Buying a B&B in Spain: Steve and Judith Buy a Bed & Breakfast

The real story and diary from Steve and Judith as they buy a bed and breakfast accommodation business in rural Spain – follow their progress…

Out of the blue I had an email in from a couple called Steve and Judith who I used to know about 10 years ago, we were in a video-delivery franchise together in the UK.

It turns out they came across me (see my story here) and this site as they researched their own move to Spain. I have offered some realistic advice and opinions and they are set to go ahead.

I have suggested they keep us all up-to-date in the form of a diary of progress so we can follow them in real-time. Here is the email:

Our Plan to Buy a Bed and Breakfast in Spain (Part 1)

“When I emailed you last time we were seriously thinking about moving to Spain – we are now several steps closer and have found much of the information on your site very useful and taken a lot of it on board.

I contacted the chap who runs the B&B and he offered some useful advice.

Our house in UK has been sold STC and we have found a wonderful property about 30 minute inland of Alicante which we plan to rent out and also do B&B – we should get the property at a good price which will give us a good cushion of cash to see us through the first few months.

Bed & Breakfast, Spain.We have also both completed a TEFL course which should allow us to do some tutoring in the area.

I visited a house recently where the owners both did this, in fact we could have stepped straight in to their lives such were the similarities in our situations.

I have qualified in Zumba Gold – ideal for the expatriates in a couple of nearby towns and established that there aren’t any instructors in the immediate area although it is creeping in from the coast.

We learned a long time ago that income doesn’t have to come from one stream only and are prepared to be flexible.

We have done a vast amount of research on holiday properties and what the best of them offer their customers and made plans accordingly – my 13 years experience as a weight loss coach means we could offer a weight management programme that starts with a week at the property and continues with online support for a month.

We are learning Spanish – we always felt that it would be the height of rudeness to go to a foreign country and not learn the language.

Whilst far from fluent, I’ll give it a go and in fact was very pleased to be able to ask for and understand directions when I got lost on my way back to the airport last week!

We are currently looking into the logistics of the actual move and seriously considering the long drive ourselves. Our buyers in UK want most of our white goods and the property we want has most of the white goods in situ so we won’t need to move too much stuff (although there is always more than you think).

All part of the adventure – I’ll need to polish my rusty French as well as get a bit further with coffee break Spanish.

With the weather as it has been this “summer” we are even more pleased to be making the move – I came to Spain for the day last week – the contrast was dramatic and the views from “our house” in the hills reinforced the decision.

Incidentally, the property has been “ours” since we first saw it on a rainy day in March. I immediately had a conviction that we are meant to be there and that everything would work out – my head normally rules my heart but not in this case. Very funny as I went to Spain on that property searching trip with enormous reservations and doubts.

We read last months newsletter with great interest. My mother in particular has been very worried about the financial situation in Spain and I was able to show her that our plans should mean we are in a better position than most – in any case we know we will have to work hard to make a success of it and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Our Offer is Accepted! (Part 2)

Our offer on our Spanish dream property was accepted today.

After a sleepless night while the vendors considered (and refused) our first offer and a tense morning while they considered and refused our second, we found common ground and our third offer was accepted at lunchtime.

Teresa, our wonderful Caudete based estate agent telephoned us with the good news and we celebrated with a restrained glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the bottle that happened to be both open and in the fridge.

We skyped, telephoned and texted around family and friends and then scuttled to the vet’s to get the dog micro-chipped and rabies vaccinated in order to get her pet passport.

Ermita de Caudete

Ermita de Caudete

The last few weeks have proved an emotional roller coaster as Steve’s elderly mother died after a short period of hospitalisation following a long decline, Steve retired from his job at a school for children with dyslexia, I left my part time job as a school nurse at a local boarding school and started to bid farewell to the members of my Rosemary Conley franchise which I have been running for the past twelve and a half years.

Tomorrow morning Steve will take his last tennis coaching sessions in our local park and later we will travel down to Sussex to finish clearing his mother’s home of the accumulated possessions of the past 53 years.

