by Maya Damon
aquí para la versión en Español)
In March, my mother sent
me an article by Tony Wretch about Matavenero, a small village
in the mountains of Leon that was being repopulated. I read
that its residents were practicing a lifestyle very respectful
of the environment. I
immediately tried to contact someone to visit it, but never
got an answer to the two emails and faxes that I sent. I
continued investigating and found a telephone number on the
Internet. I decided to try one last time. I called during the
only time of day that they receive phone calls. I spoke with a
guy and I told him that I want to visit Matavenero. It seemed
like a good idea to him, and he told me that I needed to get
the bus to Bembibre, then a taxi (for 10€) to San Facundo
and then walk up the dirt road for an hour and a half until
arriving at the village. Our conversation ended after
informing me of the necessity to bring a sleeping bag to sleep
in. It wasn’t easy to understand the man that I spoke to,
and I wasn’t very sure of exactly the city he had told me.
Furthermore, it was very little information, but I bought my
ticket for the bus and packed my backpack.
was the most difficult and gratifying experience of my life."
The bus from Madrid took
four and a half hours to get to Bembibre. I waited a half an
hour until a taxi came that took me to San Facundo. The trip
(in the taxi) took 20 minutes and cost me 11€ (perhaps the
tourist price). I didn’t know exactly where I had to go, but
got my backpack (that weighed 40 kilos) and went up the only
dirt road that there was in the direction of the mountains.
The road was step by step getting more narrow. I walked a long
while without seeing any sign of civilization until I crossed
a river and saw the first indication that Matavenero was
nearby, though that is not to say that I had arrived. The path
continued on its way with nature closing in around it. I was
resting along the edge of a mountain when I smelled the smoke
of a bonfire. I can’t express the happiness and relief that
I felt in that moment. Along the side of the mountain were
wooden houses and some buildings in ruins. The stone walls
were covered in moss and all the roads were dirt. I could hear
the murmur of water and there were channels of fresh water
along the paths. I had taken 3 hours to get there from the
time the taxi left me at the foot of the trail.. To hike the
footpath to the village had been hard, but the view was
impressive from the place where I first saw it. The only sign
that showed human presence in the countryside were a few
windmills on the other side of the valley.
walked for three hours with my 40 kilo backpack before I
finally got to Matavenero"
The first people that I
found offered me tea and explained that the fire that I smelt
upon arrival was a peace fire (it was burning for 14 days
non-stop, but, finally, the meteorological elements put it
out). They explained to me that I could sleep in The Common
Kitchen with other visitors. The town store was closed
indefinitely and there was no food to buy. This news made me a
little uncomfortable because I only had brought three cans of
tuna, a few cereal bars and a bottle of Pacharán as a sign of
gratefulness for the welcome. When we opened it, a guy said
that the drink was “dangerously good”.
I didn’t need to worry
myself about the food for the week, because everyone was very
generous. In return, I tried to clean and help as much as I
could. The mealtimes in Matavenero are typical for Spain, but
it is important to say that the hours, in themselves, don’t
have much importance in Matavenero. For example, one of my
days there, someone asked the group, what time it was; since
nobody responded, they asked if anybody had a watch, and
everyone laughed a lot.
only had three cans of food and there were no stores to buy
One day, I walked a half
an hour to the nearest village, Poibueno with a few of the
residents of Matavenero. There, there was a church in ruins
and only 8 people living there. We went to buy milk, yogurt
and cheese from the dairymen that, by the way, only had 5
liters of milk, fresh and with cream (delicious). We dined
with the milkmen on wine and cheese that we had brought with
us along with bread, olives, milk and flan that they had. It
was a spectacular supper! The way back home took longer as it
was uphill and it got dark. I had a flashlight, but my friend
preferred to walk with the moonlight in silence with nature.
I slept in “The Common
Kitchen” that had several cots to sleep on and also a wood
burning stove for cooking. The only problem was the cold, and
the times that we made a fire, the whole room filled with
smoke. The toilets were outside of the buildings and there
were 5 in the village. They are latrines and they use the
compost for fertilizer after a few years of decomposition.
Almost no one had electricity in Matavenero, but the people
that want it have solar electricity. It’s curious, but
generally, most people there don’t have hot water although
the houses that have bathrooms, have water heaters.
doesn't have much value in the village."
The people of Matavenero
have different domestic animals, among them they include dogs,
cats, donkeys and cows. The people are not totally independent
from the outside world, but do cultivate a large part of their
food. Generally, they leave the village to earn money,
however, in the village, it is not important and they prefer
other forms of trade such as bartering. Thursday is the day of
common work. Everyone has to work for the benefit of the
community. One of the most interesting things about Matavenero
is the combination of cultures. In the community of neighbors
there are mostly Spaniards and Germans and this mixture proves
to a be advantage to the people there. Almost everyone speaks
English, German and Spanish, or at least two of the three
languages. There are even children in the village that are
also learning Portuguese.
laughed when I asked what time it was."
During my stay in this exceptional enclave, I had
interesting conversations with very different people in
Matavenero to know their ideology about life and also their
reasons for living outside of “civilization”. Only two
people had lived in the village from the time of its
rehabilitation in September of 1989 and they were always very
busy, for which it was not easy to chat with them. I spoke
with one visitor that was doing the Camino de Santiago and
that had lived in the village a few years before. He said that
one of the most important characteristics of Matavenero is
that it is a village, and not a commune. He told me that the
town decisions are made by a council (called a meeting) every
Wednesday (or every other Wednesday). All the residents may go
to the council meeting and discuss matters and vote. The
council has as an objective to decide things for the
community. At this point, it’s important to say that the
people of Matavenero usually have their own things and not
everything is communal, that’s to say, that private property
exists. I also spoke with a Spaniard who had been living in
the village for one year. He left the city and arrived in
Matavenero with very little money. He doesn’t like the city
for the consumer spirit and the garbage in general. He thinks
that, in cities, there are too many people and it is not a
good way to live. I also spoke with a German that hadn’t
been born in Matavenero, but went to live there with his
family when he was 9 year’s old. He told me that, when 16
year’s old, he left for Germany to learn carpentry and now
at 20 some years of age is living in the village again. He
likes the idea very much of making everything that he needs
for himself. He needs to eat, so he grows food. He needs a
home, so he builds a house. He doesn’t think it is fair to
pay taxes to live in a place.
Generally, the children
in the village are interested in experiencing the life outside
of the community, but little by little, when they are older
and get bored with the city, they come back looking for the
natural life that reigns in Matavenero. What all the residents
have in common is that all have an appreciation of nature and
want to live in peace.
My experience in
Matavenero I suppose was an introspective one that has taught
me to be more independent and self sufficient. From them I got
a feeling of freedom and inner force that helps me in my daily
For students that want to visit Matavenero….
Call to 987 693 216 between 19:30-20:30
or write to:
Bring something to share;
instruments, wine or a special liqueur, tobacco if you
smoke, fruit (especially with vitamin c) or meat.
Other useful things; 2
lighters (that work), toilet paper, basic food, coffee,
pocket knife, toothpaste, and a compass.
Don’t bring hard drugs or gas powered vehicles.
clearly….if you want to know more about my experiences, you
can write me an email:
You will need to take good shoes, warm
clothes, a little food, a towel, a sleeping bag, inner strength and a very
good attitude. It's important to know that the trip is not going to be
easy. You need to have a lot of interest and be very motivated to enjoy a
very positive experience.
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