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How to find … Matavenero, Spain June 23, 2010

Filed under: How to find ....,Spain — naturalbuild @ 6:18 pm

If you enjoy the majestic mystery of heading off into the wilderness not entirely sure of where you are going, then do not read on. Simply head to San Facundo and walk into the mountains.

If, however, you like a little more substance to your itinerary then here are a few details fleshed out about how to get to Matavenero. Do be aware, however, that although I got close I did not ultimately make it to the village, but I got to within a few kms.

Contact the community first:

They ask that you contact them at least two weeks before arriving. You can write to: Consejo, Matavenero, Lista de Correos, 24300, Bembibre, León, Spain. Or call on (+34) 987 693 216 between 19.30 and 20.20 in  evenings.

1. Getting to Bembibre:

Bembibre, just east of Ponferrada on the main road (scale 1:400,000)

Bembibre is a small town near Ponferrada in León province, in the region of Castilla y León, north west Spain. The easiest way to get there is by bus. There are several daily buses on a very good network. The best way to check out what buses there are and to book them is via the Movelia website. Through this you select your bus and even your seat number. Simply print off the receipt and this counts as your ticket. You just show it to the bus driver on boarding.

If coming from Madrid it is about 5 hours on the ALSA buses – very comfortable coaches which stop for a toilet and food break after a few hours. It costs 25 euros one-way.You need to get this from the Méndez Alvaro (Estación del Sur) bus station in the south of Madrid. It is not a direct metro ride and a taxi costs about 14 euros from central Madrid. The bus departures are only advertised by their final destination, in all probability this will be Santiago de Compostela. Once the platform number is advertised on the display boards you can check on the list at the front of the bus that Ponferrada is listed as a destination. That means it is going past Bembibre too.

2. Getting to San Facundo:

San Facundo is a small village to the south east of Bembibre. It consists of a few houses, a bar and a public telephone. You need to get a taxi. When you get off the bus at Bembibre walk east (ahead as you get off) for two blocks. You will then see a taxi rank on your left. The telephone number for the local taxi is (+34) 987 510 580. Alternatively you can call Cesar direct on (+34) 629 449 580. Ask to be dropped off in the village.


Bembibre, San Facundo and Matavenero (scale 1:200,000)

3. Walking to Matavenero:

From San Facundo it is about a 4 km walk into the mountains along the Rial river (or arroya del Rial, stream of the Rial). Maps of the area are hard to find. A reasonable one is the Mapa Provincial León, 1:200,000 published by the Centro Nacional de Informacion Geografico (, but it is still a large scale to walk with.


Map painted on the wall [click on image to enlarge] and the start of the path out of San Facundo

In San Facundo there is a route to the village painted on a wall opposite the bar and pictured here. You need to head south out of the village past a children’s play area on your left until a large grassy track takes you into the woods. At the end of this track there is a concrete footbridge on your left. Take the bridge and then almost immediately the track goes to the right and a steep rocky path is straight-ahead and up. Take the path up.


The path

At various points on this path there are signs that say Matavenero, or rainbow paintings to indicate you are going the right way. You need to head south as your general direction. Be warned, it is a rough, narrow, steep and overgrown path. You need robust footwear and to be able to cope with wet rocks, scree and snakes. There are some lovely views of wild mountain flowers, the river and steep mountain sides. But it is also a tough, vertigo-inducing path. You follow this path for 4 kms and over two bridges crossing the river. With a backpack it should take about two hours to walk – so make sure you have given yourself enough daylight to get to the village.

4. Alternative route, driving with shorter walk:

If the walk from San Facundo is not possible then you can drive to the ‘car park’ of the village and walk the short 1 km down to it. Sometimes this driving route in is closed because of snow or rain damage. If you are thinking of hiring a car León is about 70 km to the east and has a couple of car hire companies next to its train station. If taking this route you approach the village from the west. We you can see on the map below the way the village advise is to drive to Foncebadón which is on the well sign-posted ‘Camino de Santiago’ (a long distance popular pilgrimage walk) route. This is either west out of Astorga or east out of Ponferrada. just west of Foncebadón take the untarmced track north through the pine trees, when the track forks take a right, and at the crossroads take another right and after about 1.5 kms you reach the village car park. Then walk north east down into the village.

Matavenero in relation to Ponferrada and Astorga


How to find … El Valle de Sensaciones, Spain

Filed under: How to find ....,Spain — naturalbuild @ 6:06 pm

All visits must be pre-arranged and they would prefer you to attend a course or workshop (see listings on the website) rather than just do a tour. However, email them and let them know your interests.

El Valle de Sensaciones is just south east of Yátor in the Alpujarras in Andalucia, Spain. If you are coming from England then it is possible and pleasant to catch the train as far as Granada and then take a bus, and a taxi for the final stage. You take the Eurostar to Paris, then the TrenHotel to Madrid. You probably have to stay overnight in Madrid, or else Granada as there are only two trains a day – one at 9 am and another at 6 pm. It takes about 4 hours to get from Madrid to Granada. The best travel website for working all of this out is The man in seat 61

Las Aplujarras between Granada and Almeria [click on map to enlarge] (scale 1:400,000)

A good website about Spanish buses is Movelia, where you can find out exact bus times, book a bus (and even select which seat you want to sit in) and then print off the recipt which counts as your ticket. You can catch a bus from Granada to Ugijar, which is the most local big town (costs 10 euros and takes about 4 hours).

