It was way too early to reach the airport. We’d meant to spend the morning seeing Malaga—a quick wander round the centre and perhaps the castle before we left Andalucía—but it all went wrong. The autopista from Nerja was fast enough, but the traffic slowed to a crawl at the edge of the city; and then we lost the signs to the centro, ending up there only by chance after half an hour of random circling.

I spotted a blue P and joined a queue of cars headed down a ramp under the tree-lined main street. Every few minutes another one of us was let through the barrier, until it was our turn. Our turn, that is, to join a line of cars all realising at once that there were no free spaces; or, more accurately, that the free spaces so carefully accounted for in the one-in, one-out calculations had been taken by drivers with special parking needs. Like the need to see a bloody optometrist and stare at an eye chart with a big white line painted down the middle, for future reference.

I drove round and around that pit of carbon monoxide, losing space after space to cars driving the other direction or just behind or ahead of us. The clock kept ticking—there went the castle; there went the cathedral; there went any point in even getting out of the car—until eventually we pulled up at the ticket machine, paid €1,80 for our “parking”, and left.

After taking an hour to get that far, it took barely ten minutes to get out. And since Malaga airport is only a few miles south of the city, we got there way too early. Not before I’d missed the turn-off and driven dangerously close to the tower-blocks of Torremolinos, though; I did a desperate U-turn around an obelisk ringed with sphinxes and labelled MONUMENTO AL TURISTA, and found the right exit next to the San Miguel brewery.

We waited in the airport departure hall, eating a twenty-seven cent bag of olives and watching the brushes of the cleaner’s polishing machine circle over the marble floor. A policeman trundled around in an electric buggy, ready to chase down terrorist golfers.

Two smartly-dressed Englishwomen stopped in the middle of the hall, watching their coiffured wisp of a dog squeeze his backside at the floor like an icing pouch. “Oh, a ha ha ha ha!” they trilled, yanking him away and leaving his dollop for the polisher to spread across it in chocolate swirls.

At the oversized-luggage desk, a couple of suntanned retirees readied a plastic dog-carrier for their portly Westie, his long white fur grimy from the Spanish dust. The wee dug peered inside it, backed out, and sprawled flat on the floor: his legs spread-eagled but hidden by his fur, so that he looked like a cross between Jock and jellyfish.

I knew just how he felt. Ye’re no gettin’ me in there! I dinnae want tae go! It’s warm here, and it isnae back in Edinburgh! He was clinging to Spain like a limpet.

Or maybe the past weeks had left him exhausted from speaking nothing but perro español (“Woof?” «¡Guau!»). I could empathize with that, too. I loved our time there, but a year of Spanish lessons, planning, preparing and finally immersing had left me mentally sprawled on the floor, too. The polished bit, hopefully.

Two weeks earlier, heading into Malaga on youreflyingwhat.com (ex-Lufthansa 737, mit Schwimmweste unter dem Sitz), I was more wound up than I’d been before a trip in years. All those horror stories in Monday-night Spanish from people who swore never to drive there again, with us about to pick up a rental for two weeks and drive onto one of the most notorious highways in Europe on the wrong side of the road; the knowledge that my Monday-night Spanish was about as poco as could be; the usual concerns about finding accommodation, what the weather would be like, and so on; and eighteen years of curiosity about how the south of Spain would compare to Barcelona and Madrid, now finally about to be satisfied and please, please, not disappointed.

Followed by two weeks of twenty degrees and sunshine, when back in Edinburgh it was five and snow; castles and olive groves and whitewashed villages; tapas and manzanilla and Malaga wine; neolithic and Phoenician and Roman and Moorish history; and sí, hablo solamente un poco español, pero suficiente. And driving there was easy, after the usual half an hour of reaching for the gear-stick with the wrong hand. A few pokey village streets was nothing compared to one-lane roads around blind cliff-edge corners in the western highlands.

I loved it, and could have stayed another month, clamped like a Westie to its light and dust and detail. In a way, I did: sorting through a thousand photos, turning it all over in my mind, and eating the last of the chocolate con pepitas de cacao. There were other things, too, that got in the way of writing about it here; but I’ve scanned a bunch of photos now, and will post them over the next few days.

Batch one covers our first days in Antequera, fifty kilometres inland from Malaga, through the villages of the Sierra de Grazalema, and to the coastal city of Cádiz. There’s an extra panorama, too, of a sea of fog below El Torcal National Park, which on the drive up that morning we’d watched melt off the edge of the mountain like a giant slow waterfall. Up above the wind-carved rocks of El Torcal itself, eagles looped around the sky, and the distant jangle of sheep bells was the only sound.

Batches two and three, and more stories, still to come.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

ohh that was beauuuuuuuutifully written... rawk :)

Added by shauny on a Tuesday in March.

Hey! Welcome back, in various senses.

Photos are both beautiful and travel-envy producing.

Added by BT on a Thursday in March.