Moving to ROTA, Spain? What you need to know!
If you've somehow managed to
swindle get your hands on orders to Naval Station Rota (NAVSTA), read on because you're in for an unbelievably amazing experience, one that you'll never forget for so many wonderful, exciting, interesting and challenging reasons.
And for you, I am going to write a series of 'Moving To Rota' blog posts, each one covering VITAL information from my year-long point of view as a military spouse of an E7 active duty husband, living off-base.
I want to bypass the not always entirely accurate handbook of a million details and make your move and time in Spain as REALISTIC and enjoyable as possible. Consider this post on 'Where to Live', Part 1.
First things first: Don't Be Scared! Sure, you're moving overseas but in reality, you're moving to an American military base (lamen) that just so happens to rest on Spanish soil. This means that if you foolishly decided to never leave the gates (and some people do), you would probably never even know you were in Spain...Walmart could be just down the street for all you'd know.
|Naval Station Rota Map (Absolutely NOT to Scale)
But, please please please DO NOT become a Base Rat as they are unaffectionately known here. Base rats are those people that rather than get off their butts and experience the amazing short drive away travel opportunities (Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco) and cultural experiences at their doorstep (literally), choose to sit at home and become Base Rats..no bien!
Where Should I Live?
Fortunately, as it stands now, you have the choice to either live on base in standard (very small) cookie cutter thin walled, base housing without cost, or, you can live off-base (in the economy) and utilize your housing allowance cap, which is different for each service member.
Keep in mind, when you arrive though, you'll have thirty days of paid lodging either at the Navy Lodge or in temp base housing (some deduction in pay for temp housing), to find a house off-base or move into a base house, of which I'm not sure if or what the current wait list is.
However in my opinion, if you have children or pets like we did, and don't mind a small reduction in pay for comfort, opt to stay in temp base housing, as the Navy Lodge is a simple small hotel room.
And on that thirty day window....don't be too scared by the deadline...extensions are possible through housing, as during our way too long (picky) 'house hunting' period, we extended an additional fourteen days.
Eventually, after multiple house inspections and negotiations we found a fabulous house off- base in an area known as El Puerto de Santa Maria (Puerto for short), an area that we had chosen to live, even before arriving to Spain.
We chose to live off-base for the sole reason that we wanted to experience Spain as locals and not as American tourists visiting for three years. We wanted to immerse ourselves into the Spanish culture and with all due respect, remove ourselves from the possible daily drama of on-base nuances of which, unless your spouse happens to be the big big boss (el Jefe), chances are may experience on this tour in some form or another.
There are two housing areas: Las Palmeras (the palms) and Las Flores (the flowers).
Las Flores: Two story apartment, separate kitchen, living, television room. Thin walls, squeaky floors and stairs. Lino floor downstairs, thin grey carpet in upstairs bedrooms. Very small back yards. Joined to adjacent house at kitchen/living room wall. Outside patio area joined to adjacent apartment.
Las Palmeras: Single level, brick house, separate kitchen, pantry, television room. No living room, so most people use a high bar-style table and chairs. Thin walls, larger yards. Houses joined at garage.
Either way, unless you or your spouse happens to be a big, big, big wig, base housing is SMALL, I mean REALLY, REALLY, sell that living room furniture, small...really!
|DGF School: Facing the Elementary & Multi Purpose Buildings
However, an exciting conversion project (two houses into one) is underway in Las Palmeras, which from what I've heard is going to be wonderful, although if you are arriving any time within the next 6-12 months, don't get your hopes up on getting one of these...the show model was only released just before Christmas 2011.
Which House, Which Area?
If you do decide to live on-base, when you arrive, not beforehand, head into the Housing Office (beside the hospital), register your arrival and house hunting intentions with them, and you will be shown a map with the available houses to you, rooms based on how many dependent children you have.
Then, head off in your matchbox rental car (from the airport terminal desk) and drive around and see each house.
