On day 58 of our ‘Overland to Oz’ adventure we arrived at our first Wwoof: a finca in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia (Spain). The bus from Malaga took us along the coast road as far as Orgiva. From there it was a forty five minute hike up a rocky river bed to the steep white village of Bayacas.
Having divested ourselves of 5.79kg of excess belongings we were feeling lighter and more mobile than ever. “All we need now,” we said, as we trooped uphill, “is a 2-person tent and a saucepan for self-reliant off-road living.”
Shortly before nightfall we crested the ridge behind the finca. “Is this La Granja?” we called over a gate painted with images of free-ranging chickens. We were in the right place!
Our host, Kate, was expecting us. She showed us to our cassita: a rustic stone cabin with a timber and bamboo roof, wood burner, double mattress, 2-hob gas cooker, solar lights, table, two chairs and a few shelves of books/objects left behind by previous Wwoofers. It was a joy and a relief to be alone in our little cassita with a plateful of leftovers in front of us, and the night closing in outside. Very peaceful.
In the morning we joined the gang (4 others Wwofers + our host) to commence the day’s work. We cleared brush, stacked firewood and were shown about the finca.
The main artery connecting the disparate parts of the finca was a long channel of flowing water carved into the face of the mountain: a remnant of Moorish ingenuity. The paths weaving across the finca were steep and unnerving – flaky shale and compacted earth that crumbled into a deep valley. The sound of goat bells and the splash of running water were in our ears as we inspected the native flora: wild rosemary, sage, lavender, pomegranite, cassuarina and eucalyptus. The bees were having a field day.
The olive trees (some as old as 600yrs) didn’t seem to mind the harsh conditions – on some of the higher limbs, last’s years crop of shiny black fruits were holding on for dear life. Chicken coops, compost piles and vegetable gardens were dotted about the terraces: the year’s crop of onions, cabbage, lettuce, broad beans, peas and kale already well on their way to maturity.
During our week on the finca we ate from the garden and from the supplies of fruit, veg and staple grains/pulses Kate brought back from the market in Orgiva. Breakfast was at 11:30am and lunch at 3pm: Always highlights of the day. We feasted on bread (cooked in a pot in the solar oven), stir-fry, pasta, salad, citrus and fried polenta laid on generously – pots of home-made marmalade, local goat’s milk and honey were handed around the table and relished with glee. Everyone agreed that custard apples deserve a loftier place in the holy canon of fruits.
The mainstay of our work on the finca was helping Kate realise her dream of building a ‘biological swimming pool’. This consisted of digging out and reinforcing a huge fish-bowl-shaped depression on the terrace nearest the house – the banks of which which will then be planted-up with water-cleansing, purifying aquatic plants.
The work was hard slog! Tonnes of dry earth had to be dug and removed from the bottom of the pit and relocated to a nearby terrace. Reinforcing the walls of the pool by ramming earth and constructing dry stone walls was a another task that needed attention, as was fitting the ‘drain hole’ with a pipe and tap.
An atmosphere of conviviality prevailed as we dug our heels in and took a run up at the steep edge of the fishbowl – the wheelbarrow groaning and new muscles bulging. It was hot working in the sun. Down below in the valley the sound of fire crackers and techno music prevailed as fiesta madness took hold.
After one week on the finca, observing life and feeling grateful for the good company of our new friends, we felt it was time to depart… on to Granada and then up to the Pyrenees. It’s a long road ahead… thank good we’ve both got solid hiking boots (and each other)!
P.S This one is for you Julian: