Friday, January 17, 2020

Mojácar. What are we selling today?

The international tourist fair - FITUR - returns to Madrid in late January for its fortieth edition, and, frankly, everyone will be there. Will over 11,000 exhibitors looking to part potential tourists from their hard-earned dosh, the industry shows no sign of slowing down.
Oh, there are stories of places which have become so swamped with tourism that they really need to be avoided (unless one has a 'bucket list' or a death-wish), but the urge to travel, a kind of luxury available in centuries past to the wealthy few (or to unwilling soldiers), is now de rigueur. Travel, they say, broadens the behind.
The last thing the industry wants is trouble. Keep things running smoothly, complaints to a minimum and profits to the max. The best customer writes something nice on Tripadvisor and returns next year for more. So good to be an habitual.
The local businesses like tourism too. In fact, some 'beautiful' destinations change their identity to pander to their visitors. Just in Mojácar village alone, there are fifty souvenir shops, and none of those owners want to see the hordes diminish, even if the town, which lives almost exclusively off its foreign residents for eight months of the year, becomes slowly less of an ideal place to live. Local people now have enough funds to demolish their old home and put up some apartments. They'll probably rent them out (there are countless AirBnb offers in Mojácar) and move to live at La Fuente.
The Hotel Moresco is hard to miss
Our massive hotels which are so vital a part of a tourist destination slowly rot in the warm sun and are eventually abandoned at the stroke of an accountant's pen in Barcelona or Hamburg.
The Hotel Moresco is not a building which can easily be torn down, and it takes up a whole side of the village view. It's been closed since 2008 and now belongs to the Madrid Regional Government, who have (needless to say) other fish to fry. It is now a home to squatters. Hotels, once they've lived their purpose, can sometimes be converted to apartments (the Hotel Tío Edy and the Hotel Mojácar are two of these), but don't count on the Moresco being fixed. For one thing, there's no parking to be had. Along the beach at Macenas, another hotel - this one unfinished - lies abandoned. Like the Hotel El Algarrobico in next-door Carboneras, politicians will rub their chins... and change the subject. It's not a vote-catcher.
Hotels make money for their builders (and previous land-owners), but the company will be run from Catalonia, the meagre staff will be South American, the food 'catered' from Málaga, half of the package monies will remain in the country of source and that low low all-inclusive offer leaves the nearby bars and restaurants plain out of luck.
Mojácar politically speaking appears to prefers tourists who spend in the souvenir shops to residents who buy houses, cars and white goods, who pay taxes and services, who spend during 365 days in a year rather than for an average of five. Mojácar has actually shrunk in permanent population in the past few years by 22% since 2011.
The town also prefers bucket and spade tourism over youthful noisy party-goers. Who knows - perhaps they are right.  After all, there are twice as many local residents over 65 as there are under 20.
The Indalo figure looks towards Garrucha
Mojácar Playa today is like Butlins - safe, secure and sexless.
The one single road bleeds the traffic slowly up and down along the beach during the season like a bad case of cholesterol. Cyclists slow the flow still further, as they must peddle dolefully past the souvenir shops: their lycra trousers hold no pockets.
Mojácar's sewage problem is un-addressed, the beach bar issue is treated with a hammer.
The village itself is Disneylandia cute, charming and (as the Spanish say) cutre. There are a smattering of buildings remaining that are over a generation old - the rather ordinary church, the wonderful Torreón and the old Moorish arch under it; the cute Casa de la Canana museum run by the Russian couple...
The main square, known as the Plaza Nueva since the fifteenth century, has been corrupted, changed and destroyed in the past forty years. The small Hotel Indalo is long gone, the fantastic Aquelarre theatre is lost, the carpenters' with the arched street rising towards the church is now one of a swarm of poorly-built nicknack shops, often with huge display windows and signs in broken English: Tobbaco sold here. Worst of all is the spreading and apparently abandoned Mirador (with its future lift-shaft hood) and the three empty stories below of putative town hall and police station. 
In the village, what was bohemian has now become bourgeois. Perhaps one shouldn't mourn for the time when the impoverished local people were pleased for the custom, and proud of their pueblo, as viewed through our eyes.
In the long winter months, the stores are all closed and the residents gather in the few bars which remain open, or take the bus down to the supermarkets below. Nearby Turre, ugly and charmless, without a beach, hotels or souvenir shops, by contrast, is bustling all year long.
Mojácar is of course astonishing. It has a dramatic view which is hard to beat. The narrow white streets and harsh blue skies are a magnet for artists, or at least, they were. Now the Town Hall, which operates its own art gallery just above the remodelled fuente (it was going to be an art museum) puts on desultory shows and holds a modest collection of art in storage. But it possesses no paintings from the esteemed Indaliano Movement (who introduced the Indalo), or from the later masters who painted locally - Fritz, Beckett, Guirado, Coronado and so on. It's almost as if outsiders are not appreciated, except, grudgingly, when their wallets are open.
We home-owners have an investment in Mojácar. Properly managed, demand (and our investment along with it) will rise. If there are too many new apartments crushed into the landscape, then just a small handful of people take a profit and our properties are sidelined.
With the village, sensational looking if not beautiful, the seventeen kilometres of playa and the hotels placed, thankfully, at either end, Mojácar has a reason to be at FITUR: its job, to squeeze a kilo of rice into a pound jar. The promotion is done without foreign help or participation. The Golden Indalos have gone, after it was found that Ric Polansky, me, Beatrice Beckett, Pat Moroney and others were bubbling dangerously to the top, all of us having lived in Mojácar for over fifty years apiece. Indeed, if all of the foreigners left suddenly (thanks Boris), then there would be nothing left to show for our presence. No streets are named after us (the present administration has renamed Cheap Pete's alley - Calle de Pedro Barato - as Calle Cal). The largest extant sign honouring the forasteros is a small brass plaque outside the Pavana remembering an Irishman.
Now, the town wants to selectively remember its past, with some ill-judged evisceration of Old Mojácar, as we are told that it was the original settlement and inhabited during the ninth to eleventh centuries. What about before? Weren't the Romans here? Why would they live there when there's no water or escape route?
We celebrate our (slightly invented) history with an artful Moors and Christians parade and allow everyone to attend (far from the various festivals held at the fuente or the Artisan Centre, like the Vieja Remalona and the two of three romerias each year, plus fiestas in Sopalmo and now Las Paratas). Where's the International Day held?  
So, as the town hall spends its budget on staffers (loyal staffers), and tourist promotions, what of the future? One tragic demolition, or an act of terror, or a cholera incident or whatever, and the whole tourist industry crumbles. We residents, at least, will stay loyal, if largely ignored.
How many of our children - bilingual all - have ended up as local cops, or working in the town hall?
Mojácar is a special place for me - I've lived there for three quarters of my life - but it has changed. So have I, no doubt.

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