“Why not?” Manja and I say as we sit to have a late lunch in Cadiz. A neat square where we sit is spacious and sunny, while also protected from the wind likely to blow from the Atlantic. Narrow streets lead to all sides like in many coastal towns. The air smells of the ocean, as the town is situated on a narrow peninsula, and everywhere on the mainland, there are remnants of ancient salt fields.
After the short stop in Cadiz we take a ride to Tarifa to visit friends in the eco-community of Molino de Guadalmesi. Blablacar offers the most convenient option and so with the driver, we have a chance to chat in our broken Spanish and English.
The hilly and windy extreme southern tip of Andalusia is sparsely populated. From here, 100 km towards the north, extends a strip of natural parks with forests, rivers, and lakes. To the south, the park belt ends with Estrecho Natural Park, where an eco-community has formed around an old mill along the Guadalmesi River. There has long been a large military zone here for the sake of strategic overview over the Strait of Gibraltar, and that is probably why the coast remains wild and uninhabited.
It is a good 10 km drive (or a bit less than 10 km walk) from Tarifa to the Guadamelsi River. The rugged hills rise from the sea, so the road winds up and down, left and right … the asphalt is getting worse on the side roads, and when it “runs out”, the macadam is more and more bumpy until we reach a stone bridge and then the narrow road disappears into the forest. The ride takes half an hour.
When we arrive, it’s night. A humd freshness envelops us. Chatting at a warm fireplace over a glass of wine lulls us to deep sleep.
It’s warm and everything in the garden grows well. The sky is beautiful both during the day and at night.
Molino de Guadalmesi eco-community is small but earnest, open and warm. Alicia and Johnny made a home here, inviting others to join. At breakfast, there are 12 of us, some regulars, some guests, some volunteers. Everyone speaks Spanish, and I find that beautiful! After breakfast, I strike a conversation in German with young volunteers from Austria and they are glad that they need to use Spanish. That greatly improved their language skills.
The only thing that bothers me a bit is the subtle murmur of wind turbines sprinkled across the ridge above the valley. That’s the price of electricity in cities, while the community in the valley derives electricity from their own solar panels. This calls for a lot of discipline in turning off the lights and major energy consumers, charging the batteries when it is sunny, etc.
Molino, as the locals call the project, is a paradise for innovators. Natural buildings and eco-gardens intertwine with the forest booming along the river. There’s water! What a luxury! There’s no need to close the tap, because the water comes straight from the river and it flows – one way or another – across the property towards the sea a kilometer away. It’s hard for me to get used to it! I automatically reach to the tap to close it after washing my plate, but then I shake my head and remind myself that this is not the same as home.
Life is easy in the warm south. The Atlantic regulates the climate so that it is never too cold or too hot. There is practically no wind in the river valley, while it blows intensely along the coast.
As in any community, the kitchen is at the heart of it, while alternative creations, decorations, and installations adorn the place. As a fecologist, my heart rejoiced to see this…
Tarifa has a very special character. The town, to which Africa extends her fingers, bears traces of Arab and, earlier, Roman and Phoenician cultures, now covered with the last, southern Spanish temperament. Now it is a tourist mecca for lovers of all forms of surfing and wildlife on endless beaches.
Official buildings, like elsewhere in the world, are polished, while not so far away at the harbor, roads and houses are more worn down.
In Tarifa, Johnny started an Ecocenter 13 years ago. Now he’s closing it. Sad news, but there was too much work and it’s time to move on, he says. The Ecocenter consisted of a shop with eco-products, a restaurant with organic food and a selection of local organic beers and wines, a pizzeria, a bike rental, a massage room, a yoga hall, workshops, a whale-watching info stand, a small movie theater, a point for collecting eco-vegetable boxes. There was a concert every Sunday night–without exception, even on the day when the final game of a football championship was on TV.
Here’s Johnny’s with a rich box of organic vegetables and fruits for € 10.
On the last day, I go on a long run along the coast, take a swim in the sea and sunbathe. It’s January, but it’s warm. Morocco is only 15 km away on the other side of the strait. It’s inviting me, but this time I won’t accept the invitation, because I have a full working week ahead of me.
At sunrise, we head with Alicia and Johnny to another eco-community three hours away. In the hilly region north of Seville, more than two decades ago, fans of the Jung School of Psychology, mostly Belgians, settled in and called it Los Portales. Here they’ve found peace to devote themselves to inner work through dreams.
The inner work brought environmental awareness too. When they completed the construction of their buildings and ensured energy self-sufficiency (with solar and wind sources and a complementary diesel generator), they also opened up more and joined the Global Ecovillage Network.
