The Search for Aritzkuren

It´s a cold morning and I´m wearing all of my layers, although the sun is shining as always and in a while the air will warm. The path between the two villages is well worn and although I see nobody, all along it are signs of human existence among the woods and streams and rock: a little tower of stones, a stick with twine wrapped around it, a sock, half an old van rusted into the mountainside… I pass a well tended vegetable patch – a sure sign I am on the right track.

There are three reasons I am seeking Aritzkuren (“Arit-th-kooren”) – the first is the obvious one: that another squatted village thirty minutes walk from Uli would be crazy not to visit; the second is that I hope to leave this valley sometime in the next few days and there is more chance of getting a lift from Aritzkuren than Uli; the third is that in my pocket I have a little note for a woman named Sandra from the man who works in a bio-shop in Pamplona. Three of us from Uli went shopping there yesterday and on my solo exploration of the town I happened to get chatting to this man, who asked me to deliver a message to his friend should I visit the village where she lives.

Suddenly the track is smaller and more overgrown. It leads to a little rock face, which I climb up (Anna had said the way is steep!) but from there it withers to a thin trail and I know I have gone the wrong way. I find another way which crosses the river. I remember Anna clearly saying not to cross the river, but something compels me to take that path. Some exploration, a little tree-climbing and a rest or two later I eventually find the right track.

Aritzkuren has been occupied for much longer than Uli and it shows. Here they have finished houses, hot and cold running water, heating, a well stocked log pile, electricity, a big huerto (vegetable garden), a children´s play area and a school which they have almost finished building. As with Uli, the people are lovely and very welcoming.  I arrive just in time to do a bit of work before lunch and help nailing sticks to the inside wall of a house, the first part of an insulation process. Other walls are at different stages and I can see how the sticks will become part of a thick layer made of sticks, mud, hay and dung. I am shown around by Yeshe, another guest. He tells me the people here specialise in building walls, that´s how they earn their money, and when they have enough money they work here in the village. No wonder they have done so much building work!

I woke up with itchy feet this morning, but coming here to a new village feels like enough of a move to satisfy my travel urge. I decide to stay a day or two in Aritzkuren while I´m waiting for a lift down the mountain. The village residents seem more than happy for me to stay, so I return to Uli to say goodbye and to get my things. It´s just as well. Two friends of Violetta´s are arriving today and there is nowhere for them to sleep. With me gone there will be space in the van for them. Aritzkuren has a guest room in the attic, with one remaining space for me to squeeze a mattress into.

The routine here is a bit of work in the morning, lunch at 2pm and then the rest of the day to do as you like. I help chop down some trees on my second day. I am told they only chop down the fir trees as they are not native to this part of Spain and were planted on mass around the country by the state in an attempt to reforest. They also grow back quickly. We are chopping these two as they are blocking sunlight to the huerto.

This is a very musical place and I enjoy listening to all of the guitar playing. I get on well with the residents and other guests and would be happy to stay longer in this village, but I have been offered a lift to Vitoria-Gasteiz on Sunday morning. This will be a good headstart for me to get to Escanda, next community on my list to visit, and it´s too good an opportunity to turn down.

It´s also a shame not to have made it up to Lakabe, the most developed and longest inhabited of all the occupied villages. It has been squatted for almost 30 years continuously.

There´s information about all of these villages here: English translation –>here<–

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