On the way out of Órgiva, we pick up a hitchhiker who knows how to get to Beneficio. Without her, we would never have found it. On a sharp s-bend, we turn off onto a very rough and quite narrow dirt track, which leads to a rough car park by a stream. Frank is very tired, so we decide to stop and have a Siesta before visiting the community.
We have just dropped off to sleep when there’s a loud rapping on our door.
Frank jumps out of bed and goes out, I’m a bit slower to wake up and realise it’s the police! I quickly throw on some clothes but by the time I get out, they’ve already told Frank, in no uncertain terms, that we are camping illegally and in the riverbed of a national park and that we must leave immediately. I join the conversation, asking about the difference between parking and camping, and trying to understand the finer details of what exactly is forbidden, asking them to repeat or slow down so I can understand. After a few minutes, they say we can stay a couple of nights after all, but must keep the place neat and tidy. I assure them that we always leave the place tidier than we find it, and that we are very quiet people. We part on good terms.
I’m chuffed that my Spanish has improved such that I can converse with policemen and make them change their minds and their tone. Frank thinks the outcome has more to do with the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra and thus made them go weak at the knees. Ah, well…
We stroll up the hill through the car park and into the woods. It is a very beautiful gorge, and people have made temporary living abodes of all kinds in the woods. Some are made of wood, others of all kinds of recycled materials. Some are very carefully constructed, with inner yards full of flowers, others are just very basic shacks. There is a great silence in the woods, save the sound of running water and numerous birds, despite the fact that there are quite a few people about the place. After a few hundred yards, the woods open and there are almond orchards, luscious meadows and vegetable gardens. There is a big Tipi functioning as a communal gathering and music-making space, where also twice a day, food gets made and shared with all who would like to partake.
A bit further up, there are several yurts and many other wooden buildings, each very individually designed. The sound of flowing water permeates the air, and we can hear children laughing and playing. We turn a corner and meet Noah (4) and Hoppy (2), the children of Edgar and Krista. We are invited into their garden and have a chat about the place, how it all started, who of the original people are still here if any, what the ethos is, where the purest water is etc. After a cup of tea, we explore a little further, as far as the waterfall and half way up the hill towards the solar internet café. It’s getting cold though and we’re concerned about spending too much energy (Frank is still quite weak from his illness), so we turn around and head for home.
Unfortunately, the loud music at the car park keeps us awake late into the night.
The next day, we take our bottles up to the source for drinking water. Once again, we meet Noah, who decides to come with us, first to the spring, and then back down to visit our van, so we spend best part of the day in the bright company of this charming young child. He really is the light of the day, because besides that, we are quite upset to see how much desolation there is, how many lost souls are wandering around here, how many very broken bodies we meet. This place was founded by a couple from Tipi Valley in Wales who wanted to live in harmony with nature. They bought a piece of land and started a small community, working along Permaculture principles. It must have been sheer heaven at that time – and there are some pockets where you can still sense the magic of this – for example by the waterfall and the spring, and when looking at the care and love with which some of the dwellings are built and the land around them is tended. But now, there are well over 100 people and drugs and alcohol are rife, especially around the bottom entrance by the car park. We hear that at one time, the river was contaminated with Hepatitis! As the original land became too small to accommodate new arrivals, people started to build their shelters into the national park, some times without respect for the things that grow there. Trees were felled, and we see quite a few broken branches or snapped off twigs along the paths. Some people have brought along their personal hell with them and it is too big for this place. Nature is a powerful healer and it did its best to accommodate the pain, but it seems that it cannot absorb the sheer amount of urban despair. Especially heart-breaking is to see small children wandering about in the car-park, looking lost, feral and uncared-for.
No wonder the police are called as soon as yet another traveller’s vehicle turns up on the hill. No wonder that the people who have built their shacks in the national park are being fined or taken to prison on a regular basis. It must be horrible for those who live below the community, to be disturbed by the incessant noise and ‘traffic’ and to have their water contaminated.
We cannot bear the thought of another night of ‘duf-duf’, so we decide to up and leave as the sun sets. We find a lovely camp site in Órgiva where we stay for a couple of nights.
Here are a few photos of taken in Beneficio, showing lovely Noah and his sister Hoppy and their mother, as well as the special spring and waterfall, and a beautifully flowering Jasmine.
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There are a number of communities in the South of Andalucia where people have gathered to try out other forms of living together. We’ve been recommended to go and see some of them, especially those in the Alpujarras and down by the sea near Almerìa.
Our first stop once we leave Granada is a little beach near Motril, where we are told it is still possible to park right up by the beach and that we would be in the company of a few other vehicles like ours. A very steep dirt track leads down to a rocky beach with black sand. And indeed, there are a few more interesting vehicles here, but the inhabitants are quite different from us. Heavy duf-duf music, as we call it, pumps out of some of the wagons and everything looks a bit down and grungey, including the people. I’m not sure why I find this unsettling, apart from the fact that I’m not good around heavy use of dope.
Maybe it’s because we are united by the fact that we are travelling, but in other ways quite different, and sometimes being at such close quarters with some people, I reflect on my own life and start to worry about getting stuck in some kind of time warp of travelling without an inner light, without some kind of aspiration beyond just getting food and water and staying warm and out of the way of the police. It hasn’t got anything to do with what people look like but it is something inside. I had the same reaction on occasion when meeting some couples in their all mod-con ‘plastic-fantastic’ mobile homes, where conversations similarly revolved around a very limited number of topics. Frank assures me that there is no chance of me reducing myself and my life to that level…
We have a couple of photos on Flikr that convey the colours on that beach – shades of grey, but when the sun comes out there is colour too. The red dot is a sea anemone.
Anyway, we don’t actually mix that much with the other people on the beach – we came here to soak up sea air and help Frank recover from his heavy cold, which has had him in bed for best part of two weeks. We light the stove and open the doors, looking out on a windswept seascape. What a luxury, being lovely and warm inside, as well as having the fresh sea breeze wafting in. Frank sits on the bed and enjoys the sun, reading and sleeping. It’s been a hard month for him, having his mobility so reduced, first by a bad back, then a painful hip and then two weeks of a very heavy illness, which although it’s cleared, has left him very fragile and with a bladder problem. It’s a bit difficult without the usual support system of trusted osteopaths/acupuncture practitioners etc. around us, to get on top of all this, so the last month has been quite introverted in some ways. I have tried to still go out and dance, go for walks and see the sights around us, but it’s not the same though without my lovely man … Even when I know he’s fine resting at home, I don’t seem to be able to relax; there is this constant worry in the back of my mind.
The following day, we go Motril to see Miguel, a Naturopath. It is a very interesting session, and we leave with a lot of info how to support Frank’s healing process, including a Korean kind of Acupressure that is done with something not dissimilar to a crochet hook. That very night though, Frank’s bladder infection gets so bad that we decide to drive back to Granada and go and see the emergency unit in the hospital. The night is spent driving and waiting for the consultation, and by 7am we have a prescription for a course of antibiotics… it’s really the last thing we want to do, and it feels such a shame to go down the route of antibiotics, after Frank having worked so hard to shake the heavy cold on his own. But that’s where we are with it now, after having tried all sorts of other things first. We leave Granada once again, in search of another quiet place with clean drinking water, to spend a couple more days just resting and healing. This time, we find Beneficio, a community just outside Órgiva.
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