There are millions of reasons why I love travelling but meeting people in the places I visit is probably top of my list. One of my favourite destinations to come to time and time again is Spain. I must admit, it wasn’t love at first sight – it has taken me a while to understand the Spanish culture and rhythm. Learning the language has certainly helped to get to know the quirks and habits of the Iberian people, discover their traditions and way of living. They are some of the warmest, most fun loving and hospitable people you’ll ever meet. Their relaxed attitude is what used to drive me, a time-poor and stressed Londoner, crazy but as soon as I realised that it’s me that’s the problem, I began to love it.
How can you not love people who spend their lives singing and dancing wherever and whenever they feel like it? How can you not join the infectious laughs and cheers in the many bars and on the streets? But what made me love Spain most is the inclusivity and compassion. You see the young, the very young and the old mingle in various bars, cafes and restaurants – whether it’s 2pm or midnight people of all ages seem to live in a symbiosis. As much as this should be a normal occurrence, in many places it is not. Take London for example; a city so intense and catered for the young that the older age groups get marginalised. There is a reason why a lot of people choose to retire in Spain so during my visit to Nerja in Andalucia I decided to interview a few of them and find out why. Here is what they said.
Susanne moved to Nerja permanently around 2 years ago, but her story goes back over 30 years as she first came to this town when her parents retired and bought a house there. When asked why she decided to leave her life in Somerset, in the south west of the UK, behind she says: “I feel like I can create anything I want here. In Cheddar when you walk through the village at 8:30pm all of the downstairs lights are off and only a few of the upstairs ones are on. Everyone’s gone to bed by 10pm and that’s when I’m ready to go out! Life is very social here. I’m learning flamenco which is totally new to me, even though I’m a dancer it’s a completely different skill; I want to learn to play a musical instrument, I’m learning a foreign language… I don’t know why but I feel more encouraged to do things like that here, I feel like I have the freedom to do so.”
John has lived in Nerja for 5 years. What brought him here? “The sun. There was nothing for me in England. I retired, I was living in my house with my ex-partner but there was nothing to do, it was miserable, I wasn’t working, all I could do was sit indoors as it was raining all the time. The only alternative was to go down the pub – every day. It’s not the same as sitting in a bar on the beach here. I made a decision to come here and I never looked back, I’m living the dream, go out on my boat and enjoy life. I couldn’t live in England now, I went back recently and it was dreadful.”
Joan, who is in her late 80s, settled in the south of Spain over 30 years ago because she thought the quality of life was going to be a lot higher than the one back home. Her and her late husband spent their happiest years together going for beach walks, playing bridge or petanque with friends and socialising. They have enjoyed the simple pleasures like a drive along the coast or a glass of wine in the town square and cherished every moment so, even after her husband’s passing, Joan wasn’t ready to face the indoor ‘old person’s life’ that the UK had to offer.
These are just some of the stories I’ve been told and have recorded but there are hundreds of expats living in the south of Spain. The climate plays a big part of course but I do think it’s the people that make places accessible and welcoming. I can’t help but wonder when did humans become so (young) age and (good) looks obsessed to forget that compassion, communication and open mindedness are the qualities that allow us to form strong bonds and ultimately make us happy…