In the last few months, Steve and I have experienced some of the top ten life stressors and so far have avoided divorce – one of the others.  We attribute this to a) the strength of our relationship and b) the strength of our belief in our dream of making a life in Spain.

From the beginning of this process Steve and I have talked endlessly about how our lives will be in Spain, how we will make a living and how we will spend our leisure hours.

We have spent time on internet research, networking contacts and reading everything about Spain we possibly could.

Despite the current financial crisis in Spain we are confident that we can have a lifestyle business – one that gives us enough money to live on comfortably and one that also provides us with time to enjoy everything that Spain offers for free – sunshine, scenery and sociability.

With a completion date just three weeks from today we need to arrange all the legalities of our Spanish purchase (thank goodness for the wonderful Teresa who will guide us through the minefield), pack up our house and home as well as complete the clearing and handover of Steve’s childhood home, close my business and deal with the associated admin, visit my mother who is doing her very best to be positive and enthusiastic despite her misgivings, have a goodbye party, book a van and a ferry crossing and drive ourselves to Spain.

My next instalment will be from our Spanish terrace – the one that was ours from the moment I saw it.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men. (Part 3)

In my last post I listed what we needed to do prior to our move to Spain planned for mid August and amazingly we managed everything including a lovely party for friends and family to say goodbye.  We were due to exchange contracts the following day and move four days after that.

However, to cut a long story short, the individual at the bottom of our chain pulled out one hour before contracts were due to be exchanged leaving the rest of the chain devastated, frustrated and significantly out of pocket.

In this emotionally fraught situation some of the companies we dealt with were understanding and helpful and some, bluntly, were not.  Our removal company who stated in their literature that cancelling the move would cost 60% of the original price were very sympathetic, offering us a range of options, none of which would have cost us the 60%.

We chose to send half of our possessions to Spain to be stored and to demonstrate to ourselves and our vendors in Spain that we were committed to the move.

I have been a customer of BT for all of my adult life but their reaction and the way I was dealt with on one of the most stressful mornings of my life means I shall never be a customer again even if we ever do return to England.

Unbelievably, at the end of a conversation during which I pleaded for help and was told that nothing could be done to reconnect either phone or broadband without my taking out a further year’s contract and even then it would take up to 5 working days I was told to have a lovely day.  I sincerely hope that the entire call is used for training purposes.

All parties in the chain put their houses back on the market hoping that the chain could stay in place if a good offer was made but resigning themselves to at least a couple of months hiatus before being able to move their lives forward.

Living in limbo is extremely uncomfortable and whilst we seem to be on track again as our buyers have sold their house to a couple who have already completed and our vendors in Spain have generously agreed to honour all agreements made, if we continue with the purchase, we are finding that the days are dragging without a real purpose and with a significantly reduced income. Thank God for the local library.

The latest news is that we are on track for completion in early October and good news though that is, we are finding it hard not to feel cheated out of six weeks of Spanish summer and the opportunity to get the house ready for potential B&B customers as we had a booking for mid October and have had to cancel that as with the best will in the world we don’t feel that we would be up to providing the sort of experience we plan to provide, a mere ten days after moving in.

In an effort to achieve something positive in this difficult situation, we have used the time to sort out some of the “get around to it” jobs that needed doing around the house and garden together with a few administrative niggles.

Steve has played quite a bit of tennis for his club and I have started a running programme to keep both weight and fitness under control as the temptation to sit around reading and both eating and drinking as if we are on holiday is strong, not helped by having a large supply of wine and beer left over from our party and the knowledge that we can’t take it with us.

I am returning to work at the boarding school for a month or so, giving me a reason to get up before 9am and to bring in some extra income as well as keep my brain in gear.

Things could be better but they really could be worse and with luck and a positive frame of mind my next instalment will be written from our Spanish terrace.

Life in Spain (Part 4)

We are settling in now having managed to complete just six weeks after our original sale fell through.  Here’s to the power of positive thinking!

As I walk around through the orchard collecting almonds, the smell of wild rocket rises from beneath my feet.

The sun is warm on my neck and shoulders and I can hear the hoopoe somewhere in the valley.

