Beneficio

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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