The Best & the Worst of Holidays
"The background - and setting off."
I have been gently chided for not telling the tale referred to in the introduction above - so here goes.
After retirement we established a pattern of leaving winter behind for a month or so. We usually headed for the sun, crossed the Channel by ferry, usually to Bilbao or Santander and then drove leisurely to a destination on the coast of southern Spain.
This trip was to be longer than usual as we were vacating our house for one of the family, caught between selling and buying their own new home.
In those pre-internet days all our selfcatering holiday homes were found "in print" and we booked a large villa for 6 weeks. It was advertised in one of a number of succesful quarterly "Holiday villas" publications available then, and described by the owner as "occupying a magnificent location with unspoilt, uninterupted views over the coast", and "generally regarded as the most luxurious property in the area".
The rent was rather high for a long winter let and a 10% discount for a rental of more than 4 weeks still left a hefty amount to be paid in full 6 weeks before we arrived. But the and plan was that the rent would be shared with my sister in law and her husband for the middle fortnight, and by my brother and his wife, who would join us for the last two weeks.
I had several telephone conversations with the owner, a friendly, unsophisticated sort of chap who seemed to have scant knowledge of the local area.
One thing did "bother" me - he asked if I would purchase, on his behalf specified items of bedding from a well known catalogue store to take to the villa. They were paid for promptly but were cheap and of very poor quality - somewhat at variance with images of luxury.
So with a hint of misgiving and only a thumbnail photo and guide us we set off.....
We were leaving too early in the year for the Spanish crossing so drove through wet and cold France . It was not until we reached the Spanish border that we saw blue skies and sunshine - deceptive because mornings and evnings were still very cold.
The final route to the villa, provided by the owner, was along the seafront
and not impressive - a semi-finished promenade, some dreary looking, bars, an Irish Pub and everywhere a general a touch of scruffiness.
Worse was to come when having made our way up the mountainside we came to the Villa. The villa was approached down a short incline and steep drive, the external appearance was of neglect - shabby, chipped woodwork and peeling paint. The forecourt and drive were being used by the neighbour next door as a dumping ground for building materials and a small cement mixer. As it was Saturday afternoon we had to wait until the workmen arrived on Monday morning to make a space for our car.
"Inside -- and outside!"
The front door opened into a small vestibule with a tiny sitting room off left, furnished with cheap and shabby second hand furniture, Dirty curtains hung askew at the windows and a sagging shelf held a poor selection of dog-eared, brown paged paperback thrillers. An ancient TV sat on top of the only heating in the house - a portable gas heater.The external wooden shutters flapped wildly from broken shutters.
Another door opened onto the large kitchen /diner which opened onto a lovely but dirty terrace overlooking the neglected pool area and overgrown garden.
The kitchen was in fact the best room in the house though the fittings were poor and not all of the appliances worked properly.
Eqipment was basic, barely adequate for the 6 people who were to occupy the house and all of inferior quality.
The 4 good sized bedrooms, all ensuite were on a lower floor which was cold and smelt damp.
The view from the kitchen windows and terrace was horrific.
Almost within an arms reach, earth digging machines were breaking up the mountainside.Clearly this was no small undertaking but major groundwork for a huge development. The noise and dust were horrendous.
The bedrooms and bathrooms were all on the lower floor, freezing cold and without any means of heating. Beds were unmade; cupboards revealed threadbare, "off white" sheets and rank, old blankets.( Now I understood the request to buy and bring bed linen and duvets!)
The lower exterior area , reached by a perilous steel spiral staircase,was filthy, strewn with broken , discarded plastic pool toys.
The laundry room at the side of the house was only accessible by climbing out of a bedroom window - to approach it up the steep, rough terrain from the patio required mountaineering skills.
We rang the owner from a call box and recieved profuse apologies. He knew nothing about the building developments next door; blamed his maintenance people and previous tenants for neglect and squalor and promised a visit from his Agent the following morning with a view to an alternative property being found for us at no addotional cost to us. Rather in compensation he promised an adequate rebate on the amount alteady paid.
