Here, everything is good. – Tarifa, Spain

Note – This past summer V had a fantastic idea (as she so often does) that quickly developed into one of the best road trips that I have ever been on – a drive from Morocco to Spain!  The following entry was written by V – enjoy!

Pepe Lopez, our man in Tarifa.

The stars were aligning, and not in our favor.  I had previously spent 3 wonderful weeks in Southern Spain in 2002 and I was counting the minutes until I could go back.  Being able to get there, door to door, in 5 hours, is one of the many perks of living in Morocco, and Joel and I intended to take full advantage of this perk over the long Eid al Fitr weekend.  But my compulsive planning and organizing was almost for naught, as things simply were not going our way.

First, there was the matter of car registration.  We found out the day before we were to leave (hotels booked, ferry tickets paid for) that we didn’t have one.  What?  We don’t have one?  We need one?  What have we been doing for the past 3 months?  Turns out that the trouble is not getting out of Morocco, but getting back in.  After much consternation, we decided that it was worth the risk—Spain is Spain, after all, and what’s one silly car being abandoned at the border?

Joel drank this many mojitos.

Then we heard about a colleague’s car being broken into in Spain.  (Ahem, where was everyone a month ago when I made all of our bookings??) But we figured, our car is as ugly as sin and the CD player doesn’t even work—so go ahead, break in and remove it.  At least then we’d have an excuse to replace it.

The church down the street from Hotel Misiana, where we stayed. On our first day in Tarifa we watched a wedding celebration there, over a plate of patatas bravas.

A bit anxious but still excited, we set off for Tangiers.   As we settled into the highway drive, I started to feel more relaxed—finally, after 10 years, I was going back to one of my favorite countries.  I was looking forward to sitting on the beach, tinto de verrano in hand, while reading an intellectually stimulating Pulitzer-prize winning novel/vampire book.  But my reverie was short-lived.  We made a quick stop at one of Morocco’s excellent rest areas (no seriously, they are remarkably nice) and somehow Joel managed to roll down one of the windows in the back.  And couldn’t roll it back up.  Here we go again, stars aligning against us.

This man looks sad because he missed out on the 5 Euro mojito deal.

He shook it.  He pushed it.  He banged on it.  No movement.  The above comments about me not caring about our car notwithstanding, I did recognize the irresponsibility of leaving a car in a public lot with the window half rolled down.  I was ready to turn around and go home, realizing that my Spanish reunion was not meant to be.  But then we found the “unlock windows” button and realized that we were just stupid.  Onward!

Africa is visible from this vantage point on the coast of Tarifa.

I’ll spare the details of the drive to Tangier, the night in the crappy hotel, and the blissfully uneventful ferry ride.  The bottom line is that, despite the universe’s best efforts, Spain and I were reunited and it felt so good.  I love traveling with Joel to places that he has never been, because I can watch his reaction and feel excited all over again.  We had originally planned to stay in Tarifa and take trips to other parts of the country; but upon our arrival in old town Tarifa, we knew immediately that we wanted to spend the entire weekend there.  There is a spirit and relaxed energy that you cannot find anywhere else.  The Spanish people, if I may generalize, seem to be all about family and enjoyment, two things I happen to like very much.

We spent the weekend exploring the cobblestone streets of old town Tarifa, reading on the beach, eating tapas, and drinking the occasional mojito-to-go.  The biggest decision we had to make was which body of water to swim in—the Mediterranean or the Atlantic?

I set this photo up for Joel. He could not have made it without me.

But at this point I was growing concerned because my dear husband was not taking as many photographs as he normally does.  He wouldn’t tell me why, either.  I kept urging him to shoot, pointing out possible subjects and imparting upon him my vast knowledge of all things photograpical.  But his lens remained capped.  What was happening to my shutterbug husband?  Was he depressed?  Ill?  It is not always easy being the wife of a photo enthusiast.  It generally adds an extra layer of, ahem, fun, to traveling.  But he loves it, and in my opinion, he’s damn good at it, so I try to be supportive and encouraging–the Michelle to his Barack, if you will (you probably won’t).

I quickly developed a theory about what was happening.  He was less interested in photographing objects and buildings than he was in photographing the people—the carefree young couple on the scooter, the old man dressed in his Sunday best to go out and buy his daily baguette.   But as a photographer, Joel is unfailingly respectful of people’s privacy, and he could not bring himself to “bother” people, despite his love of portrait photography.  Naturally, I decided to force him to change his habits of politeness and respect.

Joel drank all of this wine.