Yátor identified by red underlining

Yátor identified by red underlining (scale 1:400,000, 1 cm: 4 km)

You then need to travel west for about 5 kms either by walking, getting a lift or by taxi. Once in Yátor you need to go south out of the village and under the new road, see sketch below for route.

Sketch of route from Yátor [click on image to enlarge map]


Matavenero, León, Spain June 18, 2010

Filed under: Building materials,Inspiring examples,Notes from fieldwork,Spain — naturalbuild @ 4:24 pm

High in the mountains of León province, north west Spain, is an eco-village crafted from the site of an abandoned village. Unfortunately I did not make it to the site and there is an excellent first-hand account by Tony Wrench in Permaculture Magazine if you want to hear from someone what it was like. However, drawing on this and other sources I thought it still worth summarising a little about the place.

The village is 1,000 metres above sea level in a valley of the Rial river about 4 km south of San Facundo. It has good sun aspect but is sheltered from the harshest of the winds. Like many remote villages in Spain it still has reliable access to good spring water – secured via a 2 km leat from an adjacent valley. The village is purposefully remote, with no road and access either by a two hour walk from San Facundo (to the north) or a difficult drive up mountain tracks via Foncebadón (to the south). Tony Wrench describes it as “an isolated place of extremes” (p.6).

(Photo by Tony Wrench)

At 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres), the site is a depopulated village established centuries before and left empty in the 1970s. In 1989 an international group pf people (German, Danish and Spanish) chose it as a place where they could be an autonomous and self-sufficient eco-village free from the interferences of the world beyond. The village itself is organised via a council (consejo) which meets weekly and makes decisions via consensus. All residents are expected to contribute a day a week to communal tasks (such as maintenance), all waste has to be manually carried out from the village and with the lack of roads donkeys tend to be used to transport goods. Due to its remoteness it appears to be relatively free from planning constraints. Although still very much an active village, Matavenero along with its neighbour Poibueno, has suffered from a decline in its population in recent years. For the first eight years there were up to 110 residents and 40 children, more recently however the population has fallen to below 40 adults. The reasons for this decline are numerous but include the difficulty in accessing it, the lack of a high school (though the state has provided a teacher for primary education), lack of income (most people have to leave the village to earn money (that said, money has little value once in the village), personal tensions, and the shear hard back-breaking work of living in a truly sustainable lifestyle. This includes not ony tending vegetables in numerous terraces, or collecting from fruit trees, but the significant effort required to collect firewood, and the amount of communal maintenance necessary (which is obviously getting more burdensome as the number of people around to do it decreases). In fact most of the eco-communities I have visited in the past few months have been looking for more members. I have never found a place over-subscribed. So what is it about these places, diverse in their form and organisation, that so limits their population? Does this lack of participants speak to a fundamental flaw in eco-village/ community/ neighbourhood approaches, or more to an apathy and distate in the population at large towards the effort required to live more sustainably? Is such a life too far removed from existing culture to encourage more to take the step?

This gulf is, obviously in Matavenero’s case, widened by being in such a remote and isolated location. It is hard for others to even sample the sustainable life, let alone make a full-time commitment to move in. As such Matavenero significantly limits its ability to influence others. It is a purposefully self-contained place of sustainability, not intended to convince others of the virtue of such a like. Unlike places such as Lammas or La ecoaldea del Minchal, it does not seek conversations with its neighbours, to run workshops, or educate beyond its realm. Instead it is a quiet place of peace and individual perseverance. This individuality is represented in its avocation and practice of do-it-yourself self-reliance. If you want food, you grow it. It you want a house, you build it. This is of course most unlike how the rest of society operates.

The principle way in which eco-housing at Matavenero has been made affordable is in its location on land that few others were interested in. However, it aptly illustrates that we cannot simply rely upon cheapness of land as a way of making eco-housing affordable. Low-cost green building needs to be in places where people are able to have choices about their lifestyle, income and interaction with society. We need to create space for them in more sought-after locations and in order to do that find other ways of making them affordable.

(Photo by Tony Wrench)

In addition to its isolation there is another lesson to be learned about green building from Matavenero. That is the importance of comfort and efficiency and how the two are mutually constituted. A key principle of permaculture (a philosophy and practice which influences many eco-communities) is to not create waste. In other words to use all resources to their maximum potential. This is similar to another principles of ‘least input, maximum yield’. Thus, for example, the faeces from a compost toilet (after several years of decomposition) are used to fertilise the land. If eco-houses are well built any energy  input can have multiple benefits. So, for example, a wood stove might heat a space, heat water and be used for cooking, Not only do you need to use appropriate technology to achieve this (have a stove  with a back-boiler and cooker top) but it also needs to be used in a space which will make the most of the energy – so a highly insulated house with adequate, but not excessive, ventilation. Thus efficiency of use of a resource, in this case wood, also creates comfort in life – warm spaces and hot water. To achieve this you need good eco-design and adequate technology. This involves more than simply building with natural materials, or structures which sit lightly on the earth (like yurts which require no foundations). It pushes the definition of a good eco-building to being as much about efficiency (which is good for the environment) and comfort (which is good for humans) as it is the materials used to achieve this. There is always a balance or compromise to be made here. We might still want to use as many local natural materials as possible (and not rely on concrete or steel), but we should not do this to the detriment of understanding how efficient a building will be to live in.

