10 Things I’ve Learned “Living” in Rota, Spain
Hi everybody! Quick update. I’m over in San Diego with my husband as he completes his training before we head off to our final duty station. The last two months were such a blur because everything felt rushed, and whenever I got a chance to breathe, most of my time was spent with family and friends — all of whom I incredibly miss now. Anyway, I’d love to go into my updates further, but I think it’s about time I posted a little more about my life in Spain.
My love affair with Rota, Spain started in late 2016. I was due for a visit to the land my husband called his home port base, so I packed up my bags, double checked the Schengen Visa on my passport, and headed to the airport.
I’m not exactly one to say that I know all the ins and outs of Rota, especially since I was never really based there in the first place. But I do like to think I'd know more than the average tourist. I used to visit at least once a year staying anywhere from 1-3 months, soaking up everything I could learn about Spanish culture. I experienced Rota’s windy winters and its blooming spring and summer seasons, and I’ve fallen in love with its flavorful food, the friendliness of the people, and all its little picturesque corners.
Have orders to Rota soon? Here are a few of my tips for living in Rota, Spain:
1. Know when the groceries are closed.
I live for supermarkets because they’re always so inviting. Everything is in order and grouped according to purpose. All the labels are faced outward, with a broad range of colors to see. The truth is, there's a semblance of peace every time I go through the aisles of a supermarket. Please tell me I’m not alone in this, guys. Haha!
If you’re headed to Rota on orders, it’s worth noting that the Commissary is closed on Mondays, so be sure to get all your bearings on the other days of the week. If you really need to get something on base, the Minimart’s open all days of the week. It’ll hold you down for a day or two with their ready to eat food options like frozen pizza, instant noodles, and rows of junk food.
Need something a bit more substantial? Head to where the locals shop. There are Mercadona, Carrefour, and Aldi to choose from. All are open on Mondays but closed on Sundays. Aldi’s the more upscale version of the 3, with more options for the health-conscious such as chia seeds, gluten-free snacks, and so on. Mercadona and Carrefour, on the other hand, are more localized. Mercadona also serves fresh seafood by the kilo, so grab a number, tell the fishmonger what you want, and wait as he grabs and weighs their catch.
2. Siesta is a serious matter.
I’m part Spanish, thanks to my grandfather, but for the life of me, siesta is still something that baffles me every single time. Some offices and shops close from 2pm-5pm, while restaurants close at 4pm and open again at around 8 or 9pm.
If you’re a morning person like me, it’s worth noting that most restaurants and fast food options aren’t open early in the morning — especially during the winter. That means if you’re up bright and early and 7am, and you have absolutely nothing in the pantry and fridge, it may be best to go on base for a bite to eat.
3. Little kids will still be awake at around 11pm/12am and it’s okay.
Since siesta is a real thing in the Spanish culture, dinners usually start at 9pm. It can last anywhere from 1-3 hours since Europeans have an affinity for savoring and enjoying both the food and conversation. This means, children, along with their parents, are still usually seen up and awake at the late hours of the night — sometimes even beyond midnight.
Don’t be alarmed. They start their days late anyway.
4. Save time and do laundry on base.
Washers and dryers made in Europe are significantly smaller than the ones in the US, so laundry loads may take up more time. That being said, if you don’t live too far out out, I suggest hauling your laundry hampers over to your car and driving to the base. There are 2 laundromats to choose from: one’s by the main gate and the other’s near the pier. The one by the main gate has a Pizza Villa and Baskin Robbins nearby. It also tends to get crowded easily. On the other hand, the one near the pier has a cafe open until 2pm, has a mini casino room and a vending machine, and it’s vacant most of the time.
Tip: Never do laundry on a weekend or a holiday to avoid waiting for an available machine.
5. Duolingo is free and incredibly useful.
The presence of a US military base in Rota doesn’t necessarily mean that all the locals can speak English. Most of the time, they don’t, and you’re left scrambling with Google Translate, trying to make sure you know what ‘cerdo’ means on a menu.
Yes, although technology is an amazing thing and Google Translate is, in my opinion, one of the best things Google has come up with, I still think learning a foreign language is a worthwhile skill. I downloaded Duolingo on my phone to prepare for my first trip to Spain and was on it pretty religiously. 5 minutes a day was all it took for me to learn a little more than the basics, and it was such a big help when trying to read menus, signs, and just conversing in general.
6. Primark is heaven on Earth.
I went crazy in Primark. I don’t even know how to sugarcoat it. The prices in Primark are so low that it’s pretty hard to resist grabbing one of everything in the store. They’ve got possibly everything you can think of — homeware, clothes, shoes, accessories — and they can be ridiculously cheap. Seriously. If you need a place to shop when on a budget, head to Primark. There’s a reason why YouTubers like Zoella go crazy over the store.
7. Be prepared to drink. A lot.
Get your gut ready when you get to Spain. Kidding. Or am I? Spanish dinners usually end with a shot of caramel vodka or limoncello, and these are on top of the glasses (or bottles) of wine ordered during the actual meal. Do remember though that alcohol is way more expensive in restaurants as opposed to buying the bottles from the supermarket. So if you try something you like, make a mental note of its name, and look for it in a Spanish supermarket or at the NEX.
Rota is famous for its sherry wines and have loads of vineyards and tours in the area. One of the more famous ones is the Tio Pepe bodega over in Jerez, which is about 15 mins away from Rota.
Fancy a mixed wine drink? Order a pitcher of sangria or tinto de limon. These are available almost everywhere. Some places even sell their mixes for take out.
8. Tan topless, at least once.
Yes, girls can tan topless — nips out and all. And it’s normal. It’s worth noting that it may be better to do in beaches further away from Rota, if in case, you’re like me and still warming up to the idea of taking your bikini top off. I tanned topless over in Marbella, which is a beautiful beachside area 2-3 hours away from Rota.
Again, tanning topless is a normal thing in Spain. When I was in Marbella, I could count on my hands the number of people who were still wearing bikini tops. Most women were just topless.
9. Learn how to drive stick.
Automatic cars don’t come cheap in Spain, whether it’s a sale or a rental. So brush up on your gear shifting skills if you’ve got the time. Spain’s got many roundabouts too. This means, you’ve got to learn to give way especially if there’s still a car in the roundabout. I learned this the hard way, being a Filipino driver and all. All those years of defensive driving in the mean streets of Manila were definitely put to waste in Spain. Hahaha!
10. Security and safety are of utmost importance.
If you’re living off base, remember to hide your car’s base pass when you leave the base. This leaves you and your car less susceptible to targeted theft. Don’t leave any valuable items in the car either, especially if you’ll be parking in public spaces. If you can't help it, hide the item in the trunk or under a car seat.
Also, I feel like this should go without saying but lock your gates and your doors at all times. There have been a number of recent occurrences in both American and Spanish homes, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Install a CCTV in your home if you can, and negotiate with your landlord for an alarm system before moving in.
Rota is such a beautiful place, you guys. It’s one of the countries that made me fall in love with Europe.
I always reference Rota as the little town Belle sings about in Beauty and the Beast (even though the one she talks about is in France), because really… Rota is the little town that has captivated my heart and my stomach for all the right reasons.