I guess it feels somehow wilder to be far apart from civilization. Today I am going to share with you one the most emotional hunting experiences I have lived through. Let’s set the scene: The action takes place in a small village located in an area which is called “the abandoned Spain”. The abandoned Spain is not located in a particular region or area but refers to the small villages or hamlets which have been slowly but steadily emptied as people migrated to larger towns looking for industrial or services jobs. Rural life is hard and solitary, underpaid and risky compared to the false security of town tinned lifestyle. The town is called Alcoroches, which is located at 1400 meters above sea level, about 1 hour drive from a larger town and is populated by around 80 people. The landscape is unique. Surrounded by granite hilltops and large pine tree woods, the village is composed of a mix of half demolished clay-built houses and sheds and proudly still standing clean family homes. People’s first interaction can be quite silent, even surly. They would stop anything they are doing and stare at you while you drive or walk on their streets. Once the ice is broken and the conversation is started, they are incredibly warm and friendly.
This village is surrounded by a national park: “Parque Nacional del Alto Tajo”. This national park is a nature treasure that hosts a number of game and protected species. In these remote villages, hunting is still a population control mechanism and a way of subsistence for many locals and even if it is a hunting restricted area, they are allowed to hunt reed deer, fallow deer, foxes and wild boars. Due to its landscape, food rich biotope and a great genetic inheritance such as conservation, red deer are majestic reaching up to 300 kilograms on large male adults and 24 plus thick spikes on their antlers. Fallow deer are quite proficient and average in terms of antler quality and boar population is not the largest, however males tend to have contained dimensions but have fierce tusks. Due to the park’s restrictions, only twenty one simultaneous hunters are allowed per drive and only 2 rehalas (dog hounds) up to a maximum of 30 dogs. Since only 21 hunters are allowed, all pegs are taken by local members of the hunting association and they raffle who will occupy a peg and who will work the dogs. I was fortunate to get the peg of a local hunter who had kindly invited me to take his spot instead of him.
It was December 22nd. This date is quite popular in Spain as the Christmas national lottery day is celebrated every year on this day from early morning to almost lunch time. The lottery is quite famous as there is a significant first price and hundreds of smaller prices. The particularity resides in the fact that each lottery number is sold in fractions or shares so that one single winner could bag a fortune but almost always, the money is shared amongst several individuals who purchased a fraction. As such, it is common to exchange fractions of a number amongst friends, family and fellow hunters.
It was a chilly morning and the hunting association was celebrating its traditional breakfast on their shed just outside of the village. The shed was quite smokey due to the rusty old oven burning wet thick logs of pine tree. It was loud as well, as there were no less than 6 simultaneous conversations. From football arguments, to small discussions around who shot what on the last drive. My friend Fran arrived just as breakfast was served. The bread loafs run from hunter to hunter and everyone cuts his share with the typical Spanish pocket knife. Fran is middled aged and migrated years ago to Valencia as his wife had just given birth to his second son and needed a more structured and economically stable life. However, Fran returns almost every weekend to his old parents’ home, alone in winter months and with the full family during milder seasons. Everyone cheered him as he entered the shed and he welcomed them back waving with some lottery tickets: “Don’t think I have forgotten you my friends! Here are some tickets I bought for each one of you in Valencia” he said. Then he gave one ticket to each member of the association. Meanwhile, the kitchen was crowded with the wives cooking the excellent “fried eggs and chorizo” and on top of their loud parallel conversations they had the radio turned on. It is also quite traditional to listen to the radio broadcast of the lottery draw.
As we were about to start the peg raffle, there was a noise coming out of the kitchen: “The gordo has came out!!!” At this point, almost every Spaniard usually tries to remember if the number may sound familiar by any chance. And this day, at this magical moment, all of the sudden there was an incredible silence… “You are kidding me!”… ”No way!…” Another silence and suddenly an explosion of emotions, cries of joy and hugs all over the shed. At this point I am pretty sure if I could have seen the shed from outside, it was probably vibrating or even trembling!
Unbelievable as it might sound, those twenty-three men had just each one won a small fortune! From economic uncertainty to comfort in just one breakfast. But what is even more unbelievable is that instead of going celebrating, they decided to continue as planned and proceed with the hunt. The hunt was quite successful, and once it was over, the entire village came together for a big, memorable party.
I came back last year and assumed maybe several of them might have migrated to warmer cities in the coast. Or maybe I would have expected the old houses to be fully renovated or at least some modern and luxurious 4 x 4 vehicles parked in the narrow streets. That was not the case. The same 23 hunters, the same homes, same cars, same joy.