Celebrating five years of Nomad Estilo!
Six years ago I was sitting in the plaza in Aguamarga having a drink with friends when one of them told me that the shop on the corner opposite was available to rent. It was one of those moments in life which sounds cliché in the telling, but a thought hit my brain like a bolt of lightning and it said quite simply, “That’s your shop.” I had no idea what I would sell when I arranged the "traspaso" and signed the contract. That all came later. I spent months working alongside my builders gutting and decorating the shop, in what would be a crash course in small village life. I had a small budget and when I opened in March 2015 the shop didn't even have a name. I sourced products locally and from further afield which I thought would appeal to the market, inspired by my many travels and the beauty of the national park I now called home. As a passionate shopper myself I wanted to create the kind of shop I would like to shop in.
You could say retail is in my blood. My father was a wildly successful entrepreneur who built a local retail empire in a small town in the UK and I grew up running around his shop and playing among the boxes in the warehouse. My career had taken me on a different path, through travel journalism and interior design. When I moved to Andalusia in 2014 in search of a different life, I had never imagined I would end up opening a shop. I found the premises at a very difficult time in my life personally and having a creative project to focus on became an escape I badly needed.
Moving to the Cabo de Gata national park from Notting Hill in London has been a culture shock to say the least. I’d started visiting the area in 2011 and had fallen head over heels in love. The raw desert landscapes and unspoiled beaches reminded me of journeys through South America in my early twenties. I was desperate to get out of London and a cut-throat corporate job which ill-suited me. I wanted to get as far away, both physically and philosophically, from the grime and grit of the city. The endless hedonism which had been fun in my twenties started to feel meaningless and empty as I hit my mid-thirties. I wanted to live in the countryside, with sunshine and the sea, good food, and a lead a quieter life.
By the time I found the shop I had spent a year living in a remote cortijo, while in a short-lived, unhappy, and disastrous marriage. The shop was a lifeline, something of my own that gave me a sense of hope. Those first months in the village were hard. I was an outsider and my Spanish was rusty and far too South American. The closed accent of Almeria was almost unintelligible. I felt scrutinized with a mixture of curiosity and mistrust. I was also shy and unsure of how to interact, a fish very much out of water. I found a builder and asked him to give me one of his team to work alongside me and do the heavy jobs that I could not. I insisted that whoever he brought should not mind working with a woman. On the first day that Jose came to work with me, his wife Carmen invited me for coffee. This was of course not just a coffee, but a chance to size up the crazy English woman working like a builder alongside her husband. I seemed to pass that test, and soon became friends with the whole family.
My favourite anecdote from that time, early 2015, while I was refurbishing the shop is about the infamous Maria of the plaza of Aguamarga. Literally nothing happens in Aguamarga that Maria does not know about, she surveys the village from the upper windows of her bar with a hawk eye. One day while we were ripping down the false ceiling, electrical cables hanging down, the place thick with plaster dust, Maria came to see what we were up to. I told her she could not come in, and Maria took this rather badly. She then gave me the cold shoulder for about two weeks, refusing to look at me when I said hello. Finally, exasperated, I confronted her, while she sat on the bench outside her bar.
“Maria, are you angry with me? What did I do to upset you?”, I asked.
She huffed, and then rasped in her wonderfully gravelly voice, "You wouldn't show me the shop."
“I’m sorry Maria, it was a bad day to visit, would you like to see it now?”.
The thought of Maria, the matriarch of the village, getting the hump with me before I had even opened did not bear thinking about. So I gave her a private tour, showed her the things I had brought to sell, and explained as best I could in those days, what my plans were. She was delighted of course, now having the inside track on what the English woman was up to in her shop, and being able to inform everyone else of my plans.
Two days later, on one of the hardest construction days when we’d been working for about twelve hours straight, she brought me a ham sandwich and told me not to work so hard and to eat. We have been great friends ever since.
Today, May 2020, Maria popped in for a gossip and a sneak preview as we set up the shop for this year’s season, and told me everything was beautiful. Her opinion is of course, still as important as ever. We’re far later than normal this year of course. Back in March when lockdown started and we were all coming to grips with the reality of a pandemic I had no idea if I would be able to open at all. So far it seems we will have a summer of some sort after all, although we shall all still be wearing masks and coming to terms with the terrible loss of life globally.
When the virus hit I was in the midst of refurbishing and giving the store a much -needed makeover. As we're emerging from quarantine I’m so glad I did. It feels good to be making a fresh start after so much sadness and worry. My store has seen me through my own very personal storms in the last five years, and will survive beyond this one too I hope. This year I’m delighted to welcome back Leles, who helped me launch the shop back in 2015. She’ll be manning the shop for me and it’s a pleasure to work with someone who understands my vision and adds her own creativity and passion to the project.
I’ll be in the shop too, as much as I can. It remains a project I am passionate about, in a village that feels like home to me. Agua Amarga has been badly affected by the devastating impact of the virus on tourism. Many businesses will have a tough year this year. But the village is pulling together to provide the safest possible environment for its visitors this year. We are a close-knit community made up of those who are born and raised and immigrants from elsewhere in Spain and Europe. We have one thing in common though. We all love and are proud of our beautiful little village by the sea.
I hope you’ll come and visit us soon, if you can, and be part of our community for a while. This year is the fifth anniversary of Nomad Estilo and I’m working harder than ever on creating an online store that replicates the warmth and wonder I've tried to create in my little corner shop in Agua Amarga. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all my neighbours, clients, team members, suppliers, and collaborators who have supported my little business over the years. It continues to be an honour to serve and work with you. I hope to see you very soon in Agua Amarga.