Only some 20 years ago, Tarifa was an unspoilt fishing village. Now renowned as a High Wind area and a kite/wind surfer’s paradise, Tarifa has come into its own as a summer vacation resort for the more’ sports-minded’ . It has long, golden beaches, no high-rise, a walled ‘old town’ with narrow, cobbled white streets, an authentic, working, fishing harbour, lots of ‘tapas’ bars, and – more recently – a good selection of restaurants as well as an ever growing number of small boutiques. It also has THE WIND. The wind is a mixed blessing, keeping away the coach loads of day trippers and attracting the active holiday maker, but making life difficult for families with small children as the beach is a non-starter in a strong wind. But there is not always excessive wind. Much of the time it is idyllic, conjuring up scenes that are better than any of those on the vacation folders. Live the Dream.
Come August, it is what the locals call The Season of the Summer Stress - SOS(s).
HELP. SOS. The High Season is upon us again. It is what all the local businesses (particularly in the hospitality industry) are waiting for with a mixture of hope – and dread.
Hope – that it will be a good season and generate enough income to cover the rest of the year. The High Season is so short here and is really only from mid-July to end August.
Dread – because the population of Tarifa (around 18.000) virtually doubles in August, the traffic build-up is intense, parking is a nightmare, and frustration breeds intolerance.
There is a traffic accident directly in front of my house. It is not serious, the car bonnet is doubled back, the bumper of the other car severely dented. No injuries, but from the huge crowd of onlookers that has assembled it has the air of a major happening.
Countless members of a Moroccan family emerge from a small, heavily over-loaded car which is carrying ‘everything bar the kitchen sink’ (an English expression : in this case I could well imagine the kitchen sink also to be on top of the car!). Having virtually spent three whole days in the car, coming from northern Europe, they were in all probability rushing to catch the 12 0’clock ferry to Tangier. More haste, less speed.
The Tatoo brigade of huge bodies emerging from the other car exudes a threatening air. I hear an altercation in French Arabic and ItalIan. The Spanish police arrive.
I can’t help, so I walk on, and the traffic stretching either way as far as the eye can see continues to hoot with hot impatience.
Timing is the secret in the summer for those in the know! Leaving on time for the beach. Returning just before the masses (yes, you have to miss the sunset, or you stay put and have dinner at the beach, returning around midnight once the traffic is flowing again).
Many residents have moved out of their homes for these few weeks to let them to visitors. They have made a tremendous effort to clear out their homes, to box and store possessions, to clear the kitchen, provide freshly ironed bed linen and plentiful supplies of towels , themselves moving into smaller and cheaper apartments in the back streets. And this in the heat, with their own children on school holidays ... ! They are on call when the electricity fails, when the visitors lose the door key, when there are complaints about neighbour noise, when there is a water shortage or a leak .... and I hear the familiar refrain ‘I can’t do this another year, it is kllling’. Having left the house in perfect condition they all too often return to find that the occupants have not treated it as their own home, and the cost of refurbishing virtually annuls the financial benefit. One family’s dream is the other family’s nightmare.
The restaurants are counting on high occupancy. The bookings come in ... but the clients don’t show up. This inconsideration is unpardonable. In these days of mobiles, one telephone call to say you cannot make it is hardly too much to ask. In the meantime the restaurateur has turned away other potential clients and incurs loss of income. Keep Smiling.
Parking at the beach is not easy. Parking when you return to town is a nightmare. There are not enough parking places or areas or garages in the town to cope with the influx in the High Season. In desperation, cars are parked in front of garage doors with parking vados (paid no parking signs) while the car owners go to town or the nearest bar ‘just for five minutes’ – it is amazing how long five minutes turns out to be, especially when you return home in a stream of traffic and cannot turn in to your own garage (yes, I am speaking from personal experience – regular personal experience!).
The supermarket is a question of ‘survival of the fittest’ unless you get there when they open in the morning. The shelves are emptied quicker than they can be refilled, and the shopping carts are piled high as if everyone is preparing for a siege – the impatience of the customers is palpable; woe betide the unfortunate person who has failed to weigh their vegetables, or whose bank card happens not to work.
But all of this is quickly forgotten as you take to the water with your windsurf, or sip a cool drink at a beach bar. Now you can live the dream, the hundreds of kites drifting across the sky like so many butterflies, their owners racing over the water below, one fantastic jump after another. It is the vacation scene ‘par excellence’ which is portrayed on so many travel brochures, the scene which tempts you to book, and all the time you are wondering if it will be as good when you get there. It is - Tarifa is a unique place, a wonderful place, and the brief season of the Summer Stress is sent to test the stamina of the local population who work so hard to help others to realize their dream, until it is their turn to enjoy the incredible beauty of their own surroundings when the crowds have gone. Only then do you realize how incredibly lucky you are to actually LIVE in Tarifa.