“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag (1581 – 1661)
It was my birthday and we were just setting off for a walk around our encina (oak) forest, chatting animatedly about something or other. Enter stocky, weasel-faced man wearing Parque Guard jacket, on our side of the fence, walking determinedly down the hill towards us. I’d seen him many times before, patrolling the huge Parque area in his cream Land-Rover with green Junta logo.
I first saw him back in late 2007 when he was part of a contingent of worthies including a Junta solicitor who told us they wanted to define our boundaries. The memorable day they dropped the bombshell that, no, we didn’t own half the hill despite what our title deeds said, plus the not inconsiderable fact that we were paying rates on the whole 42,500 sq m of land. The lady solicitor stated that unless we could prove that the Parque part of our land had been in private ownership for the last 30 years, they would assume title. We were sure that it would be a formality to prove our case and retain ownership.
None of any of the foregoing added up, but we were pretty sure that the proceedings had relayed back to us verbatim as our interpreter was a quasi-friend and properly bilingual. However, he was reluctant to come all the way over from west of Málaga. As he had always professed to love Foggie, he was persuaded by an overnight stay and 500 euro cash for half a day’s translating.
Our land had always been ring-fenced, separating our ‘private’ land from that designated Parque Natural. Thus we had known that our half of the hill was Parque, and in fact felt very privileged to be living in such a special conservation area. It is not unusual for Parque land to be in private ownership as is often the case when a dwelling is adjacent to a Parque. We were one of those cases, or so we thought.
From the town hall we were able to lay our hands on documentary evidence to confirm that the hill had in fact been in private possession since 1947 and we submitted this to our Spanish solicitor (who we later found out was also a Junta advisor) – but this was swept aside as if immaterial. It felt as though we were in an alternative reality and that the odds had been stacked against us from the start.
We’d paid him upfront for the benefit of his advice and intervention on this matter and also the one previously regarding the cabin’s legality (the first of our massive shocks). The last visit to him culminated in that all-too-familiar shrug of the shoulders as he charmingly professed he could do nothing.
In 2008 during the trip home from that last visit to his palatial office in Málaga I must admit that I felt dejected and outraged but Joe put it all in wonderful perspective for me. He said, “Lyn, if you were suddenly told you had only 6 months to live, where would you like to be?” Quick as a flash, I answered, ‘at Foggie’. We then vowed to live each day as if it was our last and with such a mindset we were able to come to terms with it quite quickly. After all, nothing had really changed and we still have access to the land through our little green gate but minus the upkeep!
We continue to make each day special, but what I still struggle with is the fact that there was never any further communication from either the Junta or our solicitor. It would surely have been a matter of common courtesy or even a legal right to send a basic letter outlining the new boundaries coupled with an explanation as to why they’d ignored the comprehensive evidence put forward to the solicitor.
“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce (1840-1904)
In total, they took about 3/4 of our land for which I, as la dueña (the owner), continued to pay rates until it was finally removed from my escritura (title deed). But the tax was increased not decreased. Having compulsorily ‘purchased’ our land without actually paying out any consideration or compensation, they had presumably got what they wanted.
Since that time, over seven years now, we’ve been very content not to have been bothered by anybody from the Parque (apart from the teams of Junta men who appeared every couple of years to tidy up the land as part of Parque fire control). That is, until the surprise appearance of Call Me Pepe. As soon as I saw him I knew it was something to do with our goat herder Ricardo denouncing us for strimming the patch of land he claimed was his. Other than seeing the Guardia men in black drive by a few weeks back, we had thought no more about it.
I think what affected me most about his visit most was not the content of our dialogue, but the intrusion into our private space. I surprised myself by remaining calm and controlled throughout, drawing heavily on what I’d learned from my so-far mindfulness training. I reminded myself that Call Me Pepe was just doing his job, having probably been called out by the men in black in response to Ricardo’s ridiculous posturing.
As the conversation became more farcical, it was actually difficult not to stifle a laugh. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “when you got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose..”. He told us:
1. He was going to denounce us for daring to strim the patch of land over the fence (that Ricardo claimed was his). 2. He was going to denounce us for strimming and clearing out in between the encinas on our own land, our oak forest. 3. Our oak forest is protected forestal land and should we wish to touch it at all we would need a licence from the Junta in Malaga to be renewed each year. 4. The fence on the forestal side is in the wrong place and needs to be moved. 5. Ricardo is an idiot who knows nothing. 6. The Junta team rotate their strimming/clearing here much less than before, every 3 or 4 years, because of budget cuts. 7. What we are doing is exactly right; better to cut down even more oaks than we have done already to allow the undergrowth to get light. 8. He is going to return with a plano (boundary map) and tie something around a particular oak tree to show where the fence should be moved to.
Joe got frustrated part of the way through and made for the house. I don’t blame him as, despite so many hardships and setbacks here, he has carved out a most idyllic haven for us out of literally nothing. It has been a labour of love. Anyway, the house is in my name and Call Me Pepe thus addressed most of his outpourings to me. As he spoke entirely in Spanish with not a word of English this became a bit of a challenge! I told him that I am very angry that I’ve never heard from anyone about the land grab, no letter, no plano, no nothing. But, he said, they told me you had no papers..
As I said, it was hard not to laugh, because as I was seemingly so polite and compliant, I think the threatened denuncias may well come to nought. And why take issue with the boundary fence now when nobody mentioned that it was in the wrong place all those years back? Re-siting it would rob us of yet more land – about half an acre – and I told him that I was not doing it and wasn’t going to pay to have it done. I think he’s done his tick box duty by telling me about it and marking the boundary oak with a bit of string.
It goes without saying that the Junta want to avoid a forest fire at all costs. However, the most curious thing of all is that Call Me Pepe told me that we’re doing everything right – not just minimising the fire risk but promoting the health of the land and the protected-status encinas.
But because of budget cuts they’ll be coming less often, which presumably means the risk of fire will be increased. But it seems we must go out of our way to get a licence so we can do their work for them. To be denounced for strimming exactly where the team last did it on 27th April 2013 is laughable, isn’t it?