Observations on life in Spain

Or more accurately, on life in my coastal pueblo in Andalucîa, and a few other tales thrown in.

We’re in Málaga province, the eastern side of Málaga, ie not the ritzy touristy Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella side. Although when we first looked at moving here I did want to buy on that side.

Our first trip to Spain was a camping one aimed at taking in Ronda, Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada. In a week on public transport. We did manage three out of the four, only Cordoba escaped us on that trip.

This was in pre-internet days, so my trip was exceptionally well planned through Ye Olde Fashionede Methods ie fly in, find tourist info office and go from there.

So once in Málaga airport, we got the train and headed south to the end of the line – Fuengirola. Somewhere, we figured, there was bound to be a campsite.

As we walked out of the train station, lo and behold, there were signs for campsites. So we walked the two miles back to Los Boliches, which has its own train station, and up the hill to La Rosaleda camp site.

The staff were laid back and friendly and understood my poor Spanish. They didn’t even talk down to me in English. Future trips to Andalucía always involved a stay at La Rosaleda. The other one to get multiple visits from us was at Dos Hermanos in Sevilla.

So, the happenstance of that first camp site in Spain led me to start looking for houses in that general area.

Now, there is a lot of snobbery about British lager louts and the Costa del Sol but I totally confess to a) drinking lager (San Miguel usually) and b) liking Torremolinos, Los Boliches, Fuengirola, Marbella and Estepona.

They are Spanish towns and cities, and for the most part, cater for their residents and Spanish holidaymakers. Public transport is good, shopping is good, and there are even vegetarian restaurants. At one point, Torremolinos had three – spoilt for choice! – and most of their customers were Spanish.

Coincidentally on our first or second trip to Los Boliches, Vegetalia opened on the very night we visited, more than 15 years ago now. Run by a Scandinavian woman, it was still going last thing I heard (still is, check link and feel hungry). She does/did a fixed price buffet at lunch with loads of salads, and a couple of different hot dishes every day. Two or three types of bread, dressings etc. Good value, especially if you are hungry.

One day we went for lunch and the place filled up in no time. She was run off her feet topping up the salads and doing more hot dishes. Spaniards love cheap. They love a bargain. A cheap bargain is heaven. So her restaurant wasn’t full of pretentious Brit middle class lefties like me. It was full of Spaniards, many of them working men. One of the good things about Spain is that people don’t make the mistake of looking at a workie and not wanting them in their restaurant or bar. It may be different in very expensive places but I don’t visit those. In your average place, if you have the money to pay, who cares about your clothes?

British readers will remember the old tap rooms and lounge bars in our pubs. The tap rooms were for the oiks, and scruffy workpeople daring to enter a lounge bar would usually be asked to go to the tap room which was invariably wooden benches and seats, with tiled floors, sawdust if you were lucky, rather than upholstered furniture and carpets.

Women on their own in Spanish bars don’t get any grief (that I have noticed) and can walk into a bar full of men without any problems. Partner and I have walked into bars in Edinburgh and either a) walked out straightaway or b) drank our beers so quickly they didn’t touch anything, let alone the sides. We’ve been in rough bars in Andalucîa eg Sevilla (the far side of the river) and certainly La Linea on the old fishing side – east/levante – (does La Linea have any good bars I might ask?) without feeling the same sense of wariness.

But back to the house hunt. When I mentioned my budget to one estate agent and where I wanted to live, he rudely told me to look the other side of Málaga. ‘I don’t like that. I want to live here,’ I wailed. I didn’t stamp my foot.

On one holiday in Los Boliches, we had got the bus into Málaga and then to Nerja. It all looked pretty boring to me on the bus journey. Endless fields of crops. No interesting looking towns. We didn’t like Nerja either (still don’t!).