(Photo by Tony Wrench)

This efficiency and comfort appears to be missing from many houses in Matavenero which require large amounts of firewood to stay warm and this heat is not used to heat water for showering through back-boilers. Although there are a broad range of buildings – renovated old dry stone slate houses, domes and wooden houses – the emphasis is upon natural materials and the outcome are buildings which can be tough to live in, however wonderful they look. We need to consider the importance of resource efficiency and comfort not just to reduce the gulf between societies’ expectations of what a home should provide and current eco-building practices, but because living sustainably should not have to be such hard work.

If I appear overly critical of Matavenero and their achievements that is not my intention. Few communities survive as long as they have or achieve what they have achieved. It is in my academic nature, however, and the purpose of this project to critically reflect upon the implications of different approaches to eco-building and always explore ways in which we can improve. There are no right ways or wrong ways in this, only questions and reflections upon alternative practices.

I would love to hear from anyone who has recently visited Matavenero, or indeed lives there. Please also let me know if I have misunderstood or misrepresented anything about the village and I will change it.

[León, 16th June]


Trying to visit Matavenero … and failing June 15, 2010

Filed under: Notes from fieldwork,Spain — naturalbuild @ 11:09 am

I am arrived in Bembibre, west of Leon, north west Spain, mid-afternoon. It immediately struck me as a Spanish version of my home town, functional but lacking any culture and many facilities. I was not inclined to stay. After asking in a cafe I found the taxi rank and it became clear there was only one taxi – about to take a couple of women off somewhere. It took 45 minutes before he returned. He was a chatty bloke, who neither slowed down nor stopped speaking when I explained that my Spanish was very poor. I have no idea what he was saying, and I wonder now whether he was describing an alternative route to Matavenero, but who is to know. He did, however, drop me at the beginning of the path to Matavenero in the small village of San Facundo, and off I went.


The path

The path quickly became narrow, steep, over-grown and rocky. At various places the mountain has clearly slipped and a new thin path on the edge forged from the scree. It was not my ideal environment. Then I came across a snake. I was in the wilds of northern Spain, with stunning views, wild lavender, yellow remanta and the river below. I navigated, with fear and difficultly, where the path had been destroyed by a fallen tree, creating a slippy steep muddy pile of rocks. I even began to feel like I might make it. I could manage my pack, the sun was shining and there was a beautiful breeze. I also still had four hours of daylight left.

But then, walking down into the valley, I came across the broken bridge. The heavy rains of winter had clearly washed the wooden bridge away. It´s remains were scattered either side of the river, while some still traversed it – completed by a couple of thin logs bound together. The new bridge was in construction, but not enough to use with huge gaps and built at a height that the gaps were hard to jump.


The broken bridge and the new bridge in construction

I spent some time at that spot. Trying to gauge the depth of the river. I did try and step on the logs which rolled and slid. But it was fast flowing, likely above my knee height and its bed an uneven concoction of builders and pebbles covered in algae. Having just passed a huge dam with water rushing over the top I had an awful vision of either getting washed over it, or breaking an ankle and being unable to get back along the path. It goes without saying that there was no mobile reception out there. I struggled with myself, was I being too cautious, too risk averse, or was I being mature and accurately assessing the risks? I really wanted to make it to Matavenero. I had come this far – two days of train travel,  five hours on a bus and then the taxi. I was only three kilometres away.

But it was no good. I could not cross the river and I needed to made a decision to return and find somewhere to sleep. I was pretty frustrated as I clambered back over the rocks and scree. I had got so close.When in San Facundo I struggled to get the pay phone to work and eventually, almost despondent, a kindly bar man ordered me a taxi. The same guy, of course, turned up to collect me and I think did not believe my carefully worded explanation of the broken bridge. He even stopped to ask others in the village if this was so.

I asked him to take me to a hotel where he carefully told the landlady that there was no point talking to me as my Spanish was terrible. The hotel was a rundown sort of place, but central and cheap and I collapsed in a state of nervous exhaustion. Now that I had mobile signal again I called Matavenero. But I got one of the least helpful people I have ever spoken to. She clearly could not be bothered to explain the alternative route and quickly ended the conversation prematurely with ´see you!´. I simply had very sketchy Spanish instructions and, despite my best efforts, not a detailed enough map. The instructions said that the ´road´ the back way to Matavenero was in fact a track often closed by rain and snow. I did not fancy my chances, let alone the logistics of hiring a car. I reluctantly abandoned my attempts to get to Matavenero and instead started to contemplate the how the remoteness and isolation of the village symbolised a flaw with relying on cheap land to make eco-housing affordable …

(Leon, 15th June 2010)


Challenges of research – going it alone

Filed under: Notes from fieldwork,Spain — naturalbuild @ 10:30 am

As a geographer who has always conducted empirical data collection – that is gone into the world and talked to people, looked at what they are doing, taken photographs and recorded interviews – I am experienced in fieldwork. I have visited remote forest protest camps in Australia, interviewed Indigenous activists in rural Queensland, survived flooded tents in Wales, slept in squats in Yorkshire and a freezing van in Scotland, to name just a few of the salubrious places I find my myself on fieldwork. Often the places I want and need to visit are remote, or I want to do more participatory research so I stay a while, normally three or four nights. I always work alone – for lack of funding to take an assistant or failure to convince a friend or partner of the joys of self-funding a visit to these places.

