Adios: What I learnt from living in Spain

In his final Olive Press dispatch, former Chief Reporter Tom Powell remembers the three key lessons living in Spain has taught him

LAST UPDATED: 1 Apr, 2016 @ 01:30
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A WISE old journalist once told me that the reporter should never become the story. IMG-20150426-WA0001

But if you can’t go a little off-piste in your last ever Olive Press article, then when can you?

After all, I’ve written about fraudsters, thieves, gangsters and every type of low-life Costa criminal under the balmy Spanish sun during a fantastically eventful two-and-a-half-year stint.

It’s time to give the likes of Nigel Goldman and co a week off.

Instead, with my last few taps of this well-worn keyboard, I want to celebrate the three most valuable lessons I learnt from living in a new country, from people I will never forget.

Let’s go back to the beginning, when Donald Trump was still a blithering idiot of a businessman and Brexit sounded like a tasty breakfast cereal. I’d left London, my friends and my cosy life behind in search of something new.

First of all was the man who picked me up from the bus station and rented out his room to me in the heart of Estepona. A typical Esteponero – who stuggles to understand why anybody would want to ever leave the town – he took me under his wing and introduced me to Andalucian life.

Tapas, ice-cold lager, happy hours at the port and tapas was the menu del dia, almost every dia.

But the one thing he taught me, above all the cultural hints and tips, is to make sure there are no soap suds left on plates on the draining rack.

‘You can taste soap next time you eat’. Yeah, right.

Moving swiftly onwards, another memorable lesson came while staying in an idyllic hotel in the Serrania de Ronda with a singer from Chicago (that’s a sentence which makes my life sound far cooler than it is).

We arose on the Sunday morning and ventured uphill to mooch around the pretty, white village of Benaojan before heading back down the coast. It was an overcast day, pregnant with misfortune, but, ever the optimist regarding weather, I led us forth despite a lack of raincoats.

Then the inevitable happened.

The heavens, hells and all other biblical lands opened and the rain began to pour, and by pour I mean a billion hydrocharged hoses attacking one tiny, shelterless village.

Every part of me was soaking through and we had completely lost track of the path back down to the hotel. And then I spotted a door slightly ajar as we desperately huddled under a roof-edge.

A plump, old lady’s face peeked out at us, with a frail arm slowly extending. There, clasped in her hand, was our holy grail; an umbrella.

We thanked her inordinately, promising to return the brolly once the storm had passed. And in that moment I saw the true face of Andalucian generosity.

But then the rain came back twice as fiercely and the cheap, broken chino umbrella I’d just been tricked into thinking actually worked crumpled in all of two seconds.

We were left cursing that bitch as we struggled down the hill like drowned rats.

What that day really taught me was to never rely on the cheap generosity of strangers, but to always pack an umbrella if rain is forecast.

Now, it is nigh-on impossible to whittle my experiences down to just three stand-out, epiphanical moments, but there is one more I cannot leave out.

Two friends and I had spent the morning attempting to explore the then yet-to-be-reopened Caminito del Rey, sneaking past security guards and marveling at the jaw-dropping path.

After a quick fanta orange stop, we went for an explore in the sweaty summer sun, clocking up the miles in an old Fiat Kangoo.

We reached an enormous reservoir atop a hill from where we spotted a crystal-clear lagoon, sparkling in the distance like the Emerald City of lakes.

The only problem was, we didn’t have a yellow-brick road or a Dorothy to guide us. So we headed in what we assumed was the right direction for thirty minutes, until it was pointed out that our petrol gauge was flirting dangerously with the empty line.

“Turn round, give up,” came the calls from the back of the car. And I almost did. But I’m so glad I didn’t.

I plundered onwards in hope, and within the hour we caught a glimpse of our fabled lake through an opening in a pine forest.

She was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped.

We parked up, stripped off, legged it towards the irresistible water and in the blissful moment that I dived headfirst in, Ardales lakes stole my heart forever.

The moral is, of course, that cars rarely run out of petrol, and you should only worry if you hear it spluttering and splurging (even then you still have 10 minutes, I’m told).

I’ve clearly learnt some of life’s biggest lessons; Spaniards are anal about soap suds, weather forecasts exist for a reason and petrol warnings give you plenty of time.

But I will always regard Andalucia as an extension of childhood, rather than the start of adulthood.

After all, it is effectively a playground for grown-up children.

Beautiful lakes with rock jumps and pedalos, mountains to climb, gorges to traverse, rocky rivers to clamber down, beaches to frolic on, stunning country roads for burning petrol, the Atlantic coast, soaring ski slopes, phenomenal food, hilarious people and the ‘duende’.

