Clean, refreshed and ready for a full evening I lazily drifted from my room to the common area after a hearty nap. There, I checked my e-mail, chatted with the other hostel goers and then decided to set out for a snack. After a leisurely walk exploring the narrow, winding streets around the hostel I eventually made my way back to my favorite greasy spoon. Just up the alleyway and around the corner from the hostel…the place was a small bustling tapas restaurant with a large wrap around bar showcasing their various tapas options. With an old style half door into the kitchen three older gentleman worked the bar in a bustle of commotion. Taking orders, scooping plates of tapas, pouring beers and joking along with the customers. The place was affordable which, combined with it’s diverse selection of seafood/heavy foods, made for a delightful combination.
During previous visits I’d tried their albondigas, beef stuffed cuttlefish and whole wine steamed cuttlefish. This time I went for something different:
Always one for an adventure I dove into their escargot. The snails were delicious once you got over their appearance and the the realization that they looked just like the garden snails that had plagued our gardens when I was growing up. I’ve had escargot a number of times in a variety of countries. Each time, however, they’ve been prepared in very different ways. This was no exception. They were cooked in a brothy tomato sauce with slight meat undertones not unlike the sauce the local albondigas was served in. With a glass of local beer, tooth pick, plate of green olives and small loaf of bread, I made quick work of the hearty bowl of snails while relaxing and reflecting on the events of the day.
With my palate wet I made my way back into the city and towards the beach where several of the others had mentioned they might be. After a brief walk I found the beach and before long had stumbled onto a small group – mostly made up of those temporarily working at the hostel. There I was quickly welcomed into the group as we all sat on a beautiful sand beach, reclining against the seawall while enjoying a beautiful, warm winter day.
One of the guys had brought a guitar, while one of the girls had brought a bottle of champagne. After the guys tossed a ball around for a bit and the rest of us chatted, we cracked open the bottle of champagne, passing it around as one of the guys played a few guitar licks.
After relaxing and enjoying the beach for a while the sun began to set and we all decided it was time to head back to the hostel. I made my way back where I caught up with the hostelers I knew, met several new faces, and exchanged a variety of horrible, entertaining, delightful and periodically hysterically offensive stories.
Casa Caracol is one of those delightful hostels that’s small enough and personal enough that the owner can usually be found working, socializing, or generally instigating a good time. Nick – our patron – was usually somewhere to be found and always had fantastic stories, a smart quip for a silly question or a hearty argument for a good debate.
By 7 we had begun to gather, preparing our various contributions to the Christmas potluck. To my relief and as one might imagine, most of those on the road over Christmas aren’t overly religious. The hostel staff and most of my fellow travelers were no exception. Not a fan or believer myself, I was happy to spend the evening with a crowd who took it for what it was. ..A terrific excuse for good food, a great party and camraderie. As people pulled up youtube music videos for music we sat discussing music, shouting out requests and generally teasing each other for our picks.
I conferred with Aaron – a fellow traveler and chef from New York – on how best to cook the kilo of small shrimp, potatoes, garlic and peppers I’d picked up. I eventually decided on pan frying them in oil. As I set to frying the small shrimp whole others created a variety of delicious eats. There was a huge bowl of curry, a platter of taters, green olives, a large bowl of fruit, deviled eggs, a huge Spanish omlette and other foods I can’t recall…not to mention a multitude of Spanish wines and bottles of beer. Even a few pitchers of mojito mix.The following is a quick walk through in the lead up to the meal:
Before long the periodic nibbling gave way to a full onslaught and within 30 minutes we’d left a devastated table behind, cleaned out most of the food and been reduced to a near food coma. With cigarette smoke heavy in the air we all sat around chatting, breaking periodically for spurts of dancing or wildly re-enacted stories.
As the night carried on (and got progressively more ridiculous) the music got louder, the wine stronger and the stories grew more and more comical. All set to the backdrop of the seasonally decorated hostel mascot (yes, that’s a donkey doll with a beard and Indian headdress on) and Christmas tree. I learned various Peruvian card games, cleaned up in a few games of B.S. and learned new and interesting facts about France.
Eventually we elected to set off to one of the local bars – as I recall it was about 2AM or so – but not before we picked up and helped Nick carry a large refrigerator box. With the box in tow on our heads we made our way through the streets towards the heart of downtown….pausing briefly to gift the box to one of the local homeless men that Nick had befriended. Cardboard box delivered we made our way up a small hill before reaching a number of trendy local clubs. The mixture of people was engaging and the scene was entertaining. We danced, continued to drink and generally had an amazing time. Sometime around 5:30 we eventually found our way back to the hostel and crawled into bed.
By 1 pm I crawled out of my bunk bed. After taking some flack for snoring heavily I washed up, managed to get my shoes on, ate a quick snack and set out into the city.
The city itself is beautiful in an old, compact, historical sort of way. I started by wrapping along the peninsula’s coast towards the tip where I’d failed to explore during previous forays. As I passed the main Cathedral I quickly rounded the point and came across the paved walkway that hopped from small searock formation to searock formation as it gently curved out towards the city’s main fortress. However, before making my way out onto the walkway I paused to take in a spectacular sand carving of a dragon at rest.
After enjoying the artwork for a while I continued out along the walkway as the sandy beaches quickly fell away. Before long I found myself at the locked doors of the fortress surrounded by a small rocky area just above water level on either side of the raised causeway. To my delight the small waves came crashing in, slowly winding through a series of tunnels under the rocks which had been slowly warn away by the tide’s incessant pummeling. In several places the broken waves came rushing in before eventually crashing against a hollowed-out tunnel which forced the seawater up in a geyserlike fashion. Always eager for a reason to pause and relax I kicked off my backpack and rested for a while.
Moments like that one are the subtle joys of travel that remind you why life is worth living to its fullest. After my brief respite and musings I wound my way back down the long walkway before finding another spot too good to pass up. With beautiful white sand beaches, clear blue waters, beautiful weather and gorgeous, clear blue skies I quickly found myself reclining once more…
A bit sandy but feeling positively amazing I wound along the beach taking in the rest of the old port which now stood vigilant guard over a fishing fleet of small boats. From the beach I set off around the tip of the peninsula before eventually cutting back towards the inland side of the point. Before long I found myself in a large, beautiful park full of well fed cats, beautifully manicured trees cut in giant cones, amazing spirals and a multitude of other shapes. All decorated with blooming flowers and centered around a small park cafe which was open. For 4 Euro I snagged a quick soda, 2 chicken skewers and a side of potatoes and then set off through the rest of the park.
After leaving the park I continued along the coast. As the walls were more protected and no longer faced outwards toward the harsh open ocean, the cement breakwaters were replaced by the city’s old, unadorned defensive wall. All lined by a beautiful tree-lined walkway and decorated with beautiful wrought iron lamps.
Eventually my path led me back into the beautiful inner city streets. Paved with cobblestones and lined with lamps the city streets sport an abundance of beautiful painted windows, small flower-laden window sills and countless power lines, wires, and laundry lines stretched across the small gaps between the buildings that the streets create.
Eventually I found my way back to the hostel where I settled in for drinks and the usual evening hostel revelries. Tomorrow I leave for Grenada.
Eager to see more photos of the places outlined in this post? View the complete album here!