Traditional animal herding is still a common sight in El Maestrat. I once showed these photos to a local of Atzeneta and she was horrified. Stephanie, she exclaimed, you cannot put this on your website, people will think we are backward! I had never looked at it like that; it had not occurred to me that anyone could be embarrassed by the lingering of old traditions. Of course it is this old way of life that draws the tourist from the “New” Europe”. These traditions signal an escape from the stresses and pressures brought about by modernisation. However, they have arrived here too despite appearances.
There are still no foreign restaurants or McDonald’s, not even a cinema, but each village has high speed wifi now and the streets are packed with cars. The land is increasingly neglected as the young move away in search of work in bigger towns and cities. As the finca (farm) buildings crumble and the land is broken up into ever smaller parcels by inheritance laws, the people worry. What will become of their region?
Now the city jobs are drying up with the recession, and the tile factories closing as China steals their markets. The young are flooding back to their towns to find work, but there is none, or very little. The unemployment queue at the town hall on Thursdays is swollen beyond recognition. Meanwhile the fincas continue to crumble, the almond trees grow gnarled with disease and lack of pruning, and the ancient olive trees are massacred by chainsaws. But some of the young are going back to the land, for lack of choice.
In California they are planting almonds as fast as they can for their prosperous yield, but here in the Maestrat they shake their heads and say there is no money in them. In California they are harvested mechanically, here that is not an option. It needs financial investment and there is no money. The only option is to sell up, but the market for that has dried up as well. Spain’s property boom has collapsed and in its wake has left a trail of social and economic destruction.