The land is dying…

The land is dying…

Yesterday we met Raoul and he told us about how the land is dying. It seems counter to all that we’ve seen here while we’ve been out walking, the flowers that have captivated us with their abundance, colour and fragrance. But Raoul knows differently and he showed us how to look so we see more clearly.

Raoul is an old friend of Amaya and Miguel. Amaya has been my Spanish teacher here these last 3 years and, although we had not arranged classes this time, we have kept in touch. We met up in the Cabo de Gata Parque Natural, to have lunch once again at Lakshmi, the curry restaurant perched, a little incongruously, above their house in the tiny Spanish pueblo of El Pozo de los Frailes. If you read last year’s blog, you may remember Gorgeous George. Sadly he is no longer greeting guests at Lakshmi, treating them to his irresistible smile. His place has been taken by older waiters, less dashing and easy on the eye (but then George was exceptional), but perfectly able purveyors of Prawn Jalfrezi from kitchen to table.

After lunch, we drove up the rutted road to Raoul’s place, a modest casa set in the quiet landscape below Los Frailes, the highest peak in the Cabo that rises from a circular base to a point, like a perfectly-formed cone. Raoul has been here for 25 years leading a simple, solitary life, it seems, in a peaceful, secluded spot. Miguel teasingly refers to him as el ermitaño (the hermit) but he struck me as a man of the world, versed in the issues of the day, thoughtful, wise, well-read. His lean, handsome face is lined by his years and browned by a life lived largely in the open air; his eyes are bright, smiling, kind.

He made us tea, his own blend of green tea and fresh thyme collected from the campo around his house. As it brewed in an elegant, long-spouted silver teapot, Raoul took us out onto the campo to show us how the life is being leached from the land. The whole province of Almería is an arid area, much of it long designated as ‘desert’. Even so, over 25 years he has witnessed changes that have accelerated in the last decade. The land is dying of thirst, parched in the relentless summer sun and gasping still in the winter months that bring barely a drop of rain and little reprieve. Drought and wind are the twin killers, especially here in the unprotected Cabo, exposed and hard against the sea.

Yes, the thyme is in full bloom, and the asphodel stands tall and lovely. But he pointed to many of the plants scarcely clinging to life, a tiny fraction of them in leaf, the rest dried up, brittle twigs that crumble to dust in the wind. Others were already dead, their roots showing bare above the ground and their barren stems like the raw materials for so many miniature broomsticks. For the first time this year Raoul has run out of the honey he has always bought from the fabrica up the road in Sopalmo; their bees no longer produce the way they used to because the flowers are failing. Even the bees may fall quiet by and by.

I felt humbled to hear this story spoken with such sadness by this gracious man. You could feel how attached he is to this land, how steeped in its story. I thought of all that I’ve written, my attempts at lyricising the landscape here, the springing to life that we’ve seen all around us, the being enraptured by the vibrancy of colour and scent – and the realising that I had captured only a part of the story. Until now I have not been able to read the subtext – that this land is dying.