Javier and Mela, with their dogs outside their caravan. / SALVADOR SALAS

The nomads of Sacaba: “We are a community, here”

They live in their motorhomes, surrounded by dogs, and right next to the beach. They say they don’t miss anything. And they even have a mayor.


The temperature is over 30C on the esplanade beside Sacaba beach. The sun is beating down and the dogs are lying in the shade underneath the caravans, where there is enough room for a siesta. The presence of someone unknown starts one of them barking, and a second later the others join in, filling the silence of this midday in summer. From one of the impressive white vehicles comes a man wearing a money belt and sunglasses. “What do you want?” he asks. There is a sign on his door; it says Manolo’s Cabin. Outside are a table, several chairs that don’t match, two sunshades and a carpet of artificial grass. A couple of metres away there is a barbecue, some pieces of wood, three plants and a container of petrol. “I have been here the longest. They call me the mayor. I try to keep everything peaceful, so we can be a community, because sometimes some troublemakers come. Do you want a beer?”, he asks.

He tells us he doesn’t drink alcohol any more. “I haven’t touched it in 14 years, but I always keep two or three beers in case anyone comes,” he says. He has been living in his caravan’s three square metre space for seven years: “I rented an apartment for a while but then I had some money and bought this for 2,500 euros. I’m happy here. I use water from the showers, and electricity comes from the solar panels. I don’t like generators because they make so much noise. We have banned them after 11 o’clock at night,” he explains.

–When you came out you looked like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra.

–I’d like to have his money, I know that much! I’m 65, but I don’t look that old, do I? I live as best I can, but I don’t lack anything. Do you want to see inside? Although it’s a bit untidy at the moment.....

The inside of the caravan is decorated with Buddhist figures, Marvel heroes and even a soft toy, a smurf. On the table are an ashtray with cigarette butts, a push-button lamp, a bottle of gel, an incense stick holder and a TV remote control. On a shelf above the sofa, next to a fan and a clock, there are photos of two young men. “They’re my sons,” says Manuel. “One is 21 and the other is 39. They come and see me, sometimes”.

–Your wife left you?

–Yes, she did.

–Did she say why?

–She fell in love with someone younger than me. I wanted to carry on, but she said it was impossible. I said she could stay in the apartment.

–How did you end up living in a caravan?

–I’m a painter and decorator. I’m due to retire next year, God willing. I haven’t had any work for some time. The first thing companies ask is how old you are. Or they offer you work on the black, but I won’t accept that.

A few steps away from the caravan Nico, a Dutchman, is repairing a bicycle outside in the sun. “He’s very reserved, and he doesn’t speak Spanish,” says Manuel. Nico’s neighbours on the esplanade say he doesn’t cause any problems, as if they had voted on whether to accept him. Not everyone is welcome here, because for some people campsites are little less than a shared hell, something like being in ‘La Comunidad’, Álex de la Iglesia’s film in which neighbours were disposed to put an end to each other. But there are also some who see this as a type of paradise, spending the summer months next to the beach, without having anything to do with airlines and hotel chains. For addicts of this type of living, caravans and motorhomes are a medium-term investment which enables them to drive around and visit different cities and countries or park up, bordering on legality, in extraordinary places like Sacaba, whose name comes from the fact that the coastline of Malaga city comes to an end here. This is a new area and still not built-up, although it is becoming increasingly busy.

Many travellers believe the caravans provide the opportunity to get away from normal tourist routes, plan itineraries with greater independence and intimacy and, to paraphrase Antonio Vega, make everywhere they go a home. Others, like Manuel, have found themselves compelled to live on wheels as an alternative to social exclusion, stifled by unemployment and unable to afford to pay rent. In the same way as it is outside this mini-world, the economic gap is immediately obvious, in this case by the type of mobile dwelling: caravans, which are much cheaper, have to be towed by a vehicle. Motorhomes, on the other hand, cost tens of thousands of euros and are independent. But in Sacaba, no matter how much money anyone has, they all have a story to tell.

Manuel strokes every dog that goes by. None of them are his. “They belong to my neighbours, but I have seen them grow up and they know me. I love animals,” he says.

A few metres to the south, Javier and Mela are sunbathing. Unlike Manuel, they haven’t put sun umbrellas or tables outside. All they have on the unpaved earth of this esplanade are deck chairs, another carpet of artificial grass and two food bowls for their dogs. An accident changed the lives of these former civil servants, who are now retired due to physical disability.

–What happened?

–Javier: We had a terrible motorbike accident. I have had more than 40 operations and have about a kilo and a half of titanium inside me. I fell off to one side and two wheels of a car ran over me. I broke my knee, the tibia, the fibula in several places, my shoulder, my jaw, my pelvis and a hip. She went flying off the bike and had a serious head injury. We have a house, but since then this has been how I have wanted to live.

–And don’t you miss anything?

–Mela: Water! Isometimes go to the house and shower, and then come back.

–Javier: Well, she’s from Madrid - they’re not like us, you know! No, I’m only joking. After what happened to us... you have to give up a lot of things when you live in a motorhome, but you gain a lot of others.

–What sort of things?

–Javier: Freedom. You can live well if you don’t have idiots alongside, because in the motorhome world there are a lot of yobs, a lot of hippies, and posh kids who couldn’t care less about anybody else. We’re fine here, though. The other day it was someone’s birthday and we were all there, Pedro, Patricia, Paco...we had a good time. We put the radio on, ate, drank and enjoyed ourselves. And everyone respects everyone else, because that’s essential.

Hesitantly, a woman approaches from another motorhome a few metres away. “That’s Leonor, she’s quite shy,” says Javier.

“You’re doing a report about what?” asks this widow of a police inspector. “Do Ineed to put a mask on?I’m doubly vaccinated”. Like her neighbours, Leonor has an apartment but has chosen to live beside the beach, as she used to do with her husband.

“First we bought a tent, when we were young. We loved sleeping on the sand, under the stars,” she says.

–And how did you come from a tent to a motorhome?

–We bought a caravan and then a motorhome. We loved the luxury of getting into the sea whenever we felt like a swim, opening the door and having all this space around us. You live among nature in your house on wheels. It’s a different way of life.

–And when your husband died, you still wanted to carry on living this way?

–Absolutely. You realise how little you need. Ihave two daughters, one is 36 and the other is 26. They come and see me and say “Mum, this isn’t for you”. But I know what I do and don’t have to do.

Lucy, her dog, warns her if there is anything strange going on. “I’m not afraid. Fear takes away your freedom. Anyone who comes with bad intentions will have me to deal with,” she says. Although she lives alone, she has the same feeling of being part of a community, as if Sacaba was a parallel reality away from the rest of the city.

“It’s not always easy to coexist with others. In life you have to respect people and give the best of yourself without expecting anything in exchange. When you don’t feel like doing something you have a thousand excuses not to, but I’m not like that. Those of us who have dogs here are very sociable,” she says.

Leonor bursts out laughing when we ask what she misses most. “Nothing!” she insists. And then she turns and rushes home, as if she had to attend to something urgent. Before going into her motorhome she looks back at us and explains: “I’m making some stew. Do you want some?”