In 1970 I lived in the hills behind Marbella with the Australian Architect Donald Grey, who was building villages along the coast in the traditional Andalucian style. He opened my eyes to this fantastic landscape, taking me to Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and to Gerald Brennan’s Yegen in the Alpujarra mountains.
My dream was to return one day and make it my home, and in 1991, on a ten day holiday, I found a little house in Chite, remortgaged my council flat in World’s End, London and moved down permanently in 1995.
With enough to live on for six months I found jobs gardening, cleaning and decorating. I painted at my easel for a year and put on my first exhibition in Durcal, gaining commissions and selling enough paintings to encourage me to keep going. I drifted back into the film business which was booming, and was able to make a life for myself here.
The village is quiet, because it leads only to the orange, lemon, olive and almond groves, and is surrounded by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is brilliantly located, 20 mins from Granada with masses of history and culture, 30 minutes from the beach and skiing in winter, and the Alpujarra villages with their flat roofed dwellings are less than an hour’s drive away.
I love the Arab influence of this part of Spain: I am transported by the music and dance,(coming from a dancing family) walking around the Albaycin in Granada and everywhere I look, the unspoilt mountains are a backdrop wherever I go. There have been some wonderful old characters milling around over the years: “The man with long arms” and two very short brothers with a mule, one of which I have painted several times. When he asked to buy one of these watercolours, I gave him a more than reasonable price for it; he took out three rusty old nails from his pocket and handed them to me as a deposit! : ” I’ll take these to the bank immediately,” I said.
While Chite doesn’t have any shops (except my Camel Stop) or bars of its own, it is walking distance from Lecrin with all its bars, banks, shops, pharmacy, supermarket and petrol station.
If you are a drinker, (I gave up ten years ago) after a few glasses of mosto, you can walk home in fifteen minutes and clear your head.
The locals are as friendly as any other small rural community and money isn’t the prime incentive here. I have been treated over the years, first with suspicion (a woman living on her own) and later with respect, and even though I will always be a “Guiri”, my immediate neighbours accept me as a hard-working, eccentric artist and I’m happy with that!
Gym Halama is an artist and special effects (FX) and interiors painter who has worked on countless commercials, films and music videos, as well as creating amazing backdrops and themes for events and parties. She runs The Sandpit Club in Chite (barrio bajo) as a venue for events and gallery space and also owns The Camel Stop, in C/ Carniceria in upper Chite, which is an Aladdin’s cave of reloved furniture, artwork, vintage jewellery and clothes, nik naks, decorative knobs and fixtures, ornaments and all sorts of other interesting things. Open on Tuesdays or by appointment. To read more about Gym Halama, go to www.gymhalama.com.
More about Chite:
Chite is one of the Lecrin Valley’s smaller villages with only around 300 inhabitants. It’s built on the side of a hill leading to the orchards below that lead down to Lake Beznar. Separated into two barrios, the barrio alto (upper) and barrio bajo (lower), the village winds down from the mirador seats at the entrance of the upper village with incredible views down to Lake Beznar and the dam, past the plaza and down calle San Segundo into Calle Fuerte or Carniceria until you start on the sharp descent into the lower barrio, past the church and into the orchards beyond.
Chite’s recent claim to fame is Jose Guerrero, the artist, who grew up in the village with his siblings and grandmother, but there are a number of historic buildings dotted around the village: Three ancient mills that date back to the Moors and one even to the Romans and one which then became part of the Spanish Inquisition, el Molino de la Inquisicion. There is also a 500 year old house that was previously used by the Spanish Royal Family as a holiday residence and an old moorish castle, the Castillo de Morisco.