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Puntos de vista - a personal Spain blog

Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

Being on the Box – My interview on Spanish TV
13 May 2021

In 2001, around the time of 9/11 in New York, Pablo de Ronda (aka Paul Whitelock) was interviewed by local TV in Liverpool, England. That year was the European Year of Languages and Paul was heading up several languages projects across Merseyside in his role as modern languages adviser for Sefton Council. Pablo recalls that he was really nervous and was not at all happy with the outcome. So when he was approached, as a foreign resident in the Ronda area, to be interviewed for a documentary on local TV, it came as something of a surprise when he said “Yes!”

Here's his story.

When my boss Karl Smallman approached me with this request I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Was I crazy? I’d done a TV interview 20 years previously in English in England and it was a scary experience. Why was I so readily saying “” to doing an interview in Spanish in Spain?

Then when I saw the FaceBook request from Charry TV, I responded again with a “” and a brief biography about my time here in Spain, namely 12 years as a resident with no regrets.

When I got PM’d by the journalist, Cheché (aka María José García) asking me to meet her on Friday 16 June for an interview at a place in Ronda that was special to me, I was delighted.

I chose the Parador de Turismo in Plaza de España, as that was the first place I ever stayed on my first ever visit to Andalucía to celebrate the Silver Anniversary of my marriage to my first wife, Jeryl.

I made sure I got there early to settle down and get comfortable.

I wonder what they’re going to ask me, I thought. Then Cheché and her cameraman Juan arrived. There was no script, no list of questions. We just set up the location in the lounge, they pinned a mike on me and off we went.

It’s odd, but I didn’t feel the least bit nervous. She asked questions and I did my best to answer them. It all felt very natural, more like a chat in a lounge in a parador with someone I’d just met. Oh, that’s exactly what this was, wasn’t it?

I was asked for a bit of background, the circumstances that brought me to Ronda, what persuaded me to come and live here full time, what I liked and didn’t like about life here. Then we moved onto questions around the Covid-19 pandemic and how I felt Spain and the UK respectively had dealt with the disaster.

I have strong views on this. I think Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has done well, especially at the beginning with that very severe lockdown. Most of my Spanish friends disagree with me and call me a socialist. OK. Fair cop! A Spanish socialist certainly, if I were allowed to vote in national elections here.

My views about Bojo’s feeble efforts in the UK are well-known amongst my British friends, many of them Conservatives, by the way, and they nearly all agree with me. The guy’s a buffoon and most of his cabinet are clowns. 

They all call me a socialist too. I’m actually not, having only voted red on three occasions, all three times tactically in a marginal seat to keep the Tory out (Warrington South in 1997, 2001 and 2005). I like to feel that my little effort contributed to the three largely successful governments of Tony Blair, a much-maligned politician, I fear.

I digress. Back to the interview.

I was also asked if I had any ideas for kick-starting tourism in the area.

My second wife Rita and I (10 years married and going on 11, my God!) have two rental properties, Villa Indiana in Ronda and Casa Rita in Montejaque, so I do have some considered thoughts, which I expressed in the interview.

Like many others I think the future lies with national tourism, ie with the Spanish (they represent a huge market and are already in the country, around 47 million of them, in fact!) and foreigners resident in Spain, who are also here and in common with their Spanish neighbours desperate to get away.

Secondly, in the Serranía de Ronda we should focus on rural tourism and how much safer that is, from a health and hygiene perspective, than, for example, a city break or a crowded beach resort.

What this area has to offer cannot be bettered anywhere. Stunning scenery, mountains, valleys, pueblos blancos, outdoor activities like cycling, hiking, horse-riding, which some of the other people interviewed for this documentary offer.

Additionally available are those very dangerous activities that take place up in the air, like paragliding, micro-lighting and hot-air balloon flights. Also activities that take place on or in water, like water skiing, windsurfing and canyoning.

Each to his own, although a balloon flight over Ronda, I must confess, is on my bucket list.

There is abundant wildlife with wild boar, ibex, goats and toros bravos, as well as normal run-of-the-mill farm animals. The birdwatching opportunities are amazing.

The interview ended with a promise that I would be sent a copy of the programme which was scheduled for broadcast that very evening.

If you’ve not seen it and have a spare couple of hours, why not have a look? The link is below. It’s a very interesting documentary.

I asked Charry TV whether it could be put on YouTube to gain a wider audience (Charry TV Ronda is a subscription channel only). They agreed and it’s there on YouTube now. You can view the whole programme by clicking here.

I subsequently asked Cheché if she would write an article in Spanish about the programme for the Secret Serranía website, which she was glad to do. You can read it here.

There is also an English version, here.

Another interviewee, Carolyn Emmett, a montejaqueña by adoption, has written a delightful piece about her interview. It was what inspired me to write this. Click here.

No doubt, some of the other interviewees might also write something. Let’s hope so. They’re all very interesting people.

Note:

There is a follow-up article by Secret SerranIa website owner Karl Smallman, which provides more information about the people interviewed. You can read it here.



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Foreign Residents on the Box By María José García
09 May 2021

Last month Charry TV in Ronda premiered a documentary about foreigners who have come to reside in the City of the Tajo. Journalist María José García subsequently wrote this article for local website www.secretserrania.com . It has been translated for the English-speaking community by Pablo de Ronda.
 