Day three and I still cannot believe that we have bought this house and 25,000 sq m of land complete with almond orchard and olive grove as well as a walnut tree, fig tree and pomegranate, not to mention grapes in two different colours.

view from our terrace on a misty morning

View from our terrace on a misty morning.

There is much work to do in the house and on the land. The house has not been lived in for over a year and is beyond dusty and the trees have been neglected badly so that the crops that should be ready to harvest are smaller than they should be. We will be lucky to get a year’s supply of oil from the olives this year and many of the almond trees are not bearing nuts at all.

The garden too is neglected and weedy with the drives, terraces and flower beds choked with lots of straggly plants. I had thought that a couple of afternoon’s work would sort it out but hadn’t reckoned with Agaves. It has taken me a whole afternoon to remove six small plants and their roots and clear an area about a metre square.

This will be an ongoing project as there at least another 25 plants in the bed and whilst one or two look good, they are choking everything else and even breaking the wall in one place. It is no hardship though to spend the afternoon digging in the warm sunshine knowing that a glass of wine awaits at the end of the day.

Box by box we are settling into the house, each in our own way. I feel that the kitchen has the right rhythm for cooking and Steve has got his stereo connected, and the spaces organised ready for painting and decorating.

We have satellite TV and the internet and have managed to make contact with most of the family except my mother who is on a Mediterranean cruise and is probably quite close by!

The removal men managed to get most of the furniture in the right place but couldn’t get a bed base or a large chest of drawers up the spiral staircase. Steve and I tried too but whilst the bed base defeated us, we managed to get the chest of drawers up over the terrace roof and the balcony reja and into the bedroom. I say “we” but we had help from the plumber who helped Steve manhandle the chest up the ladders and over the roof. I caught the rope and encouraged them.

We have decided to do a little work in the apartment before we rent it out. We are going to install a basic kitchen so that we can rent it out as a self contained apartment as well as use it for B&B. It has two good sized rooms and a bathroom and access to the front terrace and the pool which can be private if required – nothing worse than trying to relax with the owners constantly passing by making conversation.

Fortunately we have good contacts with a plumber and builder who can do the work for us, we have already had the boiler and the oil tank moved. We will also need someone to look at the roof as, returning home on a rare, rainy evening we went to bed only for Steve to get dripped on as he lay in bed. We moved the bed, got a bucket and hoped it wouldn’t get worse which it didn’t and had stopped by the morning.

Our Spanish is improving “poco a poco”, we were dismayed at the claim of an ex pat who has lived here for seventeen years that he still couldn’t speak a word of Spanish and resolved to get to grips with learning.

Amazingly in this small country town, many people have a few words of English which they are keen to share. Make a faltering start in Spanish and we often get some English back which is very helpful but no good for our Spanish. I keep asking “en Espagnol por favor” and get my pronunciation corrected.

Between our few words of Spanish and their often more words in English we have been able to deal with the bank, post office, bars and a couple of gypsies who are picking the almonds. This year we decided to let them have the almonds, we have so much to do that harvesting 200 trees seemed too much but next year we will buy nets and get organised.

We already have some customers who are just waiting for the word that we are ready to open for business to book their flights. It shouldn’t take long to get the work done and to be able to welcome guests to Finca Los Gatos.

Welcome to Spain! (Part 5)

Throughout October we had spectacular weather, blue skies and real heat from the sun which made the cold showers we had to put up with while the boiler was being moved acceptable if not enjoyable.

The start of November brought cooler weather, chilly nights and some rain that was clearly needed after the long hot summer Spain had experienced this year.

Fortunately the boiler, in its new position in the utility room provided hot water aplenty and the wood burner, once we had worked out that we needed to open the flue in order to prevent black smoke from filling the room, provided warmth and comfort in the evenings but we awoke morning after morning to moody skies and increasingly strong winds which culminated in four day long storm.

Views outside B&BThe wind whistled and howled around the roof and the rain blew in through the odd gap around the windows.