It’s fair to say I found the adventure I was looking for. And now it’s time for another one.

How can you stay in one place when you’ve got soap suds, a weather forecast and energy to burn?



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20 COMMENTS

  1. Tom, thanks for your articles on the so called illegal building situation in Andalucia. What are your plans now, a top job in London?!!! Good luck.

    • Fred, nobody is stopping anybody in doing the same, in-fact it is now giving me second thoughts of retiring to any country in the European Union. But as one gets older the choice of living in a cold damp environment to a warm sunny environment has a great pulling factor.

      • Carlos, it’s true that the climate is better in Spain than it is in the UK and the winter is shorter. Weather is and remains Spain’s main attraction for expats. The problem is that climate eventually becomes secondary to issues such as health, work and income – which can be complex things for UK expats in Spain, especially given the Brexit situation and sterling income levels, and of course Spain’s continuing recession (which is easing, but the unemployment situation is still dire and the government is weak).

        I really hope the EU bring in a citizen level EU passport for former EU member countries, so that anyone who wants to enjoy free movement, healthcare entitlements, and residency etc, can do so. That idea really nullifies the Brexit movement in its tracks and actually makes a total mockery of it.

        • An EU passport is an attractive idea, but would Theresa’s mob honour the healthcare entitlement part of it? Would there be still a mutual arrangement?
          Doubtful, but fairly essential for retirees. Certainly, insurance could cover it, but squeezing out those on limited incomes, especially when it came to end-of-life care.

          • A reciprocal arrangement for healthcare between the UK and Spain could be on the cards. Rajoy and May have already said that they wanted expats in both their respective countries to not be affected, so there is a little hope.

        • Fred, I agree with everything that you have said except perhaps for the last paragraph.I believe the free movement on a EU passport has been a new addition due to the fears of the EU losing substantial amount of money if movement was curtailed although this as yet to be agreed by the other members.
          As for the last paragraph I don’t think this has any motivation regarding Brexist as agreements have not even started which would be a part of agreements and visa versa to EU member residing in the UK which could be awkward due of the talk of a possible hard exist.
          The basis of Brexist really had nothing to do with this and we all know what the reasons were. Boarder control, our own democracy, controlled by our own changeable voted government plus our own laws etc etc and not being controlled by the Junker crowd. It’s a pity they played hardball with the weakling Cameron which basically back fired causing Brexist to gain ground.
          Fortunately I am in a position to quality for a duel Nationality, not with Spain as they don’t recognize a duel Nationality status and I suppose the suggested EU passport would overcome this problem for many ex patriots including myself, thus saving me acquiring a duel Nat.
          It’s a pity this form of uproar didn’t occur when Heath and Brown the Judus blindly led us to this situation.

          • Carlos, what I mean about the EU passport idea is that it makes the Brexit supporter look foolish, since a man and his neighbour could have totally different access to European rights. From what I have read, the EU passport would not remove your existing passport and you would not gain a new nationality as such, but just gain EU rights. Who would not want that? Only a hard-line E1U hater. Btw, dual nationality is not attainable in Spain (yet), but it is recognised. I have it myself for example.

  2. I can’t think why anyone would want to leave Spain and go back to the UK if they are happy. If you live in Spain and voted Remain, why would you want to move back and have your nose rubbed in it? I don’t get it.

    The idea of an EU passport is attractive and you can count me in, I would happily surrender my British passport if necessary in order to obtain one although an Irish passport is an option too.

    Re private healthcare in Spain, it is fantastic and far better than anything we ever experienced with the UK NHS. It costs us €50.00 per month each and includes everything except dental care but I wouldn’t expect it to include that anyway. We don’t use it much but the health screening and testing is far superior to that on offer in the UK so we rarely use the NHS now.

    So don’t necessarily be put off by private healthcare but obviously it is better to join a scheme when younger and healthier and I don’t think it includes pre-existing conditions.

    • Jane G. Fully agree with your first line up to the full stop. I think the EU passport sounds good and at the meeting between May and Rajoy they did discuss what Fred had said regarding reciprocal arrangements. As for the National health System in Spain I hear it’s first class and some some cases better than in the UK. A person I know is in one of the Spanish Care Homes and say’s it’s first class. I believe she pay’s €1.200 per month inclusive and is quite happy there.

