Happy to have this guest post by Lizann on Rota, Spain. Please visit my Duty station guest post page for posts on other locations or more information about how you can write a guest post about where you have been stationed.
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Naval Station Rota, Spain
If you get orders to Rota, Spain, consider yourself a Golden Unicorn: it is one of the hidden jewels of the Navy. This small base located in the Southwest corner of Spain is home to several ships, and sailors stationed there will get accompanied orders for their families to move with them. There is also one Air Force unit stationed there, and a very small unit of FAST Marines. This base has some of the best features of overseas living: vibrant local culture, welcoming locals, beautiful climate, and tons of sightseeing opportunities! Overseas living can be challenging, and it can take some time to adjust. But once you know your way around, this station has endless opportunities for fun and good food. Last year, I published a book about moving to Rota, getting settled, where to shop and eat, and where to travel. It’s called ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and is available as a paperback or an eBook from Amazon. I will give you the highlights here. The logistical details first, then all the parties and fun travel at the end, so keep on reading to the bottom!
Language and Money:
Of course the local language is Spanish, and the currency is the Euro. While many restaurants offer English menus, few locals speak English fluently, so some basic Spanish is necessary for daily life and finding your way around (especially if you live off base.). On base, everything is conducted in English. There is a Commissary, NEX, Naval Hospital, FFSC, gas station, library, school, etc, all staffed by a mixture of Spanish and Americans, but everyone speaks English and accepts dollars. Brushing up on your high school Spanish will help, or you can buy Rosetta Stone, which is a quick and effective way to learn useful phrases. There are also Spanish classes and tutors available on base.
On base housing is available for any family, and will be assigned based on number of children. It is small and somewhat plain, but very comfortable (it has central heat and AC, which is rare off base). The housing is conveniently located so that you can bike or jog to most areas of the small base. On base housing is free, including utilities, and it uses American style electrical outlets and voltage.
Off base housing is also available for any family. There are tons of choices, many near the beach, or with gorgeous backyards and pools. You will receive OHA (Overseas Housing Allowance) for off-base housing, based on the service member’s rank. It is supposed to cover rent and utilities, but you must be attentive to utility usage because energy costs are much higher in Europe! Because the climate is mild, most off base housing does not have heat or AC, so it is common to be very hot in the summer, and very cold in the winter. Off base, the Spanish electrical system uses a different voltage, so you will need to use transformers and converters before plugging in an American appliance (or just buy a Spanish one). You can get these for free through the base housing office.
There is one school on base, which serves any American child from Pre-K (Smart Start) through high school. It is called DGF, and the website is here. All teachers are American, and follow an American-style curriculum approved by the DoD. The school has some opportunities for music classes, art classes, sports, and theater. Students also benefit from daily Spanish lessons and weekly Spanish culture classes. There is a separate on-base bi-lingual preschool program offered through the Child Development Center (CDC).
Parents have the option to send children off base to Spanish schools. The Spanish public schools start at age 3, and are basically free to attend (after paying a small fee for supplies). Off base, schools can be a great way for young children to learn the language and immerse themselves in Spanish culture. Older children usually attend on base, unless they are fluent enough to read textbooks and complete writing assignments in Spanish. There are also private bilingual schools, which are expensive and designed to teach English. And there are some private Spanish schools, run by religious organizations. To register for off-base public school, there is a lottery system that begins in March. Registered families will be assigned to a school in their town. Most teachers and school administrators do not speak English, so you will need to know enough Spanish to understand classroom notes and communication. Or just find a friend in the class!
Overseas, spouse employment is a challenge. Spain has a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) which states that 70% of the work force on base must be Spanish, and only 30% American. So most employment opportunities are limited to the NEX, the Commissary, MWR (Morale Welfare, and Recreation), or the base Child Development Center. And these jobs fill very quickly. The base hospital has a very limited ability to hire civilian nurses or doctors, but you can volunteer there if you need to keep up your medical license. The base school hires teachers through the DoD, but spouses can work as substitutes or transitional teachers. You can run a home-based business such as baking or selling products, once you establish your business through the base Legal Office. If you are finishing a degree, there are 4 online colleges with offices on base: Central Texas College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Maryland University College, and the University of Oklahoma.