The Serranía de Ronda: a charming place to live
In the TV documentary we talked with foreigners who saw the region as the ideal place to come to live and to develop their personal projects.
Our culture and heritage, our customs, our environment and a slower pace of life were some of the main factors that convinced foreign citizens who came to visit the Serranía de Ronda to settle in one of its towns or villages.
Although practically any town in Andalucía could offer these things, the privileged location of the Serranía de Ronda, near the Sierra de las Nieves and a similar distance from Malaga, Seville and Cádiz, were decisive for these residents of Canada, France, Norway and the United Kingdom who decided to stay and live in our area, fleeing the bustle of the big cities.
 
Karethe (Norway)
“We like nature and we also wanted to live among Andalusian people, in a town without many foreigners, for us it was important. Although to feel at home you need to integrate into society, make an effort to get to know people, learn the language… This for me has probably been the most difficult thing”, explains the Norwegian journalist Karethe Linaae who moved to Ronda from Canada with her Mexican husband Jaime De La Barrera in 2012.
However, and although Linaae highlights the charm of the City of Dreams, she also perceives it as "a very conservative city, very Catholic, where the politicians are the politicians and the people are a little apart." And she adds: "If you want to be fashionable, if you like exotic restaurants and books in other languages, Ronda is not the town for you."
 
Heather and Wayne (UK)
 
Also in that year the British couple Heather Cooper and Wayne Pickering came to live in Ronda to undertake a mountain biking project: Hike & Bike the Sierras. They acknowledge that they came across Ronda by chance because Heather wanted to learn Spanish. As Wayne maintains: “I would miss out on going to Seville in order to see Ronda, because it is unique”.
Pickering says that for them registering as self-employed has been quite an experience, especially because of the expensive quota that small entrepreneurs have to pay each month: “The way in which small businesses operate in Spain is very different with respect to taxes and that kind of thing".
On a social level, the midday break and siesta has been one of the customs that these residents of Ronda have found the hardest to get used to. 
 
Caro (South Africa)
Carolyn Emmett, also English, who, thanks to her husband's job at Michelin Tyres, has lived in Canada, Botswana, South Africa and Indonesia before finally settling in Montejaque.
Although language has been the main barrier to integrating with the locals, Carolyn has done her best, and in 2012 even published a recipe book and a guide to Montejaque, with information in English and Spanish about accommodation, activities, the local area and shops, bars and restaurants. In addition, this Briton and montejaqueña by adoption was a mayordoma in the Montejaque Fair procession that year, dressed in a mantilla.

 

Charlotte (UK)

At the age of 27, Charlotte Wilmot was going through a small existential crisis as head of Human Resources at a hotel in central London, and when some friends suggested she spend part of her summer holidays in Andalucía, she didn't think twice. The group passed through Ronda by chance, but an incident with the car in which they were travelling forced them to stay on in the town.

What began for her as a two-month adventure has spanned 19 years and today she runs RondaLingua, a language school in Ronda, together with her husband Jaime López, whom she met here during that unplanned stop.
“When you live in a place you sometimes don't appreciate what you have. I think the pandemic has taught us that we have an impressive landscape around here, and I think we have learned a lot about enjoying ourselves in ways other than sitting in front of the TV and watching Netflix, ” she reflects.
 
Paul B and Louise (UK)
“We like the way of life in Ronda and as a result we spend more time together. That's why we decided to come”, says another Englishman, Paul Bowles. In the UK Paul worked as a fruit distributor, but the different hours that his partner Louise and he had made it impossible for them to see each other frequently. They also aspired to live somewhere with a standard of living that was far from the frenetic pace of London.
In 2016 they decided to move to Ronda, where Louise already had an apartment in the Barrio de San Francisco. Subsequently, they set out to build a holiday house in the Barrio de Padre Jesús, and despite the fact that the pandemic has made a dent in their income in the last year, they insist that they have never considered returning to the UK. The pandemic has caused a cautious increase in the number of places to stay in a natural environment that offers greater guarantees of health and security vis-a-vis COVID-19.

 

Julie (UK)

“If you are looking for adventure there are vías ferratas, horses, quad safari… There is everything! hiking, cycling, motorcycles… And there are great fiestas with flamenco, which I love ”. That's how Julie Wilkinson talks about Ronda and the SerraníaJulie is a resident of Cañada del Real Tesoro (Cortes de la Frontera Station) and hales originally from England where she was a university academic involved with banking, computing and languages before she moved to live in this tiny village.
Wilkinson came to the area attracted by its history: “I was studying at the Complutense University and wanted to know more about the history of the Moors, of the occupation. I also like the interior of the province a lot, because I don't want to be in a touristy area. I wanted to get to know the authentic Andalucía and especially Ronda as a historic centre”. 
Although the start of the pandemic was hard for her, since she lives alone, she took advantage of the confinement to run errands for her neighbours and friends, and thus managed to feel useful and maintain her social life.
 
