My Spanish story: How I found love in Estepona

Texan born Diana Reed Morris describes how a life of travel turned into a love affair with Spain, and how an encounter on a doorstep in Estepona changed her life forever.

My Spanish story: How I found love in Estepona
Diana Reed Morris decided to retire on Spain's Costa del Sol.

My first trips outside the US were to visit Canada and Mexico during childhood summer vacations. By the time I entered university I had visited over half of the fifty US states and had established my love of travel.

My first trip abroad was to London after I completed graduate school. Accompanying my mother, we focused on typical tourist sites, museums, theatre performances, and shopping.

My parents were a great example to me as they enjoyed many overseas trips, exploring Europe, Asia, Australia, South and Central America, and of course, Canada and Mexico.

Later travels took me back to London and to other parts of the UK. I travelled alone and with groups.

In pursuing my career as a professional clinical social worker, I practiced in academic medical centers in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Galveston, Texas. My thirty-eight year commitment to patients and staff was rewarding, intense, and intellectually and emotionally consuming. Vacationing abroad served as respite from responsibilities I gladly accepted. I loved my work, and I loved the cultural and artistic opportunities offered by visits abroad.

After traveling around, Reed Morris settled on Estepona. Photo: philibus/Depositphotos

Several years in advance of retirement, I began weighing options for location, planning finances, and considering factors like my family’s needs and the means of maintaining long-distance personal relationships. I sold my home long before the mortgage crisis, and I sought advice about investments and retirement income from professionals.

In 2008 when many Americans were suffering financial woes, and looking forward to a future of “staycations”, I found myself as one of only two American women residing for the summer in a beautiful Tuscan village outside Florence. I waved at her as she bicycled past me. She smiled and waved back but it was clear that each of us wanted interactions not with other Americans but instead with “foreigners”, Italians in our case, at that time.

I stayed four months in that village and made friends with my neighbours as well as the grocer, the railway station master, several bus drivers, waiters, and the necessary hairdresser and manicurist. For the latter, I had to take the train into Florence, always a pleasure.

Travelling often brought surprises, though not always positive or welcome ones. In Santa Margherita I had an encounter with a coiled snake on the pathway from the convent where I stayed down the hill to the stop for the bus to Portofino. In Sicily I was approached by a snake of a different sort. In Salzburg I was locked into a malfunctioning funicular, and in Fez I got lost in the souk.

In Amsterdam a new-found soul sister and I explored far afield of the museum district. We forgot about time and manners. To the disdain of others on the tour, we impolitely kept the bus – filled with former friends – waiting an hour. We explained that we had been delayed by a street accident and received sympathy, but I, a truth-teller, admitted that was untrue. We had simply become enthralled with the sparkling windows of jewellery shops and lost track of time. Who among us has not been a passenger on such a bus, shaming and shunning the errant late comers? I hope one finds forgiveness.

Fishing Day mural by Jose Fernandez Rios in Estepona Spain. Photo: phil_bird /Depositphotos

My adventure in Spain began after an American couple in an Italian cooking class recommended wintering on the Costa del Sol where the sun shines 320 days of the year. “Pack your swimsuit and sunbathe on the beaches of the beautiful turquoise Mediterranean,” they suggested, adding, “Get lost in the mysterious narrow streets of the white villages. Discover tapas and Spanish wine and music.”

The picture they painted was enticing, and I responded with enthusiasm to the thought of a Spanish adventure. I booked a holiday apartment in the port of Estepona, close to the marina, bars and restaurants, and a short walk along the paseo into town. After brief stays in Madrid and Malaga, I arrived in Estepona.

The apartment was exactly as pictured online, only better. The kitchen window framed palm trees and the view from the balcony introduced me to Gibraltar. The landlords announced they would join me that first evening. “Don’t worry. We will bring wine and tapas and our president.” A newcomer, eager to make friends, despite my lack of understanding their proposal, I agreed, praising their generosity.

An hour later, the doorbell rang. Standing there was Jack, a man appearing to be his mid-seventies, dressed in British khaki shorts and a naval sweater. He was carrying a bottle of Spanish Rioja wine. He spoke perfect well-articulated English, told me that he, as President of the Condominium Association, greeted all new residents.

Thus began a new phase of life for both of us. We married six months later in Houston, Texas, and honeymooned in Savannah, Georgia. Age is a private matter to me, but I was well into my fifties when I retired. Like the song says, I was older then, I am younger than that now.

Diana and Jack have made their life in Estepona.

During the first three years of our marriage, we spent over five hundred days in holiday apartments, hotels and paradors. I learned that Spain is much larger than I thought, three-quarters the size of Texas and about four times the size of England.

I found that married life was as much an adventure as travel. It required me to develop a life among my husband’s friends and activities, in a foreign country, in a language unfamiliar to me.
Coping with Spanish bureaucracies tested my patience but having worked for a government entity in the US, I knew something about paperwork and delay. With help I was able to acquire residency status, to enroll on the padron, to acquire a Spanish driving license, and to find a hairdresser, manicurist, aesthetician, and gym.
Like many English speakers in Spain, I joined social and cultural organizations. Once each month I enjoy lectures offered by The Arts Society. Occasionally I play petanca with the local club my husband
helped to organize.
In my quiet time I indulge my interest in writing, and in 2014 I completed my travel memoir Happy Hour at Midnight and recently my latest novel Treasures of War was published. Spain is a great environment for a writer as there are many people here with stories to tell, and there are other writers with whom to compare notes.
This adventure continues. I give great credit to my husband who settled here and encouraged me to join him. Jack and I make our home in Estepona where our balcony overlooks the marina, the white village, and the Sierra Bermeja Mountains. For me, Spain is the embodiment of romance and discovery.
Diana Reed Morris was an established clinical social worker when Hurricane Ike accelerated her retirement from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. She and her British-born Canadian husband live in Estepona where she spends her free time writing. Her latest novel is Treasures of War, a work of historical fiction about stolen art set in Russia, Europe, the UK and the US. She has other publications about her travel adventures.


Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.