The Naval base is located in between the towns of Rota and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Rota is a tiny sea-side fishing village with two gorgeous beaches and a wide boardwalk paseo.. The streets are very narrow and houses are typically small. This is a good area for young couples, because of the small quarters (mostly apartments and townhouses, rather than stand-alone homes) and the good nightlife. You can walk from the base into Rota, so there are plenty of American bars and nightclubs. During summer, the tourists are up every night, but in winter it is a quiet little town where everyone knows everyone else. It is only a few minutes’ drive to the base gate. Americans have been here for 60 years, and Rota survives on their business, so even though most shopkeepers and restaurant owners don’t speak much English, you will see Americans everywhere. The downtown square has a castle and cathedral from the 13th century, and hosts small celebrations throughout the year.
El Puerto de Santa Maria is a much larger town, with multiple neighborhoods and housing areas, each with its own flavor. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and large chain stores, including a shopping mall. There are multiple beaches, all very popular in the summer. This is considered a good choice for families, because the houses are typically larger, come with more yard space and parking, and often have swimming pools. Most neighborhoods in Puerto are about 15 minutes from the base gate. It is a popular area for Americans living off-base. Puerto is a great source of Spanish culture, with a bull ring, a Cathedral, and a castle from the 14th century. The town celebrates festivals and parades throughout the year, usually on a larger scale than Rota.
Spain has a never-ending calendar of celebrations, fiestas, holidays, and cultural events! Their public events are always for families, and usually involve parades, horses, lots of wine, and the closing of stores and schools. My book gives details about the reasons and traditions behind all the local holidays, but here are some that are unique to Spain:
- January 6, Three Kings Day, is when the Spanish exchange Christmas gifts.
- February 28 is Andalusia Day.
- Carnaval is the colorful parades and celebrations for a week before Ash Wednesday.
- Semana Santa is the solemn processions for one week before Easter.
- The Running of the Bulls happens locally on Easter Sunday. (I went once! It was crazy!)
- Feria is a spring carnival that each town hosts for one week in spring.
- May 1 is Spanish Labor Day.
- June 23 is the Feast of San Juan, celebrated with bonfires on the beach.
- July 15 is the Fiesta del Carmen, with fishing boat flotillas.
- October 7 is the festival of Our Lady of the Rosary (the local patroness).
- October 12 is Diá de la Hispanidad, a national holiday.
- November 1 is All Saints Day.
- December 6 is Constitution Day.
- December 8 is the Immaculate Conception,
- And of course they celebrate Christmas too, on December 25!
I’m not sure I can summarize Spanish food in a few sentences, but I’ll try! It is NOT Mexican food. It’s more like a Mediterranean diet, with lots of fish, fresh vegetables, eggs, and rice or potatoes. The ingredients are very fresh, and usually only seasoned with salt and pepper. I loved being able to get fresh food from the fish market or the produce stand. Some of the most popular dishes are:
- tapas (an appetizer, can be any type of cold or hot food in a small portion),
- paella (a fancy rice and seafood dish),
- tortilla (a potato and egg ‘cake’),
- gazpacho (tomato soup, served cold),
- chorizo (spicy cured sausage),
- jamon (cured ham, thinly sliced),
- churros (sweet fried dough, like a donut or funnel cake),
- tinto de verrano (which is red wine mixed with Sprite and fruit)
There are recipes for these in my book, along with lots of information on other foods, and translations of common menu items.
And here are some of my favorite restaurants in the surrounding towns:
Restaurants in Rota
Bar Gomez (Spanish Breakfast Sandwiches)
Badulaque (Spanish Food, Beach Views)
100 Montaditos (Sandwiches, Beach Views)
Parilla Los Argentinos (Grilled Meats)
Las Tinajas (Spanish Grilled Specialties)
Bar La Feria (Spanish Food, Flamenco Shows)
Takiko’s (Japanese/Chinese, Base Delivery)
La Dolce Vita (Italian, Harbor Views)
Pizza Y Pasta (Delivery to Base)
Shanza (Indian Dishes, Delivery to Base)
Argos (Seafood at the Port)
Bodegon La Fuente (Paella and Sangria)
El Espadero (Home-Cooked Spanish)
Pink Pepper (Japanese, Mexican, American)
Sedona (Southwestern Specialties)
Slice of New York (Pizza)
The Steakhouse (Steaks and Burgers)
Restaurants in Puerto
Venta El Nene (Tortillas and American Breakfast)
Parilla Bailey’s (Grilled Specialites, Children’s Playground)
El Ultimo (Bar Food, Fuentabravia)
Venta La Rufana (Family Owned Roadhouse)
Crêfondue (Fondue and Crepes, Ocean Views)
Blanco Paloma (Pizza and Pasta with Ocean Views)
Bar Jamon (Upscale Spanish Cuisine)
Venta La Feria (Huge Paella Varieties)
Little Italy (Pizza, Pasta, and Children’s Play Area)
Bamboo Sushi (Great Sushi and Sashimi)
Shamrock (Traditional Irish Pub Food)
El Sitio De Vélez (Upscale Spanish Cuisine)
Again, wow, this is an entire section of the book, almost 70 pages! But to summarize, there are tons of cool things to see in Southern Spain: Roman ruins, ancient castles, flower festivals, quaint mountainside towns, and gorgeous beaches. You can drive to Portugal or Gibraltar, or take a ferry to Morocco. The book includes GPS coordinates for parking areas, clickable links to websites (in the eBook), and prices for various attractions. Here is just a taste.