Paul (UK)
In 2000, coinciding with his Silver Wedding Anniversary, Paul Whitelock did a mini-tour of Andalucía with his then wife, since, together with Galicia it was the only Spanish region that he did not know. They started in Ronda and spent their first night at the Parador de Turismo, from where he speaks to us in the documentary.
“I'm not here because of the weather, because of the sun, that doesn't interest me. Ronda is spectacular, its heritage, its culture, there is theatre, there are concerts ….. There’s always something going on here. ”
Whitelock is able to list the “five or six things” that drive him crazy about Spain, but insists that the rest is positive. “The noise, the litter everywhere, the bureaucracy, the corruption and a couple of other things, like parking the car and, worst of all, Spanish beer.  However, I think I have learned to come to terms with all of these.
For example, when it comes to dealing with bureaucracy, my strategy is go to the office early to talk face to face with the person who might be able to help you. But make sure you get there before they go to breakfast, better before 9.00 am ”. 
Whitelock has been living in Montejaque and Ronda for 12 years with his second wife Rita, a German, whom he met in Ronda in 2008 and who has been a resident here for 15 years.
 
Delphine (France)
The situation of Delphine Duboys differs greatly from those we have described so far. A Frenchwoman, she was born in Paris half a century ago and has lived in Spain for 26 years, where she used to work as a communications executive for a company in Madrid. Her partner's brother used to manage a piece of land at Finca La Algaba, about four kilometres from Ronda, which has wild horses living in freedom.
In 2019 Duboys became unemployed and in September 2020 she and her partner decided to move to Ronda, thus advancing their plans to retire to the town. Dubois says she feels "delighted" to have changed a life in which she spent 10 hours in front of the computer. Now she is part of the Paddock Paradise project, which organises horse-riding tours with the wild horses, some of them to the foothills of the Tajo de Ronda.

 

About Charry TV

Comunicaciones Ronda, S.L. has 30 years experience working in this sector, having pioneered in Ronda. Currently Canal Charry TV is the only private TV channel in the town. On top of that it offers 100 themed channels: cinema, sport, music, documentaries, etc. And now, internet via fibre optic cable, fixed-line telephones and mobile telephones with the best prices on the market.

For information about tariffs, click here (http://www.charrytv.com/tarifas)

 

Note: This article, Foreign Residents on the Box by María José García, forms part of a trilogy together with Guiris On the Box - a follow-up by Karl Smallman and Being on the Box by Pablo de Ronda



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Getting the Covid-19 Jab
09 May 2021

While the UK struts its stuff boasting about how many people they have vaccinated (is this the only thing Bojo and his bunch of fellow clowns has got right when it comes to the Coronavirus?), the rest of Europe, including Spain, has been less successful with their vaccination programmes. This has come about because of a mixture of poor organisation, bad procurement and lack of supply. The fiasco of the Astra Zeneca boycott by some countries hasn’t helped either.

How has it been for EyeOnSpain contributor Pablo de Ronda?

 

Thursday am

My mobile rings

¿Rita Whitelock?

No, soy su marido. Rita es nombre de mujer y yo soy un hombre. Se nota por mi voz.

(Embarrassed cough.)

It was a call to offer my wife Rita a vaccination date.

¿Cuándo?

Mañana a las 12 horas.

Lo siento. Está fuera de España. Vuelve el lunes que viene.

Vale. Llamamos otra vez la semana que viene.

 

Friday pm

My mobile rings

¿Rita Whitelock?

No, soy su marido. Rita es nombre de mujer y yo soy un hombre. Se nota por mi voz.

(Embarrassed cough.)

It was a call to offer my wife Rita a vaccination date.

¿Cuándo?

Esta tarde a las cuatro.

Lo siento. Está fuera de España. Vuelve el lunes que viene.

I explained that my wife was out of the country until Monday. I also explained to the nice lady about having a similar call yesterday and that I was told they would ring again – next week, not the next day!

She apologised for the confusion and suggested we ring the Centro de Salud ourselves to make an appointment.

OK. We can do that.

 

Saturday am

Rita is 69, so she is in the cohort being given the Johnson and Johnson version.

I’m 70 and am in a different cohort which is due to be jabbed also in April (it’s already 24th April, by the way, and I haven’t heard a dickie-bird.)

I read in SUR in English that 70 to 79-year-olds are to get the newly approved Janssen drug, which only requires one injection to be fully effective. Suits me.

Then, as soon as possible, I want to get el pasaporte verde to verify my Covid-19 status and let me travel without hassle. Can’t wait – no £100 a night quarantine in a UK hotel necessary then!

Hey, Amy, Carlo, Felix and Jude! And Jeryl! I’m on my way to Bow in the East End of London!

Tom, Su and Wilbur. See you by the sea in St. Leonard’s on Sea!

Simon and Marilyn. Get that double bed in your guest bedroom in South Gloucestershire made up!



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The “Accidental Spaniard” – Part Three
03 May 2021

Pablo de Ronda is an honorary Spaniard. He has lived and worked in the Serranía de Ronda for more than 12 years. Yet it was all an accident.

In Part One of his story he explained how he came to study Spanish at university.

In Part Two he told us how his life developed over the course of his degree, and how he ended up in hospital in Germany.

In this third and final part of his trilogy he relates how, with a degree in Spanish and German, he ended up living in Spain and married to a German.

He insists it was totally unplanned, and that that too was an accident.

After I recovered from my appendectomy I saw out the rest of my six months at Daimler-Benz AG and returned to Salford for the third term of my third year.

I’d earned good money at the luxury car manufacturer’s and bought myself a little car, a Hillman Imp. Not many students had cars in those days, so I was in a fortunate position, I guess.