"Silent Sunday and noisy Monday"
Sunday was not a working day and so was free of noise and less dusty. The agent did not appear by noon and we realised they would not be working either. We busied ourselves making the place more comfortable if only for what we now expected to be a very short stay. Although still very cold first thing and after sundown it was a beautiful day. We began to realise what a great location this might have been. Some sparrows sat happily on the patio balustrade in front of one of the builder's vehicles just feet away.
Monday we were woken very early as the bulldozers got going out the back and a cement mixer next to our front door and parked car. We dealt with the workmen outside, but decided to visit the Office of the Agent regarding complaints about the house rather than wait about all day.
We were taken to view 4 different properties all some miles from Mojacar. All had been shut up for the winter uncleaned. Dirty dishes had been left on one kitchen table, none was furnished to an acceptable standard and beds and bedding were damp. The last was next door to dog kennels used by ex-pats returning home . The barking was pitiful to hear.
Accepting anyone of these would have been a jump from frying pan to fire.There were no other properties of a suitable size on their books. Reluctantly we came to an agreement with the agent that the pool and patio area be cleaned up, cleaning equipment and heaters provided immediately as well as suitable linen, blankets and towels for our guests. The bedding was provided from a huge store cupboard in her office! Brushes buckets and cleaning materials were delivered later and the pool man came at 6 o'clock.
"Trying to make the best of it."
It was impossible to enjoy any time spent in the house during the working day so after doing our best to make the place more presentable and homely for the relatives who would be joining us we explored the area on foot. We met many local residents - Spanish and an elderly Englishman who has lived on the mountain for over 30 years. All said the building work had received planning consrnt "dubiously" in spite of local opposition. To quell the dust requests had been made to the environmental department for regular damping down of the roadways without result. We set off for the old Pueblo - quite charming in spite of too many construction cranes - found the Town Hall, filled in several complaint forms about the dust and noise. Found some good looking restaurants in the Pueblo and along the playa as well as shopsand a weekly market for all our needs.
"Feeling more settled"
A couple of days later large water tankers with sprayers, provided by the contractor appeared, and made a big difference to the amount of dust blowing on to and about the property.
As the weeks went by a huge chunk of the mountain was removed, then began the levelling and terracing of the building plot - "72 luxury villas" and an apartment block with 120 maisonettes".
The one building regulation that was followed locally was thankfully to have no high rise buildings so the newish apartments immediately outside our back gate did not obstruct the view of the bay.
Very early in the morning before sunrise we would go out onto the terrace with a cup of tea to watch the lights of the fishing boats from Garrucha as they set out to sea, their chugging engines just audible.
Soon the roar of mechanical diggers took over, later the on-site construction of enormous cranes provided a fascinating spectacle particularly to the retired civil engineer in the family.
The weather got progressively warmer and we spent no time in that small shabby lounge.
John cannot stand things that do not work and gradually fixed things like hinges, light switches, kitchen appliances - and removed the obstacles to the laiundry room, then repaired the washing machine! Spared the horror of our first two weeks in the house our relatives were quite content and loved the area
As this was the only day work on the site ceased it was a good time for a bit of relaxing on the terrace. The pool took some time to get a hint of warmth but eventually everyone had a quick dip.
We had also discovered a local restaurant on the beach side of the "promenade"; very popular with local people for Sunday lunch. It belonged to the hotel immediately opposite the beach and we had most of our Sunday lunches there and not a bit of roast beef or Yorkshire pudding to be seen. A truly Spanish atmosphere where lunch could last 4 hours.
"Making the best of a bad job."
We explored the Garrucha and its daily fish market. Another great market in Vera - where I bought cool cottons to wear in the increasingly hot weather. Trips to Sorbas a town famous for its centuries old tradition of pottery making and Nijar - where pots and baskets had been made for centuries. And alwys the shimmering semi-desert of the hinterland .
There is something very special about Mediterranean light . In the early morning, and evening , the dramatic new shape of the mountainside could be seen in silhouette. Warm days of uninterupted sunshine, interesting daily explorations - and a two night visit to Nerja ...what more could anyone want!