What did you do in the Netherlands?
I never really knew what I wanted, I followed a one-year secretary course at Schoevers, very goal oriented. After that I mainly did administrative work and a lot of reception work, for example at a training institute and a clothing wholesaler, which I really liked, because I love clothing and fashion.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning: how did you get to know Michel?
I met him when I was 30 years old, I worked at a technical trading company in Venlo, where I did the correspondence and the reception. Michel was technical advisor of large heating systems, such as for churches, hangars, VIP stands of football stadiums. He made all kinds of calculations and I was the girl in the office, I made the appointments, the quotes. I was single and Michel’s relationship passed. We were just friends in the beginning, we’d had a drink after work sometimes, only later something started to bloom. Michel was originally from Rotterdam, but at the time he lived in Cuijk on a houseboat with a friend, very cold in winter, so he’d always stay in my house in Venlo. We lived there for about a year and then we started traveling. I was always like: ‘Is this life ?!’, I am not a domestic type, I mean I now love that I am settled, but then I did not want to think about buying a house, children etc … I suggested going on a trip and Michel was immediately open to that. We thought it through carefully, we both resigned and stored our belongings.
Where did your trip go?
We first went to Thailand for 2 months, then 6 months to Australia, then another 3 months to New Zealand. From there we spent a month in Bali. During the trip in Australia I made jewelry from shells and seeds. Michel practiced macramé, knotting with ropes. We actually lived from that, it was very easy! That’s how we traveled… “Well, we want to go from Broome to Perth, that’s so many miles, can we make it?”
Now and then we bought a magazine with all the markets and festivals that were planned everywhere and we booked them. Then we knew: we will be there next weekend, so we have to make ‘stock’ again! So we were making jewelry in the most beautiful places.
Which cities did you like the most in Australia?
We lost our hearts on the west coast. We don’t like the city, so we avoided the cities. Broome and the 80-mile beach are really fantastic, the coast is beautiful, whole stretches where you will not encounter people, but many animals. You park your car on the beach, open the door … the best time of my life! We wanted to extend our trip, but at that time there was the ‘Bali bomb’. It was not wise to stay. So we returned to the Netherlands, but we soon thought, ‘What are we doing here ?!’ We still had some savings left when we got back from our trip.
What did you do after that trip?
We bought a very old camper, so much fun! And with that we traveled nine months through Europe: through Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, France and Spain to Portugal.
Did you also make jewelry during that trip?
Yes, I went on making those and sold them everywhere in markets.
Michel’s brother then lived in Sabinillas and we stayed there for 3 months. Michel worked for a while with his brother in the restaurant and I was there on Sunday on the paseo (boulevard) selling my jewelry, that was still allowed at the time. Well you know, you don’t need that much to live on. You need money for gasoline and food and you can make that as expensive as you want… We occasionally slept at a campsite and we showered here and there…
And then back to the Netherlands?
Yes. But once in the Netherlands we said to each other: ‘We should never have gone back!’ Michel returned to work with his former employer in the heating industry, but winters in the Netherlands were getting warmer and so there was less work for Michel. At that time I worked as an assistant manager in a clothing store in Venlo. But it kept itching, I couldn’t be between four walls anymore. After half a year Michel lost his job and then he was done with it. He wanted to work more with his hands, he used to be a plumber. His brother in Spain said: ‘Why don’t you come to Spain ?! Here they really need good professionals!’ So… why not? We have no children.
Michel found an apartment in Estepona and he worked in his brother’s restaurant for a while to build up something. His brother supported him very much at that time. Michel handed out his business cards and it was getting busier. We came here just before the crisis, in 2007. That was quite exciting. We just made it. But then the washing machine should not fail or anything. Michel even worked in England for two or three months, because there was nothing to do here. Fortunately, when he returned, work increased again. And now, just before the Corona, he was busier than ever. Too busy actually. And I had a shop a few years ago in Sotogrande, but that was difficult as an autónomo (entrepreneur) with small stuff I sold. And two years ago I had a shop on Costa Natura, at the nudist park. I worked there as a waitress in the restaurant. Last year I also worked for a few months at Café de Theresa. And now I’m going to open my own shop again …
What do you want to sell in your shop?
My jewelry, clothing and decoration for the home. I want to create something cheerful with lots of color, beautiful pieces. I like color. But I also want it affordable. In March I went to the Netherlands to buy stuff for my shop. I wanted to open on May 1, but that was an illusion! Due to the Corona crisis, I have not yet been able to apply for my opening permit.
Oh so you already have a place?
Yes, in my house! In the centre. In Calle Mondejar, the street with the pink pots. It is a small space, I think 20m2, but I just do it with it. As an autónomo you already have to pay a hefty amount per month (about € 300), fortunately I do not have to pay the rent now. That is also the reason why we bought this property! The living area is ready and upstairs we are still renovating, we want to rent out two rooms there. A B&B, but without breakfast. That is actually our pension. We hope to finish this by the end of the year.
Michel mainly works as a plumber? (Michel Plumbing)
Yes, Michel just has two golden hands: water heaters, bathrooms, kitchen connections. And he spends the work that he cannot or should not do with other professionals whom he has met here over the years. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Did you already have dreams like this as a child? Making things, traveling…
No, as a child I wanted to become a vet, but I can’t stand animal suffering. Or something in tourism. Nowadays, for example, a reception of a nice hotel also would be interesting to me… helping people, looking for solutions to problems. If it’s just something that makes me happy, you know? I like socializing and being with people, without negativity and nagging.
Do you speak Spanish?
Yes, I had private lessons with a Dutch lady for two years together with Michel. But Michel has nothing with learning grammar. They understand him everywhere. And of all the materials he needs in his work, he knows the Spanish name. I did go on longer and learned myself a lot. In August I will be living here in Spain for 13 years , but sometimes I think: ‘What am I saying ?!’
