“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Have you ever had that feeling that there’s more to life than working 9-5 to buy a new car, a bigger house or to be able to afford a better holiday next year? That there’s more to “living” than yearning for those two weeks a year in which you can escape from it all?
Back in 2002, nearly 15 years ago, we came to that exact conclusion. No, we weren’t wealthy by any means, we had jobs we enjoyed and a good circle of friends but felt there’s far more to life than the life we had. We had both traveled before we met, I had spent most of my life in South America, Cathy had traveled in Europe and been to India during her gap year.
In the mid to late 90’s, my parents had settled in Spain, on the Costa del Sol, and had repeatedly mentioned about coming to see them. In the late 90’s we decided to give it a go. We hopped on an EasyJet flight from Liverpool to Malaga, hired a car and started exploring. We liked what we saw. Our visits became more and more frequent, from once every couple of months to virtually every weekend. We found block booking tickets gave us a much better price so we started block booking flights. On a couple of occasions we even jumped in the car and drove through France and down to the Costa del Sol, yes, we did this several times totally unplanned and for just a few days. The drive through France down to Malaga can be done in a little over 24 hours driving continuously.
During one of our trips we decided that enough was enough, we had to make a decision as to where to live. It was now getting quite tiring, flying out on a Friday night and coming back late Sunday evening.
In mid 2000 (I think), we made the decision to move. That’s it, we are leaving. Great. Then we remembered we are not fabulously wealthy, we need jobs to go to. Yes, Spain was a lot cheaper than the UK in those days but we still needed to live! Cathy made contact with an international school near Cartama, Inland Costa del Sol. This was a new “international” school recruiting teachers and as it happened, they were interviewing in London. We drove to London, it was a cold, wet miserable day. The interview was in a London cafe, all I can remember is going for a long walk in the rain and doing quite a lot of window shopping. When I went back to the coffee shop I met the person interviewing Cathy. A stereotypical Brit living in Spain, too much alcohol (probably), too many cigarettes (probably), skin so tanned it had turned into leather and generally showing severe signs of lack of moisturiser or sunscreen. Cathy was offered the job on the spot. Hmmm, not quite what we had planned. Strangely enough, we were prepared to move etc, but all of a sudden it all felt very real. We realised that upping sticks, selling up and becoming Nomads takes balls, balls the size of a mid-sized continent. We were 26 years old, had good jobs we enjoyed, owned our own house, had a couple of nice cars and not a bad lifestyle. We had started off with nothing and had worked hard to achieve what we had, would this be one of the most stupid and irresponsible decisions we had ever made? What if it didn’t work out? All these questions and doubts reared their ugly heads. We decided this was too much of a gamble, not enough security. Cathy (quite embarrassed) turned the job down. After this, our trips to Spain were drastically reduced…..temporarily……and not for long.
Late 2001 we decided that enough was enough, we either do it properly or we just get on with life. Cathy approached the same school again and very humbly enquired about jobs in the school. Explained our change in circumstances (more than circumstances it was a mind set). Amazingly enough, she was offered a job on the spot! And so, life as an expat began…..sort of. We handed in our notice at work. Sold our house…….in one day! This was soon followed by our cars and my beloved motorbike, our furniture and whatever wasn’t sold, we gave away. In the UK, we were now homeless. In Spain, my parents had sorted everything out for us. They had found us a nice rental finca (house in the countryside) with an almond field on the outskirts of Alhaurin el Grande, approximately 10 minutes from Mijas Pueblo, where they lived. They also found us a 4×4 which we bought without seeing. In May 2002 I headed off to Spain to pick up our new car (new to us anyway) and to see the finca we had rented. The house was modest with two bedrooms, a yard and the famous almond field, ideal for parking the cars. It was approximately 20 minutes from Cathy’s work. I drove the car back to the UK to pick up our belongings (or what we had left) as well as our most precious cargo, Sashah, our beautiful German Shepherd.
Cathy had to finish her contract while I headed back to Spain and set everything up.