I rented a grotty flat in Cheetham Hill, Manchester with my Northern Irish pal Mel. Mel could play guitar and sing and my voice wasn’t too bad either. Out of the blue we got offered the “job” of resident folk singers on Thursday nights at the Star Inn, Salford.

 

The one-armed landlord thought it was amusing to call us Hobson’s Choice.

There was a bunch of first-year female modern languages students who used to come every Thursday, and one, a blonde, called Jeryl, caught my eye. It wasn’t long before we were “stepping out”.

She had a licence so shared the driving whenever we went out. I drove there and she drove back. An ideal arrangement. Drink driving was just starting to become “taboo”.

Jeryl and I became an “item”. We stayed together through my final year, and her year abroad, spent in the Soviet Union and in southern France.

I graduated in 1973, did a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in Sheffield and became a modern languages teacher in Northwich, Cheshire.

By this time Jeryl and I were “living in sin” in a tower block in Salford Shopping Centre, while she finished off her degree.

Under pressure from parents to marry (living together out of wedlock was still a bit “iffy” in the early 1970s, we “jumped the broom” in January 1975. Then we bought our first house in Walkden, Greater Manchester. We paid £11,000 and had a mortgage with an interest rate of 16%!

Fast forward to the year 2000, our Silver Wedding Anniversary.

In  the intervening years I’d become Head of Spanish at a Boys’ Grammar School in Middleton, near Rochdale and then Head of Modern Languages and later Senior Teacher at a mixed comprehensive school in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside.

Then I left the classroom and became a schools adviser for St Helens Council. Later I was a Senior General Adviser for Sefton Council for 10 years.

After graduation Jeryl had done a MA and then PhD in International Marketing and gone into industry working for textile giant Courtaulds. She quite quickly became export manager for a company within the group.

We moved to Thelwall, near Warrington, Cheshire. That house cost an eye-watering £37,500, with a mortgage rate still around 16%. We stayed in that house, extending it twice, for 25 years.

We had two kids, Amy and Tom, and we went to Spain on holiday or with work every year. Jeryl was also a real hispanophile by this time and had made the effort to do evening classes in Spanish. She soon became nearly as good as me at castellano!

In fact, our Spanish bank manager once said her accent was better than mine!

Tired of the slog of export management, Jeryl switched to academia. Firstly at the University of Salford, where she became Professor of International Marketing and later at the University of Bradford Business School as Professor of International Marketing and Head of Department.

To celebrate 25 years of marriage, in August 2000 we arranged a little tour of Andalucía, staying in paradores for a week. Two nights in Ronda, two in Arcos de la Frontera, one in Cádiz, one in Córdoba and one in Málaga Gibralfaro.

We loved it, especially Ronda and the pueblos blancos of the Serranía de Ronda.

The following year we bought a little apartment in the Barrio San Francisco in Ronda. We named it Piso Blanco. Two years later we also bought a little house to do up, Casa Blanca, also in the Barrio.

Then in 2005 I had my annus horribilis. A nervous breakdown, divorce and redundancy. Wow! A triple whammy if ever there was one!

Two failed relationships later, one with the former object of my desires as an undergraduate, Jac,  who was a widow when we finally got together (her husband Danny had committed suicide many years before), I was at a loose end.

I found myself in Ronda at the beginning of September 2008 for La Feria de Pedro Romero, the annual bullfighting festival.

 

 

That was where I met the lovely Rita, whom I naturally nicknamed the Meter Maid. A German, resident in Montejaque for two years at that time, she didn’t have a clue what I was on about with her nickname, having more classical musical interests than the Beatles.

Anyway, we fell in love, I moved in with her at the end of 2008, we married in 2010 and the rest is history.

That is how this “accidental Spaniard”, who’d studied Spanish by chance, ended up living in Spain with a German, using both languages every single day. Not many languages graduates can make that claim!

But it was not planned at all. It was all an accident!

 



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The “Accidental Spaniard” – Part Two
30 April 2021

Pablo de Ronda is an honorary Spaniard. He has lived and worked in the Serranía de Ronda for more than 12 years. Yet it was all an accident really.

In Part One of his story he explained how he came to study Spanish at university.

In Part Two he tells us how his life developed over the course of his degree, and how he ended up in hospital in Germany.

As I outlined in The “Accidental Spaniard” - Part One I was good at languages at school and when I came to go to university to study French and German, the university I attended managed to persuade me to drop French and start Spanish from scratch, ie ab initio.

After a difficult first year as an undergraduate, I dropped out of the course. I was way too immature. So I went to work for a year, earning the princely sum of £10 a week in a small supermarket back in Exeter.

At the time it was enough for me to run a car, my mum’s Morris Minor, smoke and go out most nights. I was living at home. I made a contribution to the household, but my dad, bless him, put it aside and gave me it all back when I returned to my degree course after a year of “maturation”.

I didn’t have to repeat the first year, so joined a new cohort as the “older guy”. This new group of students made me very welcome. One, the dusky Hazel, from Kingston-upon-Hull via Vienna (her mum was Austrian) even asked me out on a date! Blimey!

That went very well for a while. She didn’t want a commitment, but we stayed friends for years.

