After living in the western Andalucian countryside for three years, in a fairly quiet area with very few foreign people around, coming to the Costa del Sol is a shock to the system. I went down there for a work meeting this week, and felt like the country mouse in the big city (although it’s more of a suburban seaside sprawl). I nearly got mown down by some boy racers in their souped-up Seats at 140kph, and pulling out onto the scarily narrow traffic-filled coast road from sideroads - 0-60kph in 50 metres - was also interesting. I used to navigate the crazy, aggressive London traffic without thinking twice; I think I’ve lost my nerve after all these years. My point is, I had forgotten just how much of “another world” it is down there. I went to a trendy bar, probably one of hundreds, with super-cool curvy outdoor furniture, full of English-speaking people talking about Twitter, websites and how to make money. The event in question was called TweetMarbella – people in Marbella who’ve met through Twitter, and follow, retweet and recommend each other on Fridays (#followfriday), although some already knew each other before the social phenomenon started. They all discussed these topics knowledgeably, whereas I am a “newbie” and am still learning about the protocolo (is it really bad to unfollow someone? What’s the legal situation re libel? Do you have to thank people for retweeting you?). If all this is unintelligible to you, don’t worry. The most important thing is, we got free cupcakes (raspberry, pistachio, chocolate… divine ) and free wine-in-a-sealed-plastic-cup (white or rose), again wildly exotic for an inlander like me. In full wide-eyed tourist mode, I passed the hotel where Michelle Obama stayed on her trip to Andalucia this summer, causing a tidal wave of excitement around the region. I went to a gargantuan shopping centre called La Cañada, which was about the same size as Bluewater – you couldn’t see from one end of the car park to the other, and you would need a small electric vehicle to cover all the retail outlets inside, although on foot it makes great exercise. You could probably fit every centro commercial in provincial old Seville inside it, and still have room for the ten-screen 3D cinema. I only went for the M&S, though rumours are rife that one might be opening closer to home soon, as the store is planning to buy back the leases it sold to El Corte Ingles in 2001 - for double what it got then, a cool 300 million euros. To be confirmed next week. Excited? I am. I heard many Spanish people speaking excellent, idiomatic (accented) English, far better than where I live. (It's both comforting, as you can communicate effortlessly, and also disorientating - am I in Spain or England?) And I even came across people who are 100% (unaccented) bilingual - now that is impressive. It is also something that, while unattainable for me, hopefully my children will achieve. Of course, beyond the road and the narrow strip of developed land next to it, you have the sea (mar bella) visible most of the time, which in itself is a balm for the soul. Sailing boats gliding through the water, small boats bobbing gently up and down. A wide open space, which is wonderfully calming to gaze at. And beaches which draw sun-worshippers from all over the world.
All in all, it was quite a contrast from my domestic routine of taking kids to school along a windy country road, shopping in local supermarkets with 100% Spanish clientele, and most, of all, working at home in my isolated house. My life is something many people would loathe. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have jumped at the idea – in fact, I'd have run a mile in the opposite direction. But now I know where I belong. Life on the coast is varied, interesting, cosmopolitan and extremely social. People are motivated and dynamic. It's stimulating to experience, fun to visit for a change of scene, great for making contacts. But that's as far as it goes for me - I could never live there. Each to their own; I can understand its attractions - in many ways, there's so much more potential for expats than here, socially and business-wise. At least I'm not hankering after the glamorous costa life; the grass is nice and green right here, thank you very much. I'm fine and dandy in my provincial campo - just need the occasional taste of the high life to keep me happy.