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Garlic and Olive Oil

My goal is to paint a picture of life in Spain during the seventies and eighties, albeit from a foreigner's point of view. Excerpts are in no particular chronological order.

Sensory Pleasures, Rota, Spain, 1972
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 @ 2:18 PM

From Monday to Friday I'm busy teaching at the bilingual school in El Puerto de Santa Maria. When I'm not teaching I'm studying Spanish and practising new vocabulary and verb tenses with the two Spanish teachers I live with. 


Week-ends are completely different for that's when I get out and about and mix with other foreigners.  On Saturday afternoons I make my way to Rota, to hang out with the Americans who work on the Naval Base. There are also some people from Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. They are travelling the world, just drifting around. It's a bit like meeting characters from James Michener's book, 'The Drifters', and I feel intrigued as if my nose and ears are tingling with sensory pleasures.


There's the smell of Brut after-shave, Head and Shoulders shampoo and Dial soap as well-showered faces greet guests, ready to entertain and be entertained.


I can't tell the difference in accents between the Australians and the New Zealanders, and the Americans all sound the same to me. They laugh loudly, even although most of them are not happy to be in the navy, nor in Spain. They only signed up so that they wouldn't be drafted to go to Vietnam. I love the delicious aroma of charcoal being fired up as the sailors get ready for a great barbecue of huge thick steaks. Midst grilled meat, cold beer and Mateuse wine we think only of what is happening now. We don't talk of war nor of Generalisimo Franco.


I guess we're all drifters, just passing through, getting along despite hangovers and dirt roads.


It is a pleasure to converse in English with adults, instead of children. It's thrilling to meet people from so many different places.  I feel as if I've stepped inside a play or a novel and I am part of a journey that's going around and around, with no destination in mind. I'm reminded of Joni Mitchell's song, 'The Circle Game',   and I wonder why it seems as if Time has slowed down, that all that matters is right now. 


On the radio blaring forth from an open window some woman constantly tells anyone listening to take a 'navy shower' in order to preserve water. Her voice sounds soothing, seductive, even, as she explains that you should lather up and then turn the water off until you're ready to rinse.

"Take a navy shower..."


I've been thinking about the town of Rota. Parts of it seem more American than Spanish.  There are streets where all you hear is English and where the bars are endless. Benny's Bar, The American Bar, The Sangria Shack, are just a few that the sailors frequent. Not everyone is pleased with the American influence.  Some of the local people are quite vocal in their appraisal of the American presence and  they discuss loudly their thoughts whilst playing  games of dominoes.


"The Yanks cause trouble!"

"I certainly don't want my daughters mixing with them!"


The car rental dealers, however, are happy with the influx of American sailors, as are the landlords who rent out their flats. The bar owners are over the moon.


"The Yanks bring in lots of money!"


Since apparently the American government pays Spain tons of money for the privilege of using the Base, I guess then, those who are annoyed with the presence of the Americans should take it up with Generalisimo Franco?  But, do you really think that some locals in Rota can influence a dictator?  After all, in the United States people are demonstrating, protesting the war in Vietnam, yet still the war continues.


Sometimes you have to wait and let events sort themselves out, allow for the vagaries beyond our reality to settle into a peaceful routine. 


It does seem surprising, but, regardless of the influx of American sailors, Rota still manages to retain its charm and authenticity.


In the evening, when the Rotenos stroll about hand in hand down to the harbour, when children squeal and dart in and out as they chase one another, you'd never know there are so many foreigners living here. 


The Spanish routines of the paseo, of children being up late, of whole families sitting outside talking, of lovers gazing at the stars and the fishing boats, all continue. You can still hear the dripping of water on tiled balconies as the geraniums are watered, and you can still smell  that comforting aroma of garlic and olive as it trickles up your nostrils.



Thank you for reading. Please stop by my blog at

Like 1


Sherry said:
Monday, June 9, 2014 @ 8:57 PM

Interesting. I was married to someone stationed in Rota and was there in 1978 and 1979. We liked being there. The locals liked us. Sure there were some with other opinions, but for the most part, it was a fun and friendly place. Loved being at the beach most days of the year. The beach was really crowded during the summer. But we loved it and we felt loved by the Spaniards.

timmytoo said:
Monday, June 9, 2014 @ 9:02 PM

Hi Sherry,
Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it.

Cork said:
Saturday, February 7, 2015 @ 4:56 PM

Was in Rota 75-76 timeframe. Your post brought back many memories. Benny's was the favorite. Loved the beach. Traveled all over southern Spain from Rota to Granada to Med coast around Gibralta.

timmytoo said:
Sunday, February 8, 2015 @ 5:08 PM


Thanks for stopping by.

