No place is perfect. Many times expats look for a fairytale when they move abroad, and while their adopted home may suit them better than the home they left behind, it is bound to have warts. Christine Medina kicks off our 7 Reasons I Love My City (and 3 Why It Sucks) series with her adopted home: Algeciras
By Christine Medina
Unlike many expats, I don’t live in fairytale Spain. I don’t live in the bustling metropolis of Madrid, or romantic Sevilla. I don’t have the Alhambra to gaze up at in the evenings or Gaudí’s masterpieces scattered here and there. I live in Algeciras.
Haven’t heard of it? Well, there’s probably a good reason for that–there’s really not much to say. It’s crime-ridden, contains one of Spain’s most dangerous ‘barrios’ and sees a lot of drugs pass through from Morocco. Sounds, like Pleasantville, doesn’t it? If you’ve been to Morocco you may have taken your ferry out of its giant, eye-sore of a port, or maybe driven past it on your way to Tarifa, but I know for sure you haven’t sought it out as a vacation destination. Unless you’re just into ugly cities. Sorry, but even the locals admit that their city isn’t pretty.
I first came to Algeciras as an eager au-pair who didn’t give two legs of jamón where I ended up in Spain. I just wanted to travel and have a new experience. So when a job popped up in Algeciras, and I read misleading, raving account of the city from a former au pair, I packed my bags and was there a few months later.
And because life can be ironic, the city I basically despise gave me a great blessing, and well, I’m still here two years later! But, hopefully that will be changing soon. Now don’t get me wrong, Algeciras isn’t so bad for a day or two…but to live? Let’s not even go there. Instead, I’ll (try to) focus on the positives, and tell you the top reasons to visit Algeciras (and balance it out a bit with why it sucks).
1) The weather is generally amazing
The first year I was here, Algeciras experienced the worst weather they’d had in over 50 years. Nothing like whipping winds and buckets of rain against a backdrop of ugly to make you wonder how the hell you ended up here of all places in Spain! Thankfully, that was the worst of it and since then the weather has been fantastic. Winter doesn’t normally dip below 15’C and summer starts in May. I can live with that.
2) It’s the gateway from Spain to Morocco
Hop on a 45-minute ferry and you’re in the Algeciras of Morocco: Tangier. I’ve only taken advantage of my proximity to Morocco once, but plan to at least one more time before I high-tail it out of here!
3) You can eat well for cheap
Though Algeciras is no dining destination, there are a few establishments certainly worth your Euro. My favorites are Bar La Botica on C/Corazón for their pan de la casa (rustic bread, tomato, ham and olive oil), Hacienda Patagonia on C/Trafalgar for their Argentinian Beef Montaditos and Ze Yun in San Garcia for some seriously delicious Chinese food.
4) They have a great ‘feria’
The ‘feria’ (fair), which happens in the middle of June for 10 days is what this city seemingly lives for. Classes get cancelled, businesses shorten their hours and people take days off of work to enjoy the ‘feria’, which admittedly, is really impressive. There are rows upon rows of tents, called ‘casetas’, which each feature a bar, dance floor and lots of people dancing flamenco. There is typical ‘feria’ junk food, amusement park rides and some bloody bar fights, and children drinking rum straight from the bottle always thrown in for good measure. Remember, you’re in Algeciras!
5) There’s a pretty good beach
In the summer, I divide my time between the beach, Playa Getares, and my swimming pool. Getares is packed from late May to early September and has a boardwalk full of eateries and cafes.
6) There’s decent hiking in the outskirts
Just this year I discovered the hiking this city, or rather, it’s rural part, has to offer. Not bad, Algeciras! Head to El Faro for beautiful views of the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco or head into the forest to El Rio de la Miel.
7) The cost of living is cheap compared to the rest of Spain
What I pay for my apartment would easily be double (or triple!) the price in many other parts in Spain. For a two-bedroom apartment in the “nice” part of town with a swimming pool and padel court I pay 500 euros. I’ve had friends pay 120 euros for a room in a shared apartment. Not too bad! Groceries are never a huge expense either, especially fruits and vegetables, because so many of them are sourced locally.
And now a look at its ‘not so hot’ side:
1) It seriously lacks ‘ambiente’
Something that is so special about Spain is that it just seems bursting at the seams with ‘ambiente’, or ambience. People fill the streets of the center, going out for cafes and tapas, and despite the crisis there’s a certain energy in the air. In Algeciras I feel like I don’t live in Spain. It’s too transient, too gritty. But alas, some may argue that it’s a more authentic Spain, full of working-class people. I digress…
2) It’s downright ugly and there’s no civic pride.
Maybe these two things don’t go together, but I think in Algeciras they go hand-in-hand. The locals know their city is probably one of the ugliest (dare you to show me one uglier!) in Spain. Due to this, there is a complete lack of civic pride. Trash is discarded all over the roads, dog poop is rarely picked up, and the local government would rather spend money on the ‘feria’ than on improving the town.
3) It has nothing of cultural interest
Actually, wait…there are some pretty sad ruins that were originally the entrance to the town by boat. Yes, before Franco came and decided to industrialize the city in order to compete with Gibraltar, there was actually a lot of history in this area. Algeciras was, years ago, a fishing village, one I can imagine with long stretches of beautiful coastline until the massive port was built. After that, they said to hell with urban planning, and threw together a bunch of concrete and called it a city.
***4) While there are definitely nice people…there is a significant amount of rude people
I’m conflicted to add this, because I am aware that nice and rude people are found everywhere. And while I’ve met plenty of nice people during my time in Algeciras, I’ve also never been anywhere else in Spain where the bus drivers repeatedly don’t acknowledge me when I greet them. That’s just one example…I’ve got two years worth!
What can I say? Algeciras isn’t a tourist destination for a reason. If you find yourself here, go to Tarifa. It’s much prettier.
Christine Medina, is a freelance writer, aspiring photographer and expat in Andalucía for over two years. She writes at http://www.christineinspain.com/ about expat life, travel in Spain and around the world, and is a little obsessed with Spanish food and Spanish ‘abuelos’.