Lingering Impressions from Andalucia

Trying to remember where you have been when you stay somewhere new every day is a challenge. New experiences start to crowd out the old and I feel I need to nail down what I found interesting and different before it all goes.

It goes without saying that the things that surprised and interested me are a reflection of my own experiences and who I am. It's also influenced by the nature of the experience I'm having, largely on my own, at the beginning of a long journey and critically with only a limited ability to communicate with the Spanish.

Spain is a modern democratic country, the best footballing country in the world, and London is full of young confident and attractive Spaniards. It feels almost impolite to say things which are negative. I was however surprised at the poverty in Andalucia. Walking through Andalucia also made me reflect on the some differences with England and how, in many instances, Andalucia compared favourably.

Andalucia is a poor part of Spain. It's per capita income is less than 75 per cent of the Spanish average which itself is 10 per cent less than the UK average. The Spanish labour market is famously inefficient with an uncompetitive and expensive formal sector and a huge unskilled informal sector. I suspect the informal sector is particularly large in Andalucia in general and in the agriculture sector in particular.

I don't understand the olive oil industry, but wonder if it's one the factors explaining relative levels of poverty in Andalucia. What Saudi Arabia is to crude oil, Spain is to olive oil and the oil fields are in Andalucia. Despite the commodity crisis, and the shortage of just about everything anyone wants to eat, there is glut of olive oil. 12,000 olive oil workers have demonstrated over the last month demanding that the EU puts olive oil into storage to push up prices. Producing olives is a hideously manual process, harvesting involves shaking olives from a tree and collecting them in nets, and as a farmer's boy I can tell you that most of the equipment being used came of the production line before I was born 55 years ago. Yet you see more olive trees being planted. I couldn't help but think that the attachment to a particularly type of agriculture was making people in Andalucia poor.

Perhaps linked to poverty I have left Andalucia with the impression that people live in crowded towns in each others pockets. The countryside feels empty. There is no English sprawl or villages neatly positioned three or four miles from each other. Instead you have towns 15 or 20 miles apart, very often clinging to a rock with a castle on top, and just nothing inbetween. Inside the towns there is hardly any "spare" space and distance between the inside of a house and the hustle and bustle of a street is a 9 inch wall.

Living in each others' pockets may or may not be a product of poverty, but a lingering impression was that the Spanish may actually be OK with it. Call me sentimental, and maybe looking for the evidence, but I was left with the impression that these places actually worked well, that there was lots going on at a community level, and that people were looking after each other.

I guess from an English perspective you are left with a slightly unnerving impression that the value we put on space and distance from our neighbours is not necessarily one which is shared by the Spanish. It may even be that the Spanish are not particularly social it's just that the English are antisocial.

As someone with a passing interest (perhaps literally) in local government I also wondered whether an apparent willingness to live in each others pockets made a difference to the way local democracy worked. This is a country where there is lots of local government, where separate administrations exist at really local levels but where otherness of local government which seems to be the English experience doesn't exist.

As I bash on through Murcia and now into the region of Valencia other things start to come into perspective. Not sure yet, bit I suspect that relatively speaking the walking in Andalucia was exceptionally good. How long will it be before it's as green again or before I see as much wildlife. I also suspect that the boom which hit the rest of Spain didn't quite get to Andalucia, but nor did the bust.


  1. Hola, enhorabuena por el viaje.Soy de Andalucia y si, somos de las provincias mas pobres de España, pero tambien es la provincia donde mejor se vive de toda España, esa pobreza a hecho que con el paso de los años seamos personas mas cercanas,mas alegres con menos.
    En el resto del pais nos ven como gente alegre que siempre estamos de buen humor,que estamos de fiesta todo el dia y que trabajamos poco.Lo dicen por envidia por que no todos pueden vivir como se vive en Andalucia.

  2. Hola

    I thought Andalucia was wonderful, so wonderful that I can't keep away. I will be walking along the southern variant of the GR7 in October and will put the plan up on my website in the next few days.

    Hasta la vista