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Maggy P.

At last, we were off again to the sun soaked paradise where our newly renovated Moorish house nestles at the top of the Poquera Gorge in the Alpujarras. It had taken a long time to achieve our dream, two long years more than we had foreseen when we took our first steps to freedom. We had also had to wait a long time for our flight. A ten hour delay trapped with the great holiday-making British public in a hi -tech palace geared towards maximum profit. The complimentary vouchers we had been given by the airline worked out at 50p each per hour and could not be redeemed at the bar. Much of the waiting time was spent people watching, an interesting even awe-inspiring activity in July in an airport departure lounge.

There was the all-male Welsh rugby squad, travelling as a group of twenty or more, loud aggressive and threatening. They claimed far more than their share of the cramped and crowded waiting area, and sported a dazzling array of designer footwear. Trainers mostly, adorned with plastic engineering, sculpted and tinted to fit some kind of heroic vision, a rainbow of colours textures and patterns. The fans strutted and sprawled and let it all hang out for each other.
Unsupervised screaming children hurtled dizzyingly around the concourse, vandalising furniture fittings and each other, ignored by flight attendants who clumped authoritatively through the halls in big shoes, self-concious and probably deeply resentful of their enforced sartorial conformity. Overweight and ageing female holiday - makers had, by contrast, abandoned all sartorial commonsense and squashed themselves into garish and fiendishly inappropriate costumes,too tight, too short and too distasteful to contemplate for long. We longed for the moment when we could jump into our hire car and leave them all behind, back to the mountains where such horrors are rarely seen.

We arrived at day - break, just as the sun began to paint the tips of the Sierras in red and gold, and were yet again astonished at what we had achieved. Here was our glorious eagles eyrie perched on the edge of the village, balconied 1800 metres above the Mediterranean, the sea and the distant. Rif mountains just visible between the summits to the south. We gazed out over this splendour, this peaceful tranquillity, and once again felt at home.

We had always enjoyed hard work and the fruits of our labours, but there came a time when we began to question the way we were having to live. We had found ourselves with our lives spinning out of control and with no time to enjoy them. It seemed that we were having to pedal faster just to maintain ground. Like much of middle-management in Britain, we had to pedal faster and faster, year by year. We had finally became weary and bored. We wanted to get off the wheel.

So one spring, as we planned our longed for summer break, we became intrigued with the stories we had been told about the amazing property deals to be had in the Alpujarra mountains, in Andalusia, sunny southern Spain.Escape perhaps? As confirmed Hispanophiles we decided we should go and investigate. A finca in the hills for 20k sounded very attractive. We had the contact numbers of a couple of people who acted as property agents in a place called Orgiva, and we made arrangements to meet them there in July.

On the map we saw that Orgiva lay well away from the Costas, away from the hassle, the hype and the high prices, sheltered from all that was hectic by the Sierra Lujar to the south and the Sierra Nevada to the north. Further reading suggested that this area may well offer what we sought. Apparently musicians artists and writers had been drawn to the place for decades, attracted by a rural tranquillity that we hungered for. An alternative culture of cosmopolitan expats was quietly thriving in Las Alpujarras, the foothills of the great Mulhacen. If the likes of Picasso, Segovia and Gerald Brennan had found it a conducive crucible for the creative spirit it may very well do for us!

It certainly sounded promising. From Malaga we had first headed inland to the Ronda ‚area to spend time with some old friends who had had a house there for years. We felt we should explore Andalusia thoroughly, although we knew that property values near Ronda were significantly higher. Sadly our friends were called away to a family emergency before we arrived, so we had to explore all on our own.

We found the scenery becoming ever more dramatic as we followed the winding road up from the coast towards the plateau where Ronda lies. Our friends had found us rooms in a small friendly pueblo, one of the many little white villages perched within a landscape of truly primreview proportions. We played Ozric Tentacles full blast on the car stereo and found it to be the perfect orchestration for such uncompromising countryside. Vast bleak and awesome, the mountains lay around us like semi-subterranean dinosaurs. Sheer rock faces blazed and glittered in the sun, shimmering in a haze of heat. At night the hills loomed massively against a velvet firmament littered with stars, made even more huge by the distant clusters of light from the tiny pueblos dotted amongst them. How could whole communities survive in such isolation, cut off in so desolate an environment we wondered. We loved it but knew that living there we would feel oppressed by the sheer scale of the place.

We explored Ronda town. It was small, elegant and friendly. There was clever street theatre of a sophisticated kind, with spectacular fireworks and special effects which all the people flocked to see. Rock and Roll! There were sumptuous paradors set on the edge of dizzying precipices down which Christian slaves were once hurled to their deaths by the Moors. There were palaces in the old Moorish quarter which were once frequented by the Emperor Ferdinand and his infamous queen, Isabella. There were beautiful Alhambra-style gardens, built by monks and watered by tiled fountains with formal rills. Shady courtyards filled with flowers and canary song. Pedestrianised areas where designer boutiques jostled for space alongside churrerias producing delicious churros y chocolate. Seafood restaurants spilled onto the pavements, resplendent with silver service and tantalising aromas. And, of course, the bull ring, set like a sinister temple of architectural splendour to the darker side of human nature. It was a great place, but very expensive. Our arrival in Orgiva was thus somewhat of a contrast. Set within the river valley of the Rio Guadelfeo, on an escarpment overlooking green alluvial fields, from a distance the town looked an imposing and attractive place. Whitewashed buildings clustered red-roofed together, pierced by the twin gothic towers of the church.

