James Went To Benalmádena (on the Costa Del Sol)
It feels like ages ago, though was only towards the end of October, in the week before the clocks went back, that I went to Benalmádena.
Why Benalmádena? Well, I needed somewhere fairly cheap to stay as I was being evicted from my old place, and the flat I was buying in Croydon was still 2, 3, 4, 178, fuck knows weeks away from completion. An Airbnb in London was like £100 a night, an Airbnb on the Costa Del Sol was £40 a night.
I expected to be 3-4 weeks in Spain at a minimum, so I needed somewhere I wanted to stay, somewhere I’d want to cook, somewhere with a comfortable bed – so it couldn’t be just any old place.
I arrived into Benalmadena on a warm but fairly cloudy afternoon, relieved for the warmth but craving some sunshine. And I looked around, wondering what the hell kind of place this was.
I could only vision Wetherspoons everywhere – the pubs, the people, the extreme lack of attractive senoritas. It wasn’t busy, but it was half-term so there was a few stag kinda groups around, some random drunken British weirdos, that kind of thing.
The snob in me was out in full force. What the fuck was this place? Urgh.
But walking past the parade of
shit not for me kinda bars, places like The Wigan Bar, Drunken Donkey, Booz Inn, etc, I stumbled across a sign for Belgian beers. Game on. Al Mika became my little happy place, a cute bar run by a Belgian couple – nowhere near as popular as the Brit-tastic bars along the strip but that suited me – and as I found out, the less popular a place on the Costa Del Sol, the more I tended to like it. Unless it was so shit that even the Wetherspains crowd wouldn’t go. There was actually a bar called Wetherspains. No, I didn’t go in, but I nearly went for a laugh.
In the evening I then had a really nice tapas dinner – which included a stuffed Yorkshire pudding. The dreams. I was most contented.
But it didn’t all go to plan – namely because this wasn’t a holiday, it was me still working. On the second night I went on an adventure to Malaga, loving life, loving the atmosphere there (and the senoritas, of course), had a really good meal, some great craft beer, then went home.
The next morning, I loaded up Microsoft Teams (ohhh for Slack) to find out something I’d released in the previous afternoon had broken part of the website. Not good at any time, but especially when you are working from Spain and have told your colleagues how warm and sunny it was. Team atmosphere was shit, I was pissed off – and it was cloudy. It did have a silver lining in that it revealed some code that was non-performant – my change shouldn’t have broken the website in the way it did, so inadvertently I’d discovered a way to make the website more performant. But incidents don’t feel like that at the time.
On the Saturday I went back to Malaga – I’ll write up my Malaga expeditions separately, as this post is more about Benalmadena, but also working remotely from another country – as I am allowed to do it for 2 weeks a year. But it was a better day, albeit none of the restaurants I had researched to go to had any spare tables, so that was annoying.
Then on the Sunday, I walked to the next resort – Torremolinos. Aye. It was as you might imagine. I had a pretty crud roast dinner, then a few beers and went home.
And then I was on call
The next week I was on call so was a bit more limited as to what I could do. I wanted to climb the nearby mountain. I wanted to go into Malaga. I wanted to have a few beers in the sunshine.
I was shattered to start the week – I think I’d been out and drinking for pretty much every night the last two weeks and my body needed a rest. Plus I was on call, and in a foreign country so decided to play safe. I was having twinges of missing London. It was cloudy.
I had a bang average dinner on Monday and a shit dinner on Tuesday. It rained. And my solicitor was giving me no hope at all.
On the Wednesday, I went back to the restaurant where I got the really good tapas – but they’d switched to winter hours. I wandered around forever looking for somewhere else – it was a bank holiday in Spain so not everything was open, and eventually I thought fuck it and went to the fish and chip shop near my apartment, except they didn’t take cards so then I ended up walking around for more forever trying to find a cashpoint that wouldn’t charge me €5.00 for taking money out. I didn’t find a free cashpoint and sucked up the charge in the end.
On the Thursday I went back to Malaga and had bang average tapas. On the Friday I had ok-ish pizza. On Saturday I gave up and cooked my own dinner.
The weekend was better. I couldn’t really go anywhere as I was on call, and we were also on high alert from some nobheads taking offence at our choice of party hats from an advert recorded 4 month ago, so I stayed local, did some stuff online, had some walks along the beach, some more Belgian beers, a glass or two of sangria and some croquettas.
Even my Sunday roast was an improvement.
Will I be here forever?
The next week I had this sunrise:
And the next day I finished work early and walked up a mountain:
Which was roughly when it clicked – I did really kind of like this place. I had beautiful sunrises and sunsets most days, the sea is in 10 minutes walking distance and I could be up a mountain in a bit over an hour. The coast and mountains are my two favourite landscapes, I feel so at home when I’m next to the sea – and I feel so inspired when I’m up a mountain. And Benalmadena has both.
Plus I’d found my happy spots, I’d found the cute bar with gorgeous views, and I’d also found a place selling proper craft beers. And Malaga was 30 minutes away on the train. And…and it was the middle of November and I could still wear shorts. Plus that midweek day when I walked up the mountain was when the weather started improving – I barely saw a cloud from that day until I arrived back in the UK two weeks later.
Then on the Thursday, my sister booked flights to come and visit for the weekend, plus two other friends were in the area and were going to meet up. And on the Friday, my solicitor called to say that after 6 months of pain and struggle, my flat purchase should complete a week later. The joy was almost overbearing.
I’d booked an apartment in Malaga for me and my sister to stay in, but I didn’t want to leave Benalmadena.
I’ll cover Malaga in another post, but the apartment we stayed in was nearly twice the price of those in Benalmadena, and was cold, despite it being 22’C outside. The view was of other apartment blocks – in Benalmadena it was of the beach on one side and the mountains on the other.
Had the flat purchase actually gone through on the Friday, I would have just had my last day in Malaga then flown home. But it didn’t happen, so I again had to book somewhere to stay – and went back to Benalmadena for a few days.
Partly also because I didn’t really want to spend too much more money, it was cheaper and there was nowhere I wanted to eat out – I think I’d eaten out 10, maybe 12 evenings in a row so it was getting a bit ridiculous.
And I’d saved the best sunrise until last.
I really, really, really did not want to go back home. Even though I’d bought a flat, even though what I’d spent 9 months researching, waiting and being frustrated on was finally coming to fruition.
I really did get to like Benalmadena. Maybe that’s where I buy a flat next. Gosh – this stunner for significantly less than I paid to live in Croydon. Guess that’s my next plan. Work hard, buy the flat in España.
Would I work abroad again?
So, I’ve long dreamt of living and working in España – and in the same kind of way that I long dreamt of being a DJ, I’ve do it.
100% next year I want to do this again, assuming I’m still at M&S, assuming they don’t remove this benefit (or maybe even still if they do).
Of course, actual holidays take precedence, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll be able to afford, given that I’m going from paying £700 a month rent including bills, to £1,450 a month mortgage, plus council tax, electricity, broadband, water, service charge, ground rent, building insurance and fuck knows what else I’ve forgotten. Oh yeah, and buying sofas and stuff.
So if I only have the budget for two holidays, for example, then no I won’t do it again. But if I do have the budget for a working from abroad week or two, then 100% I’m doing it again.
Not when I’m on call. In November did feel ideal – getting some warm sunshine once autumn had really kicked into gear in the UK. Maybe back to Benalmadena – at least then I wouldn’t feel the need to go out every night and explore. But also I do prefer adventuring new places.
Of course the real dream is to be a nomad software engineer…but that’s not easy, especially with the job market as it is.