Another, Welsh girl Jac, was in all my classes – she was doing Spanish from scratch alongside German, like I was. Another dark-haired beauty, I fancied her like hell, but I was too slow off the mark and my friend Danny snapped her up – and married her in our Final Year, while they were still undergraduates!

Not doing too well on the romantic front. Maybe I should try a blonde!

Well, you say that! Look what happened next.

At Easter 1970 we were sent to Spain for the first part of our year abroad. Seven of us flew to Barcelona, and then, because the trains were full (Easter), we all squeezed into a hire car (a BIG hire car) and travelled all the way across northern Spain to San Sebastián, where we were to attend university for three months.

I had to do all the driving, as I was the only one with a driving licence.

We arrived in the elegant Basque coastal resort at night and found that alcohol was very, very cheap, a mere one peseta (< 1p) for a glass of wine!

 

 

The worst hangover of my life later, I decided I really liked what I’d seen of Spain so far: seedy Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, and genteel Donostia (the politically correct Basque name for San Seb nowadays).

I was in love with Spain. Oh, and there was a bubbly blonde in our group, Brenda, who had snogged me in Barcelona. She won my heart too and we dated for a short time, but she soon replaced me with a local shop owner, so once again I was “single” and devastated.

Three months later, university course over, we were free to spend the next three months in Spain, doing whatever we wanted.

I’d landed myself a job in the office of a local Basque tour operator, Dorfe. The boss, Toni (Antonio Dorronsoro Feliner), was the Basque equivalent of a “wide boy”, but he ran a tight operation ferrying British and Irish Catholic pilgrims from Lourdes in France to San Sebastián, in order for them to let their hair down after all that praying and grotto-visiting at the French pilgrimage site.

After a few weeks in the office, Tony asked me if I’d like to have a go as a guide. I did and never looked back. I became his top commission earner (for selling excursions) in no time at all.

The other guides were all local girls, by the way, and all beautiful – of course.

There was Amaya, slightly older and the more experienced of the group, Marisa, engaged, Begoña, a good mate, giggly Carmen, sultry María and Coro. Coro was a stunner. I fell for her big style.

But this provincial Devonshire lad didn’t have a clue about dating. Remember: Hazel and Brenda made their moves on me, and I’d lost Jac through being too slow off the mark.

So, nothing ever happened between me and Coro.

Come the end of the summer it was time to head off to Germany for the second leg of my year abroad.

A quick stopover with Roger at the Munich Oktoberfest (it is actually in September, in fact!) and I found myself in Stuttgart, working as a translator at Daimler-Benz AG, the manufacturers of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Coincidentally, both Jac and Brenda had placements in Stuttgart too, at Bosch and Siemens respectively.

Then I got acute appendicitis and was admitted to hospital for an emergency operation.

What happened next? Find out in The “Accidental Spaniard” – Part Three.



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Ben and Joan, Monty Jack and Big Ron
27 April 2021

Several years ago, when he first moved to live in the Serranía de Ronda, Pablo de Ronda wrote about three pueblos blancos in the area for a local website. He thought the wider readership of EyeOnSpain might also be interested to read about them too. Here is an updated version of the article.

Three of the loveliest pueblos blancos of the Guadiaro Valley in our part of the Serranía de Ronda are Monty Jack, its neighbour Ben and Joan and the stunning jewel in the crown, Big Ron. Otherwise known as Montejaque, Benaoján and Ronda

Montejaque, at 689 square metres above sea level, nestles in the shadow of two mountains, Hacho and Tavizna.  With a population of just below 1000, it’s small and quiet. The barrio nazarí, the old village tucked in at the top of Montejaque, is charming with higgledy-piggledy houses and narrow alleys originating from the days of the Moorish occupation, 711 to 1492, was designed to keep dwellings cool in the heat of summer and sheltered and warm in the cold of winter.

Over the years a number of these older houses, many of which were nothing more than ruined dwellings or animal shelters, have been bought up by northern Europeans and renovated into holiday cottages or permanent homes.  Some 40 or so guiris (foreigners, half of them British and Irish) live in Monty Jack on a permanent basis.

The surrounding land is given over largely to olive cultivation and cork production.  The village is now quite thriving, with significant construction work in the newer lower part of the village still ongoing despite the various recessions, estados de alarma and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Benaoján, by contrast, is a pork town, with a number of processing factories in the village itself and down the hill in Estación de Benaoján, its sister settlement alongside the railway line to Algeciras.  With an overall population of 1,500 Ben and Joan are famous for their hams, sausages, cold meats and other pork products, based on the ubiquitous black pigs which roam freely feasting on acorns from the thousands of oak trees. Benaoján is evidently more industrial and shabby than its neighbour up the hill. 

Also in the lee of a mountain, at 564 meters above sea level, it gets the early morning sun but goes into shadow early in the evening.  It too has had a small influx of foreigners, also around 40, and it is a friendly place.  Ben and Joan is larger than Monty Jack and has more amenities, such as a clinic, football pitch, petrol station and repair garage, a newsagents and a florists.

Both villages are about 20 minutes by road from magical Ronda, the highest of the three at 739 metres and the largest town hereabouts.  Big Ron has a population of around 34,000, over 1,400 of them foreigners.  Whilst the Ciudad Soñada (City of Dreams) has most amenities and is a great town, Montejaque and Benaoján are quieter and slap bang in the middle of the most spectacular scenery you could wish to see.  The whole of the Guadiaro Valley is a delightful area for a holiday, or even better, for living in.

