“It is as if we are on an island .. COVID-19 does not get here, but neither do supplies of electricity, water, telephone, wastewater pipes, gas etc.“
These words are sent to me by Gwen and Bart, the owners of Finca las Cañadas, a farm located in the Spanish region of Extremadura. They moved here from Belgium some ten years ago, and were the first people to try to set up home in its soft undulations of red earth, rooted with the holly oaks and cork oaks of the dehesa.
The locals thought Gwen and Bart were mad to attempt to tame such land, but they fell in love with the wild and blank canvas, and bit by bit have transformed the Finca into what it is today.
Now the farm is largely self-sufficient (around 85%) – the only goods Gwen and Bart buy are sugar, coffee, wine and the occasional treats and comfort food. Nor do they have any electricity, gas or water bills, and rely on just a little diesel to top up the generator and tractor.
Which means that panic has no place at the Finca: “We can stay in quarantine for longer than the real 40 days … we will always have plenty of food, we will always have electricity, and we will always be able to help out others with whatever we have and don’t need.” (e.g. asparagus – Gwen had a recent glut).
Last month, my No. 2 son was set to spend some time at the Finca, rising early each day to take his coffee and breakfast on the terrace with his hosts and their dogs, then out of the garden gate to the land beyond to dig troughs, plant beans, check on the generator, and welcome new life to the farm.
Clearly, things didn’t pan out as planned, and we’re all somewhere else right now.
However, life at the Finca carries on as ever: seeds are sown, lambs are born, and general maintenance jobs are undertaken. The difference is the quiet. Campervan and motorhome visitors have stopped passing by, and normally, at this time of year, Gwen and Bart would be preparing the safari tents for Easter holidaymakers. Now, no guests will be staying at the Finca for the foreseeable future.
So we are keeping in virtual touch, learning from afar more about how the dream began and how Gwen and Bart live …
The loss of income from holidaymakers this year will have an impact on Gwen and Bart, but they face this with equanimity, appreciating that their chosen way of life shields them from the far worse fates that are afflicting others:
“We live on a diet of jamon, chorizo and a lot of healthy food. We will survive.“
Gwen tells of the more indirect consequences that are becoming familiar to us all:
“Halucinatory scenes when someone comes to the gate to buy asparagus. I hang a bag with the goods on the gate, they take it and give the money in another plastic bag. We talk for a while at a distance and say goodbye. It feels like you don’t trust the other, but it’s more not wanting to make the other sick. Complicated.”
Just this morning Bart ventured into the village for more coffee etc and snapped this socially distanced queue:
He also shared a photo of the lovely Mercedes, serving customers in the shop she runs with her husband, Javi. I can still see her smile, despite the mask.
If you want to know more about how Gwen and Bart got started in living the Good Life please click the links above. Or wait until next year, when the world will be a changed place, and visit them for yourself. Although Gwen and Bart and their Finca las Cañadas will probably be the least changed of all.
You can also meet them here.