Have you ever thought to yourself how nice it would be to escape from the everyday city life of noisy buses, trains, trams, and subways? A place where there are no skyscrapers, corporate offices, traffic lights, crowed streets with stuffy people and the sun is always shinning. Rota Spain is that place. Rota is an ancient town, home of around 29,000 residents, situated in a privileged position at the extreme north of the Bay of Cádiz. It is a town where stress and anxiety doesn’t appear to exist, just friendly faces, walking along the cobblestone streets, greeting you with a “Hola” and a smile. But it is also a town where a unique, mutualistic relationship, in which both the residents and 6,000 Americans benefit from each other.
Traveling from the city of Cadiz, on highway A2075…after roughly 47km, you will come to the entrance of the town of Rota. At the round-about, the first and second exits will take you into the town. The third exit is the entrance of Naval Station De Rota, occupied by both the Spanish and U.S. Navy. The front gate of the Naval Station is literally a stone’s throw opposite of the town.
For most of the residents living in Rota, the Naval Station has been in existence their entire lives. They have become accustom to the presence of Americans shopping, eating and living in the local area. I spoke with one U.S. military member who ask to remain anonymous, why he decided to rent an apartment in town versus living on base free of charge. “It is definitely the best way to become part of the culture, and my family and I felt it would be the easiest way to learn a lot of the Spanish customs. The military provides a housing allowance for anyone who lives off base, and the overseas calculation for our family easily covers the monthly rent. The Spanish are extremely welcoming, and we have a great relationship with our landlord.” Laughing he added, “They have practically adopted us. They even invite me and my family to their family celebrations.”
Touring the town on foot is highly recommended. Any other method might cause you to miss something unique. There are no designer stores nor grocery food chains. Instead, you will find hand-made jewerly, hats and clothing, beautiful Spanish tiles, wood sculptures, and souvenir shops. Chino stores, labelled by the locals because they are owned by Chinese, resembles the American Family Dollar stores. Chino stores carries a wide variety of American products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder, Nike socks and New York City ball caps.
Examples of the U.S. military’s influence can be seen in various places. Some store owners cater to Americans by offering military discounts. Barber shop owners will advertise in their windows…military hair-cuts here. Some local businesses uses American names and terms.
This idea summer destination relies heavily on the local agriculture, and tourists. During the off-season, its main commercial activity centers on the fishing industry. The Americans play a large part in nurturing the economy as well. Over half of the automotive sales in Rota are made by members of the U.S. military.
Ceremonial lunches and dinners often take place at the local restaurants, as a way of showing an appreciation to the local cuisine while providing a profit to local restaurant owners. In return, menus are often found printed in Spanish and English. Coke cola is as familiar to the local residents as any typical Spanish product. McDonald’s hamburgers probably won’t replace the famous Spanish tapas, but coke cola is here to stay.
American music is popular in Rota. While walking along the narrow streets, bars and eateries are playing tones such as Lady Gaga, Drake, Justin Bieber and Rihanna.
American families are allowed to attend local Spanish schools. Spanish public schools will accept American students if they have space in their classrooms. “It is nice that the Spanish allows us to use their school system. But this can be good and bad,” said an American mother of three school age children, stationed at the Naval Station. “The good part is that enrollment is free, and you pay only a small annual fee that covers the cost of books and supplies. However, the educational material for each grade level does not compare precisely to American standard schedules, so when transferring from a Spanish school back to an American school, my kids may or may not need tutoring to get caught up to other classmates,” she added.
Siesta, meaning nap, is one of the most famous aspects of Spanish life —that dead period in the late afternoon when everything shuts down in Spain, in theory, so people can rest and take a nap. In Rota, small shops close between 1330 and 1700 hours. This allows for the working people to go and shop prior to going home for their midday nap. With knowledge that most Americans typically have lunch during the hours of 12pm to 2pm, some restaurants and shops will remain open to cater to the needs of their American neighbors. Local clothing store employee, Aitana Alberti doesn’t think the siesta policy would work in other countries, such as America. “I don’t think it would work in America, because people would probably not go back to work”, she said with a laugh. If you’re not use to eating dinner late, grab a snack because dinner for the Spanish doesn’t start until after 8pm.
Like most European cities, the country of Spain has their own lottery system, giving the locals a chance at the jack pot. But you don’t have to look very far to buy a lottery ticket. The hombre de la lotería (lottery man), as they are known in the town, will come to you. With their bright green vests, which can be seen for blocks, and green ticket stands, they are up and ready each morning, standing on the sidewalks, waiting for a chance to sell you a ticket. They are even allowed to solicit inside of the local restaurants and shops. Retired fisherman, Jose Antonio, has been selling lottery tickets for two years. He enjoys the fact that his job allows him to connect with the locals. When asked about sells on an average day, he said that during tourist season, he can sell up to 300 euro in lottery tickets and scratch-offs in one day. “But it’s the U.S. military who are my big spenders,” he said with a laugh. “They buy tickets all year, hoping to hit it big,” he added.
When you travel, you have two options: become a mere observer or get involved in the culture of your destination. Mixing with the locals is very easy to do in Rota. When you are here, you are treated like family. And for the 6,000 Americans living in Rota, the importance of respecting the town and its people is understood. There is an appreciation for a city such as Rota, which has managed to take care of itself without giving in to the look of the “urbanized” way of the world. “When visitors arrive, they know that they are in Spain”, said Alejandron Delacruz, a local vegetable store owner. “We have everything we need without having to look like London or Paris”, he added. “If you took away the U.S. military members and their families, what impact would the void leave on the local economy,” I asked Delacruz. “Well, we would feel the impact for sure, but I feel we would still survive because Rota is a very popular vacation area for Europeans but Europeans only come during certain times of the year. However, the U.S. military contributes to the economy all year,” he said. “I own two houses that I specifically rent out to Americans with a 12 month lease. I would lose money,” Delacruz added. “Why do you rent specifically to Americans,” I asked. “Well because the Americans are normally here for at least three years and I don’t have to worry about getting paid,” he stated with a laugh.
Situated on the beautiful coast of Cadiz, is a place where a unique relationship between two countries have proven to be very positive. For several decades, the U.S. military have called Rota Spain home, resulting in some amazing friendships and memories. So what would be the reason for such a positive relationship with the neighbors nearby? “The Americans have always been very respectful to our culture. They enjoy our city, our food and our people,” said Delacruz.
Culture is the soul of every country, the combination of everything traditional and extraordinary felt by the hearts of its people. And while different types of American influences have independently altered the Spanish daily lifestyle, they absolutely have not changed the traditional essence that characterizes Spanish culture.