Magu Bee at World's End

A travel blog of one crazy Magu Bee traveling the globe.

Ever since I heard of Beneficio I felt this more or less conscious need to go there. Not that I'd want to live in the place, but I saw it as a kind of a social experiment, a piece of an antropologist's research.

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I wanted to see how people live there, talk to them and ask them anything and everything, from the views they have about the world and our societies, to the simplest and most basic everyday life problems they encounter in this remote place. A perfect opportunity to go there presented itself when the happy field trip gang decided to go to Alpujarra for a short hike and we landed minutes away from the place.

What is Beneficio though?
It's a hippie community living in a natural park in La Alpujarra mountain range. The community's been there for the last 20 or 25 years and has people from virtually all over the world living there. They come for a week, 3 months and some stay for a couple of years. They come alone or with families, start their families there and raise their children far away from the 21st century. Without electricity, without PS3 or Guitar Hero, with lots of fresh air, goats and dogs running round (although dogs were not allowed in the beginning, along with alcohol) and playing outdoors instead of in m2. Their ideas and ideals are great, but what is the reality of their lives and actions?

To reach this (in)famous place you should go in the direction of Orgiva. Once there, take the road leading to Canar and while you're already going up, take the left turn. I'm saying 'the' because there's no mistake about which one it is the second you see it - a sandy road, a couple of old and older mini-vans by its side, a few people walking towards the camp. And the type of people you see cannot be mistaken for anything (anyone) else either - hippies from all over the globe returning home from a short trip into town (we were there on Orgiva's market day, so there were a lot of people coming back with their groceries).

Loved the scenery of the walk we had to take in order to reach the camp. It felt like the middle of nowhere, but the kind of the middle of nowhere that's about to reveal some secret spot.

At first you reach the parking lot (although you've already passed a couple of parked or ruined cars).

Already here there are people staying in their vans, the type of cars I totally adore, may I add.

I must admit I somehow had a different image of the camp (a funny thing seeing how I'd never been to a similar place and yet still managed to built up a certain image in my head). I thought it would be a kind of a big valley with houses, or dwelling places to be more adequate, all around. But as someone smartly explaind it to me: "We leave the big crowded cities to live in and with nature. If we've got that much space available, why cram all together?". Makes sense to me!

One of the first things we saw was a big tipi (tepee? teepee?), a small stall and a message board. We later found out the tipi was a meeting place for the whole community, with different events happening every night (apparently most of it is Indian chants, to the annoyance of some of the tipi's neighbours).
I thought it'd be interesting for you to see what kind of notes people leave each other.

The main tipi and the little food stall.

There's one main 'road', a path more like it, leading through the camp. A 'camp' is not a good word either, if you ask me. The houses, tents and tipis are located all over the hills, taking up quite a huge space. I tried finding out how many people where there, but nobody really knows, as there's no official list or anything. If you want to stay in Beneficio, all you have to do is come with some kind of a shelter, find a piece of land, ask your potential neighbours if it's ok for you to make base in that particular spot and just go for it. People usually know one another but if you want to keep to yourself, they might not even realise you're there/you're gone.
We looked for a place to eat our lunch (the delicious bocadillos made by Ania and Katerina), sat on some hill and got talking to one of Beneficio's residents - an Austrian guy looking like a modern Robinson Crusoe (actually, ommit the 'modern' part). I started asking him about his ideas, his life choices, the community. He seemed disappointed with what was going on in the camp (it was his second time there after a couple of years of break), he could sense how the ideals were being somehow forgotten with the passing time, how people's behaviour was becoming more and more like the normal society's. He said he was actually thinking about starting his own community, true to the values of the original Beneficio (e.g. no private property, community-oriented actions, no money circulation within the camp). In the meantime, he was climbing the hill to go and plant tomatoes in his friend's veggie garden.

As to my feelings while being there - so surreal! All the men shirtless, running around in old shorts, with long beards and dreadlocks (some of them became naturally so, I believe). I seriously felt like a)on the sets of Lost or Survival b)lost in time and space. The football game we observed for a while only intensified those feelings.
Of course there are children here as well, although the first time I saw one, it took me by surprise. I knew families would live there but still somehow I haven't realised that families would live there - it seemed more like a place for happy-go-lucky young people or already done-seen-and-smoked-it-all elders. I asked about the kids and school, apparently they do go to learn in Orgiva and Canar (later one of my Spanish friends told me there used to be some legal problems because they wouldn't want to send the children to school).

In the beginning I imagined people would be vegetarian there, true to the power flower spirit. Not really though, although I'm sure some of them are. I also thought money wouldn't be in use in the camp itself, wrong again. People sell their dairy products, bread, meat, things they go to buy in the stores in Orgiva, ganja they grow... (that's another controversial thing - while it's true Spanish people smoke a lot and by law they're allowed to do so in the privacy of their own house, drug trafficking is illegal; nobody seems to care in Beneficio about that little detail, you can buy Maria from every second person).

One of the dogs enjoying a football game.

