My first trip through Spain was in 1972, I was driving to Marrakesh following the trail of James Mitcheners book 'The Drifters'.
I had just lost my stock from a boutique I had owned in London, and things were pretty bad one way or another in most areas of my life.
My long term girlfriend had been to Bermuda and had an affair, a girl we shared a flat with was pregnant with my child, thankfully her boyfriend knew nothing... (she aborted the child), another girlfriend had dumped me (sensible girl)when she found out about the second girlfriend.... so when my shop got burgled, I did what any immature selfish and irresponsible 21 year old lad would do in the circumstances.....
I took off the Morocco with my best friend.
Trouble was he admitted he was homosexual over dinner in Granada.
I was outraged, not that he was a homosexual, that did not affect me, but that he had not told me earlier in our friendship, that illustrated a lack of trust.
Leaving England in a 1963 Morris Minor was my first trip abroad.
We went well prepared; having twenty one British pounds in our kitty between us (about $50 at that time) and a length of tubing to syphon petrol (which was ridiculously cheap anyway, but not as cheap as stealing it).
France looked like it had not recovered from the war, and everything looked dreary and .....French.
Food was cheap in the markets, and we stopped by rivers and ate crusty french baguettes with wonderful cheeses and cut sausages, never seen before, washed down with cheap but superb red wine.
We traversed Spain from top to bottom, completely unaware that Basque nationalism even existed, I was scared witless by this strange country where, once we crossed the Pyrenees, we entered a land of sudden road blocks with Guardia holding very serious machine guns aimed at your car.
The frequency of these rod blocks decreased in direct proportion to our distance from the border, and as we headed south Spain unfolded before us.
In those days there were simply no motorways, we only got fast wide three carriageway roads when we started milking the European Union cow, so at that time travel was as slow as the truck you got stuck behind.
The trucks were diesel smoking death traps, all painted French blue and sporting a plethora of illumination in an attempt to survive night driving.
Treacherous roads, with drivers who started drinking Anis with their breakfast and carried on to a bottle of wine with their lunch and brandy at every coffee stop, made driving interesting and slow if you wanted to survive.
The normal 'desayuno' (breakfast) of peasant bread liberally doused in olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh crushed tomatoes, seemed horrendous at the time, although over the years it has become a favourite of mine whenever we travel.
Play this while you read...
Slowly Spain lay out a canvas of colour and smells that both enticed and amazed in their texture and abundance.
Madrid was a complete shock.
Growing up in classrooms that still had large maps of the world coloured red on the walls, and having a 'gungho' nationalism taught to you at a young age (only to have our masters attempt to strip it from us as we passed from Empire to socialist paradise) did not prepare me for the splendour of Madrid, which equalled the majesty of London and Paris.
Paris I had expected to be relatively civilised, after all it was near enough to London to still be considered part of the modern world, but Madrid, in Spain!
Conceptually it had never occurred to me that a country of such primitive background could produce such magnificence.
Having no spare cash whatsoever, even a short break at a sidewalk café was out of the question, so we motored onward towards our goal and left the lofty heights of Madrid (it sits on a plateau looking down on the rest of Spain) and found the vast plains that stretch out towards the south.
Andalucia, when we finally entered that magical kingdom, was astounding.
I stopped on the road for a rest and looked down the mountain I was transversing, to see a village of miniture houses nested below my vantage point. The height I was looking down from was beyond anything I had ever seen in flat England, and then I looked up and saw the same distance above me, a mountain seemingly soaring towards heaven.
My complete insignificance was apparent immediately surrounded by such God given majesty.
Descending down to the coastal plain that makes up the Costa del Sol, was a slow process behind the ubiquious blue trucks that jammed the roads.
But broke or not, nobody should pass Granada without seeing the Alhambra Palace, built by the Moors during their extensive stay in Andalusia, and showing a culture that was enlightened and cultivated when we Brits were still experiencing the Dark Ages.
As mountain gave way to plain I saw Torremolinos for the first time, a line of tower blocks that seemed to have been dropped like a stick of bombs from some gigantic bomber wing.
Here was my first place of pilgrimage to The Drifters, here was the location of Bar los Alamos so central to the story.
