Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Only in Spain!

It could only happen in Spain

The chaos of getting a courtesy car from the insurers – Part 2

My Fiesta after the hit and run at the Guardamar roundabout on the CV905. Little did we know that was just the start of Stress Central!

My Fiesta after the hit and run at the Guardamar roundabout on the CV905. Little did we know that was just the start of Stress Central!

Okay, so the cliffhanger from the last post is that, after almost 3 hours in the Quesada offices of Liberty Seguros, waiting in vain for the text that never came, regarding the courtesy car we still hadn’t got, we were heading for home to wait for the text that was definitely on the way. Then we would call the lovely and very helpful Maria Jesus (MJ) who would order a taxi to take us to collect our courtesy car.

With me so far, or have you lost the will to live? I wouldn’t blame you if you had, to be honest. Anyway, we headed home to Paddy, whose separation anxiety had ratcheted up several notches, having been home alone for almost 5 hours. Neither of us had the heart to tell him he was going to be left again, very shortly. Or at least we hoped he was. Two hours after arriving home, the text that was definitely on the way must have got lost, and I was just about to call MJ to communicate the news, when she beat me to it.

Apparently, even she had given up hope of ever receiving the elusive text, because she’d taken the radical step of ordering a taxi to take us to collect the courtesy car. At last we were getting somewhere. We knew that our own car was being repaired in Almoradi – about 5 kilometres away – so when MJ said the taxi would be collecting us at 5.00 pm, we weren’t too concerned. By 5.30, we’d be back at Piddock Place, complete with courtesy car, and Paddy wouldn’t have to spend too much more time home alone. The long day was almost over.

Actually, it wasn’t. Our courtesy car was not waiting for us in Almoradi – it was in Alicante, 55 kilometres away. Not unreasonably, I wanted to know why we needed to go to Alicante, and why the garage at Almoradi couldn’t supply a courtesy car.

‘Is way it works,’ said MJ, and I could sense the shrug of the shoulders. ‘Way it works’ also included me having to ring MJ on my mobile when the taxi driver arrived, so she could tell him what he needed to do. He turned out to be a she, and she arrived at 5.15, only 15 minutes late. That’s good for Spain, isn’t it? And she clearly wasn’t expecting more than one passenger, because she had her two kids in the back – a 4 year old boy and a 9 month old girl. So our taxi driver had to shuffle the kiddy seats along a bit to make room for me in the back.

Goodness only knows what Elf ‘n Safety in England would have made of it – or the fact that our taxi driver didn’t see the need to wait until she’d finished talking to MJ to head for Alicante. After 15 minutes, when she’d received instructions and enquired after MJ’s family and passed on the latest news about her own , (turned out they knew each other) I got my phone back, with the balance seriously depleted.

Always one to make the best of any situation, I practiced my Spanish on the taxi driver (another Maria) and played peek-a-boo with the baby. The boy was a bit wary of me. One question I asked Maria was how long she had lived in Alicante. Turned out she lived in Almoradi, so the next question was, did she know where we were going? Her ‘Si’ didn’t sound totally convincing, and the fact that she drove past the railway station three times before finally deciding to ask a fellow taxi driver for directions seemed to add weight to my suspicions.

By the time we found the car hire depot, it was 6.30 pm, and the Alicante rush hour was in full swing. And I remembered that I had never, ever driven in the city centre. The nearest I’d got was the N332 coast road, because if we go into Alicante, we go on the train. In a short while, I’d be driving a strange car out into the dark, in a city I’d never driven in, at the height of the Friday rush hour. It could only happen in Spain.


How hard can it be to get a courtesy car under an insurance policy? Extremely hard!

My Fiesta after the hit and run at the Guardamar roundabout on the CV905. Little did we know that was just the start of Stress Central!

My Fiesta after the hit and run at the Guardamar roundabout on the CV905. Little did we know that was just the start of Stress Central!

A few weeks back, I was taking some visitors from England to Moncayo Market on the Lemon Tree Road.  As I negotiated the Guardamar roundabout on the CV905, a silver BMW overtook me – yes, you read that right – and managed to plough into the side of my trusty, 10 year old Ford Fiesta in the process. He then drove off without stopping, but that was only the start of our troubles. The real problems arose when we tried to claim what our insurers, Liberty Seguros, trumpeted as the highlight of the policy – a courtesy car for up to 30 days while our car was being assessed and repaired.

In England, the garages that do the repairs usually have a selection of courtesy cars. When my daughter’s car needed a new clutch, we dropped it off, then collected a courtesy car, which we returned when we collected the repaired car after its spell in intensive care. One garage, one poorly car, one courtesy car, all located in the same place. Simples! But not in Spain, oh lordy, not in Spain!

