Living off the grid in Spain – Weekly Telegraph on 19th July 2012

This was the second article published in the Weekly Telegraph on 19th July 2012

Back in the UK Lorna and I had been lucky enough to afford the things we wanted, as we both worked. We had the latest phones, large-screen TVs, and all the modern conveniences people take for granted these days.

But June 2007 proved to be a pivotal month. Having been a dance teacher for 30 years and having gone through a minor health issue that had made working difficult, when I suggested a lifestyle change, Lorna did not take long to make up her mind.

Discussions had started slightly tongue-in-cheek when I suggested moving to Florida, based on two holidays there and a love of SeaWorld. But then the conversation moved to Spain. I had been investigating alpaca breeding in the UK, and after a small amount of research, we decided that this could be a plausible way of life; the industry in Spain had yet to take off, and we could be pioneers.

Alpacas originate from Peru, and were first imported to the UK only about 20 years ago. They are bred for their wool (fleece), which is wonderfully fine. It also contains no lanolin and is therefore perfect for people who have allergies.

Having started looking on the internet for suitable properties with some land for this new enterprise, we found an old olive mill that had been converted, with potential for more improvement, near the Moorish city of Córdoba in Andalucía. The fact that the mill came with no mains electricity and was powered only by solar panels, and water came from a spring in the hillside, meant no bills. Fantastic. However, all gadgets these days are powered by electricity. So, when we moved here and realised that our electricity was somewhat limited, we had to adjust to only watching the TV if the sun was out, no daily use of hairdryers and straighteners and no electric kettle or toaster.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a mobile internet dongle that gets us online, and keeps us in touch with the family, and we have satellite TV to watch English television, so we don’t live like people from the Middle Ages. We have just had to readjust to what’s important. We very rarely turn the TV on during the day, and when we do, we watch a small portable TV to make the most of our electricity.

Nothing is left on standby, and lights are always switched off when we leave a room. We do have a washing machine but that works only on solar power, although it helps to turn off the fridge. Our appliances are all A-plus rated and all our light bulbs are energy saving; some are even LED bulbs and use only one watt of electricity.

Sometimes in the winter, if we have a period of bad weather, we may not be able to do any washing for a week or two, and if we are low on solar electricity, it may mean reading a book by the light of a window, until as late as possible. There have been many nights of candle-lit Monopoly and Scrabble. The lack of central heating and carpets can in winter feel a bit cold, but putting on an extra layer of clothes, or an extra duvet on the bed at night can make all the difference.

In the four years since we left the UK, we now notice that our life has become a lot more simple. We still have worries – money, family and of course health. However, we see a lot of people back home still striving to measure their lives by value. They must have the latest phone, iPad or whatever the latest device is that has just been released.

At Christmas we see people posting pictures online of piles of presents for the children and it becomes almost a competition with each other. This is one aspect of life we have grown to love in Spain, as the holidays are not governed by rampant commercialism. There will be decorations in shopping centres from November, but it is not at all in your face. Easter is a celebration of religion and not of giving chocolate; in fact it would be difficult to find an Easter egg, and Christmas is a time for family meals and conversation.

We spend our time here in Spain out in the fresh air, weeding the land or looking after our animals, and we are not governed by TV times. The Spanish people have a healthy attitude towards life; spare time is spent with family. In summer, when temperatures will regularly soar past 40 degrees, this means going out as a family at 10pm, and can mean staying out (with the children) until three in the morning.

This family atmosphere is encouraged by the apparent lack of binge drinking. I am sure that it does go on, at least in the bigger cities, but I have never felt safer than walking around our local town in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes we will see groups of teenagers in the park, but where in England you may feel intimidated and they might be drinking cheap cider or lager, these teenagers will have bottles of Pepsi and some French bread. It truly is a different way of life.

People spend a lot of time moaning about their lives, but our time is short and to fully appreciate it you need to experience different sides. We know our life has been significantly changed by the time we have spent living here in Andalucía, and I think we are better people for it.

Baby llama

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