La Linea. A town that sits in southern Spain bordering Gibraltar.
To the north, beautiful San Roque, and Castellar. To the east, the upmarket Sotogrande and the very popular Costa Del Sol. To the west Tarifa, the surfing capital of Europe and the Costa Luz. To the south the prosperous British Territory of Gibraltar.
So why, and how is La Linea sitting there in the centre looking like a shit stain on the map? Why does it only have 60% of its work-capable population in a job? Leading to other major social problems such as tobacco smuggling, and a higher crime rate than its neighbours.
As a none speaking Spanish outsider who has only been living down here for a few years, I am incredibly naive in any reasons or understanding. But I can say what I can see, and I see a filthy town crumbling apart. It is no coincidence that since moving from Estepona to make commuting easier for work, not one person has returned after visiting from the UK. The place looks, and feels like a shit hole. It seems to do everything it can to stay in the past, rather than take a slice of the wealth from its neighbours.
You can’t sit and have a cafe con leche in the main squares without beggers pestering you. Coming out of Gibraltar you are welcomed by crowds which I call “The La Linea welcome committee” They are basically dodgy looking people waiting for their comrades to come out of Gibraltar with more tobacco. As for walking through the town late at night. I speak from experience where I say DONT. Because I was a victim of mugging a few months ago, which is unfortunately a regular occurrence here.
Despite the undesirables, the grime, and crappy apartment blocks. La Linea actually has a huge foreign population with British, and other European nationals descending on the town and setting in roots. Why? Because its easy to get to Gibraltar from there for work. If it wasn’t for Gibraltar I am pretty sure that no one would elect to move to another country and choose this place. But despite these foreign populations coming in. The town holds fast to its old fashioned Spanish routes. Despite English speaking Gibrlatar being next door, you will not find anyone who can speak English in La Linea. We’re not just talking coffee shop staff either. I’ve head to deal with doctors, police and other higher scale people and no one could (or were unwilling to) speak a word of English. Even the Spanish Police on the border refuse to speak any English. I understand the argument, why should they? Yes its Spain, you should learn Spanish etc. But go up the road a bit to the Costa Del Sol where the British have practically took over and a lot of Spanish people there are willing and happy to try speaking English so that they can engage with people who are bringing money to the area.
This is what I don’t understand. Why not engage with people who are bringing money to the area? Take people coming from Gibraltar for instance. The Guardia Civil make them sit in hours of queues to go in, and then there are numerous spates of vandalised cars. Its as if the town is saying “We don’t want your money” Well, considering the town council couldn’t afford to pay its workers and had debts of millions of euros. I think they’re not in a position to choose who’s money they want. They should try and get what they can! Their attitude of sticking to the past is just going to have to change!
Damaged streets still not repaired 5 years later.
Here’s another thing I don’t understand. A town with such visible poverty as La Linea suddenly comes alive in the evening. You go into the centre, down the main streets and you can be struggling to get a seat if you want a coffee. It is heaving with people. We recently went to a fish restaurant which sits near La Atunara, perhaps one of the worst of the areas and by 9.30pm people were queuing out of the door waiting for a table. Go to the main Mercadona supermarket on a saturday morning and you can be struggling to find a trolley its so busy. And people aren’t just buying the necessities. I see people with cakes and allsorts of ‘extras’ in their trolleys. Are people really that poor? If so how are they so poor with Gibraltar soaking up thousands of jobs, a huge industrial fuel refinary down the road and the Costa Del Sol nearby too. It doesn’t make sense!
Its a town with two sides of the coin. There are some very amazing bars and restaurants tucked away in the corners. La Patagonica serves some of the best Argentinian meat I have ever had. Gold Indian is the best curry house I’ve ever been to, and Wok Real just outside of town is the best Chinese all you can eat buffet place I have ever been to. Where I say the best, I don’t just mean here. I mean anywhere I’ve been in the world.
Every July the fun fayre comes to town. There are huge parades down the main street, and a whole section of the town is closed off whilst rides are built. They spend weeks building this thing, for it to be only open for a week. It is probably one of the best Spanish ferias i’ve been to as well. Its huge, and they have the Casitas, which are the huge tents with the night clubs. It also brings in the crowds. With people spending huge amounts of money on flamenco style dresses which they proudly wear. The atmosphere is amazing. Shortly after feria, its Domingo Rociero. Where everyone takes to the streets drinking Tinto Verano. Once again, an amazing atmosphere and this town simply knows how to party! There is never any racial aggravation and everyone is welcome! The town has a real charm to it as well. Its got character and its not superfiscious unlike Sotogrande which is just full of snobs..
Domingo Rociero Street party! Throwing wine around!
My own Spanish neighbours seem to be really nice people. I wish I could get to know them more, but there is the language barriers in the way. I feel we’ve been welcomed as much as possible from the neighbours. They’ve not gone out of their way or anything, but they certainly aren’t upset about us being there and have exchanged plenty of pleasantries. In fact we found one of the neighbours lost cat a few months ago, and she came round the next day with a cake she baked as a thank you! It was very unnecessary!
When I first moved to Spain, I seemed to move house about once every year. Whereas I’m coming up to three years in La Linea now. So the town can’t be all that bad. Its just a great place to be if you’re working in Gibraltar. As there is no need to drive anywhere. Not too much worries about the border when cycling over. Plus there is quite a lot of people down here. So socially its very good. Can have drinks after work and not worry about having to drive home. Taxi home is cheap enough.
So yes, I exchanged my brand new 400 euro a month apartment with air conditioning, sea views, sky tv, and swimming pool in a luxury urbanisation, for an old 625 euro 2 bedroomed house in an shit hole of a town that refuses to modernise. Gone are the luxuries but its a trade off with convenience. But that is it. I am only in La Linea because its convenient, and because of that., other people, especially those whom don’t have a car or don’t drive are also in La Linea because its convenient which then creates good social circles.
I used to live in Estepona, and although it was beautiful. I found myself driving all that way for a bed. No one else lived up there and as such I was coming back to Gibraltar/La Linea for social events anyway.
So yes, I love this place, but I hate it at the same time. I want to get out, but if I did, I will miss it. If it was possible to unzip Gibraltar from the bottom of this hole, and stick it onto the bottom of Estepona. The world would be an amazing place!