Two Decades of Roaming the Andalusian Countryside – an Interview with Patrick Elvin

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Patrick Elvin with one of his dogs

In order to figure out the degree of insanity inherent in leaving urban life for the Spanish countryside, we decided to interview some people having done just that. First out is Patrick Elvin, who is something of a local celebrity due to his roamings in the valleys and mountains of Gaucín and beyond. Patrick is the author of several guide books covering short and long walks. He generously shares his expertise during excursions with a growing community called Gaucín Walkers.

“The doctors say I can’t walk without a crutch for another three months, but I’m doing just fine!”, Patrick exclaims, as he greets us in front of his home just outside of the village. The restrictions happily ignored by the retired naval officer, lawyer and English teacher are due to a severed Achilles tendon. After making us coffee – yes, Emmie had coffee despite trying to give it up – we settle down in the shade of a spacious terrace, overlooking the Mediterranean sea and North Africa.

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The spectacular view from Patrick and Susan Elvin’s home, Finca Oropendola.

In 1948, Patrick Elvin’s parents came to Gaucín for the first time. Working in Gibraltar, they made a day-trip to see something of the Andalusian countryside. They were taken with the pristine beauty of the small village and its lush surroundings. Upon retirement, they made their move here, and eventually built Finca Oropendola, where Patrick and his wife Susan now live. “Gaucín was a very different place in the seventies”, Patrick reminisces. Poverty was more pronounced than it is now. Roads were non-existent or very rough, which didn’t matter much to most local people, since there were no more than two or three cars in the village. A good number of young men left Gaucín to look for work in the northern parts of Spain and in Germany.

Life in rural Spain attracted Patrick and Susan, who moved here permanently in 1997, for many reasons. One, was that Patrick’s pension from the Royal Navy could provide them with a far more comfortable life here than back in England. Other reasons – that we greatly identify with – were the climate, the food, the nature, and the generally welcoming atmosphere of Gaucín. The Elvins, who were then in their forties, grew vegetables on their land and pursued their interest in classical music by finding fellow musicians to play with. Now, they play the organ and the guitar during mass in the local church, Parroquia de San Sebastian. Patrick explains that life in Gaucín has turned out to be both socially and intellectually rewarding, much thanks to the village being a melting pot for academics, artists, musicians and other creative and industrious people fleeing city life of Spain, Great Britain and other countries. Today, one out of ten inhabitants have moved here from near and afar.

When asked about any downsides of life in Gaucín, the notorious Spanish bureaucracy is Patrick’s first – and only real – reservation. His approach is calmly accepting that even minor administration will take at least a whole day, if not longer. Other than that, he mentions that it has been relatively hard to integrate with people who are native to the village, much due to the local culture being very family oriented. The Elvins have made some Gaucín-born friends, and do occasionally get invited to social gatherings at their homes, but the lion’s share of such social life revolves around family. “It’s not very common to invite someone who isn’t family into your home.”, Patrick notes. More common, is, of course, casual meetings at one of the many bars and restaurants of the village.

The aforementioned walker’s community of the area is an important social scene for Patrick – and it’s how he and Emmie got to know each other a year ago. Their first hike together nearly did them both in, since they are equally stubborn and refused to admit to being the least tired. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”, Patrick revealed later on. Emmie recalls Patrick asking her “Do you have the strength for a detour?”, and, since she thought she couldn’t well be defeated by an elderly man having had hip surgery, she agreed to this, despite being quite tired. She soon learnt that Patrick’s knack for walks slightly too strenuous and adventurous for most people was widely known. In her opinion, of course, this is a disposition that makes for truly epic, and indeed challenging, encounters with nature and one’s own abilities.

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After a detour to Puente los Alemanes – a bridge built by the German army in 1918 – Emmie and Patrick climbed the steep hillside leading up from the bridge in order to reach this breathtaking view of Cañon de las Buitreras (Gorge of Vultures). To the right, the railway.

Towards the end of the interview, Kristoffer asked Patrick to tell us about the most dramatic of his walks. Patrick recounted an episode when walking from Jimena de la Frontera with a group of ten people, set out to do a 40 kilometer walk across the mountains. Pretty soon, things started going south. It turned out some of the walkers were considerably slower than the rest of the group, thus lagging behind. This upset the schedule, causing the walk to take longer than expected. Come nightfall, a dog ran away and it’s owner refused to go on without it. Patrick and the rest of the group insisted they’d keep walking, so as to reach the village where they’d planned to spend the night before it got too dark. They left cairns (piles of stone showing the way) behind to guide the dog owner and went on.

Well in their dwellings, the group felt increasingly worried. Patrick tried to get the dog owner on his moblile, only to reach his wife, who then realised that her husband had gone missing in the midst of the Spanish mountains. Come morning, Guardia Civil, the police and the fire department all gathered. After only a short time, they found the dog owner sitting by one of the cairns – a bit cold, but unharmed. Upon calling his wife, who’d been worried sick all night, asking her to come pick him up, he received the now legendary answer that he’d have to wait until she’d made her hair appointment.

In fine, we’d like to express our sincere gratitude to Patrick Elvin for spending two decades exploring, mapping and making available the Spanish countryside to us and other enthusiasts. We recommend any Gaucín visitors to join Gaucin Walkers, or get one of his books (see links above), to explore treasures that pass most Costa del Sol tourists by.

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