After I married I stayed in Valdelagrana, just outside El Puerto de Santa Maria. Left at the end of 1976 for Virginia.

I'm in the process of writing my memoir about the seventies in Spain. If I ever get it finished, I'll then write about the eighties in Spain.

Bye for now.

Mel said:
Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 6:19 PM

My friend and I from England lived and worked in Benny's and other places from 76 to 79.Loved the Sangria Shack and everything about the place, best few years of my life.

Mel said:
Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 6:21 PM

My friend and I from England lived in Rota and worked in Benny's and other places from 76 to 79.Loved the Sangria Shack and everything about the place, best few years of my life.

timmytoo said:
Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 10:45 PM

Hi Mel,
Thanks for commenting.
Did you know Pepita? She worked at Benny's Bar in 1972. Not sure for how long. There was an Irish girl and an English girl as well.

Vanesa said:
Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 7:12 PM

Hi Sandra, hi everyone. I'm a Spanish filmaker currently developing a project about Rota at that time. I'd love to get in touch with people who stayed or worked there in that period (60's-70's). Please write me an email to so se can keep in touch. Sandra, remeber we talked about this project some months ago?. It's still alive! Thanks and best retarda to all

Vanesa said:
Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 8:31 PM

Sorry, regards** to all ( my spelling check...)

timmytoo said:
Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 8:53 PM

Hola Vanesa:

Gracias! Acabo de mandarte un email.


Christine Bostrom said:
Thursday, August 25, 2016 @ 6:44 AM

Hi! I knew Pepita. She spent some time working with me and my friend at the Hong Kong Bar. I have lots of pictures of those days, 1972. Would love to exchange ideas and pictures, I am writing a book and including many things about those years. My email is:

timmytoo said:
Thursday, August 25, 2016 @ 7:55 PM

Thank you! I emailed you today. Bye for now.

Weather Gyesser said:
Saturday, October 1, 2016 @ 3:07 AM

Stationed at Fleet Weather Central 1971-1974. Great article. Any time I smell olive oil or jasmine My mind goes right back to my Rota days. Lived at La Costilla, enjoyed being right on the beach. Hangouts were the USO, Bar Espanol, White Horse, Black Cat and Bar Vickie. John Garland ran a great little bar/restaurant there. Other memories are Armed Forces Radio, Stars & Stripes newspaper, El Centro Mercado and the great tapas. Have to go back someday.

timmytoo said:
Saturday, October 1, 2016 @ 3:19 AM

Thank you.
I stayed at La Costilla any time I was in Rota. That would have been in 1972/73. I remember El Caballo Blanco. There was a pizza place nearby. I think it was called Canty's Cantina. I remember the radio and "Take a Navy Shower".

Ron said:
Saturday, December 17, 2016 @ 1:44 AM

Vanesa, are you the one doing a write up about the bars in Rota about 1970. I also would like to know if you included the Blue Star bar in Rota. My brother in law owned it.

Paul said:
Sunday, March 12, 2017 @ 9:08 PM

Met a lovely hostess at the California Bar in june 1973. Would love to have a photo of her. She had an aunt who lived next to the bar. I will keep looking on the web for photos of the bar.


Curt said:
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 @ 5:27 PM

When I was transferred to Rota in late January of 1970, I had no idea I would fall in love with the entire country so fast. The people were nice to us, and helpful, the food was beyond excellent, and the town was a peaceful place, unless the fleet was in, and then there could be trouble. My friend Dick and I had to pull a drunken carrier sailor off a Guardia Civil policeman to keep that drunk from being shot. The officer was very happy that we did that.

The weather there was summer from March to the end of October, and then it was rainy and about 40 degrees F for all of November, December, January and February. Every year, a handful of sailors living off base died because they used Butano or kerosene heaters in their apartments. I foolishly did not buy an electric blanket. I lived on an impossibly hard to spell street, Avenida de Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which is now a thoroughfare. The house across the street from my apartment, which still stands, had a mom who constantly yelled to her kids, "Venga! Venga aqui!"

The Feria was in my backyard and for a full week it was hard to sleep because every time a ride stopped or started, a siren would go off. I got the home-made, fresh and hot patatas fragmentos (potato chips), fried in olive oil and seasoned with local sea salt, and tried all kinds of new foods, like pinchitos and those deep fried sweet buns.

It has been on my bucket list to return there someday. I hope it will not be as ashes.

