“Do not move, let the wind speak, that is paradise” – American writer Ezra Pound’s paradise can be found in so few places today – televisions, cars, and mobiles alone have conquered silence – but there remains a place in Spain’s arid south-east where solitude reigns. Its name, Los Molinos del Río Aguas, its fame, that it has none.
To get to Almería province from the west you’ll take either the inland route north of the Sierra Nevada, or the costal route to its south. The northern route trails the foothills of the mountains, passing through the spectacular landscape of Guadix to the east of Grenada before entering the arid plains of Almeria. Just as you leave behind the easternmost hills of the Sierras, you’ll enter into the Tabernas Desert, a true Martian landscape of red soils carved out over time into gullies, cliffs and promontories, making these deserts the perfect film-sets for the old Hollywood westerns. Today, however, Almería makes its living from two things: mass tourism on its sunburnt coastline and mass agriculture in its sundrenched interior of hundreds, thousands of acres of plastic sea under which sweat hundreds, thousands of migrant labourers. As old Cohen wrote, “Everybody knows that the deal is rotten, Old Black Joe still pickin’ cotton for your ribbons and bows, everybody knows…”.
Not for away but so far removed from Almería’s plastic agriculture is Los Molinos del Río Aguas, a literal oasis growing by the side of the Río Aguas, a stream giving life to colonies of turtles and this colony of off-the-grid eco-lovers. Descend to the river from the windy road at the top of the valley wall and you will see agave cacti with their enormous flower-trunks shooting up into the sky like giant asparagi. You will wander through little vegetable gardens, taste the berries, grapes and almonds, then wander past yurts full of meditators and teepees full of yoga-ers before you reach the valley floor where you’ll get lost amongst the reeds trying to find your way to the waterhole to swim with the little turtles. When the stars ascend you’ll feel the silence descend, and dining under the Milky Way you will find yourself mimicking the whisper wind in your speech, not for fear of on-listeners but for fear of breaking the beauty of silence. Not wanting nor needing to compete with the full moon’s flood lighting, a few tea lights will suffice, and reclining, post-dinner un-winding, you will moon-bath till either a bat’s squeak or the night’s chill wakes you.
In the full light of the day you will see how Los Molinos works, and hear how it struggles. At the heart of this community is a project called ‘Sunseed’, a centre of education on and practise of permaculture and sustainable living. People come from every corner of Spain and Europe to learn how to live according to the laws of nature, even where those laws are as unforgiving as the arid Almería, where each year the threat of permanent drought comes closer. The fact is, I was told, is that Los Molinos will soon disappear. Climate change and over irrigation in the surrounding regions means that the Río Aguas – Water River – will soon be as cruelly named and falsely advertised as the nearby Campo Hermoso – Beautiful Field – where plastic agriculture has trashed what was once a beautiful landscape.
It will be a shame if Los Molinos one day disappears, to have yet another oasis of silence and beauty eliminated from the face of the planet, but more than that it will be the cruellest fate for a place whose reason for being is to figure out how to avoid a similar fate for the rest of humanity. But maybe in the future story of this place’s decline there will still be something to be learnt; an epitaph for this little place might be Henry David Thoreau’s lines from Walden:
Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings,
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that anybody knows