Olive Picking in Las Alpujarras


Last year we were swiftly escaping a rather dramatic workaway in an abandoned village in the middle of nowhere, and were left in limbo as we had little money and nowhere to go.

Winter isn’t the best time for WOOFing, (volunteering on an organic farm), and it’s probably quite obvious why. Wind, rain, snow – not ideal conditions for gardening.

So for this reason when we did look at the workaway map of Spain, there were only a handful of options left in Asturias. We applied to them but needed an answer pretty asap as we couldn’t afford many more airbnb nights in the small town of Vegadeo.

A while before this, we’d bookmarked a couple who live in the South and have an olive grove. They’re both Shamanic healers and their workaway page sounded like fun: vegetarian cooking, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil on tap, opportunities to learn about healing and generally help out on a semi self sufficient small holding. We held our breaths and sent them a message, asking if they needed some help with the olive harvest which falls around November.

Almost immediately, before we could breathe out, their reply popped back: “actually…we need your help RIGHT NOW! When can you arrive?”

I think we danced around the room.

We’d already pre-emptively booked travel to Malaga, as a friend always said that if we wanted, we could stay in his old truck in Orgiva. We did eventually find the truck, and I will explain what happened later.

To be honest, in-country flying was not our first choice. And yes, it is possible to get a coach to the South. Unfortunately it was a lot more expensive and involved a lot more traveling. On this occasion we made an exception and told ourselves that as it was for the next day the flight was going whether we were on board or not. With hindsight I don’t know what to think about that philosophy. Anyone?

We almost always use public transport now except for later this year when we are flying back to England for Christmas. So that’s over a year since taking a plane!!

Anyway, we got ourselves down to Las Alpujarras through Andalucia and the next day woke up in a little mud shack with a bright view of those rocky mountains.

Leticia & Quinto were our hosts. Quinto is from the South of Italy and Leticia the South of England. The South seems to work for them.

Our first morning started with a 10am breakfast narrated with a long philosophical rant from Quinto about everything wrong with society. It was amazing. Such a refreshing change from the aggressive, projectile rants we’d been subjected to in the previous workaway.

He really said quite profound things, things for which I felt such an inner agreement. Picture a man in a woollen zip up and a purple bandana eating cranberry porridge and saying – “like, what the fuck?” – in an accent not at all dissimilar to Yuval Noah Harari’s, and you are more or less picturing Quinto in that moment.

Anyway, deep chats aside, the work we did was fun too. We cleared some space for a guest compost toilet, painted the roof of their roundhouse, made some lime plaster, dug swales in the vegetable garden, sewed up the olive nets, and finally, harvested the olives.

By this time it was week two of our stay with L&Q, and another volunteer from Hungary had joined us, Bence, as well as Leticia’s daughter and her fisherman boyfriend.

The first morning that we started happened to be my birthday. Everyone knew this already because we had relentlessly talked astrology, with Leticia being an Astrologer as well as Shaman. We had moved to the yurt to make room for the new guests, and I was woken up by singing coming from all around. Everyone apart from L, who was making pancakes in the roundhouse, was holding hands and singing happy birthday. What magic was this?!

I was so grateful. Two weeks before I’d been feeling lost and hopeless in the depths of Asturias, walking in the pouring rain and fearing that we were just on the wrong path. But I guess this proves what goes down must come up..

That day, and all the other days of the harvest, we played music from a big speaker whilst we scraped the olives from the trees using little red combs. They had seven trees and it was around a tree a day, depending on its size. It was such a primal feeling to be up in the tree, looking solely for olives and being completely immersed in foliage.

In the end it was their biggest harvest yet. They sent us home with a little bottle of the liquid gold from last year, but VERY annoyingly, it was confiscated at bag security..despite some reasonable bargaining attempts. Oh well. We have the memories eh.

Here’s a video of some lime mixing

So, outside of the workaway placement, Orgiva was cool. We visited Beneficio which is an old community in the forest, where people live in a range of structures from tents to wooden houses. It has a lot of history and a lot of positives and negatives, like with anywhere, but I think the ups and down are more extreme there.

There isn’t much structure politically but at the same time it’s not a free-for-all, you have to sort of be accepted before you can start building a house. While for some people it’s a way to live in connection with nature, for some people it’s also an escape from everything and themselves..but you can’t run away from yourself.

We had an amazing time there. We were lucky enough to hitchhike in with an old member called Neil who lived at the top of the hill and was a seasoned Beneficio-pro, he essentially gave us a free walking tour which included a stopover at a wooden yurt that he built. We met a lovely couple and shared fresh coffee with honey.

Then we ambled on our own up the mountain and looked over at it all, yellow trees gently swaying and Ibeyi’s ‘Come to Your River’ floating up above it all, playing from someone’s yard.

At that moment we wondered if this was where the path stopped. Could we live in Beneficio?

Weird as it might sound, we thought it would be too easy. There’s something about challenges that seem necessary, and even though we’d already had tough times that year, we wanted to create something of our own, not just move in on ground that’s already loaded and set up.

So now, one year later. We’re not in Beneficio, we’re back in Asturias. Despite the sun and the sand of Andalucia, the greenery and beauty of El Paraiso Natural called us back, and I’m happy about that.

Two weeks ago it snowed (in October!!), which is almost certainly a terrifying effect of climate change. Lots of trees fell down, but we’ve taken a permaculture attitude through crisis as opportunity, and collected lots of fallen wood to chop for the fire this winter. Free, carbon-neutral fuel!

This month’s plans are making a large pallet composting system, designing a rocket mass heater, making apple compote and getting residency permits before Brexit.

Clearly I could babble on for hours, but that’s enough for now.

And I forgot to say about Ben’s truck.. We found it, in the same field that lived Leticia & Quinto (too coincidental to be a coincidence?) and an old man called Bernie lived there.
He’d been there for ten years! he wasn’t there at the time but here’s a pic of me sitting outside of it to show the graffiti  which is by the same artist that did our high school mural…I don’t even know…


Peace and Pollen

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