May 05 2021 | the empty Spain

“I saw you lying on the side of the road yesterday, what happened to you?” I look up at the retired-looking man standing next to my table.

People in rural Spain are very close and make the move to talk as if they had been known you a long time ago. Maybe that’s why I’m like this: very close as if I don’t have barriers to communicating with others. It’s in my blood. My paternal surname, Ruiz-Diaz, is of Spanish origin and, Romero, on my mother’s side, also Spanish, although my maternal grandfather also bore the surname Kullmann, which is of Saxon origin. My first language is Spanish, although I have always hated that Paraguayan accent – I was born and raised in Paraguay – in the way I speak. That’s why I adopted the Spanish accent of the Castiles. There is an anomaly in the almost permanent rejection of every link to where I was born and raised. Adopting other accents is another of the many ways to clearly establish this detachment.

“I think I remember seeing a van slowing down, yes, when it was laydown under that tree, about three miles from here, right?” I reply.

“Yes.”, he said, taking a chair to sit on. “So, where you coming from”. It’s a Spanish style not to expect someone asking permission to sit down. It’s like saying to visitor: you’re the outsider, I impose my rules.

A communal authority ordered me to access the three meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – here at Los Cazadores Restaurant, every day of my stay in the village. From my arrival, I’ve got some benefits as usual, of which I sometimes feel a little guilty as they are resources to be destined for the community. What I am doing for the community to deserve this. But things goes swiftly when dealing with the authorities. It was established that he would sleep in the Albergue de Peregrinos Ruta de la Lana, which is actually a room with six empty beds adjoining a chapel where one could enter to meditate or simply to remain seated, in silence.

Fuentes, a village of just over 500 inhabitants, anchored in the desolate plains of southeastern Spain, is a quiet place. If it were not by the route N-420, quite busy as it is the main one that connects Cuenca with Teruel, this town would be one more of those monotonous and quiet communities of Empty Spain, which is the other side of the overt-kept Spain.

Before yesterday, after a hard day of walking and pedaling, I entered a village called Pedanía. I set up my tent at the top of an elevation where the abandoned building of a Church is located. The next day I went down to Fountain Square, where I loaded water into my bottles. Under a raucous sun, the sound of water falling into a stone pool synchronizes the overwhelming silence of the surrender. A sign from the store moves through the breeze, causing a metal squeak. A clothesline with some clothes on it mingling on a balcony. A dog barking, perhaps the same as last night flooded the region with its barking.

“Hello, anyone out there?” my voice is resounding.

Sitting on the border of the fountain, I follow with my gaze the path of access to this settlement. On the other side, covered with weeds, what appears to have been a barn with wooden walls placed separately, as if to let the air run. The zing roof slightly inclined to the opposite side of the road, evidently in a state of abandonment.

Suddenly, my intuitive nose makes me turn my head towards one of the corners of the plazoleta. I see perfectly the silhouette of an old man standing there, beside the wall. When he’s discovered, he makes a slight move to hide.

“Señor”, I say, trying not to frighten him. “Don’t be afraid of me. I just want to know…” I see him walk away a little hasty, followed by his cat.

My presence in small towns often generates a kind of anxiety on the locals, which forces me to be patient and tolerant. In these Hamlets, this one is called Padilla de Hita, sometimes there is no one. Whether it’s because the few left or they have a second house somewhere or their inhabitants work in the big urban centers. At first glance, there are indications that this village is inhabited. But since last night, I haven’t seen nobody. Except the old man and his cat.

It’s almost noon. The road is waiting for me.

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