Keep in mind that some corner lots will have larger yard, some even with trees, some are on a slight hill with a view of the nearby fields (Las Palmeras area: splashed with vibrant sunflowers in season) and some are simply wedged between other houses with no view or yard to speak of. Make your decision wisely, as you only get one paid move!!!
If you live on base there are NO out-of-pocket expenses, no gas bill, no phone bill, no heating/ac bill, it's an all-inclusive use as much as you like deal!
Proximity to base facilities?
Base housing is approximately a five-minute drive from the majority of base facilities including the drive-in, Commissary, Exchange, Child Development Centre (CDC), fitness centre, hospital, and obviously, you or your spouse's place of work.
|Downtown Puerto: A Bustling Area with the Famous Bullring
David G. Farragut (DGF), the shared one complex elementary/middle/high school is within walking distance from all base houses in Las Palmeras, or at most a two-minute drive away from Las Flores housing.
Is it safe?
Absolutely, you're inside a gated secured military facility.
I mean I wouldn't take it for granted, but your children will always have a playground to play in (they are scattered throughout housing) with numerous other American children wandering around...at all hours and all ages!!! This base is small, everyone speaks English and seems to know almost everyone else and who's children go with which parents. It feels like little suburban America to me.
Should I sell my appliances?
Base housing runs on US voltage with US outlets so you would be crazy to sell your appliances. If you do decide to sell them, housing warehouse can loan you appliances (no cost) for the duration of your tour.
110 US voltage
220 European voltage
Living off-base doesn't mean that you are removed from the base. If fact, we live in an area called Santa Catalina within El Puerto de Santa Maria, and it takes me approximately a 10-15 minute drive to reach the base, a distance that is not even a talking point considering the size of our house and the experience for us of living in the economy.
|Santa Catalina Beach: El Puerto de Santa Maria
I drive Michael to the CDC every morning, work out, drive home, shower, go back on base, sometimes two or three times a day...it's never a concern, every facility is still at my finger tips, though they are just a touch longer.
And, if you are worried about no habla Espanol (no speak Spanish) DON'T BE, as English is widely spoken by most real-estate agents or with the translation assistance of Housing.
If you are considering living off-base, here is a breakdown of the most desirable areas, each with their own personality and each within a few minutes drive from the base. There are other lovely areas, however they are a little further away from base.
EL PUERTO DE SANTA MARIA (El Puerto for short) - pronounced PWERTO!
This is, from what I keep hearing is, I guess the most desirable area for American's wanting to live off-base. Puerto is like a fancy umbrella and underneath it sits little suburbs including Puerto, Puerto Sherry, Santa Catalina, and Vistahermosa.
Houses are typically large three or four story in a white or red wash stone exterior and white marble interior large. Most have medium sized front yards, high security fences, swimming pools, view of the ocean, and are within walking distance to either a gorgeous beach, the port, the country club, bullring or some other form of delightful Spanish entertainment.
Rota, an old town is the closest to the base (just outside the gate) and is typically favored by young couples and single people who enjoy a vibrant beach party atmosphere, especially come Summer when the clubs open and the streets pouring with happy tourists and locals are filled with music until 6-7am.
|Rota Rooftops from the Castle
The houses are usually two-three story white wash, close or attached to each other with minimal or no yard.
Rota is a quaint historic town filled with great restaurants and nightlife, however, with young children it personally would not be my first choice.
EL AGUILA, EL MANANTIAL & LAS REDES
These beachside areas sit in between Vistahermosa and the Naval Base and the famous Churos stand.
El Alguila with two-three story homes, saddles Vistahermosa but some 'shady' agents will try to tell you that it's considered Vistahermosa...it's not! The reason I cover this is because, just as back in the US, public school selection (if you are interested in sending your little ones to Spanish school) in Spain is dependent on where you live, and the Vistahermosa, El Puerto areas are highly desirable for American and Spanish families.
El Manantial and Las Redes remind me of a 'dude' if Spanish had 'dudes' beach town with a touch of the classic European style. More medium rise apartments than houses here, and all a close walk to the beach and base.
