An Andalucían Love Affair

Posted on December 13, 2012

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Viva EspanaIt captured my heart when I was 14. And despite lots of other experiences, sights and delights, it has held a very special place in my heart ever since.

We’d gone to Spain on holiday to meet some friends; they’d chosen Mojacar – we booked late, so couldn’t get a package as there were only 2 hotels working with British tour operators at that time, so we had to do it ourselves.  That’s where the adventure began.  We couldn’t get a direct flight to Almeria – this was the early 1980’s, and the place was relatively unknown compared to the rest of Spain – so we flew via Madrid and then into the tiniest airport we had ever seen, Almeria.  Amazingly, the baggage was brought to us in the airport car park, still on the baggage cart, and we had to wait for our cases to become visible. Like a huge luggage jenga.

We then piled into a Fiat Panda – 5 of us, with cases – and headed off on the most thrilling and terrifying mountain roads to Mojacar.  As we came off the last mountain road, and down to the beach we saw Mojacar Playa stretching out as far as the eye could see.  It was gorgeous.Mojacar Playa

Our friends were staying at the Indalo hotel, the other option at that time was the Moresco Hotel up in Mojacar village.  We’d found a self-catering place in La Parata; we were told to ask for Bob in the Spar and he would show us where to go.  Very Mojacar back then.  A close knit place, where, of course, if you asked for Bob, everyone would know who you were looking for.  And, back then, there was only one Spar, so no chance of not finding the right one.

On La Parata we were surrounded by frequent visitors and home owners, so we were soon shown the places to go and see.  We were all smitten.  How could we not be, this was not like the Spain we were used to. It was Spanish.  There were Spanish bars, Spanish people and Spanish traditions.  Coupled with this, a thriving expat community, but expats from all over the world, expats who had embraced Mojacar, made it their home, rather than try to recreate what they had left behind.

El Cid, Mojacar Playa

El Cid, Mojacar Playa

Soon we were enjoying the delights of probably the world’s greatest beach bar, El Cid, run by Lloyd and Tish, American’s living the Buena Vida in Mojacar since 1978, and making a brilliant job of it too.  We were exploring the amazing village, built around a hillside, which, no matter how many times you see it, still makes you catch your breath.

We were discovering the neighbourhood; following the fishing boats along the coast until they reached the fish market in Garrucha; following our noses to find the best tapas restaurant in Turre, the Orsoca; and following history and legends to Mini-Hollywood, home of so many spaghetti westerns, to Cuevas, with the most stunning cave homes, still occupied today and further afield, to Vera, Huercal Overa and Lorca.Cuevas

The food was fresh, no huge supermarket chains, but loads of markets, selling what is great about the region – the freshest fruit and vegetables, the freshest meat and fish, and the tastiest Spanish delights, from tapas and churros to alioli and paella.

This was no manufactured resort; it was there because of its past, its firm foundations, its authenticity.  A passionate place, fiercely proud of itself, one of the last places to fall to Franco during the Spanish civil war, perhaps disenfranchised because of this stand but not sorry.

Indalo Man

Indalo Man

And then, as if to seal our fate, someone bought us an Indalo man, it’s said that if you’re given one, you will always return to Mojacar.

Our first house there, by the beach in Mojacar, became my second home. A place where my memories have been made for over 30 years.  I remember finishing school for the summer, and heading off for six weeks by the beautiful Mediterranean sea, the welcome always ‘when did you get back?’ and the groups of friends picking up where they left off the previous year.

Days spent on the beach, in the beach bars, playing backgammon, trying to get a hoop on to a hook at El Cid, sun bathing and just hanging out.  It was a place of old fashioned fun and laughter, proper discos and dancing at the ‘Hollywood’, safe late night walks home, holiday spending money saved up for a daily allowance.

Then as I got older, spending the summer working in the bars in the afternoons – clearing glasses, cooking burgers, getting cakes ready for the next day – earning the pesetas to spend that night.  My first boss, the super cool Californian, Tish, who introduced me to the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted and how to cook the best hamburgers. (Who, when she heard I was to be made redundant recently, sent me a message to tell me there was always a job for me in her bar.  At the time, I was sorely tempted).  My first colleague, Fernando, the gorgeous Spanish barman, who not only put up with my slow service and bad attempts at Spanish, but also with a rendition of Abba’s tune every night before I left work.Mojacar

I spent Easter and half term holidays there, revising for O levels and A levels; lugging books and good intentions in my suitcase. Never quite doing as much work as I intended.  Later I took time out to study for my CIM exams, and much later still, to write my business plan for my new business.

In my twenties, the lure of Spain was too much and Mum moved there, and unfortunately, work – and being a grown-up – got in the way of six week holidays.  I still notched up the ‘love’ miles with summer and winter visits; in fact, I notched up the love miles whenever I could and still do.  A friend once won a 2 night break in Madrid with flights, so naturally, we had those nights at the start and the end of the week and hot footed it to Mojacar for the 5 days in between.

Proper jobs also meant proper holidays, with no need to work during the visit, but helping out was allowed.  Serving on and kitchen duty at Christmas, at La Mata, the local bowling club; more fun than a chore.

Mojacar. A special place. A place where celebrities hung out without worrying about being mobbed, where the odd crook or two found refuge and a quiet life, where families re-grouped and where people had harmless fun.  A place where Indiana Jones and his dad could have a meal without being recognised; where Coke filmed a ‘western’ commercial; where James Bond’s stuntman, a 70’s singing legend and a train robber could be at the same bar; or where Miss August could stroll along the beach with her family.

A place with a heart, protecting its visitors, its heritage and proud traditions.

Penpals to Facebook friends

Penpals to Facebook friends

I made friends there, many lasting friendships – penfriends at 14 who’re now facebook buddies, adopted sisters and the obligatory holiday romances.  I took friends there and I now take my family there. I introduced my Spain to them.  They too fell in love. They too come back year after year.

My son, following in my footsteps

My son, following in my footsteps

Sharing memories with me. The tastes of El Cid, the Focus Bar, El Bigote, El Plato Loco, La Gaviota, the Beachcomber, still linger; hearing any tune played at the Hollywood still conjures up happy memories; any sighting of an Indalo man on the back of a truck as it speeds along our motorway makes me long for home.

My slice of Spain. It’s real Spain. With real Spanish people who sometimes don’t speak English, so guess what, you have to give it a go.  It still has real markets, fresh fruit and produce and real traditions and fiestas. It’s not perfect, over the years’ it has become a bit more commercialised, but it’s still special, it’s still cherished by those who live and return there, and it’s still ready to share with new visitors.

Make sure you are one of them, very soon.  Go make some memories in Mojacar.

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