I’ve been wanting to take some pretty photographs of Rota to display our first home in the future. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to go out to the beach at least every other day. I know, such a difficult task… But really, I noticed that I don’t appreciate it as much as I should now that it is my backyard. I’ve been a little down in the dumps lately realizing I don’t have much time left here, and I decided to start making the most of every day. Yesterday I headed out right before siesta, which is an early afternoon break when the entire town heads home for lunch and a nap. The word siesta literally means nap in Spanish.
Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm. In the past, most people performed hard labor and would tire by the afternoon in such drastic heat. Most Spaniards no longer have this excuse, but still enjoy taking a long break from work during the afternoon. This was very frustrating and unusual to an American like me when I first arrived. Even the lifeguard would close the pool for siesta from two to five; those are prime sun soaking hours! You can forget getting anything at all done during these hours. This also affects the meal hours here in Spain. The restaurants stay open during siesta because that is when the Spanish eat lunch. Then, the restaurant workers get their siesta from 5 to around 8 or 9 p.m. So, you can forget eating lunch anytime before 2, and don’t plan any dinner dates until at least 8. Actually, Spaniards commonly don’t eat dinner until 10 or 11 p.m. and their meals will last until early in the morning. I always laugh because a stroll around Rota at one in the morning will display an uncountable number of baby strollers, and even more drunk American Sailors ready for bed.
Maybe we should take up the siesta culture? Everyone is a lot happier and healthier here, it seems. A Spanish man once joked to me that “they can’t get the women to die here.” Wikipedia says, “the siesta habit has recently been associated with a 37 percent reduction in coronary mortality, possibly due to reduced cardiovascular stress mediated by daytime sleep.” With some positives, there are always negatives. Spain’s lackadaisical lifestyle has led to a deep recession threatening economic collapse of the country.
I’m sorry for the rant. Anyways, I left my house right before siesta for a peaceful paseo (stroll) around the sleepy town. Casey and I used to take walks downtown almost daily, but this winter we have gotten lazy. Although the temperature still gets up to sixty on nice winter days in Southern Spain, it can be a bit chilly with the wind blowing off of the water. Trust me, all of our visitors complain about the “cold” here. Most Ohioans simply aren’t used to being outside, I’ve realized. We spend an absurd amount of time indoors. Unless it’s summertime, we’re complaining about the snow, rain, overcast, etc., and most of that intel comes from the internet or a glass window. However, yesterday was an exception. I was bundled up in my sweater and vest (proper Spanish attire, ugh) and immediately started sweating. It was absolutely beautiful out! I knew I had been missing many other days like it by checking my iPhone weather app, and concluding from my couch that fifty degrees wasn’t worth going out.
I began walking the wooded trail along the beach towards downtown. Everything is so beautiful; I was quickly reminded of my love for this town. The pastel colors, varied flora, and clean air filled my senses with joy. I could live here forever if my loved ones joined and Roosters chicken wings could be imported.
I spent the afternoon capturing pictures of this historic town. Rota was settled by the Phoenicians around the same time as the nearby town of Cádiz, Europe’s oldest inhabited city. It was initially named “Astaroth,” after the noise made by the sea on stormy days as it breaks against the rocks of the reef. Living on the beach, I can attest to that! My brother woke up one morning and swore he heard a whale the night before from his window! Rota was then assumed by the Romans, and passed to the Moors upon their arrival from Africa. It was known as Rabita Rutta “watchtower of Rota,” where its current name derived. It has also been the center of Spanish Naval forces for many centuries and serves as the “Gateway to the Mediterranean.” Which is what brought me here…
Behind this historically rich, militarily strategic, impeccably beautiful Spanish town, is me, eager to explore it in more depth. No one could imagine all of the hardships and plagues Rota has endured walking through its charming streets. I stopped for a moment inside a tapas bar for some traditional Spanish tapas. Tapas are a very distinct way of eating that originated in Spain. They combine various appetizers to make a full meal. Assorted tapas include goat’s cheese in olive oil, the famous jamón ibérico (don’t get me started on Spanish ham), gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), or patatas bravas, potatoes in a spicy sauce. I opted for pimientos rellenos con carne and papas con mojo picon, or stuffed peppers and potatoes in a spicy sauce from the Canary Islands. The mojo sauce had hints of garlic, paprika, and cumin; whatever it was, I enjoyed it. If only America would pick up the tapa gastronomy… Could you imagine being able to choose three to four small entrees in the States? I’ll have cheesy bacon fries, chicken wings, spaghetti, and some lo mein noodles please! Here are a few of the many countless tapa bars in Rota:
After my quick lunch break, I continued my leisurely stroll around the town. I ran into a street lined with beautiful orange trees. Spain’s oranges rival Florida’s, they are so juicy and sweet. It reminds me of when my family was here last month and decided to steal the King’s glorious fruits only to discover they were bitterly unripe. On the same street are adorable Spanish villas, all brightly colored with hand painted ceramics dotting them. The uniqueness of Spanish style architecture results from a combination of Moorish and Mediterranean influence. I may or may not have invaded some personal privacy photographing these gorgeous homes. Here are a few of my favorites:
Heading towards the center of the old town, I ran into a few of the monuments that prove the antiquity of Rota. First is the Arco de Regla, the ancient gate of Chipiona, also well known as the Door of La Carne, named for the meat and derivatives transactions carried out under the arc.
Next, you walk into the main Plaza, where the cathedral and fortress remain. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la O, is a temple from the 14th century that was funded by D. Rodrigo Ponce of León, Duke of Arcos. The church is more modest than many of the surrounding cities’ cathedrals, and its interior stands out as a blend of Gothic, Isabelino, Plateresque, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
El Castillo de Luna (The Castle of the Moon) currently serves as the Town Hall. It was built in the 8th century atop a fortified Muslim 6th Century convent. Catholic Royalty lodged within the castle during visits to Rota and Christopher Columbus even stayed inside the fortress before one of his voyages to the New World.
I’m embarrassed to say that most of this information I just learned yesterday, after already living here for eight months. I have travelled to many other cities in Spain to learn of their histories, but never thought much of the small town I live in.
Further down from the plaza I ran into O’Grady’s, our favorite Irish Pub. The food is a wonderful change of pace from Spanish cuisine, and the owner, Patrick, is one of the best people I’ve met here.
Passing up a crisp Strongbow cider, I headed down to the beach. Here it is evident that Rota relied heavy on fishing for income, before the military base and tourism provided other jobs. I ended my afternoon at an outdoor café with an old-fashioned glass bottle Coca-Cola and a book, while overlooking the harbor. I urge you to will away a day to becoming a tourist in your own city. There is so much to experience and enjoy that can’t be appreciated from a car window. Maybe you will find a restaurant you never knew existed, meet a new friend, or learn a little history about the place you call home.
I made it back home just in time to enjoy the Sunset on our beach.