At Los Portales, we met five years ago to start the CLIPS project.
CLIPS, the incubator for sustainable communities, was actually born here, so it’s good to come back and revive memories. The purpose of the incubator is to design a program that helps groups survive and thrive in their initial steps. The reality is, unfortunately, that most groups fail before reaching any substantial achievements. Or, the team members start quarreling and may even end up in lawsuits. With CLIPS program, we highlight the pitfalls and challenges and provide solutions and tips on how to reach stability.
We’ve been working all week from morning till evening, only one afternoon I take some time for a long walk. I meet a herd of deer and a rabbit. Along a stream, I descend from the hills that surround Los Portales and end up chatting with friends at dinner about this and that, not much different to every other night these days. The day ends with an hour of singing while playing the guitar and then I walk a kilometer through the dark night to the house where I sleep. Oh, what joy! Silence, shadows, my bare feet guiding me while my eyes adore the star-laden sky.
Talin or Let’s Clean the World!
Finally, the morning comes when I embark on my longest journey across Europe so far: Seville – Tallinn, 4500 km. Greta Thunberg, I hear you, but still, I travel by plane to arrive by the evening when Let’s do it! World Cleanup conference 2020 begins.
I remember the first conference back in 2010, when 10 enthusiastic Slovenes came here for inspiration and know-how. The rest is history. Our cleanup campaign on April 17, 2010 united Slovenia, and since then many good things have happened in the field of waste management, but as the global system cracks, all the shortcomings are becoming visible and calling to be addressed. That’s why we don’t organize nation-wide cleanups any more.
At this year’s conference, I’m noticing an increase in the quality of work in many countries, including the Western European countries, such as France and Germany. Indonesia is amazing with over 7 million participants, 10% of the population has participated in Kyrgyzstan, then there are Nigeria, Mozambique, El Salvador, China, etc. etc. A total of 21 million participants in more than 180 countries is a great achievement.
The atmosphere is charged, electric, emotional–as usual. Fun and dance are key components of all Let’s do it! conferences so far. Warm-blooded Southern Europeans, Latin Americans, and Middle Easterners keep up the beat. Unfortunately, Omar from Egypt is missing due to the strict visa conditions. I know approximately half of the participants, half of them are new, which is great. The conference ends with the first General Assembly of the new organization; there’s a great prospect that the future will be more integrated and organized.
I spend the last day with a group of ten at our host Heidi. I offer myself to cook dinner. A friend from France mentions quiche, so I say to myself: Okay, let it be quiche! I make up two recipes, add a salad and an hour later we’re sitting at a table with a glass of excellent wine, two veriations of quiche and a salad. And after dinner sauna. What more could I possibly desire?
I arrive in Kyiv with the same flight as Ukrainian participants of the conference, Sofia, Yuliana, and Yulia. Passport control runs faster for locals than for foreigners so when I enter the airport lobby, they welcome me with a song in Ukrainian. After some last hugs, we agree to meet again in a week.
Then I move on to my first host, Valeriy. Nastya, who speaks good English, introduces me to Valeriy. With him, I’ll have to manage in Russian. This will be interesting!
Valeriy brings me to the Anastasia Village in the Valley of Springs (Dolina Dzerel), an hour’s drive west of Kyiv. The settlement was created on the idea of a hectare of land for each family to create on it the so-called space of love. However, when their deep convictions bumped into reality, their individual houses ended up being estranged from each other and the settlement became to a large extent a sleeping settlement with inhabitants mostly working in Kyiv. Most residents do not really live here, the settlement does not exude community spirit.
So Valeriy decided to do something different. In his new house in the Valley of the Springs, simply called Villa, he opened the doors to a community experiment. The house is only a third of the size of our house at Sunny Hill, but there are 8-12 people on bare 90 m2. The kitchen is tight but they manage well. The atmosphere is pleasant and laughter is always in the air.
In the morning at 7.15 we meet and go running according to our capabilities. With Andrey, who turns out to be a good runner, we head down the frozen path to the nearby forest. We chat about barefooting and stop now and then to take photos of the idyllic frozen landscape. We end the exercise with an open-air morning stretching, Russian style: with tightened muscles of tthe body. It’s always interesting to experience something new.
In front of the unfinished house, I pet the cat called Batman, and then join the nine-year-old boy reading stories from Greek mythology–it’s good to practice Russian with a cool teacher.
On the second day, Valerie takes me to Igor, also a member of the group who, about an hour’s drive away, created a real pearl of innovative eco-farming in the continental climate. The system of financing the project is very interesting, and Igor explains it to me in Russian with a strong Ukrainian accent. Their website is adamaris.club.