Do many friends come over from the Netherlands?
Yes, the first years I had to go up and down to Málaga a few times a month. But that’s getting less. I can now count my friends on half a hand, but they will stay and that is fine. People come and go in your life. Previously, when I still lived in Casares, everyone slept at our place, because I had enough space there. And now we only have one bedroom, so our friends and family have to rent something, they don’t mind.
What are your hobbies?
Shopping, watching a nice movie, walking. I exercise because I have to. I’ve been working out at Natural Fit in Estepona for a long time with a personal trainer, I need someone to kick me in the ass or I won’t. But I like Zumba, I have to pick it up again.
How did you get from Casares Costa to Estepona?
I went to Estepona more often, of course I could also go to Sabinillas, but Estepona attracted me more, I went there for coffee. I find Estepona super cozy. Even though there are many foreigners, it is still very Spanish. I’m just in love with Estepona. We still had savings, so we thought: what’s it going to be? We have viewed several houses in the area, but it was not that interesting… Michel had found this house, a ruin, I was just in the Netherlands when he sent me a film. The house met our requirements. I could start my shop there and rent out rooms. I would like to do something for myself, because I enjoy choosing my own working time.
If you do what you enjoy, you are not working right?
Exactly, look at Michel. It works hard every day, but with a smile, nothing is too much … And you need that. You have to have something to offer, you have to work hard in Spain and you have to distinguish yourself. Michel has been busy for the past 4 years. But it took that long… Word of mouth is the best. I think that with artisanal work you are most likely to find work in Spain, provided you are good at your job and keep your commitments!
Have you made friends here in Estepona yet?
Yes, the good friends I have here are Dutch, but also German, Belgian, English. Spanish very little, that is mainly because I don’t trust myself with the language. Many elderly people live in our street, these people are so sweet and so open to us. You sometimes hear about Estepona: “You just have to wait and see with your neighbors, are you accepted as guiri?” (stranger from Northern Europe), but we are so happy here with our neighbors.
In the beginning, when we were renovating, we got comments when we were still making noise during the siesta, because we are not doing siesta. But you adapt, making noise in the morning and not after two o’clock. Yes, I am very happy here, it is a lovely house. We have no children, but 3 cats.
I was ready for a change. If you ask me now, will we live in Ibiza or take a trip? Also nice, but I don’t like all the hassle. Also in terms of work I like change, if I’ve achieved a few things, then I’m bored again. I have always worked at companies for 7 years or more, more because I liked it.
What do you like most about Estepona?
The streets, the people, the atmosphere, the different terraces, a nice beach, and a Spanish atmosphere, of course.
What restaurants do you think is the best?
We like to eat at Sur, Thapa Thai, in the harbor, Galería, Galpón in Calle Caridad and Las Gitanillas is very nice, typically Spanish, nice people, and I’m very happy with the Bodeguita del Chato here, and then I drink a vermouth preparado: a red martini with a little bit of gin, and campari, which I really like! Some nice tapas with it. In La Bulla, I do prefer to have dinner with my girlfriends. I like to try everything. Good food and nice people around me makes me happy. I don’t like too fancy places. Oh, yes, and what I really like is the Camurí in the Laguna Village, this is truly one of my favorite. And, with my feet in the sand at a chiringuito (beach bar) to eat, sangría… paella… delicious!
Are you going on holiday?
Well, I would be so lucky! Michel is, of course, too busy with his work. And that’s a bummer, I’d really like that Michel would have more time for himself. But for him, it is not a punishment. His work is his hobby. But, if we are going out, then it is almost always Tarifa. We are married in September and had a honeymoon night in Tarifa.
What was that then? Suddenly getting married?
Actually, that was more to get things official. We love each other, we’ve been together for 22 years. We did this for the future. And of course when we bought the house, that was the best decision. We got married in Casares Costa and my two best friends were the witnesses. We were married at eleven o’clock and two hours later we were in Tarifa. But for us it was not really necessary to get married. ‘I live today!’ I always say, but as I get older, I start to think about it. My best friend lost her husband, aged 57. That makes you think…
Life is short, so I want to get the best out of it and that’s how I think about the people around me, I choose people and things that make me happy. I’m quite good at that. We have no children, that was a conscious choice. We have our cats, I have so much fun with them, our crazy cats.
Which books and movies do you like?
I can’t focus myself enough for a book, I prefer reading a magazine. But I envy people who enjoy a book. Movies: I like a nice story, or a thriller. And in terms of music: especially Spanish and Dutch music, at home I often put on lounge music. Nice and chill.
What irritates you in Spain?
The animal suffering. I can’t take it, it makes me very sad. Fortunately, there is Animal in Need, in La Linea, this organization was owned by Peter Koekebakker, he died last year. They used to have quiz nights and I donated something to win. I sometimes fill my car with dog food, litter box grit and then I bring that along. They are very happy with that. But yes, there are so many good institutions like this… Unfortunately I can’t really do volunteer work at shelters, because I’m coming back with a car full of animals… It’s an endless prayer. If I could, I would save them all tomorrow! Buy a finca and fill it with a lot of cats! Fantastic. Our cats are all from the street, dumped…
What are your plans?
To open my shop, I have no idea when it will be possible. Are tourists still coming? Do they have anything to spend? That nonsense that you can’t even go on the street… Next month the virus will be there too. If you don’t want to be in danger, you stay inside, right? You are also responsible for yourself. I do some shopping here and there, but I feel a little numb, it makes me lazy. Michel was very happy to be able to work again, it gives a bit of structure. Anyway, don’t whine, we’re healthy. The rest will all come.