Leaves were stripped from the almond trees and whirled around the terrace collecting in drifts and piles in the corners and landing in the pool.

On my birthday the storm was at its worst; we had to move the bed twice during the night and find old towels to mop the floor as the rain was driven by the wind into the leak in the roof which rapidly turned into three leaks and we were woken by a strange clattering noise which we couldn’t identify until later in the day when Steve spotted something which proved to be the lid of the barbecue lying at the bottom of the pool.

A length of guttering, part of which landed near the car, was ripped from the side of the house due to the ferocity of the wind.

Our insurance agent came to see us about some damage to the house that had been sustained in the gota fria which had occurred before we arrived in Spain and in gloomy tones informed us that the weather was most unusual for the time of year. “In Spain, we never go more than three days without seeing the sun”.

The weather took its toll on our plans for our apartment as the person who will do the initial work for us was unable to finish his previous project so we had to content ourselves with doing some market research on Facebook to find out what items could make or break self catering or bed and breakfast accommodation.

We had an amazing response from family and friends and felt happy that we had already considered and implemented most of the points raised which ranged from “large and comfortable bed” to “sharp knives”.

Judith BosworthThe return of the fine weather saw us return to outside concerns such as the pool which has been empty for three years and consequently needs a lot of attention.

The skimmers and filters are not working efficiently and we have discovered that much of the pipe work has deteriorated and must be replaced; some fairly easily as they are above ground but some are below ground requiring the removal of paving slabs, concrete and a large amount of earth.

The large volumes of concrete and earth in the wheelbarrow that we found in the grounds when we arrived caused the wheel to deflate and refuse to stay re-inflated.

We bought a new wheel from the co-operativa which looked identical to the original wheel but on fitting it proved to be fractionally too small causing the wheel to fall off when the barrow was loaded.

“Welcome to Spain” is what people say when you relate these tales of woe and frustration. We have now bought a new wheelbarrow and I have learned the word for wheel barrow – carretilla.

We have been waiting for some documentation from our solicitor which would enable us to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) and get our “Padron”.

Without this we do not officially exist in Spain but now we are officially registered as residents of Sax and will be able to more easily do various things like buy a car.

Excitingly we also have a licence to burn and are planning a large bonfire. We have plenty to burn as we have started to prune the almond trees, many of which have not been pruned for some time. The trees in the local area are beautifully maintained and have a classic goblet shape with three or sometimes four main branches that are smooth until they explode in a fluffy cloud of leaves at the ends.

Most of ours have suckers around the stem and a very ragged outline looking unkempt and tatty. We have pruned about 25 trees to date and our technique is improving all the time.

We started out quite hesitantly but have learned to be ruthless in the quest for the perfect outline. We shall see in the spring whether our efforts have borne fruit and more importantly – almonds.

B&B viewsThere are still almonds on the trees and Steve has taken over as chief nutcracker.

I am scouring the internet for the perfect macaroon recipe – no macaroon is a bad macaroon although my first batch were a little scorched underneath, but the crisp outer shell and chewy inside I am searching for has eluded me to date.

I think it has something to do with oven heat combined with egg white to almond ratio and am determined to persevere until macaroon heaven is reached or we die of a surfeit of almonds.

We are very much looking forward to our first visitor from England.

My sister is due to visit in a couple of weeks and we are keen to show her everything we have done and everything we are planning as well as Sax itself and our favourite restaurant which served us the best patatas bravas I have eaten in Spain.

Today we walked to the top of the mountain behind the house. It took us an hour of fairly hard uphill walking but the view from the top as well as the sense of achievement made the puffing worthwhile.

On the mountain with us were the hunters and their dogs who often visit on a Sunday shooting, we presume, rabbits and game birds. Disconcertingly on our way down the mountain, a shot rang out very close by.

It was like being in a western as the shot echoed round the valley and we spotted the hunter walking through the undergrowth with his dog bounding joyfully at his feet. The mountain path is fairly well travelled with walkers, cyclists and the occasional motorbike so we guess and hope there are rules as to which direction the hunters shoot in. Surely there are.

Welcome to Spain!

