By Tommy Pallett
What do two scientists and a politician do after graduating? The answer is not usually ‘move to the south of Spain to start up a guesthouse and establish a cat sanctuary’. In fairness, the question does sound like the start of a joke.
Spending your first year after graduating in sunny Spain might sound like an attempt at delaying real life for a year-long holiday. That wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate; I am sure many students can empathise with being uncertain in proceeding into a post-university world. Having said that, our journey has certainly not been a year-long holiday – unless your holidays normally consist of renovating a property with no prior experience whilst looking after 17 cats and trying to hold down a part-time teaching job.
What it certainly has been is an adventure. Three students can now say they have electrically wired a house, plumbed and tiled a bathroom, rendered walls, and built a kitchen themselves. And it wasn’t handed to us easily: we found water in electrical pipes, termites nests in storerooms (aptly nicknamed ‘doom rooms’), and structural damage to support beams. We faced flooding, storm damage, and even a fire. And of course, all this happened amongst 17 cats, all of which are still alive and well.
Spending your first year after graduating in sunny Spain might sound like an attempt at delaying real life
For me, it was more than about the initial purpose though. This adventure shed a light on the real Spain, a culture often ignored by tourists seeking sun, sea, debauchery, and home comforts found in the resorts across the Costa del Sol and all the way up to Barcelona. Instead, here on the Costa de la Luz, the much more unspoiled cousin of the Costa del Sol, can be found a place which gives visitors an authentic taste for the Spanish way of life.
Exploring Andalucia was about not just about the sites and impressive architecture. It was also about the people. To get a better sense of life in Spain, I recommend going to the chickpea festival in Trebujena, where the council’s ‘delegation of parties’ ensure an abundance of the local sherry is available for free to everyone who turns up. Or try standing on the streets of Sanlúcar, watching the King’s Day parade go past as participants throw bags of sweets at the onlookers.
We live in Sanlúcar. The town is incredibly popular as a destination for Spanish tourists, and many own holiday homes here.
If you do visit, explore. Get a car – and brace yourself if you’re used to English roads – or dive into the bus system, which is not as bad as you might think, and has the added benefit that you can drink sherry when you reach your destination. If you visit, try things. A new type of food, dancing at a festival where every other song is amenco, and definitely speak a little Spanish (here, the effort goes a long way). And the more everyday things too, like taking a siesta, drinking your beer from little ‘copas’ rather than by the pint, and saying hello to anyone and everyone you meet (a rather difficult task for the reserved Londoner).
Try new things: siestas, amenco, new foods, learning Spanish
It seems almost unbelievable that a year and a half ago the idea to go to Spain was conceived in the kitchen of a terraced house in view of the Bill Bryson Library, and now here we are, ‘Tres Claveles’ Guesthouse and Cat Sanctuary completed (for the most part), and with the summer left to enjoy. It goes to show that you never know what life might throw at you, awaiting your catch; that it’s never asking too much to do something unexpected, something you technically shouldn’t, or that no one thinks you will.
With any luck, you’ll think of this next time you book a holiday to Spain: there’s more to discover than you might think. Maybe you’ll even think of this whilst deciding what to do after university life. It’s a wide world, there’s lots to explore, and time waits for no one.
Photograph: Sofia Hurst
Map illustration: Fern Rotheray