Summer 2002 was amazing, it was all we had hoped it would be, but all good things come to an end. And it was time to settle into a normal routine. OK, the routine was get up, work, home, G&T’s on the terrace surrounded by olive trees and our almond trees, watch the sun go down. Go to bed, repeat next day. Except at weekend which meant doing the same but having a BBQ during the day, open house where friends would come and go or go to the beach. Not a bad lifestyle really. My background had been in mobile telecoms and mobile phones. So I had set myself up importing mobile phones and accessories and supplying local shops. My Spanish wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it was when I was younger, and Andalucian Spanish is as different to the clear and crisp Castilian I speak. A bit like English is to Russian! OK, perhaps not quite as bad as that, but it did cause me numerous problems. Including having to have my father come as translator…..several times! The school wasn’t quite as expected, this included Cathy and other new teachers having to actually carry and put together all the furniture for the classrooms. Having to put up with parts of the school being a building site with workers coming in and out of her classroom while trying to teach, some of them smoking at the time! My business idea wasn’t doing to good either, it was becoming increasingly frustrating and wasn’t making as much money as I had on my forecast. We then had to deal with Spanish bureaucracy, including having to buy and put in our own telephone post if we wanted a landline. As the days turned into weeks and into months. The weather started changing and getting colder. Living in a house that has no heating, no damp proofing and very little insulation; even in a mild autumn day feels cold and damp. During one of my ever increasing number of trips back to the UK, a friend of mine asked for my honest opinion on how things were going for us in Spain. He had been out to visit us there, as had many others. My answer wasn’t probably the one he was expecting. My answer was, it’s OK but truth be known, we are struggling. He mentioned in a casual way, “why don’t you come and work for me?”. Something which I sort of dismissed but in the back of my mind made a lot of sense. The novelty factor had worn out…..well and truly. By November we were pretty miserable and homesick. My father had always said, “it takes a year to settle in, once you go past that 12 month probation period, things get easier”. Towards the end of November we had made our minds up. We are going back to England, we are going back home! The sooner, the better. Cathy spoke with a contact of hers and was offered a temporary contract in a small rural school on the Welsh border. I spoke with my friend and accepted his job offer.We got very drunk celebrating our impending return to blighty! Soon after, I popped back to Oswestry, sorted out a house and bought Cathy a new car so we had everything ready for our return. We made sure Sashah had all her vaccinations up to date and her doggy passport was all up to date and on New Year’s day 2003 we embarked on the drive back “home”. We arrived in Calais several hours ahead of schedule and parked up waiting for our ferry. It was a cold, wet and windy day. We arrived in Dover late at night. We drove through miles of roadworks and cones in the drizzly rain and heavy traffic in restricted speed zones. Eventually we arrived in our new house. A lovely modern four bedroom detached house with a garden in Whittington, just outside Oswestry. It was nice buying all new things for our new (rented) house. Friends were keen to hear from us, many of them pointing out that they “knew” we would be back within 12 months. Some were happy to see us fail, some were just happy to see us and have us back. We didn’t see it as a failure, we saw it as “glad we tried it”. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and we decided to pop over to Spain for a visit. Spanish economy was booming. Cathy had had her contract extended, after a short period working for this friend of mine, I went back into mobile phones and to the old company I had left only a year or so earlier! In many ways, life was back to normal. We even put in an offer on a house which was accepted but as it was in a new development it was going to be a long completion. During one of our ever increasing number of trips back to Spain I could see more and more real estate agencies opening on the coast and lots of business being done. The purchase of our new house in Oswestry was going extremely slow, in fact several months after signing the agreement there was no sign of anything being built so we decided to pull out. The developer offered us an extremely good deal on a part exchange property on the Welsh border, so we just went for it. In the middle of all this, we were once again traveling to Spain for weekends very regularly. One Friday afternoon, I was at my desk in my office reading the Sur in English (costa del Sol newspaper) online. There was a job being advertised for a property consultant to work inland in a new office. Must be bilingual. OK, my Spanish wasn’t quite as good as it once was, but they didn’t need to know that. This was a real estate company run by Brits who themselves hardly spoke Spanish. I rang the number, spoke to a gentleman who was most interested in what I had to say. He invited me for an interview. We agreed to meet up in Villanueva de Algaidas, near Antequera, North of Malaga city the following weekend. I went home and approached the subject with Cathy. We talked late into the night and made a decision. We are going back to Spain, but this time there would be no going back, or should that be; coming back? The following Friday we headed off to Spain, picked up our hire car from our usual place and on Saturday morning we drove to Villanueva de Algaidas. I met up with the office manager who then suggested we met up with the director of the company that afternoon, in Mollina. We met up and soon after I was offered the job.
