Tag Archives: Algodonales

Spring is Springing


Several people have been kind enough to let me know that ‘frost on weeds’ the previous post but one was making them feel a little sad. It’s no longer representative, either. It was only representative of that particular morning. The skies over the Sierra de Cadiz throughout February have been predominantly royal blue, and when there have been clouds, as illustrated, they have been picturesque (especially when viewed through sunglasses with a yellow filter). So, while I don’t have time to write a more filling post right now (researching an article and plastering a chimney), I hope this view from the kitchen will make a more cheering note to pause on.

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October Wild Swimming


The Sierra de Cadiz is a veritable lake district. This, at the foot of Zahara, is an embalse, a manmade lake, but – aside from the dam at one end and some trees sticking up at the shoreline – you wouldn’t know it; it’s wild and natural, with just two jetties but plenty of natural beaches along its 30km circumference.

We’re having an Indian summer – or a membrillo (quince) summer as it’s known here. I’ve been the only person in the lake in August, and today – almost November – when I stopped for a swim on the way back from shopping for jamon, cucumbers, and milk, I unsurprisingly had it all to myself again as I swam out and floated on my back enjoying the view of olive fields and beauteous Zahara. The temperature today was around 28, and the water is about as warm as it’s going to be this year.

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Tense Negotiations

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The farm was 40% over the absolute maximum budget pencilled in for the perfect property requiring zero work but, as Manolo said, what was the harm in meeting the owners again, so we rolled up to negotiate.  I told everyone I loved the place, thought the price was very reasonable, agreed there was a lot of land, commiserated with the three brothers for having to sell, took a picture of some yellow flowers, and then went off to look for the puppy.

More people were milling about than I’d imagined, most of them owners of a sort, and the animals were distracting. The darker donkey got my notes which I’d left on the car seat between its teeth. I like notes. I’m actually a REALLY GOOD negotiator with notes – negotiating access to panda breeding labs in China and the FARC in Colombia, and being a stickler in big media acquisitions – but everyone has to SIT DOWN and TAKE TURNS. There was the sound of trailing exhaust pipes and chassis being dragged over rocks as more cars summited the track, and more people arrived to join in the discussion – or various discussions. With more dogs – mainly dobermans. As it got dark we moved inside and nine people talked at once over the barking, and birds (I think they were birds) crossed back and forth.

Dave, whose Spanish is rudimentary, was gazing dreamily out of the window, (bikes, probably) and oblivious to the fact the conversation had finally shifted from asparagus to business, making it difficult to confer.  The vaguest chance that we could make a deal was floating off on a wispy cloud of yada yada, and it was pretty much all my fault, coming at it a) with very small amounts of money, and b) like a dippy loser in a rom-com.  And I really wanted the farm. Yes . . . a ramshackle, ancient place with no kitchen and dubious electrics . . . I’d die without it. I shot my hand up. What about staggered payments spread over a year, a vastly reduced price but still higher than we’re comfortable with in return for the brothers fixing the collapsing road bridge and turning the room that’s currently full of partridges into a bathroom? It was a yes. We agreed a moving in date (May 2nd), and all kissed each other as I wondered exactly what I’d done there.

‘How did that go?’ said Dave as we got back in the car.


Things to do with a Field

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Looking down at the bridge from up here I feel like a resistance fighter. Far from interrupting the view, the bridge and its barely audible traffic of cattle trucks, bikes and old cars, acts as a foil, setting it off. I’d be happy looking at that all day from my house. Of course, there is no house, but as Manolo and Molino point out, all that’s needed is a well, sewerage, electricity, the building . . .  because there is already a road up this mountain, and a flat spot here like a perch. And the plot is so big, sloping all the way down to the foot by the bridge itself, that the chances are, ojalá, building would be permitted.

But I don’t know. Trying to think through the gazillion steps involved in turning this stony olive field into a home is exhausting. (Even climbing up to it is exhausting.) Someone will build here and maybe add an infinity pool. Good luck to them. Slithering back down to the waiting car, I quote Donald Rumsfeld to a baffled Molino: ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’ I don’t know if Donald really thought through what he was saying, but it’s spot on.

For me, there are too many known unknowns and I suspect an infinite number of unknown unknowns involved in this ‘project’.

Still, I do know a small bit about tackling the known unknowns. Start by inspecting the title deeds or escritura; the land registry document – the nota simple, held at the local town hall or registro; and also the land records at the catastro. All should match up. Anyone seriously interested in buying land should use an independent lawyer to scrutinise the paperwork.

An independent architect should be brought onboard to check the planning regulations and provision of services, or lack of, for the land before you buy. And it is well worth having the architect produce as detailed a pre-plan as possible, and discussing it at the local town hall before making full payment and going beyond the point of no return. Because in order to get a building permit on suelo rustico it is necessary to gather together a crack team and a lot of paperwork, including a Proyecto de Actividad (explaining what the land will be used for), topographical, geological, and environmental studies; a comprehensive planning application drawn up by the architect and stamped by everyone, and to have it all approved by a number of bodies which generally include multiple departments of the Junta de Andalucia, such as MOPU Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Consejería de Obras Publicas y Transportes, Delegación Provincial – Servicio de Ordenación del Territorio y Urbanismo, Confederación Hidrográfica Del Sur- Departamento De Residuos Líquidos, Delegación de Medio Ambiente . . . and so on.

Nothing is guaranteed. But then I guess that is better than building and then being told some years later to un-build. I wouldn’t be too influenced by the old adage ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. That’s all I’m saying.

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Oh Why Not?

David Harper

Another new-build; this one the manifestation of a German’s freaky dream; an up yours to white village architectural restrictions, building standards, and good taste. Even though it is outside the boundaries of the Sierra de Grazalema national park (not far from Algodonales, if you are interested in making an offer), it is a bold – defiant – deviation from the norm. In some respects it is quite inspiring; who says your house shouldn’t be hilarious? Who says, given a set of bricks and a concrete mixer, you can’t build your own bunker dwelling? Perched on a hillock and visible for miles, it is a gripping sight. Manolo and Molino were as keen to poke around as we were, and made soft, positive noises about the fact it was legal, had water, and the fact the pink roof could be raised to turn the one room into two. It seems the owner-builder-dreamer had run out of enthusiasm halfway through the construction of the terrace, or maybe taken a look at his project with fresh eyes and left to live in something square.

The one thing that this has going for it is the views, down over the lush valley of Bocaleones and across to Zahara. Intriguingly, he had elected to completely encircle his house with fast-growing trees to block it. What do you think? asked Manolo. ‘Ha ha ha,’ I said.

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