And here I am – well, not in Nerja – but on the east side of Málaga. La Axarquía. so named, according to popular myth, for varying reasons. One story goes that one of the Arabic leaders told his wife that the region was gold. La Axarquía loosely translates to ‘It’s gold’. Not literally but it is a very fertile area, partly due to the fact that much of the coastal strip was under water years ago. (A more boring translation is that it derives from the Arabic for eastern region).

Our small village has one of the largest corridas (wholesale veg market) in the area and gets trucks coming from all over Spain to buy and sell. The only two months when crops aren’t in the fields around us are July and August. Come September and everyone is back at work, including me in my tiny garden.

Along with two banks and two supermarkets, we also have two shops selling seeds, plants, and all manner of gardening and agricultural tools, equipment and products.

Wandering into the supermarket the other day I was musing on the sexism of shopping. The manager was on the till for once. The manager is a He of course. One the deli counter there is normally a man doing the butchery and a woman doing cooked meats and cheese. She’s not allowed to touch the butchery part because that is clever thinking stuff that only men get trained to do. Reminds me of my father cutting bacon and ham, me cutting cheese, and my mother doing everything as usual. I digress.

The other day a travelling van came round the village selling melons, three for a euro, and fresh garlic, maybe five euros a kilo, can’t remember.

‘Señoras, señoras,’ shouts the van loudspeaker, and then announces the prices. But it isn’t just the women who do the shopping. José next door always goes out to the veg van, the bread van, the fish van, any van. And the only one who went out to the melon van was the chap from the finca over the road.

What’s wrong with saying ‘Señors, Señoras’? Habits may be changing but old attitudes remain, ie men go out to work and women look after the house, the kids, shop and cook. Next door to us Marcela does all that and goes to work. Rather her than me. Her husband has been uenemployed for years with just sporadic bits of work.

How about who drives the vans? Well, normally a man alone, sometimes they may have a helper, usually female, occasionally a man if they need to give a family member some gainful employment. I’ve seen a couple of mobile vans driven by women – but never with a male helper, only ever another woman.

To put this in context, I’ll quote a recent incident in Gib. I spoke to someone working with Partner and arranged to see him the next day. On both the ‘phone and in person he seemed phased. Later, he told Partner, he couldn’t cope with women in charge. Aaaaagh! Such a classic stereotype.

But to look at the Spanish situation from a different perspective, maybe the men/women teams in the vans are like me and Partner, each doing what they do best and producing synergy.

How about some prices from Spanish exile? Our local supermarket has offers on for two week periods and then they change them for the next two weeks. Mostly I’m not interested in them, although cheap San Miguel goes down well.

• An excellent sheep’s cheese, Boffard, (curado) at 12.95 a kilo
• Various bits of dead pig at 2.99 and 3.49
• A kilo of lentils or chick peas for a euro
• A kilo of rice for a euro
• A huge ham – jamón ibérico – on a wooden carving platter, weight approx 6.5/7 kilos for 85 euros!!!!
• Boring boiled ham at 7.95 a kilo
• Chorizo or salchichón at 9.95 a kilo
• Jamón serrano at 9.95 a kilo
• Pork chops at 3.99 a kilo
• Salmon at 9.90 a kilo (14 or 15 euros at the market last time I looked)
• Cauliflower at a euro for the piece
• Pork fillet at 4.69 a kilo

I figured there must have been an awful lot of pigs killed for the winter ….

I’ll end these observations with houses, which is roughly where I started, the house hunt.

Family houses and plots are adapted to house newly-married couples and the properties just get passed down. Who needs or wants a mortgage? But who really wants to live with their parents? I didn’t. Although I loved the family house so much it did pass through my mind – but even my parents thought I should have my own life.

Next door in Spain we have three generations. Two houses but all joined together. Mostly they spend their time together talking on the terrace and eating together. And the daughter cleans the parents house, and does the cooking (or the other daughter sometimes comes to do it), and and and.