Here: some kids' toys I tied around a tree trunk near the main tipi.
We took a walk around to see some more 'houses'. Truth be told, had I been there alone, I would have talked to a lot more people - they're the part of this place that was of most interest to me. The guys didn't seem to share my enthusiasm though, so I tried not to slow them down too much. The next time I'm there, I'll go with my own tent and will stay for 2 or 3 days to ask as many questions as I'll be able to think of.

Another thing I wondered about is where the people take money from. Sure, living out in the nature in a warm climate saves you a lot, but you still have to pay for food somehow (clothes can be easily found for free, besides they don't wear that many). Do some of them work in one of the nearby towns and commute from Beneficio? Or do they spend their whole days in the camp? As I've mentioned - you can buy food in the camp itself, so where do you take the money to pay for it? Obviously, the one producing the goods will be earning regularly (and I thought the camp would be based on exchange economy, not money; I think that was also the original idea but got lost along the way).

One last look at the tents and a veggie garden and we're heading back (oh, how I wished we could stay for longer!)

We were already back at the parking lot when a few people had come back from their shopping trip. We even got to see some of them packing up a mule.. They were probably staying somewhere up one of the hills and were about to build a house because the animal was to carry some material for the construction process. I was looking at the animal when I started talking to an Australian who was unpacking his car, taking out cases full of fruits and veggies (he'd later tell me he'd spent 20e on everything). I asked him how he got there (let's face it - it's quite a long way from the land down under to this small hippie community) and all the why's and when's, and ended up asking him if he needed help with carrying all his stuff. I think the guys were seriously considering leaving me behind by that time, but as they're genuinely good people, they picked up some things and headed back into the forest.

No idea how women around the world do it - I got a sore neck quite fast and it wasn't all that heavy.

Once again - sorry Antonio! (he couldn't understand how he got from 'going back to the car' to "Why the hell am I carrying some dude's lettuce!?")

It wasn't till we were leaving the camp for the second time that we fully realised the ganja selling point of Beneficio. We started asking around for 'suppliers' and prices ("Sure, everyone here sells!"). I think the guys got offered all kinds of drugs when we were passing a food stall that got set up at the parking lot.

We stopped by a small group of oldschool hippies and Katerina and I chatted them up (again stretching the already overstretched patience of the rest). It was quite informative as well - turns out the guy in the middle believes he was a Greek lady in his past life and he lived in the town Katerina comes from! What a coincidence, huh? The men holding a dog is Japanese, from Tokio, and has been living in Beneficio for 7 years now. He was stunned when I started speaking Japanese to him and kept on answering in Eglish and Spanish. The lady in the back seemed a bit absent-minded, or let's put it better - in a different state of consciousness. A most interesting crowd of individuals.

But now it really was time to say goodbye and head back home.

Carlos, Antonio, Katerina & Ania - thanks for a great day!

And the visit to Beneficio remains one of the things that have evoked the strongest emotions in me during the whole trip, thus naturally becoming one of its highlights.

12 komentarze:

what are the coordinates? :)

36.922369, -3.435133

I've live in beneficio for long time so i have to ask, do u still thinking that's a hippie paradise?? That's a big disappoint, i know most of people in those pics u posted... they show up like peaceful people only for the ocasion... stay living there and u'll know what's really that place and people living there. Good luck!

Mental illness, people hidding from police and justice, AIDS... are what u most gonna see in beneficio and watch out ur money and stuffs because probably they gonna be stoled.

The picture with the oldchool "hippies" the guy holding the dog is a guy from checky republic, he isn't japanese and the "lady" is well knowed as "montes" she spend most of her time running after tourist and new people triying discover beneficio, everybody know her for her very terrible mood, for yelling to people all time and fight to everybody... i just feel sorry u got a wrong image from beneficio. The reality is pretty much differet and terrible.

Anonimowy pisze...

Not sure how the original hippies made their money... but spending a couple of months stealing in their home town, or London, Berlin, to fund the lifestyle. Leaves many victims, across the world. And a bad name for 'good' hippies!

all in all it was a good report ..Thank You ... and especially the ones that reported to you !! no matter , selfishness and greed dominate , no matter where you go in the world.. my only disappointment is what is normal .. mostly seems for party , not for growing vegetables.. no matter I will go anyway.

They are ilegaly living in the natural park area which the Spanish are trying to protect. How is that positive???

".. mostly seems for party , not for growing vegetables.. no matter I will go anyway. "

How could I not come :)

Hello, we are a belgian couple and we plan to move to the costa tropical, buy a house and we are looking places there which has a hippie feeling (ecolo, artists, nature, boheme,..). So you know the most interesting place, village, town… close to the coast. Thanks a lot ! A&L

How interesting! went to this valley with friends back in 1990 or 1991, it was completely empty then, I guess we were the first ones there. There was a waterfall and an a natural pool and a stream running down the valley. It was very peaceful. People started to come and stay there but it was very non invasive. There was a traveller community at the time on the river bed at El Morreon. I think we were there about three months or so.

Anonimowy pisze...

Nice piece. Also a more recent article here: