Monday, September 14, 2020

Back in 1963, The Times visited Mojácar



Aerial photo of Mojácar from 1961

Someone found an old press clipping from The Times, dated July 20th 1963. The article is called 'Beyond Spain's Tourist Villa Belt' and has this to say about Mojácar:

...This is Mojácar, of Moorish origin, whose flat-roofed whitewashed houses had fallen into a state of almost derelict disrepair and depopulation, but has been "rescued" by an influx of foreigners whose villa-building (of necessity in the local style) has provided work. Above the tiny plaza, cobbled lanes so narrow that one can almost touch both sides form a maze through houses, some solid, some just heaps of rubble - which is sorted over and used again for building. Two newly built hotels mark Mojácar's bid for a running in the tourist stakes...'.

When the Mojaqueros left the village in search of a better life, moving away to Barcelona, Lyon, Marseilles, Frankfurt and, above all, to Argentina, they sold what little they had to pay for the trip. They couldn't sell their homes because there was no demand for them, so they simply dismantled them - selling the beams, the doors, the rejas and the tiles for whatever small price they would make. Mojácar's population had plummeted to around 600 souls - half of whom lived in Sopalmo, Las Alparatas or the rich fields and orchards below the fuente

The old mayor Jacinto liked to say that in the late fifties there was so many piles of rubble strewn about the abandoned village that no one was even sure where the streets went.  But then the forasteros (outsiders) with their full purses came and things improved. Later, many Mojaqueros returned too...

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Rattling Good Yarn

Last Saturday I dropped by my old house, where my daughter now lives, to load up on books. She’s fixing up the place a treat while putting my books away in boxes. I have always enjoyed reading and have worked my way through many thousands of books over my life (mostly what my old English-teacher would have described as ‘tripe’).  Right now, I’m at the side of Attila in Costain’s ‘The Darkness and the Dawn’ (1959) riding comfortably on my boney steed into battle against the Romans.

What with the wonders of the Internet – preparing and writing Business over Tapas, entertaining myself with YouTube and posting pithy poppycock on Facebook – I don’t have the same amount of time as before to spend on the couch with a book.

Plus there are the real-life horses that I look after, that need watering, feeding, exercising and so on.

For the leisure hours, there’s the TV as well, but I hardly ever watch it beyond checking the headlines on Wednesday evening. I can’t keep up with the films for very long – maybe they don’t make them for people like me: old, deaf and cynical.  Oh, and the good thing about books? No commercial interruptions!

There’s one good bookshop in our city – I live on the edge of Almería – and I go there for a treat once or twice a year, blowing and wheezing gently through my face mask as I negotiate the stairs into the basement. It' called El Picasso and it has an odd collection of books in English: some Shakespeare and Dickens plus a few slightly peculiar classics - like Dana’s ‘Two Years before the Mast’, mixed up with some science fiction, Steven King and several trilogies with the first or second part inevitably missing, probably sold to someone on a brief visit to our fair city.

When not sorting through their selection, with most of the spines of the books upside-down (the Spanish print theirs the other way round from us) meaning one has to crick one’s head to the left rather than the right… until one comes to a book which has been replaced on the shelf by a previous customer, thus making one look slightly eccentric, nodding this way and that at the truncated trilogies.

The average book is priced on the far side of ten euros, so I prefer to visit a charity shop when on a visit to Mojácar. There I can find four or even six books for a euro, which ain’t bad. Indeed, there’s currently a large plastic bag full of them on the floor by my window.

But why bother, when there are all those boxes of books at the old house?

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Tourism is ¡Agggh! dead

I have always maintained that Mojácar should concentrate on being a residential town. With a pandemic, or a natural disaster or a recession or better tourist offers from Cyprus, the tourist market is always potentially unsure. But with (what the Spanish are pleased to call) Residential Tourism, we are here all year, spend far more than a tourist does (a hundred times more than one tourist) and we respect and repair our community, rather than being sick in the flower-bed. There's no ministry or agency or promotion or advertising for this industry of encouraging foreigners to buy a 200,000€ house and an expensive car, but the Spanish in their wisdom put all their eggs in the tourist basket.