Next door to them, Maria and Rafa have three children. Each child has a house on the plot, although the daughter left her husband to clear off to Madrid to live with someone she met on the internet. Maybe she thought the quiet pueblo life on the costa lacked something. But the truth is, most people stay here if they can find work. Families provide for each other so a huge income isn’t necessary, especially without needing to find money for a mortgage or rent.

Next door to the Madrid escapee’s family we have my neighbours’ older daughter. Her, her husband, and their two sons (now in their 30s) live in the house that belonged to her husband’s parents, although it’s had a few alterations since then.

Our house was originally detached with six rooms. It was owned by the family of Adelina’s older sister’s husband, so it became the house of the older sister when she married. When José and Adelina got married, the brother-in-law sold them two rooms so they could have their own home. Eventually they added another two rooms, and when their youngest daughter got married, they built a house on the back of the plot for her. And that’s recently been extended over the top of the original single storey house, which is why their homes are so intermixed.

When I say built, I mean that literally. José and the son-in-law built the house out the back and did most of the work on the recent extension.

It’s a world apart from a British life.

But, let’s end with some soppy pix. While the pueblo is know for its agriculture, there are also a lot of animals around. Goats, sheep, draught cattle, obviously horses, and donkeys and mules. During my exile, there was a day’s event for people to show off their donkeys and mules. I’m not sure what the point was but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and I couldn’t resist a wander to look at the beautiful animals. I so want a donkey sanctuary.

And on the animal theme, there is another post over on Pippa’s.

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42 comments on “Observations on life in Spain

  1. Interesting post for me as a couple of family members have just sold up everything in the UK and decamped to Lanzarote, leaving the rest of us thinking – why? What will they do? They’ll be bored after three months. They have bought an old traditional house and we are receiving sporadic updates and photos. They spend a lot of time laying on the beach. Each to his own, I guess. Tending animals seems to have more purpose – living mainland, to me, makes more sense. No man is an island – no, he isn’t, much less become stranded on a small one.
    I’m curious to understand where Gib fits in for you – and do you have a preference?


    • Mmm, I love Lanzarote, I would go there, I have to say.

      It’s interesting that despite the so-called recession and the problems of living abroad, people still keep decamping and moving to Spain and elsewhere.

      Firstly, I have not been bored in 12 years. Not for one moment. But you would have to read back six year’s worth of blogs, not just here, but also on Clouds to catch up on some of that :D

      Their house sounds wonderful, just what I would like. We did go the beach a little from time to time, still do although I’m surprised to discover the last time we went was THREE years ago! I thought it was last year: http://wp.me/p1XwsS-pQ

      Mostly we go to the beach for a circular walk.

      We have chickens, cockerel, dogs – do geckos and snakes count? If we had more space we would have goats, but for no real purpose except they are cute and wicked. And the desirable donkey of course. Or two, because they need a pal.

      I would have felt isolated on an island at one point, now I doubt it, and I did seriously consider the Hebrides, so islands don’t really bother me apart from the extra costs.

      Gib is an alternative investment rather than putting all eggs in a Spanish basket, a place for Partner to earn money, and a different life. I like both. I love the tranquility of the Spanish life, my exile of three months was very enjoyable. But I love Spain partly because the Gib life is busy so I appreciate the Spanish one even more when I go back. But when I am in Gib I love that too. How good to have two lives and love both of them!


  2. Good thoughts. I Googled your village – it looks nice, I could live in a place like that. Was there any illegal building there and threats of demolition? Your story of the delivery men reminded me of the mobile shop that used to come by a couple of times a week when I was a boy. I never had a female boss but I am sure that it wouldn’t have bothered me like the man in your story.


    • Just spent some time thinking about life in Spain, no internet, no nothing, ran out of new books to read, so ended up writing a few things that I’d thought about.

      There are lots of ‘real’ Spanish villages that are inundated with ex-pats eg Competa, Comares, loads up near Lake Vinuela, Riogordo etc. Because ours is nothing in particular, there are few foreigners.

      No illegal building, no threats of demolition, it’s not that sort of place.