To others, even colleagues, such trips look like fun jaunts away from the office and an excuse for an expenses-paid holiday. It is expected that such fieldwork is a perk, and in many ways it is. I have loved many of my trips. But there is a whole otherside to fieldwork which it is uncool to admit to. That is that most of my trips are shaped by a mixture of fear and loneliness, interrupted by the odd high from a successful day or excellent interview. There is always a fear that I will not find where I am going or when I get there they will not help in my research – that it will have been a wasted trip often half way around the world. The loneliness comes from weeks, if not months, of travelling – writing up notes in places far from the beaten tourist track where without enough novels to hand you begin to talk to yourself. I go on fieldwork by choice of course, and the fear and loneliness change (but are always present) in each place.

I wonder what it must be like to do fieldwork in a team, and realise that often the biggest challenge on fieldwork is to maintain your sanity and health. It is the lack of time away from constantly thinking about research that really takes its toll – on top of the often rustic accommodation and variable food. I wonder how this fear and loneliness effect and shape the fieldwork itself. Whether it clouds my ability to think critically or observe when, for example, I am trying to overcome vertigo on a steep mountain track. Does it provide colour and vibrancy to my work, or prevent inquisitive exploration? Does working alone force me to throw myself into community life or does the fear of doing things on my own mean I take fewer risks when seeking out places?

(Bembibre, Castilla y Leon, Spain, 13th June 2010)


El Valle de Sensaciones, Yátor, Spain

[Versión en español abajo]

Hidden in a steep-sided valley just south of Yátor in the Alpujarras, Spain, el valle de sensaciones is a marvel of art, invention and gorgeous eco-buildings. It’s original intension was to to be a cultural centre and to create an ‘artistic sustainable paradise’. This is no eco-village nor eco-community and there are very few residents. Achim, the founder, runs a broad variety of courses and workshops on practical eco-building skills (among other things) for which people travel far and wide. It is very much an experimental space – where knowledge is shared and new ideas are tested in practice.


The communal space and table and chairs

The most striking thing upon arrival are the aesthetics and creativity of every building and created object. Beautiful wooden sculptures abound, a carefully mosaiced solar cooker sits majestically alongside sets of chairs and tables made from small branches woven together and there is an elaborate metal construction of a pedal-powered washing-machine.

Inside the communal area

This focus on aesthetics is further evident in the dozen or so buildings on site. In the kitchen, a large octagonal adobe house with a reciprocal wooden roof, several of the windows and a door are uneven curved-shapes made from misshapen olive tree branches and reclaimed glass cut to fit ´inspired by the shapes of nature´ – practical artworks. Colourful mosaic covers the back walls and branches are used as handles on the cupboards. Everywhere the clay has been used to create curves and mould in storage space. Two sides of the octagon are made from plywood which can be removed in summer for additional ventilation. The roof, with a large overhang to protect the clay, is covered in asphalt to waterproof it. Overlooking the kitchen is a geodesic dome treehouse high in an olive tree. Made from wood batons it is insulated with cork sheets and its windows look into the tree and beyond – a very peaceful place. Elsewhere is another  treehouse – Casa 3 alamos – with walls made entirely from old doors. These are only attached to the platform and roof via a few connected beams bolted each end – creating a suspended building that is able to move as the tree does.



These treehouses, however, are not really intended as long-term sleeping spaces – ´too hot in this weather´. Rather it is the adobe buildings – including a modest bedroom and earth-sheltered store built using clay from the site (so good in its quality that there is no need to add sand to the mixture) which are built to suit the climate. Adobe has been used not just because it is a freely available material, but that it (built to the right thickness) keeps buildings cool during the day and warm at night. The heat from the sun spends the day ´travelling´through the wall to disperse into the room as night falls. Clay is also easily plaible (inviting creativity), a natural non-polluting material and robust once dry. It does, however, take a long time to construct – with each layer on a wall having to be left long enough to take the weight of more clay, but not being too dry otherwise preventing the sections melding. It is a task best done collectively because it is so time and labour intensive.


Building and sculpture in clay

They are also experimenting with caves on-site – intending on improving the traditional cave house of the region by using glass and passive solar gain to raise the average temperature of the dwellings which otherwise tends to be at the lower end of the comfort zone at 16 C. These are an interesting attempt to meld the traditional with the ecological. Just as the local cortijo  (small rural houses from stone and wood) are often very dark inside and thus could be easily eco-modified without loosing their tradition or charm. Finally, the toilet. Readers might begin to assume that I am obsessed by compost toilets – but really I am simply inspired when effort is put into to make such a functional space one of beauty. At el valle de sensaciones the toilet and shower block are a vision of creativity – tall and slender hemp concrete blocks with curved roofs and entire external walls of mosaics, they are quite unlike anything I have ever seen before.

The toilets

Thus the buildings here are an inspiring mixture of local materials, nature-inspired aesthetics and low-cost. Only a few hundred euros were spent (on each building) on materials which cannot otherwise be found on site or reclaimed from others´waste. Labour costs could be significant however and it is clear that volunteers are expected to work diligently.

