THE year was 1969 and we had survived a week living “down on the beach” before I could make the trek to acknowledge homage to the namesake of the area: the village of Mojacar.
The short drive up the hill was a journey back into time, into an age I had never known. Here was a race of veiled faces, donkeys everywhere, and people dressed in black.
Some of the houses had a quaint symbol painted near the doors or windows. I was told it was to keep out “evil spirits”. The local folk were as frightened to talk with us as us with them.
Two different worlds co-existed without many words being shared. Years later local artist Win Wells portrayed the “standoff” best in some pen and ink drawings I purchased.
I was cool wearing shades, large floppy hat, colourful paisley shirt with a long collar, levis, and boots (the uniform of the times).
I could strut myself with the best of them.
There I was, for the first and only time in my life, a cultural ambassador.
Yet, I felt totally out of sync with my surroundings. Any apparel worn, not black or as least drab and grey, seemed to glow. I felt a clown! The people were too gracious and respectful to mention my attire—but stare they did. They didn’t need cameras.
They looked right though you and you knew it was not just recorded but would be reported on many occasions in the future. Anthropologically, the people were not what I expected.
Back in Iowa, the Spanish were all short, copper-colored, and worked as share croppers on the sugar beet plantations and easily recognizable. But, if you were to put these Mojacar people at a Sunday funeral, they would look like everyone else.
Hmmm, disturbing. Food wasn’t what I expected either… no tacos or tequila. Around every corner were more donkeys or further traces of them.
They called them burros. The men rode them while the women walked behind clutching on to the beasts tail so as to not be left behind.
Everything in America glittered and beamed with multi-colour neon lights ablaze.
Yet, Spain was a country full of scents.
Every change of location presented new odours, some foul and others surprisingly new and pleasant. If someone was selling apples you could smell them even before you saw them.
That was novel. “Can you hear that?” my wife said to me one morning.
“No, I can’t hear anything. What is it?” I had to reply.
“That´s just it. There are no sounds.. not the rustle of leaves in the tree nor birds. Not a peep or twitter”.
That upset me for days. I really started to notice a tree if I saw one.
But birds were unheard from for about ten more years.
The desert terrain was similar to outer space, a vacuum that contained no sound, just the constant numbing hum of nothingness.
Of course that was changed when you went into any civilized place where it must have been a natural law to play the radio or tv at the highest audible level.
When we talked to each other, we were like the fisherman on the boats who had to scream to each other above the constant roar of the loud engines.
It took me less than six months to learn the two most fundamental words of survival: cerveza and Grassy Ass.
Important words I got to know and used often so as the locals wouldn’t presume me to be just another barbaric foreigner.
I had come to work for my brother who had been brazen and notorious enough to set up an office to sell land and build houses on the beach.
A nice three bedroom house on a quarter of an acre of land was selling for $10,000 including water and electricity, an amount so astronomical in those days we were given little hope of surviving until Christmas of that year.
There were a few foreigners living in the village. They definitely didn’t want to talk to us.
We were worse than hated. We had come to this distant corner to corrupt the surroundings and ruin their way of life.
Before too long, I realized it wasn’t me that was despised but rather my representation of possible change.
Their world was established and, with a pension of any type, you could live exceedingly well in Mojacar.
Wine was cheaper than water.
What change could developers do to make that better?
The English living in town liked the place just the way it was and shrilled at the cacophony of my accent.