      Mum and dad were still having mobile fish and butcher vans when they retired in the 90s.

      A female boss might not have bothered you. Whether or not you would have bothered a female boss is another story. Having said that, there are people who are a pain in the arse regardless of gender.


  3. Hee-haw as we say in my parts of the sooouth and Texas. Those are some dang pretty asses. :-) :-) I could not resist. Yes, a donkey sanctuary would be very nice with some doggies in the mix that were saved.

    Love the idea that you have two homes. Get tired of one for awhile and go across the border to “stay a spell.” Just kidding here. A wise investment and works as a convenience at times I am sure.

    PS: I have not forgotten your question re”: the sexes of the butters. I am trying to gear up to do a post about that and I am slow as molasses when working on a post. Winter increases my depressive tendencies.

    Do you know if soy is grown as a crop? And is soy milk available. Just curious. No, I am moving to “to anywhere.” :-)


    • I was looking for the header post and I couldn’t resist that one. I actually thought it was nice, I loved the swishing tails. And such perfectly formed asses.

      My sanctuary would be multi-animal.

      I don’t like having two homes because you can only live in one at once, yet, life has dealt me the lot by moving around that I have ended up with two homes for most of my married life.

      Post when you want and when you have time.

      Soy is grown in Spain. Half of it is GM :( Or more than half, who knows? Plenty soya milk available in Gib and Spain at health food shops. I tend to go for organic and GM free.


      • It’s good to know that you can get GM free and organic. The GM stuff is helping destroy our planet. I buy Organic, non GMO verified by Silk. I drink lots of soy and use it in my coffee but I scald the soy milk and it does not curdle as mcuh in the hot coffee that way. I discovered that on my own. I love the taste. :-)


        • I wrote a huge rant on GM on my Clouds blog. It wasn’t remotely objective but as I can’t think of anything good to say about GM I could hardly put both sides of the story.

          I don’t use a lot of soya milk, in sauces, and if I want a drink, I usually shovel some muesli into it. I’m not overly fond of muesli unless there is lots of dried fruit in it, but it’s a nice way to get some soya milk down. I like the taste too. It’s not claggy like dairy milk.


  4. The tap oh a blast from the past, many an evening spent in one somewhere, playing guitars and hogging the log fires on a winters night. The smoke blowing back combined with cigarette smoke what a healthy life we lived. Reading your post has reminded me of a couple stories I might post later..The more I read I must say I am tempted to try and visit one day. You really should be a sales person for your area of living. Now a days the tap rooms are now part of a dining rooms and fire places only decorative gas fires or electric. Still they can be atmospheric.


    • I spent many a day in tap rooms with my parents, often playing dominoes. Tap rooms were always so small and friendly, you just spoke to everyone who was in there.

      Thanks, I’m glad you find it interesting enough to consider visiting. Trouble is, the sort of place you see on holiday isn’t necessarily the sort of life that people who live here have. Some lead the holiday life. They have a flat on the coast and they go out at least once a day. And some of them suddenly wake up one day and find they have no money left because they have lived the holiday life instead of a real life.

      There are cheap flights to Málaga, and if you ever decide to come, let me know what interests you besides music and I’ll give you some suggestions for what to do/see. Can’t help with the music, but my young neighbours might as one is learning the trombone. Slowly :D Our local big restaurant/bar (there are a couple of pix in the slideshow of it, the ones with the horses on) does put music nights on from time to time, it’s obviously local Spanish music, but I’m always tucked up in bed.

      Yes, pubs aren’t what they used to be.


      • many of our tap rooms we visited were little music halls, everyone jamming and gigging.. lots of nice memories,, today the open mic nights are in lounge bars that have been opened up, minus the smoke.. If it ever comes that a visit is on the cards I will be sure to let you know and seek advice.. ;)


    • Thank you. Just some random ramblings that I jotted down when I was offline for three months with the new puppy. It’s typical village life where I am, but it’s not the same as say, an English village.