The main problem encountered by those on site has been planning. Most people I talked to described planning law and its enforcement as a myriad of greys. The only thing you can be certain of is that nothing is for certain and thus it is never clear what is legal and what is not. It all depends who you talk to and everything can change of there is a change of local bureaucrat. El valle de sensaciones have been embroiled in this system for 8 years and seem only to have encountered delays and denouncements (official reports of wrong doing which can result in a fine, court case of destruction order, but are often minor affairs). The effect of Spanish law being so undefined is that it is both costly (financially and in time) to get permission and the uncertainty of the outcome effectively discourages trying to be legal. Such vagueness can be both an opportunity and a hindrance to creative eco-building. It is hard to know if it is any better that the often rather black and white and potentially stifling British planning system where there tend to be no greys at all.


The most important thing I took away from my brief visit to el valle de sensaciones, however, was that it is worth thinking carefully about the aesthetics of a building – not just in design, or volume, but in colours and textures too. That how a house makes us feel is perhaps one of the most crucial criteria when judging the success of a building.

For more information about el valle de sensaciones see their website: All visits must be pre-arranged and they would prefer you to attend a course or workshop (see listings on the website) rather than just do a tour. However, email them and let them know your interests. Achim has also developed a brilliant community game – Mandala – which allows for the collective organisation of chores while maintaining the choice in tasks. Costing 44 euros it is available from the website.

(Granada, 12th June 2010)


Escondido en un valle de lados inclinados justo al sur de Yátor en Alpujarras, España, El valle de las Sensaciones es maravillosa creación artística de hermosos eco-edificios. El motivo principal de su origen era el de fundar un centro cultura y crear un “verdadero paraíso artístico”. Éste no es una ecoaldea o una eco-comunidad y hay pocos residentes. Achim, el fundador, organiza una gran variedad de cursos y talleres sobre habilidades prácticas sobre la construcción de eco-edificios (entre otras cosas) y por los que muchas personas de varios lugares lejanos viajan.  Es un lugar experimental en donde el conocimiento es compartido y nuevas ideas son comprobadas a través de práctica.

Los mas sorprendente al llegar es la estética y la creatividad de cada edificio y los objetos creados. Abundan hermosas esculturas de madera, una  estufa solar de cuidadoso mosaicos; ésta esta situada majestuosamente a la par de un set de sillas y mesas hechas de pequeñas ramas entretejidas. Hay, también, una construcción elaborada de metal la que es una lavadora, que funciona a través de pedales.

Este énfasis en la estética es aún más evidente en los doce o más edificios que se encuentran en el lugar. En la cocina, en una casa grande octagonal de adobe con un techo de madera bilateral, varias ventanas y una puerta con formas onduladas desiguales de ramas de olivo deformes y vidrio recuperado que se ha cortado inspirado en imágines de la naturaleza – trabajos de arte manuales. Mosaicos coloridos cubren las paredes y las ramas son utilizadas como manijas para los armarios. En todos los lados la arcilla se ha utilizado para crear curvas y moldearlas en espacios para crear espacio. Dos lados del octágono están hechas de contrachapado o madera terciada (plywood) que se puede remover durante el verano para tener ventilación adicional. El techo con un gran alero que protege la arcilla está cubierto de asfalto para protegerlo del agua.

Dejando de ver la cocina hay una cabaña que es una cúpula geodésica arriba en un árbol de olivo. Hecha de garrotes de madera, está impermeabilizada con láminas de corcho y sus ventanas miran hacia más allá de un árbol – un lugar muy tranquilo. En otro sitio hay otra cabaña sobre un árbol – Casa 3 ‘alamos’ – con paredes hechas completamente de puertas viejas. Éstas están conectadas al suelo y techo a través de una serie de vigas atornilladas en cada extremo – creando un edificio que se puede mover conforme el movimiento del árbol. Estas cabañas, sin embargo, no tienen la finalidad de ser sitios de permanencia a largo plazo – son demasiado calurosas con este clima. Más bien son los edificios de adobe – incluyendo una habitación modesta y una tienda refugiada por la tierra que está construida de arcilla que se encuentra en el sitio (tan buena en su calidad que no hay necesidad de agregar arena a la mezcla) que están construidas para acomodarse al clima del área.

Adobe ha sido usado no solamente porque es un material fácilmente accesible, pero porque, si se obtiene el grosor indicado, mantiene los edificios frescos durante el día y templados durante la noche. El calor del sol se mantiene durante el día “viajando” por las paredes para dispersarse dentro de las habitaciones conforme la noche cae. También la arcilla es divertida (dando espacio a la creatividad), un material natural no-contaminante y robusto cuando se seca. Sin embargo, toma bastante tiempo en construir con ella – con cada capa en la pared teniendo que dejarla lo suficiente para que tome el peso adecuado, pero no lo suficiente para que se seque ya que hay que prevenir que las secciones se fundan. Idealmente es una tarea que se hace colectivamente porque requiere mucho tiempo y trabajo.

Ellos también están experimentando con cuevas en el área intentando de mejorar las tradicionales casas subterráneas de la región con el uso de vidrio y absorción de sol controlada para aumentar la temperatura de las residencias que tienden a estar a un nivel de 16 grados centígrados o menos. Este es un interesante intento de mezclar el sistema tradicional con lo ecológico. Al igual como los cortijos, las cuales son pequeñas casas rurales hechas de piedra y madera, éstas normalmente son oscuras y por lo tanto pueden ser modificadas ecológicamente sin perder su tradición o encanto. Finalmente, el baño. Los lectores comenzaran a asumirá que yo estoy obsesionada con los baños de compostaje – pero simplemente estoy inspirada en el empeño que se le da para hacer un espacio funcional, un espacio agradable. En El valle de sensaciones el espacio para el inodoro y el baño son una visión de creatividad – altos y delgados bloques de cáñamos de concreto con techos curvos y una pared externa cubierta de mosaico – es algo completamente nuevo para mí.

