May 13, 2023
Calima in Torremolinos, March 2022. Photo by MamaMalaga.

What is Calima?

Have you ever heard about Calima? It is a not-so-talked-about weather phenomenon that is almost unique to Spain in its strength. And it is weird! It is basically caused by strong winds that blow from the north of Africa and bring Sahara’s sand to the south of Spain. And boy, it makes a difference!! The sky gets orange, the cars and pavement get covered in sand, and the white houses become yellow.

It is best to see pictures for you to get the idea; check google for ‘calima Spain’ and I’m sure you’ll find a lot. I add here a link from the Spanish newspaper Sur talking about the extraordinary Calima that happened in March 2022. Luckily, they say it is unlikely that such a strong calima should happen again in the near future.

My first calima

When I got to Spain I didn’t know about calima; when it happened, I noticed first that the pavement was covered in sand, so I thought that the administration of Torremolinos was doing a bad job at cleaning the city. I was ‘living’ in a vacation rental apartment back then, and had just arrived in Spain two months before.

That was the day I had to go enroll Kiddo in the public school (in March, you know), so I went, by train and then walking. I noticed the sky was kinda orange, and that in Benalmádena as well there was sand everywhere on the floor, on the cars… and then it started to rain a little – which I thought was a good thing, as it would help clean the floors and the sky.

Too bad I was outside and without an umbrella, but it wasn’t that much water anyway and it looked just like normal rain. I didn’t really mind, as I was happy I had finished the procedures with the school. Arriving back home, though, I realized that the coat I had been wearing was practically dry, but covered in drops of sand!! It felt so weird! Super strange start of my journey living in Spain, that’s for sure. Good thing the locals knew what was going on, and nobody seemed terrorized by the fact that, on that day, it rained sand.

For the next few days, it was all I could talk about, though. I didn’t know too many people, but I asked everybody I knew about the ‘sand rain’, and was soon aware of the name calima – in this day and time, basically all you need to know about anything, as with a name you can google the heck out of it – curiosity satisfied, I was glad I didn’t own a house yet, so I wouldn’t have to clean walls.

Calima can worsen respiratory problems

Calima is translated as haze, but I don’t think it is quite the same; Spanish calima is practically pure sand, not so much dust or pollutants. It doesn’t happen every year, and it is usually light, not so visible as the one that rained on my coat on March 2022 – the same one I pictured above. When calima starts, it can last for about a week, as the sand remains in suspension for days after the wind itself stops blowing from the Sahara. People generally wait until it is gone and then start washing the city floors, the terraces and the white walls (imagine the work in the white washed pueblos!)

Calima happens mostly during winter months and can cause respiratory problems to people that are already prone to have them. The best to do during a calima period is to stay home, with windows closed. Unless you want to take unique pictures or enroll your kid in school, of course.

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