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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

The Saga of the Hotel Algarrobico
05 January 2021 @ 21:39

Driving over the coastal mountains from the Almerian tourist-trap of Mojácar south (or is it west?) to Carboneras is a delight. You pass through the hamlet of Sopalmo, which sits in tiny splendour over a sandy track that leads drowsily down to the sea a mile away. Here is one of only two places in Spain where you can find a chameleon, the other being in Nerja.  There's a  small restaurant here that will fill you up for ten euros as the kids go exploring with their butterfly nets.
We are at the edge of the gigantic – and generally rather empty – Natural Park of Níjar/Cabo de Gata.
But before we reach the large municipality of Níjar, increasingly covered with plastic farms, we must pass through Carboneras, the ugly fishing town made famous by the Algarrobico hotel.
The curving road passes the scraped hill of the ‘Moors Blood’, a colourful side of striated rock where a battle may have taken place half a millennium ago, and zigzags towards the highest part of the route towards Carboneras, with crags on one side and alarming drops on the other: a road straight out of The Italian Job – or perhaps the perfect final scene for Thelma and Louise. At the top, there’s a small parking area, liberally decorated with graffiti, where you can see for miles. Camera-phones record an empty dry mountain, a rugged coast, that clean blue sea and – off to the southwest  – the back of a monstrous hotel, several miles away and far below.
The only plant-life in this – and most – of the Parque Natural is scrub: no doubt of huge environmental value to our friends the ecologists, but, dress it how you will, it’s just scrub none the less.
The ecologists are simple city folk. They live through subsidies, European funds and obscure publications. They are like the Caliban of Shakespeare: rude destructive fellows, who flow from their apartments in the suburbs out to deal harshly with the countryside, subsidised by the gullible politicians from far-off Seville. In Almería, the ecologists must ignore the 350 square kilometres of plastic farms, which do huge damage to the environment but bring in much wealth. They will spend their time – and what European funds they can attract – on such foolishness as ripping up a small plantation of agave outside the city: a plantation that has been there for almost a century. The plants, they say, are invasive. So too are the prickly pear cactus (brought to Spain by the conquistadores), but not the potato, tomato, tobacco and sweet-corn (brought by the same conquistadores, the ones who didn't fill their bags with gold). The local tortoise must be protected, they insist (again with European backing) so the harmless creatures are collected and sent to prison camps in the high sierras of los Vélez, where they solemnly die of the ‘flu.
A wise French businessman told me twenty-five years ago: ‘in the next century, mon cher, the two growth industries will be tourism and ecology’.
In a small and ugly town in Almería, a few years later, those two forces finally declared war.
As the car breasts the final hill on the route to Carboneras, the rear of the ghastly hotel becomes visible again: surrounded by land prepared by the builder for shops, restaurants and an urbanisation of 250 villas (land, incidentally, which does not fall within the new frontier of the Natural Park, and is thus still theoretically viable). These days, sightseers come to see the hotel. Aghast, they take pictures: perhaps they’ll stay for lunch in the town. Nearby is the small villa where Peter O’Toole stayed when filming part of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, and just past the Algarrobico on the other side is the dry river bed where the Arab horsemen attacked Aqaba in that furious cinematographic gallop.
Carboneras is a reasonably well-off if unusually ugly fishing town. It has three ports – commercial, marina and industrial – some nice beaches, good fish restaurants, a huge and highly pollutive power station which will be closed down soon (say Endesa), a vast and inoperable sports stadium (built in a moment of megalomania), and the largest fishing fleet - reputedly - in all of Andalucía: mostly stationed of the West African coast.
Opening up the appalling Algarrobico hotel and finishing off the surrounding satellite urbanisation would have brought many jobs to the town, but as a smirking Greenpeace spokesperson said after a recent judgement on the urbanisation's future, ‘they can always help work on the demolition’.
The reality is that, after fifteen years of rotting in the sun, open to the elements, to the vandals and the ecologists, the twenty story hotel would be almost impossible to finish. Its time has come. But, what about the costs involved in demolition – money that could have been better spent? The politicians speak blithely of returning the several hundred metres of empty rocky scree back to how it was – but how impossible is that? And, is it even worth the effort? The Junta de Andalucía now says it's got a million euros earmarked for demolition purposes for 2021 (suggesting that it'll take several years).
The justification for the demolition comes from a rule that you can’t build in a national park, even though the hotel was not in a national park when work began; indeed the promoters bought the land in 1999 off the Junta de Andalucía itself (through a public company called Soprea) as urbanisable. The boundaries were subsequently moved as the PP in Madrid changed the coastal building limits. In 2006, the project which had the blessing of then President of Andalucía Manuel Chaves, fell foul of the Minister for the Environment Cristina Narbona from the Zapatero Government, who ordered work stopped when the hotel was 90% complete: it was being built on public land.
Almería is a large province of 8,000 square kilometres, of which 3,100sqkms are protected – about 35% of the entire province. We are talking here of perhaps one hectare. Couldn’t Almería afford to lose a tiny fraction of its empty, unvisited and largely pointless parkland to help create some jobs?
A recent interview with the President of the Superior Court of Justice in Andalucía says that ‘judges sometimes contradict themselves – we are human and can also get things wrong’. A spokesperson for ‘Salvemos Mojacar’ (an extremist ecological organisation) does not suffer from the same doubts: ‘it must be demolished and the promoter should not be reimbursed by as much as one penny’ (they seek 70 million euros in damages).
So, as sometimes happens in Spain: the building can never be completed, and it can never be entirely demolished. Jobs are lost in an area of high unemployment, and a rotting and monstrous hulk of a building will perhaps be turned one day, after at least a decade of uselessness, into a mountain of rubble.

Perhaps the rabbits, its future residents, will be pleased.

Like 2


Astronautilus said:
09 January 2021 @ 17:22

"Here is one of only two places in Spain where you can find a chameleon, the other being in Nerja". Seriously? So all the chameleons I see around Axarquia are escaped pets?

lenox said:
09 January 2021 @ 20:51

Thanks for the correction (although I read elsewhere, in 'Absolute Axarquía', that 'Nerja is situated on the coast 50 kilometres east of Málaga, in the southeast of Axarquía...'). The information I had came from someone I knew from Nerja back in the eighties...

Astronautilus said:
10 January 2021 @ 18:22

"Thanks for the correction...", you're welcome! Actually, as well as Axarquia I've seen them near Estepona, and people have seen them in Cadiz province, so I assume that they're reasonably common across Andalucia.

lenox said:
10 January 2021 @ 21:51

Wiki España has this to say: 'En España puede encontrarse en puntos muy concretos de Andalucía, sur de la provincia de Alicante y en el parque natural de la Sierra de la Muela, Cabo Tiñoso y Roldán en las cercanías de Cartagena'.
I guess one lives and learns.

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