Which is broken.

Indeed, attracting retired people, with their pensions, plus ‘digital workers’, who can earn their bread from working at home (check out teletrabajo on Google), plus the workers who must attend them, plus the all-year business for supermarkets, banks, restaurants and bars, plus the taxes they bring, are all more useful today to smaller towns than ever before.

Plan the town around its residents, not its customers. The festivals and attractions should be designed to appeal to those who live there (and have space for them to attend). Don't worry about the half a dozen money-crazed businessmen who want to turn the beach into a holiday camp, or the hoteliers (based in Barcelona) who want hordes of cheap all-you-can-eat tourism, or the souvenir shops, who only open during the summer months (when was the last time you bought a souvenir?).

Think of the residents, and make them proud of their pueblo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Building Opportunities

The empty spaces in Andalucía, the bits between the concrete, are under threat: a resource that it is apparently now the time to cash in on. 
From the national press we read that the President of Andalucía has approved an urban reform that allows one to build anywhere where it is not expressly prohibited.  This of course is the reverse of the old rule that prevented building on rural undeveloped land and on specially protected land unless it was expressly included in an urban plan. In all, 21 laws and six decrees have been amended with the consternation of the opposition parties within the regional parliament. Already, three appeals to the Constitutional Court have been brought, and eighty organizations have filed a joint complaint with the Public Ombudsman, while, say the newspapers, the decree has sparked outrage from environmentalists everywhere.
It is nevertheless the case that the laws needed amending (we remember the ‘300,000 illegal houses across Andalucía’), but perhaps this U-turn is a trifle more than we had bargained for. Will the ghastly Hotel Algarrobico in Carboneras be legalised (and can it be repaired after a dozen years of abandon)?
What news of the hitherto cancelled Ronda Los Merinos golf project or the Valdevaqueros Tarifa project?
The law in question is called the LISTA, which breaks down as the Law of the Sustainability of the Territory of Andalucía. It is designed to replace the LOUA, which, as Maura Hillen, the ex-president of the home owners’ group AUAN recalls, was ‘…a set of regulations that, for the last 18 years, has placed a stranglehold on development in Andalucía with its urban-centric philosophy and a torturous planning approvals process that failed to differentiate between a village in the Valle of Almanzora and the city of Seville’.
The LOUA had ruled that homes could not be built on rural ground, unless they were to be used for farming purposes. Furthermore, municipalities could grow by not more than 4% in every eight years. This meant that a village of fifty houses could only build two more every eight years. And, by chance, the mayor’s brother was a builder.
So, you see, when the foreigner turned up with a suitcase of cash, we went ahead and built an extra house, well, converted it from an old corral really, just down past the cemetery and not far from Paco’s Bar.
For Goodness sake, of course they built. There’s not much money in goats these days…
The small villages were (and still are) dying, and an injection of new residents, especially those who were retired and would bring business to the local bar, shop and town hall exchequer, could only be a good thing. If there were issues, the village might need the help of a good (if crooked) lawyer, but not an environmentalist – a city creature with a romantic and wildly inaccurate view of the lives of the country-folk.
When Helen and Len Prior had their home bulldozed flat in 2008 outside Vera in Almería (the other homes in that immediate neighbourhood survived unscathed), it was neither in a particular beauty-spot, nor was it in a flood-plain. It was at least five kilometres from the beach as the crow flies and it wasn’t on the route of the AVE or a motorway. It also wasn’t in a Natural Park, of which, at 2.8 million hectares, 30.5% of the entire region, Andalucía is suitably blessed.
Where it was odd of the Junta de Andalucía to knock-down that particular house (which, one recalls, was owned by a foreigner),  a nearby urbanisation on the beach called Puerto Rey, which has several apartments owned by ex-ministers from earlier democratic governments of Spain, regularly floods with some inundations as much as three metres deep. A British woman called Diane Dudas drowned in Puerto Rey in 2012 in such a flood. Yet, the urbanisation has never been put at risk by meddlesome busybodies from Seville…
The ecologists (who never seem to mind about the 75,000 hectares of plastic farms – real figures – that do little to improve the Almerian landscape and subsoil) do have a point about layering the whole of the Mediterranean coast in concrete. The poor villages of the interior might need to survive with some help from outside, but the wealthy coastal resorts are looking at expanding into their remaining fields, salt-flats and coves for an entirely different reason:  profit.
The media talks of new schemes going ahead, with one headline saying ‘The Andalusian coast heats up with new urban projects’. These include, ‘hotels, golf courses and urbanisations from Chiclana to the Cabo de Gata, and not forgetting Marbella’.  The same paper, ‘El Mundo’, admits in another leader that ‘The Andalusian government is relying on construction to alleviate the huge losses in tourist income due to the pandemic’.
Making a profit is an underlying philosophy of conservatism, so it comes as no surprise that the Junta de Andalucía, reborn last year (after four decades of corrupt socialism) as a jewel in the PP’s crown, would want to put a resource to good use. Will the profits be re-ploughed into the local economy or find their way offshore? Well, that’s the subject for another day. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Boutique Hotel for the Playa de Los Genoveses