Why not come and see us?  There is plenty of holiday rental accommodation of differing types and to suit all tastes and pockets, or your dream house could be just waiting there for you to discover it.

More information:

The following website provides listings and other information on the area: www.secretserrania.com

Recommended holiday rentals:

Casa Rita, Montejaque - https://www.secretserrania.com/item/casa-rita-montejaque/

Villa Indiana, Fuente de la Higuera, Ronda - https://www.secretserrania.com/item/villa-indiana-fuente-de-la-higuera-ronda/

Casa Real, Montejaque – available from July 2021

 

About the author:

After taking early retirement from his career in the UK, Pablo de Ronda lived on and off in Ronda for five years before settling permanently in the area in 2008. He lived in Montejaque for three years with his second wife before they moved to Fuente de la Higuera, just outside Ronda, where they still live after 10 years.  As for Benaoján he used to buy his Sunday paper there and Estación de Benaoján is home to one of his favourite restaurants.

Semi-retired, he dabbles in house renovations, as well as gardening and writing. He also offers a translation, interpreting, holiday rental and homefinder service. He can be contacted at paulwhitelock@hotmail.com



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The "Accidental Spaniard" - Part One
27 April 2021

Pablo de Ronda is an honorary Spaniard. He has lived and worked in the Serranía de Ronda for more than 12 years. Yet it was all an accident really. He explains.

At school I was good at languages. I did German, French and Latin at GCE “O” Level (older readers will remember fondly those exams taken at age 16). My grades were pretty good (A, B, B respectively), so I did German and French at “A” Level, alongside Pure Mathematics and Art.

When the time came to apply for university, it seemed evident that I would study languages, so I applied for places on one of the new-fangled degree courses that had begun to appear, courses with more emphasis on communication and less focus, or none at all, on literature.

My first choices were the universities of Bradford and Salford, both former Royal Colleges of Advanced Technology, which were enjoying a growing reputation for the excellence of their modern languages courses in the late 60s.

I was called to the University of Bradford for a rigorous series of tests and interviews which took up most of a day, after which they put me on the “waiting list”; not an offer as such.

The next interview was a couple of weeks later at the University of Salford. Similarly rigorous interview process, followed by a final interview with two professors, Juan Sager*, Argentine-born and bi-lingual in German and Spanish, and Anthony Layton, English-born and fluent in Russian.

After some probing into my background – son of a South Wales miner, born in rural North Devon, no graduates in my family background, Dad a labourer and Mum an office clerk – the two professors threw a curved ball at me.

“Would you consider dropping either French or German and starting a new language ab initio?” asked Professor Sager.  I’d done Latin “O” Level so I knew that ab initio meant “from scratch”.

“Wouldn’t that be a bit daft?” I replied. “I’ve already invested seven years in learning French and five in German.”

“We would make you a lower offer.”

I was beginning to feel the pressure a bit. Bradford had only put me on their waiting list and this was my last chance to get a place on a modern course. The other unis on my list, like Surrey, were somewhat more traditional with compulsory literature, which I wanted to avoid.

Enthusiastically I said: “Oh, really? Which languages are on offer from scratch then?”

Italian, Russian or Spanish.”

“OK. Can I think about it for a couple of days and let you know?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the other interviewer, Professor Layton. “You have to decide here and now or we shan’t make you an offer at all!”

Bloody hell! It’s like double-glazing salesmen. You know the drill: “This price is only available for the next five minutes. After that it’s back to full price.”

“Oh! Well, can I have a minute, please?”

I was completely on my own, about to make a decision that would have repercussions for my entire life.

I went through each language in my head.

Italian first. Back then, aged 17, I had an irrational aversion to Italy, to Italians and to things Italian. So, Italian was out.

Funnily enough I’ve never yet been to Italy, but I do like a lot of things Italian now. Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida; Ferraris and Lamborghinis. I even had a Lambretta scooter for a while. The Italian Football team won the World Cup four times. Pasta and pizza are delicious and my Ferroli boiler is bloody good! It’s only ever not worked when I forgot to order oil!

Russian. I started a Russian “O” Level course as a subsidiary subject in the Lower Sixth, but gave up after a few weeks because the teacher was hopeless. He told the class that he was only a page or so in front of us in the course book, as he sought to add a string to his teaching bow by learning Russian.

So, that left me with Spanish. To my eternal shame I knew absolutely zilch about the second most important language in the world after English. I knew the capital was Madrid and that they had lots of tacky holiday costas, but that was about it.

“I’ve come to a decision. Can I drop French and do Spanish instead?

“Yes, of course,” they piped up in unison. “Instead of the normal two Bs and a C, you just need a B and 2 Cs. Congratulations! We look forward to seeing you in October.

It was 1968 and I’d just changed the course of my life – by accident!



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Paradise Found II
25 April 2021

Pablo de Ronda thought he knew the area where he has lived for the last 12 years like the back of his hand. You must be joking! The other day he went somewhere he’d never been before. And it’s right on his doorstep in La Indiana, a pedanía of Ronda.

 

I was in paradise again, for the second time this month (Editor’s note: You can read about Paul’s first visit to paradise here.

I went with my pal José to get some eggs from his friend Manuel, who lives in a tumble-down finca up a track near Benaoján. What a quiet and beautiful spot! I took lots of photos, some of which appear in this post.