I never found it. It existed, indeed at that point in time it would have been open for me to find, but I spoke no Spanish and anyway no Spaniard would have read The Drifters in those days, so asking directions would have produce either a swift '¿que?' or a rapid stream of rhetoric unintelligible to me.
Seven years later I was in Spain each weekend, flying hapless buyers from the UK on weekend inspection flights, and I found the character that Mitchener based the owner of Bar los Alamos on, an American called Harry Hubert, who was if anything more exotic that the character created from his image.
Harry came from Huguenot stock that went to America when thrown out of France, growing up in Brooklyn NY, he joined the Marines in time for Korea, where a grenade gave him a free vasectomy, but left everything else functioning normally.
Harry had travelled to Spain in search of himself and found himself very fine indeed.
He opened a bar in Torremolinos (called Bar Central, not Los Alamos) and met Mitchener when he was researching The Drifters.
Harry became a firm friend, both due to his close association to a formative book for me, and the fact that he was probably the most laid back man I've ever met, with a wonderful humour and quick wit.
He showed me once the letter from Mitcheners publishers granting him Mitcheners blessing to change the name of the bar from Bar Central to Los Alamos, but warning him to buy the adjoining premises to allow for all the people who would seek it out.
I was one of those seekers who found an answer to my quest.
Harry could make a complete hub on his own, he could make a book probably, but a hub for sure.
He died about 15 years ago now, and at his memorial service over 400 people turned up from all over the world, including a detachment of Marines from Rota base to do the honours with the folding of the flag. There was a very long an drunken wake held that night and the next day, based in Harry's Bar (his last bar, finally named for him) which had hand carved and decorated panneling done by some famous people, depicting bull brands of all the leading bull ranches.
Harry was an original Pamplona runner a la Hemingway, and every year runners from all over the world would congregate in Harry's Bar in Calle Medina, Fuengirola, to make the pilgrimage to Pamplona and the drunken days that entails.
When Harry died, a whole period of history passed with him.
I miss him still.
Once more I've travelled across Spain without getting to mention the hubs supposed subject: Religion in Spain.... but I hope that's acceptable, because Spain IS different and in order to understand the current religious mix, you will need to know how it got here!
So, hopefully tomorrow I can finish the journey, or at least finish this journey....for Spain has many delights to unravel as you travel the highways, (and more significantly the byways)....and having reached some sort of destination, get down to writing the article on religion in Spain.
Maybe you will join me still, if my meandering through Spain has not discouraged you?
PJ on April 26, 2017:
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on April 10, 2017:
See Bob's comment below: Plaza Gamba Alegre, just Google it.
PJ on April 09, 2017:
Bob... where... in Plaza Gamba Alegre... in Torremolinos... was the original... Harry's Bar located... that so many knew as... the so called... Alamo... so, my daughter and her husband can take pics... for my husband... while they are there... next week.
Bob on December 22, 2016:
Jim, I lived in Torremolinos from 1970 until 1978. The first drink I had was in Harry's Bar, served up by the lady bartender Marge. I knew Harry and liked him. The Harry's bar that I knew and that was owned by Harry Hubert (actually, leased--"trespasso") was in Plaza Gamba Alegre in the center of Torremolinos. Harry had managed the Bar Central not far away in Plaza Andalucia, but when that job fizzled out, he and a couple of other guys endeavored to "own" a bar---First called "The dirty old mans", it later became Harry's when Harry took over management.
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on September 28, 2012:
Jim, you are right of course, Harry also had the biggest grin, a grin that won a thousand 'hearts' and seemed irresistible to women!
Thanks for reading.
JIm on September 28, 2012:
You forgot to mention Harry Hubert's amazing, roaring laugh, and the hugest heart among great men.
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on August 22, 2012:
Hi glennmoy, and of course we all did get to the bar and spend our pesetas, though as I remember it, we were drinking Harry's booze dry, and reminiscing.
So many of the old 'faces' from those days are missing now.
glennmoy on August 22, 2012:
So glad to see Harry Huberts legacy living on. Just reading about his funeral brought a tear to my eye. I was there and will never forget the Marine Corp. in the Plaza in Funnygorilla! Harry was probably looking down and saying in his cigar/whisky voice " Will you lot just get in the bar and spend your pesetas!"