What I understand without a doubt is that Igor, on the remains of a collapsing kolkhoz, that reminds me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, forms a large-scale eco-farm to produce vegetables and fruits. Almost twenty greenhouses provide approximately one hectare of a cultivated area that can be used throughout the year. In the future, the system will include two 1000 KW wood-burning stoves with 160 m3 of insulated hot water storage to allow the greenhouses to maintain sufficient heat even at -40 C.
Semi-underground greenhouses make maintaining the 20 C somewhat easier, while the aboveground greenhouses are made up of two layers of foil between which air is blown to improve insulation.
Each m2 of greenhouse gives plenty of vegetables. Igor throws in a figure that they collect 5 kg of lettuce every month from each m2. The kale yields 8 kg per m2 at the beginning when the outer leaves are harvested, and the last harvest of kale heads is 5 kg per m2.
In any case, it is exotic to eat delicious crunchy fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, young onions, basil, zucchini, spinach and more–in late January. In four large burrowed greenhouses they rotate young seedlings, chickens and Vietnamese pigs. I don’t understand Igor’s Russian to explain exactly how all this goes, but it obviously works.
The eggplants are coming soon, and the basil is ready …
Cucumbers grow high and give rich yields.
Inside the greenhouses, Vietnamese pigs dig and fertilize the soil…
…and chickens too.
All these vegetables need to be watered, so the water reservois is imperative.
On the third day, I head to Kyiv to lecture at the library about my book Human: Instructions for Use. I am accompanied by two friendly community members. We walk down the snowy road for two kilometers to the bus station, from there to the metro and then walk another kilometer to the library. The lecture turns our marvelous. Nastya is a great interpreter, it’s such a pleasure to have her support me, and some questions I even manage to answer in Russian.
It’s good to see enthusiasm about so many topics from the book. Barefooting is, of course, a major attention point. Taking my life and my work for granted is so easy. It’s hard to appreciate the path I took up and accept that I bring value to people. As one reader recently wrote:
“I just finished your book. I haven’t so much enjoyed a book in a long time. It resonates with a lot of things I’ve been thinking or feeling. Thank you so much!”
I wish I’d have the book in Russian already so I could share it with all the people here!
On the way home, I have a conversation with Valeriy about the history and how much of it is distorted, misinterpreted, falsified. History is nothing but a story, however, we’re used to taking it literally simply because it is so well-established. But there are also alternative stories that should not be swept under the rug because they don’t fully correspond with the dominant truth.
After another night at the Villa, they start preparing for a weekend workshop with nearly 20 people signed up, so I leave for Kyiv.
On the first of February, a big event begins, which is actually the reason I am here: a meeting of seed guardians, eco-villagers, and permaculturists at the premises of the private Ukraine University. I am invited to lecture about ecovillages. The lecture a few days ago at the library was just a bonus.
When I enter the university premises, they are packed full of people, and there are plenty of goodies on the stands: seeds, seedlings, snacks, cosmetics, tools, teas, books … Throughout the event, parallel lectures take place in the three halls. The first day is dedicated to seeds, the second day to permaculture, and the third day to ecovillages.
Shortly after arriving, I get into a conversation with a woman who cultivates seeds on a small (2 ha) estate. She wants to give me some seeds and she presents them with great enthusiasm: “Here are mixed seeds of several colored radishes, yellow, orange, pink, purple … This is orange-flowering amaranth. Here’s edible chrysanthemum: you eat the leaves and the flowers are for decoration.” She adds bare pumpkin seeds and sweet green tomatoes, ideal for drying – she got the seeds from her relative in the US. At other stalls, I also buy some seeds of ancient cucumber, okra, and three additional types of amaranth.
A big hit of recent years in Ukraine is sweet potatoes. A producer explains the details of how it’s grown–first they make up to 25 shoots from each tuber, then they plant them producing plenty of sweet potatoes from each.
Another hit is “chufa” or tiger nut. This otherwise invasive grass forms nut-like tubers with a pleasant nutty taste. Tiger nuts have high yields per acre as well as the nutritional value, so it is no wonder that they draw the attention of farmers.
At another lecture, I learn about combining water and garden elements (aquatic permaculture). The speaker explains how to create round lakes with an island in the middle and growth arranged in such a way that the prevailing winds cause the water to circulate. She explains how the fish and plants contribute to the ecosystem, what to plant where and how.
Then follow lectures on the production and use of biochar; on biogas; on composting with effective microorganisms, earthworms, and in many other ways; on wormwood (Artemisia) varieties and their uses–as a medicine, pesticide, herbicide, etc.
