My Journey to Vejer de la Frontera
It was love at first taste. My senses had been ambushed by a sudden romantic attachment to vegetable paella and gazpacho soup in the kitchen of my host family’s apartment.
My host parents, Laura and Jose-Mari, were preparing dinner for me at a time that was unfamiliar and foreign to them. It must have been somewhere around 9:00 at night, which could only be described as late by Canadian dinner standards. But in this house, as I was soon to find out that night stumbling toward the washroom in a half-woken stupor, the family dined at 1:00 in the morning (including their 2-year-old son).
It was at that moment I knew Spain had risen to my highly-exclusive list of top 10 places to travel in the world.
Let me provide some context to this story: It was the summer of 2017 and I had just completed another year of high school. I was beyond thrilled to book my first solo trip to a hilltop town in the southern tip of Spain, at the suggestion and encouragement of my favorite Spanish teacher. The town was fondly known as Vejer de la Frontera and it overlooked the Straight of Gibraltar; I was soon to learn that was a common route of escape for refugees fleeing Morocco (on occasion, one might find the remnants of a half-broken row boat or abandoned life vest on the beach).
Vejer is a 50 minute drive from Cádiz, 1.5 hours from Gibraltar and approximately 2 hours from both Malaga and Seville airports. The journey is mostly a drive through the countryside, past endless fields of sunflowers and hills decorated with the odd cardboard statue of a bull (how stereotypical).
However, I was shocked to see Vejer for the first time. In my mind, I had pictured a vibrant bustling port town decked with the infamous reds and yellows of its country. But, to my surprise, I was struck by the village’s total lack of color. It was as if the person in charge of painting the town had been left with a can of Benjamin Moore’s OC-61 eggshell paint. In other words, the entire town was white.
The lack of color and delicious food were just some of the many surprises that completely took my breath away. The delicious aromas, beautiful alleys, and kind-hearted people were what made my stay even more incredible. I can now fondly recall my first day of living in Vejer. It must have been an early Monday morning and I was trying to find my Spanish school, La Janda.
Spanish was still a new language for me. Yet, I couldn’t help but fall in love with its beautiful and entrancing sounds. The rolling ‘r’ or vanished ‘h’. At that time my vocabulary was limited to a couple of basic words: ‘hola’, ‘donde esta’ and ‘gracias’. As an English speaker, I rarely experienced a problem speaking to foreigners in my mother-tongue. It seemed to be the universal language. However, the same could not be said about the remote reaches of the Spanish countryside.
This proved to be a problem the following day. My host mother gave me a map before leaving to my class and helped me plan out my route accordingly. Since class started at 9:00 in the morning, I decided to leave the apartment thirty-minutes early to meet my teachers beforehand. I was completely clueless.
My first mistake was walking down the hill instead of up. It seemed like the only natural thing to do. I turned down the road labelled Calle San Padro and made a sharp-left at the corner. Half-way into realizing my error, I was already lost. I tried looking at the map but every street seemed to be named after a somewhat similar variation of Saint Marie or Saint Padro. Giving up in defeat and running out of time, I tried my best to fumble through a basic conversation of ‘donde esta la escuela’ with anyone who stumbled into my eye-line. The locals did their best best to point me in the right direction and sent me off with a smile.
Finally, almost a half-hour into my lesson, I arrive at the school a heaving and sweaty mess. I was quickly swept through the rooms and presented in a quick round of introductions. Most of the other students were Italian (except for one Korean) and they were looking to improve their third or fourth language.
Looking back almost five years later, my trip to Vejer de la Frontera was what made me fall in love with the country. I hadn’t just come for the incredible food or winding streets, and my sole-intention was not to lounge on the beautiful beaches or learn the language, I was there for the people. The people of Vejer de la Frontera.
Muchos abrazos y besos, hasta pronto España.
Did you like this article? Check out my post 5 Non-Touristy Things to do in Barcelona.