Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spain's economic crisis


I half expected prices to be less in Spain than in the US simply because there’s such an economic crisis and depression going on, but that’s not the case. Rachel just put 21 liters of gas in her car and it was 30 Euros. That’s US $39.00. And 21 liters is only a little over 5 gallons. Americans have no idea how much those government subsidies to oil companies benefit each of us personally. It’s a form of socialism that the right wingers love, but never like to admit it’s true nature. No wonder European cars are so tiny and efficient. And no wonder food is equally expensive. There are no farm subsidies either. Every time I go to a market, I end up paying well over ten Euros ($13) and may only purchase some yoghurt and fruit. In the cities, I was feeling like a cash-flushing toilet. It’s nothing to spend 20 Euros on a meal in a restaurant. At the exchange of $1.30 for one Euro, that’s a chunk of change. The saving grace is that decent wine costs only a little more than soda pop!

Public transportation, while not nearly as cheap as Mexico, is certainly a bargain and easy to come by. Every hour, on the hour, a bus leaves Rio Gordo for Malaga, and another leaves Malaga for Granada. There should be no trouble getting to Granada on Tuesday. The whole trip will cost less than a meal in a restaurant, and the overnight bus or train from Granada to Barcelona, 15 hours, will be less than $90.

Lodging too, in some cases is very expensive, in others, not so much. I’ve been using AirBnB.com and have had good luck with finding a decent place with nice hosts. I stayed at a lovely pension (like a hostel for older people) in Seville for around $32 a night. The AirBnB in Barcelona will be a lot more expensive, but it’s in the old quarter, and nothing there is cheap. Lodging is arranged for Istanbul but in between, I’ll have to find other places to explore.

I have about 7 days to get from Barcelona to Istanbul. I’ve tried to work the train system online but unlike airlines, they don’t route you from place to place. There is no direct line for Barcelona to Istanbul, so the system says, “no fare found”. If I knew exactly what cities I would like to visit along the route, I could probably take a train to each place. The map of train routes looks like a spider web of red veins, it’s difficult to tell which lines go directly from where to where, and if you don’t know, you can’t buy a ticket. 

Rachel has told me there’s a 50% unemployment rate in this area of Spain. They must have a decent safety net because I don’t see homeless people or beggars. A man named Mick “squats” in an abandoned house along the river without electricity or water. I’ve met him several times, a tall slender balding man, at the bar in Rio Gordo. He’s very intelligent, speaks half a dozen languages, has a friendly well-fed dog, and dresses in clean clothes, though they seem to be the same ones every day. He walks to town and spends the day hanging around with people, reading under the shade trees. Not someone I would have expected to be homeless! His verbal skills sometimes get him translation work, so he doesn’t go hungry, and of course the medical care is free if he gets sick.

More views of southern Spain
Rachel understands Spanish, the local dialect, better than I do but doesn’t speak it. So there has been a lot of curiosity on the part of the locals about who she is and how she makes a living. A man was working the irrigation ditch. I couldn’t see him behind the cane growing along the river but I could hear grunting noises so I called out to him to see if he was ok. We chatted a little. He indicated that he knew Rachel takes care of the English people’s dogs and that he thought she must make a lot of money. He shook his head with a look of wonderment, as if the thought of paying someone actual money to watch your dog was as foreign as flying to the moon. The English are appalled at the lack of care, in their view, of animals. They are constantly finding kittens and puppies in the trash, and the Spanish don’t neuter their animals. So Rachel and her friends have their hands full with their rescue and placement operation. The puppy Zara was part of a rescued litter and will fly to Germany in a week or so to join a new family there.  Her departure will definitely cut down the decibel levels in Rachel’s house.

Later: In Granada

I arrived by bus early in the afternoon, so I signed up for a walking tour of the Albacin, the old arabic area across the river from the Alhambra, and actually rising to greater heights. It is full of very old buildings and homes, dating back to 1200. We were supposed to ride a public bus to the top of the area and walk down with the guide, but no bus ever came. The guide took us on foot around the streets looking for any bus at all. We came upon a demonstration, people chanting, sitting down and blocking the main arteries of the city. The police were hanging back and traffic in all directions was stopped dead. They were protesting recent government actions that have cut benefits. Eva in Madrid said that now Spaniards pay for medications, they never had to do that before. The IVA, the sales tax has recently gone up to over 21% and many businesses have signs saying they aren't tacking on the extra IVA. In Spain, taxes, tips, overhead, etc  is rolled into the price of everything, so you don't see how much tax you are paying, and lower paid jobs like waitressing or taxi driving are paid a living wage so they never expect tips. So even though it may seem expensive, at least there aren't a bunch of tacked on costs that you weren't expecting. 

Part of Spain's crisis was brought about by the same types who caused the US housing crash. People were lent money to buy homes they couldn't afford, the banks took back the properties, then when the crash came, the banks took more properties, and now are stuck with no buyers for them. Banks are in trouble, the whole economy can no longer afford to keep all the public (socialized) benefits in place, and there are almost no jobs available. It's very serious, this crisis. 

That said, there was a line 80 people long this morning to buy tickets at $13 Euros apiece at the Alhambra, and I had some trouble lining up a lower end hotel for this stay in Granada. It would appear that the tourists are still coming.