grabbed me. So I had a mask full of water fighting the current and being held onto by who knows what. Nope, I was done. So I went back up to the top and after that wasn't really able to take the plunge to go back down. The panic reflex was much too strong. As as a result, I ended up missing the best part of the dive, which was swimming over to the reef and actually seeing fish and an octopus!

So, yes I chickened out, but I'd like to give it another try before completely deciding that it's not for me. Maybe something a bit more shallow (10-12 feet max) that lets us explore more without the focus on performing skills. As far as I see it the skills are a means to an end, the end being seeing stuff you wouldn't typically just snorkeling.

So that was pretty much the whole day, and since most of it was spent wet, the digital camera never made it out of our backpack, which was a real shame as the little bay was absolutely gorgeous. Oh well, getting an underwater disposable next time!

On Sunday, we decided to take some time and actually explore Fuengirola itself. Right next to the hotel was our first stop - Sohail Castle. A ruined castle from the Arab times that has now been converted into a concert space. It overlooks the bay and city (once a key fishing and trade post), providing the ideal defensive location for the region.

One of the things I always find fascinating about old buildings is how the various layers of construction is betrayed by the strata of stones.

From there we wondered through the town itself, taking any alley or street that took our fancy. Being a fairly traditional place, it was pretty quiet and people were sparse on this Sunday afternoon. I loved the architecture though, such a wonderful conglomoration of styles and periods.

We ambled past the main mosque, behind which we found a lovely little market with more people in a single street than we had yet seen all day. Fortunately, it was market for locals, which meant we got a to see a nice variety of goods and just enjoy the buzz of walking through a crowded space - stall keepers trying to attract shoppers, children talking their parents into buying sweets, people stopping and chatting with friends.

What was odd, is that in all our wanderings, we didn't see a single Catholic church. I can only assume that's because they were tucked into spaces we didn't happen to peer into or, like in Singapore, you really had to know what to look for to tell. Oh well. After a while we headed back to the water front for a cervesa and chat overlooking the beach and waves. The weather couldn't have been more perfect - brilliant sun, blue sky and water, white sand and a cool breeze that just hinted at autumn.

Unfortunately, from there it was time to collect our luggage and catch a taxi to the train to the airport, and the end to yet another adventure.