Between almond trees and seclusion

A travelogue from a small village south of the Sierra Nevada, Andalusia, Spain.

Darrícal, early February 2024. Here I am now. Far in the south of Europe in a village called Darrícal, south of the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia, Spain. Old-established Berliners might say: jwd = janz weit draußen (slang for: very far away). I consider myself incredibly lucky to be spending my time here right now, not feeling too much could/should/must, working remotely and just being. Nothing spectacular happens here, but for me it is precisely these unagitated insights into everyday life and the lives of people in other places that fascinate me.

For now, I’d like to say a few words about Darrícal. As I often do when I arrive at a new place: first read some information on Wikipedia and then click further. Situated at an altitude of just under 400 meters in the province of Almería, bordering Granada, not many more than 20-30 people live here in winter. Admittedly, I think I have come across even fewer so far. It’s said that the village has existed since the 15th century, that Greeks once lived here, that Muslims developed the village until the Spanish “took over”. There used to be a mosque, now there is a church, usually with closed doors, but I was actually able to take a look inside a few days ago: there is a service the first Sunday of the month. So I feel like I can roughly confirm the above-mentioned number of inhabitants of the village.

When I realized the first evening after my arrival that the bells were about 20 meters as the crow flies from my room, I thought: oh God! Fortunately, they only ring between 9 am and 10 pm. How much longer is also unclear: my host Matilde – in her mid-50s, who renovated her family’s house here and has been living in the village again for several years – explained to me that the bells were actually only reactivated at/for Christmas time.

After a short “heatwave”, temperatures now seem to have settled at what might be considered more or less normal for this time of year – if there is still such a thing as normal in times of climate change: between 3-8 degrees at night, 16-20 degrees during the day. It’s still pretty fresh in the morning when I step out onto the roof terrace with my first coffee, but the view of the 200-metre-high rock faces, colored at the top by the sunlight, makes you forget everything. The village is virtually all white, with lots of blue elements (doors, windows, flower pots); you might think you sense a Greek influence, but it’s probably just called Mediterranean.

It’s incredibly dry here, the sun shines every day from early until late. According to the weather forecast, it’s supposed to rain soon – that would be something! The flora consists largely of conifers, small bushes and shrubs, and above all vast quantities of rosemary. There are also lots and lots of almond trees in bloom. Clearly too early, as many say, because if another frost comes… there is much on the slopes that tells of life here in the past: terraces, scattered almond trees and ruined farmsteads.

Down in the small fertile plain, sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right, sometimes on both sides of the small Río Alcolea (also called on some maps: Río Grande, Rio de Darrícal, Río de Ugíjar – who knows…), and behind exuberantly growing reeds, bamboo and a few poplars, there are also many gardens: in addition to vegetables, there are mainly orange, mandarin, lemon, olive and avocado trees. Grapes were also grown until 1973, as I was recently told by an elderly couple I met on the way to the garbage cans at the end of the village on the country road. But in October of that year, a catastrophic flood occurred when the river, which now carries around 1 cubic meter of water per second, swelled to 4000 to 5000 times as much and swept everything away. This is why there are only remnants of terraces in the valley today, but no more vines. This was followed by years of emigration, with more and more families leaving the village due to a lack of economic resources and also as a result of the dam Pantano de Benínar completed in 1983 and associated expropriations.

Water is a sensitive issue here in southern Spain anyway. My host’s cousin, who doesn’t live here but regularly comes by to tend his garden (from which I also get my fruit), answered the question about the water situation: “It costs 0 euros while there is still some. I get it from the river.”

And then, of course, there are the roads. I usually spend my days here until the early afternoon at my computer screen and then take the time to explore the surrounding villages and mountains on two wheels, hike into the gorges and up rocky hills, or simply meditate in the landscape. I have also seen the sea of plastic near El Ejido, the “vegetable garden of Europe”. But more on that on another occasion.

© Tilman Vogler Fotografie 2024

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