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.