I am now over a month into navigating my new life in Spain, and despite some very public promises to blog religiously, this is the first time I’ve written about my experience. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Antoinette, a forty-something-year-old writer.
Two years ago, I began to feel disillusioned with life in Ireland. That disillusion manifested in life-altering decisions which included turning my back on ‘a good job,' selling my home and moving to Spain, leaving behind my shell-shocked partner of almost a decade.
As of September, I live at the top of a white-washed village nestled amongst rolling hills on the banks of the Guadiana river in Andalusia. The house I’m renting has a balcony with views across the river, which marks the border between Spain and Portugal, into the Algarve village of Alcoutim. From my perch, I’m offered a birds-eye view as boats come and go on the river, and life unfolds lazily in the village below. I’ve been constantly amazed at how the surrounding hills have changed since my arrival – brown and parched at first but with the two days of rain since the end of September, transforming to a riot of lush greenery.
The Decision to Leave
While Ahmed, (the aforementioned partner), and I, had a vague 2-year plan to relocate to Spain, the final decision for me to go it alone, came quite suddenly in the end. By some miracle of fate, my house sold a week before Ireland went into the first major lock-down. We were unable to find anywhere to rent and an offer that had been accepted on an apartment in Dublin no longer seemed like the most sensible idea. Then the news came that Ahmed had been successful in securing a new job, based in the UK and would need to move in September. I’d recently launched a business writing and editing consultancy which is fully remote so was in a position to work from anywhere. As a short-term solution, we enticed my mother to allow us to move in with her, promising as little disruption to her life as possible and on-demand spice-infused cooking the likes of which the Irish Midlands had never before seen. What could possibly go wrong?
Suffice to say many things did go wrong not least of which was Covid-19. Naively, we’d assumed it would all be a distant memory by the end of the summer, but as August dragged on and there was no sign of it abating, it occurred to me, to steal a well-known movie phrase, we were going to need a bigger boat.
Ahmed started the new job remotely and managed to secure a property which would serve as a base close to his children when we’d travel between the UK and Ireland. But a move to the UK was now off the cards until 2021 at the earliest.
That left me a bit in limbo – if I was going to be locked down in one place, for the foreseeable future, perhaps now was a good time to trial life in Spain?
My sister and her daughters have lived in Sanlucar de Guadiana for four years. If I rented somewhere close-by, perhaps I could sit-out Covid and be sure Spain is where I want to commit to on a permanent basis. As a fluent Spanish speaker and having already lived in Spain, Ahmed doesn’t face the same uncertainty about a long-term move as I. The only thing that was clear, in a time of absolute uncertainty, was that our lives were changing. I was now becoming quite accustomed to making major, life-altering decisions. Why not one more?
The Flight from Hell
Had there been any other feasible way to get here aside from flying with Ryanair, then I would have taken it. There was Aer Lingus, and some ferries were running as far as I’m aware - what I mean by feasible is that I had a €50 Ryanair voucher since Christmas 2019 with a 12-month expiration date. I was using it come hell or high water.
That’s how I found myself, surrounded by unmasked, drunken people at half nine on a September Monday morning, on what felt like the last flight out of Sodom and Gomorrah, had Sodom and Gomorrah shared an international airport.
This wasn’t a “let’s get a little merry as we start our holidays,” type drunk. Oh no, this was full on, “abuse the cabin crew, and I’m going to kill you if you try to tell me what to do,” type drunk. I sat, terrified for three hours, in a confined space with no way out, as the seat belt sign which stayed on was steadfastly ignored and a general feeling of menace hung heavy in the air. Maybe that was my over-active imagination but either way, those were the circumstances with which I left Ireland to live in another country for the very first time.
Social distancing – zero, temperature checks – zero. At every point of booking and check-in I’d been reminded of the requirement to complete a form for contact tracing. My sister met me at Faro airport and as we travelled, masked-up and with every window in the car rolled down, across the Portuguese border into Spain, it occurred to me that the form still lay, resolutely unrequested, at the bottom of my handbag.
It wasn’t the best start but from there, it got really good.
Sanlucar de Guadiana has a population of about 400 people. There are two shops, selling food, paint brushes, mouse traps and pretty much everything else in between. There are four bars which open at varying times without rhyme or reason, there’s a primary school, a medical centre and a pharmacy. As a side note, unlike the pharmacies in Ireland, this one doesn’t sell make up or any other cosmetic products but includes a shelf display of a lone packet of sanitary towels (not sure if it’s a display packet only or if it’s actually for sale) and a packet of headache tablets.
The village is also home to the world’s only international zipline. From my balcony, in addition to being able to peer into Portugal, I can watch as people hurtle at speed through the air on an invisible wire. The fact that my house is not directly under the wire is surely a good thing as who knows what I might be forced to clean up otherwise.
Central to the village is the river, which at any given time is home to an impressive range of yachts on its recently extended pontoon. The majority of the inhabitants of the village are Spanish but the river carries with it an array of people from lots of different countries and walks of life – all mixing together (at a social distance) to make the village a mecca for someone like me who is intrigued by the stories of every person I meet. Or as Ahmed would say – I’m just plain nosey.
Four weeks, six Spanish classes, and with temperatures averaging in the mid-twenties I’m in heaven and have no excuse not to write. I am hoping to explore all that is good and not so good about my new life, from the simple pleasure of being able to rely on the weather to the not ideal position of now being in a long-distance relationship. In my next blog I’ll ponder the joy of my Spanish class, where dogs walk in off the street and join in, and my class mates organise after-class drinks through the open windows without breaking stride in their conjugation of the past participle.
Adios for now.
Antoinette Tyrrell is a novelist, features, news and business writer. Her debut novel, Home to Cavendish, is published by Poolbeg Press. Her second novel, The Secrets Left Behind, a work of women's fiction set against the backdrop of a State dictated by the Catholic Church, is currently on submission.