Cave Living - The Spanish Perspective

The Spanish Perspective written by our good friend Emilio for

If there is a Spanish perspective, as most Spaniards don't know anything about caves. Only in last few years have caves become a tourist attraction, but they even had to change the name -'casas-cueva', they call them now, instead of simply 'cuevas'- so that tourists don't think they are going to be accommodated in some kind of pre-historic cavern. And although caves are becoming more and more popular and even more well known as rural accommodation, Spanish people still ignore the fact that a considerable population live their lives in caves. That they have modern amenities such as electricity, telephone, internet, furniture, etc, and their home on the inside is the same as any other conventional house. Besides, it is not the English, but Spanish people who have always lived there.

So, outside of the villages where caves are the common dwelling, people will be puzzled when you tell them that you live in a cave. That's what has happened to me many times. Even in Granada city, so near these areas and where there are lots of caves, people think that you must be a gypsy or homeless to live in a cave. But I was always a believer. I always thought that caves had huge potential because they are unique and they are what makes the Altiplano de Granada so different.

I was born in and grew up in a cave, so all my childhood memories are related to caves. In my little village, El Margen, that was the only kind of dwelling that existed, so I wasn't even conscious that my home was different. All my relatives and friends lived in caves. The first time I realized that I didn't live in a conventional house was at school: we had learnt the different kinds of housing in the world and how roofs were different according to the climate, that is, if it rained a lot, roofs were more inclined, etc, and then we had to draw our own house. How can you draw the roof of a cave? What kind of tiles do you use on the roofs of caves? All my classmates and myself tried to do our best with our drawings, but in the end, the teacher had to agree that certainly caves didn't fit in any of the patterns given by the textbook.

Since I left my village, sometimes I have felt ashamed of saying that I lived in a cave, because people looked at you as if you were a strange creature. Other times, I simply have avoided the topic so as not to give a lot of explanations on how caves were, if there was electricity or if we had a bathroom. On an occasion in the USA, in one of those group dynamics exercises to get to know each other, we had to make three statements, and the rest of the group had to figure out which was a lie. One of the things I said was that I lived in a cave. Everyone thought that was the lie, and I suppose they thought I must have been a weird guy who came from a very remote part of the world. Well, one of the good things about the British migration to the Altiplano region is that now caves are not considered inferior housing anymore and I am so proud to state that I am an original cave dweller.

The first time I heard about English people in the area was about six years ago, when my father-in-law called to tell us that he had sold 'la casa de la abuela' to an English family for 12 million pesetas, although 1 million (6,000 €) was for the estate agent. Even though the house was 400 sq m plus a plot of 600 sq m, that was an incredible price, taking into account that some months before he had bought a house in the same hamlet for only 600,000 pesetas. Soon after that, other English agents settled in the area and they started to sell caves. Prices increased very quickly and everyone put their caves for sale, sometimes at too expensive prices, as people thought that 'los ingleses' were made of gold and they would pay anything they were asked. Anyway, I still think that caves are cheap if we consider that they are made by hand. If you had to pay some workers to dig a cave nowadays, probably it would cost much more than they do.

From the Spanish point of view the question is: Why do the English come here? I suppose this is a question all of you who already live here are asked very often. People in Andalucia understand why Africans leave their land and risk their lives in search for a better life, but it is hard to understand why people from a developed country move to rural Spain, sometimes even leaving a job and a good salary behind. You've got the answer, and I know there are a lot of reasons: healthier life, no crime (almost), good weather, to live your dream, culture, food, etc. But, why caves in the province of Granada? I think I know: because English estate agents discovered the place. I mean, when you are a foreigner and don't speak the language, when you don't know in which areas to search, when you can't contact a Spanish agent, then you have to trust an English agent and, in the end, you'll buy a property offered by him. If you had dreamt of a home in a virgin place, probably you'll end up buying a cave in a neighbourhood full with your compatriots. Take a look at the properties in the provinces of León, Burgos or Zamora, where you can buy a 300 sq m house for less than € 20,000, before an English agent arrives. By the way, did you know that Spanish agents traditionally took only 3% of the price, 1.5% paid by the seller and 1.5% paid by the buyer? This is something that is changing with the arrival of the Brits.

But the whole area is changing for the better. Some years ago the Altiplano region was one of the poorest in Europe. The young had to leave the villages as there was no future for them. But the moving of English people to the area and the development of a tourist industry based mainly on cave accommodation has meant an injection into the economy of these villages. It has gone from being an area of emigrants to being a cosmopolitan area that receives immigrants from all over the world. Besides, the arrival of the Brits has made us the locals a little richer in two senses: on the one hand, our properties are more valuable than they were some years ago, on the other hand, we can share our cultures and our points of view, learning from each other. So, WELCOME TO THE CAVES!

Emilio Navarro Masegosa

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