Then we went to another nearby finca, also set in stunning countryside, to pick up some lawnmowers for my neighbour and friend Julian, who runs the delightful Cortijo La Perla Blanca hotel on the same site as up-and-coming winery Badman Wines and adjacent to my casa rural Villa Indiana.

By lawnmowers I mean lambs, of course. Julian decided that rather than buy an expensive lawn mower – he has lots of lawn – that he would have to push or ride, he would save four lambs from the dinner tables of the Ronda rich by getting them in as ecological gardening equipment.

He also needed 24 straw bales to build his flock a shelter. Because I’m quite well enchufado I was able to organise this within no time. Ellie and Ben, Julian’s children, and wife Jody are delighted.

Interesting that they have moved from the urban impresario life of Leeds, England, to little old Fuente de la Higuera, another pedanía, to become hoteliers and … sheep farmers?

I am currently helping them to obtain the permiso they need to operate as owners of livestock!

Links:

Cortijo La Perla Blanca

 

Badman Wines

 

Villa Indiana

 

Days of Ronda Wine and Roses

 

Paradise Found I

 



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Paradise Found I
25 April 2021

This is the title of 17th Century English poet John Milton’s follow-up to Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. It is also the title chosen by Pablo de Ronda for an experience he had recently.

I entered paradise the other day. A friend of mine invited me to visit El Molinete, a defunct windmill with outbuildings slap bang in the middle of the last remaining rain forest in Europe, namely in the Genal valley below Algatocín.

My friend bought the place just before the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and was trapped there for months. Now she’s back with a vengeance and her dream of creating a retreat for shiatsu, tai chi , yoga and other meditative pursuits is back on course.

With no mains electricity or water the place runs on solar energy and water from a spring up the hill.

“Green” to her roots my friend is dedicated to re-cycling what is on site, what she can find at the basura or what friends donate. This professional interior designer, furniture-maker and former teacher is the most competent female DIY-er I have ever come across. She can turn her hand to literally anything.

With the help of a few “workawayers” (see below for details of this scheme), she has turned a large wooden roundhouse into a delightful living space with outdoor kitchen, WC and shower. It is an official vivienda rural and is available to rent. It’s called the Round House in the Forest.

The first ever booking has just ended. A young Spanish couple, both doctors, spent the Easter puente there with their dog and were thrilled to bits with the accommodation, the location and the get-away-from-it-all atmosphere. They happily joined in meals and other activities with the two “workawayers”, one Italian and one Dutch lady, my friend and me.

After a couple of well-deserved days off, the work has started again to renovate a second roundhouse, to convert a large alberca into a swimming pool and make other improvements to the amenities.

For details of “El Molinete” and how to book, please click here: https://www.airbnb.es/rooms/3026075?previous_page_section_name=1000&federated_search_id=d13a4684-31ff-4940-af8e-5277e34b820d

 

The Workaway Scheme

Workaway is a worldwide platform founded in 2002 that allows members to arrange homestays and cultural exchanges. Volunteers or "Workawayers", are expected to contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day, say five hours, in exchange for lodging and food, which is provided by their host.

For more details click on the following links.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workaway

https://www.workaway.info/

 

 



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Covid-19 is a bastard! Don’t mess with it! A cautionary tale of our times
22 April 2021

This Coronavirus is no joke. Those who deny its existence belong in a looney bin. To date this bug, in just over one year, has killed over 3 million people world-wide, 127,000 in the UK, nearly 77,400 in Spain. Millions have had their health and way of life ruined. Families have been bereaved far too early as formerly strong and healthy young men and women have just crumpled and died. They couldn’t even attend the funerals to say goodbye to their loved ones.

We’ve all been affected in some way whether we live in Hong Kong, New York, London or Madrid or in Ronda, Montejaque, Jimera de Líbar or Serrato.

Many who caught Covid-19 seemed to get off relatively lightly, only to find later that they have developed what the English-speaking world is calling “Long Covid”, in Spanish, “pos-Covid síndrome”.

Pablo de Ronda has seen much of this suffering and death close-up in Montejaque and Ronda (both Málaga province), the area where he has lived for the last dozen years.

He tells the story of one lady’s 2021 so far.

A lady I know in Ronda, a German, who has been resident in the area for 15 years, has had just three healthy days this year and it’s nearly May already. Those three days were 1st, 2nd and 3rd January. On 4th January she began to display symptoms of Covid-19 contagion: bad cough, fever, tiredness, pains throughout her body.

Despite a call on 5th January to the emergency number, 061, the doctor didn’t think she warranted a home visit, nor did she need to attend Urgencias. She also didn’t need to be tested. What?

After repeated calls to 061 and her surgery, Centro Norte de Salud in Ronda, she finally got an appointment for an antigen test and a PCR test on 9th January.  She had to struggle to the surgery under her own steam for this, despite being quite poorly by this time.

Not surprisingly she tested positive, but it wasn’t until the evening of the following day that she was admitted to hospital, at the relatively new Hospital de La Serranía on the south side of Ronda.

Admission to hospital proved to be a long and tiring process; long gaps between various tests and hours waiting in a wheelchair on an oxygen drip until a room became available.