The First Guests (Part 6)

December brought bright blue skies and increasing daytime temperatures that were especially welcome after November’s gloom.  It also brought progress in many forms.

Several outstanding issues were resolved including  the repair of the roof tiles damaged during the September gota fria, getting our  “padron” from the ayuntamiento and having the details of the house signed off by the town hall architect.

We confirmed that work would start on the apartment at the beginning of January and bought a new sink and hob for the kitchen.

With our copia simpla document from the solicitor we were able to buy a new car and after much debate, internet searching and viewing we settled on a Kia Sportage and travelled down to the coast to collect it on Steve’s birthday.

We promised ourselves that we would go back to the coast to find a beach and in the next couple of weeks found two lovely beaches; one, our closest beach just outside Alicante where, on Christmas Day we strolled along the promenade and one about an hour away at Pilar de Horadador, a fantastic stretch of golden sand dunes and no high rise buildings.

almond-blossomWe ate paella on the terrace of a beachside restaurant and toasted the future.

Life seemed to speed up in February as we accepted a booking for a two possibly three week stay in the apartment at the end of the month.

We had explained to the couple, some house hunters from England, that the outside area was still a work in progress but that the apartment would be ready.

Once the booking was accepted we had to focus on what needed to be done and what needed to be bought to ensure that our first booking went smoothly.

Up and down the A31 we drove, either south to Elche or Murcia or north to the outskirts of Villena to our favourite tile shop where Senor Moreno was endlessly patient with my slowly improving Spanish and my having to return items when my habit of saying “Si, si” in response to a flurry of Spanish containing a few recognisable words after I had to my mind, clearly stated what I wanted, back fired yet again.

I should have learned my lesson after I cheerfully bought an empty gas bottle from the garage.  I had successfully negotiated asking for the key to the containers and swapped my empty container for what I presumed to be a full one.

The containers are horribly heavy whether full or empty, so the fact that it was empty didn’t register at all.  When I returned to the cash desk I was asked a question which I didn’t understand but instead of saying lo siento, no entiendo or I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I breezily replied “Si, si” because to my mind I had got what I went for so further conversation wasn’t necessary.

Oh, the embarrassment when I returned to swap the bottle and the lady behind the desk said “yes, my colleague told me you would be back” or words to that effect.  I didn’t quite understand.

olives-spainI also learned the Spanish for the equivalent for “Death by Chocolate” when we spent a day shopping in El Corte Ingles, a sort of Spanish John Lewis.

In need of a little refreshment, Steve and I went to the cafe and I ordered two descafenada en sobre and what I thought were two small chocolate croissants.

Again, not really understanding, I replied to a Spanish question containing the word chocolate with “Si, si” and two enormous plates of chocolate gateaux complete with chocolate sauce, cream and strawberries were presented with a flourish.

I am often met with looks of incomprehension when I speak Spanish but up until now no gales of laughter, unlike our friend Rhona who, in her and John’s early days in Spain, went to a DIY shop and asked confidently for a “condom for my pineapple door”.

Rhona had meant to ask for a preservative for her pine door not knowing that the Spanish for condom is preservativo.

Once Stewart had completed all the structural work in the apartment, he moved on to the pool area installing a light in the pool, connecting electricity to the pool house so that we didn’t have to run a lengthy extension lead from house to pool every time we wanted to run the filter and replacing and levelling the coping stones around the edge of the pool.

Stewart also installed a separate boiler and gas supply for the apartment and on discovering that the water pressure was on the low side for two establishments, a pump.

In order to complete all this work, Steve had to dig up and expose the existing water pipes and trace some electricity cables, discovering in the process more eccentric plumbing and wiring which Stewart had to make good in order to proceed.

The day after much of this work had taken place the water went off.  Having checked that the work that had been done had not caused a leak we naively assumed that the water would come back on again later in the day but no, it did not.

We telephoned a neighbour who did have water and she directed us to the water company office in town which was, by the time I arrived, shut, so panicking only slightly as this was Thursday and our guests were due to arrive the following Tuesday, we bought several litres of bottled water and washed in the kitchen sink.