  3. Fred, I understood exactly what you meant, but as I said the EU passport thing had nothing to do with the Brexist vote. The EU passport had been mentioned as of late due to the reasons I had given, well after the actual vote of leaving, which by the way is an extra bonus and not detrimental to the Brexist voter.
    As for the duel Nationality I think you will find that, say, you are British born of British parents with no other links to any other country and wish to become a Spanish national with a Spanish passport etc you have to relinquish your British Nationality rights. The only other way of of acquiring as such is through Spanish Nationality by Origin the same way as I would need to apply for Duel Nationality in another country which would be recognized. British law accepts and recognizes a person with multi Nationalities, but as you say, at the moment Spain does not. Am I wrong?.

    • You have always been wrong Carlos/Linda/Caccia/The Nose et al. Not least in your erroneous spelling of Brexit. And dual. Dead giveaway mate.

    • Carlos, you are quite correct about giving up your existing nationality and passport to be a Spanish citizen, but the concept of EU rights are different from actual Spanish citizenship. As you know, Spain does not recognise dual citizenship, except from people who come from South American countries and other countries of close proximity to Spain, so in this respect UK expats do have a quandry. One grey area is dual nationality Britons who are living in Spain. Do they retain EU rights because they are also citizen of another EU country, for example?

      Hopefully, Spain and the UK will do a deal because it affects both the Spanish in the UK and the British in Spain. Other than that, Spanish citizenship and the EU passport idea are the only way to (currently) keep EU rights. All of that is being negotiated now and no one knows the outcome of this and laws will probably have to be amended. Britain will need to talk to a lot of countries over the coming months, that’s for sure.

  4. Jane G,
    hilarious to compare State healthcare with private. You don’t say how old you are – as you get older so the cost will ramp up. Let’s say you live to 70 – check out how much your wonderful PHC will cost then – have you done that. I checked out PHC via an American company ‘@ 70 with no major problems and no dental care, your talking €15K per year. If you have major health problems either a private company will not want your business or the premiums will make your eyes water – so come on tell us how old you are.

    • Yes, it’s a real side splitter isn’t it. If it was down to me, we wouldn’t be having this discussion because I voted to Remain so people like you would still be able to get their free healthcare unhindered but now it looks as though things will change for new entrants and my comment was aimed at them. If you are currently resident in an EU member state you are probably protected so it doesn’t really apply to you but the next generation of people might not have a choice and could be forced to have private health insurance. We have had it for well over 10 years and it has not increased with age, only the usual small annual increases. I will not give away personal details on a public forum but my partner and I are both in the mid-age range and no, we didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. Because we joined the scheme early and don’t abuse it, our premiums will not increase as much and we will pay significantly less aged 70 than someone who joins at a later age – that was the deal when we joined. However, I doubt this is of much interest to people who are 70+ now because they are probably getting state health care and as I said, this information is for younger people who are sitting in the UK and thinking of moving to Spain and wondering what their healthcare options might be post Brexit.

      As it happens, it costs €130.00 per person per month to join the scheme aged 65-70 which is a long way from your figure of €15,000. 70 is the maximum age you can join and it goes up by about €40.00 every 5 years after that but as I said, you get a much better deal and pay significantly less than that if you have been with them a long time.

      My advice is to look at the Spanish insurance providers, it is pointless looking at an American company. I am sure you take some comfort from the fact that this type of scheme is available.

      • Even a hundred and thirty euros a month would be a big bite from a State Pension (roughly a quarter of it) So probably disqualifying someone in that position from staying in, or moving to Spain.
        Many people “swapped” their house in Britain for one in Spain hoping to see out their days in the sun. Living on their State Pension as they would have had to do back home.
        That plan looks increasingly forlorn.

  5. Fred you said.
    “One grey area is dual nationality Britons who are living in Spain. Do they retain EU rights because they are also citizen of another EU country, for example?”
    I should imagine that if one had a Dual Nationality of one of the EU states one would be covered such as yourself. I did read there was a flurry of Brit officials applying for Irish Nationality which gives you some idea of the importance of having a D.N.
    The grey area could be those expats residing in Spain. I imagine it depends if they are a legally registered resident. How long have they lived there, if they had declared their incomes for tax purposes, declared their pensions which I understand is taxable in Spain (also taxable in the UK if over the tax allowance) etc etc. As for people wishing to retire at a later date to Spain I can’t see a problem. People retire to many places. I have Brit friends that are now retired in America and acquired a dual Nationality. So basically I can’t see a problem. It doesn’t mean because one is a Brit you cannot live elsewhere and lets face it there are more Brits living in Spain then any other Nationality which means they are spending money.

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