The whole thing was compounded by my friend’s poor Spanish (her fault, she freely admits, but nevertheless traumatic in the circumstances).

This lady, from Montejaque’s German twin town Knittlingen, disappeared from view for 10 days. To start with she could communicate with family and friends via WhatsApp or normal mobile phone calls, but she became so unwell and confused that she stopped answering for several days, which concerned everybody.

No information was available about her condition or her reaction to treatment. Her husband rang the hospital umpteen times and nobody could tell him anything, not the nurses, not the admin staff. Only doctors were in a position to give out information about the health of their patients, he was told. There were never any available to come to the phone. After “losing it” a couple of times the husband did eventually get some feedback for the family.

We then began to learn that our patient was being left to her own devices for hours on end. The staff did not respond to the alarm button if she was desperate for a painkiller or needed to visit the bathroom. On two occasions the nurses found her collapsed on the floor of her room, lying in her own excrement.

Later when asked whether she was embarrassed about that, this feisty lady said no – it served them right to have to clean her up, for not responding to her literal calls for help when the alarm button produced no results. Well, I think she certainly has a point!

In the end the family were so distraught at the treatment their loved one wasn’t getting that her husband demanded she be sent home from hospital. He was told that no ambulance was available for patients that self-discharge. You’ll have to book a taxi, they said.

I understand that her husband, also suffering from Covid-19 by the way and quarantined at home, threatened to get in his car, drive to the hospital and collect his wife personally, despite this being a “crime” or “breach of regulations” and subject to a heavy fine.

Guess what? She was transported home to her husband by ambulance the following day. Well done, that man!

Her husband reports that it was like having a “corpse” delivered. This poor lady spent the next 10 days in bed, not sleeping, not eating, not drinking, not doing anything that she knew, as a former nurse, she should be doing to improve her health.

She was hallucinating frequently, probably as a result of the cocktail of drugs they’d been giving her in hospital to ease her pain, and , quite frankly to keep her tranquilised.

Her poor husband, not suited to caring at all, did his best. He was available 24/7, hardly sleeping, preparing healthy food from scratch, which went into the bin, hunting for non-existent duty chemists in the middle of the night and keeping the house running.

On one occasion he managed to persuade his wife to have a bath – she was getting a bit stinky. What a nightmare! They got her into the bath ok, but couldn’t get her out again. Despite having lost 10 kilos in hospital (1 kilo per day, by the way – seems like a lot to me!) she had insufficient strength in her legs to help in exiting the bathtub.

They eventually managed to extract her after two hours, by which time the poor thing was shivering with the cold – it was still January, winter!

So, no more baths. The next day her husband bought a shower stool from Ortopedia Carreño,  the orthopaedic shop in Ronda, and that worked much better. He also managed to “scrounge” a wheelchair from Santa Bárbara, the health centre in the south of Ronda – not even their surgery.

After organising several telephone conversations with medical specialists, eg two German doctors, family friends both, and a German-speaking psychologist through Sanitas, their private health insurer, things began to look a bit brighter. Our patient responded positively.

Then, out of the blue came the most amazing offer. My friend’s niece, a physiotherapist in Germany, offered to take unpaid leave to fly to Spain to treat her aunt for 10 days. She came, accompanied by our heroine’s younger son, to help the husband, who was exhausted after his own bout of Coronavirus and the home caring of his wife.

The transformation was unbelievable. Three treatments a day, including physical exercises, massages and short walks in the fresh air, started to do the trick. She went from being a “zombie” to a relatively normal, though still very weak and emaciated – yes emaciated – lady. She made the effort to sit at the table for every meal. She even insisted on preparing a meal on one occasion, but it was too much for her really.

The family turned its attention to aftercare. Sanitas would pay for 10 sessions of physiotherapy. Great, they thought. They were to be sessions ON THE PHONE! How does that work?

In fact, the new reality is that nearly all medical consultations are telephonic in this Covid-19 health world in which we live.

Behind the scenes our victim’s three children had been plotting and they decided that when the niece and son flew back to Germany after their 10-day mercy mission, our friend would go with them. They were convinced that the German Krankenkasse (Health Service) was better equipped to provide the aftercare she needed.

The only person against this plan was our patient, but they just told her to be quiet and do what she was told. On 15th February she flew to Germany and was admitted to hospital in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Wuerttemberg, the following day for tests.

Then another potential disaster struck. The doctors detected a 9cm long growth on her ovaries. Cancer? What next? They operated within days, removed the tumour, did a biopsy – benign. What a relief.

But our friend is still not well. She has had a very bad dose of Covid-19, which has left her weak and in constant pain, and she has had a major abdominal operation.

After several days of recovery in hospital she went to her daughter’s for a period of convalescence. The doctor’s request for a month-long residential rehabilitation programme was turned down on the grounds that she had caught the virus abroad, ie in Spain, so it wasn’t their problem. What on earth is the world coming to? I think the family are appealing the decision.

What happened next? When she was fit enough, she travelled north by car to her physiotherapist niece for a further 10 days of treatment. And what a difference that has made!

This has turned out to be so successful so quickly that this lovely lady is coming back home to Spain to her husband and her friends. She arrives next Monday, 26th April at Málaga airport at 9.30am.

She has been away for two and a half months.

Readers, this is a true story. I know, because that German lady from Ronda is my wife.

The lovely Rita.

 



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