Por lo tanto, los edificios aquí son una magnífica mezcla de materiales locales, estética inspirada por la naturaleza y bajo costo. Solamente unos cien euros se gastaron (en cada edificio) en materiales, los cuales además de poder encontrarse en el área, nadie los puede reclamar. El costo de mano de obra puede ser significante, sin embargo, es claro que se espera que los voluntarios trabajen diligentemente. 

El mayor problema que encuentran los que viven en esta área ha sido la planificación. La mayoría de las personas con las que hablé describieron a las leyes de planificación  y su aplicación como un completo misterio. De lo único que se está  es que nada está seguro y de que nunca se sabe que es lo que es legal o no.  Todo depende de con quién se hable y todo puede cambiar dependiendo del cambio de la burocracia local. El valle de las Sensaciones se ha enredado dentro de este sistema por 8 años y solamente se ha encontrado con demoras y denuncias (reportes oficiales de mala administración lo cuales pueden llevar a multas, casos presentados en la corte por obstrucción, pero normalmente son ofensas menores). Los efectos de las leyes españolas siendo tan poco específicas llegan a ser costosas (financialmente y consumientes en relación a tiempo) para obtener permisos y la incertidumbre del resultado disminuye el interés para seguir con el proceso legal. Tal inseguridad puede se difícil, y no se sabe si es un poco mejor el sistema tan restricto de negro y blanco en Inglaterra para la planificación, el que tiende a no tener ningún tipo de misterios.

Lo más importante que me llevé de mi corta visita a El valle de Sensaciones,  fue que vale la pena pensar cuidadosamente sobre la estética de un edificio – no solamente el diseño o el volumen, pero también los colores y las texturas. Esto, el como una casa nos hace sentir, talvez es una de los criterios más cruciales cuando juzgamos el éxito de un edificio.

Para más información sobre El valle de Sensaciones visité su pagina de Internet: Todas las visitas tienen que estar previamente planificadas y ellos preferirían que usted recibiese un curso o taller (vea la lista en la página de Internet) en lugar de hacer solamente un recorrido turístico. Sin embargo, escriba un correo electrónico y deje saber sobre sus intereses. Achim también ha desarrollado un brillante juego comunitario –Manala – el cual ayuda a la organización colectiva de tareas mientras mantiene la opción de labores. El costo es de 44 Euros, está disponible en la página de Internet.

(Granada, 12 de Junio 2010)


La Ecoaldea Del Minchal, Andulacia, Spain June 11, 2010

[Versión en español abajo]

View from the ecovillage south to Salobrena

At first glance to a foreigner such as myself, la ecoaldea del Minchal  [the ecovillage of the Minchal] high up on the side of the Sierra del Chaparral mountain range, north of Molvizar, Andalucia, Spain, looks a formidable place to try and live. Hot and dusty, the dryness of land and exposure to the wind makes for a potentially harsh environment. But once you look a little closer the emerging (it was only established in 2007) eco-village is clearly creating an oasis of bio-diversity and comfortable living. Every bit of land is being put to use to grow a huge variety of fruit trees – bananas, papaya, avocados and mango. At the bottom of the numerous olive trees Edgar has created circular plant beds in which grow lettuces and tomatoes. Brice has rows of beans, potatoes, brocoli, sprouts, the list goes on. Chickens are kept for their eggs, bee hives are in preparation, and a goat kid will eventually provide milk.


Gardens and view north into the mountains

The village is spread across a number of terraces cut into the hillside – an ancient tradition for cultivating this region – linked by tracks and pathways. As yet there is no communal space, though there are plans for some and the individual plots are close enough for quick visits and sharing equipment, but far enough away to provide privacy, quiet, freedom and space for each other too.  As one resident said, this way ‘you simply share the best bits’. The village has an open and broad agenda – it does not have strict rules, rather loosely it is about ‘respecting themselves, others and nature’. Choice of diet, spirituality, income and other lifestyles choices are up to the individual.


Yurt and wooden cabin

There are yurts on a couple of plots, a wooden timber frame house, and a house which is a wonderful mixture of wooden cabin, solid all construction, traditional spanish tile roof, eco-design and traditional spanish appearance. The most magnificent house however, and one which I have the good fortune to be staying next to, is a zome. With eight straight walls, the ceiling and roof are constructed out of a spiral of diamond-shaped wooden sections which create a high airy ceiling. These are then covered in tiles of asphalt.


A zome house and inside, with the high ceiling

There is something magical about the space a zome creates. The simplicity of the design means that no internal walls or poles are required to support the roof. Instead a wonderful curved ceiling, with the diamond shapes exposed, gives the feel of being somewhere magnificent – like a cathedral. It also helps the flow of air through the building and creates plenty of space for heat to rise to a fan in the roof. Inside a huge space is created – it feels a lot bigger than it looks from the outside or its actual dimensions (60 m2). Plenty for a family of four. The walls are insulated with cardboard – which has the advantage of being free – and there is a fully fitted kitchen, working fridge, wood stove and shower.


