We Meet Juan but Wish We Never Had

When traveling in Spain, it’s not unusual to see crumbling homes. They dot the countryside and leave you wondering who they belong to and how they ended up in such ruins. But don’t assume that they’re abandoned and be weary if you dare to venture into one. We made that very mistake and were startled by what we found.

Riding home from Murcia, a beautiful city an hour south of Torrevieja, we spotted such a house. They’re often way off in the distance, surrounded by empty fields, but this one was right by the side of the road – close enough to see a For Sale sign and a number graffitied on the wall. Since our latest business idea involves a rural house, we decided to stop and take a look.

We drove the scooter down a small side street, parked on the side of the house, and walked around to the back where we were surprised to see a car in much better condition than that of the house. Thinking that it might actually be inhabited and no longer too confident in the age-old sign that, upon closer inspection, was actually missing numbers due to wear and tear, we hesitated in going further. But when a well-dressed man exited the building and didn’t run us off his property after spotting us, we decided to inquire whether it was, indeed, for sale.

The man declared that it was not and wondered how we got that idea. When David told him about the graffiti on the wall, he went to see for himself. That seemed to jog his memory and, suddenly, without any prompts from us, he started to tell his story.

He recalled how the owner of the property had wanted to sell it two years ago before the real estate crash and, at that time, was trying to sell it for 240,000 euros. The house was still for sale, and he, actually, was just the tenant – well, the squatter, really. Because, although he had paid 750 euros a month for four years, he had stopped paying altogether in the fifth. Furthermore, he blatantly and shamelessly confessed that he didn’t have any plans to pay further. What? Stopped paying altogether? No plans to pay further? He proceeded to make a quick calculation and declared that since he pays rent – or at least had paid rent for four years – he would require 40,000 euros to vacate the premises. What in the world?! I had never heard of such a thing! And then came his sales pitch: This small fee would be above and beyond the sale price, but he assured us that the house would surely cost less than 240,000 now considering that the economy was so bad and the fact that the owner was most likely in a desperate state since she lost her husband seven months ago. The story was only getting worse!

He seemed pleased with us – potential buyers that we were who practically dropped out of the sky to land at his doorstep – and seemed eager to not miss out on this golden opportunity to make mucho dinero off of his rented property. He gave us an extensive tour of the outside, and we marveled at the amount of land that went along with the house. It needed major landscaping and the additional buildings that came with the house were also in need of work, but David put his imagination into overdrive and somehow liked what he saw. But what we hadn’t yet seen was the inside of the house, and I wondered if the tenant/squatter intended to show us that. It seemed kind of weird that he would only show us the outside when usually the logical place to start would be the inside, but it also seemed weird that such a well-dressed man driving a nice car would be living in such ruins, and I decided it was better to not invade his privacy.

After touring the grounds, it seemed as though we were wrapping up the conversation when suddenly he asked us if we wanted to see the inside. Well, OK, we might as well. We were here already, and I was curious what these “abandoned” buildings look like on the inside. He opened the door, pushed open a curtain and we were instantly submerged in darkness. Day had become night and suddenly I realized that this house was not a house at all. It might be falling down, but it was by no means abandoned. It was this guy’s lair, and, as the curtain closed behind us, I quickly felt unsettled. I rapidly sized up my surroundings: A bar ran along the entire length of each side. The room was empty except for one girl sitting on a bar stool. I was curious to see more but resisted the urge to gawk. The tour was continuing. Straight ahead, past the bar, we soon reached the rooms.There was nothing in them, no decoration, no paint – only beds. The setting was depressing, there wasn’t much to see, but I realize now that I should have just been grateful that I didn’t see more.

In fact, our innocent stop at the abandoned house on the side of the road had led us straight to a nightclub. I’d heard about the nightclubs here. In fact, I’d seen the outside of one the day that I arrived and we were driving back from the airport. They’re ostentatious and loud and can’t be missed. Fortunately, David was there to explain to my sister and me that nightclubs are not the nightclubs that we know. They’re not places where you drink and dance and spend a fun evening among friends. Instead, they’re places where guys go with a wad of cash to spend an evening with women. These prostitution houses are completely legal and there’s no shortage of them in the area. (There’s also no shortage of woman standing or sitting along desolate stretches of highway. At first, I wondered why these woman choose these spots to lay out, but then I found out that these woman are not working on their tans but simply just working. These types of prostitutes are illegal and often come from Eastern Europe.) Needless to say, from the moment I found out what a nightclub translated into in Spanish, I had assumed that I would never enter into one. Now, I see exactly how wrong I was in my assumption.

