The Good Life

sarah and martin at Casa de Carrasco Yoga Retreat in Spain

sarah and martin at Casa de Carrasco Yoga Retreat in Spain

I came to the Spanish Costa Daurada for the sunshine, and to mend a broken heart. But as my sister and I struggled to sleep through the storm that shook my crumbling farmhouse that first night, I´ll openly admit that I was having serious doubts that I´d found the right place.

During the small hours of that draining first encounter we discovered bats and rats. They too shifted as restlessly as my sister and I and there was little room for sleep. My friends had all told me how brave I was to move alone to a foreign country. But I now know that there´s a very fine line between bravery and foolishness.

My sister had kindly flown to Spain to help me sign the property deeds to Casa de Carrasco. But she had her own life in London to return to now and as we woke to grey clouds, groggy from a night of little sleep, we inevitably said our goodbyes. She held me at arms length and said “Are you sure you´ll be OK?” I wasn’t sure at all but this was my brand new life in Spain and saying no at this point wasn’t an option.

That was six years ago now. I have a photo of myself taken on that very day and I like to keep it propped up on my desk to remind me of what is really possible when we follow a dream, however vague or scary it may be.

My love of yoga and gardening had always fallen into the category of ´pleasant pastimes´, a distraction from, and an antidote to an otherwise stressful life. Yet I somehow wanted to incorporate both into my new life here. Still reeling from an unsuccessful marriage to an American man meant that I had lurched a little hastily, I admit, into this project. I had left a successful landscaping business behind, yet I held very firmly to the belief, as only a young divorcee can, that if I´d left my previous life behind in the States, then I had to to make a success of this one, here in Spain. Otherwise what was the point?

On buying the farm I´d vaguely planned to find work along the way or ´look into Green Tourism´ while I got back on my feet. The reality was quite different. With no job and dwindling savings I threw myself into maintaining my now thankfully sundrenched olive and almond grove. I scratched together some euros by harvesting and selling almonds and olives to the local co-op but it´s a job best suited to those who do it for love rather than the money. The locals like to say “mucho trabajo, poco dinero”.

By now my friends and family, while being supportive, were, let’s be honest, also feeling a little bit of pity for me. However, I´ll let you into a secret. I was actually having the best time of my life. Ever. I was picking almonds in blazing sunshine, in a bikini, in October. I rescued an eternally grateful black Labrador from the local dogs home, and we napped together at noon in a newly discovered bank of wild lavender. Neighbours came to offer home grown vegetables and dispense much needed advice as to how to go about pruning my ten acre grove. I was tanned and smiling, I was learning Spanish and living The Good Life.

This was all great fun but, as I was frequently told by well meaning family members, I couldn’t live on sunshine and almonds alone. Luckily I found a job as a waitress in a large hotel on the coast, surprising as I had only three words of Spanish at this point. In retrospect I think being blonde may have had something to do with it. The first two weeks were a blur of Spanish words, orders were barked at me until the language finally started to seep in, and stay in. Yes, it was awkward and uncomfortable, I was out of my depth and I admit that I cried into my pillow for a night or two.

But it got easier and soon I was bantering with the kitchen staff, gossiping with the waitresses, and asking for a pay rise (unsuccessfully, but I like to think this was down to the miserly attitude of the management rather than my faltering grasp of Castellano). As my contract at the hotel was renewed I discovered that I was now eligible to apply for a small loan at the local bank to further my plans at Carrasco. As a lowly waitress I´d learned to speak the lingo, I´d made steps towards developing my olive farm and while working behind the hotel bar I´d also met a wonderful man who has since become my partner. Not such a bad job after all.

I believe that the underlying thread that has kept me sane through so many changes is yoga. I practised at home almost every day, a very modest few rounds of Sun Salutations, a shoulderstand or two, helping me to feel strong and balanced. Without wanting to sound preacy, yoga seems to work on so many levels. All I needed to do was show up with regularity, simple as that.

So finally I had a plan. I would combine green tourism, camping and teaching yoga here at the olive farm, and with my small bank loan and Martin´s building knowledge I could train as a yoga teacher, we could self build a swimming pool and shower facilities to bring my dream yoga retreat to life.

The learning curve from being a building novice to a build-your-own pool owner was a steep one. I can confidently tell you that I´m a whizz at whipping up a cement mixer full of concrete these days, and along the way I learnt to trust, and believe that anything really is possible – when building a swimming pool or mending a broken heart.

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