The news of permission for a small hotel to be allowed in the Cabo de Gata, facing the famous Beach of the Genoveses, came as a shock last week, and a petition calling for its summary removal is going strong.
In fact, there is already a building there, some distance away from the beach and partially hidden by a decaying prickly pear plantation (the ecologists are generally against chumbos as they are an ‘invasive plant’). The construction is an old vegetable-rope factory, of all things, and has been used recently as a modest tapa-bar with space available for rent for weddings and other events. It's called el Cortijo de las Chiqueras ('The Pig-farm' in colloquial Spanish).
The Cabo de Gata is important because, although 73% of Almería is ‘protected’ one way or another, much of the province is inhospitable desert and this, without doubt, is the first bit that developers would be pleased to get their hands on. The Cabo de Gata – Nijar Natural Park is 45,663ha (176 sq miles) in size and we are told, ‘…is Andalucía's largest coastal protected area, a wild and isolated landscape with some of Europe's most original geological features’.  
 It’s certainly very pretty (once you have successfully passed the distressing belt of plastic farms that guards it).
The plan is to turn the building into a small four-star hotel with, we are told, thirty rooms and a pool.
The nearby resort of San José (here) would normally be enough for any visitor’s needs, with several hotels and innumerable restaurants, and there are many campsites and hotels stretching towards the nearby provincial capital which is less than 40 kilometres away.
Oddly, just one family owns much of the park surrounding the superb beaches of Las Genoveses and Mónsul, a family that successfully stopped the coastal motorway from passing through the park many years ago. Doña Pakyta (as the old matriarch was known) famously left her home in the city to become an art museum. The future hotelito belongs to her heirs.
But now, with local people clamouring for jobs in the tourist sector, and the lesson of the Hotel Algarrobico gently rotting in the hot sun some 60kms to the north-west apparently forgotten, the prospect of a new hotel is being well received locally. Permission, that hardest of all indulgences, has now been granted by the Junta de Andalucía (the Junta, now under the control of the PP, looks favourably on investment, it says, ‘to offset the huge losses caused by the pandemic’) and all systems are ‘go’.
Many years ago, there were people living in what is now the park, and today, there are a number of abandoned and ruined cortijos. Will these all be available for conversion into summer homes, or boutique restaurants, or perhaps a camp-site or two in the years to come?
The PSOE-A talks of the threat of ‘cementing the natural park’ and calls for the Junta to reverse its ruling. As we know, the party has always been ferociously against urbanising anything outside the cities, but maybe it has a point here. The party has made a complaint to the European Commission saying that the Andalusian Government is putting the Cabo de Gata ‘at serious risk’. An article in another local newspaper says that the PSOE was once in favour of the project and that it was the PP who nobly pared it back to the current 30 rooms. So, in politics, you pays your money and you takes your choice, as usual. El Mundo ingeniously says that the Junta ‘…has not authorized a hotel establishment, but merely "a rehabilitation of the Las Chiqueras farmhouse"’. Really? I’ll take vanilla.
From the evidently back-to-nature Ruralidades we read, ‘…It is clear that tourism or rather, tourism entrepreneurs, pay no attention to anything nor to anyone; for them the environment is nothing more than something one either puts in the safe or in the bank. We have seen it in all the municipalities of the coast. Everything is designed for the opportunities of tourism, that tireless and insatiable predator of the territory, as if the entire coastline were its property…’.
The location of the proposed hotel, plus a blistering attack against the plan, can be seen at a page run by Los Amigos del Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata - Níjar here and has the petition to sign here.  

