Sunday, October 18, 2009

Smuggling Butter

In 1966 my family moved to Estepona Spain because my father was traveling with the Royal Navy doing scientific experiments. His ship would dock in Gibraltar every three months, for a week, so my mother felt it would be a great learning experience for us to move to Spain and that way we could also be closer to my father when he came to shore. Estepona was a small fishing village with four or five villas scattered around the hills, belonging to English families. One such family was that of one of the great English train robbers, Ronnie Biggs. One day, Ronnie Biggs took us kids out on his yacht, the Christina, and showed us where he had stashed all his share of the money from the robbery. The wads of cash were right there under the deck inside the cabin!
There were two apartments on the beach of Estepona and the rest were mainly caña huts dotted around the beach where the fisherman lived. Most but not all of the small community of scattered villas in the hills were running from the law for one reason or another. There was one small church and a bar-store. We rented the two apartments on the beach. Smuggling was the way of life there. We used to love to travel on the ferry from Gibraltar to Algeciras just to watch the people smuggle, mainly butter and tobacco. In the middle of summer, people would be wearing layers of clothes and huge shoes and hats. They always put something in an easy place to find so that the Guardia Civil would confiscate it and let them on their way with the rest of the stash. In those days the Guardia patrol of the coast line had a three kilometer stretch for each Guardia. They were provided with no equipment: anything they wanted they had to buy themselves. As each Guardia walked his three kilometers he would put fishing lines out and reel them in on the return trip hoping to catch the next day’s meal. We used to watch from the balcony at night as a small boat came ashore and unloaded boxes of goods, trying to avoid the passing Guardia. The little boats came ashore from a larger ship that was further out at sea carrying the contraband. One night the little boat that docked near us had its timing all wrong and bumped into the Guardia. After a lot of yelling and finger-pointing the Guardia left them to unload their contraband but not without having received a beautiful new American flashlight with a red blinking light at one end. The Guardia was so thrilled with his flashlight and used to shine it everywhere. Being children we thought it would be fun to shine our flashlight back at him. It became an every night ritual as he would pass our house he would shine his light and we would blink ours back at him. My best and only friend at the time was a young girl who lived in one of the caña huts with eight brothers and sisters. She had a baby brother that she was to care for at all times which meant he came when we went out to play. She always carried him by his feet over her back and he just slept all day. My brother and I got our first paying job there. We got two donkeys and every day would go up into the mountains and load the donkey’s basket with rocks and bring them back down and dump them on the side of the road. We would repeat the procedure until nightfall. The job only lasted two weeks because we never got paid and they had no intention of paying us. The rocks were for a building company that wanted to build a road to what one day would become the city of Estepona. We still had great fun riding our donkeys all over the beach and to the bar-store. It was there that my mother lost the little faith she already had in the Catholic Church because the priest was also the school-teacher and he had a little house next to the church and school. A few years earlier the roof had blown off the school and so he refused to teach until he had a new school and the villagers were much too poor to build one. He also had the only TV on the whole coast, I think, and the children would all try to look through his windows at this box with picture and sound. If they wanted to watch the TV he charged them a ‘duro’ - five pesetas. That was about what a family made a day in those days. My mother was so mad that she actually wrote to the archbishop to complain about the lack of compassion of this priest. Nothing ever happened so the children continued without school. It was the first time I had ever seen a mother nurse. It was custom to feed the mother well and that way she could nourish her children even the older ones because other than that they had little more than fish and bread to eat and what ever they could scavenge from the mountains.

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