Monthly rent, after negotiation can be anywhere from 1500-2200 Euro plus utilities depending on the area of preference, the size of the house or apartment and number of bedrooms.
BUT!!! Never accept the initial asking price EVER!
The Spanish real estate agents and landlords know that whatever seemingly low amount that we Americans pay for rent, it is still likely to be double what the local Spanish locals would pay.
They also have an idea of the military housing CAP range (never reveal your cap), so with that in mind, don't be afraid to negotiate on rent or other amenities such as a pool fence or heating/ac installed etc.
We negotiated our rent down almost 800 Euro per month from the initial ridiculously way above our cap, asking price, and had the owners pay half for the pool fence.
Oh, and by the way, unlike in America where it's law to have a pool fence, not in Spain, so don't expect to find it, and if you do, it's likely that an American family lived in the house previously.
Proximity to base facilities?
Of all the locations above, you will never be more than a ten-minute drive from base or a 20 Euro taxi fare (set amount to get on base). Plus, the benefit of living in town is that you have endless walking-distance options when it comes to dining, entertainment and beaches. There are no cab fares, no carrying your military ID, no 10:00 pm curfew, Spain never sleeps (at night anyway), and you become instantly immersed in the Spanish way of life and the beautiful language...no habla Ingles!
If your children attend DGF school as my older daughter does, the free DGF only buses route throughout all of the above areas to school and return. The buses are supervised by a teacher, names are checked off and ID must be shown. My daughter has only a five-minute walk to and from the bus stop.
Is it safe?
I can truly only speak of El Puerto de Santa Maria in regards to daily living of which yes, it is incredibly safe with private security cars that patrol nightly. It is not uncommon to see families walking around late at night, us included. I have left the cars unlocked with windows down numerous times and never had an issue..we also live in a cul-de-sac, so I'm sure that's part of it. Overall though, I have never felt unsafe, ever.
We were warned of the petty crime in Spain, smashing windows to retrieve sunglasses etc, but touch wood, we have not experienced any of this, however, I have heard from many that Rota and El Alguila are more familiar with these petty crimes. Typically if I'm in town though, I never leave anything valuable in sight in the car...that's common sense.
Should I sell my appliances?
We kept most of our appliances, despite being warned otherwise, and I'm so glad we did. Housing will loan you (no cost) as many transformer's as you need (suggest 3 or 4) for the duration of your tour.
A transformer is NOT a power converter like you buy when you travel abroad, so please do NOT try to use those little travel converters on your US hairdryer or other appliances: they will catch fire and blow up..trust me!
|Transformer: So Inconspicuous!
Rather, they are small grey boxes that convert your US voltage (110) appliance to European voltage (220).
The newer transformer's seem to blend better with our appliances and although still two-hand heavy, with three in the house, it means that I can still use the Dyson, whip up my cakes in the Kitchenaide and keep the computer's and X-box charged.
List of Appliances to Consider
Washer/dryer: SELL, as they will not likely fit into the allocated spaces in houses here, plus housing will loan you (no cost) brand new washer/dryer with Spanish outlets for the duration of your tour.
Television/ X-Box/Computer/Stereo: DON'T SELL, as you can hook them up using a transformer, however most houses in Spain come furnished or partly furnished (meaning you tell them what you want them to leave..eg TV)
For all those other smaller items like hair dryers, portable fans, humidifiers, personally we sold most as we knew we were going to live off-base and, then simply went to nearest Walmart equivalent (Carrefore) or the Exchange and purchased Spanish voltage appliances for little cost.
I trust that I have at least given you an insight into the different areas surrounding the Naval Base, the style of house on or off-base and a general insight into your up-coming move. Stay tuned for Part II, which will discuss the intricacies of finding the right house off-base and the process in how to make it yours, despite what 'they' will tell you, plus a little more about the Rota Naval Base facilities and the surrounding area.