Not only have I visited one, but I’ve been given a personal tour by the pimp, himself, the ruler of this nightclub. And now I understand that nightclubs come in all shapes, sizes and conditions. The pimp had rented the location five years ago, after a small white lie to the owner that he intended to open a restaurant, and, instead, had opened a profitable nightclub in a building whose walls were falling down. Worst of all, Spanish laws protect the tenant after a year of habitation and, unless she wanted to fork out major dough, the poor widow was essentially powerless to get this non-paying tenant off her property. (David could only sign an 11-month lease for our apartment, and I’ve heard that many landlords find it easier to find new tenants every 11 months than sacrifice their property to the whims of irresponsible tenants.)

Later, when sharing the story with David’s family, we got surprising reactions. David’s dad was so convinced that we had inadvertently met one of his cousins that he asked us for a description of the guy and the location and even had David call the guy back. As a gypsy, David’s dad has family everywhere. But because gypsies are such nomads, he has lost track of many of them. The answer was no, and I let out a huge sigh of relief. Meanwhile, David’s uncle immediately knew of the dilapidated house on the side of the non-descript road and proceeded to tell us that that particular portion of that specific highway is known in the region for its activities involving prostitution. Wow, who knew?!

When opening a business, I have always heard that location is important but this experience emphasized just how important location really is – and just how incapable we still are of picking the right one. Since David and I are complete newcomers to the area, we are vulnerable to such mishaps. Fortunately, we have family to help guide the way and set us back on course, whenever necessary. And while the location slid down the list in regards to having the most potential, it definitely topped the list as being the most interesting one seen thus far.

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8 responses to “We Meet Juan but Wish We Never Had

  1. Ok now that sounds scary. You couldn’t pay me to go into a ruin like that around here lord only knows what I would find. You two are brave! What’s this new business idea??

  2. What a strange, crazy experience! Now if you stop writing blogs, I’m going to really worry about you – and come look for you in “abandoned” buildings! I’m glad you made it out of there with yourself & your husband intact! Definitely it made for an eye-opening awakening into the world of business in Spain as well as the world of renting in Spain – both of which I understand why you are wary!

  3. OMG! That is scandelous! Squatters rights seem a little extreme in Spain.

    I laughed so hard when David’s dad thought that it was a relative. Man, David’s family just gets more and more interesting. He’s Gypsie-Spanish French? Don’t the Spanish Gypsies have sort of a different standing as an ethic group in Spain (different than in the UK or Italy for example)?

    So is the new buisness idea a Bed and Breakfast?

  4. Yeah… I wish I wasn’t gypsy, because of this chapter, but I really prefer to comfort myself thinking how well they know music, instead of thinking how many pimps are in the family… I laughed when my dad told me about his cousin… And then as the crisis gets worse here, you can see all types of “pluri-empleo” women on the side of the road. They work during the day in a normal job, and have a ” second job ” in the afternoon/evening…but guys, understand that in times of crisis, prostitution is legal in certain countries, like here and France, but not on the side of the road, and sometimes these pluri-empleo prostitutes work alongside the local police to help catch “illegal customers” ….cheers everyone!!

  5. Ah, to clarify: I am 100% pro-legal-regulated-prostitution. The Gypsy Kings (gitanos and gypsies…similar or no?) are one of my all time favorite bands. To sum up, this latest post contains my political and musical tastes all wrapped into one. Go Spanish-Frenchies!

  6. Amy, when you come for a visit, we’ll have to take you in to an abandoned-house-turned-nightclub just so that you can experience it for yourself 😉

    Coral, hopefully, if we ever disappear, we won’t be in a nightclub but in a paradise somewhere near a church (I think you’ll be able to find us!)

    Jess, you’re hilarious. I second that: Go Spanish-Frenchies. I will have to drill David on the ins and outs of the Gypsy breed and write a post just about that!

  7. Oh My Gosh!!!! this is the best mystery that I have ever read!!! and it is all reality!!!!! this story kept me in much more suspense than any James Patterson book, Stephen King book, or any other! Wow, I am in complete disbelief. Yes.. my curiousity would have gotten the better end of me too. it is so bizarre!! that is amazing that the guy had literally stopped paying rent and that all of a sudden he was playing the role of a realtor trying to sell the house?? well….. i know why i really needed to read this one. I am glad that you two travel together 🙂

  8. I was really scared for you both there for a moment. I am pro-legalized prositiution as well (better protection for women medically, physically, and legally) but it’s still really sad to hear about it from a first person’s persepctive. Beautiful and unexpectedly funny writing!

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