Garrucha, Andalusia, Spain Thursday, February 12, 2009
We have had nearly two weeks here in Camping Cuevas Mar, Palomares, a small resort just north of Mojacar, on the edge of the Costa del Sol, and two things will come to the fore in our recollections of the
area: the behaviour of the Brits and the amazing geology.
During the winter months the coastline between Alicante and Marbella, about 500 miles, is heavily populated with British, and to a certain extent German and Dutch. In fact the visitor population plus the resident expat population is almost as large as that of the native Spanish. In a few resorts and villages this population has blended in and tries to live a Spanish lifestyle. Regrettably in many resorts the Brits are Brits and will remain Brits. They are only here for the sun and the cheap booze (and that applies just as much to the pensioner population as to young lager louts). There is little or no attempt to meet the Spanish on their terms, to speak Spanish or to respect the Spanish lifestyle. It is interesting that these same people are the ones who complain so bitterly about Britain's immigrant population not living a "British" lifestyle. We have overheard many a conversation in seafront cafes, which have been quite embarrassing.
One of the most common topics of conversation is the plummeting pound and consequent increase in the cost of living here. Frankly, if you read or hear of this take it with a huge pinch of salt. Most expats came here because they could live a much better lifestyle than in the UK. The cost of drink, eating out and property, particularly with a strong pound, meant that even a modest income could support a comfortable life. Now that the Pound and Euro are almost at parity eating out is not as cheap as it was, but it is still a lot cheaper than England. The weekly supermarket bill is also much cheaper than England, but only if you buy the sort of foods the Spanish are buying. Most of the supermarkets stock a range of English foods, but the Spanish know a captive market when they see it and the prices are ludicrous: Homepride cook-in sauces or Chicken Tonite at €3 or €4 a jar; English bacon (yes, the real stuff with all that white guck!) at €3 for a packet of three rashers. We thought it ridiculous to see a packet of six mince pies in one supermarket at €6, till we saw them in another supermarket at €10.
As a result there are a number of shops springing up aimed at the British market. We have seen WH Smiff, Quiksafe, Spainsbury's, all selling UK style food cheaper than the supermarkets but still far more expensive than at home. Most resorts have an "English" butcher, which sells cuts of meat that are more recognisable, but at a higher price than the Spanish butcher. There are the inevitable English-style pubs and Paddy's Bars. There are a number of free local papers, which advertise "English" plumbers, "English" electricians, whist drives and bingo evenings, hairdressing in your home, in fact anything you could need to avoid speaking to a Spaniard.
I'm sorry, but I have very little sympathy for most of these people. As anyone living on a pension in the UK will know, if you eat out two or three times a week, have a bottle of wine with every meal, have coffee out every morning, go out for a drink several times a week, the money soon runs out.
But enough of John's ranting! - there are lots of things to enjoy, not least the weather, which has improved considerably just as the weather in the UK has deteriorated! It's been wonderful to sit in the warm sun, although we haven't gone quite as far as some of our fellow-campers who expose gnarled limbs in shorts and sleeveless t-shirts whenever the sun shines.
The warmth has also brought lots more flowers out. In the fields the acid-yellow of the sorrel is now giving way to the deeper yellow of crown daisies, and there are great purple patches of stock, as well as flowers I recognise from previous holidays in Greece - pitch trefoil and asphodel. Around the campsite mimosa trees are starting to flower. It is also a great area for bird life, particularly waterfowl. Egrets and herons abound, with crag martins down from the hills for the winter, flamingos on the saltpans and stilts pecking in the ditches by the roadside.
This is an interesting coastline, although we've decided that our campsite is probably on the least attractive part! According to Wikipedia, Palomares's only claim to fame is that a B52 crashed here in the sixties, and the nuclear bombs on board were damaged, contaminating the area. However, the locals don't have two heads or glow in the dark, so it can't have done any long-term harm.
It's a comfortable campsite with very spacious pitches and everyone is very friendly, though I rather wish the greybeard loon at the end of our row hadn't brought his accordion with him. This area must be the salad-bowl of Spain, if not Europe - we're surrounded with acres of lettuce fields and hundreds of greenhouses growing tomatoes. The soil is very fertile because the whole area is volcanic in origin, and has some extraordinary rock formations in all sorts of colours, black, white, red, yellow, even purple. There has been mining activity here from ancient times and there are ruined workings all over the hills, reminiscent of Pennine lead mines or Cornish tin mines.
Not far from here, around Tabernas, is Europe's only desert, which provided the backdrop for Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, for parts of Lawrence of Arabia, The Magnificent Seven and even the Indiana Jones movies. The fake Western-town filmsets are still here, now open to the public as a tourist attraction by the name of Fort Bravo, complete with cowboys staging gunfights in the saloon. On the day we went there were only two other tourists, so it felt rather like a ghost town, but was an entertaining experience!
The coast is spectacular, with rocks sculpted into weird shapes by the wind and waves, and towering headlands.
One of these areas, Cabo de Gata, is a national park, which protects it from the kind of development which has spoiled some of the Costas. Actually, none of the coast around here has been overly-developed, so while there are plenty of small-scale apartment complexes and a few hotels they don't detract too much from the natural surroundings. One very popular site is the old Moorish village of Mojacar, perched on a hill overlooking the sea. Again, we felt lucky to be seeing it off-season as it would no doubt be full of coaches in summer.
One of the problems we face on this trip of ours is getting the balance right between sightseeing and just "chilling". There are so many places we want to see, but at the same time we want to enjoy just sitting in the sun and relaxing. We had intended to spend only a short time here then move on to the Granada area, but have decided to stay here a bit longer to savour the sun and scenery. There are no deadlines - sometimes it's hard to remember that, after years in the workplace.