At street level however, it presented a rather different face. Utilitarian and rather run down, it was busy but definitely unpromising. Dilapidation was everywhere evident in the crumbling walls and overgrown lots near the town centre. The people looked neither confident nor prosperous. Taking our bearings we identified one of the two hostelries as a potential stop-over. We had arranged to meet one of the property agents there the following day. It was oppressively hot in the river valley. The surrounding mountains concentrated the heat and we needed refreshment. We took a table on the terrace of the hotel and ordered cold drinks. Before they arrived the flies were driving us crazy and the traffic fumes were burning our eyes. We began to notice the clientele. Bohemian types, mostly Northern Europeans or American, with that self-concious insousiance typically described as 'cool'. Alarm bells rang in our heads that this may not be the ideal place for us after all.

We became aware of a young woman of about twenty five or so, accompanied by two filthy and ragged children of perhaps three and five years old. She was decked out in the extreme of alternative fashion with stylishly ragged and colourful clothing and dreadlocks. Maybe she was an Andalusian gypsy we conjectured. We watched as the two children, hot hungry and ignored became increasingly fretful. Suddenly, in a rough Mancunian accent, the young woman loosed a torrent of abuse at them. She was an English Crusty!! Another lemming!! Our hearts sank.

We knew about these people from our own home town. They littered the pavements and parks with their diseased dogs and innumerable unkempt progeny. They became aggressive and abusive when they were refused handouts and were at best a vaguely threatening nuisance. It was one of the hazards of urban life in Britain we were looking to escape from. They were one kind of lemming, we were another. We checked out the rooms in the hotel. Noisy, hot and cramped, with one loo and bathroom to each landing of six rooms. Not really conducive to rest and relaxation.

So we headed out of town up the mountain to where it may perhaps be cooler, and certainly more peaceful. The road wound upward, ever upward, snaking its way across gorges filled with orange trees and past sheer rock faces sprouting agave and prickly pear. Gradually we relaxed and began to take in our surroundings. Fierce, wild, harsh, unforgiving, but also lush, fervently fertile, this febrile country seduced us with it's fragrant blooms and fruitfulness. Parts were bronzed as a mirror, reflecting the sun back to itself, electric with insect life, reverberating with tree frogs in the midday heat. We found a place to stay. Calm, clean and comfortable with the essential luxuries of a swimming pool and a smart bar-restaurant. El Montanero it was called but we had seen nothing yet. From this base we met up with the property agents and were taken on various Wild Goose chases into the surrounding valley areas, mostly on unmetalled roads and without exception all of them untenable propositions.

We had begun to get to know the place a bit and to be more aware of how different one district was to the next. Eventually we ventured higher into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the real Alpujarras, and realised that this was a world away from the sweaty squalor of the valley floor. Here water was fresh, sweet and abundant. Crystal clear it gushed from fuentes (fountains) in every village, tumbled down barrancos and trickled eternally through the acequias, the irrigation channels first built by the Arabs. These small water courses were visible from some distance because of the verdant growth they promoted. Trees, meadows, orchards of olive, almonds and peaches, all flourished in proximity to the water. We moved further up the mountain to perhaps the penultimate village. The people here were mostly the indigenous population, but only just. By day coach loads of visitors arrived and a more varied mix was hard to imagine. Through it all the locals remained shy, friendly and courteous. Unflappably calm and positive in outlook, they were always peacefully approachable. Here was spectacle of an entirely new kind. This was even worth a longer look, so we stayed on. Americans jostled with Germans French and Japanese, all encumbered with rough guides, twitchers manuals, telephoto lenses, fifty league boots that required a Kings Ransom and all emanating a gung-ho-give-it-a-go heartiness.

Granadian pensioners poured of the package tour buses into the craft shops and cafes. Dudes on mountain bikes compared kit and fitness levels. Rich Costa dwellers parked their Mercedes and over-dressed women-folk at the pavement cafes. And through it all the locals drove their mules, their delivery vans, their perambulators and their grannies, gossiping happily and going about their business. This place seemed to have that happy balance of stability and frisson for us. Tranquil yet vibrant. Rural simplicity as a frame-work for cameos of a truly cosmopolitan flavour. But sadly this area was well out of the range that our property agents operated in, so we just hid out and enjoyed our holiday, resigned to the failure of our main objective. Gradually though over the next week or so a sense of urgency began to grow in us, like an insistence voice that called and called to us. Initially this caused irritation as would a persistent fly or similar nuisance. But being practised in our sense we became able to focus on the source of the irritation and to look for a solution to it.

We don't accept failure readily. We really liked the place, it seemed to like us, we felt safe, free and alive but there were no houses to look at here, and certainly no state agents to resort to. Then one day as we spun down the mountain hair-pins, a sign-written hoarding suddenly flashed electric significance for us. Yes, that was the name of a holiday agency we'd heard of which had once dealt in properties, mentioned casually in conversation a fortnight ago! And yes, that was the end of the thread we began to follow and that was how we found our new home.

It was the last property they had on their books and had been empty for four years, neglected and ignored as the holiday agency had mushroomed. Once owned by an American media personality whose family had no interest in the place after she died, the house had lain forlorn and forgotten under a blanket of grape vines, ivy, and climbing roses, like a sleeping beauty. It was ancient, cool and cavernous, with thick stone walls and the usual flat roof of launa, a form of impermeable mica perhaps a vernacular equivalent for of our familiar thatched cottage. Originally it had been two houses and was very large by village standards, with three bedrooms, two sitting rooms, a spacious kitchen diner and two bathrooms. There were two terraces, a shady tinao, and a large patio. It was quaint, quirky and characterful and it welcomed us. It hugged us and stroked us, purred at us and offered us shelter from the storm. We had a preliminary strictural survey carried out and put in an offer, rather lower than the already reduced asking price, and then we waited.

© Maggy P. 2001

Part Two of the Spanish House Buying Adventure

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