Michael McClellan said:
Wednesday, April 5, 2017 @ 11:30 PM

I lived in Spain from 1972 till 1975. Spain was one of those magical places where I couldn't wait for the next day, because life would be another adventure. I traveled around Spain by motorcycle, bicycle,bus, and many walks around Rota. I took a bus to Jerez on afternoon, and bought a 10-speed, and rode it back to Rota. I went to Barcelona by bus, with a USO-sponsored group of Navy personnel, to watch the Spanish Gran Prix. I have many stories, and I treasure those moments in Rota, Spain.

Garey... said:
Tuesday, May 23, 2017 @ 4:17 AM

Christine Bostrom what is your current email address?

Randy Clark said:
Wednesday, October 25, 2017 @ 6:28 PM

I'm wondering if anyone remembers or knows the Scottish girl who worked there around the early to mid 80's who went by the name Issy or Izzy, of which I always assumed was Isabelle. She had glasses and was about five seven, thin, with a head full of curly hair. Anyway, if anyone knows anything I'd like to know, and if possible get in touch. I can't remember her last name and I lost her contact information when my foot locker was lost on way back to the states. I know this is a long shot but it's all I got. Thanks.

Christine Bostrom said:
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 @ 6:38 PM

Garey, my email address is Were you in Rota in 1972?
I lived at the hostal Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Our window looked out over the beach, where there were no modern or big buildings yet. Life was glorious!

Christine Bostrom said:
Wednesday, November 1, 2017 @ 6:39 PM

Sorry, made a mistake, email is !!!

mel said:
Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 8:32 PM

Hi Randy, I knew her when I worked in Rota.She is on Facebook,her name is Isabella Wiseman

Peter Hirst said:
Friday, June 29, 2018 @ 7:25 PM

I was in Rota in 1973 and met women named SUNFLOWER at the American Bar
she worked there as a dancer ???? she was from the US I think Maine
her name was Carol Ann I think
thin with log blond hair WOW... anyone know her or remember her //

Linda Macdonald said:
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 @ 1:49 AM

I was there for 6 months in 1972. Lots of dancing and Spanish life. It's remains a good memory.

Linda Macdonald said:
Wednesday, August 8, 2018 @ 1:57 AM

On Facebook Linda Curry/Macdonald.

Paul said:
Wednesday, September 5, 2018 @ 8:50 PM

Still trying to find the lovely hostess I met at the California bar in 1973 and 74. Her aunt lived in back of the church next to the California bar


Saturday, March 9, 2019 @ 9:31 PM


Saturday, March 9, 2019 @ 9:32 PM


rich said:
Tuesday, April 2, 2019 @ 6:17 PM

I lived in Rota just over 2yrs back in 68-70 looking for posts of pics from around that time-worked in weapons dept-married an English girl 50 yrs this year

Alyson Fitzsimons said:
Saturday, August 17, 2019 @ 2:35 AM

I was an English girl who worked in bars in Rota in 1971 to 1973. I worked in several bars including the California Bar and the Hong Kong Bar. I have remembered Rota ever since I left at Christmas 1973 for a holiday and did not return due to health reasons and being dumped by letter by my US Marine boyfriend in Rota! I remember all the Americans and bar girls from all over the world. I returned to Rota about 20 years ago and was completely disorientated. It had changed so much and many of the old haunts had just disappeared. Suppose I will have to accept that that time is consigned to history.

Garey said:
Saturday, August 8, 2020 @ 9:13 AM

Hi Alyson!
I spent alot of time In the Hong Kong Bar in the early 70's. Did you know Christine (ChaiHa) Cheong?

Sunday, September 6, 2020 @ 3:53 PM

Stationed at Marine Barracks 1972-76. So many great memories of Rota Spain. Married a young Roteña in 1974. Have been back many times with family to visit. Thinking about buying property there and moving. In 1972 the barrack's Marines had adopted Mr. Tu's bar down at "Red Square," where the taxis congregated. Rides back to the base were 25 pesetas. I soon tired of Mr. Tu's because I got mixed up with an older barmaid who ended up draining me of all my money (which was not much back then for a Private, a couple of hundred dollars per payday.) That is when my best friend, Carlos, told me about the Sangria Shack/Bar La Parra. He said it was full of girls our age, and they were all virgins. It is where I met my future wife in December 1972. I got to know the owner, Angel, very well and his best waiter Pepe. Great times. BTW, for those who don't know, the Sangria Shack is no more. The property was turned into an underground parking garage.

