Life in Spain is an interesting and challenging mix of the bizarrely familiar, the unexpected and the unknown. I found myself in one of the British enclaves that abound along the Spanish costa, and which must in some way create reactions in the locals similar to those experienced in the UK when large numbers of foreign visitors converge on an area and make it their own.
Whilst I hear the odd Spanish voice, along with Danish and Dutch for some reason, it is almost all English and I begin to understand what it is like to have the boot on the other foot.
Until Thursday, my holiday alone had consisted of sleeping, reading, swimming, walking and listening to music. I came here for solitude, to get away from people demanding (and usually getting) my attention and apart from a few texts home the evening I arrived informing those who cared, that I had actually arrived safely and hadn’t written myself and the hire car off in my first experience of driving a left-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road, and a couple of late-night ‘phone calls to a friend who had been flitting in and out of my thoughts all day, I have spoken to no-one aside from service staff in bars and supermarkets. I’ve had the solitude I craved and needed in spades, for the first time ever I’ve been able to do what I wanted when I wanted without taking into account anyone else’s needs and expectations.
But, I did need to get out at some point otherwise, I think I might have gone slightly mad. Thursday was a little cloudy and cooler and I decided to test my newfound confidence with a trip out of Villamartin …. so I went for a swim instead …… it’s amazing how much procrastination I can achieve when faced with something unfamiliar.
After a serious chat with myself, I found myself in the car confidently driving through the urbanization; it was only when a car overtook me on the right that I realised I was on the wrong side of the road – I was so glad I took out the extra insurance as it allows me to do stupid things without fear for the financial consequences – the little one of maybe killing myself or someone else didn’t even enter my head…!
After spending so much time in Costa Bognor, I needed something approaching the real Spain, so headed for the hills and St Miguel de Salinas, just a few miles north of Villamartin. Parking up was surprisingly easy and I took a gentle walk in the shade of the buildings towards to town centre through deserted streets, snatches of conversation reaching my ears through the shutters. I gravitated to the church, I don’t know about you, but I often find that these are the places to go if you want to achieve something approaching an ‘authentic’ experience of a place.
Three elderly women chattered amongst themselves as they flicked dusters around the icons and artworks. Up and down the aisles they worked, paying me no attention whatsoever, seemingly content to let me just ‘be’. A tap on my shoulder brought me out of my reverie and one of the ladies was talking to me in rapid Spanish. It quickly became obvious to both of us that she didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish, but eventually, I managed to understand that she was inviting me to mass at 2.00 pm; as I’m not a Catholic, that was unlikely, but it was nice to be invited.
It was high time for a drink, I put my euro into the electric candle machine (I miss the original taper lit version, but I guess health and safety have its place in Spain too – unfortunately), sent up a prayer to those I’ve loved and lost and left, stepping out into the bright glare of a sky now clear of clouds.
I headed off the main shopping street and down the hill to the west in the hope of finding somewhere not offering chips with everything. It soon became clear that this might be more difficult than I thought. I was coming across larger and larger numbers of tourists and ex-pats, almost all of them speaking English gathering in packs for protection, afraid to let go of their own identity as ‘brits’. Eventually, though, I found Rincon, initially dismissing it as I couldn’t sit outside as there was no shade, but then headed on in and perched on a stool at the bar.
Before me lay a counter full of the most wonderful looking cold tapas, ready to be put on a plate and added atop a drink. Not one person in there was English, Dutch or Danish; everyone was Spanish. Bearing in mind that my own Spanish was seriously lacking, I was really pleased when my “una cafe con leche per favour” actually resulted in the milky coffee I wanted – my accent wasn’t that bad obviously!
Closing my eyes, I allowed the sounds to wash over me, the rise and fall of the conversation, the change in cadence as a point was made, reinforced and challenged; the gentle dance as each person had their say. Backwards and forwards it went and, as I listened, I began to get a sense of some of what they were talking about; a forthcoming wedding, the fiesta starting Sunday and the misdemeanours of a neighbour’s child. It is right what they say, it is easier to read or listen to a language than speak it.
Had I been with anyone else, I’d have missed this experience completely and it suddenly framed my solitude as positive in a way I hadn’t appreciated before.