Arcos (City of Arches, with old churches and white walled houses)
Baelo Claudia (Roman ruins from the 1st century!)
Cádiz (3,000 old city, with a Cathedral, old fort, harbor, and art/history museums)
Ceuta (Spanish city in Africa, next to Morocco, reached by a ferry)
Chipiona (local town famous for wine)
El Portal (Horse Ranch with a weekly carriage and riding show)
El Puerto De Santa Maria (local town with a castle, Cathedral, and a French bakery)
Gibraltar (The Rock, with a quaint British town, monkeys, and pillars of Hercules)
Jerez (famous for the Royal Horse Show and also for sherry wine tasting tours)
Medina Sidonia (historical hilltop town with Roman roads and a history museum)
Ronda (famous for bull fighting, and a 1,000 year old bridge that spans a huge chasm)
Sanlucar (site of the annual Horse Races on the beach every August)
Sevilla (Spain’s golden city, former seat of the King. Gorgeous castle and Cathedral)
Tangiers, Morocco (ride camels, visit a bazaar, and sip mint tea)
Ubrique (a quaint mountaintop village famous for its leather artisans and shops)
Vejer de la Frontera (small white-walled village with a famous Moroccan restaurant)
Zahara de la Sierra (located in the mountains, with working olive oil presses and tours)
Weekend Trips within Spain:
Barcelona (Gaudi architecture, a crazy Cathedral, futball (soccer), and a zoo)
Cordoba (Mezquita mosque, beautiful castle gardens, flower festival, pottery shops)
Granada (Alcazar palace is the most beautiful in Spain, historic city and flamenco music)
Lagos, Portugal (quaint beachside town with amazing arches and caves in the cliffs)
Lisbon, Portugal (huge city with history, art, great food, and nearby palaces)
Madrid (Spain’s capital, with tons of art, history, gardens, and a modern castle)
Nerja (quaint Mediterranean seaside town with pebble beaches)
Toledo (medieval city near Madrid with a Cathedral, Greco art, and metal artisans)
And if you think you couldn’t possibly visit all those places with your baby or children, I promise that you can! We have four young children, and the youngest was born in Spain! So strollers and baby backpacks make almost anything possible. If you are looking for more kid-friendly options though, here are the most popular kids’ field trips.
- Zoos in Jerez or Castellar
- Aqualandia water park
- Divertilandia indoor bounce house/play area
- El Bucharito local goat farm with cheese-making classes
- Bee Farm in Jerez
- Aquarium in Sevilla
- Crocodile Farm in El Portal
- Las Marias Horse Farm for lessons or beach rides
- Princelandia dress-ups for girls’ birthday parties
- La Ciudad de los Ninos y las Ninas playground in Jerez
- Laser Tag and Go Karting in Jerez
- Isla Magica Amusement Park in Sevilla
- Dolphin/Whale Watching Cruises in Tarifa
Lizann Lightfoot spent the last 3 years living in Rota, Spain, with her Marine Corps husband and 4 children. While there, she began a travel blog, which turned into a 200-page guidebook called ‘Welcome to Rota.’ The book is a complete resource for military families moving to Southern Spain, with details about the overseas move, base resources, Spanish culture, where to shop and eat, how to cook Spanish food, and where to travel! She hopes it will save military families time and money, so they can adjust quickly, and get to the part where they start enjoying life in Spain. The book is available as a paperback or as an eBook through Amazon.com. Her family now lives in California, where she blogs about military life and deployments at SeasonedSpouse.com.