After bidding one set of grandparents a tearful goodbye in Granada, we drove off to Orgiva in the Alpujarras, an almost legendary place of beauty and alternative living. We’d heard about its little hippy camps that had sprung up there since the 1970s and how that community had grown with more and more dreamers turning up every year, their heads filled with visions of freedom and sunshine. We wondered what we, always with one eye out for a different kind of life, would find there. Would we feel a pull to this sunny mountain idyll as so many before us had?
Even as we drove into the lovely little campsite just before Orgiva, surrounded by the hills of the Alpujarras, we felt a wave of positivity. We had another grandparental visit due in just over a week at Velez Malaga, not too far from where we already were, so we decided to spend the intervening time in and around Orgiva. It was the longest we’d stopped anywhere in all our travels up to that point. Fortunately through the power of Facebook, and specifically the Orgiva Massive page, we got offered a fantastic bit of land elegantly named ‘the chunk’ to camp on for some of our stay, close to the family-friendly, anarchistic commune of El Morreon. With a couple of dilapidated old caravans, an old convoy truck and a compost loo, it was perfect. To complete our little mini-commune, we were joined by a sweet French family we’d befriended at the campsite.
We found when cycling up for the market the day after our arrival that the the town itself is strangely unglamorous. It was hard to understand what exactly was so desperately alluring to so many people. And people there were. As we wandered about the market, gratefully snapping up the first organic produce we’d seen in months and feeling tempted by the fantastic amounts of handcrafted jewellery, we couldn’t help but notice the English being spoken everywhere. After mooching about for a while Eli commented that he felt at home; that it felt, in fact, just like Hebden Bridge (our hometown). Rob and I agreed that it was a bit like Hebden Bridge but maybe at a point in time before any of us were there – a mythological time when there were still crusties and travellers and people wearing tie-dye clothes and elf hats. That’s how many of the people here were dressed at any rate. There was plenty of the internationally recognised hippy drawl, people wandering about bare foot and stoned and plenty of organic produce buying, toe-ring wearing like-minded souls just going about their business, oh and even a few Spanish people. There are health food shops and yoga classes and herbalists and horse healing…There’s even a Steiner school. After being in Morocco for six weeks and feeling like we were painfully conspicuous, the feeling of familiarity was initially very welcome, if a little surreal.
During our week we filled up on the goodness of being around people that we could talk to in our language; we took a bus up the mountains to see one of the little white villages that teeter on the sides of them; we celebrated Eli’s birthday with movies, laughter and a fire that burned late into the night; we wandered and cycled about, talking to El Morreon’s inhabitants and other lovely souls that we met wherever we went. We got to know the place and felt that for that week, we hadn’t been just visiting, but had truly lived Orgiva.
It was at the Steiner school fundraiser party down in the heart of El Morreon that I started to understand why people came in their droves to join this raggle taggle community. With the sun going down, surrounded by shadowy mountains, children running wild, friendly folk all around, music, food and crazy lasers in the trees, it was easy to see the appeal. Orgiva, with its three permanent camps, its town-dwelling non-Spaniards and its modest landowners scattered about the land is home to a huge community of individuals who value freedom and self expression and connection. Being outside of the mainstream maybe, but still very much part of something. Talking to people, I don’t think there’s an awful lot of money about, jobs are thin on ground but seemingly people are willing to make sacrifices to live in this special place in the mountains amongst free-spirited folks.
As for us, Orgiva didn’t turn out to be the promised land. I think Rob was tempted and keeps referring to the place as ‘my beloved Alpujarras’, but on the whole it felt a little too like the home we’d left. If we were ever to be tempted away to foreign lands, we’d rather there were slightly more natives about; that it felt ‘foreign’ enough to be truly different. Otherwise one might as well just return to the place and people that one loves, rather than a version of the same thing in the sun.
P.S I realise the photos here don’t exactly illustrate my words but I’ve found this blog post quite difficult. There was so much that happened in that week that I just can’t seem to find the words for…Looking at these pictures again, I’m struck by how proud I feel of my little travelling boys and how full of love I feel for that boy just turning eight in these pictures. I’m writing this a couple of months now after we were there and I continue to marvel at Eli’s ability to take this life of ours in his stride, how kind, thoughtful and sensitive he is and how patient and loving he remains with his little brother, in spite of occasional extreme provocation. He’s growing up to be quite a kid.
PPS We met many lovely people that week including Lucy who thought we lived at El Morreon already, she took me to yoga, showed me round town and was generally lovely. All the folks at the Steiner fundraiser, Sheila (owner of the chunk) and her friends who came to ask if we had permission to stay and were thereafter very friendly. Michael with his solar powered motorbike and beautiful self built house. There were also Lynda and Joke and Teo and various dogs that we all befriended at the campsite. Some of whom will hopefully get mentioned in a subsequent post. Phew! Thanks all of you, it was a special week.