  5. I enjoyed that tour.
    I’ll never get to know the village in Spain where we have the house as well as you know yours….we’ll only be there for holidays – but I noted the cheap prices for food last time over and the gradual abandonment of the outlying farmhouses.


    • Thanks Helen, a whistle stop tour around Andalucía looking at normal life rather than the tourist highlights? I should probably write up the first camping trip, a lot of which involved rain. Much to our surprise not realising that it rained in Spain!
      We should know our village well, we’ve lived there for more than ten years, and full-time before we bought Gibflat. We only started living in Gibflat because of the work, otherwise it was going to be a) an investment and b) a holiday home in the city, but things have vice-versaed.
      I can’t remember where your place is, is it Valencia way? We were surprised that spaniards didn’t have the British dream of a place in the country. Most of them can’t wait to sell their fincas and ground and a life of hard work for an easy life and a piso in town.


      • Up in the hills behind Castellon de la Plana…
        The oldies move to the village or to Castellon itself and the kids – who have usually moved previously either come out to see to the trees on the weekend or hire someone to do it for them.
        I’d enjoy your tour of normal life Andalucia….


        • Like I said, Valencia. Provincia de.

          Yeah, fincas are great for weekends so long as you don’t have to look after them.

          I blame my history teacher at school for my Andalucían bias. We did spanish history to death and I was desperate to see Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla. And I loved it the first time I came. Never fallen out of love to be honest. Spain can be a pain, but adore Andalucía.

          I blame my uni archaeology teacher for similar influence. Had me traipsing all around Italy looking for statues and mosaics. My must dos, one that I missed out on because Turkey got deleted from my world trip (no idea why as I had the money) is Hagia Sophia. The other is Lepcis Magna. I really really want to go there.

          Normal life Andalucia is pretty dull actually :D But if you venture down, you know where I am, so to speak.


          • Normal life anywhere is, with a bit of luck, generally dull – but always interesting to someone who isn’t living there.
            Hagia Sophia is cold…as if the life has been sucked out of it – and that’s not just down to the wear and tear of ages.
            I wanted to see Leptis Magna when we were in Tunisia…but this was Ghadaffi time and the borders were closed to foreigners like us. I shan’t get the chance again.
            The house in the the Maestrazgo…in the lower bit…and i’m hoping to be able to take a look at the Aragonese part of it.


          • Hey, I like dull, I’m not knocking it. Just that for tourists interesting things are events like the Romería, the annual visit of the virgin to the sea, typical Spanish music events, blah blah.

            Interesting perspective of Hagia Sophia, I just spent so many hours gazing at slides at university (pre-computer days obviously, no powerpoint then) that it left its mark on me, as did Lepcis. We had friends who went. They wrote to Gadaffi and got in. Or maybe it was Cuba and they wrote to Castro. One or the other. We thought we might have a chance with Gadaffi as he liked Land Rovers, but I never got round to it.

            Not a part of Spain I know at all. Think we went through Castellon on the train. Doesn’t Terual (Aragon) have lots of eagles?


  6. Love the pics :-)

    Perhaps it’s an age thing, but I’ve never felt happy walking into a pub alone, even if I’m meeting friends. I always had it instilled in me that only ‘a certain type of women’ entered a bar alone. So it would be nice to break that old fashioned idea, especially arriving on horseback :-)
    Your life sounds a total escape from the rat race, I’m quite envious.


    • Your parents didn’t do pub as much as mine ;) But yes, that idea was there too, floating around. But in my (early) teens I usually went out in Wakefield at weekends and it was custom and practice to meet in pubs. Over the years I just got used to going on my own too, not to meet people. Easy enough. A bit like eating alone.

      I don’t think you can ever truly escape from a rat race, look at A working seven days a week at the mo. I see Osborne has told young Brits they will have to work until they drop dead get to 70. That’s a good idea Mr O. And where are the jobs? Bet he’s never worked outside in a physical trade in his late 50s. Stupid politicians. Anyway / off topic rant.