We returned to the water office the next day and after some discussion, discovered that we are not covered by the Sax water company and our water company is based in a nearby town.

We were given a telephone number but I hate using the telephone in Spanish as without visual clues and the possibility of writing something down, I find it very difficult.  El telephone es muy difficile I said, possibly ungrammatically but clearly enough to the man in the office who kindly telephoned on my behalf and informed me that un hombre would come out to us shortly.

As Carlos drove through the gates an hour or so later, water was mysteriously restored.  Phew.

Inside the apartment Steve and I painted, cleaned and painted again, assembled flat pack furniture until late at night, laundered the new linen to get rid of the newness and looked forward to the fun part of putting everything we had bought, saved and restored into the apartment.

sunset-spainOur guests had said that they would phone us once they were on the road in Spain so that we would know when to expect them however, as we were taking the unassembled sofa up into the apartment, they arrived at the gate having tried and failed to contact us.

Would they mind going into Sax for lunch we wondered, no they wouldn’t mind, fortunately and while they were gone, Steve and I raced to complete as much as possible.

Sadly, we didn’t have time to complete the curtains I was making for the kitchen cupboards or put up the hanging rail but apart from that everything was in place by the time Paul and Sue arrived back.

As I write, los invitalos are ensconced upstairs watching the rain fall again.  We have had torrential rain, high winds and even some snow since their arrival but each day the sun does shine, it is a little warmer and for the last couple of evenings we haven’t needed a fire or to turn the heating on in the morning.

The almond blossom, which turned the orchards into a sea of pale pink, is nearly over and the leaves are coming out.  The few plants left in the garden along with the fig tree and pomegranate are putting out shoots and I am desperate to do some creative planting.

Spring is definitely here and with it the promise of the long hot days of sunshine and the scent of jasmine, roses and lavender.  It can’t come quickly enough for me.

Part 7 – Escombra, Contenador y Potho Negro

The weather in March proved changeable. Tantalisingly warm and sunny days were followed by cold and windy ones and when we had to turn the heating back on and light the gas fire in the evening.

Our first set of guests, having bought their house in Spain in record time, left us in mid March having seen great progress outside and we had a two week gap before our next visitors, an ex colleague of Steve’s and her husband were due to arrive.

As Stewart had to leave us to go to England, we were worried that without expert help we wouldn’t be able to progress further with paving around the pool, finishing the terrace walls and re-tiling the top of the pool.

We also wanted to remove three tree stumps and the fields were in desperate need of a plough.

A neighbour of ours who also has a lot of land had asked the person who ploughs their land to contact us, but we had heard nothing and as Charles was ill, we didn’t want to hassle so we contacted an English chap whose number we had been left by the previous owner of the house.

B&B Sax Dennis came to see us, drank copious amounts of tea, ate several of my home-made biscuits and arranged to come with his plough the following week.

We also discussed whether he could remove the tree stumps and he agreed to bring his mini digger and his friend Jim to get rid of them after he had done the ploughing.

Ploughing the fields improved their appearance significantly, the almond trees we had pruned had blossomed and were showing signs of lots of tiny nuts and the un-pruned trees seemed to be holding their own nut wise so Steve decided to turn to the olive grove in an attempt to improve our harvest next year.

Well managed olive groves are a thing of beauty with trees shaped like goblets so that “a swallow can fly through the middle” as the saying goes.

Pruning improves the fruiting capacity of the tree by encouraging new growth on which the flowers and subsequently the olives form and removes unnecessary foliage and branch-age which uses food and water that should nourish the olives, it also makes harvesting easier.

Our olive grove looked like an unkempt shrubbery with suckers shooting off in all directions and barely enough room for a bee to get through the middle of the trees let alone a swallow.

With approximately seventy trees to prune before flowering time in April and numerous other equally pressing tasks, Steve pruned as often as he could and like a sculpture emerges from a rock an olive grove is emerging from the shrubbery.

