Thursday, March 28, 2019

Mojácar Rubble

Around a hundred years ago, Mojácar had a population of six thousand people. Almost all of them lived either in the village itself, or in the surrounding hamlets, where water was available. Unlike today, few if any of them lived on the beach: views were not held to be of use then.
The town began to lose inhabitants following a fall in the water table (no doubt from having cut down all the trees), bringing inevitably less agriculture and more poverty. In those times, where the main way in and out was by sea to Garrucha, and the only land traffic was occasional donkey-trains heading towards Almería, Granada and Albox, life revolved around the raw material available locally. The village-folk of Mojácar never fished, and their prime sources of food came either from the huertas, the orchards, or the goat-herders.
An attack in the early years of the last century by a swarm of locusts put paid to the produce for a year or two, and many decided to leave for a better life. A regular ship called El Oranero left Garrucha for the Algerian city of Oran and then on to Barcelona every two weeks, and more than a few local people bought themselves a one-way passage.
The second bullet for Mojácar was the Spanish Civil War which lasted from 1936 to 1939. While the war ended with a Nationalist victory, the defeated side of the Republic (which included the entire province of Almería) was to suffer for many years from further shortages, rationing and privations. More people left as a result - ending up in many cases in Lyon and Marseilles in France (there are still Mojaqueros today who speak Spanish with a French accent), Frankfurt in Germany and, further afield, to Argentina (the Minguito restaurant in the village is a returned family from Argentina).
As they left for a better life, the people of Mojácar were unable to sell their homes. There were quite literally no buyers. The best they could do would be to dismantle their house, selling the rejas, the beams, the doors and the tiles for whatever they could find. These houses, once abandoned, were merely ruins.
The very castle of Mojácar, described in the encyclopedia of 1920 as 'inmutable', which translates as 'unknockdownable', was demolished for its stone.
By the fifties, there was little left of the village. From six thousand, now only six hundred remained. Plans were afoot to be ruled from next-door Carboneras.
Then, the Civil Governor in far-off Almería chose Jacinto Alarcón to be the new mayor. Jacinto recalled that he had to decide where the very streets would go as the village was little more than rubble. He offered to give away ruins to those who would fix them up within a year. There were several takers including a few senior foreign diplomats (the Calle de los Embajadores in the village is tribute to this). His second idea was to approach the Minister of Tourism in Madrid, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, to build a Parador hotel on Mojácar Playa. To his astonishment, the minister agreed and the hotel opened in 1966.
Jacinto's ambitions worked and the fortunes of Mojácar were reversed. By 1965, the village was showing signs of life again.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Southeastern Desert.

One of the charms of the south-east of Spain is its intriguing desert. Dry hills festooned with a few scrub bushes and a rabbit or two. There are few habitations and hardly anything moving in the scorching heat beyond perhaps a thirsty cyclist and a watchful vulture.
Nothing much grows in the land around Tabernas in Almería (Spaghetti Western country) and up towards Granada, or along the way towards Murcia. To see it from the air is to see the only true desert of Europe.
Here and there among the million hectares of desert we can find some olive plantations lining the minor provincial roads, fed with water from the overstretched aquifers, while the stressed earth under the plastic farms of Nijar and El Ejido to the west is pushed to its limit, filled with chemicals and tired indeed of the very life it creates in such abundance. 
The official spread of the farms, quoted since 2004 as around 30,000 hectares, is understandably erroneous, and local farmers will quote more likely figures of 75,000 hectares under plastic. Plastic which, once perished, is now no longer sent off to China. Now, most of it is dealt with in unsatisfactory ways (90% is not recycled says Greenpeace) – ploughed under, left to rot, chucked into dry riverbeds – and from there to the sea (where some of it ends up, apparently, poisoning dolphins) or sent to official dumps (which often mysteriously catch fire).
El País has published a major study on how to attempt to arrest the desertification of the region, with some brave agriculturists trying out various crops such as almonds, olive, pistachio plus some reforestation (photos here) as the poor soil is lost to erosion through wind and occasional washes of floodwater. The article looks at foreign philanthropists and NGOs such as Alvelal, Commonland and Sunseed Desert Technology.
That the land is bad is no surprise. ‘...The content of organic matter in the agricultural soil of the Altiplano ranges between 0.38% and 1.5%, which is why much of it does not reach the usual organic matter rate of 1.5% minimum, according to data from the University of Almería. These soils lose an average of 1.8 millimetres of thickness per year from the most superficial layer, the most fertile, which means 20 tons of land per hectare. In recent years rainfall has been scarce, between 200 and 400mm per year.
Then there’s the problem of the depopulation of the towns: Vélez Blanco – in the sierras where Almería, Granada and Murcia meet – is given as an example. It has lost five thousand souls from its 1950 census, with now just two thousand inhabitants left.
Climate change, hotter summers and Spain’s growing desertification have been a source of worry from some time. We end with an article from El Mundo from July of 2017 titled: ‘By 2090, Spain will be the new Sahara’. It says: ‘Water is scarce, heat waves break records ... and Spain dries up. But this scorching summer is only a foretaste of the future: in 2090, the desert will have swallowed half of the Peninsula, from Lisbon to Alicante, according to a study by 'Science'’.