Andalusian AutumnOct 152016
Yannick, Samuel and I are walking the well-known path along the hilly coast line to their car. They take me and another German girl to Las Negras so I can try to hitch from there to Málaga. A guy from San Pedro stops by and takes me to Campo Hermoso which is situated just before the motorway. It should be the perfect place to get to Andalusia. But no one stops.
(Sorry, you can only hear the misery in German. As you can see from my expression I wasn't bothered enough to record the video in English, too. I think it's a better language for being miserable anyway.)
Not even after four hours and two different spots. On top of this I misunderstood María, whom I wanted to visit in Málaga. She is living with her parents at the moment and not in her own flat, so she can't host me.
Now I understand why every traveler has advised me against hitchhiking in Spain. It's just too depressing to stand in the blazing sun when no one stops. After a few hours, an everlasting smile that leads to face cramps and a feeble right arm suck every last bit of optimism out of me. But then I remember the words of another vagabond who hitched the world: "In the end there is always someone who takes you." And that's what happens. Desirée is a teacher and plans to take two years off to go traveling. She has to go to an English course to Almería. On the way I tell her about my failed plans to stay in Málaga tonight. She proposes that tonight I can come back with her to Campo Hermoso and stay there overnight. On our way back I help her to carry some boxes from her flat in Almería into the car. She says: "It's a good deal, since I just offered you a place to sleep, isn't it?"
It's so much fun to spend the day with her. Although she has got 40 years of life experience she seems half as young. Her joy about life is contagious. She tells me about her plans to go and see the world in her van. Maybe not as extreme as her sister, but like I am doing it: to stay at one place for several weeks to work for bed and board and then go on further.
Her sister is more like a pirate, she says. She has always been a rebel. One day she disappeared completely from her family to lead a jolly nudist life on a remote Greek island. Since Desirée hadn't found a way to telecommute with her sister, she just bought a plane ticket to Greece. She had a vague notion of which of the islands her pirate sister might have chosen to escape from society. The people from the villages and hotels manage to describe her the way to a nudist beach. Obviously only by foot since there is no road leading to this coast. After many hours of marching, she finally met her beloved sister who has built a tiny but very cozy house at the shore. Both of them were more than happy to see each others after such a long time. By telling more adventure stories of this kind, time passes by quickly until we reach Campo Hermoso again.
In the evening we visit two friends of hers: Isa and Paco. I now realize that I'm on the edge of Andalusia. Paco has got such a broad dialect that it wouldn't make a difference if he spoke Valenciano or Catalan with me. I understand every tenth word. But somehow we manage to communicate a bit so that he can recommend me a hippie community in the mountains of Alpujarra, after I tell him about my experience in San Pedro. The place should be very peaceful and not as weird as San Pedro, hence the name: Beneficio.
In the morning I wash my clothes and have even got enough space to do some yoga. It's been a while... With positive feelings I walk to the exact same spot where Desirée has picked me up yesterday and give it another go. But this time I only have to wait for two minutes. A van stops and a Spaniard takes me to a coastal town near Almería. He can afford to live in a house at the coast, because there are enough job offers coming in for him: He delivers fertilizer from one town to the other. On our way we pass the never ending fields of plastic. The whole landscape is full of green houses for Europe's fruits and vegetables. Despite it being the driest region in Spain. All the water comes from snowy tops of the Sierra Nevada and most of the soil is being imported. That doesn't seem particularly sustainable.
I get dropped off at a petrol station. After one hour I walk to the big and busy roundabout. And who is stopping and waving me into his car? The same driver as before! His boss told him to deliver some more fertilizer to El Ejido which lies west from here, so he can take me a bit further. It's the first time that the same car takes me twice. At the next petrol station I don't have to wait long until a Spaniard takes me to Motril. From there on it's not far to Órgiva, driving alongside the Sierra Nevada. An English couple gives me a lift to the town. They know more or less where Beneficio is situated and drop me off at a convenient place to hitch further. Órgiva is a small place where dozens of cultures from different nationalities gather to lead a peaceful life together. But I want to go further into the hippie valley where this whole concept seems to be carried to extremes.