We headed back to the UK very excited with our decision. It was now time to hand in our notice at work, get rid of the various bits and pieces; but we proceeded with the purchase of the house. I headed off to Spain in May 2004 with all our worldly goods. Sashah, our German Shepherd was transported to Spain in a doggy taxi as I didn’t have enough space in the car. Cathy was offered a job in an international school East of Malaga city, this meant a 200 km round trip but it was a good school and the roads were amazing. She bought a new car (yes, brand new) which we still have, 12 years later. June 2004 we completed on our house in Wales, I flew back for a weekend, Cathy and I redecorated it, put new carpets and tidied the garden and put it back up for sale. It sold within 6 weeks. Work was good, life was good. In 2005 we decided to rent a finca on the outskirts of Antequera to make it a bit easier for Cathy’s job. I moved jobs and opened a new office near home along with a colleague from the company I worked in previously. Business and work were great!
Finca in Antequera
It was 2006 now, we had been in Spain for two years, housing market was still booming and showing no sign of slowing down. I became increasingly involved with commercial real estate such as hotels, developments etc etc. I was also traveling to Morocco on a very regular basis as it was becoming a property hotspot. By now we had moved to Alhaurin de la Torre, on the outskirts of Malaga to be nearer to the coast. This enabled us to cover a bit of the coast as well as inland areas. We decided this was the right time to buy something in Spain. We went, we saw, we bought. Three weeks later, or so, in May 2006 we had the keys to our house in Spain. A very old school house in need of massive renovation!
In 2007 I visited Bulgaria for the first time, for two weeks. Cathy joined me six months later. During that time I was commuting between Spain and Bulgaria. Nearly six years later and having adopted a little girl from a Bulgarian orphanage we returned to Spain. We made further renovations and then took up the opportunity of working in Qatar. By then my career and work was mostly internet based, something which I had been working on for a long time to enable us to continue traveling. Early 2016 and after 12 very good years (with many ups and several downs!), I parted company with real estate to concentrate on other projects. From Qatar we ended up moving to Madagascar. A fascinating country which we are eager to explore as much as possible.
During the past 14 years, we have explored and traveled extensively, though there are still loads of places we want to explore! Being in many of the countries we have lived in, has made traveling so much easier. We have had a chance to visit places most people would never get a chance to see. We have covered many, many countries and places, but always feel we have only just scratched the surface.
Some of the countries/ places we have visited since 2002
Some Common Questions we are asked.
Q) Would we go back to Blighty?
A) Maybe…one day.
Q) Do we regret leaving the UK?
A) Not at all!
Q) Has it been plain sailing?
Q) Where’s home?
A) Wherever our little family is together
Q) Which is your favourite country?
A) We don’t have one, we love aspects from each country we have lived in, particularly our friends.
Q) Would you go back and live in a country you lived in before?
A) Probably not. For us, life is about memories, by going back to a country we have lived in previously, is like trying to recreate memories. We have tried it twice, once going back to the UK in 2003 and then again, moving back to Spain in 2013. It wasn’t the same as how we remembered. People change, places change, and more importantly, when you travel, YOU change! Travel changes us as individuals. Our perspectives and our priorities change.
Q) Aren’t you worried about your daughter’s education?
A) In as many words? NO! Katja is receiving the best education money can buy. Not just by being educated in international schools but also by seeing the world. Her passport which was only five years old, was virtually FULL, with stamps in every page. Stamps for each country she has visited. She is an extremely confident and sociable now 6 year old. She has seen parts of the world most adults can only dream of. She has mixed with royalty as well as played with kids who have nothing, she even voluntarily gave them her bucket and spade (Sri Lanka 20015). As far as schooling is concerned, she is where she should be as a 6 year old. She is receiving the type of education money cannot buy. She recently celebrated her birthday. This is the pretty impressive bit: 6 birthdays in 5 countries (Bulgaria, Spain, Qatar, Oman and Madagascar) in 3 continents; how’s that?!
These are the usual questions, if you have any other questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to do so!
I could, quite literally write for days and days…… but I won’t. One day I will sit and write on a regular basis and put together a book with all our stories and adventures……