MOJACAR, Spain – I can't remember how Aaron, my college roommate, and I decided we’d go to Mojacar, but that’s where we ended up spending the bulk of our spring break. We wanted to go to Marrakesh and Casablanca, but when we got to the travel agency, the flights were too expensive (in retrospect, not really). We looked down the list for less expensive flights, and randomly selected Malaga. Much cheaper, hopefully warm, and neither of us had been to Spain.
Spain we got to, but never Malaga (I’ve since found out that this is a good thing, unless you’re looking to spend time with older German tourists). We had a layover in Barcelona, and because we were 21 and didn’t realize there may be consequences, we just skipped the next leg of the trip, thinking we could hang in the city and catch a bus down south later. We spent the night following a giant communist rally to an abandoned train station. There were Cuban cigars, old train cars converted into a rolling Marxist museum, and an incredible drum corps that sporadically marched out and turned the place into a giant party.
Then Barcelona dead-ended. Armed only with knowledge imparted by our Let’s Go (which we quickly renamed Let’s Not), we ate disappointing but expensive food at “local hangouts” full of fellow American students; we were greeted by locked doors at museums and stores (Sunday is for church, and Monday is for sleeping?); and, when we tried walking to Gaudi’s Park Guell from near the coastline, we realized — after two hours — that we’d gone about a centimeter on the map. We were not used to such large European cities.
A bit defeated — this was not the Morocco replacement we’d hoped for — we hopped a train to Granada, where we skipped the Alhambra (again: 21) and randomly got on a bus to Mojacar. The town looked pretty, white-walled, up on a hill about a mile off the shore. We found a little bed and breakfast run by a French woman with a sharp attitude and, most importantly, an incredible knack for making cream-and-egg-yolk-rich French toast, which is not what she called it. A few characters hung around her bar, including an older American man who seemed like he was hiding from the law or alimony.
We wandered the town in the evening, taking in the view from a municipal terrace, looking at ancient-seeming walls, and ending up at the local bar. We met folks who told us we should take the bus down the hill to the beach, where there were trails to hike and beautiful views. Things were looking up; we had local flavor, great food, and an insider’s tip for adventure.
The next morning was overcast, but we took the ride down the hill. Excited, we stepped off the bus and saw a bend in one direction and a long concrete jetty in the other. Turned out the jetty was pretty much all there was to see. I recently found photos of that day. Aaron’s sitting on the beach, dropping pebbles on the ground, and, well, that’s it. No trails, no adventure. The only view we got was of the gas station and casino in the next town over.
The travel gods were frowning on us. We’d put in the effort, read the book, looked down back alleys, asked locals, and spent too much money. Why were we not being rewarded with secret gardens, abandoned castles, and crazy parties in international waters? We wanted discovery, but all we got was rocks and a day that wasn’t warm enough for short sleeves.
With that in mind, we went back up the hill to Mojacar, which seemed to be teasing us with its lack of novelty. That night in the bar, we politely expressed our dismay to one of the gents who told us to go to the beach. “Oh, no! Not that beach! You’ ve got to get off on the first stop after you leave town!” Aha.
The sun was out the next morning, and we took the bus down to the beach again, getting off at what we hoped was the right stop, but not expecting too much. There was no jetty in the distance, only large rocks. There, the beach ended, the road went to the right, and a little trail went up to a place we could not see.
We made our way up the trail, came out of the rocks, and found ourselves on a path that only allowed us to walk in single file. Gravel slid out from under our feet and bounced down a cliff into the ocean below. Small parts of the path had disappeared down the embankment.
We continued on for about thirty minutes, blood pumping through our veins. We were finally having some adventure! At a certain point, we started hearing a faint hum, like a baritone weed-whacker. The path widened and turned in off the coast. After a few ups and downs through little rambles, a meadow opened up in front of us. The humming became louder, and we were blasted with the scent of lavender. Thousands of bees were swarming around purple-dotted bushes. Beyond the meadow, there were caves to explore, big rock formations to climb, and a perfect cove. We were ecstatic. We jumped in the water and went to the top of a big rock to sun ourselves.
After we dried off, we found another trail. This time it dumped us on a cliffless beach, and we saw an old fort in the distance. We walked over for a closer look. The architecture looked Moorish to us, and we imagined it to be a lookout from some African empire. From there, we turned and retraced our steps back to the bus, through the lavender meadow and over the precarious cliff.
That night, as we ate French toast, formerly mundane Mojacar seemed thrilling. There were no regrets about abandoning our original plans. The bees were still buzzing in our heads.