A Belgian takes me to the junction from where you can walk to the valley. Maggi (Spain), Carlos (Columbia) and Niccola (Italy) are standing there, too. Maggi's car broke down today in the middle of the road, so they have to walk back to Beneficio. Carlos left Columbia at the age of 16 and has been traveling through the world for the past eight years. He always finds enough work to afford his ongoing travels. He has primarily seen a lot of Asia and Europe so far. Right now he travels with his girlfriend in a camper van. They spent three weeks together in Beneficio and now his girlfriend took the van to Portugal. Carlos stays here for a bit longer and joins her later on.
I pitch my tent close to Holger's place. He comes from Germany but hasn't been there for a long time. His new home is Spain and every year he comes to Beneficio for a few months. At the moment he is building a small house. That doesn't require permission or anything like that. As long as his humble dwelling doesn't disturb the general welfare or blocks one of the paths, he can build whatever he wants. In Beneficio you can find a special kind of reed that has similar properties as bamboo. It grows fast, is sturdy and flexible. Holger made a dome-shaped skeleton out of these branches. Now he is sitting in front of it and sews some big piece of fabric, which will be used to cover it. The whole construction reminds me of a tipi. The only thing is, that it hasn't got straight walls, so there is more room inside. Holger doesn't know yet if his plans will succeed. He says that it is rather an experiment and when he manages to refine this system, he can build such a dwelling wherever he lives. Eventually it takes only a few days to put it up. I am pretty sure, that he will make it. Holger is very eager-seeming (especially in comparison to most of the other people around here).
The next five days in Beneficio are full of little adventures, stories from "dropouts", travelers an hikers. The English guy Roger thinks that he is a prophet and has developed an enormous anger against the human ignorance. Barbara from Spain has been here for three months now, gives free yoga courses and is living in a wooden house. Someone gave it to her who left Beneficio. Julian from Germany is hiking thousands of kilometers each year through the mountains and is now taking a break here. Ernesto comes from Costa Rica but has been traveling for a long time in Europe. He also travels rather spontaneously and his route is made by the suggestions of locals. Vanessa is 21 and has left Slovakia a few months ago to see the world. She spent the whole summer in this valley. Marco (born in Germany) belongs to the first "settlers" of Beneficio. He was here when Beneficio was founded and has been living here for nearly 30 years. His aura is unbelievably calm but happy and his six kids have all been born and raised up here in the mountains.
In Beneficio I meet Gloria. She is from Valencia and studies in Granada. To take some time off uni, she and some friends come to this little paradise for the weekend. We spend the whole day together and I get to know a lot about the university city. So I decide to make this my new destination. Marco's son is visiting his father here in the mountains and goes back to Granada in the afternoon. That's easy, I don't even have to worry about hitchhiking then and can join him in the car.
I was recommended to go Plaza Nueva since this is a good meeting point. While I am waiting for Gloria, I see Max walking over the square. He is from New York, has been traveling for quite some time and was visiting Beneficio with a few friends at the same time as I was there. I shout from one end of the plaza to the other: "Maaax!" What a lucky coincidence, because Gloria will leave Granada tomorrow to go on holiday. Max has been invited by people from Senegal to stay in their caves in Albaicín. So he says, he can ask if I could sleep there, too. Gloria shows me her favourite spots in the city and we watch Flamenco musicians and dancers and the Alhambra at night.
The next day I walk up the mountain towards Sacromonte. A long concrete staircase leads to the caves. Many Senegaleses created thier new home here in the rocks. It is not quite legal, but the local authorities tolerate it.
Some of the caves are even supplied with electricity and running water, but I wouldn't want to investigate where they got it from. Galai is the "owner" of the cave where Max (USA), Adam (Ireland) and Rafa (Poland) are staying. Here I can roll out my mattress in one of the rooms. The temperature in the caves is alwas mild. In comparison to outside, it's refreshingly cool during the day and cozy and warm at night, because it is dry inside. There are three bedrooms and a kitchen equipped with a gas stove. Galai is building a little roof outside over the entrance. It provides some shadow and shelter from (potential) rain. They celebrate some news when I arrive: Since very recently there is a hose with running water available. I don't know how he managed to bootleg the tap water but this gives me the opportunity to wash my clothes and in the evening his friends drop by to take a shower.