I bought a brand new 1973 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, with my enlistment bonus of $1500, and made several trips to Torremolinos, with a friend who rode an 850 Norton. I had read Michener's "The Drifters" on the flight over to Spain, and I could swear I saw many of his characters in those bars and nightclubs in Torremolinos.

Someone mentioned the fleet, and all the trouble it brought to Rota. The fleet represented the epitome of "The Ugly American" with all the trouble they brought to Rota. So embarrassing. As a member of the guard, we had a trained riot response team that was often called out to the on-base enlisted club to quell the havoc, fighting and destruction caused by the drunk sailors coming off the carriers for liberty.

Being married to a Spanish gal, whose father was a blue shirt Falangist and fought the communists for El Caudillo, Generalisimo Francisco Franco, I took a great interest in reading the history of the Spanish Civil War. Those who simply dismiss Franco as a fascist dictator, do themselves a great injustice in failing to understand the gravity of the situation leading up to WW2. Spain had valuable natural resources that Hitler wanted to build his Wehrmacht. Stalin was also actively interested in Spain, for similar reasons, and if not for Franco, Spain would have fallen under communist control.

I have alot of photos and stories if anyone is interested in sharing. My email is

ELAINE said:
Sunday, November 29, 2020 @ 3:13 AM

HI Worked in Rota in 1978 ,a group of us from England went over and had jobs in the local bars and clubs we all had American boyfriends ,it was the best time of our lives , the beach, parties,sangaria shack some of the girls got married and went to america

Christine Fuller said:
Saturday, December 12, 2020 @ 4:33 PM

I worked at Bennys Bar from 1974 to 1978 and loved working there. Ive so enjoyed reading all these stories. My friend Fay and i went back to rota about 4 yrs ago Bennys has gone, BUT we met uo with Benny and Bill they looked the same. It was the high light of our trip

Linda Gregg said:
Tuesday, January 26, 2021 @ 3:37 PM

I worked in the American Bar from June 1972 until January 1973. My friends were Pam, Angie, Julie.
Our boss was Peter, very straight faced.
I remember the La Guardia coming in to check working permits and we were sent out until they had gone.
We headed to the Sangria Shack and had to be carried back into the bar !!!!!!
So many wonderful memories. Names J.J.White Cowboy, Bob, Jimmy Jones, Jim Bonner ( who married Julie) come to mind.
An all expenses paid night to El Oasis nightclub for all the bar girls.
So many wonderful memories. Does anyone remember us ?

Ronald said:
Thursday, October 7, 2021 @ 12:32 AM

My sub was forward deployed in Rota, I was there 75 - 78. I fell in love with an Irish girl, her name was Geraldine Carrol. She worked at the Chicago Bar. I’ve been searching for her ever since.

Jacqui Bates said:
Monday, December 13, 2021 @ 10:49 AM

A lot of memories from all the comments above - I was in Rota from 1972-1975 maybe a little earlier. I worked at Dutch Club Benny’s Bar and the Top Ten Bar. Some of the names above sound familiar I was a kiwi living in Australia and traveling with 2 other girls. I remember Bill and Benny very well and spending the days st Benny’s Pool with all the girls and going to work st night. Most nights we went to the Blue Star after work and on 15th and 30th if each month when the guys got paid we would go to the flash place that was at least a cab ride away. It was a great life we only got paid 300p but it was enough as we were looked after by our American boyfriends. Loved to hear from others.

timmytoo said:
Monday, December 13, 2021 @ 2:35 PM

Jacqui, I remember an Australian girl who was travelling around in a van with some friends.

Jacqui Bates said:
Tuesday, December 14, 2021 @ 8:49 PM

Hi Timmy - we travelled from London in an old Ford Taurus which got us to Rota but only just the guys on the base tried to get parts but in the end we said our goodbyes 😂 it only cost us $75 from a Danish guy that walked into our pub in London. I remember two Scottish sisters that worked in the California bar one of them had very long black hair cannot remember names - also Brenda and Ann Brenda may still live in Sydney they both visited Australia Brenda stayed Ann returned to London. Also girls Judy and Kathy my friend Rita From Top Ten Bar.

Mary Ryan said:
Friday, June 10, 2022 @ 4:22 PM

I worked in the Tokyo Bar in 1976 where VR 24 navy frequented. I lived over the Bar with a friend Pina, another bar worker we shared with Tom Eide from Montana. It was an amazing time, I always planned on going back, never did.
No one has mentioned the Tokyo Bar above, I remember Bennys Bar it was only a short walk up the street. I definitely remember the Sangria Skack. Good Times.

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