When I moved to the Costa Blanca, I recall being told by one consular official that, “The Brits come here to die”. I quickly discovered that nothing could be further from the truth. In my newly appointed role as a newspaper reporter, I quickly realised that far from going to the Costa Blanca to die, the Brits and other expats had moved to the Costa Blanca to live - and a very good job they were making of it too!
Many people that I met had finally been released from the crippling pain of arthritis and other conditions linked to cold, damp Northern European climates and had quickly realised that a whole new world of mobility was waiting for them. Others had realised their dream of a home in the sun, inspired by the many “You can do it too” TV programmes, earlier in life - thanks to rising house prices and the newly found equity that they had discovered in their homes. All had one thing in common, fulfilling the dream of a new life and adventure in the sun.
I quickly discovered tap dancing groups, where it was not unusual to discover ninety-year-olds treading the boards, orchestral groups and brass bands, salsa classes, walking groups and drama groups. The area was buzzing with activity and it always amazed and delighted me to see so many British, Scandinavian, German, Irish and Spanish, as well as many other nationalities, enjoying being together. One thing that united many expats was the desire to see a rapid improvement in animal welfare, and I am convinced that the present level of animal welfare in the Costas, although still not ideal, is due to the efforts of the many expat groups, working alongside their Spanish counterparts.
Now that I am living in the Canary Islands there is, of course, a much small expat population. The climate is such that much of the expat social life revolves around the bar culture. There are few activities that expats are involved in, although there are plenty of Canarian music, drama and cultural groups to be found, but the enthusiasm for joining these is less obvious than in the Costas. There is also a much younger expat population living on the islands, whose main focus is earning a living and paying the rent or the mortgage. This does not leave a great deal of time for other activities in an area where wages are low and unemployment is high.
Sadly, some expats do not succeed in their attempts to create a new life in the sun. Sadly for many, ‘living the dream’ becomes ‘living the nightmare’. Illness, bereavement or unemployment drives many to return ‘home’ disillusioned, but wiser. In time, I hope that these would-be expats realise that no experience in life is ever wasted, and that the broader experiences that they will have gained, will stand them in good stead for the future, whatever they choose to do.
Some time ago, I met someone who was well versed in spiritual matters, and commented that ancient ley lines intersect these islands. As a result, the islands would draw in a certain kind of person and let go of those it does not want. I remember him commenting that these islands have a force that cannot be avoided. I was sceptical at first, but I have noticed over the years that I have lived here, that of the many would-be expats who have arrived and returned disillusioned, a significant number of these have returned to the islands again a few years later and settled successfully. Many will say that this is due to a positive change in personal circumstances, and a desire to seek the sun and warmth once again. However, maybe, just maybe, the islands have drawn them back again?
First published in 2010
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living the Dream: ISBN 978-0992767198