The first problem was the speed with which we received our much-trumpeted courtesy car. We didn’t expect to get it immediately – it was a Saturday afternoon, and Spain grinds to a standstill on Saturday afternoons. But we did expect to get it when we went to the insurers office in Quesada on the Monday after the accident. Should have known better after 7 years in Spain.

Apparently, we couldn’t have the car until our car had been at the garage that was doing the repairs for 24 hours. So we could have the car on Tuesday, right? Wrong. Maria Jesus from Liberty Seguros told us she couldn’t book the hire car until Wednesday morning. So we could go home and relax. Yeah, right! My car has been pranged by a hit and run driver, we have friends visiting, and we don’t have a car to take them out and about. Very conducive to relaxation, isn’t it? With no other choice, we headed home to await Maria Jesus’ phone call on Wednesday morning. She would definitely call us before noon, so we wouldn’t have to hang about waiting all day for a call.

And she definitely did (not) call us by noon on Wednesday. So I called the office, only to be told that MJ would definitely call us back as soon as possible. It was a double negative, because she definitely did not call back. Thursday was a busy day for me. I had a morning meeting, and in the afternoon, we were taking our visitors to our friends’ hacienda, then on for an evening meal as it was the last day of their holiday. So we decided to forget about the courtesy car and call into the insurance office to track down the elusive courtesy car once our visitors had departed.

So, on the way back from Alicante Airport, we called in to see Maria Jesus in the Liberty Seguros office, and vowed not to leave without the keys to our courtesy car – or at least the promise of them. Her face lit up when she saw us walk in, and the conversation went something like this:

‘Ah, Mr Mrs Peedock. I call yesterday about your courtesy car.’

‘Great! So we have one now?’

‘No, I call again now to make sure your car is at garage, then I tell car hire company is there, then they send you text, then I see text, then I tell them you can have car, then you have.’

‘Why do I have to have a text before I can have a courtesy car?’

‘Because is way it work. They say text come in 20 minutes. You go for coffee, if no text in 30 minutes, come back here, and I sort it for you.’

With those confusing instructions ringing in our ears, we headed for the nearest cafe, waited 45 minutes just to be sure – we are in Spain after all – and then headed back for the office. MJ was occupied with another client, and although her two colleagues were eager to assist us, she insisted we needed to wait until she was free. That was fine by us – we didn’t fancy repeating the story again, or repeating the registration of our car umpteenth time that morning.

Although we’d filled in all the forms, and MJ had copious notes, including the car registration, we still had to repeat it every time she spoke to someone on the phone. As it had happened at least 6 times that morning, and about 10 times on the Monday morning, there was a fighting chance it might be embossed on her brain by now. We didn’t fancy having to begin the process all over again with someone new.

By the time we were sat in front of MJ again, the clock told us it was two hours since she’d first greeted us with a smile. While we were waiting, we were explaining our problem to another lady. Maybe we did her a favour, because she’d come in to change her vehicle insurance to Liberty Seguros. When she heard we’d waited for 6 days for a courtesy car, she decided to stay with the devil she knew, and hurriedly left the building.

3 phone calls later  – and 3 repetitions of our registration number later – there was still no sign of the text or the car. During one of the waits for responses, MJ asked if we needed a taxi to take us to collect the car. As that meant we wouldn’t have to inconvenience any friends or neighbours, we said yes, and we would be very glad we did before the day was through.

The fourth call brought a glimmer of hope. The person who needed to send the text was out of the office, but he would be back at 2.00 pm, so we could return to the comfort of our home to await the text, then we would need to phone MJ to communicate the contents of said text so that she could order the taxi to take us to collect our courtesy car. Finally we were getting somewhere … or were we? Part Two to follow.

Driven to distraction!

Driving in Spain can be a real challenge, despite the great roads and lack of traffic.

Driving in Spain can be a real challenge, despite the great roads and lack of traffic.

I only started to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road when we moved to Spain in 2008, and I have to say I much prefer driving in Spain to driving in England – particularly around Algorfa, where more than 4 cars at a junction constitutes a traffic jam! One thing I’ve never got to grips with though is the psyche of the Spanish driver. The moment he spots a foreign number plate, the Spanish motorist morphs into Fernando Alonso. He simply must overtake, even if it’s on a bend or there’s a solid white line in the road, which means no overtaking, the same as it does in the UK.

There’s a simple explanation for this. Your average Spaniard is never in a hurry – unless he’s behind the wheel. Then, he just has to get there first. It’s nothing personal against the Brits, he’ll overtake anyone who isn’t going fast enough for him, which means just about everybody else on the road. That’s why when you’re already on a roundabout, a Spanish driver will leap out in front of you, because he knows he can get there first. Or he’ll overtake you on the roundabout, because you’ve sensibly slowed down to negotiate it, and he can see no good reason for that.

