March 23 - April 6, 2000
Los Molinos, literally translates to the mills in Spanish, is located in what it touted to be the driest and hottest region in Europe. Itīs semi-desert climate allows for the research and experimental living at Sunseed (Sunseed Desert Technologies to be exact) to be transplanted in Africa with less adaptation.
Los Molinos was once a milling center where farmers would bring their harvest via donkey to be ground. The valley is scattered with abandoned buildings, a few old mills and caves with troughs for the animals, who often slept there with their owners while waiting their turn in the busy seasonīs overnight queue.
When the population was at 400, the area was completely self-sufficient, a goal that Sunseed aims for. The gardens grew more than enough food, the mills produced profit and later, they produce their own electricity too.
The last 100 years has left Los Molinos, mostly due to socio-political reasons, with the exception of the Sunseed community made up almost exclusively of British ex-patriots.
My stay here lasted two weeks working with the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers in the organic gardens. At first it was a disappointment to find our efforts here were merely to sustain this communities standards, rather than directly help a community (or world) in need of economical environmentally low impact sustainability. That sort of went away as I saw that simply by living this way for a time was saving some resources compared to my traditional Western lifestyle and the education that propagated to the rest of the group would be with us for life.
Thatīs not to say that there wasnīt some transition time. For the first day it felt crude to use the urine separating outdoor composting toilets and to be on a vegetarian (mostly vegan in fact) diet. I had carnal desires just as any man in my predicament would and I knew just where I could get what I wanted... there was rumor of a greasy burger joint less than two hours of a walk away.
But the need, and craving, for Big Macs went away, thanks mostly to the skillful chefs in the community and our group who prepared four meals a day. Come to think of it, since I started my travels, Iīve been a 5 or 6 day/week vegetarian anyway, making meals from bread and cheese at local grocery stores along my daily saunters.
The group I was with, was fantastic and I hope that we do stay in touch for the years to come in some capacity. At first the floppy hats, pasty skin, posh accents and large sunglasses were a bit alien, but by the end of my stay I found them all quite fashionable and picked up some new vocabulary. They have terms like loo, the dogīs bolicks, and anorak (I have no idea if these are the correct spellings, by the way).
The staff was another interesting bunch. Weīd work closely with Michael, the gardener, for whom the garden had grown around his spirit and it was clear that he developed a near religious relationship with the earth here.
Even those who werenīt part of the Sunseed staff, but lived in the Los Molinos valley had made lasting impressions, most notably, David Dene, who I shared a cup of coffee with and then got a tour of his home, Casa de Realidad.
While Sunseed is primative, Casa de Realidad has modern comforts. Both the buildings at Sunseed and Daveīs house are powered by solar energy, Daveīs vision is more in alignment with my own feelings of what the good life is all about. Itīs minimalism with comfort (although Dave refuses to call it that, seeing minimalism being living in a cave - another local has done this for a few years until the gypsyīs pestered him away).
Dave has already caught the eye of some other people interested in environmental harmony that can be shared across the world, including the late John Denver who once visited with this English, former Austrain doctor, and traveler, Mr. Dene.
But enough of all this, there is more to Los Molinos than the Sunseed mission (which to the disappointment of the community is actually quite vague).
This area was once the bed of the Mediteranean Sea and is littered with shell fossils. It is also one of the largest locations for gypsum, a translucent rock (like mica, but much harder) than when dehydrated in the fire turns bright white and is used in the creation of plaster of Paris.
The 1000 year old Moorish irrigation line (interesting in itself) is maintained and used by the community for their gardens (mostly Sunseed). Sunseedīs AT (appropriate technology) group also has their involvement in water distribution with a ram pump that uses no power other than some of the flow of the river to pump water up hills all around the area for watering of crops, cooking and washing.
Other appropriate technologies include solar cookers (you can guess what they are) and hay boxes that let food continue to cook without fuel, just keeping the warm pots and pans at the cooking temperature. I made some rice using one and plan to make use of this again when I decide to call a place home again.
The bio department also has itīs own research going on with terrace management, tree planting and irrigation experiments. While on the tour the dry river bed came alive with a flow of water from the previous days rain (the valley getīs little over 2 centimeters a year total). It was one of those moments that Hollywood couldnīt make more magical or well planned.
Speaking of Hollywood, this desert is home to most of the "Spaghetti Westerns," most notably, Clint Eastwoodīs The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The night sky... calling that is almost inaccurate... start over... The heavens open up above each night to reveal a deep blue sky speckled with clearly lit points of light that almost make it easy to trace out the constellations. The only visible artificial light is from a steady red lamp atop the radio tower put up last year. I often wonder why the sky isnīt pure black as it was in the Nevada desserts around "Dreamland" where the dimension and clarity above spell out infinity in any language.
Here I can not see light pollution, but I canīt see the Milky Way either. There is, however, an occasional shooting star or satellite and a moon hanging in a different part of this overhead canopy each night. From the drop toilet near my quarters, I peer through the bamboo dome at the clear line of sky and the dark voids in the desert mountains. Pantera, the black cat would then jump on my shoulder and join me in my sleeping bag.
To my excitement, one of the Wheeler boys from Lonely Planet (my favorite guidebook) was researching the area while I was there! Unfortunately, I didnīt have the chance to meet him, but I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with their Spanish editor in a few days.
My last night, was indeed a wonder. For the first time in Spain, I clearly saw the Milky Way through the silloutte of a tequila cactus shoot (an amazing 25 foot stalk that grows in one year). There were other reasons why life was simply beautiful at this moment which I shant say here. I lay quiet with a smile on my face and pretended to sleep while purring into Panteraīs torn ear.