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Working in Spain

(Following on from last week...)

Many people dream of coming to live in Spain, and who can blame them? It’s a great place. However, one has to cost ones’ dreams, and while life is cheaper here than in Northern Europe, it still bites.
So then, we need income. This preferably comes from ‘home’, either as a pension or some other form of funding – a healthy portfolio for example.
The second way is to find a job in Spain. A brief check on Google finds this and this.
Know that it is not easy to find a job as unemployment here is high (and post-Covid, higher). Also, Spaniards don’t often offer jobs to foreigners and, well, they do things differently here. For a start, your certificates and diplomas and letters of introduction may not carry much weight. Contacts and family rule in Spain, and we foreigners likely won’t have that essential network. 
In Mojácar, where half of the inhabitants are foreigners, there is not a single one of us working for the town hall, or as a policeman, or patrolling the beaches or manning the (non-existent) Foreigners' Department. No, not even the foreign-kids who went through the local school system and are bilingual. They must be content with jobs in the private sector. 
There may be some jobs available in Madrid and Barcelona with foreign banks or accountants and so on, but there won’t be many available in any normal Spanish-controlled industry.
Maybe start your own business, or open a (oh no, not another) bar or restaurant, or teach your native language as an au pair or at some academia (presumably you’ll have the correct paperwork).
Remember that Spaniards don’t particularly drink in Brit bars or eat in foreign restaurants (Italian places excluded), so – apart from the eager expats living locally – the catchment area of potential customers is smaller than the population would suggest, and the rents (and other costs) are often higher than one would like.
Which is why many of us cater for the tourists; but the Spanish are looking for them as well, and they can always undercut and overreach our efforts.  
But there are many foreigners here who do work successfully. It certainly can be done.
An interesting new wrinkle on foreigners keeping busy here is the new phenomenon of tele-working which, says Yahoo Finance, ‘could bring many foreigners to live in Spain’.
Other businesses we foreigners get into – like builders, house-painters, carpenters and pool-cleaners and plumbers but once again, no Spaniard is going to hire a British house-painter. 
One thing they know, a foreigner can (and will) do ‘a runner’ when things go bad, leaving behind debt and ill-will. A family-connected Spaniard will tend to stay where he is, and the law will have to grind its way through the agonisingly-long process.
Some of the foreign handymen will be un-licenced, or working for cash, or they may even take the next step, and, knowing that the judicial system here is little short of hopeless, they will simply live from diddling their fellow-foreigners.
How many of us, newly arrived in Spain, were met with the question (probably in a bar) ‘are you going to live here? It’s all a bit strange, you know. I speak the language, let me help you get started…’. In short, how many of us have been taken for a ride by our fellow nationals?
Spain is a great place, but it can find your weaknesses – whether it is drink, drugs, destroying relationships, theft or swindling people. There’s no nearby Auntie Maud or Uncle Eustace to keep you on the straight and narrow. We Brits don't police ourselves.
There are different rules, customs and systems here, and the newly-arrived well-meaning immigrant won’t know them. Sometimes, it will be a steep learning curve.
And finally, consider this, things will get worse for the Brits if/when we will need a work-permit as non-EU citizens.