I speak to Bogdan, an elder in the Ukrainian permaculture movement. Now he’s devoted to the design of wastewater treatment systems. He notes that people don’t accept dry toilets easily. Teaching everyone to use them properly is a difficult task. That’s why Bogdan prefers a vermi-bacterial system. The sewage from the household flows into insulated chambers with a constant temperature of around 15 C. The pump periodically pumps the contents through the substrate, which is later fed to earthworms, and the bacteria purify the remaining liquid. It’s refreshing to meet someone who knows all the versions of eco-toilets that I know too. Most people have no idea about them.
Erasmus + volunteers explain what a great time they’ve had in Denmark and Slovenia (at Veles Farm) and at the EDE training in Los Portales, Spain. They emphasize how friendly the hosts were and how everything was paid and how they’ve learned a lot of English. In the end, they are all friends. It’s great to see how the Global Ecovillage Network’s programs raise the quality of life for young people.
A cute video from the Obyrok ecovillage makes everyone laugh. Two volunteers from Colorado, USA, collect eggs and caterpillars of the Colorado beetle. They say they were unaware that the Colorado beetle originated in Colorado and was destroying potatoes around the world. Obyrok ecovillage will host the annual meeting of the Global Ecovillage Network in 2021 for the first time in Ukraine. I look forward to it!
I will be digesting all the impressions for a long time. I say goodbye to my hosts over dinner with a glass of “vishnyovka”, and then I move to the north of Kyiv to Yulia and Vasya.
While I’m waiting for Yulia to finish her late-evening meeting, I get a tour of Kyiv with Alina.
Like everywhere in the world, I observe a characteristic concentration of wealth in the metropolitan centers at the cost of depopulation and impoverishment of the rural areas. What can I say, the city center is still beautiful: Golden Gate, St. Sophia Cathedral, Pechersk Lavra, the university building, parks, Dnieper river banks, etc. but I remember how a few days ago, just 40 km away I ran past a large area in the middle of fields where villagers openly burnt their waste judging by the traces. Then I say that’s not fair.
Wealth concentration comes with a price tag. High air pollution is inevitable given the “quality” of the vehicles that I see. They’re fine as long as they’re moving. When I think about the amount of pollution generated simply by traffic jams, I shake my head. Maksim tells me that a few years ago, Ukraine lowered the standard for imported vehicles, so they got a lot of cheaper cars from the European Union that do not meet the standards of developed Europe. You’ve heard of some diesel affairs in recent years, haven’t you? Well, now you know where the epilogue of such affairs plays out.
I spend my last days in a cute wooden house 15 km north of downtown Kyiv. Yulia is a leader in the Let’s do it! Ukraine movement. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s been an example of uncompromising determination. She’s in motion until late at night. Some events and meetings can be very late, so she can be forgiven for not waking up so early. Even while driving through traffic jams she’s engaged in video call meetings. A true rocket! After 11 pm we relax watching a movie and then fall fast asleep.
I’ve been sleeping poorly for two weeks now. There was too much “artificialness” in the hotel in Tallinn, it’s too warm, the air is so dry I can hardly breathe. It was okay in the Villa in Ukraine, but in Kyiv, my lungs just couldn’t stand the dry air. So after the last night, I was glad to be on my way home.
I go to the airport by public transport. A kilometer of walking through the snow to the bus stop for six kilometers drive to the metro, then another bus ride to the airport. The morning flight from Kyiv to Budapest runs smoothly, and then trouble hits in Budapest…
A security guard refuses to let me past the last check before boarding the plane because I’m barefoot. She says they’re liable if I get hurt, so I should put on at least flip-flops… or whatever. I ask if she’s aware of what she just said: “If I put flip-flops on–or whatever–and I get hurt due to an extraordinary circumstance, then they’re not liable for me?! In that case, I’m definitely not going to put any shoes on!”
I want to ask what’s her name and who’s her superior and under what authority she’s blocking my entrance to the plane, but she just keeps repeating that I can’t board the plane without some kind of footwear. Without further explanations she moves away, so I can’t ask further questions, she crosses her arms in front of her and looks at me sternly.
In the Balkan, we like to say that a smarter person yields in. I put my barefoot shoes on for a couple of minutes to get out of sight of the angry guard, and I continue barefoot. I maintain a positive outlook on the situation. After all, that was my last flight on a long journey around Europe and I was forced to put the shoes on only once.
A delicious dinner greets me at Sunny Hill, and the next day, I relish the everyday reality of my home: a sunrise and a sunset. Traveling is amazing, but it won’t be hard to switch back to peace and beauty where I live. As I’m writing this, I’m sunbathing and realizing how precious are little things in life.