Andalucía (full circle)
November 2022- May 2023 - July 2023
Nearly 8 years ago, I stepped off a boat from Morocco onto European soil for the first time as an adult. At this glittering, narrow mouth of the Mediterranean – the straight of Gibraltar– you can actually see Spain from Africa – the horizon dotted with twirling kite surfers in the never-ceasing wind called the Levante. Not too far from there is Granada, a city which immediately swept me (and countless others throughout the centuries) off my feet and hypnotized me for the next 3 years.
Once I found my way to a visa and a potential life in Spain, it wasn't yet in that grand, Moorish kingdom nestled in the mountains, but it was a step closer. Eventually my life took an unexpected turn towards the North of Spain, then eventually to Northern Germany... Yet here we are, nearly a decade later, and I seem to be back where I started... la vida es asi.
These 18 months on the road Ben and I met plenty of people who spoke enthusiastically about Permaculture Design courses, known as PDCs. These are standardized, 76 hour courses which provide intensive training in permaculture philosophy, design, and practice. We always listened happily, but thought we could surely learn all we needed to know on the job and in the books. At some point, somehow, I stumbled on news of the most affordable PDC on this continent just down the road from that most of alluring of cities...
So it would happen, in our obligatory period away from Vidalia during the application process, we came down for our PDC in the Alpujarra mountains. We met like-minded people from London to New Zealand, from Alabama to Australia. We spent our sunny November days outside learning about composting and companion planting, about the miraculous possibilities of charcoal and mushrooms, about resiliency and how to work together.
Ras, our teacher, was tireless in his commitment to sharing his knowledge, and many of his projects (such as his syntropic reforestation project) were deeply inspiring. After the course, we found ourselves taking care of his massive terraced gardens in his off-grid cabin even deeper in the hills while he returned to the UK for Christmas. We spent the shortest days of the year in a mostly outdoor life, licking our wounds from Vidalia's rejection and trying to regroup. Outdoor showers, outdoor compost toilet, outdoor kitchen... Luckily, winter is rather mild here, but that month was not void of some pretty serious challenges...
Orgiva is an endlessly perplexing town nestled in those mountains which seems chock full of expats living in another world entirely. A world full of dreadlocks and cactus ceremonies – of harem pants and people trying to sell you puppies and crystals. We spent Christmas eve singing songs in a yurt– almost a parody of ourselves... The hippies finally got us, mom! But actually, they didn't. This town, even though it was overflowing with off-grid, organic/permaculture projects, was clearly not the spot for us. One too many stories of thieving and drug abuse. One too many invitations for a yoni steaming. Nevertheless, it is beloved by many, and popularized by a quirky novel called Driving over Lemons.
Miraculously, in a deep-sweeping search for a place to rent to recharge over the winter (unable to continue the exhausting search for further communities) we stumbled upon a house we loved, which was ready exactly the day we finished house sitting for Ras. La vida es asi. Still in the countryside, but nestled perfectly between my beloved Granada and the dolphin-dotted Mediterranean sea, we landed in el Valle de Lecrin – in a house that was built to all the standards we just learned about in our Permaculture course.
It seems somehow like our landlady built this house just for us, then left the moment it was completed. Its garden has nearly all the trees I was previously impatient to plant, an established veggie garden, indoor yet lovely compost toilets, massive state-of-the-art solar panels which power the house and heat the water. If there's no sun, there's a convenient pellet stove that works on local, crushed almond shells, or in dire straights, a generator. All the water stays on the property, going back out to feed the garden in a drought-ridden area so not to waste it. There is additional insulation with local, natural materials. The water for the garden comes from a series of ancient canals built by the Moors over 1000 years ago called acequias, which not only still work but are single-handedly responsible for keeping this valley fertile and lush. We are surrounded on all sides by citrus trees. Hundreds of thousands of them, dripping with juicy, jeweled-toned fruits for the taking. There is an avocado tree that gave us no less than 250 avocados in one winter season. There is a giant bathtub next to the fig tree, and a separate guest quarters upstairs, which we promptly filled with all our best friends. A waking dream.
Just down the road is an 18-year-strong agricultural cooperative of anarchists that we've joined called Hortigas. Together we farm 7-9 plots of land for organic vegetables and divide the harvest evenly between the nearly 100 participants. The organization is nonhierarchical and we meet once a week to discuss all the goings on and pick up our veggie baskets, then go work once in the field or twice a month. They send us a weekly email to keep everyone informed on what's being planted, harvested, and discussed. They have a radio show and fun events and have been a GREAT source for us to find friends. They fill the need we have to participate in something bigger than ourselves without the complications of full-time living and discussing each and every choice. Plus, lets be honest, food is an extremely political subject at the end of the day, and we're delighted we can source ours so ethically.
It seemed we fell into an earlier dream of mine to move to Europe and live in a big, beautiful house filled with interesting and lovely people. We had 17 friends come to visit us over the course of those first few months in this house, so even if we technically lived alone, we were never alone. I tried my best not to get too attached to the house, but it was everything I've ever wanted in a home, and even more so after we made so many memories with our friends there.
It came complete with two weirdo cats and grape vines, a castle ruin down the road on foot or a waterfall or canyoneering adventure down the road by car. We've got friendly peasant neighbors that give us eggs and fava beans, exotic birds in the yard called hoopoes. Wind turbines pumping out renewable energy dotting the vista on one side of the property and a purple mountain range (the foothills of the Sierra Nevada) sprawling along the vista of the other side. Our immediate Spanish neighbors practice, of all things, permaculture, and their giant, blue-faced turkey named Frederico has become our doorbell and security alarm. There's even 3 separate arts and cultural centers within 30 minutes of here (in the countryside) providing us almost too much to do on the weekends. The locals call this area "El valle de la alegría"... the valley of joy, and I can't disagree. It's completely delightful how life can just keep on dazzling you again and again, even after so many scraped knees and broken hearts.
I'm writing this just upon returning to the house after 10 weeks away to give the owner some time to think about what she wanted to do (and for us to visit our families back in the states and in Germany.) We initially rented it for 4 months but left hoping we could come back and stay here for good. The future is still not completely certain, but we've discussed both long term renting and the potential to buy this house as our own.
It seems odd for two people so concerned with climate change to move down to the frontlines of heatwaves and droughts and fires, but, if I'm perfectly honest, nowhere is safe, and this land has dealt with intense weather patterns for thousands of years – this territory settled by survivors all along.
As I sit here writing this, listening to the windmills turning with force just outside my window, I'm reminded again of the Levante wind that blew my hair back 8 years ago on the boat from Morocco. Levante in Spanish means to pull up or lift or raise or bolster, as this region always has for me, time and time again.
Me on a bridge September 2015, falling in love with the sierras, then me and Ben on that same bridge 8 years later, still madly in love.