Dawn in Andalucia. I walk from the campsite, along the dockside, into the town of El Puerto del Santa Maria. There’s a lot of clanging and banging as market stalls are being set up along the road. It looks like a big market, but I suspect that by the time I return they will have packed up and left. I’m taking the catamaran to Cadiz, which twinkles across the water in the early dawn light.
It’s a five minute turn around, and then we’re off. First gently cruising through the port, where the market is still assembling. Then, as we leave the breakwater, we speed up and bob across the bay, leaving the chasing seagulls far behind.
As we enter the port of Cadiz, my heart sinks at the sight of the cruise ship Oceana. I expect the city to be overrun with tourists and two coachloads almost knock me over on their way for some inland tour to Seville or Jerez. I stop by the small tourist office to pick up a map, and then walk to the tall, thick walls which still mark the entrance to the city. Homeless people have been sheltering beneath the arches, cardboard boxes insulating them from the cold, stone floor. Maybe it’s because it’s still early and the streets are quiet, but Cadiz feels seedy and threatening. I’m alert and careful not to wander too far from the main routes, watching my step for fear of treading in dog shit.
At the ruins of the Roman theatre I catch up with a tour group, peering through the barred fence, trying to get a glimpse of the ancient stones. It is “closed for repair”. Perhaps it is a joke! Behind I can see the domed, twin bell towers of the cathedral, which look down upon a large square lined with tapas bars. Too early for tapas, I seek out a warm, inviting coffee shop and plan the rest of my day.
I stretch my legs by walking to the most westerly point of Caleta Beach, whose white sands stretch between the forts of San Sebastian and Santa Catalina. A man walking his dog allows it to shit on the beach and then just kicks sand over it, as if hiding it means he can forget it, leaving it to become someone else’s problem. I distract myself by visiting the Cortes de Cadiz Museum which has displays on 18th and 19th century Cadiz, as well as memorabilia of the Napoleonic Wars and a scale model of the 18th century city made from mahogany wood and ivory.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology houses Roman and Phoenician finds, including some large marble sarcophagi and gleaming gold jewellery. Upstairs is a small but memorable selection of mainly Spanish art, including a collection of canvases by Zubaran from the Cathusian monastery of Jerez and a small painting on copper by Rubens. The second floor displays contemporary art which I have never quite understood and I find very little that appeals to me.
I had been particularly looking forward to a third museum of Bullfighting and Wine, not least because a glass of wine is included in the entrance ticket. However, my information, the map and the street signs seem to be out of date as I only find a small tavern with sherry barrels, old dusty bottles and framed bullfight posters. The owner tells me that the museum closed more than a year ago.
I drown my sorrows in the cathedral square with a glass of red wine and a selection of tapas: kidneys in sherry, chickpeas with chorizo and garlic potatoes. As a bonus, some musicians arrive with an accordion and clarinet. They commence with a very non-Spanish “O Sole Mio” and follow it with a very out-of-tune “Jingle Bells”. Not surprisingly they don’t collect much in their cap. Some locals sit next to me and while the younger members politely move away to smoke, a middle-aged senora in a mobility scooter chain smokes away and spoils my moment, reaffirming my view that the people of Cadiz just don’t care. They don’t care about their environment, their visitors, their neighbours or themselves.
Back in El Puerto del Santa Maria, the market has left and the streets are quiet. Many are bordered by the long, whitewashed walls of the sherry warehouses which stand empty and are up for sale. Perhaps the sherry has gone out of fashion? I do locate the large, circular bullring which was built in 1880 and can hold 15,000 spectators. There are two prices for the seats. Sun: cheap, and Shade: expensive. Luckily for the bulls, there is no fighting during the winter period and the seats remain empty.