Inside a zome and filling in the walls

Zomes are an advancement on geodesic domes. Popularised in the 1970s by Lloyd Kahn and his two books about domes in the USA, he later abandoned the design as being unfeasible. Crucially, a dome as he had conceived had a rounded top which was hard to make from natural or eco-materials. A zome however overcomes this problem. Inspired by a CD about zomes by Yann Lipnick, several residents decided to experiment in building them, with little prior knowledge of building. The eco-village has created a supportive space for just this sort of risk taking and an ability to generate knowledge through experimentation rather than rely upon traditional norms or ‘expert’ views.

The village are also lucky in that there is tolerance in this area for a broad variety of buildings. Although in order to be legal (by new regulations introduced in May 2010) there are restrictions on the size of the dwellings (relative to land size owned), its location in relation to the land boundary and a public track, and it has to be single storey (like the original cortijos of the area), less permanent buildings are also tolerated. Thus building without foundations, yurts, wooden cabins and caravans are ignored by the local Major. This gives the eco-village much more flexibility as it develops.


Zome under construction and gardens with moutain views

Build costs are reduced by building themselves and using the ‘free’ labour of friends and family, relatively cheap land, living off-grid (no water, electricity or waste collection costs), reusing materials (like whole window sets of toilets discarded into the street), no building regulation costs, and buying any new material they do need – like some wood – in large dimensions and cutting it up themselves. In addition, the houses they are building are a balance between being small-sized and yet acknowledging the importance of the sense of volume and aesthetics to a home in order to create ‘a house with life’. For the residents the process of building also has to be a process of enjoyment and they ensure this in part by accepting any mistakes and a margin of error in anything that they do. This acceptance of error is very much linked to the broader philosophical tenet of the village of tolerance of others and oneself.

Path to one of the plots in the eco-village

A noticeable luxury here is the surprisingly ample, and piped directly to site, supply of water. In the eco-communities I have visited in Britain sourcing and constructing an affordable supply of water has been a big problem. Several reply on one source and manually collect what is needed everyday in plastic containers. Ironically, for Spain is a far more arid country, the village have a great supply. They run kilometres of black hose pipe to springs emerging from the mountains, store temporarily in water tanks to provide pressure, and run further pipes into the houses, toilets and shower. It has been a complete luxury to have running water in my accommodation (a caravan), in the compost toilet, and to have a hot shower on-site. Fresh drinking water is collected every few days from a spring. Another bit of luxury was the waterfall positioned perfectly at the end of the track to provide a refreshing wash after a day in the sun.


The waterfall and zome compost toilet

Living ethically and ecologically is as important here as the houses being ecological. Thus, in many ways, what constitutes a house or homes is expanded to include ethical food production, water conservation recycling water to grow bananas and sugar cane, micro-energy generation (via photovoltaic panels), and the treatment of faeces into compost. So when we consider an eco-house we have to start by expanding what we should include as necessary to a healthy functioning home, and la ecoaldea del Minchal serves well as a great example in how this can be done.


Flowers on the site

La ecoaldea del Minchal are happy to accept volunteers or visitors (who can stay as I did in the caravan for a very modest fee). It is best to contact Brice to arrange a visit –, +34 691 068 476. Brice speaks French, Spanish and English. The village is high up on the mountain-side behind Molzivar. It is probably easiest to make it to the petrol station just south of Molzivar and ask for someone to pick you up, or show you the way. Otherwise it is a labyrinth of single-tracked steep mountain tracks. Brice is also keen to build and sell zomes, so do get in touch with him if you are interested.


A primera vista, hacia lo alto y al lado de la cordillera de las montañas de la Sierra del Chaparral en el norte de Molvizar, Andalucía en España se ve la ecoaldea del Minchal, un formidable lugar para vivir a los ojos de un extranjero como yo. Caliente y polvorienta, la sequedad de la tierra y la exposición al aire se denota lo que se considera como un medio ambiente severo; pero cuidadosamente al ver la ecoaldea, la cual fue establecida en 2007, claramente se ve que se ha creado un oasis de bio-diversidad y condiciones de vida satisfactorias. Cada pedazo de tierra está siendo utilizado para producir una variedad de árboles de frutas – bananas, papaya, aguacates, y mango. También debajo de árboles de olivo, Edgar ha creado pequeños huertos donde cultivan lechugas y tomates.  Brice, por otro lado, tiene grandes cultivos de frijoles, patatas, brócoli, coles, y muchos más vegetales. Se mantienen gallinas dentro de la aldea para huevos, hay colmenas en preparación, y una cabra que eventualmente proveerá leche.  

La aldea está esparcida por una serie de terrazas que se cortan dentro de la ladera – una tradición antigua de cultivo de la región – ligadas por veredas y caminos. Por el momento, no hay un espacio comunal aunque tienen planes para construirlo. Los huertos están convenientemente cerca para visitas y compartir el equipo, pero no hay suficiente distancia para tener privacidad, silencio, libertad y espacio dentro de si mismos. Como un residente dijo,  de está manera “tú simplemente compartes las mejores cosas”. La aldea tiene una ideología bastante abierta – no tiene reglas estrictas; se podría decir que se basa en “respetarse a si mismos, a los otros y a la naturaleza”. El tipo dieta, preferencia espiritual, ingreso y el estilo de vida son decisiones individuales.

