YA vienennnnnn! At the sound of the bell, plastic crates of fish and shellfish descended on a thin conveyor belt. Date prrrriiiiiisaaaaa! Hurry! I screeched to the Novio, having already informed Mikel of A Salto de Mata via Instagram that any red mullets were mine for the taking. Our lunch was being auctioned off, and our salmonetes were at stake.
Big mistake: the other auctioneers were smartphone-enabled, whereas my poor Novio was dealing with a broken machine and not-so-nimble fingers.
We were at the Lonja de Pescado of the village of Calpe, witnessing a daily event in this sleepy fishing town-cum-beach destination for Northern Europeans. Sitting in bleachers around a conveyer belt equipped with large screens, we were willing to pay upwards of 100€ for just a kilo of shrimp.
Just the night before, the Novio and I joined 49 other VIP couples – bloggers, digital media strategists and tourism professionals – as we ate morsel afer morsel at the celebrated El Puerto Blanco restaurant in Calpe. This family run eatery on the Costa Blanca runs on tourism and, indeed, el turismo is Calpe’s economic motor. Eight of 10 Calpinos work in the industry, and the privileged location on two pristine bays means that the mar is Calpe’s lifeblood.
No visit to the small village north of over-touristed Benidorm would be complete without paying homage to the ocean and its important role in Calpe’s economy. We began our day by taking a tourist train ride from our hotel, Gran Sol y Mar, to the port nestled just below the Peñón Ifach. The sun glittered off of the water as we were herded into the humble building labeled LONJA DE PESCADO.
This isn’t my first trip to the fish rodeo: for my friend Hayley’s 26th birthday, we had lunch at El Tintero, a seaside restaurant where you shout for your food as the white-and-black-clad waiters bring around whatever they’d caught that morning. In Calpe, the subasta, or auction, begins around 6pm when all of the fishing boats come in. Fish stink permeated my consciousness far too early in the morning, but as soon as the local fisherman began passing out the remotes that were to be used to bet, I could feel my pulse quicken.
As the daily catch came down the belt, I craned my neck to see what was in the crates. On the screen, the name of the fish, its weight and the number of buckets to be expected, and a camera affixed at the end of the belt gave us a real-time view of the seafood passing underneath it.
I watched in horror as the prices climbed upwards. “Coño!” the Novio shouted, “I think our machine is broken!” The alarm sounded again, and the boss informed us that he was putting a cap on what we could spend for the next round. We were to pass along our remotes to others and watch the process repeat itself.
After we’d had two rounds of betting on everything from octopus to crabs to lenguado, Mundo Marino treated us to a catamaran ride around the Peñón with a glass of champagne and then it was back to dry land for fried seafood and a paella contest. We sampled half a dozen different types of the rice based dish, all cooked by different restaurants around the port and served up with homemade alioli.
…and now the Novio is beginning to understand my world.
If you go: The Lonja de Pescado de Calpe is located at the foot of the Peñón Ifach on the Esplanade. Look for the fishing boats, the long nets and the smell of freshly-caught fish. The building can be visited from 16h to 19:30h, and the subasta happens around 6pm, once all of the boats have returned with their daily catch.
Many thanks to Calpe Tourism Board for their invitation to #Calpemocion, and their generosity when it came to feeding, housing and entertaining us. For more information about my weekend of san, surf and seafood (with my own opinions, claro), check out all of my Calpe-tagged posts.