The entry to Galais' home. Every morning we drink Café Touba from Senegal with him and his friends.
Rafa has been traveling for three years now and it's not the last time that I meet him on my journey.
To cool down a bit we decide to look for one of the waterfalls close to the Alhambra. A tiny steep path leads off the main path to two waterfalls just beneath the Moorish walls:
Luisa is joining us for this little trip. She is from Columbia and was living in Germany for the past nine years. Now she is on her way back home. She also wants to go their by boat and discover more of South America before arriving in Columbia. When I tell her that I have kind of the same plan and don't have any sailing experience either, we decide to look for a boat to the Canary Islands together.
Luisa makes and sells bracelets and necklaces to fund her travels.
During my time in Granada I feel very free and easy. Flamenco dancers, buskers, street artists, merchants and people who don't live in houses, but found other beautiful dwellings make for a lively but peaceful atmosphere. You can see the strong connection to the Arabic world by walking through bazar-like lanes and passing thousands (and one) shops for lamps, tea and spices, which are all decorated with beautiful ornamentic tiles.
When I was in Barcelona, my friend Lloyd from Yorkshire sends me an email (he is the one who gave me his rock shoes): "Hey Albi, I can see that you are in Spain now. We should meet there and go climbing! I can take one week off in October." Since I have heard a lot about a huge climbing area near Málaga, called El Chorro, I propose him to go there. Three days later he booked his flight ticket. So it's fixed: On 2nd October I will meet Lloyd in El Chorro.
Luisas friend Miguel comes to visit her in Granada. Funnily enough, he is a climbing instructor. So both of them join me and I can get a lift to the mountains, because Miguel lives in a van. We arrive late in the evening and spend the night on a parking place at the side of a big lake. I wanted to pitch my tent, but the ground is so hard and dry that pegs won't get in. I'm glad that they didn't, because this made me think of spending the night outside. Actually, is there a better place than the warm and dry South of Spain? I wonder why I haven't realized that earlier.
Lloyd, Maya, Marc, Luisa und I form the "Equipo del Chorro".
Lloyd checked in to the hostel "Olive Branch" where he rented a tent. Every staff member is also a rock climber, so it doesn't feel like a hostel but more like staying in a nice place with a lot of friends. I decide against my usual codex to not spend money for accomodation and also book a place for my tent here. First of all it is a rather economic choice. Second, I just got a little bit of money for my birthday and third, I want to spend the time together with everyone at the same place.
Rhapsodic Lloyd! He came from the grey Yorkshire Dales to sunny Spain and left by saying: "So you don't always have to suffer bad weather and fear death when you're climbing!"
In El Chorro there are mainly sport climbing routes which are all very safe. Here I can work a lot on my technique and leading skills and learn so much from all the other climbers. Nearly every day we go out to touch some rock. Mostly on north facing walls though, because in October the season just starts, since the sun is still unbearably hot these days. After the climbing we jump into the water of one of the huge and clean lakes to refresh. In the evening we sing and play guitar at Olive Branch.
Miguel is one of the most talented climbers, I have ever met. I learned a lot from just watching him getting up the crag!
After one week in the climber's paradise, a big surprise is happening: Rosie from Glasgow is coming into the hostel when I have breakfast at the table. What a joy to see her again! What are the odds to meet in the same remote place in Spain after leaving Scotland in May? Rosie is visiting Spain with her mother and the two girls also want to cross the Atlantic later this year. While Luisas is going climbing with Marc and the two Scots, Lloyd and I are packing our things, cook some lunch and say goodbye. He takes the train to Málaga in the afternoon. Luisa and I get a lift from Marc in the evening to the same city.
Marc takes us to a place at the beach, where he says that no one would care if we spent the night there. Juan calls himself the forest elf, wears only green clothes and has been living here for eight years in a small hut made from wood, card board and plastic. He quickly explains us the rules: There is a fire place where dinner will be served later on, there are two corners if you need a loo for number one and there is the petrol station for number two. We roll out our mattresses in front of a big wall and sleep under eucalyptus trees and starlit sky with the sound of the sea and the noise of the streets in the background. Right in the center of Málaga!