Dennis and Jim, a Lancashire/Yorkshire comedy double act in addition to their stump removing skills, arrived with the mini digger and dug out a huge pine tree stump from the area in front of the terrace that we are planning to turn in to a gravel garden plus the yucca and nispero stumps of the view-hiding trees that Steve had cut down when we first arrived.

Seeing the vast pile of rubble that that had accumulated at the back of the house as Steve had cleared marble from the drive, terraces and walls, Dennis offered to return with his dumper truck to fill a skip.

Jim, clearly an experienced builder, was engaged to pave around the pool and finish off the work that needed doing.

Finding suitable paving slabs for the pool area was a harder task than we thought it would be.  Thriftily, Steve had stacked the paving slabs he had removed from the terrace and we were planning to use them around the pool however, there were not sufficient for the entire area.

Olive TreesWe thought we could match them at one of the various builders’ merchants in the local area but it transpired that the exact style of slab was no longer made.

We were very pleased to find an example of the slab in Sax but when I asked for forty square metres they only had six in stock.

Hmmmm, what to do? Should we mix and match a similar slab, go for a contrasting pattern or start from scratch?

For several days I drove from one builder’s merchant to the next bringing samples back to the house and returning them.

Eventually, we decided to opt for a slab whose colour was described slightly worryingly as salmon;  I would describe it as soft terracotta.

The next few days saw much activity: a contenador arrived for the escombra or rubble, the area surrounding the pool was prepared for the pavimientos and sacks of arenas and cemento  were delivered.

I had an exciting visit to the quarry to choose the gravel for the gravel garden and it arrived in a second skip which we decided to keep as it was rapidly becoming apparent that one skip wouldn’t be enough for the several tons of rubble which Dennis and Jim were amazed to discover that Steve had brought to the back of the house himself, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow.

The second skip was positioned to the side of the house and was piled high with rubble.  A third skip was ordered and the lorry arrived at about six one evening.

The method for delivering and collecting skips in the same visit does not make sense to us.  Firstly the full skip is loaded on top of the empty skip on the lorry, then both skips are lowered on to the ground and thirdly the full skip is reloaded onto the now empty lorry.

Our Spanish is simply not up to the job of explaining that if you put the empty skip down beside the full one then load the full one the whole process would be a lot quicker and anyway, still smarting from the “olives in sacks” experience we didn’t want to risk being labelled abnormal again so kept quiet.

The lorry was backed into position and the chains attached to the escombra piled skip.  The button was pressed to activate the hydraulics and the strain was taken up.

One of the steadying hydraulic legs at the back of the lorry dug down into the earth making the lorry lean a bit and so the chico set the skip down and put a bit of wood under the leg. The strain was again taken up and the wood snapped in two.

It was decided to reposition the lorry.  The steadying leg again sunk into the earth, the lorry was repositioned for a second time.  The skip rose about three feet into the air and then started to swing wildly as the steadying leg sank, slowly at first and then, scarily, more rapidly.

The lorry tilted sharply and Steve and I jumped hastily out of the way leaving the chico, Arturo, as we later discovered, trying to push the lorry upright whilst operating the hydraulics to put the skip back on the ground.

skip-hireThe Spanish for “get out of the way, you fool” isn’t in my vocabulary but alarmed noises seemed sufficient and Arturo managed to keep the lorry upright and lower the skip without killing himself or us.

The chains from the skip were disconnected and the lorry moved forward.  A large amount of earth had fallen into a cavernous hole under where the steadying leg had been.  Ashen faced, Arturo looked down into the hole and then up at us, “potho negro” he said succinctly, “cess pit”.

We decided, collectively, that enough was enough for the evening and Arturo drove down the road looking rather relieved.  He told us that someone else would come in the morning and try to drag the full skip away from the danger before trying to load it onto the lorry.

Next morning, a different chico, arrived, moved the skip and loaded it successfully onto the lorry, set the new skip down in a different place and took the full one away.

He looked into the hole as we told him in sign language and pidgin Spanish the tale, destined to go down in history of the escombra, contenador y potho negro.

Part 8 – July Update

Yes, it has been a while since my last blog so this one covers three months hence the title.

