After an evening of tapas, roaming, and the best mojito I’ve ever had, Jeff and I awoke the next morning (my birthday!) to 17 more days of wake-ups just like these; a fresh morning plump with new sights for our eyes to devour and moments for us to savor (or not, as the case may be).
There were only three things I wanted to do on my birthday. Considering I was already in Spain and not at work, I suppose there were really five things total… But since two were already checked off, the remaining three that I was determined to do were to hang out on the beach, put my feet in the Mediterranean, and to eat ice cream.
Here is how all that panned out.
It was our first morning in Spain, in Nerja, and away from home. It was probably around 9am when we started moving around; it seemed as though we’d successfully avoided jet leg. And with wobbly baby legs, we started establishing our new routine and becoming more secure with our surroundings.
José had provided us with some fruit, morning cookies, and coffee the day before, which made for a very smooth start. I made myself a little mug of coffee and it was actually pretty delicious, considering I don’t often drink the stuff, and when I do, it’s with my high-end coffee connoisseur friend, Brett. So the fact that I successfully made myself non-putrid joe was already a birthday miracle.
I spent some time on our little private porch, looking out towards the Mediterranean and peering over the side at the pebbled street below, overhearing invisible neighbors chatting with one another and listening to the occasional moped putt its way down Pintada to my right.
The sun was up, but tucked away behind a thin sheet of wispy clouds creeping in from the southeast. The day before had been completely clear and in the mid-80s. So far this morning was comfortably warm, but promised to be even warmer as the day grew on. It’s strange how used to the noise of buses and cars I am, living on the arterial and walking home from downtown Ballard like I do. The hushed neighborhoods are haunting yet quaint and comforting at the same time.
When we were finally ready to venture out, we grabbed our cameras, some snacks (hello, look whose blog you’re reading), and our Spanish dictionary just in case we needed it, and began our first day of exploring.All of the calles around our studio funneled into the Balcony of Europe, a stunning viewpoint that overlooks the Mediterranean. Stairs on either side lead down to beaches below, but that wasn’t where we were headed. Our plan was to walk southeast to Playa Burriana, where there was a small boardwalk with rows of little restaurants and street vendors. Touristic possibly, but is it really if it’s outside of tourist season and we were vastly outnumbered by locals?
In order to reach the beach and boardwalk, Jeff and I first needed to descend Calle Almuñecar, the slightly serpentine pedestrian path that snaked its way down to the beach from the cliffs above. I don’t want to give the impression that this was some sort of difficult nature hike; though it was steep and getting warmer out, the path was paved, low-key, and the view was spectacular.We stopped to take it in. Across from us, a choir of white-washed homes rose up out of the mountainside in a thick row that trailed south towards the sea. It was picturesque, simple, and appeared to be frozen in time – like most everything we were to see over the next three weeks.
At this point in our journey to the beach, Jeff made a little friend who was insistent on being best friends forever. It was pretty hilarious and I’m pretty sure all three of us were happy I managed to snap a picture of their instant bond.Though it was mid-morning when we arrived, the beachfront was mostly empty, save for a few fellow pale travelers relaxing and tanning on pay-to-lay lounge chairs in roped off areas.
With the place almost completely to ourselves, we took off our shoes, applied more sunscreen (reminder: this is Kelsi), and strode along the edge where the sand met the Sea.The water was colder than I’d anticipated; I’d always imagined that the Mediterranean had placid, warm waters year round. Jeff and I shuddered when he pointed toward a middle-aged woman leisurely wading in the water up to her neck.
We stopped for a late breakfast at one of the restaurants along the boardwalk, which had outdoor sheltered seating so we (read: I) could people-watch as we sipped tea and freshly-pressed orange juice before our main plates were served. We both chose their breakfast special, which later on we found to be the easiest way to order, the best way to try the most items, and often times the most affordable. Win win win. The food was alright, but I was more pleased by the view and where we were.
We laughed and were pathetically entertained as we watched a vendor try to sell beach wraps to the folks in the rental areas trying to read and take naps, and after watching him and his model for probably close to half an hour, we left the restaurant’s shaded canopy and wandered around the cramped shops, sandy walkways, and took photos.It was an easy day, which was what I’d wanted. It takes a lot of energy to navigate your way through unknown streets, to dip back a decade to recall the correct verb tense of words you want, and to be so stimulated by everything you look at.
I was wired but at the same time unplugged; completely in the moment and greedily grabbing at it with both hands. Phones were of little use here, unless they were filming timelapses (my new obsession), uploading photos from my camera for edit, or used to contact José. It was freeing to step away from Life and enjoy this temporary one. Plus the slow pace of this tiny coastal town was a perfect kick off to the weeks ahead.
I had chosen this specific route from city to city over the next three weeks because it worked its way up in “bigness.” Nerja was by far the smallest stop of the trip; it was where we could get our feet wet (both literally and figuratively) and adjust to the time change, new language, and ease into things. Rather than throwing ourselves in, I thought it more rewarding for us to gently slide into it all. To slowly come to a boil instead of possibly burning out. I knew it was the right choice.
Besides, who doesn’t want to relax in the Mediterranean on her birthday?
…Thought so.Once we returned from the beach and as we walked past the many helataría stands that were now open, I couldn’t help but notice a neon blue ice cream with multicolored marshmallows for sale in almost every one. “What the heck is that. I want it.” This statement (note no question marks) was literally all I could say (as Jeff can attest). Though the flavor was labeled, its name meant nothing to me. Pitufo. And no, I wasn’t going to google it or ask the girl behind the counter. I was going to eat it and find out. Blueberry, passion fruit, blue raspberry?…My final moments of not knowing what Pitufo is. And right now it is yours!
Spoiler alert. If you don’t want to know what the flavor is, skip this paragraph and go find a scoop for yourself (preferably in Nerja by the Balcon de Europa, obviously). Otherwise, I’m going to ruin the surprise and tell you that it was bubblegum.
When eating it, I realized I probably had this when I was a kid, but must’ve forgotten over time. My memory is awful so of course by the time we got home, the name had slipped my mind and I had to go online to look it up. In my internet sleuthing I actually found out that Pitufo means Smurf, which explains the bright blue color and pastel marshmallows – very cute. I love random fun facts like that.
My birthday was filled with walks, sunshine, ice cream, and the sea. It was the best and we had accomplished everything on my to-do list. After a full day and full bellies (our dinner bill was €5 I’m not kidding. Birthday miracle #2!), we meandered back home under a clear, darkening sky.
As our first full day came to a close and the sky faded to a deep navy, we sat in the studio recapping the day while looking through the pictures we’d taken. Somehow, during our talking and photo sharing, we ended up out on the patio, laying on the warm terra cotta-colored tiles taking long-exposure shots of the night sky. We were out there for hours.We literally laid there, backs flat on the ground, hands clasping our cameras, and the only sounds were of echoing voices of neighbors and the clicks of the shutters every few seconds. I’m not even sure how [it happened], but I’m so glad it did. Definitely one of the major highlights of the trip so far for me and a wonderful way to finish my birthday.
Nerja was amazing, peaceful, and bright. It was the perfect dip into the Spanish pool, and the next day we were off to Granada. And I would officially be 29 (*sob*).