      The pix are lovely aren’t they? I’d almost forgotten about the event, having seen the posters about it in the village, but saw them arriving when I went to the shops so went down a bit later for a photoshoot. We could round them all up and take them to Tiree.


  7. Love that you would keep goats for no other reason than that they are wicked. It fits my idea of who you are. ;) My neighbours sold their fainting goats because they were wicked. Now I lose my daily drive-by dose of tiny wicked progeny in the spring – drat.


    • I have a wonderful self-sufficiency book which says goats have 24 hours a day to think about how to get around your measures to stop them eating your vegetable patch/garden/whatever. I love that. It suggests intelligence, calmness, patience, and determination to eat your veg. I admire that. I also like the idea that people are stupid enough to think they can outwit goats.

      We have a lovely goat/sheep farm five or ten minutes walk away and they regularly walk past. After more than ten years here, I still run onto the terrace to watch them and wave at the smiley goatherder.

      Don’t know if you saw this post with goat pix?http://wp.me/p1XwsS-1jn


      • That’s more than I’ve ever seen in one place, I think! My neighbours just had a few for fun, in with their sheep. I think they know quite well that they can’t outwit a goat by now, judging by their uproarious stories (and present lack of goats)! I saw a hilarious youtube clip of a little goat being let out of a pen and running wild hither and thither right over top some older, more sedate goats in his joy to be out in greener pastures. Priceless…


  8. The Better Half enjoys San Miguel. So the tap rooms were a way to keep the classes segregated. I’ve visited a pub that had three separate rooms and I think I read that it was also a way to keep the classes separate, but I didn’t know one section was called the tap room and the other section people could lounge.


    • Not sure if British San Miguel is brewed under licence? The stuff in Spain is the genuine thing however, although I have it on authority that it is better in the far East. Philippines I think.

      I missed your pub review last Friday :( I enjoy those, they are a good read. I can’t be bothered to go out to drink, but I like to enjoy it vicariously.

      Yeah, probably was classist. Obvious when you think about it, until you get difficult people like my parents who would go into both bars. Then there were ‘Snugs’ of course. They were small cosy and intimate, often with a fire, sort of like a tap room but a notch above. Prices used to be cheaper in the tap room incidentally. Another good reason to frequent them.


  9. These are very valaable observations, coming as they do from normal life. Normal life is under-rated. Some people watch TV and conclude the benchmark for real life is a sit-com, reality TV or the shopping channels. I feel so much better after reading them.
    Being that time of year, we’ve attended a few get togethers. Last weekend our future exit from the city was discussed “Oh, your base is going to be Taylors Arm? Really? But there’s nothing to do there.” We didn’t dignify it with a response. Yes, they have been to TA, twice. And twice couldn’t leave quick enough. The live in a pop culture area near everything retail in a McMansion with an oversize swimming pool and every appliance known to mankind. I’m happy with my normal. I like yours too. Other people can figure out theirs.
    I would love to have seen the donkeys and mules day. I’ve always liked them but the G.O. and I developed a greater affection when during a greater family outing a cute donkey gave a good bite to an unfavourite aunt. They have good people sense.


    • The benefit of exile was having the chance to sit down and reflect on a few things in life. And it’s interesting (or was to me) to look at the life around me in the pueblo. Who can say what real life is? It’s different for each of us. We may have things in common, like needing to eat, sleep and have somewhere to live, and work to provide those things, – but outside of that, our ‘normal’ lives, superficially the same, are really very different.

      I like living in a nothing village. Just an ordinary Spanish pueblo where life is taken one day at a time. There is plenty to do, but I’m the sort of person who is never bored. Only child syndrome, you learn to find your own interests.

      I didn’t know donkeys bit! I always think they are so gentle when I am stroking or nuzzling or feeding them.


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