It is easy to forget how much San Luis de Sabinillas has
changed over the last twenty years. No doubt some
readers will remember even further back.
Even in the year 2000, ‘Sabi’ was nothing like it is today.
The N340, as it was then, was a single-track road with
dusty, sandy verges. Entering the village from the north,
a lane, even narrower and dustier, ran off to the right,
through smallholdings, inland to the Roman Oasis
Restaurant, and on the corner was a fine institution, The
Gran Bar, open 24 hours a favourite for brandy and
coffee at some unearthly hours with the weather beaten
old Spanish gentlemen and lorry drivers.
On the left-hand side of the N340 was the abandoned
Hotel El Mero with a gigantic fig tree almost obliterating the façade which was, from the road, a convex edifice,
four stories high. The hotel was situated just before the
street that now leads off left down to the paseo. On the
corner was the first ‘big chain’ supermarket in town,
Super Sol, and behind that, the Correos: a tiny, narrow
locale, with room for three customers and queues
running back to the main road at busy times. The
Correos was soon to be overrun by the influx of new
residents. Post office boxes were like gold, passed on in
families. Beyond Super Sol were a few houses, El
Cambrai estate agents, the square on the right, with the
church a little further down and then, running right to left,
Calle Los Arcos. A Spanish restaurant, possibly the oldest in Sabinillas, that is now
an English bar called Arcos 38, and one or two high rise urbanisations
was to the left while a Hotel, Don Luisa, was the main
building to the right. A little further was another
scattering of houses, a school, and then the old sugar
cane factory, now La Colonia.
Where the paseo is today, there was sand with a few
fishermen’s cottages built directly on the beach. Many of
the flat roofs had strung twine between posts on which
local fish dried. The dried fish could be bought at the
weekly food market, each purveyor eager to allow you to
taste his wares before buying. The winches used to haul
the fishing boats from the water were of a design
unchanged for five thousand years. During the summer
there were two, ramshackle, chiringuitos, one at each
end of the beach and just a couple of fish restaurants. If
you were lucky, or there just at the right time, the family
fishing boat would land on the beach, fish would be
unloaded in buckets and the menu would be chalked up
depending on what had been caught.
The wasteland just inland from the southernmost
chiringuito was, on Sundays, a sprawling car boot sale,
known as a rastro, the highlight of the week for Spanish
and expat residents and visitors alike.
Back to the main road and opposite was the inland road
to Manilva that climbed the ridge through grape vines to
reach the village. In September the wine manufactured in
many homes in Manilva would find its way in plastic
bottles, onto the shelves of the family-owned stores in Sabinillas. In this instance, Super Sol never got a look in.
On the corner was a bodega where anything was
available if you had a few pesetas, beer, local wine,
cigarettes, lottery tickets, cannabis. It was one of the
daily meeting places for the older men of the village who
made their coffee and chupeta last all morning.
Heading towards Gibraltar, there was a ferreteria, a tyre
replacement business and a grocer’s store in what
resembled a barn. This shop was fascinating; heaps of
vegetables directly on the floor that you picked over and
loaded onto the counter where it was weighed and
bagged by a large Spanish lady who also guarded the
till. Her husband moved around replenishing stock as
required and, on request, taking huge bunches of
coriander, mint or parsley from the ancient refrigerator at
the rear of the store. The English bookshop was there
then, although only half the size, and a Chinese
restaurant on the corner of what was the only road to
two urbanisations inland. MiSuper, a family run
supermarket that adjoined a centre for all the christening
and communion parties, and then further south the
isolated, walled and barred, Guardia Civil station, were
the last buildings leaving town.
The population of Sabinillas was less than 2,000 in the
year 2000. Today it is over 7,000. It was a very relaxed
place, mañana was a favourite word whether issuing
from the mouth of the plumber or the bank manager.
As Sabinillas grew, so to did the atmosphere in the town.
Newcomers could be forgiven for thinking they were in
some wild west town in America at the turn of the
century, the 19th century that is. Drug running was not
unusual and some of the local young bucks carried
knives and, in a few cases, firearms. Kipling could have
been thinking of Sabinillas when he wrote ‘A Smugglers
Song’ - ‘Watch the wall my darling whilst the Gentlemen
go by’. Motorcycles and old bangers often raced through
the town with little regard for pedestrians or other
motorists. Having said that there was not much local
crime, or not much reported. The crime that was heard of
was mostly opportunistic, the odd bag snatch, the
occasional burglary and most of that was put down,
unjustly in many cases, to illegal immigrants who fetched up on the shores of Manilva municipality having been
transported across from Morocco in inflatable boats.
In the early years of the new century, the main road was
widened and verged, and an underpass appeared,
almost overnight it seemed. The bodega on the corner of
the Manilva road became a casualty of progress but the
filling station opposite benefitted from the easier access.
Urbanisations were built until Sabinillas joined up with its
neighbour, Puerto de la Duquesa, and a new paseo was
built joining the two. The Paseo in Sabinillas rapidly filled
with new businesses, cafes, restaurants and bars. In the
town, banks, supermarkets and solicitors joined the
ever-growing number of service businesses needed by
every large town. The Correos moved into a brand-new
building behind Mercadona and soon had to introduce a
ticket system to deal with the hoards. Sadly Paul Hickling,
owner of the Roman Oasis restaurant, closed its doors
for the last time in August 2018, the end of an era.
The population grew and, as it did, the Guardia and local
Police increased their efforts. There is no more crime in
Sabinillas now than in other places, probably less
because it still retains its Spanish family ethos and is not
yet that large that all residents are strangers. The
fishermen, old and young, continue to gather at the
southern end of the paseo to decide whether or not to
launch their boats and the beach winches still haul the
craft from the water. You may spot the random winch
now operated by a motor rather than the capstan bars
used in bygone days.
Inland the modern urbanisations are interspersed with
green parks and ponds, a far cry from the traditional
build, small, dark, cramped housing, that formed the bulk
of the residential property twenty years ago. Most of the
fishermen’s cottages have been replaced. Of those that
remain, some still dry fish on the roof but these days it is
for themselves, family and friends.
So much has changed, some things for the better, some
not. If you know where to look and who to ask, you can
still find local dried fish and local wine and fresh
vegetables taken from the smallholdings that morning.
The local people, residents and expats, are as friendly as
ever and mañana still rules.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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