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on October 31, 2011:
Hi Jim, I only met Harry in the 80's and my early picture of him was from his recounting how he got there, so I bow to your first hand experience.
I just know I miss him even today, and his beaming face is ever in my ability to recall how he looked, a rarity amongst my dead friends.
Jim Campbell on October 31, 2011:
I knew Harry from May 1971 until November 1978. I remember it differently. He had Harry's Bar in Torremolinos and sold it to Bob and Marge LaTouche. Then he opened The New Bar Central. In June of 71 we booked the place for a dinner, going away party. Bobby Thompson cooked us a great chicken dinner.
Harry moved westward and opened up this next bar in what we used to call FunkyGranola. There he had his bullfight pictures. Dave Crockett was a frequent guest. He was an MD I met in Amsterdam and sent him that way. He became a fixture.
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on May 19, 2011:
Hi CRCOX, can`t contact you unless I have an address, but would love any corrected info on Harry you have, you can contact me via my profile page, or send me post on:
aguasilver at gmail dot com
CRCox on May 18, 2011:
I knew Harry Hubert well. From 68-71 and again form 75-77. He was a great friend. some of the writings are incorrect. You may contact me for the correct info.
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on March 11, 2010:
I'll have a look :)
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on March 08, 2010:
When I first drove down here (1972) I drove from Motril, where you came down from the mountains, to Algeciras (where I caught a boat to Morocco)and had the beach and sea on my left, and orange or olive groves on my right, with small towns and occasional villas built alongside, and Puerto Banus was just a construction site! in fact it may have been built of not, we never stopped as Marbella was too expensive for my hippie pocket!
Now it's concrete all the way.
But I live on a beach in La Cala, which is a pleasant enough place and where I am one of the eyesores that stole the beach view! - not my house, it's an American friend who built it 30 years ago outside of the small fishing village that has now become a small resort.
Such is life.
Thanks for reading, you should read my Spain series, they are all interlinked now!
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on March 08, 2010:
I watched some documentaries about Puerto Banus ~ which was small, fascinating & in the middle of nowhere, when we visited ~ but now looks very built up. I think that I would now find the whole Costa a bit too busy for me. :)
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on March 05, 2010:
Torremolinos I understand your reservations, it's become, or rather became a tourist trap and attracted the worse type of tourists for a while, but actually these days it's benefited from EU funds and is a much better place, the Paseo Maritimo is very pleasant now!.... and the town still has one of the best Argentinian steak restaurants I've ever found, served on a cast iron griddle right to your table.
Carihuela, which used to be the fishing village adjacent to ToyTown (which is what we call it)had a great tapas bar (on the second row) fish restaurant (on the beach side) where I used to sit (30 years ago) munching 'gambas pil pil' for the equivalent of 50 cents a bowl.... ah happy days!
Now I live in another old (former) fishing village (La Cala, you can visit on Google earth if you want!) where they charge tourists 2€ for a cup of coffee in the village square!
Such is progress, everything increases except my resources.
Thanks for visiting,
Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on March 04, 2010:
That sounds like a real adventure!
Spain really is special & Andalucia in fantastic. I absolutely loved the Alhambra, but I'm not so keen on Torremolinos, I'm afraid :)
I haven't been to the south of Spain since the mid 1980s & I'm guessing that it has changed substantially in the meantime.
We go to Catalonia fairly regularly, though.
Very enjoyable read!
50 Caliber from Arizona on December 07, 2009:
A fine continuation that was so smooth in flow if you had not pointed out that you thought it was an off course venture a true reader would never have noticed. I'm glad you did this as it provides more insight into your watch works and getting from tic to tock.
Well done! I followed you well even with this aching head....
John Harper (author) from Malaga, Spain on December 05, 2009:
Rob-Jr from Warrensburg, Mo. on December 05, 2009:
I look forward to your next part, but you are right understanding the information about Spain and your journey has given me a much greater appreciation of your work, walk, and where you call home. We often take the words we read or hear from our internal understanding. Yet, by you sharing I now have the opportunity to see it from your perspective, and maybe Ill find a deeper meaning because of it.