Hay unidades de almacenaje en algunos terrenos, una casa de madera y una casa que es una maravillosa combinación entre madera, roca sólida, teja tradicional de España en el techo, diseño ecológico, todo con la aspecto de una casa tradicional española. Sin embargo, la casa más impresionante y la cual afortunadamente estaba al lado de mi residencia era un Zome; con ocho paredes rectas, un techo alto hecho de madera en forma espiral y con un diseño de diamante, el cual está dividido en secciones creando un ventilador bastante airoso. Éste luego está cubierto por tejas de azulejo. 

Hay algo mágico sobre el espacio que crea un Zome. La simplicidad del diseño significa que no se requieren paredes internas o mástiles para soportar el peso del techo. Todo lo contrario, un extraordinario techo arqueado, con diseño de diamante se expone y da la sensación de estar en algún lugar magnífico – como una catedral. Esto ayuda a la corriente de aire dentro del edificio y crea suficiente espacio para que el calor ascienda hacia un ventilador en el techo. Dentro, un espacio amplio se ha creado – éste se percibe un poco más grande de lo que se ve desde fuera o en relación a sus dimensiones exactas (60 m2) – siendo este suficiente para una familia de cuatro. Las paredes están aisladas por cartón – lo cual tiene la ventaja por ser independientes –; hay una cocina completamente equipada, un congelador, una estufa de madera,  y una bañera. 

Zomes son cúpulas geodésicas avanzadas. En 1970 Lloyd Kahn, en dos de sus libros sobre cúpulas en los Estados Unidos, divulgó la idea pero la abandonó considerando el proyecto irrealizable. Kahn concebía que una cúpula debía tener una estructura oval en el techo, lo cual era difícil hacer a través de materiales naturales o ecológicos. Sin embargo, un Zome superó este problema. Inspirado por un CD sobre zomes por Yann Lipnick, varios residentes decidieron experimentar en crearlos con un previo conocimiento en construcción. La eco-aldea ha creado un espacio específico solamente para éstos por los riesgos que se deben tomar y para generar conocimiento a través de experimentos en lugar de depender de las normas tradicionales o consejos de los “expertos”. 

La aldea también tiene la suerte de que hay una gran tolerancia en el área en relación hacia la variedad de edificios que se pueden edificar. Sin embargo para legalmente construir (bajo los nuevos reglamentos introducidos en mayo 2010) hay algunas restricciones en el tamaño de las viviendas (relativo a la proporción de tierra que se posee), la localización en relación a los límites del terreno y a un vía pública, y tienen que ser de un piso (como los cortijos originales del área); edificios poco permanentes también son autorizados. Construir sin cimientos, almacenamientos, cabinas de maderas y caravanas son ignorados por el alcalde local. Esto le da a la eco-aldea mucho más flexibilidad mientras ésta crece.

Los costos de la construcción son bajos ya que ellos construyen las viviendas y sus amigos y familiares les ayudan gratuitamente con la mano de obra. Consiguen tierra relativamente barata, viven lejos de la vida urbana (sin agua, electricidad, o coleccionando cosas inservibles), re-usan materiales (como sets completos de ventanillas de baños encontrados en las calles), no tienen que pagar por licencias de construcción; no compran material que no se necesita en grandes proporciones, como madera, sino que cortan ellos mismos lo que necesitan.

Un lujo visible, es el sorprendente abastecimiento de agua y el conducto directo en el área. En las eco-aldeas que he visitado en Inglaterra la disponibilidad y la construcción de una fuente de agua a bajo costo ha sido un gran problema. Muchos dependen de una fuente y manualmente recolectan lo que es necesario para el transcurso del día a través de contenedores de plástico. Irónicamente, aunque España es un país más árido la aldea tiene un gran suministro de agua.

Ellos corren kilómetros de tubería negra hacía manantiales que surgen de las montañas, almacenan temporalmente el agua en tanques para proveer presión y luego se envía a las tuberías que están dentro de las casas, baños y duchas. Ha sido un lujo, completamente, el tener agua en mi habitación (una caravana), en el baño, y  poder tomar duchas con agua caliente. Agua fresca, del manantial, se recolecta cada otro día. Otro pequeño lujo fue la catarata, localizada perfectamente al final del camino para proporcionar una refrescante ducha después de un día bajo el sol. 

Vivir éticamente y ecológicamente aquí es importante ya que estas casas son ecológicas. Por lo tanto, por varias razones, lo que constituye una casa o casas ecológica se expande en incluir la producción ética de alimentos, conservación de agua y reciclándola para el crecimiento de bananas y cañas de azúcar, generación de micro-energía (a través de paneles fotovoltaicos), y el tratamiento de decompuestos como abono. Por lo tanto, cuando pensemos en una eco-habitación debemos de comenzar por considerar e incluir lo necesario para crear una casa funcional y viable. La ecoaldea del Minchal es un buen ejemplo de como esto se debe hacer.

La ecoaldea del Minchal recibe con los brazos abiertos la ayuda de voluntarios o visitantes, quienes se pueden quedar como yo lo hice en una de sus caravanas por una módica suma. Lo ideal es comunicarse con Brice para concertar una cita:, +34 691 068 476. Brice habla francés, español e inglés. La aldea esta sobre la cordillera de la montaña detrás de Molvizar. Probablemente lo más fácil es llegar a la estación de gas hacia el sur de Molvizar y preguntar si alguien le puede recoger y mostrarle el camino. Sino es un laberinto de caminos empinados en los senderos de las montañas. Brice también está muy entusiasmado en construir y vender zomes. Por favor comunicarse con él si está interesado.