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by  Maya Damon
(Pincha 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.

"It 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.

"I 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.

"I only had three cans of food and there were no stores to buy anything."

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.

"Money 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.

"Everyone 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 life.

For students that want to visit Matavenero….

  • Call to 987 693 216 between 19:30-20:30

  • or write to:
    Lista de Correos
    24300 Bembibre León

  • 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.

And clearly….if you want to know more about my experiences, you can write me an email: emdamon@ualr.edu

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.

Maya Damon

Escuela Internacional Spanish Schools in Spain
Central Registration Office
C/ Talamanca, 10, 28807 Alcala de Henares (Madrid), Spain
Telephone: +34 91 883 12 64, Fax: +34 91 883 13 01
e-mail: info@escuelai.com

Cities in Spain
Salamanca - a walk
Shopping Salamanca
Nightlife - Malaga
Places to go - Alcalá
Excursion - Segovia
Excursion - Siguenza
Trip to Matavenero
Celebrations / Events
Semana Cervantina
Carnival in Spain
April Fair-Sevilla
San Isidro in Madrid
Fiesta del Pilar
Alcalá Film Festival
Christmas in Spain
Spanish Christmas carols
Picasso Museum
Flamenco in Malaga
Cervantes in Alcalá