Name: Lisa van Gaalen
Status: cohabiting, mother of three sons
Age: 48
Jobs in Holland:
Graphic designer, Maternity nurse, Illustrator
Job in Spain:
Owner of HostHeroes, stories of expats in Estepona and surrounding
Reading books, wandering, watch movies, visiting art museums, running, painting, drawing, making beautiful things, cooking (for a special dinner), citytrips, having good times with friends…

How did you end up in Estepona?
Mainly because of the weather and we had to leave our house in Amsterdam anyway, because we grew out with three children. But then… Where? I told my husband in the Christmas holidays that I really didn’t want to grow old in that nasty Dutch cold weather, I had a vision of myself in the future with my walker, shivering down the street.

“Okay,” my husband said, “then we’ll see where we want to grow old.” And we went to Mallorca for the summer holidays. From day one, I was sold. I didn’t want to leave, I felt completely at home. When we returned to Amsterdam I was homesick and started thinking more and more about our future. Then I got the genius hunch and I said to my husband, ‘If we go to Spain when the children are big and can live on their own, we have to wait at least 15 years (the youngest was 5 years old at the time)… and then they don’t go along and we’re going to sit there old… If we go now, we can start something and just go with the kids!’

Those were the words we needed to suddenly turn the switch. From then on, it happened quickly.

Why Estepona?
We started in Nerja looking for the ideal place and searched virtually the entire coast. Many places fell off because of too many tourists, or ugly flats. Estepona is still very Spanish and authentic, with a lot of expats, but for our feeling not too much. The atmosphere is good, the streets are beautiful because of the bright flower pots and the murals, singing birds and you can cycle here (that was also a requirement of ours) and every day we see the sea.

When did you start living here?
We started to live here from 17 June 2018, so about 1 year and 8 months.

Who do you live with here?
With husband and three children (7, 10 and 13 years old) and a cat.

What are you doing?
I spend a lot of time with and for the kids, the oldest now cycles to school himself, but the youngest two I bring and get every day. Is not punishment, beautiful ride on the boulevard. The household, groceries and cooking, helping with homework. I go to Spanish class twice a week, from the municipality, for free!! And I walk and run a lot and afterwards I like to drink a coffee at my regular addresses such as café Sem’s on the promenade or at Café de Theresa. I go to painting course at Paco Alarcón (a famous (mural) artist in Estepona once a week and that’s actually two courses in one, because all morning I hear Spanish and I have to speak Spanish and then paint and draw.

What were your plans and what are they now?
We had the plan to find a house big enough for the opening of a B&B. But that’s not possible in the center of Estepona. And that was our demand: we don’t want to live too far away from everything. We don’t want to live somewhere where you always need a car, we wanted to find a place from where we also can cycle or walk towards supermarkets and restaurants. And so we just let go of the idea. I would also be the one who would do anything and if I think about it now, that’s just not possible with a family with three young children and I’m still busy learning and integrating the language…

Do you have a dream?
I have so many dreams, but every day I still think, “Is this a dream? No it’s real, I live in this beautiful country, in sweet Estepona…’ I feel blessed!

I have a plan with a friend to open a ‘pop-up’ gallery in Estepona: ‘Galería Jardín del Secreto‘, to open a not used building or shop temporarily as a gallery/studio for artists from Estepona and surroundings. I have already been able to meet a lot of talents here in my class and they can get a platform and show their wonderful works. It will make the streets look a lot happier. I always get very sad when a store closes. Another empty building…
Another advantage: people can see the building when they visit the pop up gallery… So, it might be sold a lot quicker… In short: a win-win situation…

I also like to link people together and I don’t mean in love, but in the sense: that’s how they help each other. That’s why I’ve now conceived the idea of letting Estepona’s expats tell their story when I do. It’s nice to know what they do and how they live their lifes here…

I want to write a book about the step to emigrating and how our life in Spain is. I read everything I could find and looked at all the programs about immigrating (with a family), so why not write down our own story?

Have you made friends yet?
Yes, I can’t complain. I’ve gathered a diverse group of nice people around me. That’s one of the fun things about emigrating: you get a different type of friends than before. People can be found in the circle (‘our kind of people’), here you learn to be more open to others. And: as an expat, you’re in the same life. I don’t really have Spanish friends yet, but acquaintances, because my Spanish is yet not enough. Unfortunately…

Where do your friends come from?
Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and South Africa.

Do you have sports and hobbies you practice here?
I walk a lot and run every now and then. Usually on the paseo. In the summer I swim a lot, several times a day. We cycle to school every day and back. And I sometimes paint and draw (Vialisa) at home and I go to the weekly course on Wednesday morning.

What do you like most about Estepona?
The sea first. The Senda Litoral, the path along the sea.. basically, one day, you can walk from Malaga to Gibraltar, I’ve heard…

Then the lovely streets in the old town. The flowers and plants everywhere along the paseo and in the town. The atmosphere: friendly and quiet. Early in the morning: ydillic and serene.

What are your favorite restaurants?
Thais: Tapa Thai in the harbour, Italian: El Rincón Toscano in the centre, along the paseo: Sem’s, especially after running and I like to sit and enjoy chatting with several custom clients at Café de Theresa (also for apple pie, organic coffee and healthy lunch) and then I discovered La Bulla, also in the centre, very refined food. And of course Wild: super creative and super healthy food, but on the other side of Estepona. I’m not very fond of Spanish cuisine and nowadays I also eat vegetarian…

Do you speak Spanish? What are you doing about that?
“Cada día mas.” I could do more about it, but now I go to the course of the municipality in the centre twice a week. That’s very fun and educational and I sometimes help the kids with their homework. I read a Spanish book from time to time. Facebook is set in Spanish and I also regularly try to watch Spanish movies with Spanish subtitles. In doing so, I try to avoid speaking English, but fortunately most people can barely speak English here. At least that’s how I get to learn.

Do you have any tips for fun getaways in Estepona or nearby?
Along the beach walk towards Casares Costa, beautiful and wild. Towards Punta Plata and continue walking along the paseo. At all the Senda Litoral, which is great! Walk the ‘murales’ route (murals). Looking for dolphins, with a boat (in the harbour). Of course the beach. Playa de la Rada or Playa el Cristo. But in the morning or after 5:00 p.m. in the summer…

Flea market in Benahavís on Sunday morning, then enjoying a picnic in nature. Casares, hiking, coffee in the square and on top of the mountain look at birds of prey and enjoy the view. San Pedro: drink coffee, rent a bike and cycle along the promenade towards Puerto Banús.

Of course the larger cities such as: Málaga, Ronda, Cádiz, Seville.

What are you annoyed about in Estepona/Spain?
Of course dealing with suffering animals: bullfighting and the sad end of the hunting dogs after hunting. Fortunately, there are also lots of Spanish people who do not agree with that at all. Furthermore, the mess everywhere. And then to think there is still huge cleaning up every day, but people’s tendency to just drop their waste, instead of looking for a trash can. Anyway… Unfortunately, you can see this everywhere.

All the vacant buildings, which give the street a sad sight.

What would you want to change if you were the mayor?
Stop right away with bullfighting and hunting. Use the arena for fun purposes. To ensure that I would use the title ‘animal-friendly mayor’ to stop hunting and abuse of hunting dogs. Doing more with marketing in general. Almost everything here goes through mouth-to-mouth, apart from Facebook adds, websites are most of time dramatically bad. I´d give pop-up stores and galleries a chance in empty buildings. Planting more trees, Estepona has just a few trees… Education at school: cleaning up instead of polluting, the beginning of education…