Near the end of our trip, priding ourselves on having memorized the streets of the old town and claiming them as our own, we were surprised to learn that there was an entire other section of town that we had missed.  This section was even more charming, even more idyllic than the rest of town—full of magical shadowy alleyways and quiet sidewalks that turn into a vibrant restaurant scene at night.  On a quest to buy cheese to take home with us, we stumbled upon a little grocery store run by a tiny Spanish man.  He greeted us with “Que tal,” to which we responded “queso,” which tells me that we should probably invest in Rosetta Stone before returning.  We looked around and decided to go back to his store the next day, right before getting on the ferry.  As we walked away, I noticed the sign on his store—to my utter delight, the man’s name was Pepe Lopez.  “Joel,” I said, “you need to photograph this man tomorrow, because his name is Pepe Lopez.”

A sample of Pepe’s produce.

Pepe was thrilled to see us the next day, and even more thrilled to hear that Joel wanted to photograph him.  He gave us free samples of everything in the store, and pointed us to the affordable wines that would go nicely with our cheese.   He even threw in two free cans of olives, and introduced us to his lovely wife.  He made sure we had his address so that we could mail him the photographs, to be displayed next to his collection on the shelf.   In the center of his wall of fame, there is a photograph of him wearing a t-shirt with a slogan that to me, reflects the true spirit of our Spanish soujourn: “Aqui, todo es bueno.”

Pepe was honored to be a model, Joel was happy to be making portraits, and I was relieved that we bought some cheese.  And that’s the story of how we made it to Spain against all odds and how I singlehandedly saved Joel’s photography career.  Good things happen in Spain.  In fact, here, everything is good.

Pepe’s wall of family.

Joel’s notes – We had an absolutely excellent time, though I admittedly was pretty lazy when it came to making photographs.  I had great intentions to make a few “deliberate” images, though I couldn’t get myself into gear.  I could blame it on the light changing too quickly or on my real focus being enjoying time with my wife, though I know that the real culprit was lack of planning and a dash of being a tad too shy.  I wanted to make a few portraits, though the people that I was most interested in photographing proved to be slightly intimidating – maybe that impeccably dressed octogenarian would have hit me with his loaf of bread for even asking?  And maybe the woman pushing 100 years of age would have body-slammed me for even thinking of interrupting her while she was carrying out a dining room chair to sit outside and enjoy the evening air?

I asked Pepe if it would be okay to take pictures inside of his shop.  He replied “siempre!” and agreed to step inside his doorway for a quick portrait.  The rest is history…

We will return to Tarifa in the near future.  I look forward to handing over prints to him and his wife – hopefully they like them.

Note – Pepe Lopez’s shop is located near the big church in the old town section of Tarifa.  The following map should help.

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  1. Thank you, V, for being a fantastic guest writer and and the best wife and travel partner ever.

  2. I love Tarifa very romantic city, it s has a beateful View from the beach ( Morocco 🙂 ) ,protected by the big historical wall wich preserve too many different cultures Romance Arabe Chrestien , It was known as Julia in Roman period, in the Arabe epoch they rename it Tarrifa and now very beautiful touris city in spain .
    I am glad you and Vl discovered the magic of tarrifa.


    1. There IS a beautiful view from the beach – Morocco! Thanks for all of your help planning our adventures!

  3. Sudhira Vadlamani

    For someone who imbibed vast amounts of alcohol (a picture is worth thousand words), the photographs are great. Joel, you are my role model!

    1. V may have helped out with a few of those mojitos! Thanks for the kind words and for visiting the site.

  4. Mojitos ? Privacy ? One would think that many mojitos would wash away the privacy concerns ! I begged him to borrow my big telephoto but alas !!
    This tale was tender and evokes feelings on my part of wanting to go there – I was close many years ago ( Malaga – where I learned I passed the Bar Exam to be a lawyer ) but was summoned home to fill out papers and start a career. ) .
    This sweet rendition makes me want to go there – nice work Ms. V . !!

    1. We didn’t pass any bars while we were there. 🙂

      It’s funny to think about how close we were to where you were back then.

  5. What a wonderful blog post! It was hilarious, sentimental and delightfully entertaining.

    1. She knows what she’s doing, right? Thanks for coming by.

  6. Gosh what wonderful photos and humourous writing. You are a star couple; Michelle and Barack watch out!
    Next trip could be Morocco to UK? x

    1. Morocco to UK sounds great – I need to meet all of my new cousins, nieces and nephews! Thanks for coming by and posting.

  7. […] am very happy to say that we returned to see our friend Pepe Lopez, a perfectly lovely man and shop owner who I photographed during our first visit to Tarifa.  When […]

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