EL Maestrat where I live is dotted with old fincas, many uninhabited and in need of serious repair. As remote as this region is, I often thank my lucky stars that as yet there have been no inroads of urbanizations with the usual ugly new builds. It is an area well known and cherished in the local village. All I have to say is I live in Pou de la Riba and it brings broad smiles of nostalgia to people’s faces.
Over the last 5 years, despite, or maybe because of the recession, Spanish people have been resettling here in trickles. A few places have been sold, but mostly it is the Spanish taking charge of their inheritances. I am the only foreigner hereabouts and I find that very comforting. I feel that I am in the real Spain.
Those who have moved here largely respect the ethos of these fincas. Mainstream utilities are non-existent, apart from electricity to the odd working farm or casa. There are no phone lines and mains water is but a pipe dream. The services that most people take for granted such as mail delivery and rubbish collection are simply not there and no one around here minds. Those who worked the mountain fincas used to be called masoveros, and it was not meant as a compliment because they were perceived as very distinct from town folk, arriving once a week for market, looking and smelling like wild unkempt goats, their mules in tow. Now us mountain folk own our houses and are somewhat more savoury in odour, apart from our rubbish, which we bring down in bags and recycling containers to the municipal bins.
Water is rarely a problem as every finca has a cisterna to collect rainwater from the roof. In times of drought the local well man Jose Manual will sell you 11,000 litres for 70 euros, delivery included. We use few chemicals to clean – I spray vinegar scented with rosemary which I hope has the least impact on the natural surroundings. Sadly the working farms still treat their almonds and olives liberally with pesticides. Organic farming has obviously not reached these parts on a commercial scale.
Anyone living here year-round will have chickens, goats, dogs and cats galore. Some keep horses, and bees have become very popular. With almond and olive trees, and tomatoes and artichokes, and numerous other fruits and vegetables, the masoveros are largely self-sufficient. Especially as every inhabited finca possesses some kind of solar setup to provide Internet (3 euros a month by proxy) and other basic needs. There is certain hippiness all about, though I have to say that the most hippy of folks have the largest TVs. Not I, I hasten to add. There is not one to be found at Masia Lavanda. Life is far too exciting to waste it watching other people live!
Opposite my masia in a dip sits a large finca of 10 hectares with two houses and that rarity of rarities, mains electricity (which you could not give me for anything now that I know the joys of no monthly bills!). It has been empty, languishing long before I came here. Once in a while someone would try to sell it to me. Of course as an ex-pat it is assumed I am rich. 7 years ago the price was 225 and during the course of the seasons it fell incrementally. At times I worried what would happen to it, but not too much.
I am happy to say that it was recently been sold to yet another Spaniard, this time from Ibiza. I went to see him with Felix – to welcome him to Pou de la Riba. A tall gangly man of Germanic appearance and Celtic red skin, he declared his intentions to practice yoga and “breathe”. He is a person of long silences and very odd, but totally in keeping with hereabouts. The plethora of moles and lesions on the visible parts of his skin are fascinating and it is clear that the sun is no good friend of his.
We were invited back for a luncheon knees up get together “borrasca” the next day. This a new word for me and in the dictionary it simply states “squall”. At first I thought it meant a drinking session involving great quantities of alcohol as borracho means drunk. Understandable when I was asked to bring alcohol as my contribution to the event!
So dutifully I arrived with a collection of wines, cava and beers. These went well, too well, with the home-made gnocchi and roasted goat. Several hours later I stumbled home blind drunk, itching all over from the almond shells that covered the terrace as a kind of gravel substitute. Oh, and the kittens which were an offering from another finca. And maybe even it was the dogs. Or was it the smell of the homegrown smokes? No matter, I passed out on the sofa, not compos mentis enough to remember to close the doors.
About 6 hours later I awoke to the sound of a singsong winging joyously across the valley. As the night progressed it disintegrated into a drunken cacophony, petering out at around 4 in the morning as the roosters next door began to crow. Just as out of tune…