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Gordon and Grace with other fairground workers in front of their virtual reality pods. SUR
'La vida loca' of an expat fairground worker in Andalucía is no easy ride
In the frame

'La vida loca' of an expat fairground worker in Andalucía is no easy ride

Grace McNabola has written a book about her and husband Gordon's madcap adventures with their virtual reality pods on the 'ruta de ferias' in the region

Friday, 26 April 2024, 13:49

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After selling their villa in Estepona where for five years they ran a B&B catering to golfers, Grace McNabola and her husband Gordon invested in two virtual reality pods with which they travelled around Andalucía's ferias.

As she says in her new book, La Vida Loca: Memoir of a Crazy Andalusian Adventure, which looks back at the couple's experiences, it was "not one of the paths suggested" to her by her school careers officer. As travelling fairground workers their lifestyle was itinerant and challenging: no easy ride, if you'll pardon the pun.

The book talks of bureaucracy, temperamental machines, tricksters and tackling the language of deepest, darkest Andalucía as they followed the 'ruta de ferias' from April to October. On the plus side though, Grace says that they became "part of a family" and "had an insight into a culture not usually seen by foreigners".

Grace, who is originally from St Albans, Hertfordshire and Gordon, from Edinburgh, had come to Spain in 2009 having run a small hotel in St Andrews which also catered to golfers. They wanted to "retire to the sun" but knew they needed to carry on working for a while, so they bought the villa in Estepona and ran the B&B for five years. However, Grace admits that running a large villa was "getting expensive" and the golfing season is short - mainly spring and autumn - so they sold it in 2015.

The couple tried working for other people, but "found it hard" having been self-employed for many years. It was Gordon, a retired pilot, who hit upon the idea of buying a motion platform "like the type of simulator that pilots do part of their training on". Only Gordon thought it would be good to show people drone footage of hard-to-reach places and bring popular tourist destinations, such as the Tajo in Ronda to those who couldn't get there themselves.

They started looking around for the type of thing he had in mind but found that in Europe especially, they were impossibly expensive to purchase. Someone suggested looking in China, and in early 2016 two "giant dinosaur egg-shaped platforms" slowly made their way to Spain by boat.

All ready to go with their new equipment, the couple set themselves up near a shopping centre in Estepona. People weren't quite sure what the dinosaur-egg-like things were and would walk on past, until one day some friends brought their two children to have a go and it was the father of the two little boys who suggested that Grace and Gordon try the local ferias. "So we made them mobile, started going to the ferias and that's how it all started," Grace explains.

Strange looks

The book's chapters reveal the challenges of Spanish bureaucracy, understanding the language, understanding the taxman (or not), queue and crowd control, the art of the ticket office and a long list of the madcap adventures of these two brave Brits.

The couple travelled around Andalucía going to local village ferias and large indoor ones in cities like Granada and Cadiz. Not speaking much Spanish and even less so the version spoken among 'feriantes' (fairground workers) they were in for a steep learning curve.

They would do 12 or 13 ferias a year, with the main season running from April to October. Grace says that they were the only non-Spanish people working at the ferias and admits that they received some strange looks at the beginning, but as the season went on, the years went by and they started to go back to the same ferias, they "got to know other feriantes" and were eventually accepted "like family".

The couple have now retired, as have the machines, which currently live at the bottom of the garden at their home in Chiclana (Cadiz). Grace does says that they have "had requests from neighbours to open them up in the garden" and she says they "might get them running in summer, have a party and invite people round", but is quite certain that they "won't start charging people again like a business".

This is Grace's first published book and she says there are two more in the pipeline, one of which is based on her experience of being a hotel landlady in St Andrews.

The book can be found on Amazon.es

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