I first went to Spain in 1993 just for a short holiday. I thought it was fantastic and the attitude of the people was so laid back that, after spending so long in the corporate jungle, I thought it would be a really good place to live. So we started looking for a house. In those days it was not easy, there were lots of holiday flats for sale but finding a house suitable for our family proved much more difficult. We did not want to live far from the coast and we did not want to live up a long mountain track. We ended up buying a small house along a mountain track near village called Competa, which was twice the distance from the coast that we had intended. The thing was that the only suitable family houses, that did not need total renovation, were in the country. As it had taken us over six months to find this house, out of desperation exasperation or just plain relief, we bought it.
It was perfect for what we wanted, three bedrooms, bathroom, lounge and kitchen etc. And we could extend it at a later date, but for our family holidays it was perfect. Well, some people might not think so ! There was no mains electricity, no mains water, no mains gas, and no telephone – just the walls and the roof! The electricity was a very inadequate solar system which was used to charge a bank of large batteries, which would power three feeble light bulbs. This was supplemented by a small petrol generator for things like washing machine, iron and hair-dryer (an essential requirement, I believe).
The water system comprised a large concrete tank into which the rain water from the roof drained and a header tank which was filled by a 12volt pump connected to the solar system. (yep, you´ve got it – no sun = no electricity = no water in header tank, so if the header runs out before the solar recharges – no water!) This was supplemented by purchasing water privately from a local supplier, which was delivered by a tanker. When I asked the process for doing this I was told ” go to the municipal market, third stall on the left, saying to the lady with black hair, ” Agua para Finca Cele por favor”. Pay her £35.00 and within the next three days your water will be delivered” -very Spanish, and it worked!
To maintain effective communications internationally we had to use a public call box in the village or we could arrange for a fax to be sent to the local English shop, and they would put a notice in the window if anything had been sent to us. All very rural. Luckily one of our neighbours was happy to act as a go between for the installation of a strange radio telephone (not even a mobile! No signal in the mountains). To our surprise, this happened without a hitch after we had returned to England but at least we now had a phone.
So we started our adventure by living at a slightly higher level than camping. Our kids called it posh camping because at least we had a shower, hot water, a cooker and a gas fridge (a terrible thing), and proper beds to sleep in. Even without our accustomed modern amenities we really enjoyed being there.
The village car park was a muddy field. There was the occasional mule could be seen in the street. Most villagers still kept a mule in a room under their house. In those days a mule was still the everyday form of transport. There were three or four supermarkets that were basically shops in the proprietor´s front room and some greengrocers in the municipal market. The restaurants and bars served typical Spanish tapas and simple Spanish meals. It was very cheap way back then and we could go out to dinner with the whole family and the bill would be less than £8.00!
And so timed passed and we travelled out whenever we could get away to our own little piece of paradise. Over the years we gradually improved the house with “proper” electricity and “real” water. The water from the mains was a luxury and, although cheaper than the tanker, it still seemed expensive to us.
Then our circumstances changed and we had the opportunity to retire early. This was the day we had been waiting for and so we grabbed it with both hands and six months later in July 1997 we moved to Spain. The intervening six months had been very hectic. Our UK house was to be sold, so agents and lawyers had to be selected. We had to clear 25 years of collected things, which meant many trips to the charity shops and the local dump.
I also had to redesign the Spanish house so that it would be big enough to live in comfortably, holiday houses are never big enough for permanent living. Phase one was to find a builder who would take the job on and give us a reasonable estimate. We were recommended a local Dutch builder who spoke English and Spanish and would manage the whole project. The first step was to build a garage/storeroom that would hold our furniture while the building work was under way and later become a workshop.
And then the fun really started…….