Speaking of roundabouts, what really annoys me is the way the Spanish signal their intentions. They don’t, and you have to play Mystic Meg and guess where they’re heading. Again, a little basic knowledge of the Spanish character helps here. The average Spaniard is so full of his own importance behind the wheel he expects everyone to know what he’s doing and where he’s going. If you don’t guess right, it’s your fault, not his. He’s in a juggernaut, therefore it’s obvious he’s taking the motorway for Alicante. Why should he cut short his mobile call or stub out his cigarette just to let the other road users know?

If you’re a pedestrian, take care when crossing the road, even on a pedestrian crossing. Make that especially on a pedestrian crossing. The Spanish view crossings as a challenge, not as a road safety measure, and the only time they’re likely to stop for you is if there is a policeman in attendance, such as at school turning out times.

There are red and white crossings on very busy roads in Spain, at which drivers are obliged to stop for pedestrians. Don’t bank on it, though, because nobody seems to have informed the Spanish motorists of their obligations, so they’ll sail across the red crossings happily. That’s if they haven’t parked across them to pop in for a cheeky lottery ticket or a barra de pan.

The best way to get across the road safely is to try to cross where it’s patently dangerous to do so. The Spanish drivers will admire your spirit and disregard for the rules and will stop to let you across. I know, because it’s happened to me more than once. A good place to try this is the Punta Prima roundabout, by the Punta Marina shopping centre. Save your legs – don’t walk up to the blue pedestrian bridge – just walk out in front of one of the cars. Everybody does.

However, I don’t recommend you try this with young children in tow or while in possession of a zimmer frame.
So, has this put me off driving in Spain? Not a bit of it. If anything, the whimsical attitude of Spanish drivers has made me a better driver, because I’m extra vigilant these days. I’m also a ‘glass half full’ girl, so after a particularly frustrating experience on the carretera, I console myself with the happy knowledge that at least the Spanish aren’t so fond of hooting their horns as the Italians.

Photo credit: Maggs224.com

How do I know if the community I’m buying on is right for me?

Looking good - but check out that the community you are thinking of moving to is as good as it seems before you sign on the dotted line

Looking good – but check out that the community you are thinking of moving to is as good as it seems before you sign on the dotted line

This post was prompted by someone who messaged me after reading my blog post about buying on a community. She asked if there was anything she could do to find out what life was really like on a particular community, and how she could avoid potential problems. To some extent, it is the luck of the draw, but there is also a lot of research you can do on your own behalf.

Talk to the President (or Vice President)

Remember that the President is the person who is legally responsible for all aspects  of administration of the community. He may have a Vice President to assist, and a Committee to bounce ideas off, and some Presidents may involve the Committee in the decision making, but in law, it’s all down to the President. So, talk to the President, raise any concerns you may have, ask about the community rules, and how the fees and the budget are calculated.

If the President is not happy to discuss  the community with you, maybe you should look elsewhere. When we were buying on La Finca, the incumbent President was very helpful, and played a big part in our decision to buy on that particular community. The best type of President is a strong character who will strike the right balance between being friendly and approachable, and also firm  and decisive when it comes to making tough decisions and acting in the best interests of the community as a whole. If everyone loves the President, he’s not doing his job right.

Check out the minutes of previous AGMs

Okay, minutes can be a bit dry, and not really give you a ‘feel’ of the community itself, but they will give you an idea of who turns up at the meetings, and how the voting goes on decisions. If there’s a good attendance at the AGMs, that means the owners are proactive in their community. If the attendance is low, and there are a lot of proxy votes – especially if the proxy votes rest with just one or two people – it’s a bad sign. It indicates two things: that a lot of the community members don’t really care what’s going on, and that some people may be rounding up proxies to get the outcomes they want. This can happen when a vociferous minority make their preferences felt, and other community members are either intimidated or feel that it’s not worth putting their views forward.

AGM minutes can also give you a good idea of how well the community budget is planned and executed, and you can see how many debtors the community has. If owners are not paying their fees, then essential community services may have to be curtailed.

Ask around locally

If there are problems in a community, the word often spreads. Just come straight out with it and say you are thinking of buying on X community, and does whoever you are talking to know if it’s a good idea. Check out local expat businesses – lurk around in the English supermarket or mail room and listen to the gossip. And check out local forums for inside information.

Check out the local English language papers

Most local newspapers have an online edition with a search facility. Put the name of the community into the search engine, and see if anything interesting comes up. If there’s a long running dispute, or if the community is socially active and integrated with the locals, there’ll be something about it in the local English language press. It will help to give you a more rounded picture of the community and your prospective neighbours.

Putting in the research before you decide to buy a property on a community within an urbanisation could mean the difference between living the dream and being landed with the home from hell.Take the time to check it out, listen to the locals and look at the community objectively. You know it makes sense!