When the sun came out at the beginning of April it was hard to resist it’s lure. Sunshine and warmth were, after all, the reasons we came to Spain. Our Easter visitors were able to enjoy a couple of days of reasonable sunshine and a paella by the beach at Guardamar before leaving us to resume work on the pool and outside space.

The longer, warmer days brought vivid colours to the landscape which became covered in wildflowers on a scale I can’t remember seeing in England since I was a child. Yellow, purple, red, lime green, pink and blue flowers lined the roadsides and filled the fields and rough ground around the valley and to emphasise that Spring had truly arrived there were birds courting everywhere and making a joyful noise about it too.

Finca Los Gatos

The trees in the orchard shook with the strength of avian passion to such an extent that I began to wonder if the developing almonds would survive the spring let alone make it to harvest but by the end of April a sense of peace descended on the orchard once more. This sense of peace may have been due to the awful weather that was to strike but I am getting ahead of myself.

My mother and stepfather came to visit for a few days in mid-April and had a glorious few days of sunshine. For the most part they sat on the terrace enjoying the warmth, the views and our builder finishing off the work outside. After they left Steve and I headed up to Segorbe to help celebrate our friend’s birthday in wonderful sunshine and we were confident that the warm weather was set for the summer.

Not so. The wind got up, the clouds came over and it rained. A lot. Although May was a disappointment weather wise, when the sun did come out it was a good deal warmer and brighter than the English version. We checked the long range weather forecast avidly as we were expecting friends at the end of May and beginning of June who were desperate for some warmth and sunshine after the grim English Spring.

We popped back to England at the beginning of May to see friends in Frome and at the school where Steve used to work and had a lovely time. We flew in over Poole Harbour at sunset – gorgeous and had fun trying to remember to drive on the left. Back in Spain we accepted a couple more bookings and continued to wait for better weather.

BBQBack in January I had been to a gym in town to try and set up some Zumba classes. I hadn’t had any response to my initial visit so I went back to follow up and was pleased if slightly taken aback to be told that not only were they interested but they had promoted Zumba in their newsletter telling members that classes would be available in April.

I was asked to give two demonstration classes which were well received despite my nerves and it was decided that I would start with two classes per week. I learned the Spanish for relevant parts of the body; knees, heels, arms and hips and hoped that along with the words for faster, slower, left and right I would manage.

My Spanish had improved greatly but the biggest challenge remained and remains understanding Spanish spoken at speed. I am better at saying I don’t understand but it continues to be a frustration. The telephone is especially difficult with no visual clues to help.

Throughout May we concentrated on marketing, getting our website up and running and a Facebook page dedicated to the business. We also placed an advertisement on the Spain made Simple web site.

Having got these in place we felt able to approach Tabitha Symonds of One Off Places to see if she felt our property was suitable for her site. Tabitha features some incredible properties so we were delighted to be featured ourselves and within a week had accepted a booking for July.

Our former estate agent Teresa, at Olive Grove Estates continued to recommend us to her house hunting customers and a booking came through her. I am grateful for the knowledge I gained from the marketing department at Rosemary Conley Head Office which I try to put into practice in our new venture.

By the end of May the weather was starting to improve and our friend Wendy had a sunny few days with us and a good rest. James had better weather at the beginning of June and even swam. Steve of course was swimming daily but, chilly mortal that I am, it took until later in the month for me to really enjoy the pool. Now in mid July, a dip is an essential part of each day particularly if we have been working outside.

The olives are swelling, the almonds are ripening along with the walnuts and we have had a glut of nisperos, figs and now cucumbers! We made jam with the nisperos and I am going to do the same with the figs and make chutney. We eat lots of cucumbers fortunately but I am hoping to pickle some for winter and am looking forward to a larder filling with produce as the summer continues.

We have guests in the apartment, bookings in the diary, a marketing strategy and employment with other prospects in the pipeline. We took a big risk, have worked hard and are reaping the rewards. We are living the dream.


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  1. We’re considering buying a property in Spain and running a BnB. How expensive is domestic help near Barcelona for e.g?

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